Read Lord of the Silent: A Novel of Suspense Online

Authors: Elizabeth Peters

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Historical - General, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Horror, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Crime & Thriller, #Historical, #Fiction - Mystery, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Women Sleuths, #American, #Murder, #Mystery fiction, #Adventure stories, #Crime & mystery, #Detective and mystery stories, #American Historical Fiction, #Women archaeologists, #Archaeologists, #Mystery & Detective - Historical, #Traditional British, #Mystery & Detective - Traditional British, #Egypt, #Egyptologists, #Peabody, #Amelia (Fictitious character), #Amelia (Fictitious ch, #Cairo (Egypt), #Detective and mystery stories; American, #Peabody; Amelia (Fictitious character)

Lord of the Silent: A Novel of Suspense

BOOK: Lord of the Silent: A Novel of Suspense
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LORD OF THE SILENT

Amelia Peabody Book 13

Elizabeth Peters

Amon, King of the Gods, Lord of the Silent who conies at the voice of the poor ... who gives bread to him who has none ... father of the orphan, husband of the widow ... though the servant offends him, he is merciful. Epithets and attributes of Amon-Re, a composite from various prayers

1

"I challenge even you, Peabody, to find a silver lining in this situation," Emerson remarked. We were in the library at Amarna House, our home in Kent. As usual, Emerson's desk resembled an archaeological tell, piled high with books and papers and dusty with ashes from his pipe. The servants were strictly forbidden to touch his work, so the ashes were only disturbed when Emerson rooted around in one pile or another, looking for something. Leaning back in his chair, he stared morosely at the bust of Plato on the opposite bookshelf. Plato stared morosely back. He had replaced the bust of Socrates, which had been shattered by a bullet a few years ago, and his expression was not nearly so pleasant. The October morn was overcast and cool, a portent of the winter weather that would soon be upon us, and a reflection of the somber mood that affected most persons; and I was bound to confess that these were indeed times to try men's souls. When the war began in August of 1914, people were saying it would be over by Christmas. By the autumn of 1915, even the sturdiest optimists had resigned themselves to a long, bloody conflict. After appalling casualties, the opposing armies on the western front had settled into the stalemate of trench warfare, and the casualties continued to mount. The attempt to force the Straits of the Dardanelles and capture Constantinople had been a failure. A hundred thousand men were pinned down on the beaches of Gallipoli, unable to advance because of the enemy's control of the terrain, unable to withdraw because the War Office refused to admit it had made a catastrophic mistake. Serbia was about to fall to the enemy. The Russian armies were in disarray. Italy had entered the war on our side, but her armies were stalled on the Austrian frontier. Attack from the air and from under the sea had added a new and hideous dimension to warfare. There was a bright spot, though, and I was quick to point it out. After a summer spent in England we were about to leave for Egypt and another season of the archaeological endeavors for which we have become famous. My distinguished husband would not have abandoned his excavations for anything less than Armageddon (and only if that final battle were being fought in his immediate vicinity). Though acutely conscious of the tragedy of world war, he was sometimes inclined to regard it as a personal inconvenience-"a confounded nuisance," to quote Emerson himself. It had certainly complicated our plans for that season. With overland travel to the Italian ports now cut off, there was only one way for us to reach Egypt, and German submarines prowled the English coast. Not that Emerson was concerned for himself; he fears nothing in this world or the next. It was concern for the others who were accustomed to join us in our yearly excavations that made him hesitate: for me; for our son Ramses and his wife, Nefret; for Ramses's friend David and his wife Lia, Emerson's niece; for her parents, Emerson's brother Walter and my dear friend Evelyn; and for Sennia, the little girl we had taken into our hearts and home after she was abandoned by her English father. "It only remains," I went on, "to decide how many of us will be going out this year. I had never supposed Lia would join us; the baby is only six months old and although he is a healthy little chap, one would not want to risk his falling ill. Medical services in Cairo have improved enormously since our early days there, but one cannot deny that they are not-" "Damn it, Amelia, don't lecture!" Emerson exclaimed. Emerson's temper has become the stuff of legend in Egypt; he is not called the Father of Curses for nothing. Sapphirine orbs blazing, heavy brows drawn together, he reached for his pipe. Emerson seldom calls me Amelia. Peabody, my maiden name, is the one he employs as a term of approbation and affection. Pleased to have stirred him out of his melancholy mood, I waited until his stalwart form relaxed and his handsome face took on a sheepish smile. "I beg your pardon, my love." "Granted," I replied magnanimously. The library door opened and Gargery, our butler, poked his head in. "Did you call, Professor?" "I didn't call you," Emerson replied. "And you know it. Go away, Gargery." Gargery's snub-nosed countenance took on a look of stubborn determination. "Would you and the madam care for coffee, sir?" "We just now finished breakfast," Emerson reminded him. "If I want something I will ask for it." "Shall I switch on the electric lights, sir? I believe we are due for a rainstorm. My rheumatism-" "Curse your rheumatism!" Emerson shouted. "Get out of here, Gargery." The door closed with something of a slam. Emerson chuckled. "He's as transparent as a child, isn't he?" "Has he been nagging you about taking him to Egypt this year?" "Well, he does it every year, doesn't he? Now he is claiming the damp winter climate gives him the rheumatics." "I wonder how old he is. He hasn't changed a great deal since we first met him. Hair of that sandy shade does not show gray, and he is still thin and wiry." "He's younger than we are," said Emerson with a chuckle. "It is not his age that concerns me, Peabody, my dear. We made a bad mistake when we allowed our butler to take a hand in our criminal investigations. It has given him ideas below his station." "You must admit he was useful," I said, recalling certain of those earlier investigations. "That year we left Nefret and Ramses here in England, one or both of them might have been abducted by Schlange's henchmen if it hadn't been for Gargery and his cudgel." "I don't know about that. Nefret defended herself admirably, and Ramses as well." Emerson puffed at his pipe. He claims tobacco calms his nerves. Certainly his voice was more affable when he went on. "However, I admit he was of considerable assistance the time we were locked in the dungeon under Mauldy Manor with the water rising and the house on fire and .. . What are you laughing about?" "Fond memories, my dear, fond memories. We really have led interesting lives, have we not?" "Too damned interesting. I would rather not go through another season like the last one." His voice grew gruff with an emotion his reticent British nature would not allow him to express. I knew what emotion it was, though, for I shared it. He was thinking of our son and how close we had come to losing him. Ramses had been in trouble of one sort or another as soon as he could crawl. In his younger days he had been kidnapped by master criminals and antiquities thieves, fallen into tombs and off cliffs . . . but a complete catalog would fill too many pages of this narrative. He had reached his mid-twenties alive and relatively unscathed; but maturity had not tempered his reckless nature, and he had never faced greater dangers than the ones he had encountered the winter of 1914-45. Everyone knew that the Turks were planning to attack the Suez Canal. What was not generally known was that they hoped to inspire a bloody uprising in Cairo to coincide with their attack, and divert troops from the Canal defenses. They found willing allies in a group of Egyptian nationalists, who were bitterly and justifiably resentful of Britain's refusal to consider their demands for independence. Kamil el-Wardani, the charismatic young leader of this group, was the most dangerous of the nationalists, but there were others who were ready and willing to cooperate with the enemy; so when Wardani was taken into custody, the authorities determined to keep his arrest a secret and have someone else replace him-someone loyal to England who would report on the enemy's plans, including the location of the arms the Turks were secretly supplying. There was only one man who could have carried off such a masquerade. Ramses's resemblance to the Egyptians among whom he had spent most of his life, his fluency in Arabic and several other languages, and his expertise in the dubious art of disguise made him the perfect candidate. It would be impossible to overstate the peril of his position: Wardani's men would have murdered him if they had learned his true identity; the Germans and Turks would have murdered him if they suspected he was betraying their plans; and since "Wardani" had a price on his head, every police officer in Cairo was looking for him. Ramses and David, who had insisted on sharing the danger, had succeeded in preventing the uprising and had given the War Office a nice little bonus by exposing the traitor who had been selling information to the Central Powers; but each had suffered serious injuries and for several unfortunately unforgettable hours I had been afraid we were going to lose both of them. "What about David?" I asked. "Yes, there's another thing," Emerson grumbled. "He's become absolutely indispensable to me; there's not a finer artist or epigrapher in the business. But how can I ask him to leave his wife and child?" "You can't. The difficulty will be in preventing him from leaving them. He and Ramses are as close as brothers, and he feels he is the only person who can control Ramses's recklessness." "No one can do that," Emerson muttered. "I had hoped he'd settle down once he was married, but Nefret is almost as bad as-" He broke off with a grunt as the door opened again. This time it was Nefret herself who entered. "Did I hear my name mentioned?" she inquired innocently. Ramses was with her. He usually was. I speak quite impartially, without maternal prejudice of any kind, when I state that they were a very handsome couple. His aquiline features, bronzed complexion, and wavy black hair formed a striking contrast to her fairness. At six feet and a bit, he was considerably taller than she. The top of her golden-red head barely reached his chin-a particularly convenient height, as I had once overheard him remark in a suspiciously muffled voice, when I happened to be passing the half-open door of their room one afternoon. Naturally I did not pause or look in. I deduced that they had just returned from a morning ride, since both were suitably attired for that activity. Like Ramses, Nefret wore breeches and boots and a well-cut tweed coat. Fresh air and exercise had brought a pretty color to her cheeks, and loosened tendrils of hair curled over her temples. "Ah," said Emerson, self-consciously. "Er. Come in. We were just discussing our plans for the coming season." "I trust you had intended to consult us," said Nefret. "Father, you know we agreed that we wouldn't ever again keep secrets from one another." Though she had joined our family at the age of thirteen, after we rescued her from the remote oasis in the Western Desert where she had lived from birth, she had not used that affectionate form of address to Emerson, or called me Mother, until after she and Ramses had become one. Emerson had always loved her as dearly as a daughter; to hear that word from her lips reduced him to jelly. "Yes, yes, of course," he exclaimed. The young people seated themselves on the sofa, where Nefret proceeded to make herself comfortable, tucking her feet up and leaning against Ramses. He put his arm around her and gave me a sidelong smile. It was very pleasant to see the change in him since his marriage. As a child he had been perniciously verbose. As an adult he had employed speech to hide his feelings instead of expressing them, and he had schooled his countenance to such an extent that Nefret often teased him about his stone pharaoh face. I had given him several motherly lectures on the inadvisability of concealing emotions that were deep and warm, but Nefret's loving, impulsive nature had had a more profound effect. It is difficult for a man to remain aloof with a woman who worships the ground he walks on, particularly when he feels the same about her. "So," said Nefret briskly, "what was it you were saying, Father? I am as bad as ... shall I guess who?" "I only meant . . ." Emerson began. "We know what you meant," Ramses said. "Stop teasing him, Nefret. If you are worried about me, Father, you needn't be. I've no intention of getting involved with that lot again. This is going to be a purely archaeological season, with no distractions of any kind." "I've heard that before," Emerson said darkly. "We can only hope, I suppose. So you two were planning to come out with us?" "Of course," Nefret said. "We never considered anything else." Emerson shook his head. "You must weigh the danger, Nefret. Do you know how many ships we've lost to German submarines since the beginning of the year?" "No, and neither do you," Ramses said. "The Admiralty is trying to keep that information under wraps. I'm not arguing with you, Father, I'm only considering the alternatives logically. Are you planning to spend the rest of the war here in England?" He didn't wait for an answer, there was no need. "The Germans have agreed to spare passenger liners, especially neutrals-" "That's what they agreed before the Lusitania" I murmured. "If you are waiting for a guarantee, you won't get it," my son said, in a hard flat voice. I saw the fingers that rested on Nefret's shoulder tighten, and I knew they had argued this same issue before. It had been a waste of breath, as I could have told him. Ramses was as dedicated to Egyptology as was his father, and he knew how much Emerson depended on him. As for leaving her behind, safe in England, she wouldn't have stood for that, any more than I would. "Ah, well," I said cheerfully. "Looking at the situation logically, as you proposed, it is not as if we are strangers to danger. I expect the risk of being torpedoed is less than other risks we have faced, and if it should occur-" "We'll get out of it someway," Nefret said with a grin. "We always do." "That is the spirit," I exclaimed. "So it is agreed? The four of us and-who else? You will have to do without Seshat this year; the kittens are not due for several more weeks. What about David?" "He's staying here," Ramses said. "Have you talked with him?" Emerson asked. "Yes." His lips closed on the word, but Emerson's piercing look forced him to elaborate. "In the eyes of all but a few people in Cairo, David is still under suspicion as a rabid nationalist and a member of Wardani's former organization. He'd be subject to arrest and imprisonment if he returned, and the War Office wouldn't lift a finger to save him. That's the chance you take when you play the Great Game," he added, giving the last two words the ironic inflection with which he always pronounced them. "If anything goes wrong, you are expendable." Nefret's blue eyes were troubled. "I'm glad he realizes that. He has other responsibilities now. Lia and the baby couldn't come out this year anyhow. Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Walter won't want to leave their first grandchild, or be away from England while Willy is in France." "No, of course not," I said. Evelyn and Walter had already lost one son, Willy's twin, a loss still keenly felt by all of us who had known and loved the lad. So

BOOK: Lord of the Silent: A Novel of Suspense
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