Theodosia and the Last Pharoah (9 page)

BOOK: Theodosia and the Last Pharoah
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But first things first. I studied my room carefully, trying to decide where on earth to hide the Emerald Tablet. Now that the Serpents of Chaos knew of our every move, I had to assume our rooms could be searched during the long hours we were away. But there were simply no good hiding spots. In a drawer or under the mattress was too obvious. Anyone would find it within seconds. And I simply did not see how I could carry it with me every day. I could never dream up an explanation that would satisfy Mother.

A sound at the window pulled me from my quandary and I found Isis up on the sill, needing to go outside.

And then I got a great big wonderful idea.

"Wait just one minute," I told her. I left her looking slightly put out and slipped into the spare room where all our supplies were stored. Just as I'd hoped, I found a flat, short-sided lid to one of the larger boxes. I snagged that and a spare canvas sack. Back in my room, I removed the tablet from the bottom of Isis's carrying basket, wrapped a layer of oiled cloth around the newspapers that currently hid it from view, then placed the well-protected tablet in the shallow box. Isis came over to inspect what I was doing. "Two seconds, I promise," I told her.

I grabbed the sack and went to the window. Nobody was outside in the sad little yard. Perfect. I sat on the windowsill, swung my feet around, then dropped to the ground, careful to close the window right behind me. I kept near the wall, hopefully out of sight as I filled the sack with dirt. When it was full, I set it on the sill, opened the window once more, and climbed back into my room. I quickly shut the window, almost catching Isis's nose as she tried to get out. "I'm sorry! Two more seconds, I promise!" The poor thing was practically crossing her legs at this point.

I dumped all the dirt into the box, then stood back. "All yours," I told Isis.

Curious, she came over and sniffed, then climbed in and began scratching around, doing what all cats do when presented with a box of dirt or sand. "Good girl," I told her when she was finished. Because, of course, it was perfect! No one would think to search there. Besides, ancient Egyptian magic believed that Underworld demons were especially fond of such things as Isis had just deposited in the box. Anyone who knew enough about the tablet to understand its value would also know that and steer well clear.

Of course, I was grubby now and had to have my second wash of the morning, but that was quickly done. When I was finished, I secured the reticule around my wrist and grabbed my pith helmet. I left Isis standing guard and went to find my Chosen Keeper contact here in Luxor.



Major Harriman Grindle, at Your Service

I had only the vaguest sense of where I might find Major Grindle's quarters. Intent on protecting the tablet from discovery and escaping undetected, I had forgotten that I had no idea where I was going. I glanced back at the house. Should I ask Habiba? Would she want to know where I was going or, worse, tell Mother?

Just as I decided I'd have to risk it, a shape darted out in front of me. I leaped back, then relaxed when I saw it was only Gadji's monkey, rather than a small demon, which is what it had looked like at first. That meant Gadji must be nearby, and
had lived in Luxor. Maybe he knew his way around.

Almost as if reading my thoughts, Sefu turned and scampered back the way he had come, pausing once to be certain I was following.

He stopped in front of a ratty abandoned shack with a pile of rags in the doorway. Except the pile of rags turned out to be Gadji. The small, sleeping boy tugged at my heart. It wasn't just that I was grateful to him for having helped me at such great cost to himself. It was more than that. With a niggle of surprise, I realized that I'd told Mother the truth; something about him made me homesick for my younger brother, Henry. Gadji was smaller and younger than Henry, but his outlook seemed older. Probably from having to live on the streets and make his own way. I imagine that would mature a person right up. But while Gadji was clever and shrewd, he was also remarkably cheerful for someone in his position. I found that most admirable.

Sefu pinched Gadji and woke him. Gadji rubbed his eyes and sat up, then leaped to his feet when he saw me standing over him.

"Good morning," I said, politely ignoring the fact that he'd been sound asleep.

"Good mornings," he replied somewhat stiffly, no doubt feeling embarrassed about having been sound asleep.

"No luck finding your family?" I asked.

He scowled ferociously at me. "Not yet."

"I could help you if you'd like," I offered.

He thrust his chin out. "I am not needing your help."

Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed! Or doorway, I amended. Ah, perhaps that was the problem. Or maybe he was hungry. Henry is always grumpy when he is hungry.

"Would you like some breakfast?" I fumbled in my pocket for the small snack I had brought along for lunch.

He recoiled from the food. "Gadji is no beggar, miss."

Hadn't he just said yesterday that he would beg if he had to? Maybe it was easier to beg from those you didn't know. Thinking fast, I said, "But I have a job for you and I have nothing else to pay you with."

That caught his attention. "What sort of job?"

"You used to live in Luxor, right? Do you still remember your way around?"

Gadji nodded and eyed the small packet more hopefully.

"Well, I need someone to act as my guide around town."

Gadji nodded. "I will guide you, and for this thing I will accept your inadequate payment—"

Inadequate? I thought I was doing him a favor.

"—and then you are owing me," he finished brightly, grinning broadly as his good humor returned. He snatched the food from my hand and demolished it in about thirty seconds. Then he was ready to go. "This way, miss." The monkey leaped up onto his shoulder, and we were off.

As he led me down the dusty streets, I nearly sprained my neck trying to take in all the sights. It turned out, I needn't have bothered. Luxor itself was basically a small village with a handful of grand hotels.

The only area that gave me pause was a small cluster of streets just off the main thoroughfare. Gadji tried to hurry by, but I called him back. "What's down here?"

He frowned. "Gadji not sure, but very bad. No place for effendi miss."

"How do you know that if you're not certain what's down there?"

His frown turned to a perplexed scowl. "Gadji just knows this thing, miss."

The truth was, I could feel a foul, roiling miasma emanating from the alley. Could he? Was that how he knew it was very bad?

" he said at last. "No good, very bad
Not like miss's."

Did he mean a black market in antiques? Or something more ominous, such as horribly cursed artifacts? I made a mental note to ask my Chosen Keeper contact about it and let Gadji lead me away.

Major Harriman Grindle lived in a small box-shaped house by the British consulate offices near one of the large hotels.

"I wait out here so I can show you the way back." Gadji gave a snappy salute, then slipped away to settle in at the foot of a dusty palm tree that provided a small sliver of shade.

I squared my shoulders and rapped smartly on the door. It opened immediately and I found myself staring into a large, broad chest covered in a rough goatskin tunic. Baggy black trousers were tucked into red leather boots, and a red cap with a rolled edge sat low on the man's brow. He wore a wicked-looking dagger at his hip. I looked up—and up, an impossibly long way—into a face not any darker than mine and a pair of eyes that were the color of aquamarines. He said nothing—not even hello—so I cleared my throat and spoke. "Um, is Major Harriman Grindle in?"

The man gave a silent nod, then opened the door all the way, indicating that I should enter. It was cool and dark inside, and I had to blink a number of times so my eyes could adjust.

"Follow me." His deep voice reverberated throughout the hall. He led me down a corridor, which descended in a series of steps and landings until we came to a closed door, which he opened to reveal a study of some sort. He ushered me inside. "Sahib will be with you shortly," he said, and then he shut the door behind him. I was alone in the cramped, dimly lit room.

Or so I thought, for there was no one sitting at the desk. However, I had the distinct sensation of being watched. It wasn't quite the same feeling as when a curse was nearby. That was more of a beetles-marching-up-the-spine sensation. This was more like a few ants pirouetting along my shoulders—an entirely different feeling. Even so, it unnerved me, and I quickly turned around to see who was there.

And nearly screamed when I came face-to-face with a small shrunken head. Three of them, to be precise. They were hanging from a brass hat rack. I took a quick step back and nearly tripped on the enormous leopard skin on the floor. I squealed and stepped back again, bumping into a large brass urn with ostrich plumes sprouting out the top. I grabbed for it, trying to keep the entire thing from tipping over.

Completely unnerved, I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to steady myself. When my heart had quit racing, I slowly opened my eyes and tried again.

The entire room was full of all manner of curiosities and oddities, like a macabre museum. Strange things, marvelous things, and some truly frightening things were tucked on shelves that ran all the way around the room, as if the room itself were one giant closet. Petrified crocodile eggs were displayed on a small table. Next to it on the floor was an

enormous snakeskin. The table next to that held dried scorpions (although they were so lifelike that I held my breath for a full minute, trying to decide if they were alive).

But it was the shelves that drew my attention. Some of the things were easily dismissed as junk: a battered yellow turban, a severed goat's foot (ew!), three sharp teeth, a brace of black feathers, and a battered old brass lamp such as you'd find in any Egyptian bazaar.

Except, I realized, the lamp wasn't quite as harmless as it first appeared. Something—not quite a curse, but something dark—lurked within that brass lamp. Or maybe that sensation was coming from the leering bronze mask next to it. Honestly, it could have been coming from any of the strange things on the shelf. Rings of bone, the large horn of a bull that disturbed me whenever my eyes fell on it ... There was an ancient-looking bronze trumpet, and while it didn't feel cursed, exactly, it felt powerful in some way I couldn't put my finger on.

I glanced at the door, glad that it was still closed and Major Grindle hadn't arrived yet. It seemed to me that a man's shelves said an awful lot about him, and Major Grindle was shaping up to be very interesting, indeed.

The room also held the most astonishing collection of exotic weapons I had ever seen, surpassing our weapons room back at the museum in London. Henry would have been green with envy! There were thrusting daggers and chakrams, long knives and short swords, strange pointed weapons with a use I could not even guess. There was a deck of ancient tarot cards that had a faint malevolent feel to it, a winged frog, samurai war masks, and dried scarab husks. In the midst of all that strangeness sat a crumbling mud brick. What kind of brick would have earned a place among all these oddities, I wondered? I peered closer, not surprised to see strange carvings and glyphs upon it.

"What do you think of my cabinet of curiosities, Miss Throckmorton?"

I whirled around, surprised that I hadn't heard the Major come in. He stood tall and erect, his shoulders thrown back as if he was constantly at attention. He wore a bright red jacket bedecked with all manner of medals and brass. His thick white muttonchop whiskers covered the lower half of his face and met with the mustache that flourished atop his very stiff upper lip. His beak of a nose looked permanently sunburned, and his eyes were squinty, as if used to peering into the distance in search of danger. "Y-your what?"

BOOK: Theodosia and the Last Pharoah
7.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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