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Fiction. © Copyright 1997, Jim Loy
Lillian had short, blond hair under her Atlanta Braves baseball cap. She wore a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, and boots. Her shirt had dark wet spots, around her arm pits. Her face glistened with sweat. A drop of moisture was poised to drop from under the tip of her nose. She was studying the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
Nearby, her friend Abdul was also studying the face of the cliff. He disapproved of Lillian's clothing. Women should not dress like men. But he did not disapprove of her, for they shared a passion for ancient Egypt. They respected each other's competence. And they were friends.
They were part of an archeological expedition, a dig that was about a quarter mile away. Lillian and Abdul were out exploring, on the remote chance that they might discover a new tomb.
Lillian was examining a discoloration in the cream-colored limestone cliff. A discoloration was not unusual, but this discoloration made a rather straight vertical line on the cliff. A little ways to the right, she thought that she could make out another vertical line. "Abdul, what do you make of this?"
Abdul came over, making his way between boulders. After some thought, he said, "It could be a door." They studied the cliff face by stepping back and standing on boulders. They drew pictures and took photographs. Abdul went to get Johann, the leader of the dig.
When Johann saw it, he said, "Looks like a door. Good work. See this widening of the discoloration?" The discoloration widened at the lower left corner of the "door". "Tomb robbers dug a tunnel around the side of the door."
Lillian was disappointed. "Tomb robbers, horse feathers." She had learned never to swear in front of Abdul.
They started digging, later that day. They dug around the side of the door, just as the ancient tomb robbers had. They were modern day tomb robbers, but with higher motives, and they hoped to be less destructive.
Once they broke through, Johann lay down in the narrow tunnel, and pointed his flashlight into the tomb. He encountered an absolutely empty room, with featureless walls, no paintings. He described what he was seeing, for the benefit of the crowd of workers who clustered around the outside of their tunnel. He had to shout, so they could hear him, "It would appear that the tomb was never used. Tomb robbers could never have cleaned out a tomb this thoroughly."
Johann crawled further into the tomb. There was an adjoining room. He tip-toed on the dusty floor, and peeked into the other room. As he crawled out of the tomb, he explained "There's a large jar in the second room. Otherwise, that room is empty as well." He instructed Lillian to examine every inch of the floor. "See if anything large, like a coffin, has been moved around on that floor."
A bright electric light was shining from above. A faint cloud of dust hung in the air. The corners of the room were dimly illuminated by the electric light. Lillian was lying on her stomach, on the floor of the tomb, brushing the dust from the floor into a plastic bag (so the dust could be taken outside), and examining the floor with a magnifying glass. She was careful not to miss or destroy the smallest clue, remembering stories of how the very moisture in the breath of Egyptologists had caused paintings to crumble. And she worked slowly to avoid raising an even more stifling cloud of dust. She marked each irregularity, and every loose pebble, on a map of the tomb. She could barely hear the sound of the electric generator outside the tomb. Abdul was brushing another part of the floor, humming a tune.
With her brush, she slowly blazed a trail into the other room, up to the large jar. She would brush the rest of the tomb later. Clearing the trail to the jar took them two days. Johann carefully opened the jar. It contained a papyrus scroll. Johann took away the papyrus, to carefully unroll it and examine it in his tent. Lillian read it later.
The papyrus said:
The story of the great miracle of the empty tomb of King Ay. Written on the 15th day of the second month of the inundation season, in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Usermaatra-Setepenra, Son of Ra Ramses, given life forever. Recorded by the scribe Nefer-Djehuti, wife of Horhotep, who is General in the army of the Good God Ramses.
On the 11th day of the second month, it came to the attention of Horhotep that soldiers patrolling the valley of the kings had noticed signs that robbers had broken into the tomb of the Good God Ay, who is true of voice (dead).
Horhotep and I examined the outside of the tomb, and saw that a tunnel had been started. But this tunnel did not yet reach into the tomb itself. A trap was set for the robbers. And two nights later, Horhotep captured two robbers. These two robbers were later sent to cut stones in the eastern desert.
The next day, we finished digging the robbers' tunnel. And we examined the interior of the tomb of the Good God Ay. And we witnessed a great miracle. The tomb was utterly empty. There was no coffin, no paintings on the walls, no jewelry, no clothing, no furniture, no food, no Son of Ra. They had all vanished.
His majesty, the Son of Ra, Ramses, not having seen the empty tomb in person, nevertheless marvelled at this great miracle. He instructed me to record this great miracle, and to place a copy of the story within the empty tomb.
Lillian had never heard of a woman scribe before. But, that was not difficult to believe. Something bothered Lillian about the story on the papyrus. But, she couldn't put her finger on it.
She finished examining the floor in the two rooms. There was no evidence that anything large and heavy, like a stone sarcophagus, had ever been in the tomb. There had been no noticeable abrasion by human feet or any large objects. There were no paths to hidden doorways, just two empty rooms, for no good purpose.
In the papyrus, Nefer-Djehuti had thought that King Ay had been entombed here. Lillian didn't believe in the miraculous disappearance of everything in the tomb. It seemed that Nefer-Djehuti had been mistaken.
Lillian thought about the empty tomb, day and night. One night, she had a dream. In the dream, Nefer-Djehuti was writing the story on the papyrus. And she was quietly laughing to herself, as she wrote. Lillian woke up. She said aloud, "Why did they finish digging the robbers' tunnel?" She wrote this in her diary, and went back to sleep.
In the morning, Lillian talked to Johann at breakfast. "Why did they finish digging the robbers' tunnel? If they knew that the robbers had not gotten into the interior of the tomb, they should have just sealed up the tunnel and not disturbed the tomb."
Johann was silent, as he couldn't think of an explanation.
Lillian continued, "No scribe, and certainly no King would characterize the mysterious emptying of a tomb as a miracle. Instead it would be a disaster. No King could rest easy knowing that his own tomb might some day be mysteriously emptied, as well. How would he ever live in the afterlife, without a body, without food? The papyrus is a lie."
Johann was nodding his head in thoughtful agreement.
Lillian went on, "What if they already knew that the tomb was empty? What if they just wanted to document a great miracle? I think that Nefer-Djehuti already knew that Ay had never been buried there. They just wanted tomb robbers to read this, and not search for the real tomb."
Johann was grinning, "Very good, you're right. If Nefer-Djehuti was worried that a tomb robber might search for the real tomb, then the real tomb must be close to the fake tomb. If the real tomb was off in the distance somewhere, the robber would never find it anyway."
Lillian was excited, "Nefer-Djehuti lived not long after Ay. There may even have been people still living who remembered the burial of Ay. If they could be fooled by this miracle story, then the two tombs must be easily mistaken for each other. The real tomb must be right next door to the fake tomb."
That same day, they found the undisturbed tomb of King Ay. It took them several days to dig a tunnel into the tomb. And it was richer and more beautiful than any tomb yet discovered.
Note: these are the stories of Nefer-Djehuti, so far:
The tomb of Aye has been known for a long time. And, of course, its discovery was not as described above. The other stories, above, take place during the reign of Ramses II. So, if I am going to change this story, to take advantage of an undiscovered tomb, then I will have to change all three stories. That is not a problem. But, I am not diligently searching for such a tomb, at the moment.
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