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Thunderbolts of Zeus Part 5

by  Steerpike`s sister

Posted: Sunday, February 6, 2011
Word Count: 1624
Summary: This is the point at which I think the archaeology/ history might become a bit hard to follow. I have thought of a way to simplify it if necessary, but would really help to know if you found the history confusing.
Related Works: The Thunderbolts of Zeus • The Thunderbolts of Zeus, part 3 • The Thunderbolts of Zeus, parts 1 & 2 • 

“We’ve got to tell Dad,” said Tizzy. Her stomach fluttered around like butterflies. I don’t want to go into the tomb, she thought. But Ally had that look on her face, that meant she was going to get her own way.
Ally shook her head, hard.
“No. We’ve got to do this alone. It has to be our discovery, no-one else’s.”
“I’m up for it,” Meg said, sitting up on her heels. “But Tizzy’s got a point. He’ll go mad when he finds out we’ve gone into the tomb, even if it does turn out to be Alexander the Great’s. Don’t you think we ought to tell him?”
“No! Listen – I didn’t want to tell you this, but there was a letter on his desk from England.”
There was a startled silence. None of the girls had ever lived in England. Though they had British passports, they’d been brought up on digs and in university accommodation around the Mediterranean, following their archeologist parents.
“It was from a school. A boarding school.”
“No!” Meg exclaimed.
“I know. He thinks we can’t cope without Mum.”
“No! He can’t send us away. He just can’t!” Meg’s voice broke. “I heard that at boarding school, they make you go to bed at nine no matter what. And there are bells all day long. It’s like prison!”
“I…I think boarding school might be quite fun,” said Tizzy, very quietly. She glanced back and forth between her sisters, and sighed inwardly: neither of them were listening.
“Right, so we’re agreed,” Ally continued firmly. “We’re going into the tomb, and we’re going to prove that I’m – I mean, that we’re – just as good as any adult archeologist.” She tipped her rucksack on the bed and began sorting through. “So we’ll need the spectroscopy kit, and probably the preservative spray, and obviously the magnetometer –“
“But don’t you think he’ll be angry?” Meg said. “And send us to boarding school anyway?”
Ally turned round to her with a grin.
“Listen, Meg, if this is the tomb of Alexander the Great, we’re going to be famous. I’d like to see him send us to a stupid boarding school when we’re on 24 hour news as the girls who snatched the greatest prize in archeology.”

Night on the mountain was never silent. There was the shrilling of insects from the trees, and the occasional hoot of an owl, the wind in the pine trees. And there was the noise of a tent being cautiously un-zipped. A dark figure emerged from the Fox girls’ tent. It was Ally. She was followed by two others.
They hurried across the camping ground and into the trees, trying to make as little noise as possible. They halted just inside the treeline.
“It’s hot,” said Meg, tugging at the neck of her hoodie. She looked up at the stars; a big cloud was coming in from the sea. Tizzy stood hugging herself and looking miserable. Meg reached out and patted her kindly on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Tizz, you don’t have to go in if you don’t want to. You can be base camp.”
“Okay, last run-through,” Ally said. “Torch?”
“Check,” Meg tapped it where it hung on her belt.
“Mini remote controlled helicopter with infra-red web-cam attachment for night-time aerial surveying?”
“You have to think of a shorter name for this thing,” said Tizzy. “Check.”
“Mini spectroscopy kit?”
Meg rolled her eyes. “Whatever.” She strode forwards. “Come on, Tizzy.”
“This is a serious scientific expedition!” Ally protested, hastily shoving her notebook into her pocket and following them.

In the darkness the rock-cut tombs gaped like empty eye-sockets. The entrance to the new tomb was a shored-up corridor into the hillside. It had been blocked with a cursory draping of security tape; they simply ducked under it and went inside.
The tomb was very simple, a square chamber with a stone bier to one side. At the far end was Meg’s escape route, just a rough hole torn into the earth. Ally’s torch illuminated the stone steps poking out like bones.
“I am not going in there,” said Tizzy, sitting down firmly on the bier.
“Meg and I will go in. You stay here, and let us know if anything goes wrong.” Ally tossed her a walkie-talkie.
Tizzy nodded unhappily. She watched as first Meg and then Ally wriggled into the hole in the ground. They sank into the darkness as if they had been swallowed by the grave, leaving Tizzy alone.
In the darkness, Tizzy heaved a nervous sigh, and jumped as a breeze tickled her neck. She didn’t mind sitting in a tomb on her own. They’d spent an entire summer living in a rock-cut tomb in Syria one year, and it hadn’t been even slightly haunted. Tizzy’s worries were much more practical: snakes, scorpions and wild dogs.
Boarding school, though! Her heart beat faster as she thought of it. To actually go to a proper school and learn proper subjects instead of Aramaic. To have lessons in a nice clean classroom instead of just sitting under whichever olive tree was closest. To sleep in a proper bed in a dorm, instead of in a stuffy tent. And best of all, to have ordinary friends – ones who wanted to go clothes shopping or to Macdonalds, and didn’t think MTV was a machine that went bleep when you found a skeleton.
She jumped as the walkie-talkie crackled.
“Tizzy, we’re here.”
She grabbed it. Ally had sounded shaken.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes… We’re going to explore.”
It wasn’t okay, though. As Tizzy put the walkie talkie down, she realised she was frightened. Not of creepy-crawlies, or poisonous things. Of something else, something dark and huge hanging over them. The heat pressed on her until she felt she was about to smother.
She got up and went outside. There she took a couple of deep breaths. The air was a little fresher, but not much.
“Why am I always afraid of everything,” she muttered unhappily to herself. “Pull yourself together, Tizzy.”
It was a nagging unease, as if an instinct was trying to tell her she had missed something, wasn’t noticing something. Then she realised what it was. It was dark, too dark. There was no moonlight.
She looked up at the sky. It was pitch black, as if a shadow had eaten the stars. As if a god’s hand were pressing down on them, like a curse.

Ally took shallow, trembling breaths as she leaned against the wall of the tomb.
“That was horrible. I felt like I was suffocating. I can’t believe you’d go back in there.”
Meg was already exploring the cave with her torch.
“There are paintings on the wall over here. And yeah, you were right – it is papyrus on the floor.”
“Don’t pick it up, it might crumble!” Ally removed her glasses and carefully wiped them on her sleeve. This made little difference except to smear the mud around. She put them back on and looked around the tomb, blinking. More of the hole had collapsed since they had been there, and the black shadow of the blasted olive reared above. The sky was massed with clouds, and it was hot now.
In the centre of the tomb, the sarcophagus stood, and the mummy leaning out of it. All around it, scraps of papyrus were scattered. Ally took in the situation at a glance.
“A grave robbery,” she said. “They’ve taken the valuables and left everything else.”
“Seriously? When?”
“Could be any time after the tomb was sealed.”
“Do you honestly think this is Alexander?” Meg shone the torch into the mummy’s face.
Ally allowed her breathing to steady, and examined the room.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted finally. “This doesn’t look like a king’s tomb. Even allowing for the grave robbers having already taken everything of value… I’d expect more decoration. There could be hidden rooms, of course. But still…”
She walked over to the sarcophagus and ran her hands over it. Then she shone her torch up at the ceiling.
“I’d say this was a Coptic tomb,” she said, her voice betraying her disappointment. “Long after Alexander. If it wasn’t for these hieroglyphics, his cartouche…” She bent and shone the torch at a piece of papyrus that lay on the ground. Her lips moved as she scanned the syllables.
“Oh! There’s this statue. I remember, it startled me.” Meg exclaimed.
Ally looked up. Meg’s torchbeam shone onto a badly-decayed wooden statue, half-buried in the tumbled earth. A young man with horns jutting from his curling hair.
“But that’s Alexander!” she shouted.
“Did he have horns?”
“He did after he died and was made a god. That’s what they called him – the horned god.” Ally glanced from the statue to the papyrus and back again. “Meg, it’s making sense. This is the tomb of someone who worshipped Alexander, six hundred years after his death! Look at this.” She pointed to the papyrus. Meg hurried over. “I, the priest of Alexander, was charged with great tasks by the god. I, Philipus, who speak the sacred language – that’s the hieroglyphics, the priests must have used it. And then all this about a journey, into the desert, following sacred birds, to the great house of Alexander the living god, king of the world – “
“Which desert?” said Meg.
Ally stared at her, then at the papyrus again.
“Meg. Meg, you’re a genius. That’s it!”
“What’s what?”
“I just assumed it was a parable. But why should it be? Why shouldn’t there truly be a great house in the desert somewhere? A great house for the god Alexander. His tomb! Quick – find some more papyrus.”