The Mummy or Ramses the Damned


PART 1 Chapter 1


THE CAMERA flashes blinded him for a moment. If only he could get the photographers away.

But they had been at his side for months now - ever since the first artifacts had been found in these barren hills, south of Cairo. It was as if they too had known. Something about to happen. After all these years, Lawrence Stratford was on to a major find.

And so they were there with the cameras, and the smoking flashes. They almost knocked him off balance as he made his way into the narrow rough-hewn passage towards the letters visible on the half-uncovered marble door.

The twilight seemed to darken suddenly. He could see the letters, but he couldn't make them out.

"Samir," he cried." I need light."

"Yes, Lawrence." At once the torch exploded behind him, and in a flood of yellow illumination, the slab of stone was wonderfully visible. Yes, hieroglyphs, deeply etched and beautifully gilded, and in Italian marble. He had never seen such a sight.

He felt the hot silky touch of Samir's hand on his as he began to read aloud:

" 'Robbers of the Dead, Look away from this tomb lest you wake its occupant, whose wrath cannot be contained. Ramses the Damned is my name.'"

He glanced at Samir. What could it mean?

"Goon, Lawrence, translate, you are far quicker than I am," Samir said.

" 'Ramses the Damned is my name. Once Ramses the Great of Upper and Lower Egypt; Slayer of the Hittites, Builder of Temples; Beloved of the People; and immortal guardian of the kings and queens of Egypt throughout time. In the year of the death of the Great Queen Cleopatra, as Egypt becomes a Roman province, I commit myself to eternal darkness; beware, all those who would let the rays of the sun pass through this door.'"

"But it makes no sense," Samir whispered." Ramses the Great ruled one thousand years before Cleopatra."

"Yet these are nineteenth-dynasty hieroglyphs without question," Lawrence countered. Impatiently, he scratched away at the loose nibble." And look, the inscription's repeated - in Latin and in Greek." He paused, then quickly read the last few Latin lines.

" 'Be Warned: I sleep as the earth sleeps beneath the night sky or the winter's snow; and once awakened, I am servant to no man.'"

For a moment Lawrence was speechless, staring at the words he'd read. Only vaguely did he hear Samir:

"I don't like it. Whatever it means, it's a curse."

Reluctantly Lawrence turned and saw that Samir's suspicion had turned to fear.

"The body of Ramses the Great is in the Cairo Museum," Samir said impatiently.

"No," Lawrence answered. He was aware of a chill moving slowly up his neck." There's a body in the Cairo Museum, but it's not Ramses! Look at the cartouches, the seal! There was no one in the time of Cleopatra who could even write the ancient hieroglyphs. And these are perfect - and done like the Latin and the Greek with infinite care."

Oh, if only Julie were here, Lawrence thought bitterly. His daughter, Julie, was afraid of nothing. She would understand this moment as no one else could.

He almost stumbled as he backed out of the passage, waving the photographers out of his path. Again, the flashes went off around him. Reporters rushed towards die marble door.

"Get the diggers back to work," Lawrence shouted." I want the passage cleared down to the threshold. I'm going into that tomb tonight."

"Lawrence, take your time with this," Samir cautioned." There is something here which must not be dismissed."

"Samir, you astonish me," Lawrence answered." For ten years we've been searching these hills for just such a discovery. And no one's touched that door since it was sealed two thousand years ago."

Almost angrily, he pushed past the reporters who caught up with him now, and tried to block the way. He needed the quiet of his tent until the door was uncovered; he needed his diary, the only proper confidant for the excitement he felt. He was dizzy suddenly from the long day's heat.

"No questions now, ladies and gentlemen," Samir said politely. As he always did, Samir came between Lawrence and the real world.

Lawrence hurried down the uneven path, twisting his ankle a little painfully, yet continuing, his eyes narrow as he looked beyond the flickering torches at the sombre beauty of the lighted tents under the violet evening sky.

Only one thing distracted him before he reached the safety zone of his camp chair and desk: a