Warning: Mature Adults only
PART II: ACRE
"So he's flown the coop?" Harper asked.
'He' was General Bonaparte, who had just escaped from Egypt in two French frigates, the La Murion and the La Cariere, while the Tigre had been re-supplying in Cyprus and the Theseus in Rhodes. He had taken with him most of his generals and many of the French scholars who had come with such eagerness just a year before. Finnigan nodded. They were both off-duty, standing at the rail of the Tigre and looking out at the squalid harbor of Alexandria from the ship's station just off the sea-wall. It was late August.
"This last week while we was gone. Sir Sidney slipped some French newspapers to one of the prisoners we exchanged, so Boney could catch up on things at home. It seems that things are going to hell in a handbasket in France these days. The Austrians are kicking their arses out of Italy and Germany, the Turks have taken back the Ionian Islands, and we've got Malta blockaded tighter than a drum. Their government's in trouble, no money, no idea of what to do, and a lot of angry Frogs to answer to. So Boney's off to save the Directorate from themselves, and probably to set himself up as the power in France. Meanwhile, his army's left high and dry here in beautiful old Egypt."
"Who'd he leave in charge?"
"General Kleber. Tough customer. You might remember him standing in the breach at Acre like he was bullet-proof. Anyone who thinks we'll have an easy time now that he's in charge has another thing coming."
"So what happens now?"
Finnigan shrugged. That was anybody's guess.
As things turned out, Harper had to wait five more months to get an answer to his question.
General Kleber had not appreciated being appointed to pay Bonaparte's bill. He had been summoned by note to proceed to Rosetta, where the Corsican said he wished to confer with him. Only after he arrived was he informed that Bonaparte had left the country and that he was now in command of the Army of Egypt. He despised him for this. The man had gambled with thousands of French lives entrusted to his care, lost, and now snuck away like a coward, returning to France as a hero to capitalize on his empty victories. The army he had left Kleber was down to half of its original fighting strength, demoralized, weakened by disease, clothed in rags, and mutinous. They were owed no less than twelve million francs in back pay, and there was no prospect of revenue from Egypt until the next harvest, several months away. The country was seething with discontent, and he had no hope of containing it with the forces left to him. The English were in command of the seas, and the Turks were sending another army of eighty thousand through Syria. Every victory he won ate up men and supplies he could not afford to lose, bringing him closer to disaster.
Since the destruction of Bonaparte's fleet at Abuquir the previous year, Kleber had been convinced that the Egyptian adventure was doomed to failure. Now that he was in charge, he saw only one possible course of action; the complete evacuation of the French army from Egypt, provided it could be accomplished on honorable terms. The majority of the French generals remaining in Egypt completely agreed with him.
His first step was to establish himself firmly as the power in Cairo. He made a solemn entrance into the city. A double column of five hundred Janissaries preceded him, striking the street with long staffs and crying out "Here comes the Lord Commander in Chief! Moslems, bow down before him!" Although he would continue Bonaparte's policy of respecting Islam and local institutions, he had no interest in any attempt to win the people's affection by a show of brotherliness; the people would only see this as weakness. The only thing they understood was force.
Secondly, he took measures to pay his soldiers, and to finance their continued stay in Egypt. He systematically began to tax the rich landowners, saying he would squeeze them as a lemon is squeezed for lemonade. Third, he began to enter into negotiations, first with the Turkish commander, the Grand Vizier Yussef, using the captured Turkish general Mustafa Pasha as a go-between. And he sent a note to Sir Sidney, saying that the time had come for the two most civilized nations in the world to stop fighting each other. He wanted, he wrote, to leave Egypt on honorable terms, with arms and baggage, neither victor nor vanquished. He asked Sir Sidney to help bring this about, and through the latter's efforts, the Grand Vizier consented to issue safe-conducts to Kleber's negotiators. Kleber made an effort to reassure his soldiers that peace, and the journey home that would follow it, were not far away, if they would but persevere a little longer.
And so, three days before Christmas, Kleber's two negotiators came on board the Tigre. They were Citizen Poussielgue and General Desaix. Harper found the General in particular to be a fine looking fellow, very military with his gold embroidered jacket and plumed hat. They stayed on board for three weeks, and completely won Sir Sidney over to the plan of a negotiated settlement that would allow the French to go home.
The agreement had been reached in principle; it now remained to hammer out the details. Sir Sidney had to remain on station himself, so he deputized Captain John Wright, first officer of the Theseus to represent him. This was the same Captain Wright whom Harper had saved at Acre. Wright would journey to Cairo to finalize the settlement, with full authority to represent Sir Sidney both to the French and the Turks. He would take with him an honor guard of fifty marines.
The first Harper knew of all this was when Lieutenant Bromley came into the quarters and addressed their company.
"Well lads, it looks like we're taking another trip to Cairo, and I trust this one will be more pleasant than the last, eh?"
And so, in the first few days of the year 1800, Harper and Finnigan found themselves in Cairo again. And they were stationed in the Citadel once more, though this time as guards, not prisoners.
Cairo was much the same as Harper remembered it; the same dizzying combination of sight, sound and smell; the same filthy streets and collapsing buildings, the same bustling marketplaces crowded with people buying and selling everything under the sun. The same wretched beggars. The same god-awful bellowing of the muezzins from the minarets.
It felt strange to be guarding in the same fortress they had escaped from nearly a year ago. Harper noticed with interest that their Greek jailor Bartholomew was still in charge, he was a survivor, that one. He recognized Harper and Finnigan, and surreptiously nodded to them, but said nothing.
Their duties were simple. Two of them stood guard over Captain Wright's quarters at all times, and escorted him to his meetings with General Kleber in the Citadel's Great Hall, where the French took over guard duty. Once a week, they were all on parade in the Citadel's courtyard. Apart from this and the general maintenance of their gear, their time was their own. They mostly spent it drinking in the French-inspired taverns that had sprung up all around Cairo, which had decent wine from local vineyards and dancing girls who didn't look too bad if you were drunk enough. The French, anticipating a peace settlement, welcomed them, and they had some famous drunks together, singing off-key versions of each other's songs. They inquired after Captain Calvet, and were informed that he and the 18th were stationed at Damietta, up north.
To pass the time, Harper had set himself the goal of learning Arabic. Every time he got the chance, he accompanied the barracks cleaning man, who spoke passable English, to the market place, and joined in with the haggling and bargaining. Harper had a natural flair for learning by ear, and soon was conversant enough in Arabic to get by.
Often, the nights were warm, and Harper and Finnigan sat at an outside table with their drinks and watched the people go by. And one in particular attracted Harper's notice.
He had found most women in these lands to be of surpassing ugliness. It was no wonder that they wore birquas to cover their faces. As Finnigan explained the situation, all of the good-looking ones were kept shut away in harems, behind closed walls. But among all of the people who would pass the tavern in the warm evenings, one stood out.
She was richly dressed, in a fine birqua, with small gold medallions sewn into its rich fabric. He could of course see nothing of her face, but from her slender and elegant form and the way she carried herself, he guessed that she was young. And whenever she passed the tavern, she would slow her steps and glance at him where he sat before the door, before an older woman in a less ornate birqua who Harper guessed was her nurse shooed her on. Harper took to watching for her. When she passed him for the sixth time in two weeks, he caught her dark eyes, ringed with kohl, and they were pretty eyes. He smiled his best Irish smile and touched his hand to his forehead in salute. She crossed her hands over her breast and gave a little bow to him before her ever-watchful nurse hurried her down the street.
The following week, Harper was told by the duty officer that a woman was waiting outside the Citadel's barracks, asking to see "the big marine who sometimes sits outside of Ali ibn Hadji's tavern." Curious, Harper went to the gate outside where a middle-aged woman in a servant's birqua was waiting for him. She was unveiled. To his surprise, she spoke to him in reasonably good English
"Are you the marine that my mistress greeted last week before the tavern of Ali ibn Hadji?"
"If your lady is young and accompanied by a fussy old nurse, I am your man."
"And do you speak and write Arabic?"
"I speak some, and write even less. Why do you ask, dear lady? And how do you speak English?"
"My name is Miralla. I was a servant at Gibraltar to an English captain's wife. I was captured by corsairs nearly twenty years ago, and sold by them to a Mamaluk bey who kept me as a lady's maid to his wives."
"And who is your mistress?"
"Her name is Sulima, and she is the widow of that same bey. She sought refuge with a rich Turkish cloth merchant named Aboulferu, who has allowed all to believe that she is his wife. He treats her with all deference and respect, but hopes, when the Mamaluks regain control of Egypt, to hand her over to another Bey, who will reward him richly."
"But what does all this have to do with me?"
"She bade me ask you if you speak and write Arabic, and if you do, to come to the shop of Aboulferu. He will welcome you as a European customer, he hopes the first of many."
She left, and Harper, intrigued, made his way to the street of cloth merchants the next day he was off-duty. The shop of Aboulferu was easy enough to find. The merchant welcomed him effusively.
"Welcome, effendi, you honor my humble shop. Will you take some mint tea?"
Sulima was at his side, and within the shop, only the thin inner veil covered her face, so that he could see her features well enough to conclude that she was indeed young, about nineteen, and lovely. When the merchant turned his back to select some fabrics for Harper to choose among, she quickly drew the veil aside and gave him a quick smile with dazzlingly white teeth.
Harper bought a few yards of fabric, and promised he would show them to his quartermaster, who might then make purchases for the whole honor guard of marines. The merchant bade him return soon.
Harper was back two days later, and Aboulferu was overjoyed at his return. As Harper was examining some more fabrics, the merchant approached him with an anxious, almost embarrassed look.
"May your humble servant be permitted to make a request of you, sir?"
Harper was surprised, but smiled encouragingly.
"How may I help you, sir?"
The merchant indicated Sulima, who was standing quietly to the side.
"My dear Sulima, who I look on as a daughter and who has a charming nature, is in need of a tutor in English reading and writing, and in mathematics. My clerks are all Copts and Greeks, and they lie to me and rob me. Sulima will quickly learn all that you will teach her, and then I shall put her in charge of my account books and correspondence with foreign merchants. If you would consent to instruct her, you may count upon my help if I can be of any service to you in any way, as well as my gratitude."
Aboulferu could have knocked him over with a feather at that point, but Harper hid his surprise as well as he could. It was plain that Sulima had suggested this to the merchant in advance of his coming. He bowed.
"I would be honored, sir. Shall we begin now?"
Aboulferu agreed, and led them both to a side room and then went back to his shop. Harper was enchanted by the delicate creature who sat on cushions, as did he, opposite a low table. He took her through some English vocabulary and simple sums. The hour went by quickly, and he promised to come back when he was again off-duty. He came back several times each week, usually after Aboulferu had closed for the day and gone to the local coffee shop to smoke and gossip with his friends. Gradually, their conversations together became freer.
"Do Muslims go to worship services, like in a church?"
"Only the men. The women may go to pray, but may only receive the instruction their men are pleased to give them. A devout woman must pray five times a day, facing towards Mecca. I would like to have gone to Mecca someday, but only if my master allowed me to accompany him on his own pilgrimage could I ever have hoped to make the journey."
"My brother Owen hopes to go to Rome to see the Pope hold Mass some day. I've heard it's a grand place."
"Do Christians pray five times a day?"
"Er . . . usually not that much."
"Do you fast, as we do in the month of Ramadan?"
"Well, we have Lent. During Lent, we can't eat fish. It never made any difference to my family though, we could almost never have fish anyway, except for the few father poached from Lord Glenthorne's streams."
"Were no alms given to you? In my faith, alms giving to the poor is commanded. And you call us heathens?"
And on another occasion:
"Why are you here in Egypt?"
"Because this is where my country has sent me."
"No, I mean, why are the English here?"
"In the first place, I'm Irish, never forget it, lass. In the second place, we're here to make sure the French will leave."
"But the English will stay?"
"That's not up to me."
"And why will we be better off with you than with them?"
Harper had no answer to that. He had never taken much notice of women, except girls to tease. But Sulima aroused strange feelings within him, feelings he could not figure out.
Slowly, but surely, an agreement was worked out between the French, the Turks, and Sir Sidney's forces. The French would evacuate Katia, Es Saliya, and Bilbeis ten days after its ratification, and then Cairo one month later. All French forces would withdraw to Alexandria, Abuquir, and Rosetta, and there await the arrival of the Turkish transports. While waiting for transport, the Turkish army would provide the French the sum of two million francs for their upkeep during their final weeks in Egypt. The French were then to be transported to France with arms and baggage and full honors of war. Having worked through these details, Captain Wright, General Kleber, and a combined force of grenadiers and marines traveled to El Arish, which the Vizier's army had recaptured. Kleber was even willing to overlook the Turks' massacre of most of the garrison after they had surrendered. Such misunderstandings happen in war, and Kleber did not want to jeopardize the treaty.
Harper knew little of these details. He and Finnigan were part of the honor guard to El Arish. He noted that it looked like a tough fortress, but couldn't see why anybody would build it out in the middle of a bloody desert.
On 28th January, the Vizier, acting as the authorized representative of the Sublime Porte, signed the treaty. But since Sir Sidney was not authorized to represent his government, he had to refer the terms of the agreement back to London. All that remained now was to wait for ratification from Whitehall, which would probably take at least three months.
And Kleber, Captain Wright, and their escorts returned to Cairo to wait. And wait. And wait. And the marines' routine of sentry duty, weekly parade, and nights in the wine shops continued.
Harper had been tutoring Sulima for a month. She was an amazingly quick study, and they were soon having extended conversations, when she asked him about himself. He told her of his family, his upbringing in Donegal, and something of the tragedy that had cost him his father and brother. She listened quietly, without comment, but laid a sympathetic hand on his arm when he ended. It lingered there for a while, and he liked that.
"To have a mother, a father, sisters and brothers who love you, such a thing must be wonderful."
"And what about you, Sulima? What is your story?"
"I was born in Tiflis, near Georgia. The overlord of our village wanted money to buy a wife, and he sold me and several of my friends to an Armenian merchant. I was fourteen years old. He took me to Constantinople, but I did not have the plump body that Turks prefer, so I did not bring a good price in the market. In fact the merchant was offered less for me than he had paid. So he decided to bring me to Cairo to sell. I was bought by the Mamaluk Ali Bey, who was killed by the French at the battle near the Pyramids. The merchant Aboulferu was an intimate friend of Ali Bey, and took me into his home."
"Did not you mourn for your husband?"
She gave a short laugh.
"My husband! No, no, I never experienced the sweetness of marriage with him. I told you already that the Muslims love only great masses of flesh. He who you call my husband - who I looked on only as a tyrant - was waiting for me to attain the desired bulk before 'honoring' me with his attention. But weary and sated with the love of women, he turned his attention in an unnatural direction and spurned normal delights. Men such as he keep women in their harems only as symbols of their greatness; there is no tenderness, kindness, or affection there. But he did have one favorite, who lorded it over the rest of us. We were oppressed by this shrew, watched over by rivals who spied on our every word, look, and movement. How could we be happy? And how could I mourn a master to whom I was bound only by fear and dread?"
"What was life in a harem like?"
"We were humiliated and enslaved, confined to an inner room where we had no company but our aged slaves. We never met men, not even at meals. We spent our time embroidering sashes, making veils, and at the spinning wheel. Should our master wish to dine with one of his wives, he had her so informed, and she would perfume her rooms with costly essences, prepare the most delicate foods, receive her lord trembling, and show him the most seductive attention. We had to pretend a happiness we did not feel, and sing tender songs in praise of our master."
"Sometimes entertainers would come to cheer us with dances, pretty songs and romantic tales. At times we were allowed out in the fresh air on the flat roof of the palace, but to prevent the muezzins who call the faithful to prayer from seeing us from atop their minarets, only the blind were made muezzins. Sometimes, we went out for a trip on the Nile, under the guard of black eunuchs. Our barges were richly decorated and beautifully carved, but we were hidden away behind blinds lowered over the windows."
"These were the pleasures we were allowed; but they did not equal the sufferings we had to endure without a murmur of complaint. Jealousy, suspicion, false accusations, insulting reproofs and abusive words made life in the harem a hell. To stop quarrels or to punish imaginary misdeeds whispered into the ear of the master by his favorite, we were beaten with canes, and some died. A Circassian girl, one of my companions, was on the way to the mosque one day and had the misfortune to turn her head towards a man who was speaking nearby. An accusing slave quickly reported this to the Bey. My master, enraged, dragged the poor girl from our midst by her hair into the courtyard, and cut off her head with a single blow of his scimitar."
"So do not expect me, Patrick Harper, to love such an oppressor, or to shed a single tear on his grave, now that death has delivered me from him."
Harper had nothing to say to this, and the lesson ended soon after.
About this time, Lance Corporal Finnigan became bored. And when Finnigan got bored, he usually thought up a prank to liven things up. And now, he had thought of the mother of all pranks.
And his target was his good mate, Patrick Harper.
Harper had developed a fascination for the civilization of ancient Egypt. His interest was fed by one of their drinking buddies, Francois, a civilian who had acted as assistant to Monsieur Dupuis, the archaeologist who had accompanied the expedition and was one of the scholars who had chosen to remain behind when Bonaparte had left. One night at their favorite tavern, he began to explain the process of mummification to Harper, who was already well into his cups by that time.
"When a Pharaoh or an important noble died in Egypt, it took seventy days to prepare his body for burial."
"Do tell!" said Harper, draining his wine. Finnigan refilled it.
"First, they'd wash his body in sweet palm wine and rinse it with water from the Nile. Then, they'd make an incision in his left side and remove his guts, the liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines. They rot the quickest, you know. They'd leave his heart, for it's the center of wisdom and emotion, and he'd need it."
"You don't say," said Harper, draining off his wine. Finnigan refilled it.
"Then, they'd put a hook up the fellow's nose and pull out his brains! They'd take out his eyes and put in fake ones made from marble. Then they'd fill and cover him, inside and out, with this stuff called natron, that dries a man out. They'd leave him to dry for a couple of weeks."
"I can hardly believe thish," slurred Harper, finishing his wine. Finnigan refilled it.
"Then they'd wash him again, and anoint his skin with oils to keep it soft. They'd have dried out his guts by then too, and would stuff them back into his body, wrapped in linen. They'd stuff his body with linen, sawdust, leaves, straw, or whatever so it wouldn't collapse. Then they'd begin to wrap it in strips of linen cloth."
"No!" said Harper. He head drooped, and then he threw off his wine as quickly as Finnigan refilled it.
"Over twenty layers of the stuff. First they'd wrap his head and neck, then each finger and toe individually. They'd wrap his arms and legs separately too. About every four or five layers, they'd paint him with resin to make the strips stick together. They'd stick amulets among the strips, the Isis Knot, which would protect his body from those who would harm it, and the Plummet, so he'd be balanced in the next life. And all this time, the priests would be chanting spells to ward off evil spirits."
By this time, Harper was too far gone to talk. He nodded blearily, drained his glass, and plopped it down on the table where Finnigan obligingly refilled it.
"Then they'd tie his arms and legs together and put a papyrus scroll of the Book of the Dead between his hands. That would tell him what he needed to know for the afterlife. Next, they'd put a wooden mask shaped like his own face over his head and shoulders, so his soul would know his body. Finally, they'd put a last shroud over it all, with a picture of Osiris, the Lord of the Dead drawn on it. They'd have a ceremony of the 'opening of the mouth' so he could eat and drink in the afterlife."
At this point, Harper grabbed the bottle away from Finnigan and poured his own. His eyes begged Francois to continue.
"They'd place him in two coffins, the inner one painted with scarabs, the symbol of resurrection, and more spells to ward off evil. They'd bury him with little dolls called shabatis, which would come to life and become full-size servants in the next world. And his spirit would go before Osiris to be judged. His heart would be put in the balance with the Feather of Righteousness. Anubis would do the weighing, while Thoth would record the results. If he balanced, he went on to the next life. If he didn't, they'd feed him to Ammut, the Devourer of the Dead, and that would be the end of him forever."
Harper looked like he was going to comment on this information. Then he slumped forward onto the table and began to snore. Finnigan checked him.
"Out like a light. This lad just can't hold his liquor."
Finnigan paid their tab. Then he and his accomplices, Francois, his friend, a grenadier named Pierre, and a marine private named Barrett each took a limb and hauled him out of the tavern. As far as anyone knew, they were just taking him back to the barracks to sleep it off.
"He weighs a ton," grumbled Barrett.
"We only have to get him here", said Finnigan. Here was the back of a donkey they had hired, and which was tied up outside. They slung him across the beast's back, and then made their way through the dark streets of Cairo, and out the western city gate.
Towards the Great Pyramids.
Even a heart as light as Finnigan's couldn't help being awed.
The Great Pyramids had looked down upon the Egyptian desert for over three millennia. They gleamed palely in the moonlight, great mountains of stone that had a somber grandeur that weighed on the soul and silenced any flippant comments. The viewer knew that they would still look down on the desert thousands of years after he was dust.
They were just to the west of Cairo's walls, not half an hour's walk. Finnigan's target was the biggest of the three, the Great Pyramid of Cheops. He had scouted out the area a few days before, and knew exactly where he wanted to go. He motioned to his mates, his teeth gleaming in the darkness.
They led the donkey around the southern edge of the imposing pile, through the temple valley, and past the three small Queen's Pyramids and the boat pits. To the south, they could see the remains of the Mortuary Temple of Khefra and the Sphinx, gazing out in silent impassivity over the desert. Beyond Cheops' Pyramid, they saw the remains of the enclosure wall.
All was silent, except once, the sharp yip! of a jackal in the distance.
As they rounded the southern side, they angled north around the west face, on the edge of the Royal Cemetery. And there, in the west face of Cheops' great edifice, they saw an opening, about fifteen feet up.
"Now comes the hard part," said Finnigan.
Pierre unslung his cloak and laid it on the ground. They lifted the still snoring Harper off of the donkey's back, and laid him down on it. Then, each man took a corner. They brought their makeshift litter to the base of the pyramid and slowly, painfully, began to make their way up its face. It wasn't easy going. Barrett was right, thought Finnigan. He did weigh a ton. Once or twice, someone's hand slipped, and Harper's head banged against the stones. His snoring continued without a hitch. He would just have an extra headache in the morning to go with his hangover.
After a lot of grunting, groaning, straining, and cursing, they got to the opening. It was only wide enough for a single man. Finnigan and Francois lit torches they had stuck in their belts earlier. Finnigan preceded them into the passageway, Pierre followed, dragging the makeshift litter on which Harper slept. Barrett pushed him from behind, and Francois brought up the rear, holding up the second torch.
The beginning of the passageway was easy enough, fifty feet straight and level into the Pyramid's guts. Then it got a lot harder. The passageway branched off and led upwards at a steep angle, and was only half the height of a tall man. Now, all four had to crouch down and manhandle Harper up it, with more grumbling and cursing.
"I hope this will be worth it, Finnigan," said Pierre.
"Trust me, it will be. Just wait till you see him."
The passage was just over one hundred and thirty feet, but it felt like ten times that distance. Finally, it leveled off. Now they were in a long, narrow, level passageway. It was still only one man wide, but there was now ample room to stand up in. The arched ceiling was nearly thirty feet over their heads. They carried Harper down its one hundred and sixty foot length, and finally came into the King's Chamber.
It was a big, rectangular room of red granite, and in one corner was a great, lidless, empty sarcophagus of the same material. They had arrived at their goal.
Now they laid Harper on the floor next to the sarcophagus, and leaned their torches against the walls to provide light. They took off their haversacks. Inside, they each had long rolls of linen, lifted from the surgeon's supplies. Stripping off Harper's trousers and coat, they began to wrap him like the mummies he had been so fascinated with. Each man took a limb, and then they started on his torso, keeping the arms and legs free. They wanted him to be able to walk back to Cairo. All through the process, they were chuckling more and more.
"Remember, just one layer for his face," said Finnigan. "He has to be able to breath and see. And remember to leave his right hand free."
By the time they were done, Harper was swathed in bandages from head to foot. Finnigan brought two more items out of his pack. One was a Pharaoh's crown, adorned with a golden cobra; the other was a curved scepter. Both were of course, cheap imitations he had bought in the market place. He placed the crown on Harper's head, tying it under his chin. The scepter went into his right hand, and now new bandages were wound around the fist, securing it in place.
Barrett and Pierre now got into the sarcophagus, which was a little more than waist high. Finnigan and Francois hauled Harper up and handed him to them, and they eased his slumbering form down into the stone bed, put their haversacks back on, picked up their torches, and headed out the way they had come, leaving Harper sleeping in the Pharaoh's tomb.
Finnigan was beside himself with glee. This was the finest of his pranks, bar none.
"Wait till he wakes up. I only wish we could be here for it!"
"Do you think he'll be mad?" asked Barrett.
"Oh, he'll blow off steam for an hour or so, but we'll all be drinking and laughing about this by tonight. I think old Patrick will be more careful about his drinking after this, though."
Their exit was much easier than their entrance, since they were unencumbered by their burden. They made their way down the Grand Gallery, slid down the steep passageway on their backsides, and trooped out through the smaller passageway, already snickering at their successful prank.
Finnigan had just appeared in the opening when a rifle ball struck the stone above his head. He and his companions crouched down and peered into the darkness of the Royal Cemetery.
"Bedouins!" Barrett hissed.
In all his planning, Finnigan had not figured on their being attacked. There were about twenty of them, dismounted from their horses and crouching among the stones of the cemetery. He, Barrett, and Pierre unslung their muskets (Francois, being a civilian, had none), and returned fire. In the darkness, they could not tell if they hit anything.
It was a tight spot. No one knew they were out here, so they could expect no rescue unless someone heard the noise of shooting and reported it. They were outnumbered, and the nomad's jezeels had better accuracy. If luck wasn't with them, they could look forward to being killed, or, knowing the Bedouin's habits, something worse.
Harper groaned and opened his eyes. He couldn't see very clearly, and it was dark. His head was splitting like a horse had jumped on it. What had he been doing? He remembered the tavern, and Francois talking about mummies, and there was a lot of wine . . .
He tried to stretch out his arm and hit a stone wall. Feeling around, he found he seemed to be in an empty bathtub. How had he got here? And where was here? And what did he have in his hand, and why couldn't he let it go? He sat up and groaned again. Then he listened. In the distance, he could hear a noise. It sounded like someone was banging tin pots together. Couldn't they keep quiet while he slept?
He stumbled to his feet, stepped forward, and promptly tripped over the bathtub's edge, spilling out of it onto a stone floor.
Oh! Me poor head!
In his still-drunken state, he forgot his English and began to curse in Gaelic.
"Go sala cuna ifrinn do mahma! Ropa an Cat Mara do thoin bheagmhai theasach!"
Getting to his feet, he stumbled around in the darkness, finding the stone wall, and then the doorway. He headed in the direction of the noise. Whoever was banging those pots would catch it hot from him, no mistake about that! He stumbled down a long hallway, and then the floor fell out from under his feet, and he half slid, half rolled down a steep incline (where did that come from?), landing in an untidy pile at the bottom. The noise was nearer now, and he thought he could see a faint light. He made towards it, his head throbbing worse than ever now.
The Bedouins had the infidels where they wanted them now. Soon, they would rush them, and then they would learn the errors of their infidel ways. Over the course of several nights.
Finnigan thought desperately. How to get out of this mess? They were low on ammunition, since no one had brought a full pouch, and between them, they only had seven shots left. And the Bedouins looked like they were massing for a charge.
And then the Bedouins recoiled with screams of terror. For the Pharaoh's mummy had emerged from his tomb! A giant he was, swathed from head to foot in his wrappings, of terrible visage, bearing his crown on his head and his scepter in his hand. And he bellowed out curses at them, in what surely must be the long-forgotten language of Ancient Egypt.
"Dtachta dia do Bhail Fearga! Go N-itha na pasteoga do chuid gruaige!"
In seconds, the Bedouins were fleeing in panic, and those who were on horseback were no swifter than those on foot. Within seconds, there was no sign of them.
Finnigan stared in shock at the nomads' hasty departure. Then he looked behind him. Apparently, Harper had woken up sooner than anticipated. The giant bandaged figure with the cheap imitation crown and scepter swayed on his feet, clapped his hand to his aching head, and then focused his attention on Finnigan, who smiled disarmingly at him.
"You must watch your drinking, boyo. You never know where you'll end up."
Harper let out a bellow of rage and launched himself at them. If anyone had been out on the desert that night, they would have witnessed a sight to tell their grandchildren: the Pharaoh's mummy chasing four laughing infidels across the sand dunes, cursing at them in Gaelic.
"Go N-itha on diabhal do chuid colaga arbhair! Lescata Formhorach uta do chuid fo-daigh! Gereime an Bhadhbh do chat!"