Part 3 of 4
by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The character 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 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 underage or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
The woman called Cheops Malone had taken her and her brother to the street market. At first, Amand was afraid that she would leave them as indentured labour with some merchant. To her surprise and delight, the blond woman bought them beautiful clothes instead. Each of them got four outfits, two Egyptian and two European. Amand had been very proud of and impressed with Cheops Malone. She drove a hard bargain and got good prices for their clothes. She was known in the market place and people treated her with great respect and kindness. It made Amand and Zahi feel proud. No one had ever treated their parents with such honour.
Here too, she had learned from a shop keeper, while Cheops was busy picking out clothes for Zahi, that the woman limped because she had an artificial foot. Her real foot had been cut off, the shopkeeper had said, during the terrorist attack at Deir el-Bahari. Perhaps that was why the blond woman was helping them; maybe she had known their parents.
"Why are you being so kind?" Amand had asked at Zahi's insistence.
"Will Kyrtsakas wishes that you have these things. We will see that you are found a good home and that you get the chance to go to school," explained Cheops.
"Will Kyrtsakas and you are very kind. My brother and I pray for you and thank you a thousand times. Always we will be grateful."
Cheops smiled and gave the serious child a quick hug. "Don't you worry, sweetheart, everything will be fine. I'm going to see to that."
Back on the boat the two excited children waited impatiently for Will to wake to thank her for her kindness and show off what Cheops had bought them. Amand explained at great length, to the puzzled soldier, the pride she had for Cheops. Will turned to Cheops for an explanation, realizing by the girl's gestures that she was talking about the archaeologist.
Cheops blushed. "She wants you to know that I drive a hard bargain and that many people know me in the market."
Will's eyes traveled over the small, blond woman. dressed in the green gallabeeya. "Tell her that I have seen you bargain."
But before Cheops could translate, Amand responded. "She is good so much. But you send her. I thank you. My brother thank you."
Will smiled and stroked Zahi's hair as he stood close to the tall woman's leg. "You and your brother are very welcome, Amand.
Cheops supervised the two children changing into their new clothes. Then once again as a family, they left their cabins to meet the group for the afternoon tour. The others were delighted with the two clean and well dressed children who now waited quietly behind Will's tall legs. Cheops saw Will reach down with pride and rub each dark head reassuringly and a lump formed in her throat. Oh Will, no, don't get attached to these children, she prayed.
With a smile, she didn't feel, Cheops led her small group down the gang plank and up the worn stone stairs of the embankment to the waiting bus. Much to Cheops' surprise Will came up beside her and took her elbow, steadying her as she laboriously lifted her artificial foot up each step. She hesitated and looked up at Will. "You said as a family," the soldier explained coldly and Cheops, nodded not sure at all about what was going on in Will's head.
The tour group followed Cheops through the courts and ruined temples of Karnac with their mouths open in wonder. Fields of pillars towered over their heads. The bases of the columns alone were as tall as Cheops. The cross lintels of these massive structures were mounted on smaller blocks at the top of the column giving the feeling that the ceiling was floating. The underside of these huge, stone beams, protected from wind and sun, still had the remains of colourful, mysterious murals. They were ghostly images of the activities of this lost civilization.
The delicate hieroglyphics were like musical scores, as they flowed in rhythmic patterns across walls and columns. Cheops showed them the vast sacred pool, the inner temple with its sacrificial alter, and the hidden obelisks. Then, she gave them some free time to wander.
Will had followed, with the children, keeping to the family role with grim determination. She listened intently to what Cheops said and amused the children with hide and seek games or pointed out interesting scenes of animals in the frescoes.
Cheops watched her group dissipate then turned to Will. "You want to let the children run a bit behind the temple?"
Will nodded her head. "Good idea, Malone. They've been good. Let them burn off some energy."
Cheops pulled a small rubber ball, that she had picked up at the market that day, from her knapsack and gave it to the delighted children. In Egyptian, she gave them instructions about where to play safely. Amand smiled happily, took her little brother's hand and led him over to the edge of the huge archaeological site to play.
Cheops took Will by the arm and led her through the nearby rubble to show her the ruins of the harem. Will found herself wrapping an arm around Cheops to help her along. On flat surfaces, Cheops' limp was barely noticeable but on uneven terrain she had great difficulty. Will wondered how she managed on archaeological sites.
"Do you see the beauty of these walls, Will? Isn't it amazing?!" enthused Cheops, her eyes dancing with delight.
Will smiled despite herself. Cheops was beautiful. Her hair was golden firelight in the sun and her cute face was lit with animation. The woman still has the power to excite me to the core of my being, Will acknowledged to herself. The smile faded. She'd have to be careful not to let Cheops use her desire to try to seduce her from her mission.
"You know what they found here, Will? Hundreds of covers of poetry books. They had titles like, 'To My True Love', or 'To My Absent Love'. But only one small phrase survived of the pages inside. One small glimpse of the beautiful souls of those ancient people."
"What was the fragment?" asked Will softly, pulling Cheops into the shadows well away from prying eyes.
Cheops ran her hands up Will's chest, only stopping when her hands lay softly on the tall woman's shoulders. "For I have loved you, as the strong, river wind embraces the fragile reed," Cheops coached.
Will leaned down, hesitated and then whispered, "For I have loved you, Malone, as the strong river wind embraces the fragile reed." They kissed, Will pushing Cheops against the wall in her hunger. Cheops raised her chin and exposed her soft neck to Will's kisses.
"You don't want to kill me, Will. You still can love. Please try to find that warm spot inside your soul. Give up the hate before you do something that you will regret for the rest of your life."
Will stopped; her arms dropped away from Cheops' body. She stood looking down at the small archaeologist, who was half lost in shadows. There was confusion in Will's eyes for a second, then they hardened in determination. "Desire is not love. You killed our children," she growled and then stormed off.
Cheops watched her go, anger ripping across her own face. Why should she bother trying to save Will's soul? She owed this woman nothing! Tonight, she should have an e-mail waiting for her at her apartment, and if she was advised to hand Will over to the authorities, that was exactly what she was going to do before she hurt either her or the children.
"Amand, Zahi, it is time to go," she called out in Egyptian. Then she waited for the children to run over so that they could help her keep her balance on the rough terrain.
Amand looked with worried eyes at the beautiful blond woman and then off in the distance to where the strange dark woman stood in the shadows of a temple. They did not seem to like each other and yet they did everything together. It did not make sense. She and Zahi had talked, and they did not understand why the two women were helping them or what they wanted to do with them. Part of her was very grateful but the other part was very afraid. Were they going to be made slaves? She looked at the blue and red ball with the band of white that Zahi held tightly in his hand. For a while, they could be happy. This was good. But she had learned in her short but hard life, that every kindness had a price.
The day had gone well and the group chatted happily over dinner. Even the Scotts were more sociable than usual. Cheops had arranged that evening that she would take them back to Karnac to see the Sound and Light show. As the show was a guided walk through the site, Cheops wasn't needed once she had got their tickets and shown them where to meet the bus for the ride home. She had got her group organized, she said her good nights and used the opportunity of a free evening to slip back to her apartment. These tours helped meet the expenses but Cheops was an archaeologist first and she was anxious to learn about her dig, now tantalizingly close just the other side of the river.
The encounter with Will, that afternoon, had left her feeling bitter and short tempered. It was hard to have to live with the memories of Deir el-Bahari and with the losses. So many losses; her daughter, Will's son, her lower leg and Will's love. Too many loses for one person to absorb with out very deep wounds and Will insisted on rubbing salt into them.
Now there was the extra worry of the children. Will had to be using them. She knew Will, knew how focused she was when she was on an assignment. The woman would have worked out her plot in detail, how, when, where and she would have escape plans too. It was unlikely that the children were an impulse decision. They had to have a part in Will's plans, but how?
Cheops walked up the dusty street greeting those she knew along the way. She wore a galabeeya, the long, hooded robe of the Arab nations. This was Cheops' eastern world. The other side of her existence. Cheops had been born in Egypt of British parents and enjoyed the privilege of dual citizenship. Having spent so much of her life in sites along the Nile, and at her parent's small home in Giza, she was just as Egyptian as she was English in her outlook. Will too had been the child of two cultures.
That summer, they had rented a sailboat and taken the children fishing down the Nile. Will had cleaned the fish they had caught, and Cheops had cooked them on a small charcoal brazier. In the afternoon, the two children had cooled off with a swim, while the adults watched on.
"How did you come by your Greek name?" Cheops had asked, absently stroking Will's hand, that rested near her own, with a finger tip.
"My father was a Greek resistance fighter and my mother was an English WAC stationed in liberated Greece at the end of the war. My father always said that Hitler he could resist, but mom, he couldn't! It was love at first sight, so they told me."
Cheops had gathered her courage and responded softly, "I know that feeling."
Those sky-blue eyes had turned to her. "Yes, so do I. I love you Cheops," Will had responded giving Cheops far more than she had expected.
Cheops had smiled broadly. Her green eyes sparkling like emeralds. "I love you too, Will."
Cheops shook the memory from her thoughts as she entered the government owned apartment building and took the elevator up to the sixth floor. The apartment she entered was basic. It was, officially, the apartment given to the chief archaeologist working at site KV5. The walls were cinder block and there were only three rooms; basic bathroom, a small bedroom, and the main room which was used for storage and research. Three make shift tables filled the space. Two were loaded down with the trappings of an archaeology lab, the other was Cheops' computer station.
Cheops didn't bother turning on a light. She walked over, and taking a seat, she clicked her computer on and waited for it to load. Then she went to her e-mail, clicking on the Leeds' response.
Cheops, get out of there! You are in grave danger! People suffering from deep drug induced psychosis and/or the effects of torture can be deeply psychopathic. You could well be dealing with a killer! Symptoms could include: joint pain, flashbacks, seizures, headaches, disorientation, slurred speech, lack of balance, confusion, acute paranoia, personality changes, violence and/or other anti-social behaviour. I advise you to get away and call the authorities to deal with this individual. Roger.
Cheops face tightened into grim lines. To save her own life and to protect the children, she was going to have to betray Will to the police. She didn't think it would help. The police would have little power or resources to deal with a crazed tourist. But the reality was, she didn't have too many options left. Will's behaviour was becoming more and more irrational and unpredictable.
Today, had taught her not to believe in the gentle moments. They seemed always to be followed with emotional violence.
She sensed her more than heard her. The energy that ebbed and flowed in the air whenever Will was near. Cheops turned in her chair. A figure in black stood silhouetted against the open balcony doors. Dangling from one hand was a garrotte.
Realization swept over Cheops. Her murder would look like a break and entry. Will would be back on the ship, babysitting her sleeping children. The prefect alibi. Such a tragedy about Cheops! She stood, squared her shoulders and looked death in the face.
The door rattled as a key was put in. Cheops twisted to look at the door. Inge! Her heart pounded in fear for her assistant, who was going to walk into a death trap unawares. Cheops looked back with pleading eyes to her killer. No one was there. The curtains blew gently on the night air.
"Cheops! You scared me! What are you doing in the lab in the dark?! Cheops. Are you alright?!"
Cheops slumped into her chair and put her head on the desk.
On the stern of the ship was a wide, railess platform that the crew used when loading cargo. It was there that Will went. She sat with her feet hanging over the edge, looking out into the darkness. Over the dark strip of the Nile, she could make out the old escarpment, silhouetted in front of the starry sky. The escarpment was eroded into two deep canyons, The Valley of the Kings and The Valley of the Queens. Deir el-Bahari lay there.
She had never been back. She wandered if Cheops had. It must be hard for the archaeologist to work just a narrow ridge away from the place where their children had died.
There had been lots of time to kill Cheops tonight. There had been time for her to slip from her spot in the shadows of the balcony and move to stand close enough that she could read the screen over Cheops' shoulder. She had the garrotte taut between her two hands. It would have been so easy.
Instead, she had backed quietly away until the flap of the curtain on a sudden gust of wind had alerted Cheops to her presence. The knock at the door had given her the seconds she needed to escape and avoid a confrontation. It would have been the prefect murder! She'd planned it for months while she lay in agony. The bitch deserved to die! Why the hell had she not killed her?!
An unsteady hand wiped over her face. Tonight, her joints were throbbing. The pain felt good. It was the punishment for climbing up to Cheops' apartment and then not having the guts to do her in! Maybe, it was being in that apartment again after all this time that unnerved her.
"This is where you live?!" she had asked looking into a packing case filled with styrofoam chips. "The artifacts have a better place to sleep!"
Cheops had laughed and walked over to rub her hands up Will's chest as she had done earlier that day. "Why would it concern you that my bed is a double mattress on the floor?"
"Maybe, I thought I'd like to try it out," Will had challenged, her eyes locking on Cheops like a missile seeking its target.
"Maybe, I like sleeping alone," she had teased.
"You can't ever be alone again," Will had muttered sexily, "nuzzling Cheops' ear and throat as she talked, "We are one. Our bond is forever!"
Tears rolled down Will's face and she wiped them away with annoyance. It should have lasted forever. They should have watched their children grow and gotten old together. Damn! Damn Cheops! Why did she have to lead our children to their deaths?
She had read the e-mail. It had said she was dangerous. It used words like psychosis and psychopathic. Was she crazy? Had she broken under torture after all? A break so deep inside her soul that no one but Cheops could detect it. Would she regret it if she killed Cheops? If?! When had that word crept into her plans? If. Damn.
Cheops slept on Inge's couch that night. Well, not slept; she had been too tense to sleep, although she had been exhausted after the police had left. 'Yes, madame, they understood the problem, but if she had not seen the face of the intruder, if no one could verify the threats, then there was little they could do. Will was a British subject and not their problem. They would take her in for questioning tomorrow and see what they could do. And they would arrange for the children to be taken to an orphanage.'
Cheops stared at the cracked plaster ceiling. I've betrayed Will again. And once again, Will's hate had betrayed their love. It was a vicious circle that could only lead to disaster.
The next day, Cheops gathered her group together after breakfast and they boarded the bus to take them to the Valley of the Kings across the other side of the river via the Luxor bridge. Will had got the children fed and dressed but left them with Cheops at the front of the bus. Looking pale and shaky, Will went to the back and sat quietly, with her head leaning against the window.
The bus ride was fairly long as it involved going down river, crossing the bridge and then heading north again before turning inland to the Valley of the Kings. The group was quiet as they piled out. This was a place of legends and although there was little to see above ground, the power of this sacred place flooded their hearts with awe.
The terrain was rocky and dry; a silent waste land filled only with the anguished whimper of the wind. Square, stone tunnels marked the entrance way of each famous tomb. Each had a wrought iron gate that would be closed and locked at night. Not that there was anything left to steal. Ancient grave robbers and collectors had long since drained Egypt of its heritage. Now tourists saw only the shadowy remains, painted in frescoes on the tomb walls.
Cheops led them through Rameses II's tomb and several of the other tombs near by, taking them down the long sloping corridors to the deep shafts where the sarcophaguses lie. Along the way, she would point out the false passages and traps that the grave robbers overcame on their quest for treasure. She would stop at a scene painted on a wall and make the stiff figures come alive as she related their stories.
"Here is Rameses and his bride, in a boat, hunting water fowl along the Nile. You see, they are nestled in a patch of flowering lotus reeds, the symbol of eternal life. See his pride as he shows off for his sister and queen, shooting at the ducks with a jewelled and gold-leafed bow and arrow. His Queen reaches to him in love and adoration. It must have been a special day that he shared with her. He must have ordered that it be painted here amongst the history of his battles and achievements. I wonder if his immortal soul still wanders at night and stops to relive this day again. He must have loved her very deeply."
As the strong wind embraces the fragile reed, Malone, Will thought while she followed along at the end of the group, watching Cheops' animated face and her sparkling eyes, as she talked softly to the children explaining to them about their proud heritage.
Lastly, she lead them through the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Earlier that day she had pointed out to them the house of Howard Carter, which sat on top of a high mesa down from the Valley of the Kings. She related his remarkable story and laughed at the so called curses that the popular press had created around his discovery.
"No, Carter did not die of a mysterious, poisonous bite! He died from a simple mosquito bite that got infected. Infected wounds were a common death in those days. Remember this was well before antibiotics. Carter was already weak from malaria and dysentery, so his immune system could not fight off the infection. I'm sorry, I know people love mystery and curses, but I'm afraid archaeology is just hard, meticulous, and back- breaking work."
Cheops finished answering questions as she brought them back to the entrance of KV5. "This is where I am currently working. This is the famous KV5. It was only discovered in 1995. Actually, rediscovered. The explorer James Burton noted its existence way back in 1825. We know he had explored the tomb because he had made a map of it. In the pillared hall, he wrote his name on the ceiling with the smoke from his candle. It can still be quite clearly seen; Burton 1925."
"The tomb was lost for two reasons. First, because the early archaeologist working in this area thought that it was an unfinished tomb and not of any importance. Second, because you'll notice that Tut's tomb is conveniently close. We have a picture of Carter in 1922, toasting his guests as they ate lunch in an unfinished tomb, nearby the Tut site. We think this might have been the tomb. The American team that rediscovered this site and are overseeing the excavation found a wine glass buried in the rubble near the entrance. It might very well have been left over from one of Carter's famous luncheons!"
Cheops pointed back to the entrance of Tut's tomb. "We believe that Carter dumped the waste from his own dig into what he thought was a convenient empty pit! We now know that in reality this is an extensive tomb site associated with the sons of Rameses II. I'm sorry, I can't take you in. It is not open to the public yet because it is structurally unsafe. The roof is badly cracked because the heavy tourist buses used to come up this far and the chambers are full of rumble and years of eroded debris."
"Hello, Will," came a voice from the tall woman's right. Will pulled her attention away from what Cheops was saying to look down at a small, wiry woman.
"Hello, Inge. It has been a long time."
Will looked back to where Cheops stood on the other side of the group. She found it hard, for some reason, to look Inge in the eyes. "Ahhh, I heard you were there for Cheops...after...." Will looked down at her feet.
"Some one had to be," came the bitter response.
Will nodded, her jaw muscles rippling with tension. "Thank you," she said, so low that Inge was not sure she heard her.
"Inge! Come up here!" called Cheops catching sight of her feisty assistant and breaking out in a big smile. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is my chief assistant, Dr. Inge Gardener. She's going to lead you over the Agatha Christie's Walk to visit Deir El-Bahari and the temple of Hatshepsut. While you are doing that, I'm going to check out how the dig is going. If anything new has been discovered, I'll show you when you get back."
Cheops turned and spoke to the two children in Egyptian. "Our bus driver, Fekri Hawass has to go back to Luxor to have the bus serviced. He said he would take you with him and buy you icecream while I work. Would you like that?"
Zahi smiled broadly and looked at his big sister with pleading eyes. Amand wrapped a protective arm around him. "Thank you, Cheops Malone. We would like this very much. We do not wish to go to Deir El-Bahari and ice cream is very good." Cheops' heart went out to this poor, serious child, who had had to face so much in her short life. She gave each of them a hug and turned them over to the fatherly Fekri to guide back to the bus.
Betty poked the long suffering Abe. "You see what you can do to find me one of those hidden treasures along the way," she ordered with a smile.
Abe scoffed, "At my age I'll need every ounce of energy I've got just to get up that path, woman! Find your own gold!"
"Come on, Betty," laughed Jean hooking her arm around the New Yorker's. We'll go ahead so the men don't slow us down!"
With much scoffs and teasing, the small group started off with Inge in the lead. Bob hung back,
"I could stay behind and help if you want, Cheops," he oiled.
"No," Cheops answered firmly and turned away.
"Hey, you'd better treat me right or..."
"Or what?" came a icy growl from behind him. Bob turned to see Willy Kyrtsakas standing arms folded looking at him with eyes as cold as a glacier.
"I'd better go," he muttered and trotted to catch up to the others.
Will turned to meet Cheops' sad eyes. "I don't understand you anymore, Will," she said.
Will nodded and looked at her foot piling loose gravel into a ridge. "You ever go there?"
"Each year, to leave flowers. Many people do. I keep their grave nice, too ."
"Where did you send Amand and Zahi?"
"I didn't think they needed to see Deir el- Bahari. Fekri is going to take them for ice cream in Luxor."
Will nodded to the ground again. Then she squared her shoulders and without a word started to walk up the valley to where the dirt trail led over the ridge to the Valley of the Queens. Cheops watched her go. Part of her was relieved that Will was leaving her alone and part of her was aching to go after her.
"Dr. Malone, we've finished the survey of the hall of the sixty chambers."
"Coming," called Cheops over her shoulder, then turning, she joined her crew below ground. It was difficult for her to get about the cave with her prosthesis. Often, in low areas, she had to crawl propelling herself forward with her arms. On rough ground, with enough head room, she would use a small spade for balance. As a last resort, if the exploration of the cave involved tight fits, she simply removed the leg altogether.
Will walked to the base of the ridge and stopped. She turned and looked down the narrow canyon now crowded with tourists eager to see the various grave sites. Cheops must have brought them on site before it was open to the public, Will realized. She turned and started off again. Three steps, then she stopped. She wasn't afraid to go to the site of her son's death. In her career, she had come to terms with the loss of close comrades. The site couldn't hurt her, only the memories, and she carried them with her all the time.
Then why did something keep pulling her back? Some uneasiness deep in her gut. She found a patch of shade and sat down. She needed to think. From her waist pouch, she pulled a bottle of water and took a long swig, then slipped the plastic bottle back into place. She sat for a long time but no clear thoughts came. Sitting there, still and quiet, she felt like she was going through a metamorphosis. It tired her. She should move, make a decision, do something, instead she just sat, not sure any longer who she was or who she might become.
There really was very little sound. Not a roar nor a bang, more of a whoosh, like air released from a giant balloon. Will looked up to see a dust cloud shooting from the mouth of KV5 and drifting out over the surprised tourists who yelled and coughed, now ghostly figures in the small dust storm. Will stood slowly and watched the scene as it unfolded like an action movie. Then she was in motion, hitting the wall of tourists like a football player and plowing through to the entrance. Gasping, coughing workers were staggering out and falling to the ground, eyes red and weeping. The outside workers grabbed water and rags and started to help those that were on the ground.
Will grabbed an emergency knapsack from its peg on the wall, pulled out a gas mask and slipped it in place. Picking up a flashlight, she entered the collapsing tomb. Two blackened figures staggered past her. She let them go. They could make it on their own. Some of the electrical lighting was still functioning, casting yellow pools of light in the grey haze of dust. But visibility was almost nil.
Only the first room was cleared to any extent. After that, Will had to crawl on her belly through room two and then on to the hall of the sixteen pillars. The tops of the pillars stood out like lonely sentinels guarding a lost frontier. Some of the roof blocks had fallen, huge squares of rock weighing tons each. Will crawled around them, like a slalom skier, trying not to think about the tons of rock just inches over her head.
Squeezing through into the next chamber, she skidded down the sharp limestone flakes to a room that was relatively clear of debris. Here, in the settling dust, she found Mohammed. He was breathing shallowly and coughing up mud and phlegm but conscious. Will quickly squirted some water over his face and into his mouth, then wiped his face clean as best she good. She slipped a mask over his face and left him for the rescue team to find. She knew they would not be too far behind her.
She found Cheops partly buried by limestone chips at the far end of the chamber. Her body was still and limp. Will listened for a heart beat and was relieved to hear one, pounding still on its adrenalin rush. Gently, she washed the woman's face and cleaned the mud from her eyes and nose. Cheops moaned and Will squirted some water on her lips. A hand came up and wiped her face as she coughed. "Water," Cheops choked. Will squirted a little into her mouth and the archaeologist washed it around and spat it out. Then she took the bottle from Will's hand and took a bigger swig, swallowing this time only to throw it up again.
Will pulled a mask out of the bag and slipped it into place. Then, she used her bloodied hands to scoop Cheops free. Cheops lay still, only lifting the mask now and again for a quick drink. She felt dazed and sick to her stomach and just wanted the pain in her chest to go away. Soon figures loomed out of the fog, and Cheops was carefully lifted and strapped to a stretcher although she hoarsely protested that she was all right. Slowly, the group inched back out of the cave, Will staying close to Cheops' side and only now wondering why she had come to the archaeologist's aid.
The light was dazzling when they emerged. Order had been restored and except for the nosy stares of passing tourists, on their way to see the tombs farther up the canyon, things were back to normal. No one had been seriously hurt, although those caught inside were cut and bruised and suffering from asthmatic conditions caused by the amount of dust on their lungs.
Cheops sat on a wood box and wheezed instructions. She had a nasty bruise and lump on her right temple but insisted that she was all right. Will had stood back, quietly watching with worried eyes. She too was badly scraped and she had the chemical taste in her mouth that forewarned of another drug rush. Her joints throbbed and her head ached painfully. Slowly, she sat on the ground and lowered her head to her knees.
"Madame, you are Major Wilhelminia Kyrtsakas?"
Will looked up with blurry eyes feeling very disorientated, "Yes," she slurred at a pair of navy police pants.
"I have here a warrant for your arrest. I am to take you to police headquarters in Luxor for questioning. You will please stand and face the cliff wall."
Will looked up in surprise, trying to focus on the police officer's face. "What did I do? What charge?" she managed to get out with difficulty.
"A complaint has been made by Dr. Cheops Malone that you threatened to kill her. You will stand please and face the cliff wall."
Will nodded in shock and slowly pulled herself to her feet. She turned and leaned her hands against the wall, allowing the young police officer to pat her down. Her arms were pulled painfully behind her back and metal hand cuffs snapped into place. Turning, her eyes made contact with Cheops' as she sat by the tomb entrance. The green eyes were hurt and filled with sorrow, the innocent face streaked with dirt and distorted with pent up emotion.
Cheops, with a jolt of guilt, had seen a young police officer ask a question of one of her workers and watch him walked over to where Will sat on the ground. She stared in horror as Will was searched for weapons and then handcuffed. The tall woman turned and her eyes locked onto Cheops. The blue was dull, lifeless, the face, an empty plain devoid of any emotion. The young officer pulled on Will's arm and like an obedient child, Will turned and followed the policeman down the road to his waiting car. My God, what have I done?! Cheops moaned inside.
Inge had stopped at the stone wall two hundred yards back from the outer courtyards of Hatshepsut's temple. She had explained to Cheops' group about the architectural importance of this site and about the powerful female pharaoh, who had taken the crown at her husband's death and often portrayed herself in statues and paintings with a beard. "Her first minister's grave is just over there," Inge explained. "From paintings, we know that he was very close to Hatshepsut and her children. The close proximity of his grave reinforces speculation that their relationship might have been more than the running of the State."
The group had then wandered off to see the site. Inge never went on site except when she went with Cheops. None of the guides did. Respect, superstition, emotional pain, there were a lot of reasons for why this practice had started after the shooting. It had never been discussed, just by some common, silent consent, the guides never went back.
The day after the shootings, the tourists had started to leave. The Egyptians had paraded with signs. 'The terrorists were not Egyptians!' 'Tourists, do not leave, we love you!' But the tourists had left. Deir el-Bahari had been opened to the public the very next day. Crews of workmen had scrubbed the blood from the stone, and plastered over the bullet holes. While the few brave tourists watched, they repainted the lost sections of ancient frescoes.
Security now was very tight. Tour buses were guarded, metal detectors were used at the gates of all the sites and armed escorts were sometimes assigned to tourist buses. It did no good. Tourism to Egypt had dropped by two million visitors. Thousands were out of work and poverty and sorrow filled the old streets. Egypt's population would double in the next ten years. It was a country now on the brink of disaster. All because of the teachings of religious fanatics. Inge sighed; she, like Cheops, had come to love this country, and it broke her heart to see the pain.
It had been a shock to see Willy again. She was so pale and thin. It was only when she had turned those blue eyes on Inge, that she felt again the animal magnetism that made the woman both scary and fascinating at the same time. She had only been a young grad when Cheops and Willy had been lovers. She had been shocked by her boss's conduct at first, then warmed by their love. The two women and their children had been inseparable that season. After, she wasn't sure that Cheops would ever recover. Those were the months of blackness that Inge tried not to dwell on, when she found herself trying to help Cheops through the grief and pain.
Now Willy was back for revenge. Cheops had told her last night what had been going on. It was Inge who had encouraged Cheops to call the police as she had been advised. She had come to like Willy in the old days but she had always been a little afraid of her. Willy had called herself a security officer attached to the British embassy, but you only had to be with the woman for a short time to know that she was a lot more than that. There was something not quite human about Willy, something wild, dangerous and beautiful. Only Cheops seemed to be able to control the turbulent personality. Cheops had no fear of Willy...until now.
Inge was glad to see the group reform. She was concerned that Willy had not joined them and was anxious to get back to Cheops. Surely, the soldier would not try anything in such a public place? She hoped the police had come as they promised. "Everyone ready for the climb back?" Inge said brightly. "Isn't it a beautiful site? Come on, this way. If you have any questions, I'll be glad to answer them on the walk."
The group surged forward with concern and questions when they saw Cheops standing filthy and bleeding outside the dig. Inge's first reaction was to look around for Willy. Cheops saw the angry look and explained in a voice husky with dust and emotion, "There was a small cave in. Fortunately, no one was badly hurt. Willy crawled in and helped Mohammed and me, until a rescue crew arrived.
"Where is that strange woman, anyway?!" asked Arron, looking around in annoyance.
Cheops looked uncomfortable. "Ahhh, she had some sudden business come up. I don't know if she will be able to get back to finish the rest of the tour."
"That's too bad," observed Bill in disappointment. "She sure knew a lot about international law. I enjoyed talking to her the few chances I got."
"She knew a lot about sports too," added Abe to the tribute.
Betty and Jean exchanged a knowing look. Something had gone definitely wrong while they were away.
"Good riddance to the stupid dyke," Bob muttered under his breath, looking angry and resentful.
The group headed back to the bus when it arrived shortly after. Amand and Zahi looked frightened when they saw Cheops and ran to hug her. Cheops quietly explained about the cave in and that Will had been called away on business. She would wait to tell them her other plans until after she had dealt with her tour group.
On the bus, Cheops explained that they would have the afternoon to shop in the old market of Luxor. Betty and Jean clapped their hands with delight and Abe and Bill groaned in mock dismay. The Scotts were anxious to know where a good gold smith might be found. After answering all their questions, Cheops slumped into her seat. Amand slipped in beside her and held her hand as they made their way across the desert. Back at the boat, the group dispersed to wash and change for lunch and their afternoon excursion.
Cheops led the children to her cabin and gave them some paper and crayons to draw with while she showered and treated her many cuts. Then, dressed in a fresh pair of blue jeans and t-shirt, she sat down to talk to the two children about their future.
"Amand, Zahi, Willy and I want only the best for you. We will see to it that you are well cared for and educated properly. You must understand however, that there are laws that must be followed. Willy can not adopt you because she is not Egyptian. She is also... not very well at the moment."
"She has been sick, Cheops Malone?" Zahi asked.
"Yes, very sick but I hope...I hope she will get better soon. I have arranged that this afternoon, I will take you to an orphanage that I know. It is a very good one. I am having the authorities check to see if you have any family who might want to raise you. If that is not the case then I will adopt you, and raise you as my own children, if you would like that."
Amand wrapped herself around Cheops in a tight hug and Zahi snuggled up to her arm. "Oh please, Cheops Malone! Please!"
Cheops rubbed the small child's back, fighting back her own tears. "Whatever happens. I will always be there for you and...and so will Major Kyrtsakas."
Will did not answer the older police officer's questions. To be truthful, she would have had trouble doing so. She had used a lot of energy up helping Cheops and now the drugs warred in her system. It had been a very long day and the room she sat in, on a hard wood chair, was stuffy and smelt of dry paper and dust.
The older officer, dressed in a well used grey suit, went over to talk to the uniformed cop who had arrested her. "Dilated eyes, running nose; she's a crazy pot head. She's probably come to the Middle East to get drugs more easily. I imagine all she wants from Dr. Malone is money for her habit."
"We must be careful here. We do not want an incident with the British. See that the nurse cleans her wounds. We can't afford for her to die of infection at our hands or the European press will be writing about what savages we are." The officer sighed. "Release her this evening. This is not our problem. We have done all we can."
The young officer nodded and walked out of the room to see to arranging a temporary cell for Major Kyrtsakis. The older officer went back to the beautiful woman, who was slumped in the chair, her handcuffed hands behind the straight back stopping her from falling over. He reached down and lifted her chin so that they looked at each other.
"You are to leave Cheops Malone alone. If I get a complaint that you have been bothering her again, I will send you in the woman's prison and throw away the key. Do you understand?!"
Will nodded dully. The uniformed officer returned and helped Will stand up. Then he led her to the detention block. He wandered if it was true, what the archaeologist had said, that this woman had been a soldier and tortured. Why would a country send its women to do a man's job?
It was a nice orphanage. Well run, caring and modern. Still it broke Cheops' heart to leave the two wide eyed children there and walk away. They had cried and Cheops had once again had to reassure them that they were safe and that Will and she would be looking after their interests. It was difficult to explain to children that life was governed by legal procedure that must be followed.
Once back on the ship, she checked to make sure her tour group had all got back safely and then hurried to her room to change for dinner. Fortunately, each of her guests had a story to tell of their shopping excursions and it wasn't until the end of the meal that Arron brought attention to the missing people. "Where's Willy and them street kids?" he'd grumbled.
The table went quiet and looked at Cheops. Cheops looked at her plate and then up at the group of expectant faces. "Will has some business that she needs to attend to as I told you. The children are now in the care of a government agency until such time that a suitable relative can be found to take them."
"But what if there is no one?" asked Jean in concern.
Cheops gave a shaky smile, feeling right at the end of her endurance. It had been a very hard and traumatic day, physically and emotionally. "I'm rather hoping that will be the case because as an Egyptian, I can then legally adopt the children," she explained. "I've already signed the necessary papers to put the legal wheels in motion."
The table burst into applause and congratulated Cheops, except for the Scotts. Bob sat scowling and Arron demanded, "What about Willy? She found them. They should be her responsibility, not yours!"
Cheops gritted her teeth to stop from snapping. Her head was pounding and all she wanted to do was lie down. "Will is a British subject and can not legally adopt an Egyptian. I was born here and have dual citizenship so I can."
"Well, like I said before, Cheops, if you need any help with the paper work you just let me know," offered Bill Brant.
Cheops smiled, "Thanks, Bill. Thank you all for your well wishes and support. You are a great group to tour with. Now, if you don't mind I think I'll retire early. It has been a long day."
To a chorus of good nights and well wishes, Cheops made her way down to her cabin and downed some pain killers. Too tired to even undress, she flopped down on the bed and looked in misery at the empty bed beside hers. "I loved you Will. I will always love you. I am so sorry. So terribly sorry," she whispered, the tears rolling down her face until exhaustion drove her into a fretful sleep.
Willy was released from jail in the evening and just made it back to the ship before it cast its moorings and set sail. For a long time, she sat on the platform at the back and watched the wake of their ship leave silver ribbons of moonlight down the dark waters of the Nile. The moon was going to set early tonight, she observed.
She had come here for two reasons, first because she needed time to decide what to do next and second because she didn't want to be seen by Cheops. When they were farther down river, it would be too late for Cheops to have her thrown off. Her exhausted state had allowed the drugs that still remained in her system to run riot today. It was hard for her to think things through clearly. Still she was getting better. The flashbacks were gone and she was finding it easier to follow a chain of thought.
Revenge, she realized, was not going to make the pain go away. She had stayed alive for the wrong reasons during all those months of captivity and torture. So why was she living? Maybe so she could help those little Egyptian kids. Give them the chances that she would have given her own son and Cheops' daughter. If her son was alive, sitting here beside her, that is what he would want. Somehow, it gave some meaning to his senseless murder if his death made some other child's life better.
The terrorist attack at Deir el-Bahari had not been Cheops' fault. She had lost just as much, more, than Will had. It was just easier to hate than to mourn. Easier to seek revenge than to feel helpless. She had been so wrong. Now she needed to set things right. She'd rent a sailboat at the next port of call and she and the kids would disappear down the Nile. Will was a good sailor, she would sail along the coast to Alexandria and there obtain, through her old secret service network, three passports to get them safely back to England.
She stretched her long frame and settled her head back against the bulkhead. A place in the Lake District would be nice. The kids could go to school. Maybe she could have a small farm, some sheep, horses, who knows. She could teach rock climbing on the near by rock faces to tourists. Her eyes closed and she slept.
A few hours later, she woke cold and stiff and staggered to her feet. She had been allowed to clean up in the prison and a nurse had treated her cuts but she was still wearing the clothes that she had crawled through the tomb in that morning. That seemed ages ago. What should she do next? She could hardly sleep in Cheops' room: it might lead to her being arrested again. She didn't need anymore police involvement if she wanted to slip quietly from the country with the children.
She'd better stay in the kids' room and slip into Cheops' room to get her things when Cheops went up to breakfast with the kids. She'd have to explain to the kids somehow that her presence aboard the ship had to be kept a secret. She opened the door and slipped down the hall.
She didn't want any trouble with Cheops. A lump formed in her throat and she swallowed it down. That was past history. She slipped into the children's room and went over to check on them before she went to sleep on the couch. The beds were empty. NO! A voice screamed in her head. NOT AGAIN!
A figure in the shadows of the stairwell saw Willy charge from one room and into the other.
Something had woken Cheops and she got up, groggily surprised to find herself still in her street clothes. She looked out the window and saw that they were long on their way up river to Edfu.
She unlatched the frame and pushed the window down, allowing the swirl of the water and the cool night air of the desert to enter the cabin. Tears welled again in her eyes. Will, please be safe. Please get well, she wished, looking at the dark heavens.
The door to Cheops' room slammed open and she turned in surprise. "Where are my kids?!" demanded Will, her eyes cold fire, as she stood bristling with rage.
Cheops met the challenge with calm reason, hiding the fear that made her heart pound in her chest. "I placed them with a government agency who handle orphaned children. Once..."
"You bitch!" snarled Will, rocketing forward. Cheops didn't see the blow coming, she simple doubled up with pain when it hit. Nor did she see the second that sent her senseless to the floor. Will scooped her up and carried her down the hall and out to the open back deck. She held the unconscious woman out over the black water. Then hesitated, and pulled the body back close to her.
A split second later, an elbow smashed into Willy's nose, blinding her with pain. Blood spurted out as she dropped Cheops to the deck and grabbed her face. "I hate you! I hate you!" Cheops cried in her own pain and fear backing close to the edge. Will grabbed for her, but another pair of hands were there first, pushing the smaller woman off the open platform and out into the darkness.
Instinctively, Cheops grabbed Will's outstretched arm and the two of them fell into the muddy waters of the Nile. The ship continued on its way. The moon hung low over the west bank of the Nile. The side of the sunset. The side of the dead.
Cheops splashed about in panic. Where was Will?! "I can't swim!' she called out to the darkness as she went under again. Strong arms grabbed her from behind and pulled her to the surface.
Cheops clung desperately to the strong neck, sending them both under again. Will kicked her off, and grabbing her hair, pulled Cheops back to the surface. "Stop fighting!" she slurred out.
"I can't swim!" Will got a hold around Cheops' neck and pulled her up against her chest. With strong strokes, she started to swim after the retreating lights of the ship.
"What are you doing?!"
"Swimming to the boat," Will explained in surprise, stopping swimming to look at Cheops. Why were they in the water, she wondered. Her exhaustion and anger had left her confused and disorientated. They went under and Will remembered to swim.
Cheops gasped for air and tried not to panic. "Keep swimming, Will!" Will started out again toward the distant lights of the ship.
"Will! It's gone! Oh shit! Listen to me, you're not thinking straight. Listen to me, honey. Listen, okay?" Cheops coaxed as Will trod water holding the two of them barely above water level. "The boat has gone. We need to swim to shore. Go that way," Cheops ordered, pointing over Will's shoulder towards the distant shore.
Will started off swimming in a circle not sure what she was supposed to do. "No! Not that way! Will, listen, not in a circle! That way." Cheops sobbed in a panic. Will followed the pointing arm. "Okay, that's good. Towards the bank. Good. Don't let go."
Will set her jaw and ignored the pain in her cold joints. She fought back the confusion and the exhaustion and concentrated on Cheops' words. They had to forget their differences and work together or they were never going to get out of this. They had to get out of this and get back to the kids.
"Will! Don't stop swimming!"
"No! Swim! Just a little farther. No, that way!" With relief, Cheops felt the muddy river bank under her one good foot. Will was still swimming, barely conscious of her actions. Cheops let her pull her close to shore and then she crawled up on the bank, reaching to pull the bigger woman up beside her. For a while they lay panting for breath.
"Everyone knows how to swim, Malone," slurred Will mockingly.
"I grew up in the desert, damn it!"
"You gotta learn," came the sleepy response.
For a bit, the two women lay in exhaustion. Then Cheops spoke. "Will, I didn't take your children away from you again. I've taken steps to adopt them if a suitable relative can not be found to take care of them. They are well taken care of, Will, and they understand that we will be there for them. You're not well enough at the moment to help them, Will."
Then, "I shouldn't have hit you."
"I shouldn't have hit you either or pulled you off the boat."
"Are there Nile crocodiles or did they mummify them all?"
"It's okay. They don't think that there are any below the Aswan dam now." Silence.
"How sure are they?"
Cheops laughed gently. "Well, I guess we are testing that theory right now!"
Will rolled over on her side with effort and looked at Cheops in the fading moon light. "You're shivering. We need to find shelter. The night is going to be cold and we'll need medical attention or that water is likely to kill us. Can you get up?"
Cheops looked at Will and reached a hand out to touch her face. "Yes, but Will, I don't think I can walk far with the prosthesis wet. It's going to rub."
Will nodded. She had to find the energy within her to get them somewhere safe or they were likely to die of exposure and shock. "I'm going to try to carry you, okay? But my mind isn't too clear when I get tired."
"Really?!" Cheops teased gently. "We can get out of this, Will. If we help each other." Their two hands linked together in an unspoken bond.
Continued...Part 4 (Conclusion)
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