She was surprised to find Ardeth-Bey drinking tea with her father on the patio. He had removed his turban, letting the evening breeze blow through his black curls.
He saw her and smiled, "Salaam Alaikum," he said, looking beautiful and golden as he always did. He had recently trimmed his beard, allowing her a better view of his full lips and white teeth.
Why did the man have to be so damn good looking? She asked herself for the hundredth time. She remembered the tall skinny boy who taught her to ride bareback to avoid being burnt by the sun.
It was the memories she retained that kept her from hating him but the man he had become that often tried her patience.
"Salaam," she replied and handed her father a manila envelope. "Here it is, your concession for next year. You're lucky we gave baksheesh to the right hands, someone else was looking to get it.
Next year may not be so easy."
"Oh, that wouldn't do at all," replied her father absently. He had been this way the past two weeks as if something was on his mind but he would not speak of it.
He hadn't said anything to her, whatever it was, which puzzled her. She and her father shared everything, they kept no secrets from each other.
"We won't be getting that concession for the Valley of the Kings, either. I heard that Carter cleared the corridor to the tomb he opened and found a sealed doorway.
He's waiting for Lacau's permission to open it, but I don't think he'll be patient enough. Carnarvon is supposed to be coming for the official opening.
If most of the tomb's contents are intact it will take years to clear it." If it's intact, she thought
"Why don't you people just leave these things alone?" Ardeth asked, "Let whoever is in there rest in peace."
"Because if we don't, the looters will rob it" her father drew himself out of his reverie long enough to nod his assent, "What they don't want they just destroy.
The artifacts in tombs are worth a fortune on the black market. There are unscrupulous collectors out there who don't care how an item is obtained.
If we find something it will go to the Egyptian Museum, if a looter finds something it will be lost forever."
Ardeth nodded his head, "Then I suppose you archaeologists see yourself as the lesser of two evils."
"Something like that," she replied, for she did not disagree. It would be nice if artifacts could rest undisturbed in Egyptian soil, but for centuries none had.
It was up to the archaeologists to win the race with the looters and preserve Egypt's heritage.
Her father rose and left the table, "I trust that now the two of you are adults you can be trusted to be left alone without geting into an argument.
" He kissed the top of Roma's head and disappeared into the house.
She poured herself a cup of tea from the old brass samovar and asked, "Ardeth, you never come to Luxor except for business I am curious as to why you are here."
"Your father asked me to come," he replied in his accented but beautiful English, "I do not care to come to Luxor but his message sounded urgent."
"Maybe it is good that you came. I am worried about Father; I have never seen him like this.
He's usually concerned about the concession; he's spent years excavating the workers' village and I thought he'd go to Cairo but he had me take care of it.
He hates Howard Carter, considers him an upstart, but Carter has made a major discovery and Father does not seem to care. That's not like him."
"He seems withdraw within himself and stare at nothing for hours. I'm the one who's had to supervise the dig, oversee the workers, and make sure they are paid.
This is so unlike him that I don't know what to think."
"I know you do not believe in magic, but it sounds like your father has fallen a spell.
" He drew a package of cigarettes from him robes, offered one to her then lit both with a lighter she had never seen before.
"But from what? Most of the articles in the village were removed by Belzoni and Drovetti over a century ago. We've found a few things and a lot of ostracons.
There was nothing sacred about that village, ever, it was built to house the workers building the tombs in a place where the guards could keep an eye on them.
These aren't tombs we're excavating but peoples' houses that were deserted when the Valley of the Kings fell out of use. What would there be that could possibly cast a spell on him?"
"But isn't there a workers' cemetery nearby? People died and their bodies would have to be buried somewhere."
She took a long draw on her cigarette, then exhaled. "Yes, there is, and some of the tomb paintings are quite lovely, but I've been in many of them and have never seen any sign of a curse.
That's all nonsense if you ask me." She was quiet for a moment, then chose her words carefully.
"You know the stories your parents used to tell us, that djinns and monsters dwelt in this land before men learned to speak.
Father would tell us stories of the Pharaohs' tombs and the curses they would write on the walls warning against disturbing their tombs, well how much good did that do?
Every tomb discovered has been empty. Their bodies were thought to have been destroyed until they found the mummies."
"Yet you are concerned that something is wrong with your father," he pointed out.
"Yes, I am, he is not himself and if I believed in curses I might wonder if one is affecting him, or if he has become possessed. And why are you here, you still haven't told me?"
"I do not know, if it were anyone but your father I would not be. And you are right, I have known your father since I was a boy and he does not seem like himself.
Whatever it is I am here to help both you and him."
Her father returned, carrying a rolled-up map. "I have a task for the two of you. The digging season is over and I must turn over my finds to Lacau at the Egyptian Museum.
I have, ah, made some discoveries that I am fearful may be apprehended on the way,
therefore I will be transporting the bulk of my discoveries by boat from Luxor while you and Ardeth Bey transport the rest by camel."
"Surely, sir," Ardeth interrupted, "You cannot be serious! To travel by camel from Luxor to Cairo will be a journey that may take weeks. I cannot allow you to put your daughter's life at risk."
"What makes you think I could not do it, Ardeth? The hot weather is only beginning. I have lived here all my life, I know the ways of the desert."
"But you are not equipped to make such a journey. Do you know how to find the wells of the tribes? How to negotiate their use? Such a journey will take a long time, trust me.
Sir," he addressed her father, "I am willing to take her by camel to Minya and catch the boat from there, but no further. My father has told me he can spare me right now.
These are my terms--I take her to Minya but no further, I am surprised you would even consider subjecting your daughter to this."
"Very well," said the professor with a sigh of resignation. He had clearly not anticipated the answer he received.
The digging season was drawing to a close and the finds were being packed up for transport to Cairo. Workers would have to be paid and transport to Luxor arranged.
All the little details that went along with an archaeological expedition had to be faced and he was in a hurry to get them done.
Busa came in with the houseboy, carrying fragrant dishes in metal containers that were set on the table.
Ardeth's turban was tactfully removed to make room for the plate heaped high with flatbread.
Roma served herself a generous portion of lamb seasoned with cinnamon and allspice. "How could I ever go back to England?" she sighed, "I hate the food and it is so cold and rainy.
It's not like we don't have cool weather here, but the rain comes with the monsoons, and then it's done."
"And the heat has never fazed you," Ardeth laughed, wiping his beard with a napkin, "It always surprised me, sometimes I think you are more Egyptian than the Egyptians themselves."
After dinner, the houseboy cleared the table and the professor excused himself to go have a brandy and smoke a cigar.
A decanter of whiskey and two glasses were set on the table then Roma waved him away.
She poured herself a generous portion of whiskey then asked, "Would you care for some? I think the prophet would forgive you, especially after the surprise Papa gave us."
Ardeth picked up a glass and the decanter, splashed some into the glass, drank it in one swallow, then poured himself another. He grinned, his smile saying, "Yes, I'll have that drink."
"Ardeth," she began cautiously, "I am worried about my father, he is not himself.
He knows how long the trip to Cairo would take by camel, and though I was foolish enough to think I'd attempt it, that's something he never would have suggested in the old days.
Why can't he just bring everything at once, that's what we'd normally do?
And I thought he'd be more pleased with the fact we have our concession for Deir El Medina for another year, but he just seemed indifferent."
Ardeth lit two cigarettes and handed one to her. "What is it that you are not telling me?
"He's been disappearing at night and not coming back until daylight, then he falls asleep and sometimes has nightmares. I can hear him moaning and crying in his sleep.
I have had to handle the supervision of the dig this year and that is something I've never had to do before."
"What is he doing at night that he cannot do by day?"
"I tthink he's found something. I've seen him trace the paths between Deir El Medina and the Valley, but he brushed me off when I asked about it.
" She leaned forward and placed her hand on his arm. I think he's found something he's been looking for all season. What I don't know, but I have an idea."
"What, what is it?" he asked, the urgency plain in his voice, "What do you think he's found?"
And she told him about the tomb robbers caches and how her father suspected there was unknown treasure hidden in the valley.