Contents Chap­ter Thir­ty-​Eight The southern shore of Lake Mariut, ad 415

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The two men topped a small rise. A wooden cabin with a...


Lily Auster stared bleak­ly out the win­dow of the Dis­cov­ery as Gaille drove them slow­ly through the nar­row wend­ing al­leys of the As­si­ut bazaar. Two days in­to her first prop­er over­seas as­sign­ment, al­ready a train wreck. She clenched her fist un­til her nails dug pale cres­cents in her palm. Get a grip, girl, she told her­self. A set­back, that’s all. It was her job to deal with set­backs and then move on. If she could­n’t deal with such things, she should find a new ca­reer. She forced a smile first on­to her lips and then up in­to her eyes and leaned for­wards be­tween the front seats. ‘So you’re Gaille Bon­nard, yes?’ she asked with all the bright­ness she could muster.

‘Yes,’ agreed Gaille.

‘I rang Fa­ti­ma while we were on the train,’ nod­ded Lily. ‘She said you’d be meet­ing us. Thanks so much for help­ing out back there. I thought we were toast.’

‘For­get it,’ said Gaille.

‘I’m Lily, by the way. Lily Auster. And of course you rec­og­nize our star, Charles Stafford.’

‘Of course,’ agreed Gaille. ‘Pleased to meet you both.’

‘Bloody ma­ni­acs!’ mut­tered Stafford. ‘What was wrong with thoscs!’ mue peo­ple?’

‘Things are very tense around here at the mo­ment. Two young girls have been raped and mur­dered. And they were both Copts. Egyp­tian Chris­tians, that is.’

‘I know what a Copt is, thank you,’ said Stafford.

‘Those poor girls,’ said Lily, check­ing her­self in the rear-​view mir­ror, her eyes flick­ing in­stinc­tive­ly to her cheek. The laser treat­ments had done ex­act­ly what the brochure had promised, re­duc­ing her vivid port-​wine birth­mark to a red­dish-​brown glow that peo­ple bare­ly even no­ticed any more. But she’d dis­cov­ered an un­wel­come truth about dis­fig­ure­ment: suf­fer it long enough, and it be­came a part of who you were, your per­son­al­ity. She still felt ug­ly, no mat­ter what the mir­ror tried to tell her. ‘But why is it sig­nif­icant they were Copts?’

‘The last time any­thing like this hap­pened – a mur­der – the po­lice sim­ply round­ed up hun­dreds of oth­er Copts. It caused an aw­ful lot of fric­tion with the West. Peo­ple as­sumed it was re­li­gious dis­crim­ina­tion, you see – Mus­lim on Chris­tian; though it was­n’t, re­al­ly. It’s just how the po­lice in­ves­ti­gate around here. They grab all the near­est peo­ple and beat them un­til one of them talks. But this time, in­stead of round­ing up Copts, they’ve used it as an ex­cuse to grab all the lo­cal Is­lam­ic fire­brands and beat them in­stead. And their friends and fam­ilies blame peo­ple like us. There’s a big march on through the city this af­ter­noon.’

‘Charm­ing,’ nod­ded Stafford, his in­ter­est fad­ing fast. He turned to Lily. ‘What lug­gage did we lose?’

‘Just clothes, I think,’ said Lily. ‘I saved our equip­ment.’

‘My clothes, I sup­pose.’

‘Both our clothes.’

‘What the hell am I sup­posed to wear on cam­era?’

‘We’ll find you some­thing. Don’t wor­ry.’ Her smile had be­come strained these past few days. Work­ing for Stafford would do that to you, par­tic­ular­ly if your col­leagues had jumped ship, as hers had. Last night over din­ner he’d gone on about his re­cent trip to Del­phi. Gnothi Seau­ton, the Or­acle had ad­vised. Know thy­self. Stafford had sat back in his chair and claimed it as his pre­scrip­tion for a ful­filled life. Her un­in­ten­tion­al snort had sprayed at­om­ized droplets of white wine across the table­cloth. She’d nev­er met a man with such lit­tle self-​aware­ness, yet he’d done ab­surd­ly well, was both suc­cess­ful and hap­py. Oh, to be a nar­cis­sist, with un­shake­able faith in your own beau­ty and won­der­ful­ness. And to have peo­ple ad­mire you for it too! Be­cause they did: peo­ple were such fools, they took oth­ers at their own es­ti­mate. She turned back to Gaille. ‘Fa­ti­ma said you’d come with us to­mor­row. That’s so kind of you.’

‘To­mor­row?’ frowned Gaille. ‘How do you mean?’

‘Did­n’t she men­tion it?’

‘No,’ said Gaille. ‘She did­n’t. Why? What’s hap­pen­ing?’

‘We’re film­ing in Amar­na. Our guide went AWOL.’

‘Good rid­dance to him,’ mut­tered Stafford. ‘Man had an at­ti­tude.’

‘That’s why we had to take the train,’ said Lily. ‘Your pro­fes­sor said she’d come with us. But now ap­par­ent­ly some­thing’s come up. So we’re re­al­ly stuck. It’s not just that we need an ex­pert to talk to cam­era, though that would be great. It’s that nei­ther of us speak Ara­bic. I mean, our doc­umen­ta­tion’s in or­der and ev­ery­thing, but I dour doc bun’t know how things work around here. Ev­ery coun­try has its own ways, you know?’

‘I’ll have a word with Fa­ti­ma when we get back,’ sighed Gaille. ‘I’m sure we’ll be able to sort some­thing out.’

‘Thanks,’ said Lily, squeez­ing Gaille’s shoul­der. ‘That’s bril­liant of you.’ A pang of shame, quick­ly sup­pressed. It was one of the hid­den penal­ties of ug­li­ness that no one ev­er vol­un­teered their help; you had to find oth­er ways to get what you need­ed: flat­tery, bar­gain­ing, bribery, throw­ing your­self on their mer­cy.

They drift­ed to a halt. Lily glanced through the wind­screen. The way ahead was blocked by met­al bar­ri­cades, ranks of ri­ot po­lice in black uni­forms and hel­mets, the protest march pass­ing the oth­er side, fer­vent young men in robes, the per­fect oval faces of the wom­en in their hi­jab, oth­ers com­plete­ly veiled by their niqab. A sweet stab of long­ing low in Lily’s stom­ach. As a girl, how en­vi­ous she’d been of Mus­lim wom­en, able to hide be­hind the sanc­tu­ary of burkha. ‘I hate to ask,’ she mur­mured, ‘but are you sure this is the right way?’


Knox and Omar leaned against the Jeep as they wait­ed for Grif­fin. ‘Ma­ha said these were bul­let-​holes from that Alexan­der busi­ness,’ said Omar, fin­ger­ing the patched-​up body­work. ‘They’re not re­al­ly, are they?’

‘Afraid so.’

Omar laughed. ‘You do live, Daniel.’

‘On­ly just.’ He stooped to check the ground. The site was on a gen­tle hum­mock of lime­stone, al­most com­plete­ly bare of soil, use­less for farm­ing and un­touched by in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion or prop­er­ty de­vel­op­ment. If peo­ple had lived here in an­cient times, there was a fair chance traces of them would have sur­vived. He looked up at the scuff of foot­steps. Two mid­dle-​aged men emerged from be­hind the cab­in, their clothes and hair grey with dust and cob­webs. ‘Mis­ter Taw­fiq,’ said the first, thrust­ing out his right hand, re­veal­ing a dark cres­cent of sweat be­neath his armpit. ‘I un­der­stand you’re the new head of the SCA in Alexan­dria. Con­grat­ula­tions.’

‘Oh,’ said Omar. ‘I’m on­ly in­ter­im head, you know.’

‘I met your pre­de­ces­sor, of course. A ter­ri­ble tragedy to lose such a good man so young.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Omar. He turned to Knox. ‘And this is my friend, Mis­ter Daniel Knox.’

‘Daniel Knox?’ asked the man. ‘Of Alexan­der’s tomb fame?’

‘Yes,’ ac­knowl­edged Knox.

‘We are hon­oured,’ he said, shak­ing his hand. ‘I’m Mor­timer Grif­fin. Chief ar­chae­ol­ogist of this ex­ca­va­tion.’ He turned to his com­pan­ion. ‘And this is the Rev­erend Ernest Pe­ter­son.’

‘An ex­ca­va­tion with its own chap­lain?’ asked Knox.

‘We’re re­al­ly a train­ing dig,’ ex­plained Grif­fin. ‘Most of our crew are very young, you know. Away from home for the first time, a lot of them. Their par­ents feel bet­ter know­ing they have moral guid­ance.’

‘Of course,’ said Knox. He of­fered to shake Pe­ter­son’s hand, but Pe­ter­son just stood there, his arms fold­ed, star­ing back with a gran­ite smile.

‘So what can we do for you gen­tle­men?’ asked Grif­fin, pre­tend­ing noth­ing had just hap­pened. ‘All this way with­out an ap­point­ment. It must be im­por­tant.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Knox. ‘I’m be­gin­ning to think it might be.’


Stafford sighed loud­ly as Gaille pulled to a stop by the bar­ri­ers. ‘Don’t tell me we’re lost!’

‘I had to get us away from the sta­tion,’ said Gaille de­fen­sive­ly. She leaned for­wards. Late af­ter­noon sun blurred like a headache on her dusty wind­screen. There was no in­di­ca­tion of when the march might end and the bar­ri­cades be re­moved. Noth­ing for it: she pulled an awk­ward five-​point turn in the nar­row street, head­ed back through the bazaar and emerged on­to the square out­side the crowd­ed train sta­tion, the traf­fic and emerg­ing pas­sen­gers forc­ing her to slow al­most to walk­ing pace as she worked her way through the crowd.

Two men were laugh­ing good-​na­tured­ly as they tus­sled over a straw hat. ‘That’s mine!’ scowled Stafford. He low­ered his win­dow, grabbed for his hat. The two men danced off yelling cheer­ful in­sults, bring­ing the Dis­cov­ery to gen­er­al at­ten­tion. Peo­ple walked in front, forc­ing Gaille to a stop. ‘What are you do­ing?’ protest­ed Stafford, rais­ing his win­dow back up.

‘I thought you want­ed your hat.’

‘Get us out of here.’

Gaille pressed her palm on her horn, revved her engine...


‘Well?’ said Grif­fin. ‘Won’t you tell us why you’re here?’

‘I was of­fered an arte­fact in Alexan­dria this morn­ing,’ replied Knox. ‘The sell­er said it was from an ex­ca­va­tion south of Mar­iut.’

‘You should­n’t be­lieve what those peo­ple tell you. Any­thing for a sale.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Knox.

Griffin’s eyes nar­rowed. ‘What kind of arte­fact ex­act­ly?’

‘A stor­age-​jar lid.’

‘A stor­age-​jar lid? You came all this way for a stor­age-​jar lid?’

‘We came all this way be­cause we think an­tiq­ui­ties theft is a se­ri­ous mat­ter,’ said Omar.

‘Yes, of course,’ nod­ded Grif­fin, suit­ably chas­tened. ‘But you mus’ nod­det re­al­ize there used to be a sub­stan­tial pot­tery in­dus­try out here. They made jars to trans­port grain and wine all around the Mediter­ranean, you know. Good wine, too. Stra­bo com­mend­ed it high­ly. So did Ho­race and Vir­gil. They even found some am­phorae of it off Mar­seilles, would you be­lieve? Walk along the old lake-​front here, you’ll find great heaps of an­cient pot­tery frag­ments. Any­one could have picked up your lid from one of them. It did­n’t have to come from an ex­ca­va­tion.’

‘This lid was­n’t bro­ken,’ said Knox. ‘Be­sides, it was … un­usu­al.’

‘Un­usu­al?’ said Grif­fin, shad­ing his eyes from the sun. ‘In what way?’

‘What ex­act­ly is this site?’ asked Omar.

‘An old farm. Of no great in­ter­est, be­lieve me.’

‘Re­al­ly?’ frowned Knox. ‘Then why ex­ca­vate here?’

‘This is pri­mar­ily a train­ing ex­ca­va­tion. It gives our stu­dents the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence life on a re­al dig.’

‘What did they farm here?’

‘All kinds of things. Grain. Vines. Beans. Mad­der. Pa­pyrus. You know.’

‘On lime­stone bedrock?’

‘This is where they lived. Their fields were on all sides.’

‘And the peo­ple?’

Grif­fin scratched be­neath his col­lar, be­gin­ning to feel the pres­sure. ‘Like I say. This was an old farm. They were old farm­ers.’

‘What era?’

Grif­fin glanced at Pe­ter­son, but found no help. ‘We’ve found arte­facts from the Nine­teenth Dy­nasty on. But most­ly Grae­co-​Ro­man. Noth­ing lat­er than the ear­ly fifth cen­tu­ry AD. A cou­ple of coins from 413 or 414, some­thing like that. There seems to have been a fire around that time. Luck­ily for us.’

Knox nod­ded. A good blaze would put a car­bonized shell over a site, pro­tect­ing it from the worst rav­ages of time and weath­er. ‘The Chris­tian ri­ots?’ he sug­gest­ed.

‘Why would Chris­tians burn down a farm?’

‘Why in­deed?’ agreed Knox.

‘Per­haps you could give us the tour,’ sug­gest­ed Omar in­to the en­su­ing si­lence. ‘Show us what you’ve been find­ing.’

‘Of course. Of course. Any time. Just make an ap­point­ment with Claire.’


‘Our ad­min­is­tra­tor. She speaks Ara­bic, you know.’

‘That’s good,’ said Omar. ‘Be­cause I can bare­ly speak a word of En­glish my­self.’

Grif­fin had the grace to blush. ‘I’m sor­ry. I did­n’t mean it that way. It was just if you had one of your peo­ple make the ap­point­ment for you.’

‘Can’t we speak to her now?’

‘I’m afraid she’s not on site. And this sea­son may not be easy. Rush of work. So much to do. So lit­tle time.’ He waved vague­ly at the desert be­hind him, as though they could see for them­selves. But of course they could see noth­ing.

‘We would­n’t get in your way,’ said Knox.

‘I think I’m the best judge of that, don’t you?’


I’m the best judge.’

‘We re­port to Cairo, not you,’ said Pe­ter­son, speak­ing for the first time. ‘I’m not quite clear what your ju­ris­dic­tion here is.’

‘Do you have an SCA rep­re­sen­ta­tive here?’ asked Omar.

‘Of course,’ nod­ded Grif­fin. ‘Ab­del La­teef.’

‘May I speak with him?’

‘Ah. He’s in Cairo to­day.’

‘To­mor­row, then?’

‘I’m not sure when he’ll be back.’

Knox and Omar shared a glance. The SCA rep­re­sen­ta­tive was sup­posed to be on site full time. ‘You have an Egyp­tian crew, I as­sume. May I speak with your reis?’

‘By all means,’ said Pe­ter­son. ‘Just show us your au­tho­riza­tion.’ He wait­ed a mo­ment for Omar to pro­duce it, then shook his head in the­atri­cal dis­ap­point­ment. ‘No? Well do come back when you have it.’

‘But I’m head of the Supreme Coun­cil in Alexan­dria,’ protest­ed Omar.

‘In­ter­im head,’ re­tort­ed Pe­ter­son. ‘Drive safe­ly, now.’ And he turned his back on them and strode away, leav­ing Grif­fin to hur­ry af­ter him.


Gaille was waved to a stop at a check­point a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres north of As­si­ut, as­signed two po­lice cars for the re­turn jour­ney north. It was like that round here. In her head­scarf, driv­ing alone, Gaille was ef­fec­tive­ly in­vis­ible; but once she had such ob­vi­ous West­ern­ers as Stafford and Lily for pas­sen­gers, there was lit­tle chance of avoid­ing an es­cort. Gaille hat­ed driv­ing in con­voy like this; the po­lice here drove at break­neck pace, wend­ing wild­ly through traf­fic, forc­ing her to drive fright­en­ing­ly fast just to keep up. But they reached the end of the po­lice ju­ris­dic­tion with­out in­ci­dent and the two cars van­ished as quick­ly as they’d ap­peared.

‘So what’s your pro­gramme about, then?’ asked Gaille, slow­ing with re­lief to a more com­fort­able speed.

‘I’ve a copy of the syn­op­sis for this seg­ment, if you’d like,’ said Lily from the back, un­zip­ping her bag.

‘That’s con­fi­den­tial,’ snapped Stafford.

‘We’re ask­ing Gaille to help,’ ob­served Lily. ‘How can she if she does­n’t know what we’re work­ing on?’

‘Very well,’ sighed Stafford. He took the syn­op­sis from Lily, glanced through it to make sure it con­tained no state se­crets, then rest­ed it on his knee and cleared his throat. ‘In 1714,’ he be­gan sonorous­ly, as if for a voice-​over, ‘Claude Sicard, a French Je­suit schol­ar, came across an in­scrip­tion cut in­to the cliffs at a des­olate site near the Nile in the heart of Egypt. It turned out to be a bound­ary mark­er for one of the most re­mark­able cities of the an­cient world, the cap­ital city of a pre­vi­ous­ly un­known pharaoh, a pharaoh who’d in­spired the birth of a new phi­los­ophy, a new style of art, and – most of all – of bold new ideas about the na­ture of God that had shat­tered the sta­tus quo and ir­re­versibly al­tered the his­to­ry of the world.’

As op­posed to re­versibly al­ter­ing it, you mean? thought Gaille, strug­gling not to smile.

Stafford squint­ed at her. ‘Did you say some­thing?’


He pursed his lips, but then let it go, picked up where he’d left off. ‘The new ways had proved too much for the Egyp­tian es­tab­lish­ment, how­ev­er. Ex­traor­di­nar­ily, it would tran­spire, this city had­n’t just been aban­doned, it had been de­lib­er­ate­ly dis­man­tled, brick by brick, to re­move any ev­idence of its ex­is­tence. And all across Egypt, ev­ery men­tion of this man and his reign had been metic­ulous­ly erased so that the seas of time closed over his head with­out a trace. Who was he, this heretic pharaoh? What crime had he com­mit­ted that was so mon­strous, it had had to be ex­punged from his­to­ry? In his lat­est ground­break­ing book and com­pan­ion doc­umen­tary, icon­oclas­tic his­to­ri­an Charles Stafford ex­plores the as­ton­ish­ing mul­ti­ple mys­ter­ies of the Amar­na era, and puts for­ward a rev­olu­tion­ary new the­ory that not on­ly shat­ters the way we think about Akhen­at­en, but will al­so rewrite our no­tions of the his­to­ry of the an­cient Near East.’ He fold­ed the sheet back up, tucked it away in his in­side jack­et pock­et, look­ing rather pleased with him­self.

A don­key was stand­ing in the mid­dle of the road ahead, its front legs hob­bled so that it could move on­ly in fee­ble bun­ny-​hops. Gaille put her foot on the brakes, slow­ing right down, try­ing to give it time to reach the verge, but it did­n’t move, it just stood there, ter­ri­fied and be­wil­dered, so that she had to cut in­to the oth­er lane to drive around it, pro­vok­ing an­gry bursts of horn from oth­er traf­fic. ‘Your pro­gram­me’s re­al­ly go­ing to do all that?’ she asked, check­ing anx­ious­ly in her rear-​view un­til the don­key had van­ished from sight.

‘And more. Much more.’


‘He’s sug­gest­ing Akhen­at­en had a dis­ease,’ vol­un­teered Lily from the back.

‘Oh,’ said Gaille, dis­ap­point­ed, as she turned left off the main Nile road on­to a nar­row coun­try lane. The grotesque im­ages of Akhen­at­en and his fam­ily were one of the most fierce­ly de­bat­ed as­pects of the Amar­na era. He him­self had of­ten been por­trayed with a swollen skull, pro­trud­ing jaw, slant­ed eyes, fleshy lips, nar­row shoul­ders, wide hips, pro­nounced breasts, a pot­bel­ly, fat thighs and spindly calves. Hard­ly the hero­ic pic­ture of man­hood that most pharaohs had as­pired to. His daugh­ters, too, were typ­ical­ly shown with al­mond skulls, elon­gat­ed limbs, spi­dery fin­gers and toes. Some be­lieved that this had sim­ply been the pre­vail­ing artis­tic style. But oth­ers, like Stafford it seemed, ar­gued that it por­trayed the rav­ages of some vi­cious dis­ease. ‘Which are you go­ing with?’ she asked. ‘Mar­fan’s Syn­drome? Frohlich’s?’

‘Scarce­ly Frohlich’s,’ sniffed Stafford. ‘It caus­es steril­ity. And Akhen­at­en had six daugh­ters, you know.’

‘Yes,’ said Gaille, who’d worked on her fa­ther’s ex­ca­va­tion in Amar­na for two sea­sons while still a teenag­er, and who’d stud­ied the Eigh­teenth Dy­nasty for three years at the Sor­bonne. ‘I did.’ Even so, there was on­ly so much of the re­lent­less ‘child of his loins, his alone, no one else’s, just his’ in­scrip­tions that you could read be­fore won­der­ing whether some­one was­n’t protest­ing a mite too much.

‘We spoke to a spe­cial­ist be­fore com­ing out,’ said Lily. ‘He reck­oned Mar­fan’s Syn­drome was the most like­ly can­di­date. But he did sug­gest oth­ers too. Ehler’s-​Dan­los. Kline­fel­ter’s.’

‘It was Mar­fan’s,’ as­sert­ed Stafford. ‘It’s au­to­so­mal dom­inant, you see. That’s to say, if a child in­her­its the rel­evant gene from ei­ther par­ent, they’ll in­her­it the syn­drome, too. Look at the daugh­ters; all por­trayed with clas­sic Mar­fan’s symp­toms. The odds against that hap­pen­ing un­less n’s g uthe con­di­tion was au­to­so­mal dom­inant are enor­mous.’

‘What do you think, Gaille?’ asked Lily.

She slowed to bump her way across a thick car­pet of sug­ar-​cane husks laid out to dry in the sun, fu­el for the fur­naces of the black-​hon­ey fac­to­ries, their thick black smoke still vis­ible de­spite the grow­ing late-​af­ter­noon gloom. ‘It’s cer­tain­ly plau­si­ble,’ she agreed. ‘But it’s not ex­act­ly new.’

‘Yes,’ smiled Stafford. ‘But then you haven’t heard the ground­break­ing bit yet.’


‘This is bad,’ mut­tered Grif­fin, whey-​faced, hur­ry­ing af­ter Pe­ter­son. ‘This is a dis­as­ter.’

‘Cleave ye un­to the Lord thy God, Broth­er Grif­fin,’ said Pe­ter­son. ‘No man will be able to re­sist you.’ The vis­it of Knox and Taw­fiq had, in truth, ex­hil­arat­ed him. For was not Daniel Knox a one-​time pro­tégé of that shame­less abom­ina­tor Richard Mitchell? Which made him an abom­ina­tor him­self, a ser­vant of the Dev­il. And if the Dev­il was send­ing his emis­saries on such mis­sions, it could on­ly mean he was wor­ried. Which in turn was proof that Pe­ter­son was close to ful­fill­ing his pur­pose.

‘What if they come back?’ protest­ed Grif­fin. ‘What if they bring the po­lice?’

‘That’s what we pay your friends in Cairo for, is­n’t it?’

‘We’ll need to hide the shaft,’ said Grif­fin, hold­ing his bel­ly as if he had a stom­ach ache. ‘And the mag­azine! Good grief. If they find those arte­facts …’

‘Stop pan­ick­ing, will you?’

‘How can you be so calm?’

‘Be­cause we have the Lord on our side, Broth­er Grif­fin. That’s how.’

‘But don’t you re­al­ize—?’

‘Lis­ten,’ said Pe­ter­son. ‘Do as I tell you and ev­ery­thing will be fine. First, go and talk to our Egyp­tian crew. One of them stole that lid. De­mand his col­leagues give him up.’

‘They nev­er will.’

‘Of course not. But use it as an ex­cuse to send them all home un­til your in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­plete. We need them off the site.’

‘Oh. Good think­ing.’

‘Then call Cairo. Let your friends know our sit­ua­tion, that we need their sup­port. Re­mind them that if there’s any kind of en­quiry, we might not be able to pre­vent their names from com­ing up. Then move any­thing that could cause us a prob­lem out of the mag­azine and back un­der­ground. Store it in the cat­acombs for the mo­ment.’

‘And you? What are you go­ing to do?’

‘The Lord’s work, Broth­er Grif­fin. The Lord’s work.’

Grif­fin paled. ‘You’re not se­ri­ous­ly plan­ning to go on with this?’

‘Have you for­got­ten why we’re here, Broth­er Grif­fin?’

‘No, Rev­erend.’

‘Then what are you wait­ing for?’ Pe­ter­son watched dis­dain­ful­ly as Grif­fin slouched away. A man of ter­ri­ble weak faith; but you had to use the tools to hand when you did the Lord’s work. He strode up a hum­mock of rock, rel­ish­ing the tight­ness in his hams and calves, the bur­nish of the set­ting sun up­on his nape, the long sharp shad­ow he cut in the sand. He his n sa’d nev­er for one mo­ment imag­ined he’d feel such affin­ity for Egypt, away from his church and flock and home. Yet there was a qual­ity to the light here, as though it too had suf­fered in the flames and been pu­ri­fied.

He breathed in deeply, fill­ing his lungs. The ear­li­est Chris­tian monks had cho­sen this place to an­swer God’s call. Pe­ter­son had al­ways imag­ined that an ac­ci­dent of his­to­ry and ge­og­ra­phy; but he’d soon re­al­ized that there was more to it than that. This was a pro­found­ly spir­itu­al place, all the more so the fur­ther you ven­tured in­to the desert. You felt it in the blaz­ing sun, in the sweat and ache of labour, in the way wa­ter splashed glo­ri­ous­ly over your parched skin and lips. You glimpsed it in the volup­tuous gold­en lines of the dunes and the shim­mer­ing blue skies. You heard it in the si­lence.

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