Theodosia and the Last Pharoah (10 page)

BOOK: Theodosia and the Last Pharoah
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"My cabinet of curiosities." He gestured with his hands, indicating the whole of the room. "Mementos of a life spent searching out the mysteries of the world."

"Very impressive, sir." I glanced over at the shelves, then back to the major. "But I do have one question..."

He gave a crisp nod. "Fire away."

"Why do you have these things when it is the Brotherhood's mission to remove curses from ancient artifacts?"

His blue eyes studied me intently. "You believe they are cursed?"

"Yes, sir. Some of them, anyway."

"Very good, Miss Throckmorton, if not completely accurate. Show me which ones you have questions about."

"Well, that bronze mask, for one."

"Not cursed, I'm afraid. It did, however, belong to a sorcerer from the Sichuan province in China. Perhaps you sense the vestiges of his power."

His words sent me reeling, for if I understood him, and I am fairly certain that I did, then it was not only Egyptian artifacts that still held power in this world. Nor were my unique abilities confined to Egyptian magic.

"What else?" he asked.

"That thrusting knife." I pointed to a wickedly sharp blade with an elaborate handle.

"My
katar,
a Hindu thrusting dagger. Again, not cursed, but it has taken a number of men's souls from them and those souls are said to linger in the blade."

His answers were not the least bit comforting. "What about those black feathers, there?" They didn't feel cursed, but I was hugely curious about them.

"Found among John Dee's possessions. Do you know who John Dee is, Miss Throckmorton?"

I swallowed. "Yes, sir." John Dee had been a scholar and one-time tutor to Queen Elizabeth I. He was said to have searched long and hard for ways to communicate with the angels.

"Then you no doubt understand the significance of that wing."

I stared at the small brace of feathers, unable to believe what he was implying. My glance fell on a chisel next to the feathers. It was ancient, possibly from the Old Kingdom, and some sort of power rose up from it, but it was too mixed with the remnants of the others' for me to be able to tell what it was. "What about that chisel?"

"Not cursed, exactly, but it does hold some power."

Taking a leap of faith, and perhaps wanting to give him a test of my own, I asked, "Is it an artifact of the gods?"

His gaze sharpened. "What do you know of the artifacts of the gods, child?"

"Quite a lot, actually."

He smiled then. "Come, let us have a seat and you can tell me what you know."

I settled myself on one of the chairs facing his desk. "How much has Lord Wigmere told you about me?" I asked.

"Quite a lot, actually," he said with a smile. "But apparently not everything."

"That's what I'm here to do, sir. Return an artifact of the gods."

There was a knock on the door just then and Major Grindle held a finger up to his lips in warning. "Come in," he barked out.

His servant entered, carrying a tea tray. He set it on the desk, then bowed.

"Thank you. I'll do the pouring," Major Grindle said.

Looking oddly disappointed, the man left the room. Major Grindle waited until his footsteps had disappeared down the hall, then got up and took the teapot from the tray. Then he did the oddest thing (which was saying a lot, considering how odd the morning had been). He carried the teapot to the window and dumped its entire contents out.

At my astonished look, he winked. "My factotum is trying to poison me. I saved his life in a battle, and his tribe's customs force him to save mine in return. We haven't been near any battles recently, so he is trying to kill me himself. Then he can save me and his debt will be repaid."

Major Grindle set the teapot down, went over to the urn, and lifted the ostrich plumes from it. He shoved his arm deep down, rooted around for a bit, then produced two somewhat dusty bottles. "Ginger beer," he announced triumphantly.

He replaced the plumes, then brought the bottles to the table. "I prefer it to tea, anyway, don't you?"

"Quite," I said, taking a bottle from him.

"Now, let's get down to business, shall we?"

That,
I thought,
would be lovely.
I took a sip of ginger beer, then set the bottle down on the table.

"Wigmere said you had some item of great import that needed to be returned at once and I am to lend you any and every assistance that is in my power to lend." He paused a moment, then added, "He appears to be rather fond of you." He sounded puzzled by this, but whether because Wigmere didn't normally form attachments or because he did not think me fond-worthy, I couldn't tell. He leaned forward, his blue eyes bright as flames as he glanced at the reticule dangling from my wrist. "Is the artifact you are returning in there?"

How had he known, I wondered? Had he sensed it? "Er, yes."

He leaned even closer. "May I see it?"

I hesitated. Wigmere had assured me that the major was absolutely trustworthy.
(I'd trust the man with my life
were his exact words.) Even so, I was reluctant to flash the orb in the full light of day.

Sensing my hesitation, Major Grindle winked, then rose to his feet. He closed the wooden shutters behind him, then hurried over to the door, and kicked the carpet up to cover the crack between it and the floor. "Better?" he asked.

"I suppose so." While I appreciated his caution, I was still hesitant. However, there was no reason I shouldn't show it to him, so I untangled the cords from my wrist, opened the reticule, and withdrew the small, golden Orb of Ra.

Major Grindle leaned forward, a hungry look on his face. "May I?" he asked, holding out his hand.

I did not know if my reluctance to show it to him was due to the fact that we'd just met, or some hidden character trait in him that I could not identify. Or perhaps the orb, being an artifact of great power, was exerting some sort of influence over me. Reluctantly, I handed it to him.

"Amazing," he breathed, his face bathed in the soft golden glow thrown off by the orb.

"Do be careful," I warned. "It appears to be able to be used as a sort of bomb or mortar."

"How extraordinary." With his free hand, Major Grindle fished on his desk for a pair of spectacles. He placed them on his nose, then peered even more closely at the hieroglyphs etched into the orb's surface.

"Yes, it was, rather," I said, remembering how Awi Bubu had tapped out some unknown pattern on the orb's symbols and created a blast that had knocked five grown men onto their backsides. I had been quite uneasy about carrying it, until Awi Bubu had assured me that one needed to know the proper sequence in order to activate it.

"So"—the major straightened and handed the orb back to me—"that is what must be returned, eh?"

"Yes." I busied myself putting the orb back into the reticule so he couldn't see my face. I am a fairly good liar, but something told me that the major was an excellent reader of men, and I had promised to tell no one of the Emerald Tablet.

"How can I help?"

I breathed a sigh of relief. I so appreciate an adult who is ready, willing, and able to take orders from an almost twelve-year-old girl. I hadn't known if a soldier would be able to do that. "I can handle the returning-it part, but what I really need help with is the Serpents of Chaos."

He straightened like a foxhound who had just spied a fox. "Chaos? Are they here?"

"If they aren't yet, they will be soon. There was a nasty surprise waiting for us at the Antiquities Service in Cairo." I proceeded to tell him of finding von Braggenschnott in Maspero's office. "So you see, sir, Chaos now knows all of my mother's plans. And consequently, a number of mine."

"If you tell me your plans for the next few days, I'll arrange for some additional security."

"Mother is visiting with the inspector even as we speak. She'll also be interviewing a few last men to include in her work party. After that, I should think we'll be heading over to the Valley of the Kings to begin documenting Thutmose Ill's tomb."

"Very well. I shall get some men right on it."

"Thank you, sir."

"I am glad to see you wearing Professor Quillings's Homing Beacon and Curse-Repelling Device. He has sent me the tracking mechanism, should the need to track you arise."

"About Professor Quillings, sir," I began, glad for the opening. "I have some things I would like you to return to him." I reached into my pocket, retrieved the fountain pen and the compact, then placed them on Major Grindle's desk.

The major raised an eyebrow in question. "You might need those, Miss Throckmorton."

I eyed him warily. "You know what they do?"

"Of course."

"And you are comfortable with that? With me carrying around the sorts of curses the Brotherhood is supposed to remove from artifacts?"

Major Grindle leaned back in his chair. "What precisely has Wigmere told you about the Brotherhood?"

"That the Brotherhood exists in order to protect the innocent against the black magic and curses that still cling to ancient artifacts found in museums and private collections."

"Well, that is partly correct." Major Grindle studied me, as if weighing something in his own mind. "But not the whole of it."

It felt as if the bottom dropped out of my stomach. "It's not?"

"No," he said, and I had the most horrible feeling that I almost didn't want to know what he was going to say next. "Perhaps if Wigmere hadn't wanted me to know, it's better that I don't?" I said.

"Is that what you really believe, Miss Throckmorton?"

"No," I said miserably. The truth was, I was crushed that Wigmere hadn't told me the entire story, whatever it might end up being.

"It is not the Chosen Keepers' job to simply remove curses and protect the innocent from their effects," the major said. "We have a much greater task than that." He took a deep breath. "The Chosen Keepers are descendants of the ancient librarians of the Royal Library of Alexandria—the few, the proud, and the learned. We have sworn an oath to seek out and replace all the ancient knowledge that was lost when our great library was destroyed by Emperor Theodosius. Our goal is to reignite the flame of knowledge and restore it to mankind."

I gaped at him.

"Wigmere oversees one branch of our organization, a last line of defense. His branch is the last bastion that can stop the artifacts with dark magic from coming into the country when they get by us. A fallback position, if you will. But our greater mission is to search out the artifacts and extract their knowledge so we can reconstruct all the wisdom and learning once held in the library. Then we remove the magic and curses from the artifacts so they can go into museums and private collections."

My head began to spin. "But surely some of that magic shouldn't be reintroduced to mankind."

"Agreed. But nor should it be lost for all eternity, either. There is a secret vault in which we store that sort of information. It is quite full, as you can imagine. But even more important is that we seek out and acquire that information before other organizations who wish to use that knowledge for the wrong reasons do."

"The Serpents of Chaos," I murmured.

"Exactly."

"But sir, why are you telling me all this?" Normally, I was quite fond of answers, of knowing things, but for some reason this revelation unsettled me.

Major Grindle studied me for a long moment, as if taking my full measure. "You need to know the truth," he said at last. "Because the blood of the Chosen Keepers of Alexandria flows in your veins."

CHAPTER TEN

 

A Hidden Heritage

I
BOLTED UPRIGHT IN MY CHAIR.
"What do you mean?"

He sighed, a deep, heavy sound full of sorrow and disappointment. "Has no one spoken to you of your grandfather Throckmorton?"

"No," I whispered, suddenly feeling as brittle and fragile as spun glass.

Major Grindle's intense blue eyes never left my face. "No one told you he was in the Brotherhood? That he was a Chosen Keeper, too?"

His words brought me up out of my chair. "My grandfather was a Chosen Keeper?" This went beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

"Oh, I'm not surprised your family didn't tell you. But Wigmere, now. I would have expected him to explain it to you. After all, they were great friends, Wigmere and your grandfather. You look like him, you know."

"I do?" I plopped back into my chair as all the air went out of me in a whoosh.

"Very much. The eyes in particular. And you have the same stubborn chin."

"But sir ... are you certain my family knew? My grandmother hates anything to do with archaeology." My words dribbled to a stop as I realized the implications. Perhaps she hated it
because
he had been involved.

"She knew, up to a point. Although I suspect she knew more than she ought. And at the end, well, there was almost no way she couldn't have known."

I looked up sharply. "At the end?"

"It killed him, in the end." He turned and looked to his cabinet full of oddities, collected from a lifetime of dealing with magical remnants and artifacts. "But not before everyone thought he'd lost his mind and gone off the deep end. It was a tragic end to a great man."

BOOK: Theodosia and the Last Pharoah
13.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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