No Harm Ever Came From Reading A Book
*completed: August 16, 2004 (6:38pm)
THEBES - 2,134 B.C
Anck-su-namun was a gorgeous, olive-skinned goddess born among mortals. Body paint, not cloth covered her as she strode with purpose and confidence into the inner chambers of Imhotep's home. She was the Pharaoh's mistress and no other man was allowed to touch her. However, one did. She smiled and welcomed the touch of the High Priest of Osiris. For their love, they risked death....
The huge chamber doors were pushed open. The Pharaoh had returned after several days away from the city. He had not been expected back so soon, but he was early. He glared at the gold skinned priets who scurried out of his path and away from his ire.
"What are you doing here?" the Pharaoh demanded. His attention was drawn to movement behind the curtain that led to the inner chambers. He threw the curtains open to find Anck-su-namun standing alone beside a huge cat statue. The look she gave him was heated. He stepped forward to greet her and noticed the smeared body paint on her upper arm. "WHO HAS TOUCHED YOU?!"
His sword was ripped from its scabbard and he whirled to face his attacker. "Imhotep? .... My priest...." But the first attack came from behind. Anck-su-namun plunged her dagger into his back. His screams of pain were quickly silenced when Imhotep raised the sword....
From outside there were shouts. Imhotep's priests grabbed him and pulled him toward the balcony. He resisted; he would not leave his love to face the wrath of the Pharaoh's bodyguards alone.
"You must go." She pushed him to follow his men. "Save yourself. Only you can resurrect me."
His priests hurried him onto the dark balcony just as the Medjai, the Pharaoh's personal bodyguard, broke in. Anck-su-namum faced them without fear. She looked at the Pharaoh crumpled at her feet. "My body is no longer his temple!" She plunged the dagger into her heart....
For murdering the Pharaoh, Anck-su-namun's body was to be cursed. As the High Priest of Osiris, Imhotep's duty was to carry out the sentence. Instead he stole her body and with his men raced across the desert to Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead. Her lifeless body was laid on the altar with her organs resting in five jewel encrusted sacred canopic jars. Imhotep opened the ebony Book of the Dead and recited the powerful words that would bring his lover back to life....
....The Medjai leader smashed the jar containing Anck-su-namum's heart and the spell was broken. Her soul fled her body with a hair-raising screech as Imhotep and his men were captured.... For their crimes, the priests were condemned to be mummified alive. Their horrific screams surrounded Imhotep as he was subjected to the Hom-Dai....
...His tongue was cut out and then he was wrapped in linen bandages. Completely wrapped, except for his eyes, Imhotep was placed in a stone sarcophagus. A basket full of hungry scarabs was dumped in as it was sealed. The dung beetles would eat him and be cursed along with him to live forever sealed in the grave at the base of Anubis' statue.
Imhotep, once the High Priest of Osiris, Keeper of the Dead, would remain undead for eternity. He could never be released for if he was, he would arise a walking disease, a plague upon mankind, an unholy flesh-eater, with the strength of ages, power over the sands and the glory of invincibility....
"AAAHHCHOO!!" His sneeze disturbed the quiet of the research library that was deep in the bowels of the Cairo Museum of Antiquities. Orlando dug out a fairly clean handkerchief and wiped his nose as he looked around guiltily. He really should return to his duties of cataloging the latest additions.
The only problem was that the photograph he had found of the hieroglyphs that told of the story of Pharaoh Seti the First, of his mistress Anck-su-namum and his Chief Priest, Imhotep, High Priest of Osiris. It was much more interesting than spending hours among the dusty old volumes that already filled the huge two story high bookcases that filled the room.
Surrounded since childhood with relics and treasures from Egypt's past, his bedtimes filled with stories of grand adventures, Orlando Bloom's imagination was vivid enough to fill in any details that the sparse hieroglyphs skipped. He could easily envision a gorgeous woman with olive skin and body paint who had captured the hearts of two powerful men. Avid reading of scholarly works and adventure novels provided him with lurid details of the execution of the Hum-Dai. A particularly nasty curse he could only recall one clear mention of when the Bembridge Scholars stated categorically that such a curse had never been inflicted simply because the consequences were too horrible to consider.
He slipped the grainy photograph into his personal notebook. He would file it in the proper folder once he was certain he had gleaned every detail possible from it. He wiped his nose one more time, shoved his handkerchief into his pocket and picked up the top three volumes from the nearest stack.
Hours later Orlando stood at the top of a ladder resting against a huge bookcase. He pulled a book out from the stack under his arm and blew the dust off. Carefully he inserted the volume where it belonged with the other titles beginning with 'S'. He adjusted his glasses and pulled the next volume out and read the title.
"Tuthmosis?" He frowned. "Now how did you get up here?" He looked to the bookcase behind him and saw the titles all beginning with 'T'. Deciding against a long climb down followed with another climb up, he set the remaining books he had under his arm on the shelf in front of him. Then carefully he reached across with the 'Tuthmosis' in his hand. His reach was a bit short. He held tight to the top of the ladder and leaned farther toward the other shelves.
"AHHH!!" The ladder pulled away from the support of the shelf. "Uhhh...." He dropped the Tuthmosis book and gripped the ladder tightly. Somehow the ladder balanced and he stood near the top like a stilt walker. The ladder did not move or even seem to sway for a very long moment.
Orlando slowly let out the breath he had been holding. If he could only reach out and grab the shelf nearest him maybe he could get out of this reasonably undamaged. He glanced down and swallowed hard. It really was a long way to fall. He shifted his balance minutely and reached out his left hand. His fingertips brushed the dusty shelf.
"AAAHHCCHHOOO!!!" The sneeze came quite unexpectedly and with enough force to propel the ladder and him backward into the other tall bookshelf. His back collided with the shelf as another sneezed added to the momentum.
The entire bookshelf unit tipped away from him as he rode the ladder downward. As the unit collided with the next, a chain reaction ensued. Each shelf tipped into the next and the domino effect traveled swiftly around the room. Orlando barely managed to crawl out of harm's way when the last of the shelves toppled onto the ladder he had been standing on.
"OH MY GA-AHHCCHHOOO!!" A fit of sneezes overcame him. By the time he finished blowing his nose and wiping his eyes, Orlando looked up to find a very unhappy Curator eyeing him.
"Look at this!" Sean glared at him. "Sons of the Messiah! Give me frogs, flies, locusts, Anything but this! Compared to you, the other plagues were a joy!"
"I'm sorry. It was an accident," Orlando quickly started stacking books.
"When Ramesses destroyed Syria, that was an accident." Sean shook a finger at him. "You are a catastrophe! Why do I put up with you?"
"You put up with me because I can read and write ancient Egyptian, decipher hieroglyphs and hieratic," he explained, "and I'm the only person within a thousand miles who knows how to properly code and catalogue this library."
"I put up with you because your mother and father were our finest patrons, Allah rest their souls." Sean let out a long irritated sigh. "I don't care how! I don't care how long it takes! Now straighten up this mess!" The curator stormed out.
Orlando stood still for a long time, wheezing slightly. He wiped his nose again. He was not a catastrophe. Was it his fault that the new display in the main gallery collapsed when he set a small stack of books on it? Really, it was quite sloppy of the workmen to not securely fasten the legs so when the smallest additional weight was added they collapsed. He pulled off his glasses and wiped at the dust on them with a corner of his jacket. Was it his fault that the crate of books he had been wheeling from storage decided to take a tumble from the cart it was on and crack like an egg on the staircase scattering books and papers everywhere? He had after all apologized profusely for interrupting the benefactors meeting. And as for the fire, it had been very tiny and contained quite quickly--
CRASH! His thoughts were interrupted when by something fell somewhere behind him. He spun around.
It absolutely silent even as he tried to quiet his breathing.... Another noise which sounded more like the shuffling of feet came from a nearby gallery. "Abdul?" He grabbed one of the torches. "Mohammed?" He peeked around the doorway. "...Bob?"
The statues of Anubis and Horus stared down at him. The flickering lights of the torches cast an eerie glow upon them and the other treasures from the Middle Kingdom. The shuffling noise came again, only much closer. Orlando swallowed hard. He was beginning to get a bit worried.
He walked slowly past a closed sarcophagus, and peered around the corner. The torch light glittered off the artifacts displayed on shelves behind the protection of glass doors. Orlando reached a sarcophagus that was open and paused. He leaned just a bit to see inside--
A hideous rotted mummy sat up and screeched!
"AAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" He backed into a display case, nearly toppling it over and almost dropped the torch.
Laughter echoed from within the sarcophagus as Johnny sat up.
"You..!!" Orlando yelled. "You..!!"
"Drunkard? Fool? Rat-bastard?" Johnny supplied. "At least call me something original." He lifted one of the half rotted legs up to wave it at his brother.
"Have you no respect for the dead?" Orlando shook his head as Johnny began to drunkenly climb out. "It's 1926." Orlando slapped his brother upside the head. "Grow up!"
"Right now I only wish to join the dead." Johnny grinned wider and accepted his little brother's help to get down from the display.
"Well, I wish you'd do it sooner rather than later, before you ruin my career the way you've ruined yours." Orlando rearranged the mummy approximating its original position. Then he sat down. "Oh, Johnny, I'm simply not in the mood."
"What's happened?" For the moment at least, the elder brother was serious as he sat down.
"The Bembridge Scholars have rejected my application once again!" Orlando sighed. "They say I don't have enough field work!" He clenched his fists and then relaxed them. "And I'm afraid I've made a bit of a mess in the library."
"My dear, sweet, baby brother!" Johnny looked directly in the dark eyes. "You'll always have me." The elder brother paused to belch before continuing. "Besides I'll have you know that at this moment my career is on a high note."
"High note? Ha! You've been scrounging around Egypt for how long now? And what have you to show for it? Nothing."
"Oh yes I do!" Johnny excitedly began searching his pockets. "I have something right here!"
"Oh no, not another worthless trinket, Johnny." Orlando shook his head in exasperation. "If I bring one more piece of junk to the Curator and try and sell for you...."
Johnny pulled out a small, ancient box from an inside pocket. It was covered with inscriptions.
"Where did you get this?" Orlando was instantly curious and grabbed it from him.
"On a dig down in Thebes." He grinned. Johnny knew his brother's weakness for ancient mysteries.
Orlando rolled the box around in his hands, mumbling to himself as he translated the hieratics and hieroglyphs covering it.
"My whole life I've never found anything," Johnny licked his lips in anticipation. "Orli, tell me I've found something."
Orlando's long nimble fingers played with the various little slats on the box, shifting them this way and that way. It reminded the elder brother of a Chinese puzzle box. There was a quiet click and the box opened to reveal a folded piece of golden papyrus. The young man carefully pulled it from the box.
"Johnny?" With a delicate touch, Orlando unfolded the ancient document to reveal a detailed map.
"Yes?" The elder Bloom leaned close trying to see what was on the papyrus.
"I think you found something."
Sean Bean stared through a jeweler's loop at the puzzle box. Orlando hovered behind, almost bouncing in his excitement.
"See the cartouche there." A long finger pointed to one particular area. "It's the royal seal of Seti the First. I'm sure of it!"
"Perhaps...." Sean sounded less than convinced.
"Two questions." Johnny leaned across the curator's desk. "Who the hell is Seti the First? And was he rich?"
"He was the last Pharaoh of the Old Kingdom," Orlando explained, "said to be the wealthiest Pharaoh of them all."
"All right, good, that's good." Johnny smiled. "I like this fellow, like him very much."
Sean picked up the map and studied it.
"I've already dated it." Orlando's enthusiasm was obvious. "This map is almost three thousand years old. And the hieratics over here...." He pointed to one corner. "It's Hamunaptra."
Sean paused. For a moment he looked very worried, but he covered quickly. "My dear boy, don't be ridiculous," he scoffed. "We are scholars, not treasure hunters. Hamunaptra is a myth."
Johnny's eyes were round with surprise. "Are we talking about *THE* Hamunaptra?"
"Yes. The City of The Dead," Orlando confirmed as he pointed to more details on the map for the curator to examine, "where the early Pharaohs were said to have hidden the wealth of Egypt."
"Right, right." Johnny nodded. "...in a big underground treasure chamber. Everybody knows the story. The entire necropolis was rigged to sink into the sand on Pharaoh's command, a flick of the switch! And the whole place could disappear beneath the dunes."
"All we know is that the city mysteriously vanished around 2,134 B.C." Orlando added.
"As the Americans would say; it's all fairy tales and hokum." The curator held the map closer to a candle lamp as he studied it. "Oh!" The corner of the map caught fire and Sean threw it to the floor.
Johnny and Orlando quickly dropped to their knees batting out the fire. The elder sibling picked up the remains of the map and the left third of the map was gone. "You burned it! You burned off the part with the lost city!"
"It's for the best, I'm sure." Sean quickly dismissed it as if there was nothing to be concerned about. "Many men have wasted their lives in the foolish pursuit of Hamunaptra. No one has ever found it and most have never returned."
"You killed my map." Johnny looked devastated.
"I'm sure it was a fake anyway." The curator turned to Orlando. "I'm surprised at you, young Mr. Bloom, to be so fooled." Sean reached for the puzzle box, but Orlando snatched it off the desk and gave the older man a suspicious look.
"Right this way." Sala Baker, the Warden of the Cairo prison escorted the Bloom siblings across the gallows courtyard.
"You told me you found it on a dig down in Thebes!" Orlando whispered.
"I was mistaken," Johnny whispered back.
"You lied to me!"
"I lie to everybody," Johnny admitted. "What makes you so special?"
"I'm your brother." Orlando glared at him.
"That just makes you more gullible."
"You stole it from a drunk at the local Casbah?!" Orlando shook his head in disgust.
"Here we are." The warden stopped next to a holding pen. His clothing only marginally cleaner than the rags the prisoners wore behind the bars, Sala Baker did nothing to make a good impression of himself on his visitors.
"And what is he in prison for?" Orlando asked.
"I did not know." The warden shrugged. "So when I heard you were coming, I asked him that myself."
"And what did he say?"
"He said...." Sala raised an eyebrow. "...he was just looking for a good time."
The interior cell door burst open. A man was dragged to the closest bars and shoved up to them. Orlando's first glimpse of the American was less than impressive. Mortensen was in chains with his face half hidden by long hair and a scraggly beard. He also sported an assortment of new and old bruises.
"But he's just a filthy criminal." Orlando took a half step back.
"Way to go, Orli." Johnny cringed.
Mortensen gave Orlando the once over, then looked at Johnny. "Do I know you?"
"No," Johnny hedged, "not really. We're missionaries here and uh...."