The walking was going to kill him.
Tamron hadn’t considered that possibility when he had left the crashed plane, somewhere four days behind him, lost in the desert. He was not lost, though. Not exactly. He knew the Nile was still somewhere ahead of him in the east, but he couldn’t be certain of how far.
He knew how to walk so that he didn’t end up going in circles. He kept something in sight to aim for and then, when that was close at hand, he would focus on something beyond it. In the monotonous world of the desert, he had to choose odd shaped rocks and sand dunes with noticeable curves. Walking the desert wasn’t so bad, though this trip was overly long.
Tamron still wondered if the crash hadn’t been an act of sabotage. H e was certain he was close to finding the first true sign of a lost civilization in the western wastes of the Sahara, not far from the Nile. He had found an ancient map half a year before and spent all that time researching any tidbit of information he found in the few lines of demotic scribbled on the edges of the ancient map, the words crumbling away.
Tam had been careful about not saying anything, but an archaeologist as well known as he was couldn’t help but draw attention, especially when he took his battered bi-plane out several days in a row. Tamron, barely in his thirties, had a few exceptional finds under his belt already. He had the gift, as his late grandfather had told him. Tam had grown up in Sir Clement O’Killam’s archeology work camp after his own father had gone back to England. His Egyptian mother had died when he was young, and while some of grandfather’s people had treated him badly, Sir Clement had realized his grandson had the gift that his own son lacked. They’d worked well together until grandfather disappeared in a massive sand storm five years ago.
He didn’t intend to disappear as well.
The crash hadn’t killed Tamron. The walking though — yes, even someone used to the desert, someone who knew enough to have emergency supplies on the plane, still might succumb to the heat. He rested during the worst of the hot day, walked mostly at dusk, dark and dawn. He had to fend off some deathstalker scorpions and a couple snakes but he saw and heard no one. Not impossible in a land like this, to go so many days alone, but he had still hoped. . . .
Tam rested through the fourth day, and prepared to walk on, fixing his eyes on a distant area that appeared to be another patch strewn with boulders —
Something moved there.
His heart thumped and he almost shouted, but wisdom from years of living in the desert stopped him. First, it was dusk, and he might simply have seen a shifting shadow. Second, not everyone in the country loved foreign archaeologists. The sun was setting behind him so he had to wait or he would have cast a shadow as well. He saw movement again. It might be a creature of some sort. He didn’t see any sign of an oasis but there might be a shallow pan of water or even a well. Some more water would be nice —
And then, in the last light of the sunset, Tamron saw something that made his heart stop. A temple stood in the shadow of the dunes and this building was not in ruins. Gold and jewels glittered in the fading sun. He stood and moved forward, unable to think of anything except that he must get there, must see and feel that it was real.
What had moved? He didn’t care though a faint alarm rang at the sight of the blazing brazier’s on each side of the elegant and intact Horus symbol on the wall. He had never seen anything so perfect. He hardly paused until he came almost within reach of the walls.
He reached out with a hand but dared not mar the beauty of this place with even a gentle touch.
And then a hand rested on his shoulder.
“Will you not even leave me this place?” a man asked.
The words were not English, nor the current patois of an Egyptian fellah,but he understood. He wanted to turn and find out who stood there.
What stood there.
He couldn’t move.
“It’s all gone, the glory. You gather little pieces of my world and stare in wonder. This, though . . . This is all I have left.”
“I —” The word stuck in Tamron’s throat. Whatever had touched him was not natural. His eyes flickered to the right where the hand held to his shoulder. The fingers were unnaturally long, and perhaps claw-like.
“How could you understand?”
For a moment, though, Tamron did understand. He closed his eyes and saw the world of the Nile as it had once been, with the pageant and wonder of an age few now could imagine. With that thought came a longing for things long past.
And yes, he did understand.
“There will be other finds,” Tamron said. “I am honored simply to have stood here.”
“Then go in peace, friend.”
He didn’t like to think what would have happened if he hadn’t said — and believed — those words. He walked on through the night and never looked back. He might even have believed it was all a fever dream from the hot desert sun, except for one thing. When he finally reached civilization a day later, he went straight to clean up, and looking in the mirror he saw the Wadjet symbol on his shoulder, where it had not been before.
The Wadjet was the sign of the Eye of Horus.
And yes, he did have remarkable luck with his excavations, though people often wondered why he stood and stared off into the Western Desert with such longing sometimes.