Authors: Michael J Marfleet
Tags: #egypt, #archaeology, #tutenkhamun, #adventure, #history, #curse, #mummy, #pyramid, #Carter, #Earl
The Adventure Behind the Curse
Michael J. Marfleet
First published in 2009 by
Apex Publishing Ltd
PO Box 7086
Clacton on Sea
Digital Edition converted and published by
Andrews UK Limited 2010
Copyright © 2009 by Michael J. Marfleet
The author has asserted his moral rights
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition, that no part of this book is to be reproduced, in any shape or form. Or by way of trade, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser, without prior permission of the copyright holder.
Production Manager: Chris Cowlin
Cover Design: Siobhan Smith
This book is a work of fiction based on historical facts. Names, characters, dialogue and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination, or are real and interpreted through the author’s imagination. Any resemblance in detail to actual events and dialogue of the time is entirely coincidental.
To the family Marfleet, past and present.
Thanks are owed to my late father, who inspired me to write this novel; my wife, Elaine, for her persistent help and encouragement; my closest friends, for their helpful opinions and advice; Mr. Bankes of ‘Bankes Books’ in Bath, Avon, who was kind enough to permit me to include a short vignette on a late friend who had met Carter; Mr.
R. Partridge, editor of ‘Ancient Egypt’ magazine, for his technical guidance; to those scholars who through their studies and writings provided the research material that made this novel possible, (all are listed in the bibliography); and to Howard Carter had the discovery fallen to a lesser man I have no doubt the peoples of the world would not now be enjoying riches so complete.
Perhaps more than any other in history Howard Carter was personally responsible for accelerating the reality of an ancient, lost civilization into worldwide public centre stage. But the traditions of his time limited any meaningful degree of official recognition for his achievements and, in the traditions of his time, the man quietly and modestly accepted this fact.
At his work, however, he was never ‘quiet’, nor was he ‘modest’. He was brave, committed, focused, patient, disciplined, accomplished, unyielding, unforgiving, confident, methodical, meticulous, arrogant, outspoken and stubbornly tactless. During his lifetime these last three ‘qualities’, along with his humble origins, were more than any other responsible for the lack of official acknowledgment from his home country. Happily there has been much acknowledgment since. Let us hope he can hear it.
This is Howard Carter’s story and the story of him whom he tenaciously sought and ultimately found. There is drama, humour and tragedy in the pages that follow, but above all, for those who seek it, there is knowledge.
Three final points:
This is a work of fiction based upon fact. I have tried to honour the reported facts and the scholarly conjectures.
Largely because the Egyptian hieroglyphs transliterate only to consonants there is no right way to spell any Egyptian word much less correctly pronounce it. The selection of the interceding vowels is the privilege of modern interpreters. In all cases the order of the consonants, transliterated from the original ancient Egyptian, is identical. The boy king’s nomen is a case in point. There are several variants in the literature, probably the most extravagant of which is ‘Touatankhamanou’, by Gaston Maspero, Director General of the Egyptian Antiquities Service from 1881 to 1886 and 1899 to 1914. In this narrative the nomen is spelled two ways: In the chapters
following the life and times of Howard Carter it is spelled as Carter had spelled it in his popular work, ‘Tutankhamen’; in the chapters concerning the boy king it is spelled in its other most common western form, ‘Tutankhamun’.
* Terms/names used in the text are explained in the Glossary.
Michael J. Marfleet Carmel Valley, California February, 2005
Putney Vale Cemetery,
6th March, 1939...
The end of winter and the beech trees remain leafless, their dark, bony arms silhouetted against a featureless grey sky. The grass lies uncut, brown, damp, thickly matted. The drab gravestones, lined up in serried ranks, are scabbed with lychen and variously tilt with age some ornately extravagant and hung with old, dew-heavy cobwebs; others plain, careful memorials, inscribed with deeply familial but quietly simple remembrances. All about, announcing regeneration, the daffodils are in glorious full bloom. Resplendent bunches of them grace the spaces between the roots of the old trees.
As the small party of mourners leaves the cemetery, one of the ladies trailing somewhat behind turns to look back at the grave site. The rude mound does not stand out amongst the profusion of others around it. Were it not for the few colourful floral tributes laid upon the rise of freshly dug earth it would be totally indistinguishable from any other.
“A common departure for so uncommon a man,” she whispers.
Yet, other than his commonplace appearance, there had been little of the ordinary in this man. And, although the lady admirer herself is unable to observe it, his departure had been no less unusual than his extraordinary life...
The general chose his time in the ninth year of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s reign. Events seemed to be falling into what might be recognised, by those inside the royal circle at least, as a natural order. The Pharaoh had fallen ill, to all appearances with ‘the sickness’ the same lethal pestilence that had struck the royal family and the people a dozen or so years earlier. Shortly following his return from the forbidden city he had complained of headaches and nausea. And there was some bleeding from the nose. Ever since he had come of age the young king, from time to time, had suffered from nosebleeds, occasionally prolonged. The form of assassination the general had designed should, with care, go undetected.
Tutankhamun was attended at his sickbed by those closest to him: his wife, his bed-servants, his principal advisers Parannefer, the high priest; Maya, who as treasurer held the purse strings of the kingdom; Ay, uncle of Akhenaten, the now long dead heretic pharaoh and father to Tutankhamun’s queen; the vizier, Nakht, administrator to the Pharaoh’s household and of Thebes; and General Horemheb, his military chief.
The priest was close to four cubits in height; a tall, spare, ageing man still with much of his own hair; a strict, inflexible man, controlled by his office and his beliefs, unyielding and often unkind in his discipline. Parannefer was so locked within his faith as all would expect him to be that were his sickly king not to recover, his most pressing need, in this land so familiar with the cruel hand of premature death, would be to ensure the survival and safe passage of his regent’s spirit through the treacherous labyrinth of the afterlife and into the eternal embrace of Osiris.
The treasurer was a sage man, somewhat shorter than the priest but well built, and younger looking. Maya was Tutankhamun’s father figure, deeply trusted, the man from whom the boy king actively sought advice the king’s mentor and instructor and he truly loved this king for himself, not just his majesty.
Pharaoh Akhenaten’s uncle was diminutive; he was old and he was frail, but also he was revered, for, although it was unlikely that his age would permit him, in the absence of issue from the royal pair, Ay was closest in blood line to the throne.
The vizier was a somewhat sheepish man, subserviently agreeable to his master but unsympathetically direct with his underlings. He was more under the control of the general than the young Pharaoh. This little man was most noted for the high standard of his personal stable. The general had always admired and hungrily envied the invariable quality of his harem. How this tiny, inconsequential piece of humanity could command such a beautiful retinue was beyond understanding. To keep this affectionate herd so close about him hidden within him somewhere he must have something far greater than his looks or personality.
And so we come to General Horemheb. He was most who knew him would agree an ugly man: short, squat, fat, remarkably repulsive in appearance and in nature, a man short on endearment, long on avarice. His fat lips curled slightly upward on one side of his face giving him a persistent leer; his nose was small and flat, the nostrils broad and prominent; his cheeks were puffy and oblate; his trumpet-like ears so large they protruded from beneath his wig; his eyes barely opened they were black, just distinguishable from within the slits of his eyelids which themselves appeared to open from the bottom as well as the top, rather like those of a crocodile. -The general’s personal appearance reflected the obscenity of his ambition. What he lacked of the elegantly slim, tall stature of Parannefer and the physically robust form of Maya, he doubly made up for in the energy of his malevolence. Holding no illusions about his physical appearance the general set himself to things he could more easily control. Things that would bring him the power to transcend his physical inelegance. In life he was already powerful enough to obtain for himself all that he wished. But there were more important things in death the guarantee of a richly blissful eternity that could only accompany the burial of the Pharaoh.
The general had long held personal aspirations for the throne, but by publicly visible natural accession, not by force of arms. Up to this point his scheming had succeeded. He had successfully conspired to ensure there were no living offspring from his regents’ union. Just a few weeks ago he had, through another, tried unsuccessfully to dispatch the king by a contrived accident. Now, to his great good fortune, the stage seemed set for a further attempt. This time he would see to it himself.
And he was preparing ground far beyond these ugly acts. He had been slowly but steadily maturing the matrimonial connection that, through the female blood line, should ultimately confirm his ascendancy. He had even thought beyond the coronation. To cement his pharaonic security and seal the inevitability of his eternal afterlife he would appease the people and the gods by razing the forbidden city built by the dead heretic. He would extinguish all visible evidence of that reign and wipe out any memory of the new religion that had, in the event, served only to destabilise the kingdom and confuse its people. Outwardly, to the people and the priesthood, the boy king’s death would become a natural physical manifestation of the gods’ displeasure at his clandestine return to that place. His passing should be fitting exorcism for their anger. But first the general must play villain again.
Isolated in a nearby valley in the desert not far beyond the belt of abundant vegetation and cultivation on the other side of the great river lay the tiny, closely enclosed village of Pademi. At the northern end of the single alleyway that ran the length of the stone built village the pale orange light of oil lamps flickered in the open windows of Hammad’s bar.
Parneb, the village scribe, basked in the uniqueness of his exalted educated position not only a writer for the illiterate hundreds but also the accounting controller of the tomb builders. He was to all the residents of Pademi, if not the most respected, the most important and powerful man in the village. For all that, however, he was still one of the boys, well known for his appetite for the ladies and a regular fixture at the local drinking hole.
Desire kindled by lotus scent fought the heaviness of alcohol. With his elbows firmly planted on the table before him, and his chin supported in his cupped hands, he gazed languidly over a cup of date wine at the Nubian seated opposite.
“A beer... A beer for your thoughts, Ugele,” he stammered.
Ugele, master mason, a tall, lanky black man from the southern regions and settled in the village these last several years, had three empty jars in front of him. “Oh... Nothing. The beer thinks, not me. But yes, I’ll take another. You have been here some time, scribe. You have yet more for barter?”
“I have bread... Plenty of it. My wife has been industrious as plentiful as she is in the begetting of my children may the gods bless her. Hammad is in need of bread.”
The scribe eyed up one of the washer women who was being more than usually attentive to the landlord behind the bar. In close embrace with Hammad she glanced over the landlord’s shoulder and caught Parneb’s eye.
“In the grip of thighs,” he moaned wistfully.
“Mmmm?” murmured Ugele, not really listening.
“Women,” mumbled the scribe, dismissing the wanton female with a turn of his head. He thought a moment and, staring intently at his friend eye to eye, he continued, “Ugele... You know me. I have been around to places and amongst women you would not dream of...”
‘Nor, perhaps, wish to’, thought the black man.
“...I have some advice for you. Advice you should heed...” Parneb nodded as if to drive the point home with his forehead. He leaned closer to his comrade. “...Love your wife in the house wholly and rightly. Fill her belly and clothe her back. Oil for anointing is the medicine for her limbs. Make her heart rejoice as long as you live she is a field profitable to her lord. Enter not into disputes with her she will withdraw herself before violence and sulk. Make her to prosper permanently in your house. If you are hostile to her she will become objectionable. Attempt not to direct her in her own house when you know she is an excellent housewife. Say not to her ‘Where is that thing? Bring it to me’ when she has set it in its proper place. Watch her with your eye and hold your tongue then you will be able to appreciate her wise and prudent management. How happy you will be if you go forth hand in hand with her. Many are the men who do not understand this. The man who interferes in his house only stirs up confusion and never finds himself real master in any matter!”
Ugele could hardly believe his ears. ‘His wife has caught him philandering again. Such hypocrisy! The man must be drunk!’ The black man returned, “Scribe, I know not what brought on this bout of philosophy, but it seems poorly chosen. You preach but you do not practise what you preach. So I have some words for you...
“Firstly, if you wish to maintain a permanent friendship in the house to which you are in the habit of going, whether as master, brother or friend or, in fact, to any place to which you have entry, strive against associating with the women there. The place that they frequent is not good for you. Only an imprudent man would follow them.
“Secondly, remember, a thousand men have been destroyed in the quest for what is beautiful. A man is made a fool of by their dazzling limbs. The pleasure lasts but for a brief moment even as a dream and when it is ended a man finds death through having experienced it.
“Thirdly, guard well against the strange woman who is not known in your quarter of the town. Do not cast longing glances at her. Have no intercourse with her, of any sort or kind whatsoever you know what I mean she is deep trouble, and where her currents may lead no man knows.
“And lastly, remember, in particular, when a woman whose husband is absent from her reveals her charms and beckons you to her every day and says there is no one present to bear witness and so arranges her net to snare you, you must resist. For a married man to harken to her is a most abominable deed which surely merits the penalty of death even if she does not succeed in her objective!” (Quotations of Ptahhetep, the sage, and the scribe, Ani. See Budge, 1926.)
The scribe was dumb struck. He had not faced so direct and eloquent a lecture before; least of all from an artisan, a man who worked stone. Speechless to respond in any meaningful way, he shrugged his shoulders and promptly changed the subject.
“We are rekhit, you and I, and should behave accordingly.”
“Rekhit. Hrrmph. Rekhit in caste, but little more than aperu in deed. Most of us are forever grubbing around in the dust and heat. You less so because of your learning clean, fresh papyrus and good inks there is much honour in the knowledge and application of writing. I envy you, Parneb... And your ability to irritate the competent artisan at your every whim!”
“I cannot help it if you and your men keep losing your tools. I have my masters, too. The priesthood is unforgiving. You should have my problems. It is I who must satisfactorily explain the misdemeanours of your team. I have to deal with the likes of Parranefer. I’d like to see you try that just once!
We each have a job to do. Mine just happens to be, among other things, one of control. It’s no fun being the perpetual bad guy.”
“We do not make you so. You should take your job less seriously... Where’s that beer you promised me?” The black man banged his fist down on the table between them.
Parneb signalled to Hammad.
“...And how about one for me?” The new arrival was a short, spare man all sinew and bones it seemed, but not at all weak for all that. The apparent frailty of his body belied the strength of his character and the power of his will.
“Dashir! The gods be with you. We thought you were working the foundry this night.”
“No, not this night. Mentu has taken my place at the foundry. Tonight I am to work my wife. She has summoned me. She feels the fertile time. I fear she will have me work very hard this night. I am, therefore, in need of drink!”
“Count your blessings. Would that my wife were so inclined! I fear she has closed that particular avenue off to me forever. I fear her tunnel is as dry as an old brick!”
“Count my blessings? Aye... perhaps,” Dashir sighed. “But there is no sport in it any more. The mechanics of it have made it a mundane pastime. Hours of anticipation days sometimes all over in a few brief seconds. But, I admit, the tunnel of my sister is not dry! At least, tonight it will not be so!”
The three men laughed together, as the beers arrived.
“Tell me,” enquired the lecherous Parneb, eager to get the details, “what will she wear tonight to excite your loins?”
“Not a lot!” Dashir answered, grinning. “But I hope she doesn’t scent herself up as she is sometimes wont to do. In my passion I am likely to grab her hair and the cursed stuff gets all over you. Uncomfortable afterwards. Difficult to get to sleep with wax hardening in your creases. Know what I mean?”
Experienced nods from the other two.
Dashir’s tale of anticipation had taken a firm hold on the attentions of his colleagues. Parneb leaned forward. As he was about to press for more information he felt a strong hand take a grip on his shoulder. He turned to look up into the face of his close neighbour, the master carpenter in the village, standing over him with a jar of beer in his other hand.
“Meneg! Didn’t see you here. What kept you?”
“The gods be with you all. Been talking outside with the spirits of my parents. It is a lovely night. Osiris is bright within the glittering firmament.”
“Ah. The gods protect them. Come, sit. Dashir entertains us with personal secrets! Haven’t had this much fun for months! Be seated and hush!”
“Neither has Dashir!” acknowledged Ugele. “We wouldn’t be being treated to this insight were he not in such an extreme state of excitement in
expectation of what he assures us lies in wait for him later this night!”
The fat carpenter winked at the goldsmith.
Dashir blinked back. By this time he had consumed several beers and was having trouble focusing. “Where...? Where am...? Where was I?” “The wax was drying in your creases,” said Parneb. “Ah,” Dashir acknowledged. “Most uncomfortable. Quite takes the edge off the passion.”