This week for our Olympia Extracts we are proud to feature, The Ghost Reapers by Jackie Ferris! A fascinating historical mystery...
Vatican City: Sunday 31st March 2013 AD
Streams of diffused sunlight drifted through the clouds, proclaiming the Roman summer to come. Their false promises flattered to deceive. A cold wind rippled through its warmth, malingering like a wintry ghost.
From the comfort of his study, Idris half-monitored the crowd milling around the Square. Two hours earlier they had witnessed the crowning of a new pope: the greatest event in the Catholic Church’s calendar.
Turning away from them, he studied the group photograph hanging from the wall. It was taken two weeks earlier, to herald the new pope’s inauguration; only twelve of the convocation of two hundred and sixteen cardinals were black.
He traced his outline. At fifty-five, his high cheek-bones and chestnut-brown eyes were striking. Scowling, he stepped back, needing no reminder that he was party to Catholicism’s version of equality. His meteoric rise through the Church as a shining black light, blazing the trail of diversity, was well documented. Only his initiation into Hawwa, and then the more powerful Nommo, remained secret. The Church’s two clandestine sects were responsible for guarding secrets deemed unsuitable for public consumption. Their existence was known only to a privileged few. Run by nether men spinning their webs of power across the political and economic world, many flourished deep within the Vatican archives. There, the black cassocks gave way to Armani-suited men, who drifted shadowlike behind the machinations of papal power.
Idris opened the Lebanese Cyprus drawer and took out his Byblos. The word “Byblos”, later translated into Latin as “Bible”, was first used by the Greeks to describe the Ancient Egyptian writing material, papyrus.
The document was a copy of the original, dating back three thousand years. As he began to read, he sank back into his leather wingback chair, massaging his six-sided ring.
Normally it was reserved for Nommo; but today was special, today would change everything.
Egypt: Land of Kemet, 900 BC
It falls to me to ensure that my father’s story does not disappear into the pit of the forgotten. This papyrus records the last hours of our great Queen Nefertiti’s entombment, witnessed by my father, Sopdet.
My father swallowed his fear as he rode into the Valley of the Kings. Once, the Valley was a gateway to the afterlife, not an afterthought. Its scorched red earth gave no clue to the kingly dynasties buried beneath it.
The ransacked tombs were no longer guarded. The high priests had long since plundered the pharaohs’ treasured resting places. To avoid being discovered, he had brushed the dusty sand leading into the underground sarcophagus with a palm frond. The newly wiped ground disguised his footprints, but still signposted his presence for unwelcome spies.
Wiping sweat from his raven-coloured brow, he stared at the dead body. Four hundred years earlier, it would have been inconceivable that Queen Nfuraa-ti-ti could have been laid to rest without ceremony.
For twenty days he had traversed the desert, resting in caves when the sun scorched the earth, to ensure that his queen arrived undiscovered at her final resting place.
He peered closer at her mummified body. Empty sockets stared beyond death into a future he could never know. Burial protocol dictated that the eyes were covered. Nefertiti had demanded they remain exposed; whatever was going to happen in death, she wanted to see it.
It was written that he, Sopdet, the twelfth son of the twelfth generation of Nefertiti’s Essene kinsmen, would take Nefertiti to her final resting place.
Rumours of her elongated head, a physical manifestation of her tie to the Visitation, tormented the Israelis’ psyche like a malevolent ghost.
Her knowledge, gleaned from the “One Who Came” threatened everything the Egyptians held dear; everyone wanted to destroy her body.
The role of protecting her from her enemies was bequeathed to the hermetic Essenes. Their smoke-screen of Jewish fidelity had kept her body concealed from the marauding groups for four hundred years.
Time alone had made it safe for Sopdet to return her to the country of her birth. Once, the secret of the Visitation had been revered there; now, no one dared speak of it.
Sopdet, aware of another prophecy proclaiming the discovery of her mummy, looked again at her skeletal bandaged frame. Would her elongated skull mark her out as the missing queen? Would anyone notice that the hieroglyphic text of the king’s name on Tut’s death mask was inscribed over an earlier name: Ankhkheperure-Meryt-Neferkheperure Neferneferuaten? If they missed it, would they pick out the sun disc, Aten, beaming from the carved chair in an antechamber?
Doubts plagued him as he placed his hand on his heart, hoping that his will would make the future discovery happen. His fears drove him beyond concentration.
He turned. The huge slab of granite, straining against the wall was the hidden door from Tut’s tomb into the secret chamber. He would use the papyrus rope binding it to return the slab into the breach and seal the chamber. His preference was to stay and die beside his queen, but he must fulfil her destiny.
Breathing deeply, he wrapped the rope around his waist. The rounded stones underneath the granite made it easier to pull the rock towards him. His eyes darted to Nefertiti. How many centuries would pass before anyone looked on her again?
Receiving no answer, he summoned his strength, then pulled the rock towards him, taking care to balance it on the stones. It was a few minutes before he manoeuvred it into position.
In the outer sanctum, the light bounced off his torch on to the golden chariots, temporarily blinding him. He narrowed his eyes, moving quickly to pick up the jar he had left beside one of the chariots. Its contents, the muna, would safeguard his queen through the millennia.
Taking great care, he scooped it into his hand, then pushed the soft muna into the gaps bordering the crudely made rock door. He packed it tightly, then raised the torch’s flame. Its heat licked the wall until the plaster was dry enough to apply the final coat of clay, limestone and diluted gypsum. Unable to wait for it to dry, he took the straw brush from his tunic. Deftly, he applied the paint to the original scene, depicting the ascent of the Boy King into the afterlife.
Satisfied, he stood back. The paint-work was perfect, but the gaudy gold and ochre jarred with the other colours. Time would fan its brush and fade them. It was a luxury he himself did not have.
He turned towards the coffer. “Amen tut ankh, Tut an kha mun.” His words dropped into the stale air. It fell to the anonymous Boy King to protect the truth for future generations. Public knowledge of the Visitation would destroy the fabric of the old religion of Amun and the new religion of Yahweh, the god of the newly emerging Jewish religion. No one would allow the truth to surface.
Nefertiti had wanted to build a new life in the land which they now called Israel, a place where the truth could flourish unbounded by the Egyptian High Priests’ jealousy. She had thought of most things, but not the power of men’s egos, or the spies the Egyptians had planted in their camp.
Their laughable stories had gained credence. Sopdet knew that the trend for the Israelis’ one god would not last, even though Israel’s Chosen People who were run by men had captured everyone’s hearts and minds. Worse, the Egyptians had rewritten Nefertiti’s story, portraying her now as a deranged woman besotted by her disabled husband’s belief in a single god, the sun disk, Aten.
His eyes darted around the sepulchre, questioning everything. Time would erase the memory of the ancient civilisation of Egypt; its legacy of monuments and mausoleums would be buried in the desert sands. Who would know who Nefertiti was, or who had built the Grand Pyramid?
Would the enigmatic Sphinx, landlocked in a sea of sand, throw up questions about the Egyptian version of the past?
The painting of the Boy King hiding the entrance gave nothing away; nor did the two statues of Tut’s ka concealing the entrance to his tomb.
Gathering his brush, feathered with horsehair and tied with papyrus rope, Sopdet dipped it into the deep-ochre paste. Deftly, he softened his features, widening his eyes and shaping the nose into a more feminine form. The androgynous mask raised questions.
Risking a final glance, he rubbed the hexagram ring. Once it had represented the golden triangle of the Great Pyramid and the stars. Who knew it now?
He threw the ring against the newly painted wall, then pulled out a tablet of stone carved with his name, Sopdet - after the bright star Sirius. The stone was a key into a cave where the secrets of the Visitation, and a past he could only dream of, could be stored, if it became necessary.
He dropped the ring, then scuffed the sand, covering it with his foot. Grave robbers would not give it a second glance but someone in the future, seeking richer treasures than gold, just might.
Idris looked up from the Byblos, distracted by the ringing phone. The photograph on the wall glowered back at him. The cardinals were dressed in their best embroidered ferraioli, the cassocks reserved for formal occasions. The Church viewed them as a source of pride. All he saw was an occasional black face drowning in an ocean of Caucasian hypocrisy.
He stood up, then swiped his hand across it. A ghost of a smile whispered across his face as it smashed on to the wooden floor.
“Id, can you hear me?” The voice from the phone shrieked at him. Ignoring it, he gathered the splintered shards of glass in his hands. In an instant he could destroy the belief system of the Christian Church, the Jewish faith and Islam.
The sharp jagged edges dug into his flesh as blood. trickled through his fingers. Blood, the blood of Christ, had dripped through the ages, dressed in the cloak of religious wars. They were the wars of men, not God.
He dipped his index finger into the red puddle forming on the floor. The warm sticky liquid silently screamed with unheard black voices abused by time and history. Carefully he traced the words Af-rui-ka, meaning “birthplace” or “beginnings” in Emmiu. Before the Greeks changed Egypt’s name to Aegyptos, it had been known as Kemet, the Black Land.
Now forgotten in the dementia of time, Idris still felt Kemet’s suffering, promulgated in the name of religion.
Questions pounded in his head. Was the secret only about race, power and lies? Would its revelation change anything? He brushed the ring with his lips, then pressed the “send” icon on his computer.
Abdul’s voice exploded from the phone as Id held it away from his ear. Abdul was still talking as he returned to the window.
He closed his eyes. The faithful, milling around the square, had no conception that their Christian, Jewish and Islamic past was a tissue of lies.
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