CHAPTER 1Sir Graham Foster sucked blistering air into his lungs, gave his Arabian gelding a firm pat on the neck, adjusted his feet in the stirrups, and raised his saber high above his head. Glaring sunlight arced along the steel, sending a shimmering signal to the men assembled before him.Boot heels dug into drought-scorched earth. A plaintive creaking arose as hemp ropes tightened and clenched. Some two dozen workers strained forward beside ten of the best camels British pounds could buy. Slowly, painstakingly, and with a screech that set Graham’s teeth on edge, the barrier to the tomb inched open.He prayed the ropes would hold. And that the laborers handpicked from a local tribe of nomads wouldn’t choose that moment to start an uprising or observe one of hundreds of incomprehensible religious rituals. Or simply decide it was time to return to their colorful tents on the desert.He gripped a handful of damp shirtfront and unstuck it from his chest. It had taken three months to
fi nd this tomb, a modest vault of stone and mud brick laid out on a rectangular slab about twenty feet below ground. It hadn’t always been subterranean, but part of the once-prosperous village of Deir el-Medina, now buried beneath centuries of blowing sand. It wasn’t a place one would expect to fi nd the remains of a pharaoh, but rather a pharaoh’s master craftsman.Which suited Graham Foster fine. He wasn’t searching for a king’s treasure or anything of great historical value. Not this time. A text in the Alexandria archives had indicated this to be the burial site of a wealthy goldsmith from the second millennia BC, and Graham expected a handsome return for his pains. He only hoped the poor dead chap wouldn’t mind extending him a bit of a loan for a good cause.It had taken another two months to raise the money and manpower needed to excavate. An additional four weeks to successfully bribe Pasha Mohammed Ali, Egypt’s temperamental Turkish ruler, into allowing the “pesky British swine” access to the area. Of course, this excavation was merely a means to a more important end. If it proved fruitless, there would be more searching, more money to raise, more bribes to off er, and more nomads to deal with.“My lord! My lord!”Shaun Paddington, his friend, assistant, and, when necessity dictated, imposter British consul, hailed from the top of a rise some thirty yards away. Graham swore under his breath. What could be so important that Shaun would interrupt him at such a crucial moment?A high-pitched groan snared his attention. The workers were moving too fast, putting undue strain on both the ropes and the entrance slab. Too much tension on the stone could literally rend it to pieces and cause a cave-in.Graham cupped his hands around his mouth. “Slow
down before it shatters!”The perspiration rolling down his sides had little to do with the hundred-degree heat pounding down from an unimpeded sun. He sucked another breath in preparation of a second warning when he saw the lead camel drivers signal to their snorting, spitting charges.Graham held the searing oxygen in his lungs. Done without the proper skill, the drivers could stop the progress altogether instead of simply slowing it. The momentum would be lost. That meant starting over.“My lord!” Shaun shouted again.Damn. From the corner of his eye, Graham saw his friend descend a sand dune...
Lisa Manuel (Author)
Lisa Manuel is the author of Mostly a Lady. She lives in Coral Springs, Florida.