Part 1 of 4
by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
My thanks to the many readers who have been so supportive of this series. You are the best!
Thanks also to Lisa and Inga, my patient and hard working beta readers. The stories in this series interrelate and should be read in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Special Warning: The introduction to this story is based on the events of November 1997 at Deir el-Bahari, Egypt where 58 Egyptians and tourists were murdered in a violent terrorist attack. Some readers might find the introduction disturbing and might wish to skip over it.
They had fought that morning. Really their first fight. There had been tiffs before but not a real fight. This had been a fight. In the end, Cheops Malone had taken the day off from her Dig and taken the two children, against Wilhelminia Kyrtsakis's wishes, to visit Queen Hepshepsut's cliff temple. Major Kyrtsakis had stormed off to see to her duties.
It was barely eight o'clock when they started out from the Valley of the Kings where Cheops was working and headed up the famous Agatha Christie trial that would take them over the ridge that separated the valley of the Kings from the Valley of the Queens. It was warm already, the winter months of cool now giving way to the coming summer heat. Cheops took her sunglasses out of her pocket and slipped them on.
As they walked up the barren ridge, Cheops told the two children about how Agatha Christie had written many well known murder mysteries. Her husband had been an important archaeologist and so Christie had used the setting of the Valley of the Kings for one of her novels. In the novel, Hercule Poirot had walked over this path with some other characters to visit the Valley of the Queens. Since the publishing of the book, the path had always been called after the author who had made it famous.
Cheops' daughter laughed and asked a million questions along the way about the author and the novel, her strawberry blond hair golden in the sunlight. Quietly, Willy's son walked on ahead. He never said much but Cheops knew that he took everything in. He was handsome and dark like his mom and like her too, he moved with a graceful assurance and controlled strength.
From the top of the ridge, they could look down on the famous cliff temple. Its three long storeys were perfectly balanced and orderly and joined by a wide ramp of stairs. As they carefully walked down the steep, winding trail, Cheops told them how King Thutmose the Third had probably been responsible for the Queen's death. He had hated her because she had stolen his leadership from him when he was too young to rule and had refused to give it back.
On her death or murder, he had ordered that every name, statue and painting with her likeness as a pharaoh be destroyed. Not satisfied with killing her in the real world, he was determined to destroy her eternal life too. Cheops' daughter shuddered and took her mother's hand. Willy's son nodded, appreciating the need to demoralize the supporters of an enemy.
That was why they had argued that morning. Cheops had suggested that Willy reconsider sending her son back to boarding school in Britain where he was being carefully schooled for entry into Sandhurst when he was old enough. She felt the boy would be happier if he could have a normal childhood. It was the word 'normal' that had set Willy off. She had taken it as an attack against her profession, which in a way it was.
"I might not be 'normal' in your snobby little academic world but it's my kind that are going to be on the front line protecting this world not yours. You want to talk about meaningless existence, what about digging in the dirt for bodies dead a thousand years?!"
"Four thousand, and would you stop yelling insults! Damn it, Willy, can't we have a disagreement without you having to win at all costs?!"
Cheops shook her head to get rid of the echoes of the morning fight as she led the children up the stairs and into the temple to show them the amazing frescoes that still remained so clearly on the walls. She chewed on her lip in thought as they went. As soon as they got back, she was going to phone Willy and apologize. She had no right to tell her how to raise her son, no matter how close they had become over the winter.
Willy pulled to the side of the tarmac road. The black strip of highway wound its way across the rock desert to the ferry that would carry her jeep across the Nile to the city of Luxor. She had a busy day today. Plans for the security of an up coming visit by high British government officials were almost in place. At a time when terrorism was on the rise, nothing could be taken for granted. As a security officer with special services, it was her job to make sure the visit was a safe one.
She sighed and turned the jeep around. Fortunately, Egyptians understood the concept of time over the ages and not according to daily planners. She would take the next ferry and be late and still, no doubt, show up too early for the meeting with the Minister of Security. She needed to go back and apologize to Cheops. She had said some really stupid things.
They were in the inner rooms of the temple surrounded by a group of German tourists and a handful of Egyptians when the attack came. Cheops remembered that at the first shots and screams, she had looked back and been relieved to see several tourist police at the entrance. Then they had lifted guns and opened fire again. There was no escape.
The bullet shattered a rib as it went through her and another shattered her wrist bone as she went down. Instinctively, she rolled to put the children under her, unaware as yet that both were already dead. The gun fire stopped but the screams grew more frantic. She looked up to see that the killers were now walking among the bodies using machetes to slash at faces and disembowel the living. She curled around the children and prayed that they would survive.
Inge met Major Krytsakis at the entrance to tomb KV 5, pleased that Cheops had left her in charge of the Dig while she took the morning off to be with the children. "I'm sorry Major, Cheops has already left. They took the Christie trail about... That's gunfire!
Quick!" Inge yelled to the workers that were out in the open, "Get inside the tomb!" Concerned with the protection of her crew, she was only vaguely aware of the Major taking off up the dry valley, her powerful, long legs eating up the distance as she ran along the trail.
Inge stood at the entrance watching in worry. Tourist buses continued to arrive but now the guides were getting messages on their phones that terrorists dressed as police were killing people at Deir el-Bahari. She wished her Egyptian was as fluent as Cheops', who had spent her childhood summers in Egypt with parents who had been archaeologists themselves.
From the little she could understand, she realized that the situation on the other side of the ridge must be bad. For a while, the firing had stopped but screams could still be heard. Then the firing started again and rumours spread that the terrorists were heading to the Valley of the Kings. No one came. After awhile, the gunshots and screams stopped. The tourist buses unloaded. An extra squad of police showed up and Inge ordered the crew to return to their work.
Ismail, Cheops's Egyptian foreman, came to stand by Inge. "Those bloody terrorists," he moaned, tears rolling down his face, "they have cut the legs out from under my children. How will they feed their families if the tourists go away?!"
"Cheops was over there with the children. I can't leave the Dig. Cheops would be furious if anything was taken and she has the key, so I can't lock the gate. I don't want to put you in danger, Ismail, but we have to know if Cheops is safe. Will you go find her?" Inge asked, her voice cracking with worry.
Ismail wiped his face immediately. "I go," he said, already heading off.
"Be careful!" warned Inge, wishing that she could leave her responsibilities and go and search for Cheops too.
Willy met one of the last of the terrorists on the trail as she came over the ridge. An Egyptian worker had held him by his leg and that had slowed his escape until he had shot the man in the hip. Willy slowed him too, with a right hook that sent him tumbling down the hill towards a group of Egyptian workers who kicked at him in their fury until he was dead. Willy charged through, across the open courts and up the stairs, calling Cheops' name.
A tourist guard tried to stop her but she pushed him aside and ran into the temple, slipping on the gore and blood that coated the floor like a blanket. She looked around in a panic. Please no, don't let them be here, she prayed and then felt her heart stop as she saw Cheops' body lying in a growing pool of blood. Her lower right leg had been hacked nearly off and the shattered end of white bone hung out of the bloody stump. Willy groaned in dismay and whipped off her military belt as she hop scotched over the dead to get to the woman she loved.
Quickly, she wrapped the belt tightly around the leg below the knee. Then she stripped off her shirt to bandage the severed foot tightly to the stump. She fought to keep her stomach down and her hands from shaking in fear. It was then that she saw her son's arm sticking out.
Gently, she lifted Cheops clear. The two children were curled together. Her son had wrapped himself around the little girl to protect her. Their innocent beauty was marred by the look of horror frozen on their faces. Willy sat in the blood and held her son to her as her world closed in around.
Two Years Later: Turkey
Gunnul stretched out her long legs, deliberately capturing Jamie's small feet between her own. Her soulmate looked up from her side of their large partner's desk and smiled. "I love you, Jamie," Gunnul said in the serious way that she had when she felt something very deeply and was having trouble finding the words to express her emotions.
Jamie smiled "I love you too," she responded. Once she had replied, I love you more, much to Gunnul's confusion. Gunnul's English was excellent but sometimes meaning was lost in translation or in the interpretation by the Turk's very linear mind. Poor Gunnul had been devastated, believing that Jamie did not think that Gunnul loved her enough! It took some explaining and an evening of love making to reassure Gunnul that all was well in their relationship!
"Next week, you will have made your home with me for one year, Jamie," Gunnul explained, rubbing her leg along Jamie's. "I think that it would be good if we took a second honeymoon."
Jamie reached over in delight and captured Gunnul's long, strong hand, "That would be wonderful! But Gunnul, we can't go to Disney World without Chrissy, she would never speak to us again!" Gunnul's eyes widened in surprise and Jamie laughed delightedly. "I saw the travel guides in your briefcase when I was looking for the monthly reports," she explained.
Gunnul's eyebrow went up in mock annoyance. "Then we will ....
"Mommies! Mommies!" called a frantic voice as a pretty young girl ran into the den through the open French doors that led to the terrace.
Gunnul was on her knees beside their daughter in a split second with Jamie only a few steps behind. "What is it?" Gunnul asked worriedly.
"You must come quick!" explained Chrissy, looking back and forth between her two mothers. "The secret tomb in the garden is falling apart!"
"Jamie, bring Chrissy!" ordered Gunnul as she sprinted. Chrissy and her mother followed as quickly as they could with Jamie's crippled leg. Gunnul's long legs and powerful stride had got her to the tomb several minutes ahead of them.
She stood in shock, looking down at the tomb that sat in a tangle of wild garden behind a tall wrought-iron fence. Jamie and Chrissy came up to stand at her side. The stone lid of the tomb snapped softly as they watched and another hair line crack formed. The once beautiful lid of ancient Greek patterns could barely be seen now through the crumbling stone.
"What does it mean?" asked Jamie, reaching out to touch the tomb. Gunnul stopped her hand.
"I don't know," murmured the taller woman.
"They are unhappy. They no longer speak to each other," Chrissy said, tears rolling down her face.
Jamie wrapped her arms around her daughter. "Is it the ancient ones you sense, Chrissy?" she asked.
The miserable child nodded. "Yes, the ancient ones and the ones too that live close to us," explained the serious child. Gunnul and Jamie exchanged looks.
"Where do they live, Chrissy? Do you know?" asked Jamie, gently stroking her daughter's hair.
Chrissy shook her head, "No, but somewhere hot and dry like Turkey. You won't leave us, will you, mom?!" Chrissy wailed, grabbing Jamie tightly. Gunnul's eyes darkened with the fear that was still fed by her insecurity.
Jamie wrapped one arm around their daughter and reached out with the other to take Gunnul's hand. "No, no matter what happens the three of us will always be a family," she stated confidently. "And we'll send all the love that is inside us shall we, to help the ancient ones find their way too?"
It was late when the plane from London touched down in Cairo. Willy waited until most of the five hundred passengers had left in a swarm to wait in an equally large swarm to get their luggage. Willy had only a carry on. Years in the military had taught her to travel light. She walked down the dusty green hallway and stood on the yellow line painted on the floor, waiting for the guard in the ill fitting wool uniform to indicate that she could move forward. The passport stamping was little more than a formality. Egypt was eager to welcome any tourist these days. Since the "incident" tourism had dropped from three million visitors a year to one. Willy knew this. Willy had researched very carefully over the last few months in hospital.
She picked up her passport and walked across the airport lobby. At this hour, the few tourist shops were closed. "Taxi, lady?!" came the bleat of the drivers, who stood in a knot near the entrance. "You speak American? German? Taxi, lady?" Willy moved past them and stepped out into the warm night. The airport sat in sand, built beyond the boundaries of the fertile, green strip that hugged the banks of the Nile River.
Willy walked across the road and looked down into the parking lot situated in a depression. She pointed to the old limo that she thought looked the most roadworthy and a driver kicked off from the side of another vehicle where he had been smoking with a few others. Willy walked down the cement stairs to the lot and over to the limo where the driver waited. "Giza, the Mena House," she commanded. The driver nodded and opened the door for the strange, tall woman. She looked like she had been sick for a very long time.
It was a long trip, across Cairo, over one of the many bridges that cross the Nile and on to Giza. Willy leaned back into the worn leather seat smelling of heat and dust and tried to control the shaking in her hands. She felt strangely detached and she knew that her speech was slightly slurred. The effects of the drugs still came out when she was over tired. She would have to be careful at the hotel. The taxi turned left, passed the guard at the gate, and entered the hotel grounds. The Mena House was a sprawling hotel, extended year after year as the tourist trade mushroomed. The oldest section had been built in the 1800's for the Victorians who had come to steal the local heritage.
She had learned that from Cheops, she remembered, as she paid the driver and allowed the footman to take her overnight bag. She followed, a little unsteady on her feet. Booking in took some time as the Egyptians seemed to love paper work and Willy needed to write slowly and carefully. With relief, she finally walked out of the main building and crossed through the garden oasis to the west wing. One flight up, turn right, third door, then double check the number before slipping in the room card and opening the door. There could be no mistakes.
Out of habit, she smelt for body odor, listened for breathing, checked for movement or shadows. Then she turned and locked the door before she went to the window and balcony door and made sure they were secure. Her bag was already sitting on the luggage rack, her bed was turned down and on the T.V. the in-house computer service had left a message of welcome. Willy flicked the T.V. off, stripped down, and fell into bed. The drugs were playing hell with her over-tired system tonight and every joint ached.
Cheops woke slowly, her alarm set to ring at intervals, raising her step by sleepy step to consciousness. This was always the worst time - when she lay alone in her bed in the morning and the house was still and quiet. She sighed and pushed herself to a sitting position and swung her legs over the side of the bed. The one leg had no foot or ankle, just a stump.
She covered it quickly with her prosthesis and went about the morning rituals of facing another day. The next two weeks were going to be difficult. She was leading a tour. "The Archaeological Tour of the Nile #2" to be precise. She had done so for a good many years. It helped pay the bills. Shortage of funds was a way of life for field archaeologists. It was the problem of adequate funding that was on Cheops' mind as she dressed and prepared a traditional Middle East breakfast of pita bread, goat cheese, and black olives. Popping a sweet date into her mouth to finish off her breakfast, she picked up her Tilley hat and sunglasses and stepped out of her mud brick house to face another day. The house was in Giza and had originally belonged to her parents. It was a humble village home but it had a number of wonderful advantages. First, it was less than an hour's drive from downtown Cairo and second, from her backyard, she could see the great pyramid of Cheops towering over the desert.
Her parents had done their research in the field of grave sites of lower officials that rest in the shadow of the great pyramid. The great pyramid towered 496 feet into the sky and was the largest single human structure ever built. Cheops had been named after it. So after her parents had died, she had kept the small mud house. When she wasn't living in her apartment in Luxor or lecturing at Leeds University back in England, she would stay here.
With a sigh, she popped her Tilley hat on and stepped outside to face another day. She picked up the dusty path that cut behind the main streets and headed across the stony desert towards the Mena House. She knew that the tour bus would already be waiting there. It was early yet, the sun barely over the horizon. She thought she might walk around the hotel's green, tropical gardens before she went to the main lobby to gather up her bewildered tourists for their two week glimpse of five thousand years of history.
Willy saw her first and bent over with the force of emotions that washed through her and settled as a gut eating mass in her stomach. She stepped back into the shadows and watched as Cheops came down the stairs with a pronounced limp and walked slowly around the pale blue pool and tropical gardens. She is just as beautiful as I remember, Willy thought. Her leg must not have healed properly. It didn't matter; she would be dead soon.
Cheops was enjoying the lush green of the oasis garden when suddenly a tall shadow loomed in front of her. With a gasp she stepped back and then felt the blood drain from her face as she saw Will standing in front of her.
"Hello, Cheops," Willy said quietly.
Cheops recognized the dangerous tone and checked her movement forward to touch the taller woman. Will looked terrible. Gaunt and pale. She looked around quickly for a way to escape. A footman and gardener were on the terrace above them. If she had to, she could call to them. No. She would be dead before she could get a word from her lips. She could see the look of hate in the ice cold eyes and she knew she was facing death.
"Hello, Will," Cheops forced out between tight lips, "I never thought I'd see you again."
The tall woman nodded and Cheops waited for what would happen next.
"I'm on the tour," Willy revealed.
Cheops head shot up, "What?! What sort of crap are you up to, Kyrtsakas?! You and I both know you don't give a damn about archaeology! What kind of game is this!?"
Willy's face was cut stone. "I'm going to kill you, Cheops. Like you killed my son by taking him with you when I had told you not to . But not right away, no. No, I want you to feel it coming. I want you to die with the same look of horror frozen on your face as my son."
"So I'm to be afraid? Of what? I watched OUR children murdered. Was left to die by the woman I loved. It was weeks before I even knew where my daughter was buried. And you want me to fear a little thing like death? Well, I don't. Kill me when ever you feel like it, Kyrtsakas. I don't give a damn." Cheops turned and walked back down the path. She could feel those cold eyes following as she took the stairs again in an uneven gait.
Willy waited until she was out of sight and then followed the same path. In the lobby of the hotel, she stood in a far corner watching Cheops greet her group. A slight tremor in the hand but the face was smiling and the voice clear, warm and pleasant. You're good Cheops, really good. But then I fell in love with you because of your bravery that first day.
It had been the end of summer and the heat had beat down in sweltering waves. Dust hazed the air and streaked faces as sweat trickled down from saturated hat rims. Major Kyrtsakas had walked down the market street to pick up some fruit to take back to the hotel. She had lingered enjoying the banter, smells and exotic culture. She hated shopping but somehow these open area markets always gave her a sense of peace.
The commotion ahead had exploded in loud voices onto the market scene. Instinctively, Kyrtsakas had moved forward. There an angry woman with short strawberry blond hair was screaming, in Egyptian, at a man that she had pinned to the ground with a broom handle.
As near as Kyrtsakas could make out as she stood with a grin, her arms crossed, watching, was that the man in question had tried to steal the lady's satchel with disastrous results. The market people seemed to know the woman and were supporting her side with much laughter. Then out the corner of her eye, Willy saw the knife. She hurled herself at the woman sending them both flying. The knife caught the skin of Willy's arm before it buried itself in a wood door.
The crowd surged forward in concern yelling for the police and offering help. In the confusion, the thief slipped away. No doubt to meet his accomplice, the knife thrower, at some planned location.
"Wow! That was close! Thanks!" smiled the petite woman getting up on her knees. "I'm Cheops Malone."
Willy smiled back. "Major Wilhelminia Kyrtsakas," she responded holding out her own hand. The small hand she grasped was surprisingly strong.
"Hey! You've been hurt!" Cheops exclaimed seeing for the first time the blood soaking down Willy's arm.
Willy got to her feet pulling Cheops up as she did. "It's okay. I'll see to it back at the hotel," she murmured, turning to walk off.
"No! My house is not far from here. Let me clean it properly and give you a tetanus shot," Cheops had argued. And perhaps because of the heat, and her loneliness for her son, who was still back in school in England, she had agreed.
They had walked a few blocks to the outskirts of Giza and entered a small mud brick home. Inside, the walls were plastered and painted with scenes from ancient Egypt. The furniture was wood, plain and practical. Along the walls were the sofas piled with cushions and rugs in the eastern style. Willy had sat at the table and Cheops had cleaned her arm, disinfected and bandaged it and had then given her a shot. She had stayed for dinner, met Cheop's daughter and never really left, at least not until the incident.
Willy let the memories fade out and checked out with professional interest the people that would be on the tour. There were only a few. A New York couple with the loud, flat accent that stereotyped them. A new-age couple carrying their reference book and looking intense. They were from Salt Lake. Lastly, there was an older man traveling with a rather bored looking son. Cheops was handing out information packages and name tags. With one left, she came over and handed it to Willy.
"I need to talk to you," she said, a worried frown on her face. "I'll see you later."
Willy's face did not show the surprise she was feeling. She merely nodded and watched as Cheops sighed and turned to walk back to the others. "Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let's board our minibus to go to the Cairo museum." Cheops smiled happily and led the group forward. Willy followed a few steps behind.
On the drive from Giza back to Cairo, Cheops talked about the history of Egypt, explaining that there had been three major empires in its ancient history: the early, middle and late kingdoms. She then went on and talked about the Greek invasion under Alexander the Great, the Roman influence by Caesar and Anthony and in modern times the colonisation by Britain and eventually the road to freedom under Nasser.
At the museum, she got the tickets and led everyone through the tight security then let them go to see the exhibits on their own. As always, to Cheops' amusement, they made a bee line to the area where King Tut's artifacts were kept. As an archaeologist, she knew that there were far more significant pieces of ancient history stuck in the dusty corners of this famous museum than were found in Tut's tomb but people loved gold and mystery and Carter's Dig had lots of both!
She turned to see Willy waiting. "I just wanted to say that I'm not going to be a willing victim. I don't want to die. But I'm not afraid to either and I'm not afraid of you. But I am worried that you might hurt the tourist trade of Egypt when it can least afford anymore bad publicity. All I'm asking is that if you should succeed in this mad revenge, do it in a way that won't reflect badly on Egypt."
"Agreed," Willy responded and Cheops nodded and after a second, walked off. Willy's eyes followed her, admiration reflected in the cold blue.
Cheops walked passed the book and souvenir counter then turned down a hall that she knew would take her to a small open air courtyard. It was a quiet oasis inside the famous museum, away from the crowds of tourists, where a person could think.
She could notify the police that she had been threatened but with the extreme steps the government of Egypt was taking to protect tourists from more "incidents" it would be unlikely that they would have the man power to protect her from a trained killer such as Will. That's if they believed her at all!
She could notify the R.A.F. that one of their officers had gone over the edge but she wasn't sure that Will was still attached to the military. It appeared, anyway, that she was here as a civilian. The military would not see it as their responsibility if they took the claim of a threat seriously.
She did have a colleague at Leeds, Roger, who she knew had worked with soldiers who had experienced war trauma. It might be a good idea to contact him for some advice.
No, there were only two ways out of this situation, either Will was going to make good on her threat or Cheops was going to have to talk her out of her plan. The second scenario seemed the most appealing, Cheops concluded with a bitter smile. But how do you reason with a person as passionate and focused as Will? And was she mentally stable? She looked and acted as if there was something very wrong. She'd noticed the other tourists looking at her in apprehension. There was a slight slur to her speech and a tremor to her hands and a stiffness in her movements that was unlike the woman she had fallen helplessly in love with.
She had put her exhausted daughter to bed that night with promises that Willy would be invited back soon. The stiff soldier had mellowed with the arrival of her daughter and the three of them had played soccer together in the desert behind the house. When she returned to the livingroom, she had offered Will a Turkish coffee and they had talked late into the night, each enjoying the other's company and the heady sexual tension that lay beneath the subtle teasing and flattery.
She had been surprised to find Willy had a son, the product of a long and turbulent affair with a fellow officer that had ended with the soldier's death in the Gulf War. Cheops told Willy about her unhappy marriage to a college professor that had ended shortly after the birth of her daughter. He had not been interested in raising a family. Cheops had returned to her maiden name and was happily raising her child as a single mom.
When Will was leaving, with a promise to return the next night, they had stood awkwardly for a moment. Then Will had leaned down, hesitated for a second in case Cheops had wanted to step away, and captured the archaeologist's lips with her own. Cheops surrendered without a fight and welcomed the warrior into her heart.
She had thought that their love would endure forever. Soon after that first evening, Will's son had arrived and the four of them had bonded into an apparently inseparable unit. Until the "incident". Then life had changed forever.
Cheops sat in thought in the small courtyard, enjoying the morning sun that was heating the desert air, forcing her thoughts away from Will's threat and onto the itinerary for today. After the museum, they would return to Giza to see the pyramids there. Then there would be dinner that included a folk dancing show. She sighed; it was going to be a long day!
"I brought you some Turkish coffee," said a voice from beside her and Cheops jumped in surprise. She looked up to see Will standing quietly, a small cup in each hand. The classically beautiful face was still, emotionless, revealing nothing.
Cheops reached up taking hold of the small cup filled with the thick syrupy coffee. Her fingers brushed against the warrior's and both women's eyes came up in surprise at the intensity of the touch. Eyes locked, then both looked away.
"I hated you, you know, for leaving me to die and for taking my daughter's body," Cheops' confessed.
"I didn't leave you to die," Willy snarled.
"It was Ismail who found me and took care of me until medical aid arrived," stated Cheops, staring moodily into the dark depths of the coffee. "He said when he arrived you were carrying the children out."
"I know, what I was doing! It is etched on my mind forever!" snapped Willy." I put a tourniquet on and wrapped your leg. Didn't it heal right? You limp."
Cheops ignored the question, "Why did you leave?"
"I found my son," stated Willy looking blankly out at the garden.
"And my daughter," reminded Cheops angrily.
"I sent a message to the hospital that I'd buried them together," explained Willy, looking at Cheops suddenly. The blue eyes were burning with an intense light that seemed to come from within. They were, when she was angry, inhuman eyes.
"I didn't get it," responded Cheops meeting the stare with green eyes flashing with emotion.
"Not my fault. I did my duty."
"Duty! For Christ sakes, Will! They were our children!" Cheops exploded, tears welling in her eyes.
Will said nothing. The words too hard to say. She raised the cup to her lips and allowed the thick, bitter coffee to push down the rising lump in her throat. Her hand shook.
Cheops face turned from tense anger to confusion. "What's wrong with you, Will? Are you sick?" Cheops looked up with pleading eyes.
"No," came the cold response.
Cheops nodded and looked away. "Thank you for the coffee. Is this some sort of Special Services ritual, providing coffee and conversation before the kill?"
"It is important that you understand that I did not fail you," came the cold response.
Cheops hurled her cup across the lawn as she leapt to her feet. "Damn you!" she yelled brushing past Willy, tears streaming down her face. "Damn you to hell!"
After she had left, Will stood for a long time staring at nothing. I am already damned, Cheops, she thought. Then she went and retrieved the cup from the flower bed and carried the two of them back to the refreshment counter. Revenge, at a personal level, she was finding, was not sweet.
"I'm tellin ya, Abe, any guy who has all his gold buried with 'im ain't civilized. As soon as we get back to New York, we're going to the lawyer's. Ya hear! You're not taking it with ya!" said Betty slapping the arm of her long suffering husband playfully.
"Yes, Betty," Abe responded rolling his eyes and smiling. Behind all the toughness, his wife had a heart of gold and he knew it.
"Hey you, come here," Betty suddenly demanded over Abe's shoulder, as she beckoned with her hand. Abe felt a tall presence behind him that sent icy shivers down his back. He moved aside and saw the strange woman who had been lurking at the edge of their group all morning. Betty! What are ya doing now, he thought?!
"Look, Honey, I seen you on the bus rubbin' your head. You gotta headache? I said to Abe, she's one of those half starved models that die young from taking diet pills, didn't I, Abe?" rambled Betty as she dug deeply in her enormous purse.
"Ahh, Betty I don't think..." started Abe.
"Here! I picked up a banana off the breakfast table this morning," explained Betty proudly thrusting the item in question at the bemused warrior. "Ya eat that, okay? It's got stuff in it women need."
"Betty! Ya don't know if she's a model! Ya outta be mindin' your own business!" grumbled Abe.
Betty rolled her eyes in annoyance. "Tell him," she demanded of Willy.
Willy's amused eyes flickered from Betty to Abe. "I was just medically discharged from the R.A.F. Special Services Unit. I was captured by a terrorist group...it wasn't too pleasant," explained Willy although she was not sure why. Betty had sort of appealed to her with her rough kindness to a stranger. She held up the banana. "Thanks, I'll take it out and eat it on the bus," she promised and walked on.
"Model!" scoffed Abe giving his wife an affectionate poke.
"Well! She could have been! She's gorgeous!" Betty said in defense.
Cheops got herself under control and then went in search of her group. She found the couple from Salt Lake City and the father and son waiting dutifully in the allotted spot. "Hi, just the Laytons to wait for and we can be off!" she remarked.
"What about Wilhelminia Kyrtsakas?" grumbled the older gentleman. "You going to leave her behind?"
Cheops' insides jumped at hearing the name of her ex-lover. "You know, Willy?!" she asked in confusion.
"Nope, read her name tag," responded the wiry old man smugly.
Cheops laughed at her own stupidity. "That makes sense," she agreed. "Will knows this part of Egypt very well. She has lived here before. She can take care of herself," Cheops reassured the group. Aaron Scott was going to be a difficult old coot, Cheops thought. The son, Bob, too, by the way he was leering at her.
"She doesn't look too well," observed the rather prim wife from Salt Lake, her husband nodding his agreement..
Jean and Bill Bartlett, Cheops' mind registered. " Here are the Laytons now!" said Cheops happily, changing the subject as quickly as she could.
Betty came bustling up with Abe trailing behind. "Have you seen Will?" asked Aaron persistently.
"She's on the bus eating the banana I gave her," explained Betty. "She's English and she's been medically discharged from the R.A.F. because she was held prisoner by terrorists and tortured!" revealed Betty proudly. The group looked at her in surprise.
Abe explained proudly, "That's my Betty. She shoulda been an interrogator. She could get information from a corpse."
Several of the group giggled at this and Cheops used the moment to lead her group back to the bus. She hid how upset she was behind a stream of facts about some of the exhibits the tourists had seen, wondering on another level, why she should care that the woman who was going to try to kill her had been a prisoner of war.
Will's long legs were stretched out along the back seat of the bus and she had leaned her head against the window, her eyes closed. She looked exhausted. Cheops knew, however, that she was probably aware of everything happening around her. She was like that, observant, alert, and always on guard.
The group piled back into the mini-bus with a good deal of noise and confusion and then settled down for the ride back to Giza. Cheops stood at the front and leaned against the safety rail as she used the mike to give her group a little bit of background information on the Great Pyramids of Giza.
"The pyramids at Giza were built as royal tombs between 2700 B.C. and 1000 B.C. The largest one is Khufu which stands some 480 feet tall. It is made of 2.3 million blocks of stone each weighing about 2.5 metric tonnes! It is still, today, the largest single structure ever built by man."
"Wow! That's fantastic!" encouraged Bob, who had taken the seat directly across from Cheops.
"Do you ever know a lot about this stuff!"
Cheops laughed good-naturedly, "Well, I do have a doctorate in Egyptology. In fact, I grew up in Giza. My parents were both archaeologist. They worked on the remains of the City of the Dead that surrounds the great pyramids. They are the mastaba tombs of the pharaoh's family, officials and courtiers."
"What does mastaba mean?" asked Bob hanging on to every word that Cheops was saying. Willy sitting quietly at the back could feel the hairs at the back of her neck starting to rise in irritation.
"Mastaba means literally mud-brick bench. The Egyptians thought that these ancient tombs looked a lot like the sun-dried mud benches you see in front of local homes," explained Cheops.
"So are you saying we gonna see a graveyard?!" asked Betty loudly.
"Basically, yes," Cheops affirmed. " Traditionally, the living of Egypt lived on the east side of the Nile, the side of the rising sun and the dead lived on the west side, the side of the setting sun. In Cairo, there is a huge City of the Dead. Families build houses there over where their dead are buried. There are streets and rich houses and poorer neighborhoods too. It looks from the hillside just like a sprawling suburb only everyone there is dead."
"Wow! What a great place for a D.&D. game!" suggested Bob.
"I wouldn't recommend it. Moslems take their beliefs very seriously," responded Cheops and then went on to change the subject. "I was named after the pharaoh Khufu. Cheops is the Greek word for Khufu." Cheops clicked off her mike and handed it back to the driver before slipping back into her seat.
Willy's eyes narrowed as Bob leaned over and continued to ask questions of Cheops. After a few minutes he slipped in beside her on the same bench. When his arm wrapped around the seat back, Willy was on her feet and walking unsteadily towards the front of the bus. She tapped Bob forcefully on the shoulder. "I need to talk to the guide," she stated bluntly and Bob, after a moment's hesitation, moved sulkily back to his seat.
Willy sat down beside Cheops and stared out the front window. What the hell did I do that for, she wondered? "Will?" Cheops asked softly leaning close to the agitated warrior.
"Hmmm," responded Willy looking down and catching the scent of desert flowers and sunlight that she remembered was the taste of the beautiful woman beside her.
Cheops reached out and covered Willy's hand. She felt the woman jump in revulsion but the hand did not move from where it lay beneath her own. "Thanks."
"It's okay," she muttered disinterestedly.
"Betty told us about...what happened to you," Cheops confessed. The hand stiffened and shook slightly. Cheops wrapped her own around it. The hand was pulled away sharply.
"What the hell are you doing?!" hissed Willy.
"Caring," Cheops responded softly.
"Find someone else to mother!" Willy growled cruelly.
"There is a river of bad blood separating us, Will, but I can answer honestly that after you there could never be another. You were my soulmate." Willy got up and walked back to the back of the bus with out a word. Cheops sighed sadly and picked up her knapsack to place on the now empty seat to discourage Bob from returning. Then she looked moodily out the window.
In bed with the enemy, wasn't that the expression? She wasn't getting very far in breaking down Will's wall of hate but then she knew the odds were stacked in the warrior's favour in this contest of wills. Yet she had come to Cheops' rescue. There must be some fragment of what they once were deep inside. If Cheops could only find it.
They rode back to the hotel, and after a light lunch, walked through the gardens and up the hill to the pyramids. Arabs riding camels and wearing traditional dress offered to have their pictures taken with the tourists for a price and Abe insisted on Betty posing. The Barletts too were anxious to get their picture taken. Bob and Aaron walked on, after being told to meet at the Sphinx in an hour's time. That left Cheops once again with Will.
"I read you are still working on KV 5," Will observed kicking at the gravel with her sneaker.
"Yes, it's been...hard at times. I still can't make myself go near Hatshepsut's temple," confessed Cheops a lump forming in her throat. She swallowed with difficulty. "Would you like to see one of the mastaba my parents worked on?" she asked, more to change the dangerous subject than for any other reason.
"Sure," came the quick response.
Cheops looked up quickly. "You won't get a chance to kill me, Will. I'm not likely to take you anywhere where there are no witnesses."
Will smiled coldly. "There have been plenty of opportunities so far to off you, Cheops. But I'm in no hurry. I paid for the tour."
Cheops face drained of colour. Glacial-blue eyes seemed to reach in and freeze her soul. She forced herself to stand straighter and give Will a dirty look. "I'll make sure you get your money's worth, Major, as far as the tour goes. This way," she instructed carefully negotiating the loose hillside down into the City of the Dead that lies in the shadow of Khufu.
Will adjusted her pace and stayed close enough to grab Cheops if she should fall. There was definitely something wrong with her ankle. It didn't seem to bend.
They approached a Mastaba where several archaeologists and their assistants were surveying. A lean, dark haired woman with a row of gold studs in one ear smiled and got up from where she was pounding in a survey stake. "Cheops! Great to see you!" she exclaimed giving the petite woman a hug and leaving her arm over the woman's shoulder as she turned to face Will.
"This is Dr. Sophia Polinski, Will. Soph, this is Major Wilhelminia Kyrtsakas."
She seemed relaxed and comfortable under the archaeologist's arm. Were they lovers? Will could feel her anger fighting to break free. This was stupid! Why should I care? she wondered.
"Glad to meet a past friend of Cheops," the wiry woman said pointedly, grasping Willy's hand in a strong handshake.
Will squeezed until she saw the flash of pain cross Sophia's face, then let go. "Doctor," Will acknowledged. "Let's go Cheops," she said impatiently.
Cheops turned to Sophia. "Is it okay if we check out tomb KP 326?" she asked.
"Sure Hon, go ahead." Sophia smiled and stepped aside after giving Cheops' shoulder one last squeeze.
Cheops led the way down into the tomb with Will moodily following behind. The tomb was cool and dark after the intense afternoon sun. For a minute, they stood close together letting their eyes adjust.
"I thought I was your soulmate, and there could never be another," remarked Will with bitter sarcasm.
"I'm not having an affair with Sophia," responded Cheops calmly.
"She'd like to," snarled Will.
"Yes, she would."
"Do you find her appealing?"
"Physically, yes," Cheops admitted honestly.
Will nodded and walked farther in to the tomb. The walls were covered in rows of black hieroglyphic on orange plastered walls. The barrel roof was painted navy and covered in stylized stars in yellow.
"What does it mean?" asked Will, looking around, hands on hips, and a thunderous expression on her face.
"It's the text from the Egyptian Book of the Dead," explained Cheops looking at the walls with interest.
Will's laugh burst out. "You've got guts Cheops! I'll give you that! You'd better read your prayers, while you have the time."
Alright," the small archaeologist responded. "The eastern wall over here has the morning prayers on it. It reads, 'Worship the sun god when he rises on the eastern horizon of heaven.' Then here it says, 'Sun god, you rise and shine honouring your mother, Nut, who made all the gods.' Over here on the western side it says, "Receive in the west our sun god, content and safe in the righteousness of your nations. May the sun god give us splendour and power.'"
"You'd be better to put your trust in yourself, instead of a stupid god," said Will bitterly.
"I do. But more than that, I put my trust in you," replied Cheops coming to stand in front of Will, and looking up at her sincerely.
"Don't," Will shot back and pushed past Cheops to climb out of the tomb.
"But I do. My life depends on it," whispered Cheops, and awkwardly made her way back out of the tomb.
The sun blinded her for a minute, then, looking around, she saw Will storming off in the distance. Sophia came up to stand beside her. "Listen, when you finally decide to let go, let me help kiss it better." Cheops gave her a dirty look and limped off.
She found the group dutifully waiting for her by the Sphinx and pasted on a happy smile for them. "Legend has it that Oedipus was able to kill the Sphinx by knowing the answer to this riddle, First on four legs, then on two, lastly, on three legs. Do you know the answer? No? It's baby crawls, man walks, old man with a cane."
"I don't use a cane," grumbled Aaron.
Cheops grit her teeth put laughed politely, "That's because you are young of heart and still handsome too," Cheops flattered him. The old man beamed and poked his son, Bob, in the ribs. The group laughed and Cheops went on. "The Sphinx is actually a lion with the face of the pharaoh. It was common to make sphinxes and we'll see lots of them. But this one is unique because of its gigantic size. Carved from a natural outcrop of rock, it is 66 feet high and 240 feet long!"
" It's really hot out here now. I bet you are all ready to head back to the hotel and have a cool drink by the pool. I'll see you at dinner at 8:00 p.m. This way, we'll take the back door out," concluded Cheops walking slowly around the far side of the Great pyramid. She didn't want to over tax Aaron although the old man seemed in remarkably good shape. Her keen sight had noticed, too, that Will looked exhausted and her movements were again stiff and shaky.
Cheops spent the late afternoon seeing to the various needs of her clients. Aaron wanted his room changed so that he was next to his son. Betty needed to know if the ice was made from bottled water and the Bartletts needed their return flight times verified. She had only enough time to slip home and change into her gallabeeya and return for dinner.
All eyes were on her when she entered the dinning room in the navy blue flowing robes decorated in intricate geometric patterns of gold braid. "Honey," said Betty, "You'd charm the devil himself in that get up!"
"It's beautiful!" admired Jean. "Bill, I must get one while I'm here. What is this Arab dress called again?"
"It's a gallabeeya," Cheops repeated patiently for the fifth time.
"Ain't it hot?" asked Aaron.
"Well, this one is for evening wear and it is pretty heavy. The desert, as I'm sure you have noticed, gets chilly at night. The day time ones are usually a light cotton so they are quite airy and cool. Having grown up in Egypt, I feel just as comfortable in Arab dress as I do in European."
The waiter arrived with their menus then and conversation turned to other subjects. Cheops was disappointed that Will had not shown up. She had wanted the woman to see her in this outfit. There was a time...it was perhaps better not to think of those heady days of love before the incident. The floor show started and Cheops forced her mind onto the here and now, clapping with the others during the folk dances and watching the bellydancer with approval.
When it was politely possible, Cheops took her leave and walked slowly back through the hotel gardens to catch the trail that would take her behind the City of the Dead and down to her own backyard. Her mind wandered again to happier times. Will used to put on Arabic music and insist that Cheops belly dance for her. It always led to other activities together that lasted long into the night.
Lost in thought, Cheops did not hear the steps behind her until she was caught around the middle in a pair of lanky arms. "Bet you can belly dance real nice too," Bob whispered in her ear.
"Let go, Mr. Scott," Cheops said firmly, pushing at him. The arms tightened and Cheops realized that she was in trouble. "Back off!" she ordered. Bob's breath, heavy with whiskey, laughed softly as he spun her around for a kiss. Cheops lost her balance on her one good foot and fell, pulling Bob down with her. Oh god! She thought.
She struggled to push Bob off as he laughed with drunken delight. Then to her relief he was up off her, held by the scruff of his neck by a warrior who looked only a hair's breadth away from murder. "Get out of here! And don't ever come near her again!" Will ordered as she shook the terrified drunk until his teeth rattled. She gave him a good push in the right direction and he stumbled off into the darkness whining that it was all a mistake.
Will reached down and pulled Cheops to her feet. She toppled forward and the warrior caught her in her arms. "You okay?"
Cheops did not miss the opportunity. She rested her head under Will's chin and nodded, her head buried in the soft material of the taller woman's shirt. It smelt of freshly ironed cotton and the spicy scent that was uniquely Will's.
Will stepped back. "I'll walk you home."
Cheops laughed shakily. "Saved from an amorous drunk to be walked home by my killer. I'm not having a good night!
Will looked uncomfortable. "I told you, I want my money's worth. You're safe enough tonight."
Cheops looked deep into Will's eyes. She could see the doubt. I'm winning you back, Will. You just don't know it yet, she thought. Out loud she said, "Thanks."
The two of them walked side by side along the stony path back to Cheops' home. In the backyard Will stopped and looked around, the pain and strain showing on her face. Cheops licked her lips nervously and took the chance. "Sometimes, I can still hear them playing out here," she said softly and Will nodded swallowing hard. "I never would have..."
"I know," cut in Willy quickly. "I don't want to talk about it."
Cheops nodded. "You didn't come to dinner," she observed.
Will looked uncomfortable and shuffled the dry gravel around with a foot. "I don't do so well in those sort of settings. I don't like noise and crowds."
"Would you let me fix you a snack? It is the least I could do for you saving my honour."
"You could have handled him. He was just a stupid drunk. You're not too good on that foot now, huh?" Will observed.
Cheops swallowed, she was going to have to tell Will the truth and she had better do so now even though she was very much afraid that it would end any chance they had of ever being together again. She had seen the look of revulsion on people's faces before, when they saw her foot was artificial. "My foot and ankle were amputated Will. I wear a prosthesis." The body next to hers started and then went very still.
"You've got an artificial foot?!"
"Yes," responded Cheops looking at the ground, afraid to look into Will's eyes and see the revulsion.
She was taken completely by surprise when Will wrapped her in a strong embrace. "I didn't know," she whispered into Cheops' hair.
"It's okay. Thanks for caring." Cheops looked up and met Willy's eyes. " Listen, seeing as we have a truce tonight, would you like to come in, and I'll make you something to eat?"
Will drew back and let her arms fall to her sides. For a minute they stood looking at each other in silence while Will fought her demons. "No," Will finally said and turned and disappeared into the night.
Cheops limped to her door and let herself in. Mechanically, she went through the process of packing and getting ready for bed. Tomorrow, they would visit Sakkara and then take the 300 mile flight up the Nile to Luxor. She was anxious to see the progress that had been made at KV 5 and talk to Inge, her field archaeologist.
Sleep was a long time coming. At Luxor, Will was going to have to relive that awful day, as Cheops had many times, in working each season in the Valley of the Kings. If she could not reach Will soon, she didn't think she had too much time left. Will would have a plan, she was sure of that. She'd have a place and a time and a weapon and there was little Cheops could do but hope that there was a grain of the woman she loved still inside the tortured soul.
What had happened to Will, anyway? She could, now that the passing months had healed some of the raw emotion, understand why Will wanted nothing more to do with her. And if what Will had said was true, that she had given her first aid and notified the hospital of where she had buried her daughter, then some of the resentment that she had held against Will was not fair. Will had not wanted to kill her then, why now? It was only in the blood red dawn that Cheops finally fell asleep.
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