Journey to the land of the pharaoh’s, in the year 1863, where the search for treasure digs up more than a little danger.
London, England, 1863
The taverns beside the wharf were busier than usual, Alec noted as he stepped from his coach and looked up at his driver. “I don’t expect to be here long.”
“Aye, m’lord.” Porter nodded as he eyed the street. “I’d be keepin' an eye out for the riffraff. No tellin' who’s lurkin' about on a night like this.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Alec said, amused by Porter’s concern as he turned to survey the entrance of the Boar’s Head. From the sound of it, the gaming hell was already in full swing. He watched as three young blades walked out the double doors, jovially hitting one another on the back, their anecdotes alluding to a night already well spent.
Ah, the young, Alec thought as he walked into the smoke-filled tavern, they’d be lucky to wake with only a hangover and not some other affliction.
The music from the quartet on stage mingled with the gaiety of the crowd as he assessed the room. His brow lifted slightly as a woman in a scarlet gown approached him, her generous favors barely concealed by the tight corset she wore.
“Hello, 'andsome. Would ye care for some company?”
Alec favored her with a lazy smile. “Just a whiskey tonight, love.” He cradled her elbow as she turned to fetch his drink. “And bring it from the bottle, not the well.”
“Aye, luv,” she said breathlessly, tripping over herself as she left.
He knew he’d been blessed with the kind of looks that women desired. He also knew how to use them to get what he wanted, in this case a drink that wouldn’t kill him when he awoke on the morrow.
Alec turned his attention to the crowded room once again. He hadn’t visited this particular establishment in years, yet it was exactly as he remembered, down to the smell. Cheap perfume and cigar smoke hung in the air.
He hadn’t missed anything, it seemed, with the exception of the lovely young dove dressed in canary yellow, swinging from the ceiling. Alec stood for a moment, watching as she swept over the crowd from her high perch.
The new attraction had drawn quite a crowd. Calls from the men below were enough to entice the girl to show more of her nicely turned ankle. Her actions were met with cheering applause as she leaned back in the swing and laughed. The movement only succeeded in exposing more of her shapely calf.
A large woman belted out a bawdy tune on the stage as the audience roared with laughter over her suggestive lyrics and comical gestures. No wonder Samuel wanted to meet here tonight; it was his kind of place. . . . They were only missing the elephants, Alec thought with amusement as he glanced around the room, filled with a collection of ruffians, rakehells, and even wilder women, for some sign of his friend.
Just then, he heard a woman’s sultry voice at his side before she brushed up against him. “If you’re looking for company, darlin', you’re in luck. I’m right here.”
Alec couldn’t help but show his amusement as he smiled down at the lovely redhead. The green of her eyes matched that of her dress, while the red rose tucked into her décolletage matched her reddened lips.
Noting the direction of his gaze, she pressed her body further into his, rubbing her hand along his chest.
Alec’s smile deepened. “Actually, I was just thinking to try my luck at the tables.”
“Well, then, follow me, darlin'.” She moved to grasp his forearm. “I know just the table where we can both be comfortable, and I promise you’ll get lucky.”
“Leavin' so soon?” The woman in the scarlet gown pouted up at him as she held out his glass. “Sure I can’t change yer mind 'bout that?” she said, claiming his other side.
“Hhmm,” Alec responded to their combined assault with good humor, “a most delightful offer. Perhaps later.” He accepted the drink, using it as an excuse to extricate himself from both their grasps. As he did so, he expertly slipped a coin into her cleavage in return for it.
“We’ll both be dancin' the cancan later, if you’d like to watch.” The woman in green swiveled her hips.
“Tempting ladies, truly, but for now. . . .” Alec gifted his would-be seducers with another smile, showing the dimple in his cheek as he left them.
“He’s a right 'andsome one, 'e is.” The barmaid in red sighed, while the one in green nodded wistfully.
Obviously, there was no peace to be had this night, Alec thought with some derision as he headed to the back room. He was simply being hounded by women. As it was, he’d already escaped a crowded ballroom where the debutantes had practically mauled him, and now this.
Normally he enjoyed the attentions lavished on him by the fairer sex, but tonight he was simply tired of it, which was why he now sought the sanctity of the game room, where he could relax without being accosted.
As Alec passed under the tall entry arch, he noticed an opening at one of the tables. Crossing the short distance, he approached the players. “Gentlemen, care if I join you?” he asked.
A man with a bristled mustache answered, “By all means, good man. I was beginning to think that play would be cut short with no takers. Lord Campton’s the name, and this chap here is Lord—”
“Bristol,” the man seated across the table finished with a nod.
“Monsieur Blanoiś,” the Frenchman sitting to his right offered up with a dignified nod of his head.
An older gentleman with a walking cane moved to stand for his introduction.
“Please stay seated, sir. No need for such formality.” Alec hid a wry smile. Even in a den of iniquity, the older set were such sticklers for protocol. It never failed to amuse him.
“Lord Langston.” The older man leaned back, settling himself once again.
Alec introduced himself as he took his seat and play resumed. It didn’t take long for him to evaluate the competition. Bristol’s mustache twitched when he bluffed, while Campton drummed his fingers lightly on the table. The Frenchman’s dark eyes gave very little away, yet his mouth tightened into a thin line when the cards turned against him. The old lord was the hardest to discern. The man revealed nothing, not even when he’d lost ten thousand pounds in a single hand.
Strands of the rousing, yet forbidden, cancan drifted back from the main salon as the cards were dealt once again. Alec could feel the tension in the Frenchman sitting next to him as he sipped from his drink. The man had lost a considerable amount in the last hand . . . his lips had thinned to near vanishing.
Alec looked at his hand briefly while the old lord placed his wager.
“I’ll see your bet and raise you five thousand.” Bristol met the old man’s bid.
Alec could feel the anticipation mount as he considered the other players. Lord Campton straightened his handlebars as he drew upon his pipe, while Bristol nervously strummed his fingers.
“I’ll see that and raise it ten.” Monsieur Blanoiś sat back, swirling the contents of his drink.
Alec watched the Frenchman over the rim of his own glass, noting the subtle changes in his attitude. He looked like a man who believed his luck had finally changed.
More than one man in the room took notice as the stakes became considerable. Several ladies had even braved the back room, joining the crowd that had gathered around the high-stakes game.
Alec glanced at his own cards briefly before placing several notes onto the center. “I’ll see it and raise it twenty.”
The old lord surprised everyone as he slid the near fortune in front of him into the center of the table. “One hundred thousand pounds,” he announced.
An audible gasp was heard throughout the room as the old man remained leaning forward in his seat, showing the first sign of emotion since Alec had sat down at the table.
“Forgive me. I didn’t expect play to be so deep this evening.” The Frenchman gestured with his hand as he explained, “I will have to sign a note.”
“You’ve a voucher for only half that amount,” Campton raised his voice as the Frenchman signed the card. “How is it that we know you’re good for it?”
The Frenchman’s eyes sparkled dangerously in the low light. Though he kept a tight lid on his emotions, Alec wouldn’t have been surprised if he called the Englishman out over the slight. “I have signed the note,” he countered indignantly.
“Do you have collateral to back this up?” the older gentleman asked.
The Frenchman took his time considering his next words. “Oui,” he finally said. Reaching inside his coat pocket, he pulled out a rolled-up piece of parchment. He leaned forward dramatically, holding it up for all to see. “This, gentlemen, is a map leading to the greatest treasure known to man.” With an action bordering on reverence, he slid his note for one hundred thousand pounds inside the scroll and placed it in the middle of the gaming table. “I use it only as collateral.”
Alec raised an eyebrow in response. From where he sat, it looked to be nothing more than a mottled old scrap tied with a leather string. It took considerable effort to hide his amusement over the man’s bet.
“What else do you have?” Lord Campton scoffed, drawing even more interest from the other tables. He sat back with a smirk on his face that even his large mustache couldn’t hide.
“You can’t be serious.” Lord Bristol shook his head. Snickers were heard throughout the room in response to his words.
“I stand good for it, I assure you. I have the funds,” Monsieur Blanoiś insisted as he waited for his offer to be accepted.
A woman’s high-pitched trill could be heard above the din. “That’s what they all say,” she snorted heartily. The crowd’s raucous laughter mingled with the music in the background.
Lord Langston interrupted the commotion by holding up his hand. “I will accept it as such.” There was a loud murmur among those watching.
Bristol threw his cards down and shook his head. “Too rich for my blood.”
“I’m out,” Campton muttered, sitting back in a cloud of smoke.
Alec eyed the crowd that had gathered before slowly counting out the desired amount and sliding it toward the pile. “Call.”
The floor itself bounced in rhythm to the pounding feet of the dancers in the other room as Lord Langston placed his cards down. A full house, three aces and two kings, stared up from the table. The whole room buzzed with anticipation.
The Frenchman could hardly contain his exhilaration as he triumphantly spread out his hand. It was a straight flush, starting with the eight of clubs and ending with the queen.
There was a murmur of excitement from the onlookers who pressed forward to catch a glimpse. The winnings in this game alone would be a source of legend, let alone the cards being played to earn it. The Frenchman leaned forward to collect his prize. There was only one hand that could beat him, and those odds were astronomical.
“One moment, please.” Alec leaned forward, stilling the man’s hands over the pile. Slowly he turned his cards over, displaying a royal spade flush, ace high. The tension in the room exploded as the audience gasped in surprise. The Frenchman sat back, muttering to himself as Alec leaned forward to collect his winnings.
“It’s a raid!” a man called from the hall outside.
Laughter in the main salon quickly turned to shouting as the gaming room became flooded with fleeing patrons, their screams filling the air. “Run! Run! It’s a raid!”
Alec stood and quickly gathered the rest of the pile before him, stuffing money into his pockets as men pressed toward the door.
“I’ll see you in the morning to settle my debt,” the Frenchman shouted as he was caught in the throng and whisked away.
Alec looked up to see the old gentleman watching him calmly as he sat back comfortably in his chair.
“You’ll probably never see him again,” Lord Langston remarked, seemingly serene amongst the chaos. “I’d be happy to purchase the note from you. After all, I was the one who pressured you to accept it.”
Alec was surprised by the gesture as he fingered the old scroll thoughtfully. The old man was probably right, he realized. The Frenchman was probably hightailing it out of the country as they spoke. “That, I believe, is why they call it gambling,” Alec said as he tucked the map inside his coat. Tempted as he was to accept the old man’s offer, he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“Suit yourself,” the older gentleman said as he took a cigar from his pocket and nipped the end.
The whistles of the police grew louder as the room emptied. A flash of white from the corner caught Alec’s eye, and he turned towards it. He recognized the barmaid who’d brought him his drink earlier, though her ensemble now consisted of a short skirt and petticoat, the white frills of which had drawn his attention.
“Over here, luv. Quickly.” She beckoned to him as she opened up a secret panel in the wall.
Alec considered the older gentleman again. “Could I assist you in leaving?”
“Son,” he rolled the cigar in his mouth, “at my age, I’d have to try hard to convince them I’d been up to something other than playing cards.”
Alec smiled at his wit. “I bid you goodnight, then,” he said before turning towards the woman who still waited for him.
As the police drew nearer, Alec stepped inside the hidden passage, aware that it could very well turn out to be a trap. They were immediately enclosed in darkness as the woman slammed the false door closed behind him.
“Follow me,” she whispered after lighting a taper.
Bent over in the cramped space, Alec received a face full of fluff on several occasions as he trailed closely behind her. At last, they came to a door where they could stand. She paused, breathless, before it, trying the handle with little effect.
“Allow me,” he said, reaching past her to take hold of the handle. Obviously well used, the concealed door slid soundlessly on well-oiled hinges. Hidden behind dense foliage, it opened, not into the alleyway as he might have guessed, but into a walled garden. The woman at his side quickly extinguished the light as she crossed to the opening to peer out into the street.
“I’ll be damned,” Alec whispered in surprise as he joined her. They watched the bobbies chase several people down the alley. Even more amazing to him than his escape was the sight of his coachman just rounding the corner. He chuckled; Lady Luck was definitely on his side tonight.
He looked down at the woman who stood in the doorway. In the streetlight, she looked much younger than before. “You deserve a reward,” he whispered.
She pressed her breasts into him, turning her lips up to his for a kiss. Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out several bills, placing them into her hand. “For saving me,” he said with a wink before running across the short expanse of grass towards his carriage.
“Laws, guv!” she cried in surprise as she counted the huge sum she’d been given before tucking it into her décolletage. “Sure you wouldn’t care for a tumble?” she called after him.
He had no idea the total, but he’d probably just given her several thousand pounds. Of course she’d be inviting him back, Alec thought, somewhat amused as he climbed aboard the slow moving coach to the oblivion of the police down the road. “Just like old times, eh, Porter?” he hollered over to his driver.
“Aye, that it is, m’lord.” Porter was hardly surprised by the new arrival as he steered the carriage clear of the paddy wagons. “Home, sir?”
Alec nodded as he opened the door and settled himself inside. Sitting back against the tufted seat, he sighed. Could the night be any sweeter? Not only had he won an incredible sum with the hand of a lifetime, but he’d also managed to win a treasure map.
A map to the greatest treasure known to man. . . . It was intriguing, to be sure. Alec removed the scroll from the inside pocket of his jacket, rolling it in his fingers. The old man’s interest in buying the map had certainly piqued his curiosity. Absentmindedly, he tapped it against the palm of his hand before putting it back.
As he alighted from the carriage, Alec handed Porter a handsome tip. “Well done, my man,” he complimented him as he headed to the front steps of his town house.
“The missus will be right 'appy, m’lord.” Porter smiled as he pocketed the notes.
Alec let himself in, having dismissed his butler earlier in the evening. It was customary when he knew a late night was in store. Although it was still early by some standards, the clock in the foyer showed half past two. He shrugged off his coat as he headed toward his study, thinking a glass of brandy was just what he needed to wind down before bed.
Whack! Wood splintered next to his face as he opened the door to the darkened room.
“What the hell?” He ducked as a fist slammed into the side of his head from the other direction. The blow knocked him against another man, who tried to wrestle his arms to his side. “Not without a bloody fight, you don’t,” Alec growled, surprising the thug with his strength and speed.
He raised his arms, despite the man’s efforts to restrain him, and quickly jabbed with his right. Though he could barely make out their forms in the dim light filtering through the window, the blow connected with the man’s throat.
As the ruffian went down, the man behind Alec seized his arms again. He struggled against the strong grip as another looming figure succeeded in connecting a punch to his ribs. Alec felt the air leave his lungs as he doubled over. The bastard must be wearing brass knuckles, he’d hit him so hard.
Alec sucked in air, reared back, and kicked out at the man in front of him. The impact sent both him and the man holding him back into his desk. Several items scattered to the floor as they fought. Alec rolled free of the man’s grasp just as a candelabra crashed down next to him.
Alec blocked another blow from the heavy base then reached out to twist the candelabrum free. Tearing it out of the assailant’s grasp, he swung it hard, feeling it connect. The man grunted and staggered back. He was about to swing it again when a vase struck him in the back. It bounced off and hit the floor, shattering into a million pieces.
“That was my grandmother’s vase,” Alec ground out as he turned and hit the man square in the face. “An antique,” he kicked out, sweeping the fool off his feet, “from the Ming dynasty!” The man hit the bookcase, sending several volumes to the floor.
From the corner of his eye Alec saw the outline of a chair as it came towards him. Snatching it in midair, he spun around and tossed it in an arc, sending it crashing against the wall. Unfortunately, he barely had time to cover his head with his hands as a small table broke over his back. The blow sent him staggering to his knees.
With catlike stealth, Alec shifted to his feet, reaching inside his boot for the knife he kept there. He straightened, prepared for the next attack.
BOOM! A shot rang out in the dark.
Plaster rained down on Alec from the ceiling. His ears were still ringing as he watched the scoundrels throw open the window and flee into the night.
“Are you all right, m’lord?” Sims asked, standing in his nightshirt before the open door.
Alec shook the debris from his hair as a candle was lit. “So it seems.” He replaced the knife before standing. “What the hell took you so long?” he asked, looking around at the devastation.
Sims cleared his throat. “Sorry, m’lord. I thought at first you’d brought home an especially spirited female.”
“Bloody hell!” Alec ran a hand through his hair.
“Should I call the constable, sir?” Sims asked.
“No,” Alec replied, looking over at his butler, who was normally the picture of decorum. He had to hide a smile. With his hair standing on end, Sims looked like he was the one who’d just come from a fight. “I don’t think they’ll be returning anytime soon.”
Alec spied his coat where it had fallen on the floor. He picked it up and shook it out. The bills it had once held lay strewn across the debris. With a slight groan, he tossed the jacket to the side as Sims dutifully started picking up the mess.
“Leave it until morning,” Alec said tiredly as he sat down in his large leather chair. “You can pour me a brandy before you go back to bed, however.”
“Very good, sir,” Sims replied, handing him the drink, along with the decanter.
“Bloody hell!” Samuel looked around the study in surprise. “What happened in here?”
The expletive woke Alec with a start and he groaned, leaning forward. Damn, he hadn’t meant to spend the whole night in the chair. He winced as Samuel threw open the shades, flooding the room with bright sunshine.
“I thought I’d find you surrounded by your booty, but not quite like this.” Samuel laughed as he surveyed the mess on the floor.
“Booty?” Alec blinked up at him, shading his eyes.
“It’s all the talk this morning.” Samuel grinned from ear to ear. “You raked in quite a sum, I understand, along with a treasure map.”
“Too bad you missed it.” Alec grimaced as he rolled his shoulder. “Where did you disappear to after the Chesterfields’ ball? I thought we’d agreed to meet at the Boar’s Head.”
“Sorry about that. I was tied up.” Samuel raised his brows suggestively.
“Figuratively or literally?”
“That woman is relentless, I tell you.” Samuel grinned mischievously.
He’d known better than to ask. Alec brought up his hand and rubbed his neck, while Samuel rambled on. Damn, he was sore. It must have been the table they broke over his back, or the cracked rib, or the sucker punch to the face, he thought, feeling the tender area around his eye.
Samuel glanced over, noticing the slight bruise Alec now sported. “I’m surprised that anyone could get the best of you.”
“Who said there was only one?” Alec looked up at him with his good eye.
“Hmm,” Samuel responded as he started picking up fistfuls of money and arranging them into piles while Alec poured himself another drink.
“How much should you have here?” Samuel asked with interest. “The rumor mills said you raked in at least three-fifty.”
“Really?” It was Alec’s turn to be surprised.
“You mean you don’t know?” Both Samuel’s brows shot up. “The game of the season, it’s being said, possibly decade . . . and you didn’t even count your winnings?”
“I was busy.” Alec gestured to the utter chaos.
“Two hundred thirty-four thousand,” Samuel whistled when he finished the tally. “Not including, of course, the infamous note and treasure map for another one hundred. How much do you think they got away with?”
“I doubt they got anything.” Alec watched the liquor in his glass move as he rolled it. He did a quick tally in his head. “The winnings came to about two hundred fifty. I gave several bills to one of the tavern wenches and tipped my driver.”
“You gave a strumpet sixteen thousand pounds?” Samuel snorted in surprise. “Holy hell. . . . You were busy.”
There was no use explaining. Alec shook his head slightly. Samuel always came to his own conclusions, anyway.
“What will your fiancée say when she finds out?” Samuel feigned shock.
“What fiancée?” Alec narrowed his eyes on him.
“The one your mother all but proposed to in your stead.”
“Hell,” Alec groaned. “What else is the rumor mill saying?”
“Oh, that one isn’t just a rumor. It’s one of the bets that has been placed in the ledger at White’s,” Samuel said, speaking of the book into which patrons of the gentleman’s club recorded their wagers.
“I suppose you’ve added one of your own?”
“Of course,” Samuel supplied with a grin. “I bet that you leave the country within a fortnight in order to avoid the whole affair.” He chuckled, enjoying Alec’s awkward set of circumstances.
“That sounds a bit extreme.” Alec irritably fluffed the cushion at his back, stabbing at it with his fist. “You seem to be enjoying this a little overly much.”
“I am,” Samuel said frankly. “You, my friend, have only just discovered the joys of a meddling mother, whereas I have had one for years.”
Alec couldn’t argue with that. Ever since Samuel had lost his father to an early death, his mother had practically smothered him. Alec hadn’t had any idea just how frustrating it was before now. He downed the brandy he’d just poured with a single swallow.
“Is this it?” Samuel’s voice was one of awe as he bent to pick up the scroll sticking out of Alec’s discarded jacket.
Alec looked up with one eye slightly scrunched. “Indeed.”
“What is it to?” Fascinated, Samuel pulled it out. Alec shrugged his shoulders in response. “You mean you didn’t even look? The greatest treasure of mankind, and you didn’t even look?” Samuel shook his head in disbelief as he unrolled the scroll.
“Well?” Alec asked from his chair as Samuel studied it. “What does it say?”
Samuel looked up with a blank stare, then turned it around for him to see. It looked like a sundial with chicken scratch all over it. “I believe you’ve been taken.”
“Let me see that.” Alec stood, snatching the document from Samuel as he started to laugh. “Hell,” Alec swore as he looked at it, not in the least bit amused. It was bloody unlikely he was going to get one hundred thousand pounds for the damn thing.
“Well, I certainly don’t envy you on this one either.” Samuel held up the largest piece of the ceramic vase.
“It wasn’t too bad.” Alec remembered the hit he took as one of the thugs broke it over his back.
“It will be when your mother finds out about it.”
“Hmmm,” Alec reflected.
“Maybe you can glue it . . . or leave town,” Samuel hedged.
“Although I’d love to help you win your bet, I think I’ll be staying.” Alec sat on the corner of the desk, looking at the drawing on the map.
“What’s that there?” Samuel pointed to the back of it.
Alec flipped the parchment over in his hand. On the other side was another set of drawings, and these looked Egyptian.
“Aha!” Samuel stooped over, picking up two pieces of paper from the floor. One was the voucher from the Frenchman, while the other had more strange writing with a line of fine penmanship beneath it. “This looks like ancient Greek.” Samuel looked up. “Wait, I recognize this. It’s been taken off the other side of the map.”
Alec turned the map over. Across the bottom was a line of the same ancient script. “My ancient Greek is a tad rusty.” He looked over at the note Samuel held. Beneath the Greek letters was another language. “How’s your French?”
“Better than yours,” Samuel said before reading it aloud. “What has four legs when it is born, two as an adult, and three when it dies?”
Alec rolled his eyes. “What does it really say?”
“That is what it says.” Samuel looked suitably annoyed.
“Are you serious?”
“It must be a riddle.” Samuel looked up with excitement.
“More like a joke, if you ask me,” Alec grumbled irritably. “One that I am to bear the brunt of.”
“Not necessarily,” Samuel replied thoughtfully as he turned the note over. “Look, there is more.”
“I don’t think I can take any more.”
“It appears to be a poem.” Samuel cleared his throat before reading:
O Golden One, the lady of Heaven.
I worship her majesty, I give adoration to Hathor
I called to her, she heard my plea. She sent my Mistress to me.
“Do you think it’s another clue?” Samuel looked up excitedly.
“A clue that someone is greatly disturbed, perhaps.” Alec glanced at him with a raised brow.
It didn’t take Alec a great deal of effort to locate the townhouse that Monsieur Blanoiś had let out for the season. As the carriage drew up in front he couldn’t help but wonder if the old man’s prediction would prove to be right, and the Frenchman wouldn’t be there.
“It’s not dilapidated. That, at least, is a good sign,” Samuel noted as he surveyed the building.
Alec gave him a quick glance before alighting from the carriage. Samuel had insisted that he accompany him on this errand. Quite frankly, Alec doubted that he could have stopped Samuel. He seemed more interested in the outcome than Alec was himself.
“I can’t believe the ol' codger said he’d buy it from you, and you didn’t take him up on it.” Samuel shook his head in disbelief as they walked up to the door and rang the bell. “What were you thinking?”
Alec almost wished he hadn’t told him of the old man’s offer. “There wasn’t a great deal of time in which to make—” he started to say as a constable opened the door.
“Yes?” the man asked gruffly.
It certainly wasn’t the welcome Alec had been expecting. “I am Lord Alecsian Rothchild Brighton, the Third, and I’ve come to collect a debt that Monsieur Blanoiś owes me.” He handed the officer his card. “I was told I could find him here.”
The constable took it, and then nodded. “He’s here.” He surprised them further by adding, “But good luck collecting it, the poor bastard shot himself last night.”
Alec raised a brow at this information as the constable motioned for them to enter. He looked over at Samuel, whose expression mirrored that of his own.
“Maid found him this morning,” the officer informed them as they followed him to the salon where the body lay. The dead man was still where he’d fallen, slumped back on the sofa, the gun in his hand.
“Poor bugger.” Samuel glanced down at the body. “Rotten luck, ol’ boy,” he whispered to the side for Alec’s benefit.
Alec couldn’t agree more. It was highly doubtful that the older gentleman from last night’s card game would buy the note now. It was most unfortunate, especially for the Frenchman. “Are you sure it was suicide?” he asked, watching as the constable made some notes in his report.
“Unfortunately, you’re not the first creditors to show up since I have been here this morning.” The constable looked grimly over at the deceased man. “I can’t see as how it’s the easy way out, though.” He scribbled on a tablet of paper he held, holding it out to them. “According to his maid, this is the name of his solicitor.”
“Thank you, you’ve been most helpful,” Samuel responded when it seemed Alec was too preoccupied to do so himself. Taking the paper, he nudged Alec to get his attention.
Alec accepted the note and nodded his thanks. “We’ll see ourselves out. Good day.” Once outside, he turned to Samuel. “Did you happen to notice anything unusual about that?”
An expression of surprise registered across Samuel’s face. “You mean, other than the dead man?”
Alec gave him a look of annoyance. “There was damage to the chair next to him, and I also noticed an impression left on the carpet from a table that used to be in front of the divan he was on.”
“I also spotted a piece of broken glass behind the chair in the corner.” With a grim expression, Alec looked over at Samuel. “That’s not all. The gun he used was in his right hand.”
“So . . . ?”
“Last night at the table, I noticed that Monsieur Blanoiś was left-handed.” Alec glanced meaningfully over at Samuel. “I’m beginning to wonder if the Frenchman had some visitors of his own last night.”
“You think he was murdered?” Samuel paused in his step.
“Possibly. . . .” Alec continued on as the coroner’s wagon pulled up in front of the house.
Samuel rushed up beside him, speaking in a hushed tone. “And you actually think there might be a link between this and the men who attacked you?”
“I can’t say. I thought, last night, they were after the winnings.”
Samuel nodded in agreement. He, too, had assumed as much. He remained silent until they were back inside the carriage. “Tell you what,” Samuel said, tearing his eyes away from the townhouse as the carriage pulled forward, “I know a man that may be able to tell us something about your map.”
They arrived at the British Museum of Antiquities shortly after noon. “How is it that you know this man?” Alec had to duck his head as they entered the offices in the rear.
“He was a friend of my father’s,” Samuel said just as an older man with thinning hair approached them.
“Samuel, what a delight to see you. Come in, come in. Sit down,” he said while ushering them into a room filled with objets d’art and other artifacts. The desk in the middle of the room was covered with books and sheaves of paper, piled in no discernible order.
Samuel made his way around the clutter to the other side of the desk. “Thank you for seeing us, Sir Richard.”
“My pleasure. Tell me, how is your mother doing?”
“She’s wonderful, taking in the waters at Bath this season.”
“Good, good. Delightful woman.”
Alec and Samuel exchanged a quick glance. He apparently knew a side of Samuel’s mother they were both ignorant of.
Alec shook his hand as introductions were made. Sir Richard seated himself awkwardly behind the desk with a groan. “Leg seems worse on rainy days like this. Growing old is not for the faint of heart, I tell you.”
Alec and Samuel took chairs on the other side. Once they were seated, Sir Richard leaned forward. “Tell me, what can I do for you?”
“Well, it’s actually for my friend here. He recently acquired a document of considerable value, and we were wondering if you could shed some light on its contents for us.”
Alec retrieved the scroll from his jacket and placed it on the desk.
“I’ll do my best.” Sir Richard carefully unrolled the parchment, studying it for several minutes. “Hmmm.”
Both Alec and Samuel looked at each other again when nothing else followed.
After several minutes of intense scrutiny, Sir Richard looked up at them over the small glasses perched on his nose. “You know, this reminds me of some of the writings in Bombay where I served under your father, as it were. You know those days were—”
Thirty minutes of reminiscing later, Alec and Samuel were finally able to get some information.
“Cuneiform, an ancient script that gave birth to Arabic and Latin, actually all of the Semitic—”
Another fifteen minutes passed as they were given a lecture on the origins of the written word, which did at least explain the chicken scratch.
“It’s most unusual that this has been written in a combination of cuneiform and hieroglyphics,” Sir Richard was saying, “but how I do digress, when what you wanted to know is what this map refers to.”
“So, it is a map?” Samuel shot forward in his seat.
“Yes, yes. Drawn in an old style that existed before maps, as we know them now, were ever made.”
Another fifteen minutes passed as the history of cartography was dissected. By the end of it, Samuel had shifted position to lean back in his chair, affecting a pose that was as close to nodding off as Alec had ever seen.
“What do you make of the Egyptian writings?” Alec inquired before he too succumbed to a dazed stupor. Another lesson on hieroglyphs ensued, but at least this time he gained some answers.
Samuel leaned forward again. “Does it say who it belongs to?”
“Yes, yes, here it is. I thought I recognized it.” He placed the book he’d collected on the desk and took his seat. On the page was another five-pointed star with more strange writing. “It’s the symbol for the goddess Seshat, the goddess of writing.”
“Well, its use is metaphorical. It would have been used for a queen who symbolically represented the goddess.”
“Cleopatra?” Samuel supplied eagerly.
“Does it say where?” Alec leaned forward.
“No, but it does have some very compelling clues. These lions, which are facing away from each other, are depictions of the earth god, Aker, and guardians of the underworld.” Sir Richard then indicated the writings above each. “This one says akhet, while the other says pet.”
Alec glanced over at Samuel with an expression of disbelief as the older man continued to interpret the ancient dialect.
“Interesting, very interesting,” Sir Richard muttered, speaking more to himself than to either of them.
“And what does that mean, exactly?” Samuel couldn’t hide his smile. “In English.”
“Oh, yes.” Sir Richard cleared his throat. “Horizon and sky, as it were.”
“Really,” Samuel curiously said, “that’s fascinating.”
“Now that is interesting.” Samuel nodded as the scholar pointed to the left side of the map.
“Where the cat arches over the door?” both Alec and Samuel repeated simultaneously.
“But does it say where?” Samuel leaned sideways for a better view.
“Well, as I said, there are some compelling clues. If I had to make an educated guess. . . .”
“Yes?” Both Alec and Samuel pressed.
Again, Alec and Samuel exchanged glances. Alec raised a brow as he considered the older man. Sir Richard was obviously not one to go out on a limb.
“Ah. . . .” A smile flickered at the corners of Samuel’s mouth. “Is it possible to narrow that down some?”
“What I’d really like to do is keep this overnight and let a colleague of mine have a look at it. He’s a specialist trained by Champollion himself.”
“Splendid!” Samuel slapped his hands to his knees, noticing as he did that Alec was shaking his head. “I mean, we’ll be keeping it with us,” he quickly amended.
“I understand completely. He’ll be here tomorrow, if you’d like to bring it around,” Sir Richard offered. “But I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention that there appears to be some type of warning attached,” he added gravely.
“Warning?” Samuel abandoned his seat altogether to get a closer look. “You mean a curse?”
“Really?” Samuel eyed the drawing skeptically. “This little bird is the portent of doom?”
“What kind of evil does it speak of?” Alec leaned closer as well.
“Again, I really think you should speak with my colleague. He is much better versed in these writings.”
“Any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated,” Alec encouraged him.
With a sigh, Sir Richard leaned over the parchment again. “i‛nhw swзty.sn hr m‛h‛t—”
“Uh-hum,” Samuel coughed, clearing his throat meaningfully.
Sir Richard glanced up over the rim of his glasses, fixing him with a troubled gaze. “O’ the living upon the earth who pass by this tomb, it warns, keep a distance,” he restated before glancing back down. “We call upon the one that sees all, the great lord of the west, to bring evil in the form of death.”
“I say, that is rather bleak, isn’t it?” Samuel could not help but be amused by the older gentleman’s dour expression.
“That is not all,” Sir Richard continued gravely. “It goes on to say that whoever opens the tomb without the keeper shall perish in spirit, never to rise again.”
Apparently unconcerned with the curse, Samuel leaned closer, his eyes sparkling with curiosity. “The keeper, you say?”
“This is ominous indeed.” Sir Richard looked up from the document, his expression grim. “You see, to die was one thing to the Egyptians. But to die in spirit was essentially the worst curse they could possibly imagine.”
“Life?” Samuel rubbed his chin as he considered it. “How intriguing. A real puzzler, then. isn’t it?”
“Indeed,” Sir Richard remarked as he sat back in his chair. “I could recommend a very good archeologist, though it will be difficult to get a permit for a dig. . . . Blasted French!” He slapped his palm against the desktop. “Ever since Auguste Mariette was made Conservator of the Monuments, they’ve all but sewn it up. Not to mention the Suez—”
The topic did wonders for his exhaustion, Alec noticed. “I’m not sure we’ll be doing anything at this time,” he said quickly before he was forced to spend an hour listening to another dissertation on the heated subject.
“Well, that is, of course, advisable. After all, chasing after something of this nature can be,” Sir Richard fixed him with his steady regard, “a waste of a lifetime.”
Something in his eyes made Alec wonder if he was speaking from personal experience. “Sound advice.” Alec tucked the scroll away as he stood, shaking his hand.
“I’m sorry I could not be more precise,” Sir Richard apologized.
“You’ve been a wealth of information.” Alec inclined his head. “My thanks.”
Sir Richard seemed pleased by the praise and turned to Samuel. “Give my regards to your mother.”
“Yes, sir, I will.” Samuel took his hand once more.
“Good grief, I thought we’d never get out of there.” Samuel’s relief was obvious. “I’d forgotten how long-winded some of my father’s old cronies could be.”
Alec adjusted his collar up as they left the building. The fine mist had turned into a drizzle that was threatening a downpour. Thunder rumbled in the distance as they crossed the plaza to the waiting coach.
“Ghastly weather, if you ask me.” Samuel climbed inside the carriage, pulling his coat closer around him. “I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for someplace warmer.
“Home, Porter,” Alec called up to his driver, who’d pulled his hat down low against the weather. He received a nod in response.
Samuel lost little time in haranguing him once he sat down opposite him. “You mean to tell me that you’re not interested in finding this tomb the map speaks of?”
“I was actually of a mind to find the ol' codger, as you put it, and ask if he is still interested in purchasing it.”
“I think that ship has sailed, now that the Frenchman is dead, don’t you?”
“Could be.” Alec shrugged noncommittally.
Samuel retrieved a flask from his inside pocket and took a nip. The carriage bounced slightly as they pulled forward, causing the liquid to slip down his chin. “Blasted roads! You should see about your springs.” He withdrew a handkerchief. Not one to be offset so easily, he pressed his argument while wiping at the spill. “I say we sail over to Egypt and have a look for ourselves.”
“I thought you wanted to go over to the Americas and run the blockade,” Alec reminded him, although Samuel seemed inured to his sarcasm.
“I did, but that idea pales in comparison to looking for lost treasure, don’t you think?”
“I think your mother would cuff herself to your person if she knew you were considering either one.”
“Don’t start,” Samuel warned. “At least she hasn’t threatened to go down on one knee and propose in my stead.”
“C’mon, man. Just think of it!” Samuel sat forward, unable to suppress his excitement at the idea. “The tomb of a great queen just begging to be opened. Imagine . . . Egypt . . . sand dunes . . . dancing girls . . . harems. I tell you, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, ripe for the picking.”
“Yes, and all we have to do is find where the cat arches over the door . . . somewhere in Egypt,” Alec commented with more than a dose of cynicism in his voice.
“Well, if it were easy, it would have been found already,” Samuel responded optimistically as he cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hello, are you hearing me? It’s the chance of a lifetime, Alec.”
“Quite.” Alec lifted a brow. “You’re telling me that you are willing to risk eternal damnation of your soul for a little entertainment.”
“C’mon, you don’t believe that any more than I do,” Samuel scoffed as he glanced out the window. “I say, when did you move?”
Alec regarded the passing view with little interest. It appeared they were heading out of town, rather than toward his townhouse. “Hmm, there must be some traffic on the main road Porter’s going around.”
“I can understand bypassing a few roads, but the entire city?” Samuel craned his neck to see in front. “I don’t see any—”
Knock—knock—knock. A series of dull thuds sounded in the carriage.
“What the bloody hell is that?” Samuel turned in his seat, having felt the vibration of the knocking through the back cushion.
Alec opened the shutter to the driver’s box and called out to Porter.
“Hhaa!” the driver yelled in response, cracking his whip. The carriage lurched forward as the horses were driven to a greater speed.
Alec turned back to Samuel with a look of annoyance.
Surprise registered on Samuel’s face. “I believe we’re being shanghaied.”
“It certainly does appear that way.” Alec looked out the window. “We also have some company.” There was a man standing on the footman’s rail.
Samuel stole a quick glance out his side. “I’ll be damned. I suppose it wasn’t your springs, after all. There’s one on this side as well.”
“That is no doubt your driver locked in the trunk in back,” Samuel remarked as Alec pulled the secret panel in the floor up, revealing a pistol and several knives.
“Well, that’s certainly more like it.” Samuel rubbed his hands together eagerly as Alec handed him an old flintlock pistol. He eyed it critically, turning it in his hand. “I’d rather have those.” He picked up the pair of throwing knives, giving Alec back the gun. “That is, if you don’t mind.” He grinned.
The men readied themselves at either door.
“On the count of three . . . One . . . Two . . . Three!”
The doors sprang open as Alec and Samuel jumped to the rail on either side. Their surprise was short-lived, however, as both highwaymen already had pistols aimed at them.
The man facing Alec fired his gun. The bullet whizzed past, splintering the open door behind him. Alec pulled the trigger of his own weapon. The man cried out as he fell from the carriage, a deep crimson mark spreading out from his shoulder.
The driver turned at the sound, using the whip against Alec. The leather strap wrapped about his forearm. Alec pulled against it as he climbed. The action caused the carriage to veer toward oncoming traffic before straightening.
Samuel pressed himself against the other side to avoid a lamppost as they careened past. The other man on the back rail raised his gun, squeezing the trigger. The shot went wide as a vicious jolt rocked the carriage, its wheel finding the depth of the gutter before erupting back out. The carriage rocked crazily as the horses surged forward.
Scrambling to hold on, Samuel elected to drop the knife so that he could grab the door. “Bloody hell!” he swore when his feet were dragged alongside. He struggled to hold onto the window casing as the man in the rear once again pointed his weapon at him. The blackguard fixed him with a malicious grin as he took aim.
“Ah, c’mon!” Samuel breathed. It was bad enough that he had his hands full hanging onto the door so as not to fall beneath the wheels, let alone being in that precarious position while looking down the barrel of a gun.
Alec managed to wrestle the strap free from the driver. With the bullwhip in his hand, he slashed out at the man holding the gun on Samuel. The highwayman pulled the trigger just as the lash of the whip wrapped about his wrist, yanking the gun out of his hand. Samuel checked his vitals, breathing a sigh of relief.
Alec kept the whip stretched taut, pulling the man’s arm up over the top. Taking the knife from his belt, the man cut the leather strap. The sudden loss of tension almost cost Alec his grip on the rail. He caught himself just in time, pulling himself up onto the roof.
“Khod el Kharita!” The driver shouted back at the man in the rear. The other man stopped his advance toward Samuel and climbed up after Alec instead. Alec dove onto the driver, wrapping his arm around the man’s neck from behind. He managed to unseat the driver before the other man was upon him.
Shouts from the street were accompanied by flying chickens and cabbage as the carriage careened up onto a sidewalk. People jumped out of the way as the horses plowed through the market.
Samuel lost his footing for a second time as a cart of melons smashed into the side. “Aw, not again!” He grabbed the top of the door, swinging wide into the street as he held on.
Alec was pulled backwards as the other man wrestled his arm free and threw a punch. He had to release the driver to block it.
The driver grabbed the reins and proceeded to increase the breakneck pace. The clatter of the cobblestones under the horses’ hooves mingled with the outraged screams of the vendors.
The man had Alec in a choke hold as they rolled backwards into a sitting position on the roof. Alec pulled at the arm about his neck with both hands to no avail. Changing tactics, Alec leaned forward, and then, in a quick motion, he slammed his head backwards, smashing it into the bastard’s face.
The carriage swayed as it hit a bend in the road, sending it up on two wheels careening around the turn. Samuel was forced to either climb the door or be ground into the pavement. He pulled himself up until his foot found purchase on the window casing.
Alec sucked in air as the dazed man’s grip slackened enough for him to free himself. The odd angle threatened to send both men sliding off the slick surface of the roof. Alec managed to grab the back of the driver’s seat with one hand as the carriage tilted.
Though his nose was bloodied, the man recovered enough to hold onto Alec’s legs in an attempt to stop his slide. With his legs dangling off the side, the man tried to find purchase on the door that Samuel was perched on. He kicked out, managing to get a foothold for a brief second before his weight caused the door to swing away from him.
Samuel rode the door toward the driver, who lashed out at him with a fist. The force of the carriage settling back down on all four wheels sent the door backwards again just as Samuel returned the driver’s punch.
Alec managed to free a leg from his assailant’s hold and kicked out, smashing the man in the face with his boot. His grip slipped further down Alec’s leg as he kicked out again for the door until he dangled over the side, clinging only to Alec’s boot.
The sound of the horse's hooves changed as the carriage started across a bridge. The ground disappeared from beneath Samuel as the door once again swung wide. His eyes widened when he looked down and all he could see was the water far beneath him.
Alec wiggled his foot. Damn it! Of course it has to be my favorite pair of Hessians, he thought with irritation as the boot slipped free.
“Aaugh!” the man yelled as he dangled over the side of the bridge.
Samuel clung to the door as the man slid past him, grabbing for air as he dropped to the water below. He kicked the side of the carriage, pushing the door away so that it swung toward the driver once again. This time he managed to get a foot up on the seat as the driver lashed out at him. Alec was quick to pull the highwayman back, punching him in the side of the head as he did.
Samuel let go of the door with one hand and grabbed the rail, pulling himself up onto the box. Filling the newly vacated seat, he picked up the reins just as the open door collided with a streetlamp on the other end of the bridge, ripping it from its hinges.
“Whoa!” Samuel pulled back on the reins with all his might. The horses responded by slowing their pace from the reckless gallop.
Alec wrestled with the driver, landing another punch that sent him falling backwards, sliding off the back. The man hit the trunk on the way down and rolled onto the pavement. Alec watched as he staggered to his feet and hobbled off down a side road.
“Whoa,” Samuel called to the horses again as he pulled on the brake, bringing the carriage to a stop. He looked over his shoulder at Alec, who was standing on top of the roof, watching the man disappear from view. “Are you going to give chase?”
Alec looked down at his bootless foot. “Damn it all to Hell!” He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think someone is after the map.”
“I’d say it’s a certainty.” Samuel grinned up at him with satisfaction. “In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s an absolute certainty.”
Alec raised his brow in question. “And why is that?”
“Because of what the driver shouted back there.”
“And what did he say that makes you say that with absolute certainty?”
“He said,” Samuel’s smile widened, “take the map.”
Knock—knock—knock. “Hell,” Alec swore as he climbed over the seat. “I’d better get Porter out of that trunk.”
“You do that.” Samuel chuckled. “He’ll no doubt want a raise after this.” He brushed off his sleeve, straightening his jacket. “I’m also thinking you should put the map where it will be safe.”
“It is safe where it is,” Alec grumbled as he jumped down.
Alec walked through the doors of White’s three hours later. Having just spent the greater portion of that time making a grand show of depositing the map within the Bank of England’s vault, he was more than glad to finally be finished with the performance.
Handing the doorman his hat, he signed the ledger, noting Samuel’s scrawl several names up. Good, he was actually where he said he would be for a change.
Alec walked past several gentlemen as he crossed the great room with its dark paneling and leather chairs. He found Samuel seated in front of a window reading from the societal page of The Tatler.
“Any news of my engagement?” Alec asked jokingly as he sat down opposite him.
“Now that you mention it . . . yes.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Actually, no. Look.” Samuel turned the paper over to show him a small caricature of several ladies of the ton. It depicted a row of debutantes lined up in front of an older woman, who looked suspiciously like his mother. She was assessing them critically through opera glasses. In the distance, one could see a gentleman’s tailcoat and heels running in the opposite direction.
“I take it that is supposed to be me.”
“I think they’ve captured you quite nicely.” Samuel chuckled.
Alec shook his head as he picked up the paper and studied it. “The woman has gone too far.”
“Speaking of women. . . . How did it go with ‘the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’?” Samuel used the Bank of England’s moniker. “Think they bought it?”
“I did everything but wear a sign. If anyone was watching, I’m sure they were left with little doubt as to what I was doing.” Alec tossed the social rag back to Samuel and picked up the latest issue of Lloyd’s List.
“Speaking of which, here are the real one and another copy I made.” Samuel handed him an envelope. “Nicely played with the fake, by the way.”
Alec nodded and slipped the envelope into his coat pocket as Lord Spencer walked up smiling. “Brighton, St. Clair.” He greeted them. “Congratulations on your big win.”
“Thank you.” Alec inclined his head.
“I’ve got to run now, but perhaps you will tell me all about it tonight at the Worthingtons’ ball.”
“Not much to tell. The cards were in my favor.”
“Nonsense. Besides, it would be a highlight to what promises to be an otherwise dreadful evening.” Lord Spencer leaned closer, whispering conspiratorially. “We must stick together at these things, you know.” He nodded sagely before taking his leave.
“You’re actually considering going to the Worthingtons’?” Samuel looked over at him as if he’d lost his mind.
“Why?” Alec raised a questioning brow.
“Because the lovely young woman in the front of this line,” Samuel said, pointing to the cartoon, “is Miss Angelina Worthington, that’s why.”
Alec picked the paper up once again. “I was wondering who the object of my affection was supposed to be.”
“Lords Brighton, St. Clair,” Lord Lindsey acknowledged them as he approached. “I hear congratulations are in order.”
“Luck of the draw.”
“Well, she is quite lovely.”
Puzzled, Alec looked up at him. “Who is?”
“Why, your fiancée of course, I heard that you’ll be announcing your engagement at the ball tonight.”
Bloody hell! Alec’s eyes flared in outrage. “I can assure you that I have no intention of doing any such thing.”
“Of course.” He gave him a conspiratorial wink. “You want to keep it hush-hush.”
Alec waited until the older man was out of earshot and then turned to Samuel. “That’s it!” He tossed the paper to the side and stood up. “Pack your bags, we’re going to Egypt.”
Samuel slapped his hand against his thigh. “Exceptional idea, if I do say so myself.” He watched as Alec stalked away. “You mean now?” he hollered after him.
“You have a problem with winning your bet?”
“I. . . . No.”
Alexandria, Egypt, 1863
Good Lord! What is that smell?” Samuel wrinkled his nose at the foul odor that permeated the air. A cart of entrails and fish heads passed them. “Never mind.” He coughed as he continued to walk with Alec down the dock to where their luggage was to be off-loaded from the steamship, The Great Eastern.
“Absolute marvel, isn’t it?” Samuel looked up at the huge smokestack. “I still can’t get over how quickly we traveled here. Just imagine how long that trip would have taken us just a few years ago. I tell you, we’re in the wrong business.”
“And what business is that?” Alec sidestepped a young boy peddling hats. “English lords with nothing better to do than gallivant around the Egyptian countryside looking for exotic species?”
“I don’t see why we can’t pose as merchants, rather than as part of a scientific expedition. Especially now, with the Suez being built, trading with India will be a snap. Just look at all this.” Samuel looked around at the busy port.
“I think the key word here is pose.” Alec gave him a sideways glance. “And I thought we agreed that doing research on the indigenous wildlife would create less interest than having to grease the wheels of trade.”
“I think we may have missed out on the opportunity to make a king’s ransom.”
“And here I thought we were looking for a queen. If you’d rather not. . . .”
“No, no. I’m in, come hell or high water.”
“Let us hope it doesn’t come to that.” Alec had to sidestep another man, who cut across his path with a basket laden with fruit.
“I do hope we can find better accommodations now that we’re on dry land. I still can’t believe they put us next to the engine room.” Samuel sniffed again as he ducked to avoid the fruit. “Why,” he continued, “you’d think, on a ship of that size, they’d have been able to offer better with five minutes’ notice. My ears are still ring—” He was cut off as a cart bumped into him from behind. “Hey, watch it!” he called out, tripping forward.
The cart in question stopped short, sending the one directly behind it out into the crowded walkway to avoid a collision. Several pedestrians scattered as yet another cart, this one containing coal, tipped over, spilling its load. The small boy with hats ran straight into Alec in all the commotion. He nearly fell over as Alec straightened him up.
“So sorr-eh, sir-rah,” he cried as he found his footing and took off again.
“Take a better look next time,” Alec called after him as he checked his pockets. “Bloody little urchin!”
The boy glanced behind quickly before breaking into a run.
“That little thief!” Alec shouted as he ran after the boy. Fast on his heels, Alec reached out to grab him, but the boy darted under another cart.
Samuel was on the other side and caught him by surprise. “Got him!”
The boy managed to wiggle free of his grasp.
“Slippery little. . . .” Samuel lost his hold.
They both chased him down a side street, taking the corner at an all-out run. Alec’s fingers brushed against his vest. The boy turned quickly, eluding his grasp once again as he darted down a smaller side alley.
They both went straight in after him. It opened into a courtyard with a dozen men kneeling around a center pit playing a game with pebbles and shells. They fell silent as the boy came to a stop on the other side of the group, clinging to one of the men.
“Abu, Abu, el-Afareet!” the young boy called to his father.
“Uh-oh.” Samuel stayed a hand in front of Alec. “Sorry, our mistake,” he called out, backing slowly away.
“Hell if it was!” Alec growled.
Ssh-LING. The sound of several swords being unsheathed rang out in the small area as the men stood.
“RUN!” Samuel shouted as he turned.
“Unbelievable!” Alec bit out as they charged.
They rounded one corner and then another, knocking down several carpet hangings as they desperately tried to stay ahead of the dozen men chasing them. They darted inside an open archway, hugging the wall inside the darkened interior, as several men raced by.
Waiting until the last man had passed their hiding place, they snuck back out, trying to retrace their steps through the maze of twisted alleyways.
They heard the cry to halt as they turned the corner. They dashed through another small archway and ran toward the rear. Three old women looked up, startled from their weaving as both Alec and Samuel practically stumbled over themselves in an effort to stop.
“Taiyib matakhafsh,” Samuel whispered, telling them not to be afraid as he pressed both palms together in front of his head and bowed, begging their forgiveness.
Instead of being afraid, one of the women started to chuckle, shaking her head. “Inglizi howadji.”
Alec looked over to Samuel who mouthed, “English tourists,” for his benefit.
They could hear the band of men searching shop-by-shop outside. Two of them came back into the interior of the alcove where five old women worked on their weaving. Ignoring them, they began to search the corners, behind the wall hangings and baskets.
One of the old women stood and shooed them. Calling for help, she picked up a broom and began to aggressively sweep them away. They left, continuing their search further down.
“Shukran.” Samuel breathed a sigh of relief as he removed the scarf from his head. He thanked them again profusely as Alec pressed gold coins into each of their palms. They smiled toothless grins, biting the pieces with what nubs they had left.
Sitting on the floor, rather than pillows, both Alec and Samuel began removing the bundles of spun wool the women had piled around them to hide their size.
Alec climbed out of the hole he was in, unwrapping the shawl they had wound about him as he went. He felt a sharp point in his back as he rose to his full height. Apparently help had arrived.
If you love ancient world history and the unsolved mysteries this series is for you! Discover for yourself the origins of the Sphinx as well as several misidentified and unknown hieroglyphs!
Visit Barbara’s blog Histories Mysteries to learn more http://barbaraiviegreenhistoriesmysteries.blogspot.com/
The first book in the series Treasure or the Ancients, Treasure of Egypt, delves into one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world, the myths surrounding the Great Sphinx. Mankind has asked for centuries where the image of the Sphinx originated. Discover for yourself the origins of the amazing symbol as well as several hieroglyphs that have been misidentified or unknown altogether.
The research into the book took years and when I do deviate from the “real world” to explore the ancient “fictitious” tomb as a reader you are sent on a journey that also follows the Book of Gates, which is within the Book of Coming Forth By Day or the Land of Two Ways. Some would call this the Book of the Dead, but since that wasn’t a term used until late in the nineteenth century I resisted the temptation to use it in my adventure that takes place in the year 1863.
The second book in the series, Treasure of the Emerald Isle, has been fascinating to research and I cannot wait until its release. It involves the mystery surrounding the great megalithic structures such as Stonehenge and Newgrange. Who built them and where and why did they go?
To view video trailer of Treasure of Egypt click here