We walked to the eerie rattle of
the sistrums and I watched my golden sandals reflect the dying light.
As we ascended the cliffs, I stopped to look down over the land.
Dont stop, my father cautioned.
We trudged onward through the hills
while the animals snorted their way up the rocks. The priests went before
us now, carrying torches to light our way as we walked, then the High
Priest hesitated, and I wondered if hed lost his bearing in the night.
Untie the sarcophagus and free the
oxen, he commanded, and I saw, carved into the face
of the cliff, the entrance to the tomb. Children shifted in
their beads and womens bangles clinked together as they passed each other
looks. Then I saw the narrow staircase leading down into the earth and
understood their fear.
I dont like this, my mother whispered.
The priests relieved the oxen of
their burden, heaving the gilded sarcophagus onto their backs. Then my
father squeezed my hand to give me courage and we followed our dead prince
into his chamber, out of the dying sun and into total darkness.
Carefully, so as not to slip on the
rocks, we descended into the slick bowels of the earth, staying close
to the priests and their reed-dipped torches. Inside the tomb, the light
cast shadows across the painted scenes of Tuthmosis twenty years in Egypt.
There were women dancing, wealthy noblemen hunting, Queen Tiye serving
her eldest son honeyed lotus and wine. I pressed my mothers hand for
comfort and when she said nothing I knew she was offering up silent prayers
Below us, the heavy air grew dank
and the smell of the tomb became that of shifted earth. Images appeared
and disappeared in the flickering torchlight, yellow painted women and
laughing men, children floating lotus blossoms along the River Nile. But
most fearsome was the blue faced god of the underworld, holding the crook
and flail of Egypt. Osiris, I whispered, and no one heard.
We kept walking, into the most secretive
chambers of the earth, then suddenly we entered a vaulted room and I gasped.
This was where all the princes earthly treasures were gathered; painted
barges, golden chariots, sandals trimmed in leopard fur. We passed through
this room to the innermost burial chamber, and my father leaned close
to me and whispered meaningfully, Remember what I told you.
Inside the empty chamber Pharaoh
and his queen stood side by side. In the light of the torches it was impossible
to see anything but their shadowy figures and the long sarcophagus of
the departed prince. I stretched out my arms in obeisance and my aunt
nodded solemnly at me, remembering my face from her infrequent visits
to our family in Akhmim. my father had taken Nefertiti and me to Thebes
only once. He kept us away from the palace, from the intrigues and ostentation
of the court. Now, in the flickering light of the tomb, I saw that the
queen hadnt changed in the six years since I had last seen her. She was
still small and pale. Her light eyes appraised me as I held out my arms
and I wondered what she thought of my dark skin and unusual height. I
straightened, and the High Priest of Amun opened the Book
of the Dead, his voice intoning the words of dying mortals to the
Let my soul come to me from wherever
it is. Come for my soul, O you Guardians of the heavens. May my soul see
my corpse, may it rest on my mummified body which will never be destroyed
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...