It's the 26 of November , and I want to scream in despair. After a huge number of unsuccessful excavations in the Valley of the Kings, the final season of scheduled excavations ends today due to a lack of funds.
When all of a sudden, a fellah screams as though he were possessed by the Sha , the dreaded jackal-headed demon. The peasant's pick just hit a block of stone. He kneels down, clears the sand from the smooth block, and reveals a second block below… These are the steps leading to the untouched, eternal resting place of Tutankhamen, with his gold sarcophagus and his fabulous undamaged treasures.
It must be an old peasant's or shepherd's shelter, judging by the rather spartan furnishings of this tiny cave. A mattress of woven reeds crumbling into dust, a wooden stool that falls apart when I push it, and an earthenware jug that breaks when I accidentally knock. I feel so stupid! I let out a sigh of disappointment as huge as the Cheops pyramid, and shove the debris of the stool and the jug against the rock wall with my foot. I smile at the thought of a new Indiana Leyla Jones discovering this cavern one day; she would at least avoid tripping on this debris!
I cannot wait to leave this cavern now. When I tell my misadventure to my fellow students and even to John, we will have a good laugh and drink very black, very sweet tea. The day my name becomes legend a legend that I hope will exceed even that of Alexander the Great is clearly not today. I sigh and am about to head back down the stairs when my heart suddenly lurches.
A menacing snake emerges from the depths of the darkness, his famished head rearing up over his immense body. I scream in terror and recoil deep into the cave.
When he enters the cave, I will have to face him, kill him before he is able to bite me. Unfortunately for me, I think I recognise a Naja Haje judging by his swollen, disc-shaped neck.
Egyptian cobra can grow to over eight feet long and has formidable neurotoxic venom. If he manages to sink his fangs into me, first my respiratory muscles will become paralysed and then I don't want to die!
I scan the walls of the cave with the beam from my torch, looking for something to protect myself or to attack the Naja. I doubt that I'm faster than him, especially as I have no weapon to attack with. I would need a club, but I can't see anything like that here. Maybe a heavy blanket to throw over him, blinding him and giving me time to escape down the stairs.
But the pile of cotton lint will not do I look around the cave anxiously. I have to find a way to get rid of the monster, and quickly! Something just moved, or maybe it was a shadow from the irregularities in the rock, in a recess in the cave. I point my torch in this direction, trembling. I step back, grab a shard of the jug that I broke and grasp it firmly like a dagger.
I mumble,. Of course there is no reply. What was I hoping for? I'm so terrified that for once I wish Prince Charming would appear from nowhere astride his white horse to slice off the head of the Naja and its family with a single blow of his sabre! I tighten my grip on the jug shard and walk towards the shadow dancing on the rock. Some instinct, no doubt a superstitious one, prompts me to thrust it into the shadow, in case it is something living. My makeshift dagger does not pass through rock, but some sort of hanging of the same colour.
In removing the shard, I tear it to shreds. Is there an exit hidden behind this hanging? I glanced towards the stairs, still no cobra in sight.
Quickly, I push the tattered hanging to the side and move towards what I hope will be an exit, but what I discover leaves me speechless. For, hidden behind this curtain is one of the most incredible temples of ancient Egypt! A cave with its walls. Under the rays of the divine solar disc Ra, I recognise Horus, the falcon-headed incarnation of the sky and the sun; Anubis, the jackal-headed god who protects the dead; the ibis-headed Thoth, the moon god and protector of scribes, and many others, mainly depicted in scenes where offerings were being made It's breathtaking!
One of these gods seems to be particularly singled out due to the number of offerings made to him, such as jars of oil, lotus, bushels of grain, perfumes and so on. But this god is represented by a simple human mummy, standing upright and wearing the skullcap and breast-plate of a scribe I feverishly decipher the hieroglyphics engraved above it My hands won't stop shaking. I can't believe what I have discovered.
Could this be the cartouche of Nefertiti, the queen whose beauty was legendary??? I look for a depiction of her husband, Akhenaten, the pharaoh at whose side she reigned over 3, years ago. But he's missing from the bas-reliefs. My mind races, imagining an impossible love story between a humble sculptor and the most inaccessible of queens, when suddenly the light from my torch starts to show the first worrying signs of faintness, bringing me brutally back to reality.
I must, and I am the only one who can, show the world this historic discovery. But what happens if I were to die from a cobra bite? I put away the now useless torch, slip the shard into a pocket of my jeans and tear down what remains of the curtain. Breathing deeply, I march into the darkness towards the stairs, ready to blind the animal before stabbing wildly at it A surreal and wavering light penetrates a crack in the rock vault, casting a beam of light onto the face of the motionless cobra It has not moved a single scale! I shake my head to chase away the dizzy feeling of incomprehension that is overwhelming me as this strange phenomenon takes place before my very eyes.
John and Battushig spend hours online speculating on the star's incomplete message. And he's offering me one million dollars for it! I stretch and crack my spine and my forearm knocks against something behind me. Hey Nicole! When I open my eyes I discover that I am still on her back. Had it been a full length novel, which would have given each of the events enough time to be properly executed and allowed all of the secondary characters to develop more of a personality, I would have enjoyed it much more. And maybe the good monks will offer me something to eat!
My legs suddenly give way beneath me and I find myself sitting on the steps, overcome now with reaction. This light must be that of a new day, and the snake a painted etching in the rock wall along the staircase. But how could a painting create such a realistic impression and make me believe that the cobra was alive? The artist who painted it must have noticed this luminous phenomenon and used it to convey a message to whoever passed through here, but what?
And why a snake? I drop the hanging and the terracotta shard, now become useless, and slowly walk down the steps towards the harmless snake. For the ancient Greeks, the ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, was the symbol of self-fertilisation and constant renewal. As for the Egyptians, they revered the Uraeus, the sacred cobra, as the protector of the pharaohs. As did the farmers, as snakes got rid of insects and mice! This message is a bit too subliminal for me.
How will I be able to work it out? As I stand in front of the cobra, staring at me with its menacing eyes flecked with green and gold, an Egyptian legend that scared me so much as a child comes back to me. It is the legend of an evil serpent, the master of the hostile forces rebelling against the world order, the terrible Apophis Each morning, the immense snake Apophis would attack the celestial boat of Ra, the sun god, in the hope of preventing it from reaching its destination.
Isis used all of her magic to rob Apophis of his senses and to disorientate him. Set attacked him with his harpoon. The defenders were victorious and the horizon was tinted red with the snake's blood. Nevertheless, Apophis never ceased to fight back. I believe that a universal message lies behind this legend from the time of the Pharaohs.
If Apophis is constantly defeated but never completely destroyed, then his existence must be part of the universe. It reminds us of the fragility of the universal order, that it is necessary to keep going in order to prevent the forces of Chaos from taking over. In any case, imagining Ra sending Apophis backinto the shadows calms me down and, in the pale and dim light now seeping through the crack in the cave roof, I climb back up the stairs, determined to put the shelter back as it was.
Not out of fussiness, like when I polish aunt Wadiha's beauty salon at. I'll try to put the hanging back up. When I tore the hanging down, I remember some stones scattering over onto the ground. At the time, I was only thinking of the cobra and not about how I would put the hanging back up.
I take a closer look at the fragment that is still hanging to understand how those who put up the hanging managed to do it. At the same time, I run my hand over the pediment of the entrance archway and the fragment hanging down from it. It looks as though a groove was cut into the rock, the end of the curtain was held above it and then spikes made from rock and wood were driven into the groove using a mallet. I slide my hand under the hanging and discover a sort of alcove hewn into the rock.
I stand on tiptoe and grope around inside the alcove.