A brief glimpse into "The Cobra and Scarab: A novel of Ancient Egypt." Hope you enjoy.
The Cobra and Scarab
The midday sun baked the air within the mud-brick hut but the Bedouin never noticed. Before him laid scrolls no man had seen for centuries. Their ancient text held him captive. Across the table an Englishman watched the village elder trail a wrinkled finger over a papyrus scroll. The hours of silent waiting wore heavily on the archeologist’s confidence. He rubbed the wooden tabletop, drummed it lightly, and then closed his hand into a white-knuckled fist. His anxiety mounted. The slightest nod from the old man could mean a new discovery in the Valley of the Kings. But the Bedouin remained calm, never indicating his findings. The archeologist shifted his weight in the rickety chair and mopped trickles of sweat from his brow with a soiled handkerchief. Pulling a scarred pipe and worn tobacco pouch from a shirt pocket, the Englishman drew still as his thoughts wandered. It has been fifteen, no, eighteen years. Have I been so long in Egypt? Damn that Howard Carter! Even as students he boasted of making a find before me. And he did! Lowering his gaze, he looked at the backs of his hands and noted how the desert wind and broiling sun had tanned and leathered his skin. I excavate tons of sand and find nothing. Carter digs less than a mile from me and uncovers Tutankhamen’s treasure tomb two weeks before I found this cache of scrolls. Howard, you bloody lucky bastard! Shaking his head, the Englishman shoved the pipe and tobacco pouch back into his shirt pocket, no longer having the desire to smoke. He sighed in disgust and stared at the village elder, growing more despondent by the minute. Just decipher the hieroglyphics and tell me you found something! Hidden tombs, treasures, anything! The Egyptian made a final glance over the scroll’s text and tediously straightened in his chair. He let the scrolls roll into loose tubes and sat staring at them, unperturbed by his visitor’s agitation. Removing his wire-rimmed glasses, the elder rubbed his fatigued eyes. “Are they what I suspect?” The Englishman leaned forward onto the table, his face a twisted mask of hope and fear. “You Englishmen are all the same,” said the village elder, placing his glasses back on. Sadness painted his aged face as he looked across the table at his guest. “Every time your shovels touch the ground you expect fame. You rob us of our heritage so artifacts may collect dust in your museums. Yet when you find a true treasure you have no appreciation unless it glitters.” His tone was bitter and sharp. “Then the scrolls do tell of a tomb?” The archeologist’s eyes flared. He ignored the old man’s cutting remarks. After all, once a discovery was documented, the old Bedouin would be nothing more than another insignificant memory of Egypt. A light breeze blew through the mud-brick hut, ushering in a fine sheen of dust and more of the desert’s scorching heat. The hunger-filled cry of a baby echoed across the village then silenced as the infant found nourishment from its mother’s bosom. Children’s laughter drifted on the wind then vanished. The momentary serenity caused the elder to gaze out the door and listen to the sounds of his birth land. “You have found treasure,” he said, glancing at the Englishman, “but not of gold.” Shoulders slumped, eyes closed, the archeologist sank back into his chair. Failure enveloped him. He gradually opened his eyes. “What do you mean?” “These are the famous lost works of the priest Manetho of Sebennytus.” The Bedouin motioned to a scroll beside his hand. “This one tells of Egypt’s eighteenth dynasty. My father and his father before him spoke of the existence of such scrolls and how Manetho chronicled the dynasties. The scrolls were thought to have been lost through the ages. But you have discovered them!” “They are only history?” Turning from the Englishman, the village elder looked at the street as the wind lifted and churned dirt in a swirling formation. A stronger breeze swept through the hut, making several of the scrolls roll and bump one another. A cold chill replaced the stifling heat of the room. Then it passed. “The wind speaks, but you do not listen.” The Bedouin’s gaze rose heavenward as he placed his hands together in supplication. “May Allah, the merciful and benevolent, have pity on you.” The words struck the archeologist like a brutal slap to the face. In his race to fame against Carter, every principle and moral he established long ago had been violated. Standing, he raked a hand through his graying hair and began to pace the room. At the door, he paused to stare across the narrow expanse of the dirt street. His dream of returning to England as a celebrated archeologist was diminishing. “I apologize,” he said dejectedly, never removing his gaze from the street. “Those scrolls were my last hope. It is a terrible thing to feel your dreams slip through your fingers. Even worse, when you realize what you have become.” Remorse filled his voice. “You may not believe me, but I am not very proud of myself at the moment.” A gentle smile crept over the elder’s face. “Come. Sit with me,” the village elder invited kindly, motioning to a chair. “Let me tell you of what I have read.” With weighted steps, the archeologist returned to him. Forearms resting on the tabletop, hands cupped one in the other, the Englishman looked at the papyrus scrolls. A blend of interest and humility swathed his face. “From the Valley of the Kings you have brought something far more valuable to mankind than golden trinkets.” The Bedouin selected a scroll and stretched it open before him. The ancient text drew his gaze like a moth to a flame. “Here, yes, this one! Such magnificence lies within these words. But, tell me. Shall I begin?” The elder paused, leaving a finger on the papyrus to mark his place. His brow rose, and he let his questioning gaze carry to his guest. Curiosity stirred the archeologist. He nodded. The wind died and the din of village noises faded as the Bedouin spoke: “In the time known as the New Kingdom, the people often called Egypt Kemet, the Black Land because of the fertile dark soil left by the flood waters of the Nile each year during the Inundation. Surrounding the Black Land was a sea of sand, a barren desert known as the Red Land by its inhabitants. Yet, like the shifting dunes of the desert that alter the land, so do the winds of time amend the truths about peoples’ lives and deeds. Hear now the unknown truths of the beautiful Hatshepsut, her rise to power, the treacheries of nobility, and the two men, the Cobra and the Scarab, destined from birth to clash with her.”