'THE TIME HUNTERS AND THE SPEAR OF FATE'
Egypt. The Valley of the Kings. November 26th 1922. 2.00pm.
Howard Carter’s hand wouldn’t stop trembling. He mopped a thick line of sweat from his brow and stepped back to admire the sealed door illuminated orange from the torchlight behind him. The outline of the Royal Necropolis seal, the jackal and nine captives, was faint but unmistakable. Lightly, he brushed away a layer of dust, to reveal the pictogram behind. Carter recognised it immediately. In that instant, an older man’s voice met his ears.
‘This is it, Howard,’ Lord Carnarvon exhaled. ‘Look at the seal impressions, the cartouche. It’s him. I know it.’
Carter examined the doorframe. ‘It doesn’t mean this is his tomb, sir,’ he replied, keeping his voice as steady as he could. ‘Remember when Davis found the cache of Akhenaten. It was similar to this.’
‘Similar but different,’ Lord Carnarvon said eagerly. ‘On the other side of this door lies the forgotten one. I’m certain of it.’ His eyes shone with child-like glee. ‘You’ve found him, Howard. You’ve found him.’
Deep down, Carter believed his benefactor to be right, but he wasn’t about to voice it out loud. He’d suffered too many disappointments to feel anything less than cautious. ‘We shall see, sir. We shall see.’
‘Damn it, man - call me George, will you?’ Lord Carnarvon insisted. ‘You’re on the precipice of the greatest discovery of the century. I think we can drop the formalities. What say you, Evelyn?’
A young dark-haired woman with pearl-white skin clasped the older man’s hand. ‘Daddy, I really don’t think Mr Carter cares how we address each other at this particular moment. Isn’t that correct, Mr Carter?’
Carter’s heart was pounding so loudly he didn’t hear a word. ‘I beg your pardon, Lady Herbert?’
Lady Herbert smiled kindly. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘Go on then, man,’ Lord Carnarvon urged. ‘What are you waiting for?’
Carter swallowed hard. His gaze fell nervously on the hammer in his right hand, before settling on the chisel in his left. The same chisel his grandmother had given him on his seventeenth birthday. He angled the chisel’s nib on the door’s left hand corner and raised the hammer. BUMPH – a chunk of plaster fell away.
Inhaling a lungful of warm, stale air, he struck the chisel again. With a puff of dust, it broke through to the other side; he heard the soft crackle of plaster speckle the floor beyond.
His pulse racing wildly now, Carter pulled the chisel free to expose a small circular hole. Slowly, meticulously, he chipped away its edges, until the hole was the size of a dinner plate. Then he turned to the tall, moustached man on his left, ‘Arthur, could you pass me a candle, please?’
‘Certainly, old chap.’ Arthur Callender drew a candle from his shoulder bag, lit it and passed it over.
Dabbing his brow again, Carter inserted the candle into the blackness and watched the flame flicker left and right. ‘No foul gases,’ he said in a relieved voice.
‘Thank God,’ Lord Carnarvon said. ‘Then come on, man. Don’t keep us in suspense… take a look.’
‘And the best of luck, Mr Carter,’ Lady Herbert said sincerely. ‘You deserve it.’
Carter glanced back at her. ‘Thank you, ma’am.’ A nervous smile split his face. ‘Here goes nothing…’ He leaned forward and his head disappeared from sight.
It took a while for Carter’s eyes to adjust to the soft glow of candlelight, but when they did he saw a mass of objects surface from the gloom: golden objects - glistening, gleaming, as clean and flawless as the day they had been placed there.
In that moment, Carter knew he had fulfilled his lifelong dream. As a boy, he had visited William Amherst’s ‘Egyptian Room’ at Didlington Hall, and since then had been obsessed with Ancient Egypt. And now he had made the most important discovery in the history of Egyptology. Tears misted his eyes.
He had found the Boy King.
He had found Tutankhamen.
‘Can you see anything?’ Lord Carnarvon asked impatiently.
Carter took a long time to reply. ‘Yes,’ he said in barely a whisper. ‘Wonderful things …’
‘Let me see …’ Lord Carnarvon shuffled to Carter’s side. ‘Mr. Callender, would you be so kind as to get an electric torch?’
‘Certainly, sir,’ Callender said, turning away and exiting the passageway.
‘Howard, would you widen the breach so an old man can share in your glory?’
For ten minutes, Carter chiseled neatly at the hole, until it was as wide as a dustbin lid. At the same time, Callender returned with an electric torch, which he promptly handed to Lord Carnarvon.
‘I feel like a boy again,’ Lord Carnarvon said, his voice aquiver.
‘And you look like one, Daddy,’ Lady Herbert said. ‘I’ve never seen you happier.’
‘Aside from your birth, child, I doubt I have been.’
Lord Carnarvon gripped Carter’s arm, steadying himself, before directing the torch ahead. He sent a beam of misty light into the opening.
At once, the two men gave simultaneous gasps of astonishment.
The antechamber was overflowing with artefacts – gilded chests, ornamental plates, silver vases, a golden throne, disassembled chariots – all of them piled shambolically from floor to ceiling. Two life sized ebony-black statues of Tutankhamen faced each other on the North wall, as if guarding the way ahead.
Carter and Lord Carnarvon stood there for an age, silent, motionless, as the sheer enormity of the moment swept over them. Then Carter lowered his gaze. It was then something caught his eye - something he would never have expected in a million years. His head reeled. ‘Shine the light down there, please, sir.’
Lord Carnarvon noted the confusion in his voice. ‘What is it, Howard?’
Carter pointed downwards. ‘The light … there, please.’
Lord Carnarvon complied. To his surprise, the torchlight illuminated a wide assortment of children’s toys. ‘But they’re just toys, Howard. Tut was barely out of childhood when he died, it makes sense they’d be buried with him.’
Carter didn’t respond. Instead, he extended his arm, gesturing for Lord Carnarvon to move back. ‘Stand with Lady Herbert, please, sir.’
Lord Carnarvon looked confused. ‘What do you –?’
‘Move back!’ Carter bellowed, his voice rebounding off the walls.
Shocked by Carter’s tone, Lord Carnarvon stepped into the arms of his equally bewildered daughter.
Carter flung the chisel aside, and raised the hammer high. There wasn’t a trace of precision this time as - BAMMM - he slammed the hammer into the door. The walls shook; heavy clumps of plaster pounded the ground.
Callender had never seen his friend act in such a way. ‘What are you doing, Howard?’ he yelled.
Carter ignored him. Teeth gritted, he struck the door again, harder this time. The hole widened further; his legs were engulfed in a cloud of dust and plaster.
‘Howard, what the hell is going on?’ Callender asked. ‘You’re acting like a lunatic.’
‘Quiet, Arthur,’ Carter replied forcefully. Then, slowly, he leaned into the hole, his top half disappearing from view. He appeared to be scrambling for something on the floor. A moment later, he stood upright, utter confusion on his face.
‘Howard,’ Lord Carnarvon barked. ‘What has come over you?’
Wordlessly, Carter turned towards them. Cradled in his hands was an object, an ornately carved wooden object, painted in the most vibrant of reds.
Lord Carnarvon couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘My Lord!’
‘I - I don’t understand,’ Lady Evelyn gasped.
Callender had turned as white as a sheet. ‘I - it can’t be,’ he gasped. ‘It’s just not possible.’
Silence surrounded them.
Finally, Carter spoke, ‘What should we do?’
‘Put it back, man,’ Lord Carnarvon said at once. ‘We need time to think about this. Let us secure the tomb for the day, put it under armed guard, allow no one to enter, and we shall discuss the implications of all of this over dinner.’
‘But we’re having dinner with Charles Butterby tonight, Daddy,’ Lady Herbert said. ‘He’s made the trip from England.’
‘I don’t even know this Butterby chap,’ Lord Carnarvon sighed irritably, ‘but very well. We have dinner with Butterby and then the four of us meet up at my accommodations afterwards. Either way, we tell no one about any of this until we’ve had time to discuss it.’
‘You’re right, sir.’ Carter said. ‘And I apologise for raising my voice.’
‘Not at all, Howard,’ Lord Carnarvon said kindly. ‘I’m certain I would have been somewhat quick-tempered if I’d have been the first to spot it.’
Carter nodded. Returning the object to the antechamber, he delicately placed it beside the model of a funery ship, and allowed his gaze to fall on it one last time. His head reeled as he pondered the all-important question.
What was a toy double-decker bus doing in the tomb of the most famous Pharaoh of them all? A tomb sealed from the outside world for over three thousand years.