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Egypt--The Valley of the Kings--March 31, 1909
Is there a child in the world who does not believe in magic? Magic was at the heart of everything held sacred and noble by the people of Ancient Egypt. The blood that pumped through the heart of this magic, were the muddy waters of the River Nile. To some, she was the heart of Africa, keeping the continent alive with her vibrant life force. To Egypt, she was a god. All life began and ended at her command. To live without the Nile, was to live in eternal damnation--lost. Pharaohs believed in magic. Old king or young, they believed. Perhaps, it was this very belief that prompted them to travel down her shores to their final place of rest.
The Valley of the Kings was a treasure chest to any fool or scholar. If one were lucky enough, smart enough, strong enough, and in some cases, stupid enough to venture into her bowels, gold was for the taking. The Ancient Pharaoh's greatness was measured by their gold, and they had no shame in taking it with them. One could own the gold, if he avoided the risks involved...
Egypt was a land of treasure, but she was also a land of curses. Stories could be found traveling from lip-to-lip in the working parties of strange events occurring that defied logic. Of healthy Western men laughing at a long-ignored warning carved in Egyptian script at the foot of some tomb. These men did not stay healthy for long.
Egypt was also a land of death.
Dennis Parker had given up a plush office at Oxford for the arid hills of this ancient land, that held for him more promise of adventure than any academic status. It took two years of planning, but, through it all, he finallymade it. Backing had been shaky. He worked for the French, obtaining extra funds when he could, but most of the money came from his own family fortune. Parker had been the only son of an American railroad tycoon. Although the fortune was useful in his pursuits, Parker had always doubted that his own father would have approved.
Upon first glance at Dennis Parker, the average person would not consider him worthwhile to remember. Parker was common. blonde hair, slightly overweight, cursed with a certain clumsiness associated with over-excited people, and tranquil blue eyes. He had the ability to avoid recognition in a room of equals, and still come out satisfied. Some, upon first sight, wondered how he ever survived infancy. Parker, however, was a man of action. And, like most men of his character, he used his shortcomings as weapons. Many-a-time, his common appearance, and complacent manner, saved him from an inspection or jail cell. He was, in spite of his appearance, a force to be reckoned with. Never to be misjudged. Always loyal to those he called friend.
Parker headed toward his work crew, grabbing his notepad. His clothes sticking to his already soaking body. The sun hadn't even made it mid-point. It was going to be a hot day. Parker groaned, spitting dust out of his mouth. With shovels slicing the dunes, Arabic songs in the air, and the smell of human sweat, two hundred men waged a scholarly war with a secret concealed by the uncounted centuries of time.
The Valley of the Kings was the ideal place to hide something if one never intended it to be found again. Parker knew this, and if he were to find the tomb, knowing how important its occupant had been to her kingdom, even though she was considered an evil foe, it would be in this valley.
Larceny, more than anything had brought about the valley's creation. It had become evident to priest and pharaoh alike, that the pyramids and their powers, were no match to the greed of the ordinary criminal. So, in the early years of the New Kingdom, Pharaoh Tuthmosis decided that a more challenging resting-place should be found to counterbalance the avidity.
It's here. Parker vowed, studying his maps of the valley. I know it. Just waiting for me to find.
Parker looked out over the valley--the same "challenging resting place" that had held him and his men for the past several years, hoping to find what she already knew.
Huge cliffs magnified the rays of the sun as they boiled the hot sand and rock that was below. Inhospitable sand dunes carried with them, as the winds blew, every conceivable sickness one could think of. It was no wonder to Parker, upon first seeing the site, that he had to practically pay double to have natives work there. True, western money was a temptation, but so was the power of old superstitions. Superstitions still taken into account, and by some tales, still practiced in remote tents throughout the desert.
Parker had his own fears. Fears more pressing than some ancient king's curse. Parker was looking for a tomb without permits. In the plain sense of the word, he was breaking the law.
Back in college, when Parker was a green student, filled with the lust for adventure, nobody bothered to warn him about the bloody paperwork. Sure--get some shovels, head for the hills, and try to dig up some long-lost secret from the past. Sure--it's the find of a lifetime. However, if you don't have the proper papers it's off to jail, or worse, put up against the wall and shot for grave robbing.
Five years of dust, sand snakes, and waiting: It would have been a shame to return to London, or home to America, empty-handed.
Impossible misfortune had cursed Parker and his work crew since the day they arrived, however, all that changed when a small boy, who had joined the crew so he could obtain extra money for his family, came across a small seven-inch statuette with the name "Ka-Re" inscribed upon it. This was a fantastic find. Ka-Re's tomb was what Parker had been looking for. It was the tomb of a Priestess whose actions had so alarmed those around her, that her fellow priests tried to eradicate her very existence from the mind of Man. Even in her doom, however, her power demanded that she have a burial fitting a religious leader of her station.
Ka-Re. Whose name meant "The light of death."
In order to understand Ka-Re's crimes, one must understand the ancient Egyptian concept of the human soul. The beliefs of Egypt had divided the soul into five parts: The Ba, the Ka, the Name, the Body, and the Shadow. It was only in the first three of these elements, that Ka-Re sought power, and in which she committed her crimes.
The Ba was the most important element of the soul. In the Ba, one kept all that was good and noble in the human character. Since reincarnation was the desired dream of all Egyptians, one hoped, always, of returning to their Ba. If not, the Ka was steadily available.
The Ka was the soul's double, or stand-in. If the body was too corrupted for the return of the soul, one jumped into the man-made double. This, tragically, did not preserve the Ba. Still, it offered life, where once there was only death. In fact, to return to one's Ka, was a saying for returning to one's death.
Then, there was the name.
To us, in modern times, a name is identification--perhaps given to us to honor a past relative. To the ancient Egyptian, the name was one's physical proof of walking upon the earth. If one's name were blotted out, or never spoken, it was like erasing one's self from the face of mankind. Everyone, from peasant to Pharaoh, did their best to preserve their name--always to have it spoken--never to have it forgotten.
One's shadow, the final element, was the physical anchor that kept one in contact with the earth.
Ka-Re had wanted to accomplish what only one other woman in history had done. Become Pharaoh of Egypt. Her goal was so unheard of, and skillfully carried out, that she almost took Egypt by storm.
Her goals were simple: If you capture a person's Ba, and hold it for your own, power would soon be yours to control. When the priests of Amon-Ra, the dominant religion of the empire, started to find heartless bodies, they knew that it was Ka-Re and her evil work. In taking one's Ba, Ka-Re turned the victim's blood black. This polluted the body, making it impossible for any earthly return. This terrified the ancient priests. They had no other choice but to destroy her. How she was destroyed had always remained a mystery--lost in the passing of time.
This was Parker's obsession. To find her earthly remains. To put to rest a mystery which had haunted him from childhood.
Parker joined a work crew, who had been concentrating their efforts on a hidden canyon, covered by the junk of centuries--an ancient trash heap. Purposely placed in the middle of the most-sacred burial ground in ancient Egypt. Why?
"And how are we today, Amin?"
Parker patted a small Arabic man on the back, removing his hat. The heat was starting to rise in the valley, causing Parker to sweat even more.
"Very well, Professor." Amin explained, directing attention to his crew. "Something is below the trash, sir. That much is certain."
Parker scratched his head. "What would cause a movement to bury a tomb under a mound of trash. That's a new one for the books."
"Perhaps, never to be found?"
Amin had been a trusted friend and foreman to Parker. Almost invaluable in his work. Amin had been on several digs with westerners, and had proven himself likable to the natives. Half of Parker's success, so far, was due to Amin's friendship and skill as a leader.
A cry was raised in the crew. Steps to a tomb's entrance had been found.
Before Parker could run to investigate, Amin stopped him. Clearly, the Arab was worried.
"Sir, I wonder for you." Amin said, in broken English.
"What do you mean?"
Parker tried to divide his attention between his foreman and his work crew. "Amin, most of history's finds would have remained forever lost, if everyone followed the laws of paperwork."
"Then, go." Amin's own excitement magnified Parker's. He, Parker noticed, was just as eager to unearth the mysteries ahead of them.
There were questions as to the authenticity of the ancient historical accounts. Men had been digging in the valley for hundreds of years. Why no discovery? Why no sign of ruins pointing the way? Did this Ka-Re exist at all? Was she just a boogie-tale told to keep others in line? For Parker, at least, all doubt was extinguished.
Before Parker could reach the first steps of the newly discovered tomb, he turned toward Amin's familiar voice, recognizing concern in the little man's tone. Trouble was on the way.
Parker had to control his urge to laugh when his foreman's face portrayed trepidation. Amin's features were so child-like, that panic and fear amplified them.
Pointing his long fingers toward an oncoming dust cloud, Amin said one word to explain his concerns.
If any word had the power to stop the sounds of several shovels, silence the sifting of sand, or the rhythmic breathing of men, it was that name. Sahish was a government official for the French. The man used his power to promote personal gain while hiding behind a uniform. Those who opposed him did not live long.
"Thank you, Amin. Inform the men on the work crews."
In a heartbeat Amin was among the ranks, warning them to tighten their tongues and to hide all that was dear to them. A second warning was also issued: those who talked would lose more than their jobs. Disloyal tongues put many of the curiosities rotting in the desert there. Amin hated traitors.
As Sahish approached, Parker noticed his carriage. A token of gratitude from the French Government, it had cost the common people much blood.
"I don't need this." Parker moaned, thinking about the tomb and the discoveries that lay ahead.
"Parker." Hissed Sahish.
At first, Parker tried to ignore the intruder under the guise of work; it was a little game they played with each other.
Irritated, Sahish stepped out of his carriage so everyone could gaze at his uniform. Parker had always noticed how proud Sahish was of his ribbons. Ribbons won for slaughtering innocent people. People whose only crime was hunger. Sahish always took their food, trading it for money to bribe powerful men to do his bidding. Sahish covered his tracks well. Always telling his superiors that he was gunning down counter-revolutionaries.
Parker hated the son-of-a-bitch!
"Parker, you will talk today."
Parker controlled the disgust forming on his face.
"Colonel Sahish, what an honor it is to see you. You do humble us with your presence." Parker's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"I will talk to you in your tent. Now!"
"Well, I'm pretty busy. Some of us do have to work for a living."
Sahish spit in the direction of Parker's shoes.
To an ordinary man, this would have been an insult, but, knowing Sahish the way he did, Parker accepted this man's uncivilized behavior as part of his character.
"As you wish." Parker said, directing the Colonel to his tent.
Upon entering the tent, the flaps were closed for privacy. Parker invited Sahish to speak.
"Your permits, Parker."
"Please, Colonel." Parker raised his hand. "You will kindly address me as Professor Parker."
"Very well, Professor Parker." He spat out Professor as if it were dirt.
"Thank you. Now, what is this about my permits?"
"Where are they? I notice you are working independent of the French. Where are your permits?"
Sahish smiled with a secret knowledge of knowing Parker's answer.
Parker remained quiet. Thinking.
"You are now working with the consent of my good nature, I think." Sahish laughed between yellow teeth. "If you wish to continue, you will help promote my charity. After all, you Americans are known for your charity."
"You know, Colonel, in my country, we have a title for men like you."
"And what is this title?"
Sahish mulled the statement over. "It is an honorable title, no?"
Parker paused. "It can be in the right hands."
"No doubt, you believe my hands are capable?"
Sahish, uninvited, poured himself a cup of Earl Gray Tea. "Tea is the only redeeming quality you English have."
"I'm not English."
Sahish sipped his tea. He had all day. "That's right. You are American. Billy the Kid. Cowboys and Indians. I'm a great admirer of your country."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. Your military! I've studied the battles of your Civil War. It's weapons. You Americans do know the ways of killing. If I had your armies..."
"Colonel, what is your point?" Parker interrupted.
Sahish finished his tea, placed the cup on a nearby table, on which Parker had some artifacts, and let out another of his amused laughs.
You arrogant shit, Parker said to himself. I've put up with your criminal behaviors for more years than I care to ponder on. Why in the hell can't you just come to the point?
"I read a book of yours the other night, Parker." Sahish glared at him with a look of challenge. "It was a brilliant piece."
"Thank you. What about my permits?"
"A fellow scholar approached me in Cairo last week. He was on an imperial dig for the Czar of Russia."
Parker paused. Was someone else, someone who possessed more political clout--more money--looking for what he had taken so long to labor toward? It didn't matter. He was not going to go home empty-handed. As he had so often heard in his native land. 'There was more than one way to skin a cat'. Dennis Parker would survive.
"He wishes to dig." Sahish continued. "Here."
Sahish's hand pointed to a spot on a map laid out on the table next to Parker's tea. His curiosity and fear followed the Egyptian's plump finger: The Russians wanted to dig on his site. Impossible. Parker would make a formal protest through the American Embassy,
"How much?" Parker's patience was wearing out. He still had a good day's work ahead of him.
"How much?" Sahish was taken by surprise.
"How much money do you want?"
Parker looked out beyond his tent. The sun was starting to set. He would have only a couple more hours in which to dig.
The Colonel stood silent for a moment, studying Parker's features. "No money. I grow tired of you, Parker. I want you out of my country. I will waste no more time with you."
Sahish snapped his fingers, silently ordering a fellow soldier to enter Parker's tent. Upon doing so, the man dropped an official-looking bag on the ground at Parker's feet.
"One of my other humble services," Sahish explained. "I am here to give you your mail. You have received several letters from a man in Ireland--Thomas Andrews. A friend of yours, perhaps?"
"I will leave you then to your reading. I will be back in three weeks to help you pack. I have enjoyed our talks." The Colonel paused, just outside the tent, giving Parker a hard glare. "I warn you now, Parker, anything you currently discover, belongs to the Egyptian People. Do not test me on this fact, please. We have had our difference, sir. I will find no satisfaction destroying you." Sahish smiled, meaning the complete reverse of what he said. Nothing would please the man more that to throw Parker in jail for breaking the law.
Sahish left Parker to his problem. Three weeks. It would take years to investigate his newly discovered tomb. What was he to do? "Sahish knows that I'm close," Parker raged. "He wants the discovery for himself." He started to pace the tent, feeling like a caged animal.
Parker jumped, his shoulders sagged with relief when he recognized Amin.
"Perhaps there is another way to study your discovery."
Parker was open to any suggestion.
Posted October 29, 2009
Everyone with a pulse is more than familiar with the story of the Titanic: the extravagant - yet ill-fated - ocean liner that met its fate in the icy deep of the North Atlantic Sea in April of 1912. What some may not realize, though, is that the ship didn't sink because of striking a random iceberg - but rather as a result of the curse of a 3,000 year-old Egyptian mummy that had been smuggled aboard...
Such is the premise put forth in the pages of Still Waters, the exciting suspense thriller by Donald Allen Kirch. Seamlessly blending real historical facts with imaginative fiction, Kirch's tale is an impressive retelling of an all-too-familiar story with a supernatural twist one can't help but enjoy. As the reader will eventually discover, the true genius of Still Waters lies not in recreating what has become a cultural folk tale - but instead simply inviting the reader to look at it from a different perspective, one that has heretofore remained in the realm of imagination, but nonetheless begs the question, "Why not?"
With unforgettable characters and action that unfolds at just the right pace, Still Waters is an enjoyable literary treat that is sure to create for Kirch an ever-expanding - and much-deserved - fan base. Look for more impressive works from this innovative, unsung author on the rise.