Authors: Jo Franklin
Copyright Â© 2014 Jo Franklin
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All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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Aline listened. A powerful wind so strange and unearthly came suddenly from nowhere. Its intensity seemed to bring a message of hope from the beginning of time. It could have upturned the boat and sent it crashing to the bottom of the Nile. But instead the boat drifted untouched, with the waves lapping gently at the sides. Then as quickly as it had started the wind ceased. Mists descended. She could no longer see any other people in the boat. They had disappeared and she was all alone. She got up, wrapping her shawl round her, and moved slowly to the middle of the empty boat. It was very cold. She stared out, waiting for something. How long she stood she had no idea. It could have been seconds, months, or years. Time had ceased. Then she saw it, a figure standing in the dark recesses of the boat. Muscular, with a human body but with the head of a jackal, and holding the book of spells, she immediately recognised him as Anubis. Although she felt apprehensive she started to walk towards him. He grew taller and she stopped. He stretched out his arms, concealing someone deep in the shadows behind him. Then the mist swirled thicker around them, and when it cleared they had gone.
Aline hadn't really noticed the person sitting in the seat next to her. She had been too preoccupied peering out of the window as the plane soared upwards through the clouds from the murky greyness of Heathrow airport. She had mixed feelings as she left the ground below and faced the long flight. There was no going back.
An arm brushed hers. “It's quite a haul, isn't it?” a voice said softly.
Aline turned her head. The person next to her gave her a big smile. She looked relaxed and happy and had already got out a book, which she was halfway through and about to start reading. Her deep blue eyes, set in a pale little face, twinkled at Aline. Even though her hair was short and curly, she ran her hand impatiently through it, as if to brush it away from her forehead. Aline guessed she was about her age.
“It's about five hours I think,” Aline responded.
“Yes. That's if the wind is in the right direction.”
“So, is this your first trip to Egypt?”
“Oh, no. I've been there many times. I'm a teacher. Also I'm an artist, and I go to study their ancient buildings and the architecture to give me ideas for paintings and designs of pottery which we, that's Cheng my husband and I, sell in our little shop to supplement our teaching careers. We have a business in Ipswich and we're doing quite well. We're not wealthy but our name is spreading and we so enjoy what we do.”
“That's great. Ipswich is nice. I have friends who live near there. The area around is lovely. I expect you're probably inspired by Pin Mill and Constable country?”
“We are. I've tried many times to capture the beauty around Flatford.” She laughed merrily. “But neither of us are in the Constable league! Do you paint?”
“A little. My art teacher always told me I was good and I should take it further but somehow other things got in the way.”
“Oh, that's a shame. So what do you do now?”
“I write articles about different countries for one of the big travel agencies, Earth Zone, which you'll have heard of? It's quite well paid and I do enjoy it â apart from the fact I don't like flying very much.” It was Aline's turn to laugh. “Which is something I have to do rather a lot! I've been given a project to write several articles on Egypt. You can imagine the amount of research I've already done and still need to do before I can start anything. Oh, but I'm really looking forward to it. I've always wanted to go to Egypt and this has been the perfect opportunity for me. Work and pleasure!”
“So where are you going on your trip?”
“It's two days in Cairo and then on to Luxor and down the Nile.”
“But that's what we're doing. You're not with Nile Special Cruises, are you?”
“Yes, I am. Nile Special Cruises is actually owned by Earth Zone. I don't think many people know that.”
“Is it? That's interesting. Anyway it sounds as if you're going to be with us. I think this block of seats is allocated to them. My name's Gerald by the way, and this is Cheng sitting next to me.” She pointed sideways. He had his eyes closed and didn't move. “I think he's meditating so I won't disturb him.”
Aline wasn't sure if Gerald was serious or joking.
“Ah, okay. Well, I'm Aline.”
“Oh, what a lovely name, how I wish I'd been called something normal like that. It's a bit different though, isn't it?”
“It's a form of Adeline, which was my mother's name. Its origin was French or Armenian, meaning the Bearer of Light. So that's me,” she laughed.
“That's so nice. I've no idea what my name means.”
“Gerald is unusual for a girl. Is it short for something like Geraldine?”
“No, not in my case! I should have had a very girly name but my dad got sent out to register me and met up with a mate and had one or two drinks to celebrate and put the name Gerald down by mistake on the form! Gerald was the mate he'd been drinking with.”
Aline laughed. “I like your name, Gerald. It's very original for a lady.”
“Mm, glad you think so. Tell me, are you going round all the temples and tombs?”
“Yes, I've been instructed to. I'll go with the organised tours and I should learn quite a lot that way, and from the locals. I particularly want to visit the Valley of the Kings. Not just for my research. I've always wanted to go there, right from my early years. I've always thought it special, maybe because of the name. As a very young child I thought it was a valley where kings had lived and raised their families. It was only later I realised it was a burial ground full of tombs. Still I like to think about the noble people, laid to rest there.”
“There's always an atmosphere in that place. It can be brimming with people but you can still hear a silence when you visit the tombs. And, you know, everyone who's been there says it's quite something and not to be missed. We're looking forward to going to Karnak again, and seeing the gigantic columns in the Hypostyle Hall.”
Cheng suddenly opened his eyes and smiled across at Aline.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“That's all right.” She smiled back.
“So who's this then, Gerald?” he asked.
“Aline. She's a writer, works for Earth Zone, and she's on the same trip as us.”
“A writer. Wow! I'll have to watch what I say or I might get quoted. Great to meet you, Aline. We could always think about joining up. You could write and we could illustrate. But I expect your company has got that all sorted out, probably use photographs anyway.”
“Possibly. I'm not sure.”
“Ah well. Can only ask. Shall we stretch our legs, Gerald? See you later, Aline.”
Aline watched them wander off together, laughing happily at something. She guessed Cheng was of Chinese origin, with his oriental eyes and dark hair. As Gerald moved away, Aline saw how her ears stuck out, giving her face an almost elfin appearance. They were a strange couple and yet somehow they went well together.
If she'd thought it was going to be a lonely trip, with only her work to keep her company, she could see she was wrong. She had felt a warm friendliness from Gerald and she felt very at ease with her. Curiously, there was something about her which made her feel as if she'd met her somewhere before. Perhaps in Ipswich at an art show, or in London at a function? But she couldn't remember.
Sometime later Aline squeezed passed them and made her way up the narrow aisle towards the toilets. She was already apprehensive about flying and using the facilities on board a flight, but being completely on her own filled her with dread. The little room always seemed so cold, and she thought the lights might fail. It was almost like a tomb in itself. She didn't like having to lock herself in and yet knew it was necessary. If she became trapped, would anyone ever release her? She hoped so.
All the time she was in there she glanced in trepidation at the door, hoping it would open when she was ready to leave.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror. She'd been told many times that she was attractive. âSupposed to be,' she thought. That morning she had tied her long brown hair back from her face in order to manage it more easily on the long flight. Her white shirt was tucked into well-fitting white trousers, secured tightly at her waist with a wide leather belt. The whole outfit showed off her female figure, with rounded breasts, a small waist and flat stomach. She knew she had to look good, for she represented her company. She stared into her own deep brown eyes, which she knew could sometimes become fathomless, as if searching for something. She reached for the band on her hair and shook her hair loose. It fell around her shoulders in a mass of brown curls, making her look very feminine. It didn't suit her business image so she quickly combed it and retied it.
Then she felt she was no longer in the room on the plane. She was somewhere else. Somewhere she couldn't get out of. And it was becoming dark. She could smell a strong aromatic perfume which almost stifled her. She thought someone was watching her. She turned quickly, feeling sick. There was nothing; nobody was there. And then suddenly she was back on board the plane again. Without bothering to wash her hands she reached out for the handle on the door. It didn't respond! She started to panic. She pushed and pushed it. A cold sensation started to creep down her back. She had to get out. Suddenly without warning the plane lurched over a patch of turbulence. Her hand shot backwards on the handle and the door opened. She had been pushing the handle the wrong way!
“Are you all right?” Gerald asked as she got back to her seat. “You look very pale.”
“It's the altitude. I'm not a good traveller.”
“Well, not to worry. We're about to descend now. Soon be in Cairo.”
Aline stared out. Even though it would be a short while before Cairo came into view she was determined not to miss anything.
She took an inward breath when the river became visible.
“Ah,” she said excitedly. “There's the Nile!” She couldn't take her eyes off the wide river below, which meandered through the countryside. “It's been there since time began. People come and go, and yet the river is constant. It has always been there. Always the same.”
Gerald peered over her shoulder. “You sound as if you've been here before,” she mused. “Some things never change, do they? Do you know, I'm really looking forward to staying in Giza again, if only for a couple of days, and going to the Pyramids. I love the Pyramids. Oh, and I do hope we get to the hotel in time for dinner today,” she added practically.
As the plane touched Egyptian soil Aline felt not only relief that her journey was over. She too felt a sudden surge of excitement. It was somewhere she'd always wanted to visit. She had waited since childhood for this.
As Aline walked through the airport towards the baggage collection she became aware of another intoxicating perfume wafting round her. It was different to the one she'd smelt on the plane. This one was soothing and seemed familiar and yet she'd no recollection of ever having used it. Turning slightly she saw a woman catching her up.
“I see we're on the same trip,” the other said pleasantly enough, looking at the label on Aline's flight bag.
“Oh, are we?” Although the woman smiled and was friendly, Aline didn't feel any warmth from her. She was a good ten years older than Aline, mid-thirties maybe. She knew how to show off a good figure, and wore a cream designer jacket buttoned at the waist and a short skirt. Her silk top was opened low at the neck revealing her cleavage. She had a silver choker necklace studded with diamonds clasped around her neck and diamond earrings to match. Her strappy sandals had the highest of heels. Her whole appearance oozed sex, wealth and worldliness. She was tall and very attractive, with an olive complexion, dark eyes and glossy shoulder-length black hair.
“Were you on the plane?” Aline asked.
“Yes. I was just behind you.”
Aline was puzzled. “I didn't notice you.” Or smell you, she thought.
“Well, you were talking to the artistic pixie. Gerald, I believe?”
“Yes.” Aline ignored the rudeness about Gerald. It was obvious the woman had been listening to their conversation.
“Do you like my perfume?”
“You can only get it in Egypt, you know. It's from the special lotus flower which only grows in this country. The associations of it and many different oils go back over 6,000 years. This and many others, like frankincense and myrrh, were used for incense in the temples and other places. Many oils were used to heal, or excite the soul, also to ensnare a man. And of course,” she added, quietly, “to embalm the body at the time of death.”
“You know a lot about them.”
“I'm in the trade! I use the oils to make perfumes. I can make up anything you wish. Whether you want to soothe your body or become more desirable, I can do that for you.”
“I do like perfumes.”
“My name is Nephthys, by the way. It's an ancient Egyptian name. It means woman of the temple. And your name Aline means bearer of light, as you said. We sort of go together.”
Aline stared at her.
Nephthys smiled. “Ah, I must be off. I'm going home for a couple of days to my shop in town but I'll join you on the cruise ship. Watch out for me!”
With that she walked off. Aline watched her go. She felt an icy shiver down her back. She didn't know why Nephthys had made her feel so uncomfortable, and hoped she wouldn't turn up on the cruise ship.
After the flight there had been only a short night's rest. Then they boarded a coach in the early morning to Alexandria. The journey had been slow, hampered by a lot of early traffic, and then as the day wore on the sun had blazed its way through. When they arrived they headed for the Library where it was cool. Aline was so interested in the books and the sophisticated computer system that eventually she lost the rest of her party.
However, Gerald found her and, grabbing her arm, propelled her along at a trot.
“We're going now, Aline. I knew you'd be somewhere deep under piles of books and you weren't really that hard to find. I just had to ask one of the staff if he'd seen an attractive female with curly brown hair and, yes, he had noticed you, and I think kept an eye on you.” She laughed merrily. “Come on.”
Back at the hotel, Aline had a working dinner, making notes on the food and service, and then, although she would have liked to join the others afterwards, she went back to her room to write up her notes for the day.
It was quite late by the time she'd finished. She decided to go down into the gardens for a stroll. Just inside the fence she saw a shop with its lights on. Feeling curious, she went to look in the window. There were the usual touristy things, like tiny pyramids and tee shirts. As she stood quietly she heard a small noise to one side of the shop and as she walked round she saw a man in the shadows. It was difficult to make him out because she was in the glare of the light but she could just see he held merchandise in his hands. With relief she realised he had merely come to sell something. He beckoned to her.