Explorer, Archaeologist And Defender Of Mankind
(Part Two, 1920-1922)

Where was I? Yes, I know, that's hardly an auspicious start to a memoir, but I finally settled myself down to do some writing, only to discover that my notes have vanished, and I can't remember where I got up to last time. (A proper writer doubtless wouldn't include this bit, but it is part of my life, which ought to make it a valid part of my memoirs. And I can't very well write anything else until I know where to start). And now I've spied the blessed things, so there we are. I knew I'd left them somewhere - and, just in case you should happen to be wondering, as you read this in your comfortable armchair (or in bed, or on the park bench, or whatever takes your fancy), I have just found the first - and last - draft for the previous part of this tale sandwiched between an IOU from somebody I play poker with - and which is utterly worthless since, if either of us had any intention of collecting on each other's IOUs, we would each owe each other somewhere in the region of five thousand pounds. Actually that would cancel it all out, theoretically speaking, wouldn't it, so maybe we don't owe each other anything at all, really - and a copy of the first chapter of the proposed biography that my dear sister is writing. Not of herself, no matter how much she has promised her fans and colleagues alike that she's about to begin writing that redoubtable tome, but instead a biography of Imhotep. Yes, that's right - the very same. It's an interesting story, since it sort of bounces a little at the end, so to speak, because he's died at least three times that I can think of. Very possibly more. Still, never let it be said that my dear sister sets herself easy tasks in life. That's my job.

So anyway, where did I get up to in part one? You probably know already of course, but then you have the advantage of having read it, whereas I have only written it - and that some weeks ago, on the other side of a period of some quite energetic celebrating of... of something that seemed to need celebrating at the time. I don't quite remember what. There was a statue involved, I remember that much. And somebody claiming to be Anthony Eden, or his brother or something. Tends to make one forgetful, that sort of thing, and yes, I am rambling again. Sorry. Bad habit.

I left part one of my tale at the end, more or less, of an unfortunate incident involving my three little deserters - old friends of mine who decided that they would much prefer to be my enemies. I call it an unfortunate incident because we had many good times together, and as far as I'm aware things did not end well for them. They were hanged, I believe, which is an unpleasant enough business in itself; but rather more so when one is personally acquainted with the people who are sent to the gallows. It's a bit like reading about the old 'Curse of Tutankhamen' all over again, and about the people who are said to have lost their lives to it - when all the time you know that two of those statistics are your own parents. It's harder to maintain one's objectivity, and all that. Much the same thing happens when one's editor tells one to cut out all the pointless rambling and unnecessary codswallop from one's memoirs. Objectivity be damned. He can make it sound as sensible as he likes, but that doesn't mean I have to listen. After all, these are my memoirs, not my editor's, and what does he know? I'd like to see him battle sixteen museum attendants possessed by the spirits of vengeful Greek warriors. He couldn't do it. Actually neither could I as it turned out, but that's not important right now. I've fired him anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Anyway. 1920. Key year. Things started to change direction for my family in 1920, which may or may not have been a taste of things to come. Early in the year the four of us went on a dig together for the first time in ages, and we found the remains of a temple dedicated to Geb. During the course of the day to be related here, my father found a stash of weapons, in remarkable condition. My mother dug up a pair of beautiful golden brooches, both in the shape of crocodiles, and my sister dusted off a huge wall of rock, and found it covered entirely in spectacular hieroglyphs beneath the rubbish of the years. I meanwhile found lots of sand, and a fascinating archaeological device that interested me for a while, until I realised that it was my sister's, and that she had dropped it some five minutes before. Since we were looking for relics somewhat older than that, I didn't really feel that I could add it to the list of our discoveries, so as usual my contribution to things was negligible. I never was any good at finding stuff. If my parents had taken me along with them when they went with Caernarvon and the others to look up old Tutankhamen, they'd probably never have found him. They'd have found some wandering tourist's lost pocket watch instead. (Try inserting a heavy sigh at this point). Anyway, the rest of the party was very happy with our findings, and my parents immediately immersed themselves in the writing of lots of lists, and the task of cross-referencing lots of other lists that they had written already. I could tell that they were excited because they wrote very fast, and also because my father's latent Scottish accent reared its head. Anyway, being rather less enthusiastic about such things, I left them to it, and instead went for a ride on my camel. He was called Roger, which is entirely irrelevant I grant you, but was probably important to him.

It was a fine sort of day, which isn't the sort of thing that I would usually remember (Egypt being generally inclined to be fine, where weather is concerned). This particular day, however, I remember better than most, for the rather enthusiastic shining of the sun was reflected on something in the distance, something like a telescope lens flashing when one sees it from far off. Intrigued, for I've always been the curious sort, I encouraged my recalcitrant steed to head in a suitable direction. Needless to say we began by heading on a different path altogether, but as soon as I realised that a certain sneaky cunning was required in order to steer old Roger, we began to proceed at something approaching a sensible pace. I had to indicate left whenever I wanted to go right, and to tell him to kneel down whenever I wanted him to speed up, but nonetheless in this somewhat haphazard (though admittedly interesting) fashion, we wound our confused way onwards. I saw the gleam again some minutes into the ride, and have to confess to a certain amount of excitement. When one has spent several days not finding priceless treasures in a gigantic temple positively brimming with the things, little events such as unexplainable glints and gleams take on whole new proportions. It might have been almost anything, and I don't mind telling you that my imagination was certainly coming up with a fair few ideas. Priceless jewels, having worked their way up to the surface of the desert after years lying beneath the ground; pieces of glassware, created for a long-dead pharaoh... The more likely explanation, which was that it was probably mere litter - and recent litter at that - did not occur to me. I'm not surprised, for to be honest it probably wouldn't occur to me even now, were I to be in that situation again. I always like to go for the most interesting explanation. Evie thinks that it's a failing, but then Evie, bless her, has never been wrong in an assumption yet, and can't for the life of her understand why the rest of us have to use guesswork instead of genius.

Anyway, to return to the matter at hand, I had been riding for perhaps as much as fifteen minutes - which sounds a long time when riding towards something that one has seen at perhaps not too great a distance, but is no time at all, believe me, when riding a camel called Roger - when it began to dawn upon me that this particular stretch of desert had a reputation for harbouring unpleasant types. You know the kind, I'm sure (or possibly you don't, gentle reader, being perhaps the sort of person who is unfamiliar with evil smugglers and dastardly pirates or with blackguards, thieves and cut-throats). At any rate, I do know the type, and let me tell you that by this stage of my life I was beginning to think that I had had my fair fill of them. Seeking out simple cut-purses and pick-pockets as a child, in an attempt to broaden one's horizons is one thing - and perfectly understandable, as I'm sure you'll agree - but running alone into large gangs of robbers the like of which would send Ali Baba running for his life is no joke, I assure you. Many's the time I've wandered in all innocence into a fine looking little tavern in some picturesque Egyptian town, only to find the place teetering on the brink of an all-out war between two rival smuggling gangs; or full of thieves planning their next raid, and not at all happy to be overheard by some visiting stranger. Admittedly caution does not come easily to me until after the danger is already painfully apparent (after which point, I'm happy to say, my self-preservation skills are likely second to none) but on this occasion, as I galloped (or attempted to, anyway, with Roger fighting me every inch of the way) across that blazing stretch of desert I began to wonder if perhaps it was entirely sensible to continue upon my present path without attempting, at the very least, to be less conspicuous. I could no longer see my goal of gleaming jewels (or glass, or telescope lenses, or whatever), and it was perhaps this that helped me to be a little more objective, and to consider my situation with more rationality. I brought Roger to a halt, which is to say that I positively screeched at him to run at his fastest, and then, by asking him extremely politely in his native language (which appeared to be somewhat archaic French (you work it out - I certainly couldn't)) I was able to get him to kneel. He did so, with considerable speed, sending me tumbling neatly down over his head to make a hard and heavy landing on the hot sand. I righted myself with much frenzied swearing, and glared at him as furiously as I could manage. He grinned at me. I would quite probably have hit him at this point, if only to demonstrate that I, as a human, was most definitely his master in all things, had he not chosen that moment to rise to his feet with a speed far greater than he had managed in anything else all day. He now had the advantage of me in height by some two feet, and I confess to deciding that our little lesson in manners and discipline could wait, preferably until he was asleep and I had somewhere safe to hide in a hurry.

So there I was, standing in the sand, some way out from my parent's camp, and certainly too far to shout should I require assistance, with no one save a moody camel for company, and only my favourite pistol to back me up - save for a small folding knife that was the only part of my archaeologist's kit that I ever seemed to get any use from. I felt quite heroic, facing who knew what dangers in this hot and quiet place, and quite forgot that I came out only to investigate a brief flash of glass. I became quite excited, which proves how long it had been since I had done anything remotely interesting with my time. Too many days spent in the company of my mother and father, not to mention my frighteningly straight-laced sister. Why, at that point it must have been upwards of a month since I had done anything even nearly illegal, and almost certainly that long since I had come close to getting drunk. Little wonder then that I was almost hoping I was about to come across a group of thieves or such like; somebody that I could perhaps battle with heroically, to recover from them the wondrous treasures that they had stolen from some nearby tomb. They would be treasures of immense value and great archaeological importance, which would win me great respect in my field, and would stop Evie sighing sorrowfully whenever she thought that I was wasting my life and my talents. (You can tell that she's my only, beloved sister, since she's the only one who ever believed that I actually had any talents to waste).

So there I was, anyway, out of shouting range of the camp, armed in a fashion that some might consider fit for fighting whole armies of wrong-doers and miscreants, but which I personally consider suitable only for dealing with one or two similarly disadvantaged foes. Drunken foes, preferably. And yes, I'm sure that there are those amongst you who are thinking by that comment that I'm just a coward; afraid to face better men than myself, or worried about doing so when less well armed, or indeed of an inferior physical strength to my opponent. To these people my own answer can be - yes, certainly I am a coward; if sense and common caution can be considered cowardice. How many of you reading this account now, safe in your libraries and your reading rooms, being served your evening glass of port, perhaps, by some liveried footman; or sitting up in bed with the lamp burning low, and your beloved lying close beside you - how many of you, I say, have been trapped out in the burning desert, with little more than a skin bag of water to sustain you should disaster strike, and with who knows what kind of foe waiting behind every dune; hiding behind every ruin; dug into sand traps beneath your very feet?

At any rate, onwards I progressed, ears peeled, eyes strained, or whatever the phrase; my camel, Roger, trotting at my side like some faithful hound. Typical. Once I had dismounted, the creature became as docile and as willing as any of the horses used to teach small children to ride upon quiet English country meadows in deepest Dorset (or such like). Why couldn't he have been like that when I was astride him? Too much to ask, I suppose. My luck has never run that smooth.

I had been creeping forward for some five or ten minutes, advancing slowly, ready to retreat again at a moment's notice; my gun clasped firmly in one hand, and my knife (the blade in sore need of sharpening, though there was no reason for an assailant to be aware of this) gripped in the other, when suddenly it became clear to me that I was observed. I suppose you're wondering how I knew such a thing - well let me tell you that it is no mean feat, to train one's senses to respond to such emergencies - to be aware of the hour of your darkest need, and alert you accordingly. Needless to say, my own senses were honed and sharpened such as those of few other men, save those who were trained by the armies of the world, to work in deepest secrecy and silence. And besides, I could see the fellow quite plainly, sitting upon a half barrel that had been set upon the sand. He seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that he was invisible, his seat being largely obscured by a piece of canvas sheeting very cleverly dyed and camouflaged, so as to blend almost seamlessly with the sand. Had it not been for my tacking to-and-fro as I progressed, such unnatural movement having brought me onto an entirely new course, I should perhaps not have noticed him at all. As it was I could see him perfectly, clear against the sand in his ragged white trousers and striped top. He wore giant black boots - sea boots, without a shadow of a doubt - upon his feet, and the large cutlass thrust through the massive belt around his waist told me in no uncertain terms that the fellow was a buccaneer - of a sort unmissable to all those who travel in the circles that have provided me with my closest acquaintances. I confess to being stunned into a sort of rigidity at this revelation, for I had been expecting to find nobody at all; save perhaps for some wandering tradesman, or a local intending to visit my parents' dig. They did that kind of thing quite frequently, partly to see if there was some small service that they could perform; a delivery or a requisition perhaps; and partly to see if there was anything worth stealing. The problem with a dig is that there can frequently be many small items of considerable value lying about, all as yet uncatalogued, and greatly tempting to any passing soul who happens to be light-fingered enough to pull off the snatch without being spotted. I know. I've done it myself.

I threw myself to the ground, then, hissing at Roger to do likewise, and trying to remember which command I had used before to make him kneel. I clearly recalled using archaic French, but this time he pretended he had never heard the language before, and instead, to my horror, became more frisky than ever. Gone was my recalcitrant companion of earlier; no longer was he slow or apparently miserable; on the contrary, he appeared suddenly to be a new animal entirely. It was only when, after much hissing, seething and sweating on my part that I finally let him go, that I saw the cause for his remarkable jubilance. It seemed that Roger and the buccaneer were known to one another. Letting out a curious sound of joy - half roar, half squeak - Roger leapt forward across the sand, performing that odd, rolling run that only other camels can reproduce. The buccaneer, needless to say, looked up in some considerable alarm, and swung a large gun up from the sand. He did not see me, or so I can only assume, for he gave no shout, and neither did he threaten to fire the gun. Instead he merely looked a trifle bewildered, and lowered his readied weapon. I thought that I heard him speak then, although I confess that by that point I well nigh had my head buried in the sand, and was no longer capable of hearing or seeing what was going on. How could Roger leave my side, and risk betraying my presence in so cavalier a fashion? Hadn't I treated him well? Hadn't I given him a clean blanket only that morning, and fed him on the unleavened bread and sticky dates that seemed to be his chosen diet? I had even given him a little whisky, much against my better judgement, and he had taken it like a true comrade in arms. And now here he was, a traitor, safe in the enemy camp, with his daft-looking head resting on the buccaneer's shoulder, and making peculiar grunting noises that seemed to be camel-speak for I'm very glad to see you again, and I've missed you very much. I hadn't felt so affronted and abandoned since Henry, the pet scorpion so beloved of my school friend Toby and I, had walked off into the desert without so much as a So long and thanks for all the insects. I vowed never to be on first names terms with a camel again. A trifle prejudicial perhaps, but at the time it seemed justified.

I was not sure what I should do next. Attempt to creep closer to the buccaneer and his devoted, four-legged compatriot, or return to the camp and sound the alarm? There seemed little point in causing a clamour as yet, when I had no idea what the buccaneer was doing, and yet on the other hand, I had little doubt that his intentions were of the nefarious kind. What else would a buccaneer - a sea-faring breed for the most part, as I'm sure you're aware - be doing in the middle of the desert? He certainly hadn't been shipwrecked there, and he was clearly doing his damnedest not to be seen. I began to consider a tacit withdrawal - had indeed begun to retrace my steps, at a most cautious crawl - when I heard an unmistakable sound. Roger, my runaway camel, was returning to me. I looked up; saw straight into his surprisingly adoring, large brown eyes; saw his goofy smile spread across that unutterably ridiculous face; and saw, standing just behind him, the buccaneer he had led to my hiding place. I groaned. Roger grinned. The buccaneer glared.

We returned to the fellow's camp, me feeling decidedly unenthusiastic about the visit, the buccaneer being in one of those gloating moods that these unpleasant types seem to favour when they suddenly find themselves in the grip of sudden success. Roger trotted at my side, his head held high upon his swaying neck, those permanently pursed lips still fixed in an infuriating grin. I tried speaking (to the buccaneer, I hasten to add; not to the camel) but received no answer. He clearly did not understand any English, but it was not easy to tell whether he was genuinely unable to understand Egyptian either, or was merely pretending for his own reasons. I tried Greek; the smattering of hopeless Italian that I had picked up whilst pretending to study in that country during my years at Oxford; the six words of German that I knew (how to order drinks, mostly, which admittedly was of little use in the current situation); and even made a vague stab at communicating in Ancient Hebrew. I confess that the latter was a stab in the dark born of desperation, to say nothing of frustration; but when one is in these situations, one is apt to try anything. I suppose that's why they call it stabbing in the dark. I tried that once, as it happens (stabbing in the dark I mean). Usual sort of situation. Bar fight, big man with big gun, lots of shouting and flying chairs. Add me, with a small knife, lots of struggling, and a good deal of being clobbered over the head - and hey presto, your typical stabbing in the dark situation. I missed, anyway, which rather backs up the theory. I missed my intended target, at any rate. Sank my three-inch blade, almost up to the hilt, into the sizeable rear end of the local law enforcer, a sweaty giant of a man who had not seen physical action of any save the most basic type, in some seventeen years. Happily therefore he had plenty of natural padding, and the result was not nearly as serious as it might have been. I left the knife where it was, found my way rapidly to the nearest door, and made a very good show of pretending that I had been nowhere near that particular drinking establishment that night.

I seem to be digressing once again.

Anyway, he didn't understand me (or appeared not to do so) and merely insisted, by pressure and sign language, that I was to sit on his half barrel and await further orders. He had relieved me of my weapons, and seemed eager to initiate a rather more thorough and personal search that I was determined to avoid, for reasons that I trust do not need expanding upon. He was clearly convinced that I was some rich young gentleman, connected of course with the nearby dig, and obviously was expecting me to be in possession of numerous trinkets and treasures recently excavated from under the sand. I tried explaining to him that I was Jonathon Carnahan, famed for being a discoverer of precisely nothing, and that my inability to dig up anything of any worth was known to just about everybody who ever travelled in archaeological circles. He stared blankly at me as I attempted to convey, in a mixture of sign language and loud English, my utter hopelessness at excavating priceless artefacts, and in the end I gave up and handed across my wallet. It was a small, modest affair, made of leather, and filled with a curious mixture of notes of many currencies and denominations; mostly Egyptian, some English, some that I probably could not have identified without a closer look. It was all genuine too, for the first time in at least eighteen months. I waved it at him, handed it across, and then suggested that he allow me to leave. I attempted to intimate that, if he did not do so, I would beat him into a pulp before abandoning him to be devoured in an instant by clouds of voracious buzzards, but I think that I lost him somewhere around the bit about allowing me to leave. He glared again, something at which he appeared to be unnaturally skilled, but he didn't try to search me again. Just as well since I had some more money stowed away an inner pocket, as well as a pocket watch of no small value, won in a poker game about six months before. The casing was made largely of gold, and there was an inlay of silver with some remarkable engraving, the whole a work of not inconsiderable skill. I didn't feel at all ready to part with it, and certainly not just because some pirate improbably stationed in the middle of the desert was in the mood for some easy money.

We must have sat there glaring at each other for half an hour or more before my captor's colourful associates finally returned from whatever they had been up to elsewhere. I saw them first, riding over the sand as though it had been a beach rather than a desert, apparently unmoved by the heat and the uncomfortable, dry wind. They were a brightly dressed bunch; mostly in loose white trousers, with shirts in every colour from red through to violet and back again. They all wore sea boots, and many had gold hoops in their ears, or rattling collections of colourful beads around their necks. They were chattering too, in a noisy cacophony of languages that seemed to include Egyptian, Spanish and French, as well as a fair amount of English. They didn't bat an eyelid when they saw me, and instead fell into a cheery chatter with my guard. Apparently they had left him to watch the dig, in the hope of seeing whether there was anything there worth stealing. With the size of their group they would have found no difficulty in over-running the camp, for my parents did not travel with assistants or servants as so many of their contemporaries did. Not for them were the ranks of local diggers, the men to look after the camels and the horses, the men with guns to provide some protection for the group. Instead it was merely the four of us, plus camels. It is not often in my life that I find myself in a situation that is utterly devoid of humour, at least given the bizarre things that I usually find myself able to laugh at; but I confess that at that moment things seemed pretty dire. It appeared that at any moment this crowd of brightly-clad buccaneers might overrun the camp, and do goodness only knew what to my family. I've felt pretty useless before - more than once, predictably enough - but rarely with as good a reason as at that moment. I didn't even feel flippant enough to feel angry at Roger, currently attempting to win his way back into my good books by nibbling my ears - although quite how he was expecting to win my affections by digesting vital parts of my anatomy is anybody's guess. Perhaps camels feel no particular attachment to their ears? Perhaps, when you're a camel, there isn't much to listen to? It's not often that you see a camel listening to a gramophone record, after all, or curled up in front of the wireless for the early evening light entertainment show on the BBC World Service.

They regarded me for some time, arranged in their colourful ranks, as they apparently argued over what exactly they should do with so unexpected a guest. I wasn't exactly expecting a dinner invitation, and I was rather hoping that they would get their deliberations over and done with. I wasn't sure what was the best course of action for me - running, fighting, hiding, quivering - but then it's difficult to know what to do, when one is surrounded on all sides by pirates. It's an awkward enough situation when at sea, or at the very least on the coast; but when one is stuck in the middle of the desert, with the coast a good seventy miles distant, it gets harder to know what to do. I'm not sure why that should be, necessarily, but somehow a pirate in the middle of a landmass is a far trickier character than a pirate on a ship in the middle of the Spanish Main. Perhaps it's the surprise factor.

They asked me my name, looked decidedly unimpressed when I told them, and then relieved me of my pocket watch and collection of cash. I objected during the latter incident, and received one of those warnings that one generally feels it best not to ignore. Not that it's easy to ignore a knife being jabbed at one's throat, whilst six sizeable nasties attempt to pull one's arms in at least four separate directions all at once. You know, once not so very long ago, Evie walked in on a bunch of heavies who were attempting to play xylophones with my ribs, and told me that if I behaved like a normal human being these things wouldn't happen to me - but situations like that one in the desert rather tend to disprove that theory. I'm sure that I was acting like a fairly normal human being, wasn't I? Going for a quick camel ride in a desert isn't exactly asking for trouble. It just goes to illustrate the general state of the luck in my life when a simple little jaunt like that can turn into a confrontation with a shipload of land-bound pirates, dressed like refugees from a children's story book, and looking as if they hadn't even noticed that the sea was nowhere in sight. Has that ever happened to you, dear reader? No, I thought not. Well just for the record it's happened to me twice.

I was fifteen the first time. It was 1910, and I was alone in Cairo because my family was away in the south, attending some seminar or other on Ancient Egyptian deities. I mentioned the occasion in passing during the first part of my memoirs, but I glossed over it rather at the time. Anyway, there I was, bored and restless and thinking about school - I would soon be returning, and was none too enthusiastic about it. After all, that unfortunate incident involving my house master and a pet scorpion named Henry was not all that far behind me, and I was still expecting certain recriminations of one sort or another. Nobody has as long a memory as a teacher, and no teacher has as long a memory as a house master. My father remained unmoved by my concerns, however, and merely told me that there was nothing wrong in keeping pet scorpions. That was of little help since I was already convinced of that point; what I really wanted was advice on how to deal with a paranoid, scorpion-hating house master with a vengeful streak. My mother, who had no experience at all of English public schools, and was convinced that a house master was a sort of honorary uncle who distributed home-baked shortbread and good will in equal measure, merely smiled at me sweetly, and told me that maybe next time I should choose a more conventional pet. (This from a woman who once kept an asp in the bathroom, and had a fish tank full of scarab beetles in the front room. I shall never forget the occasion when a visiting Englishwoman, shocked beyond all measure by the sight of the beetles devouring three dead mice that Evie had proudly fetched from somewhere in the garden, ran for the bathroom in order to compose herself. She was still screaming half an hour later, when her husband finally persuaded her to come down from on top of the bathroom cabinet, and certainly didn't stop until she was out of the house and far out of my hearing. My mother spent the next ten minutes consoling the somewhat startled asp, and had to bribe it with its favourite food before it would agree to start hissing again. Dratted thing. It was always escaping, and we'd all have to creep around the house, poking everything before we touched it, to make sure that there were no large slithery fanged things lurking nearby. It was called Apis. Funny how you remember these things).

Anyway, at the height of my boredom I decided to go for a camel ride, so I hired a creature named Adil and headed off into the desert, with nothing but a canteen for company, as well as a rather large and chunky pistol that my father had given me, and which was almost as temperamental as the camel. I had to keep it unloaded most of the time, because of its disturbing habit of firing itself at unexpected moments. It looked good though, and I was fairly accurate with it. As far as I was concerned, as long as I had that gun with me I was invincible, but I was young enough in those days to be oblivious to the streak of bad luck that follows me around like a shadow.

I had been riding for about an hour when I stopped for a moment to check my bearings. Getting lost happens to be one of my greatest talents, but it's one that I try to exercise as little as possible. Anyway, there I was, compass in one hand, Adil's reins in the other, when what do I see coming towards me but a train of some twenty horses, all bearing characters that could only be colourful buccaneers, escaped, perhaps, from the pages of a particularly fanciful tale of swashbuckling adventure. They were of all colours and nationalities, talking together in at least half a dozen different tongues, and were dressed in such a remarkable collection of silks, satins and velvets that they looked almost like rich merchants journeying to a distant market square. The lead camel was draped with all manner of flags and pennants, however, and amongst them the Jolly Roger was clearly in evidence. Pirates, this far inland? I confess to some amount of confusion, but decided in the end that perhaps they were prone to seasickness. Either that or they had lost their ship - to a storm perhaps - and had come to realise that there were just as rich pickings to be found on dry land. I was a little carried away by the idea of joining them; of being a dry land pirate with gold rings in my ears, and a red silk shirt billowing in the wind - not to mention no small amount of stolen riches to help make the world a brighter place. What more could any growing boy want? Save, perhaps, for one thing.

In 1910 there was not a lot of sex education to be found; and I'm not just saying that as a passing comment. I was fifteen years-old, and knew nothing about the opposite sex save what I had learnt from those females that I encountered during the course of my life - namely my mother, my sister, and an ageing local woman who dropped by when she felt like it to help with the housework. There were positively no women at Eton, and the books that we studied in class seemed to be carefully selected to ensure that women were not mentioned. It was, in short, the only innocent time of my life - and that was all about to change.

She was in the middle of the group of pirates - a girl of my age, perhaps, or possibly a little older; local most likely, although it looked as though her father might have been one of the many wandering tradesmen who harkened from Asia. She must have been about my height, with long black hair and dusky brown skin, and the sort of dress that would have made minds more innocent than mine sit up and take notice. I was just beginning to gulp in appreciation, and wonder why I spent so much of my life at a school that allowed only boys, when the group of land-lubbing buccaneers drew closer, and I found myself looking down the business end of two chunky machine guns, a pair of Winchester repeater rifles that looked as though they might have done service in the American Civil War, and a blunderbuss that was probably older than half of Cairo. I smiled. The pirates glared. The girl, the reins of her camel held by one of the men, eyed me with a look that I now realise must have been mild hope for her deliverance from captivity, but at the time looked unmistakably flirtatious. Not that I knew at the time what flirtation was, but you can be sure that I was a very quick learner.

I was not sure what fair dream state it was that gripped me as I was compelled to climb down from my camel. Not fear, that's for certain. (Well, okay, maybe a little bit). Whatever trepidation I might have been feeling, however, was entirely overwhelmed by the curious lightness that I felt within my heart and my head as I stared at the glorious vision before me. Okay, don't worry - that's the romantic interlude over with. It's just that these things have a pretty hefty effect on one, when one steps out of enforced innocence into something so very much more interesting. Unless you're from a similar generation to me, dear reader, that is something that you have almost certainly missed out on - knowing nothing of such things, and suspecting nothing, and then suddenly finding them all out in so wonderful a rush. Mind you, that does tend to lead to one perhaps overdoing things... making up for all those years of innocence in a period of intensive... 're-education' might be the most tactful way of putting it. Anyway, that's my excuse.

I forget what the pirates said to me. The usual - give us your money, give us your camel, give us anything else even remotely stealable. I handed them over of course; there's very little point in objecting, when you're outnumbered twenty to one, and the twenty in question are all at least a foot taller than you are. I was fifteen, remember. Small for my age too. Scrawniness, I'm afraid, rather tends to run in my family. They took my gun as well, and my little pocket knife that I used to use to attempt to carve pieces of wood into 'relics' that unsuspecting visitors to the area might be willing to buy. Don't tut and look so disapproving. I freely admit that I'm a cad, but who cares about such things, really? What's a few hundred pounds, illegally obtained here and there? Actually quite a lot I suppose, especially with how much more the money was worth back in those days. I didn't always get away scot-free, anyhow, so don't frown down at me from your moral high ground. I paid my dues. Occasionally.

We argued for a time, the buccaneers and I - they being of a mind to kill me, and I being quite anxious to stay alive. It soon transpired that they were taking the girl - Kashmira, I was later to discover her to be called - to sell her in some out of the way market place, where such things were still able to continue beyond the sight and minds of the resident British. They discussed for a time the likelihood of their being able to sell me - all five-foot-and-not-much-else of me, in its skin-and-bony glory - and eventually arrived at the decision that it was unlikely they would be able to make much on the deal. In those days (and actually still in these, now I think about it) the trade was not so much for workers or tutors, or any of the old traditions of slavery as practised by Romans and Greeks and pre-Civil War Americans and the like, but was largely just in pretty young girls for... well, for reasons that I was fast beginning to learn. What the girls were supposed to get out of the deal is anybody's guess, but then presumably that wasn't the issue.

At any rate, they decided that there would be very little point in trying to sell me, what trade there was in young boys being more towards the athletic and muscley side of things, and the general consensus appeared to be that they should knock me on the head and leave me for the buzzards. Or vultures. One of those doesn't live in Egypt, right? Zoology never was my strong point. Is anything? It was Kashmira who came to my rescue, declaring in a particularly loud voice that she would refuse to continue with the journey if they killed me. An interesting stand for a helpless captive to make, but nonetheless it seemed to have an effect on her captors, who conferred amongst themselves in very loud whispers, using an interesting mix of Spanish, and at least three local dialects. Needless to say they left me far behind, and all that I was sure I had heard correctly was something about the possibility that I was related to somebody exceedingly rich. There seemed some considerable interest in this point, which I was happy to fuel with repeated assertions that I had lots of money, and that my parents owned half of Egypt. I think I claimed to be directly related to Cleopatra, too, which might have been overdoing things slightly, but they seemed more amused than annoyed, and obviously put it down to mere youthful enthusiasm. At any rate they were moved by my argument, and even more so by the suggestion that there might be a sizeable ransom on the horizon, and they soon agreed to taking me along. I was put onto my own camel, scrawny old Adil, and the reins were taken up by a swarthy giant of a pirate with at least six gold rings in his left ear, and a moustache so big that it might well have had birds nesting in it. He was called, with that distinct lack of originality that so abounds in pirates, 'One-Eyed Pete'. It's a common enough name when you're a buccaneer, so presumably he had chosen it for mere convention's sake, and was not at all put off by the fact that he very definitely had the full compliment of eyes. I doubt that Pete was the name he was born with, either, given that he was French; but perhaps One-Eyed Pierre doesn't have quite the same attraction for a seven-foot ruffian in a stocking cap. I wouldn't know.

So there we were, riding along together; the buccaneers singing the occasional jolly song, and laughing and joking amongst themselves, and Kashmira and I making the kind of awkward, half-shy chat that occurs when two young people meet, and discover a mutual attraction. At that point I was just beginning to realise what 'attraction' truly meant, for until then I had known it as something chiefly concerned with magnets; you can laugh, dear reader, but it was a very different world back then, and reading the occasional lovelorn poem in English Literature lessons - some sonnet written by Shakespeare hundreds of years before, and read aloud by a ninety year-old professor with all the passion of a piece of stale bread - simply does not give one any indication at all of how real attractions actually work. Kashmira, I could only assume - and, later, discovered (wow!) - was very much more experienced, and yet no less shy as we rode along together. The women of Egypt were a demure race, however, and although not all were given to wearing veils, none of them were particularly flashy. Kashmira was of the kind given to bashful smiles and embarrassed eyelash fluttering, whilst all the time leaving my fifteen year-old heart wondering what the hell was happening to it. It's not easy having a sexual awakening when a giant pirate named One-Eyed Pete seems constantly on the verge of changing his mind about ransoming you, and instead deciding to have you sliced and diced and fed to... well, to the buzzards or the vultures, whatever. Perhaps even both.

She told me her name, anyway, and informed me that she was the daughter of an Indian spice trader, shipwrecked on a desolate African coast and washed up in Egypt; and also of a lowly Egyptian washer woman who struggled to make ends meet. The Indian father had died of a fever not long after the marriage, and his ashes had been scattered at sea. Kashmira told me how she remembered him only faintly, and could barely recall the few words of his own language that he had taught to her when she was a very small child. Such tales seem infinitely more powerful when you're fifteen, and every emotion is heavily underlined in lots of red ink, and I believe that we made many pacts together, about how we would one day seek out her relatives far in the East, and let her see the country that was hers by half her birthright. We had plans to sail across the Mediterranean, and trek across land - by rail, perhaps, to Russia, and then by horse to India. Well, one makes these promises when one is imprisoned and in fear for one's life. Certainly when you're fifteen nothing seems easier than trekking thousands of miles across the world in order to find a nameless bunch of relatives in an unknown village in the middle of one of the largest countries in the world... Looking back it does seem a fairly daft vow to have made, but I still believe that I could have done it. India wasn't so very far away, even in 1910.

I told her my name as well, and that my parents were archaeologists. That was all that I could say, obviously, for to tell her any more would have been to let the buccaneers know that I was by no means rich. That would have meant a swift end to everything, my blooming romance and my life included. Instead I concentrated on telling her what little I knew of the Ancient Egyptians, making up whatever I was uncertain about, and therefore managing to seem the greatest authority on the Pharaohs that has ever walked the Egyptian deserts. Kashmira was impressed, and even more so when I told her about the fabulous treasures that I had helped my parents to dig out of the sand - the golden bracelets worn by long-dead kings and queens; the crowns and coronets glittering with precious gemstones; the weapons made by long-ago masters of the metal arts, still marked by the action they had seen in battles fought before the days of the Roman Empire... I have to confess that I fair impressed myself after all of that, and quite forgot that the sum total of my discoveries so far in my life was a stone jug filled with seven thousand year-old wine that my father absolutely refused to let me drink. Mind you, I was only six years old at the time.

We exchanged stories after that, about our lives so far, and about the things that our parents always refused to let us do. Kashmira had always longed to visit the street performers, and watch them as they did their myriad tricks and displays. Her mother refused to let her go, for fear that something would happen to her in the thick crowds that were always present at such events. In the end Kashmira had sneaked out of the house and gone anyway - and been spotted by our grim bunch of land-lubbing buccaneers. There had been a brief chase involving a fruit stall (don't these sorts of chases always involve fruit stalls?), before she had been apprehended in the kind of dark alley that people like me are woefully familiar with. A lesson in why you should always do as your parents tell you, I suppose - but then if I had spent my life doing what my parents told me to do I'd... well, I'd be a successful archaeologist and probably a rich man, so maybe there is some sense to the notion; but that's by the by. I told her about my friend, the young camel thief called Abdul who had led me so impressively astray the previous summer. She told me about her first boyfriend, with whom she had fallen in innocent love when she had been just a child of fifteen (oh lord, and there I was thinking that we were of a similar age). I told her that long ago, when I had been just a child of fifteen (well lying always was my one greatest talent) I had fallen in love with a girl, and I managed to remember enough of my Shakespearean sonnets to sound reasonably adept in matters of the heart. Kashmira, who as it turned out knew her Shakespeare rather better than I did, was probably not in the least bit fooled, but I battled on regardless. By the end of it even I was beginning to feel a little teary-eyed for my long lost first love, Rebecca, and to regret the heart-rending circumstances of our separation. Given that Rebecca was the name of my school friend Toby's older sister, a snooty young woman of twenty-two whom I had met only very briefly when she had arrived to pick Toby up at the end of one school term, I can only hope that my choice of that name was not an indication of some subconscious suggestion of a childhood crush, for the girl was a veritable nightmare. Hardly the stuff of teenage dreams, even when you don't know one end of a girl from the other.

We made camp that night when the city that was our intended destination was just on the horizon; a distant flicker of lights and surrounding campfires that made it appear as though the edge of the world was on fire. It was a particularly clear night, with a million and one stars overhead, and a perfectly curved, crescent-shaped moon hanging surprisingly low in the sky. Perfect circumstances for a romantic evening, I suppose, although I've never been the romantic type. Most of the women in my life have been the fiery kind though, and have not really been the sort to appreciate romance. Loud bars, loud music, plenty of whisky, and a shower of cheap jewellery and they're happy. Perhaps Kashmira was different - that night I didn't really get the chance to find out, for although I spent it close by her, I was tied by my wrists to the same stake that had been driven into the ground for the purpose of tying up my camel, and also the one ridden by Kashmira. Little chance of progressing with our relationship, then, particularly when we were closely guarded all night by One-Eyed Pete, and his comrade One-Legged Sam. Sam, needless to say, had two legs not one, but I was no more inclined to point that out than I was to point out to Pete that he had two eyes. A gaunt figure with a face like tightly stretched sack-cloth, Sam spoke only Hungarian, which was a shame since nobody else in the party understood a word of it. He communicated in extravagant sign language, along with very slow, loud speech, such as that employed by those irascible Englishmen who fail to accept that not everybody in the world shares their mother tongue. He was entirely bald, save for a tiny goatee right in the centre of his chin, which was of a coppery-red colour in distinct contrast to the jet black of his beetling brows. He sat down between Kashmira and me, a massive rifle that would have made short work of an elephant stretched across his lap, and proceeded to fill a gigantic pipe with a tobacco so strong and offensive that it would have knocked out even a man who was devoid of the sense of smell. Nonetheless Kashmira and I endeavoured to talk for some while, exchanging short monologues on the beauty of the evening, and how we hoped that the events of tomorrow would not see us parted forever - but soon enough One-Legged Sam grew tired of our chatter, and told us in no uncertain terms - with much drawing of fingers across his throat, and the making of furious sounds such as men make when being violently throttled - that he would make short enough work of us if we didn't shut up. We shut up. I remember lying on the cold sand, watching the offensive smoke of Sam's remarkable pipe as it wound its way up towards the stars, thinking that if Eton didn't change its mind and agree to admit girls, I would quit its solemn ranks just as soon as I could write a letter to the headmaster. No doubt the chance of being rid of me would hardly have caused him to make the school co-ed, but I composed a furiously passionate letter to him anyway, and would perhaps even have written it, had I not been tied up, lost in the desert, and entirely without writing materials of any kind. I'd have got Kashmira to sign it too, just to make a point.

I didn't sleep much that night, although I must have drifted off eventually, for I had to be shaken awake when dawn came. It was cool then, the cold of the preceding night giving way to the first early signs of the heat to come. We had some water for breakfast, although clearly imprisonment didn't entitle one to anything further. To be honest I couldn't have eaten anyway, for I was a trifle nervous about what was to happen when we arrived at the town. Once the pirates had made enquiries, they were quite likely to discover that I was not actually the son of a rich English couple, but was in fact the useless brat of an almost penniless archaeologist, and a local woman who by no means came from the richer side of Egypt. They would soon discover, today perhaps, but almost certainly by tomorrow, that the best they were likely to get as a ransom was an advance copy of my father's latest paper - something about the system of irrigation which had allowed Ancient Egypt to grow crops quite some distance from the fertile banks of the Nile. That and a box of my mother's home-made sticky date cakes. My life would not even be worth the proverbial brass farthing, although to my love-sick teenage mind certain death might have been preferable to a life without Kashmira, once she had been sold to some ageing merchant with a roving eye. See what I had to contend with? Let me tell you, it is not an easy thing to suddenly have every one of your hormones discover itself at the same time.

We reached the town when the sun was still rising, and the day was still comparatively cool. The market was in full swing, with everything from fruit to camels being sold in the same small patch of ground. The camels stalked up and down, treading on the newly baked bread and the dates that were drying in the sun; the pottery teetered in uncertain piles on top of heaps of material and freshly made clothes; small children wandered and babies lay squalling in the shade, whilst their mothers ladled coffee and stew and such like into bowls for their customers. Chickens screamed and flapped their wings; goats chewed merrily on the cloth, the bread, the dates and the small children; rats ran willy-nilly over everything; and one or two rather more organised gentlemen in fairly good quality clothing attempted to sell leather-bound books and tightly rolled maps to those customers with more discerning tastes. Pick-pockets ran every which way, their pursuers tripping over chickens; and women dressed in white came from the local inns, bringing great stone jugs of wine and ale to sell at long trestle tables set up by small boys. In short it was the usual thing; that mixture of the controlled and the chaotic that makes up any market place, here with the added interest of new sights, for me at least; a stall offering to buy small boys and teach them to swallow swords and juggle fiery sticks; a man selling that particular brand of 'tobacco' that my father had never let me try (although I'm certain that he smoked it often enough, when he had friends round to visit); and a rather shady looking character selling relics from the tombs (genuine ones, I could tell, and definitely worth rather more than he was asking). His was the sort of display that would have sent my parents into another of their mad fits of delight that invariably led to the excitable making of lists, and the inexplicable desire to start cross-referencing other lists. Sadly this is yet another trait that my sister has inherited, which makes her a considerable embarrassment whenever we are invited to dinner at a house that contains plenty of heirlooms. Fortunately most people find her enthusiasm rather quaint, but such tolerance doesn't stop me trying to disappear under the nearest table whenever she gets that gleam in her eye.

Our party moved rather quickly through the turmoil at the centre of the market, and came to a halt beside a stall that was obviously still in its infancy. One or two girls lay around, most of them looking not in the slightest bit perturbed over their looming fate. Perhaps they were hoping that their sale to rich older men would mean a more interesting life, or perhaps they had been fed enough of the local wine for them to have ceased caring. At any rate they did not seem to have any guards, and my sizeable band of colourful buccaneers rather swamped them. Our leader, a giant of a man with a huge black beard and a massive St Christopher drowning in a forest of chest hair, sent most of the band away, leaving himself with One-Eyed Pete, the utterly useless (when it came to market-place bartering) One-Legged Sam, and a pair of other beauties named Casey (a one-armed Irishman with vividly blue eyes and a permanent squint) and Eudoxus (a nautically named Ceylonese with silky hair down to his girl-like waist, who dressed from head to toe in sky-blue silk and was as vicious a character as ever I hope to meet). They sat Kashmira and I down together on the edge of the little dais that was the stall, and chattered away together in one of their numerous languages. One-Legged Sam, who must have been used to being left out of conversations, prowled about upsetting the neighbours, picking quarrels with camel dealers, and knocking over bubbling urns of simmering coffee. He tripped over the chickens, swore at the goats, trod on the sun-drying dates, and tied to steal kisses from quick-tempered women more than capable of fighting him off. Our leader, who I think was called Niko, bought copious amounts of that magical brand of tobacco so freely available in those parts, which I think he hoped would calm Sam down. They all smoked it, and I confess that the proximity to so much of the stuff began to have something of a remarkable effect on my own tired and strained brain. The troubles and worries of my approaching death, to say nothing of Kashmira's terrible fate, began to seem like nothing to me, and I was certain that I could easily solve all our problems. Who wouldn't after half an hour spent in a cloud of other people's fortified marijuana smoke? I became convinced that the entire situation was frankly rather amusing, and indeed giggled so much at the prospect of my certain doom that the market-goers who were nearest to me began to look as though they suspected I was somewhat touched. Kashmira joined me in my giggles, and when I suggested to her that we should attempt some kind of an escape, she agreed wholeheartedly. I should add, perhaps, that at that time I was tied by one wrist to One-Eyed Pete's massive belt, and that Kashmira was being constantly surveyed by the cruel and willowy young Eudoxus. All five of our guards were heavily armed, most of their weaponry was already drawn or was readily available, and not a single one of them was more than six feet away. Some, such as One-Eyed Pete, were closer still. It was readily apparent that time was running out for us, however, and even had we not been so affected by our captors' remarkable smoke, we would have had to do something very soon, if we were to avoid our respective fates. The sun was rising, and the market place was rapidly filling with clamouring crowds of every description. It would certainly not be long before the varied selection of girls were put up for auction. Obviously something had to be done, and who better to do it that yours truly, the most heroic fifteen year-old ever to stagger half-stoned across an Egyptian market place? I attempted to tell Kashmira that I was her knight in shining armour, dedicated to saving her from the terrible fates that awaited her, and she smiled most disarmingly, and acted as though she had complete faith in my abilities. This was something that I had never experienced before, or at least not since I was very small, when my mother had still believed that I might one day cease to be so bloody useless. I was inspired, therefore, to ever greater heights of optimism, such as can only be attained by the truly drunk. Fortunately our guards were either too stoned, too bored, or too indifferent to worry about what we were staying to each other, and since none of the five were Egyptians, and Kashmira and I were conversing in the local language, it is quite possible that they had failed to understand us. Only the truly bilingual can usually retain their various language skills under the influence of tobacco that powerful. I'm rather glad of that.

Since only one of my hands was tied, it was not too difficult to untie the other, using the sleight of hand that I had learned at a very young age. I slipped my wrist out of the loop of rope that attached me to Pete's sizeable belt, whilst at the same time reaching cautiously for the massive knife that he wore strung from a halyard around his neck. Kashmira was positively bristling with energy and excitement at this point, and it seems to me quite remarkable that her enthusiastic young guard did not notice. He was well dosed with the tobacco by that time, however, and his dark eyes were very much out of focus. All the same he did not lose hold of his knife, and the obvious cruelty emblazoned upon his smooth face did not let up for an instant. He was muttering under his breath in his own language, singing what sounded like a song without much of a melody. Kashmira was happily endeavouring to distract his attention by chattering inanely, a feat made all the easier by her own intake of second hand smoke. Sam and Casey were dead to the world by this time, Sam snorting and muttering in the depths of his sleep, Casey giggling occasionally at his own secret jokes. Even Niko seemed largely oblivious to our actions, although I didn't think that he would remain that way. There was something stolid and dependable about him, that suggested he would not be easily fooled, and Kashmira had warned me already that he had given her such an impression during the days of their acquaintance. Never one to risk unnecessary confrontations, I moved very quietly, attempting to convey the impression that I was at least as far gone as the pirates themselves, and was therefore not in need of a guard. Niko opened one heavy eye and glared at me, then sank back into his previous apparent stupor.

I'm not sure what false bravado was filling me as I began to move away from the little group by the dais. By now I would hope that you are aware, gentle reader, that I am neither the heroic type nor the kind much given to acts of self-sacrifice. Given the kind of bad luck that dogs my life at every turn, it is with good reason that I don't usually attempt to do this sort of thing, for I am hardly guaranteed success on a regular basis. On this occasion, though, somebody somewhere must have been smiling down, for Pete remained oblivious to my movements, Kashmira was able to keep young Eudoxus distracted, and Niko's eyes remained resolutely closed. I slipped away from them all, Pete's knife gripped firmly in my hand. I was feeling quite excited by this point, the way one does when one is listening to some exciting drama on the radio (not that such things were a possibility in 1910 of course). Some of the nearby market-goers were watching me, but since it was not their own wares that were in the process of escaping, they seemed happy to let me do as I pleased.

I have quite a talent for stealing. I say this with all due modesty of course, but it has an immediate bearing on my tale, so bear with me if I begin to appear conceited. Anyway, stealing into the market place, wherever that market place happens to be, is always a good way to practice one's light-fingered talents, and this particular market place proved to be no different. At the first stall I took a pistol and some bullets; at the second a bottle of some locally made spirit that was possessed of a smell strong enough to get one drunk without even needing to take a swig to add to the effect. If it wasn't seventy percent proof if can't have been far off it. I stuck it inside my shirt, lifted a purse off a likely-looking fellow browsing through a metalworks stall nearby, then walked up to a small group of stalls on the other side of the square and used my stolen riches to buy some other odds and ends. At the time I don't think that I was aware of what I was doing, for even though my mind was beginning to come down from the high places, I was still excited and restless. I had resolved to rescue Kashmira! - and nothing else would do.

I made my way back extremely carefully, to find young Eudoxus fast asleep in the arms of my loved one, snoring quietly, and with an expression of such rapturous bliss plastered across his face that he might have looked like some innocent child, had it not been for that unmistakably cruel set of his brow. Kashmira smiled at me over the top of his silky head as I crept back into the group, and with all the stealth and speed that I had learnt in a lifetime of doing things that I didn't want anybody else to know about, I carefully put my pilfered bottle of spirits in the midst of the group, and busied myself in setting up my hasty plan. The items that I had bought were simple enough - a piece of material that I had been sure I would never have been able to steal from under the nose of its previous owner, and a corkscrew, that clever little invention that generally proves so useful when one is trying to open a bottle. I removed the cork, moving as slowly as I could, trying not to make any tell-tales sounds. Nobody moved a muscle, save the still giggling Casey. Pete and Niko were both awake, but neither seemed inclined to open their eyes. I was convinced that at any moment the others might return, or that the sale might begin - but for now at least things were going my way. The bottle open, then, I poured some of the powerful liquid onto the piece of material, then draped one end into the neck of the bottle itself. Next, hands shaking like a fool (which I undoubtedly am, since otherwise I would simply have run away and left Kashmira and her pirates to their own devices) I used the huge knife I had 'borrowed' from Pete to prise open one or two of the bullets I had stolen from the gun stall. I sprinkled the contents of the shells onto the neck of the bottle and around it, and put a couple of undamaged bullets thereabouts as well. I wasn't sure if perhaps some of the preparations might be unnecessary, but it seemed sensible to do everything that was possible, since I would only have one chance.

My next problem was Kashmira, who seemed worryingly close to things, and could therefore be in some considerable danger if my harebrained plan actually succeeded. Hell, why pick on hares in particular? One might just as well call such mad ideas Carnahan-brained in future, since I'm sure it means at least the same thing. Kashmira, to our good fortune, was more clearheaded, and managed to manoeuvre the sleeping Eudoxus so that he was between her and the bottle. He snored and muttered, let out a sharp snort, and then fell back into a deep sleep. The damage, however, was done.

"Shut up Eudoxus, you noisy cretin." You'll have to forgive me if I don't get the words entirely right, but it was something of that nature that Pete spat out. He opened one huge eye, saw me crouched before an interesting bottle, gripping a chunky pistol in one hand, and let out a roar of surprise that must have made every living thing within ten miles jump violently in shock. I backed off, stunned and afraid; he advanced swearing loudly; and I, without any other thought, plan or (I believed) option, fired my gun. The first bullet hit the ground at Pete's feet, sending up plumes of dust; the second, as Niko came alive with a yell, came close to cutting a furrow through his piles of unnecessarily abundant hair; and the third, finally, hit the powder-strewn end of the alcohol-soaked rag. It ignited in a flurry of flame, the bullets lying around and about it grew hot; the bottle exploded in a rush of heat and flame; and the strewn bullets followed suit. The noise was remarkable; the heat intense. A rush of sand flew into my face, and when I could see again I found myself looking upon a turmoil of panic and activity. The dais had caught fire, the scattering of girls awaiting sale were running this way and that; the market place had fallen into confusion. Chickens and camels were racing every which way; goats and sheep stampeded, many colliding head on; people dashed hither and thither, knocking over tables, releasing many more chickens into the already copiously chicken-strewn crowd. People took advantage of the confusion to steal things, and those stall holders who noticed leaped upon them in a fury. The fights spread and mingled; the fires rushed about; mothers grabbed their wandering children and squalling babies and ran for cover; the nearby alcohol stall began to smoulder and catch; and before anybody was really aware what was happening there were little explosions all over the place. Some wicked-minded child (who I still heap mental thanks upon whenever I think about that day) began to throw bullets from the nearby armaments stall onto the growing fire, and the sharp explosions, quite apart from causing those few animals that had not yet stampeded to throw off all sense and plunge into the fray, also sent practically everyone running for cover. I almost didn't notice Kashmira materialising at my elbow, but I did feel her hand in mine. She smiled at me through the smoke and the heat and the billowing sand, and I experienced one of those wonderful moments such as come only too rarely in my lifetime. I remember one time, during that affair over the Scorpion King, when Evie and Rick said that they were proud of me for my shooting skills - but even that didn't quite match up to the wonderful feeling of seeing Kashmira's admiring smile.

I followed her lead, dodging locals, pirates, sheep and chickens, and narrowly avoiding being trampled to death by a quartet of cantering camels. My, but isn't alliteration a wonderful thing. There were people shouting all around us, so if any one of them in particular happened to be an angry, ship-less pirate we would have been none the wiser. We simply avoided everybody, with equal prejudice, and tried to find somewhere where nothing was on fire.

We came to a quiet place just as it was beginning to appear that there were no such places left in the world. Kashmira was looking elated, in that way that previously staid people have when they do something terribly exciting for the first time in their lives. Personally I was looking rather less cheerful, being of the opinion then that it was high time to outlaw school holidays, since this sort of thing seemed forever to be happening to me whenever I was away from Eton for more than a month. There was no sign of pursuit, however, so my temper soon improved - and all the more so when I happened to spy a pair of horses tethered nearby. They seemed hardy enough brutes, not that I'm exactly an authority on horseflesh, and friendly enough to boot. Both seemed to be grinning cheerfully at us in welcome, and I'd swear that one of them, a female, was winking. Kashmira resisted my attempts to pull her towards the animals, however, and kept chattering away to me in Egyptian. I was momentarily confused, my mind having regressed to its more common English-speaking mode in the midst of all the fire and smoke - but there is one word that I swear I can recognise in any language. Gold.

She pulled me away from the horses, with only the least bit of resistance from me now. I followed her back into the outskirts of the smoke, through a group of ranting and raving stall owners who were not at all happy to see me. Why is it that nobody notices when I do something nice, but as soon as I happen to create a little chaos, in no time at all everybody within ten miles knows exactly in what way I was responsible? I offered them all my best smile, bowed low as my companion dragged me onwards, and hoped that the anger on their faces was not about to translate itself into anything more physical. I seemed to be in luck, for after their vague attempts to seize me as I went past, none of them tried to give chase. They seemed more interested in fighting among themselves, and shouting about whose goods were superior. None of them surely was the answer in this case, since almost everybody's wares were by now little more than crispy ashes. (I didn't point that out though. Even I'm not that tactless).

We burst out of the thick smoke some two hundred yards away from our original point of re-entry, to find ourselves once again on the edge of the market place. There were camels here, and I could not fail to recognise Adil. His sky blue blanket and expression of unutterable daftness were unmistakable, although I could not say the same for the veritable bellow that he unleashed as soon as he set eyes upon me. I attempted to hush him, but he would not be quieted, and instead began to bounce around in such a fashion that he appeared more a giant, camel-shaped Mexican jumping bean than any likely beast of burden. Kashmira thought that it was hilarious, although she kept telling me to make him be quiet - as though I had any control over that wretched creature! I could hardly tell Kashmira that, though, since I was supposed to be her hero. She ignored us anyway, turning her back on both mad camel and exasperated boy, and instead began to rummage through the packs strapped upon the other camels in the train. I had seen during my short excursion with the pirates that they had been carrying those packs, but I had been unable to discover what was in them. I found out now though, as I helped Kashmira to lift them down to the ground. There were six of them - each the size of a large saddlebag - and each was filled with gold. Not gold items, that might have been plated rather than made of the stuff; not gold nuggets, that might have carried imperfections, and less valuable metals mixed in; but bag upon bag of fine gold dust. She showed it to me, opening one of the small bags and exposing the dust; tiny grains, as though gold were flour that could be baked into bread. I was all for putting it back on the camels - why take it off in the first place! - and then riding hell for leather in the most convenient direction, but she had a better idea. Dragging the heavy packs away from the camels - and followed, whether we liked it or not, by an extremely highly-strung Adil - we made our way to the village well. It practically broke my heart to watch Kashmira tip those wonderful bags down into the well, but I accepted that we would probably never have made our escape with the stuff. The camels, being so well trained as to have made no attempt to escape even in the middle of all that noise at the market place, even though they had not been tied up, would undoubtedly not have made good tools for our escape. I have no doubt that they would have refused to be ridden by any save their legitimate masters, and that realisation is yet another thing that I must congratulate Kashmira upon. She might have been escaping pirates all her life, she was that good at it.

The gold hidden, I helped my Girl Friday (admittedly we were not shipwrecked, but if we could be taken by pirates in the middle of the desert, I don't see why I couldn't be Robinson Crusoe in a similarly land-locked situation) up onto Adil's scrawny back. He protested violently, changed his mind briefly, then finally assumed the air of indifference that he had always displayed in my presence. I was about to take advantage of this apparent willingness to please, when out of the smoke nearby there burst three men - One-Eyed Pete, Niko, and the manically grinning young Eudoxus. They were carrying drawn swords - giant curved blades coloured black - except Niko, who was holding a massive gun - a rifle more generally used by those interested in massacring game animals some way southwards in the continent. He had it pointed at Adil, in such a fashion that would undoubtedly have vaporised not only much of the camel, but also large sections of Kashmira as well. I'm not sure which of us blanched the paler colour. Probably Adil.

I forget what they said. Something threatening. Parts of the market place were still exploding, so it was not easy to hear anyway. A man rushed past us with his robes on fire, and a second man tackled him in a way that would have impressed the Eton rugby coach no end. In the midst of the smell of dying flames and the sound of one man's attempts to save his friend, we faced our tormentors. It was a very dramatic moment, although perhaps it might have been more so if I had been six feet tall, and broad shouldered - therefore cutting a more impressive figure in my attempts to look as though I was still in control of the situation. Heroes in such moments in fiction are rarely small teenaged boys dressed in shorts and a too large blazer. All the same, since there were no rugged young men with improbably squared jaws to save the situation, clearly the undersized fifteen year old in the Eton tie (well, with the Eton tie screwed up in his shorts pocket, anyway) was going to have to do the job instead.

I think I said something. Something bombastic, probably and not in the slightest bit impressive. "Don't move!", or "Stay back!", or something of that nature. Whatever it was, it had the opposite effect to that intended. Eudoxus started forwards immediately, with one of those nasty grins that unpleasant types get when they're looking forward to cutting your intestines out, or to making you eat your own larynx; all that sort of thing. I like my larynx where it is - use it quite a lot, actually (at least I think I do - it's the bit that helps you to talk, isn't it? Must ask my editor. No, hang it, scratch that. I sacked him. Have to look it up then). Damn it, even if I don't use my larynx quite a lot, I still like it where it is. I therefore, in a moment of determined larynx protection, dodged quite sharply when Eudoxus thrust at me with his rather large knife - then dodged again, spun rather neatly, avoided the cunning fellow, who was trying to come at me from a different direction instead - and promptly tripped over Adil's over-large front right foot. I hit the ground hard, pressing both of his front feet into the ground, and he, apparently taking this as some bizarre way of ordering him to kneel, immediately did just that. Kashmira went head over heels and landed in a heap on top of me, and - predictably - there we both were in the clutches of the pirates. Needless to say they had reconsidered their plans to ransom me, and I found myself immediately looking down the very long barrel of Niko's very big gun. He cocked it, with a noise that sounded very much like the bottom falling out of the world. I'd have swallowed, but I seemed to have lost command over everything save my right eyebrow.

"There they are! That's them!" The shout, in Egyptian, came from the smouldering remains of the market place. Niko swung around, and the six men who had charged through the last of the smoke came to a sudden halt at the sight of the massive weapon. They were the local police; large men in black uniforms and heavy boots that can't have been pleasant on a blindingly hot day like that one. They all carried guns themselves; long ones with thin barrels, issued by the army most likely; ones with a long range, good for precise shooting, but hopeless when it came to rapid fire. Not very impressive when compared to Niko's massive weapon, either. The six policemen, apparently anxious to arrest whoever had been responsible for bringing so much chaos to the market, positively drooped in the face of so much firepower. I'd have felt sorry for them, if I wasn't under my own immediate sentence of death.

It might have ended badly; might have ended in a useless stalemate; if it hadn't been for One-Legged Sam. This large Yugoslavian (or Hungarian, or Transylvanian, or whatever exactly he was) had been looking for his friends ever since they had disappeared after Kashmira and I. Presumably he was tired of being left behind with only the rest of the gang for company, or possibly he was bored of trying to communicate with the locals, who consistently failed to understand him. Whatever the reason, lonely he apparently was, for at that moment he came wandering out of the smoke, still obviously high on whatever tobacco they had been smoking earlier. He was grinning, and upon sight of his confederates he let out a bellow in his native language; a stream of words that clearly meant nothing to any of them. He was waving a very large, two-handed sword in the air - something that could only have come from a museum, or from a very old-fashioned smith. The six policemen stared at him, he stared back at them; and then with a roar of what was obviously fury, he went hurtling towards them.

They scattered in admirable haste, running for cover behind anything that looked likely. Taking advantage of the distraction, Niko fired at them, his massive gun taking chunks out of every nearby building, and vaporising part of the wall of the well. White brick dust blew over everything. Kashmira grabbed my arm.

We ran for it again, just as we had the time before - dashing off when everybody else was looking the other way. Eudoxus came after us immediately, and so, after a moment, did One-Eyed Pete. We stayed ahead, barely, glad that neither man seemed at present to be in the possession of a firearm. Kashmira seemed possessed of a quite remarkable speed, and led the way with incredible surety; which admittedly might just have been blind luck. There was no time for discussion or even thought about the route, however, and so we concentrated merely on running, and not worrying about where to - and, in such fashion, we soon found ourselves at the edge of the Nile.

It was a jetty, wooden, simple and unadorned. A few people were about, but most were too far away to be of use, and would not necessarily have helped us anyway. Most people, of course, had been at the market place, and many of those who hadn't would have gone there by now, to find out what was going on. A boat floated by, with a fisherman sprawled on his back in the sun, languidly towing a line in the murky water. A crocodile floated past, clearly determined to get whatever the fisherman caught, before the poor fellow had a chance of reeling it in. Either that or he was just hoping to reel in the fisherman, as soon as the unfortunate chap stood up.

Eudoxus and Pete came onto the jetty immediately after us, grinning in that same nasty anticipation as before. There seemed very little chance for us, for we were unarmed and had nowhere to escape to - save for into the Nile perhaps. Although we could see only one crocodile this did not seem like a sensible option, and we came to a halt by unspoken agreement. I was reminded of an incident when myself and a young friend of mine named Mahmoud had been chased by a group of angry citizens in Cairo, when we had attempted to make off with some items from a market stall. Admittedly they hadn't been planning to eviscerate us, but the feeling was much the same; of being cornered, without a hope, with a growing sense of trepidation about what was to follow.

There was a motor launch moored at one end of the jetty; a small boat, old but in good repair. It was my instinct to run for it ad attempt to push off into the middle of the river, but there seemed little chance of making it. Eudoxus was advancing on us, his sword held out, every suggestion that there had once been, of the pirates being romantic types straight out of an adventure tale, now eradicated from his bearing. It seemed to be a moment for a well-thought out last word, and perhaps a last - well, first, technically speaking - kiss. We backed away a little further, reached the edge of the jetty, and came to a sharp halt with our heels somewhat dangling. Kashmira was attempting to edge closer to the motor launch, whilst trying to make it look as though her intentions were elsewhere, for it seemed certain that we could not get to the infernal thing without being cut off. We might have made it, too (although somehow I very much doubt it) if Niko hadn't chosen that moment to join us. He had already raised his rifle, and without making any attempt to aim, he fired it in our general direction. Kashmira shrieked as a large section of the wooden flooring just before us erupted in an explosion of splinters and water, and she wobbled dangerously. I felt her slipping; felt her hand tugging at mine. She fell. I made a grab for her, Niko fired again, and this time his errant shot hit the motor launch. The engine, which must have taken the brunt of the assault, exploded in a mighty fireball, the explosion shaking the ground far and wide, and the fire, spreading across the surface of the water as the burning petrol shot in every direction, began to bear down upon the hapless fisherman. He leapt upon his own engine and took off across the water, but the flames, not to be deprived of their fun, soon closed in on another vessel, abandoned not so very far away. This other vessel similarly exploded, although I was no longer present to see it. Knocked flying by the first explosion, and already unseated by Kashmira's overbalancing act, I had fallen headlong into the river. I saw no sign of Kashmira, being rather too busy fighting a current that seemed determined to drag me into the mass of burning petrol and wreckage that had once been a perfectly serviceable motor launch. I didn't hear the footsteps as Niko and his two companions ran across the jetty to check upon the fate of their two erstwhile prisoners. I heard the gunshots as the former fired into the water, however, obviously anxious to finish the job. At the time I was less concerned with bullets, and more with crocodiles. Not that I could see any, but I couldn't help believing that it was the ones you don't see that cause all the trouble. They grow big in the Nile, you know. Not as big as the salt water variety that they say live in Australasia, perhaps, but bloody big enough for my fancy. I still hadn't caught sight of Kashmira yet, either, and that was making me nervous enough.

It's difficult to breathe when you're underwater. I say this, not as an attempt to be instructive on matters of human biology, since most of you will already be familiar with the principles, but in order to best illustrate the situation in which I now found myself. I was perhaps a foot beneath the surface of the water, being carried further out into the middle of a powerfully flowing river filled with crocodiles, with no indication that I was a: going to be rising to the surface soon, or that b: the reserves of oxygen within my lungs were destined to last long. In fact they seemed inclined to run out right away. I had just about decided that dying was very likely the most sensible thing to do, even if it wasn't exactly the most attractive option, when something grabbed hold of my right shoulder. Bizarrely enough, my first thought was that it was a shark - not that I have often encountered them swimming about in the Nile, but because I did read quite a lot, and one picks up these things by osmosis. The second thought, rather more sensibly, was crocodile. I struggled, to no avail. I fought, which was entirely useless. Ever tried landing a punch under water? Utterly futile. I imagined being dragged to the bottom of the river, and there devoured at leisure by a crocodile large enough to have already eaten my poor, beloved Kashmira. So forlorn was I at the thought of what was to become of me - and which had probably already become of Kashmira - that I failed to notice that I was being dragged, not downwards, but upwards. Mind you, I've never been exactly attentive in any situation, so I don't see why near death should be any different. I continued to fight, pointlessly, whilst the whatever it was that was gripping my shoulder continued to attempt to haul me up and into the daylight. Since I had run out of breath the struggle soon became somewhat one-sided, and virtually in a faint I was finally pulled up so that my head broke the surface. I was surprised to say the least, but was willing to concede that the crocodile might plan to devour me on dry land instead, or maybe just whilst he was floating along the surface enjoying the sun. It was with some considerable surprise, then, that I found myself, instead of being dismembered chunk by crocodile-mouth-sized chunk, being dragged up into a boat. I recognised it, once I had stopped choking and begun to breathe; and once I remembered to open my eyes. It was the boat that the fisherman had been in, and which he had shot away in so judiciously, when the explosion of the motor launch had threatened to explode him as well. He was regarding me very thoughtfully through a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, from beneath a neatly Brylcreemed fringe of hair only slightly tousled by its recent experiences. As I watched him he carefully ran a hand through it, fixing the few strands that had fallen into his eyes, so that they obediently went back into place.

"By any chance, my boy..." His tone, although slightly reproachful, still carried its usual sprinkling of gentle interest... "does this happen to be a friend of yours?" And reaching down towards the bottom of the boat, he assisted to its feet the rumpled and dripping form of my beloved Kashmira. Far from gallantly leaping to take her in my arms, however, I merely looked helpless, and blushed. Well it's difficult to know what to do, when dragged out of the River Nile by your father, at a time when the river itself appears to be in the act of exploding, and when you are currently supposed to be sixty miles to the north, safely residing in Cairo. I blushed a little more.

"Yes, Father." It seemed the sensible approach - honesty, mingled with a little respect. "Um... Father, this is Kashmira. Kashmira, this is... my father, Howard Carnahan." She nodded and gave a funny sort of bow, before making some conventional form of pleasantry. My father was taken with her, I could tell. No wonder. He'd probably been hoping for years that one day I would introduce him to a friend of mine who wasn't wanted by the police.

We took the boat further down the river, where there didn't appear to be any sign of the pirates. Dad asked me lots of Dad-like questions, such as what I thought I was doing there, instead of being back home; what the hell was going on; who the gentlemen on the river's edge who had looked so very like pirates had been; whether I had happened to find anything interesting in the sand whilst I was on my way here from Cairo... I explained as best I could, about hiring Adil, meeting the pirates, being kidnapped - here I placed great emphasis on how I was not to blame for what had happened, and had indeed been merely the victim of circumstance... he didn't look convinced, but he didn't argue either. I also told him about the fate intended for Kashmira, not to mention that which had been intended for me, and attempted to skirt around the exact details of our escape. I didn't really think that it would be a good move to tell my father how I had just blown up a perfectly good market place, especially given the wonderful relics and treasures that had been on that one particular stall right in the middle of the mayhem.

He decided that the best thing to do was to report in to the authorities, although with my natural distaste for such matters I was inclined to object. I couldn't help thinking of the gold that Kashmira and I had hidden down that well, and how it was sure to go back to its rightful owners if the authorities learned of its existence. Certainly my ever-honest family would insist on nothing less. It seemed a terrible waste, handing all that lovely gold over to people who probably had so much of it that they wouldn't notice a good deal more. I couldn't help thinking that I would make a far more appreciative owner, and certainly a more enthusiastic one. As any of you will know, however, if you have ever tried to argue with your respective fathers, there is no way in Heaven that you will ever be able to win - not even when all the knowledge and evidence known to man is firmly upon your side. In this case, sure enough, pretty soon I found my objections and concerns brushed aside, and we touched the river's edge almost exactly outside the imposing stone bulk of a sort of fortress. There was a detachment of soldiers inside, or so most people called them. They were little more than policemen really, save with a little more firepower at their disposal. They listened to the tale of pirates with scepticism; to my father's tale of exploding motor boats with alarm; and to Kashmira's mention of the hidden gold with unbridled delight. I scowled at her for her honesty, but she, being a sweet thing, and not at all as debauched as yours truly, completely failed to see my irritation. Instead she took my hand, and made my hormones perform startling flip-flops in places that I didn't even know I had. I'd have asked Dad about this strange effect, if I had had any confidence that he could have answered any question of mine without reference, somewhere along the line, to the Upper or Lower Kingdoms, or to his latest theory on how exactly the Ancient Egyptians had managed to build the Great Pyramid. I wouldn't call him single-minded necessarily, but any description of my dear departed father would be sorely missing something if it did not mention, at some point, some phrase in the region of 'vaguely obsessed'.

From then onwards, events left me behind, and indeed soon concerned me no longer. The pirates proved impossible to catch, although One-Legged Sam was arrested soon enough, after he was found drunk beyond the ability to move, at the edge of town. In my opinion his colleagues plied him with drink and then left him there, since he was clearly useless to them. The Foreign Legion was called in to join the chase, but aside from successfully taking into custody some two hundred men whom they erroneously presumed to be pirates - one of which, a certain Arnold Peterson-West, was one of the most important men in the whole of Egypt - they did little of any use. They tore up almost every house they could find, in the search for clues or secreted buccaneers; they questioned everybody they could lay hold of, and managed to annoy practically everybody south of Cairo; and they caused untold damage in public relations when several of their number got drunk one night, and started a fire that destroyed all of the work recently done to renovate the ruined market place. Certain people in the vicinity of said market place seemed to think that it was my fault, since it had been my actions which had caused the Legion to be called - not to mention my actions which had led to the market being destroyed in the first place. It was at this juncture that my father wisely decide to send me home to Cairo. He bought passage for Kashmira and myself on a launch heading north, saw us safely onboard, then undoubtedly forgot about us immediately, and wandered back off to attend his conference as though nothing had happened. Since I saw nothing of either my sister nor my mother during this time I can only assume that he had neglected to tell them anything, so goodness only knows what they thought had happened to him. Mind you, he did once wander off to answer the door during dinner, fell into earnest conversation with the chap who had come visiting, and promptly went out to advise the fellow on a dig down in Thebes - therefore going to answer the door one day, and returning three weeks later - with a golden scorpion, a massive casket containing about two hundred small onyx sculptures, and a severe case of sunburn. My mother had shaken her head at him, sent him to bed to recover, and said something to the effect of 'professors will be professors'. Maybe, then, this time she was not too worried. I never found out, for she didn't mention the incident to me for as long as she lived.

Kashmira and I left the boat at its first stop, and bartered for a pair of camels at a little village (goodness knows what happened to old Adil. The Foreign Legion probably arrested him). After that we made a very leisurely trip, leaving the camels to their own devices much of the time. During the day we rode or walked, and during the nights... well, I don't think I really need to go into that. Suffice to say that Kashmira (to my unending joy) was not nearly as innocent as she looked. It was with some sorrow that we eventually reached Cairo, where a branch of the local constabulary was awaiting our arrival. They were under orders to return Kashmira forthwith to her village, where her family had been worried about her for many days, and as was usual with these officious types there was No time to lose. When is there ever? We scarcely had time to say goodbye - merely a wander along the river bank as a fresh camel was sought for Kashmira, and the stores were confirmed and delivered. We made all those kinds of promise that teenagers make in times like those - promises to meet again, to stay in touch, to write often, to complete that trip we had talked about, and go all the way to India to find her relations there. Of course we never saw each other again. For all I know Kashmira is still living in her village, perhaps writing her own memoirs about now, and wondering whatever became of the scrawny boy who kept pretending rather unconvincingly that he was ever so much older than fifteen... I don't know. Perhaps she married happily and has never thought of me again. Perhaps she named her first son after me. Perhaps she heard the story of Imhotep's first return, or of the battle with the Scorpion King, and wondered if it was her Jonathon Carnahan who had been mixed up in those two affairs. Given that most of the publicity centred almost entirely on Rick O'Connell, I find that theory rather unlikely. I'll never know, anyway, so it probably doesn't matter.

The story ends there, quite quietly. I went back to Eton shortly afterwards, with little to show for the incident. You'd think that there would be something, wouldn't you - some outward signs of everything that I had been through. An exciting scar, as a permanent record of my life and death struggles with pirates and man-eating crocodiles (Well, nearly. Just because the man-eating crocodile in question had turned out to be my father doesn't necessarily have to detract from the story). There was nothing, however, and since the small pouch of gold dust that I had stolen when throwing the stuff down the well was probably best kept a secret, I was unable to show my school fellows even that much evidence of my adventures. They all told me not to be so damned imaginative, and only Toby showed any sign of believing me. Typical - but then what did they know? They had all spent their summer holidays lounging in the sun at their English stately homes, or going fox hunting, or boating on the lake or whatever. None of them had fought pirates in the middle of a desert. Has anybody? - not including myself of course; and not forgetting that I've done it not once but twice.

So there I was, then, in 1920, in the clutches of a group of pirates thanks to the traitorous behaviour of my camel, the cantankerous Roger. I recognised them immediately of course, not really surprised to discover that it was the same bunch of desert-dwelling buccaneers as I had encountered the last time. How many can there be, after all? I assumed, however, with all confidence, that they would not recognise me. Ten years had passed, and I was now twenty-five years-old. I was tall where before I had been small; rather well turned out, where before I had been scrawny; and of striking and attractive appearance, instead of awkward and adolescent. Things had changed; they wouldn't know who I was.

It will come as no surprise to you, dear reader, in the face of such dogged certainty on my part, when they recognised me straight away. It was Eudoxus who spotted it first of all; Eudoxus, still with a great down-pouring of hair; still dressed entirely in silk; still looking unspeakably cruel behind that deceptively smooth face. He didn't look as young as he had done ten years previously, but then who does? I considered making assertions that they were entirely wrong, and that I was by no means the same person that they supposed me to be, but I couldn't really see it working. After the last time they had probably done their research; asked around, or just listened to the talk; for they were not only quite certain that I was the same person they had encountered back in 1910, but also knew precisely what I was called - and who I was related to. Since my own tales to them before, of being related to rich people who would pay a large ransom for my safe return, had been so fictionalised, they certainly had not got that information from me. They had a plan, too, ready and waiting even though they could have only just thought it up. They knew about the dig; they knew that there were people there; they knew who my family members were. I suppose the intention was to raid the dig, to see what was worth stealing, and use me as their ticket to do that. It wasn't necessary of course - they could have gone right in there and they wouldn't have found much in the way of resistance. My father shot well, my mother shot better, but neither of them was likely to try against human targets. Perhaps my annoyingly enthusiastic buccaneers merely thought that I would make things easier by my presence, and perhaps be able to tell them which pieces were most worth their trouble to steal.

We started back to the dig almost immediately; on foot, which was preferable to riding another bloody camel. Roger followed on anyway, trotting at the heels of the pirate he had so obviously adopted, and murmuring strange noises that sounded like the camel equivalent of love declarations. The pirate remained unmoved, so was probably used to it.

It was turning cooler when we arrived at the dig. The sun was still up but it would clearly not be long before it did its evening disappearing act. There was nobody in sight. No surprise, really. Working underground, by artificial light, there's no way to tell when it begins to get dark. We had a camp under the shelter of a pile of ruins; three tents in varying shades of brown and green, all arranged in a circle, with a useful little gas-burning gadget in the middle that was good for making a pot of tea. Nice spot. Not much of a view, but the neighbours were a good sixty miles away, and consequently didn't give us any trouble. My guides seemed to know the way better than I did, and led me unerringly to the hole down which my parents and sister had disappeared in the early hours. A dark flight of stone steps led downwards into inky blackness. All the best crypt-induced blacknesses are inky, don't you think? Adds to the drama.

We paused at the top of the stairs, listening. A distant hammer chinked against stone, or perhaps against a delicate chisel. There was no other sound though - no other tappings, no voices, nothing. No light showed, either, to indicate where my family might be. That was no surprise, for the simple, unadorned hole, with its simple, unadorned steps, led to a vast underground network of tunnels that made up a veritable labyrinth, which apparently only a trained Egyptologist could successfully negotiate. Myself not included, naturally.

I was pushed down the steps, and urgently entreated to lead the way. Quite why they were expecting me to know the way is a question that I had no intention of asking them. I led the way regardless. What did it matter to me if they got lost? But then, knowing my luck, my valorous attempts to lead this malodorous bunch of brightly-clad ruffians far away from my family would undoubtedly result in my leading said ruffians straight to where my family were currently situated.

As usual my faith in my luck proved to be well-founded. After doing my damnedest to lead the unpleasant fellows in the opposite direction to that taken by the party earlier, I rounded a corner and found the sounds of chiselling much amplified. I tried to pretend that it was an illusion produced by the contours of the rock, but the pirates weren't having any of it, and immediately took over the lead. Guided by the sounds of earnest hammering, they doubled their speed and hurried onwards. One of them - the still large, and still unsuitably named, One-Eyed Pete - took my arm in an unpleasant grip, and planted a large, sweaty, smelly hand firmly across my mouth. I attempted to complain, on the grounds of common decency and manners, but he proved adamant. These types invariably do.

It was Evie who was doing the hammering, crouched on the rocky floor with a tiny chisel in one hand, and a bloody great mallet in the other. She was attempting to remove some hard-packed layers of sand, which no doubt concealed the hiding place of some new and amazing treasure. The vague shape of a giant door was just visible, presumably painted with many exciting hieroglyphs - hence the very careful chiselling. She didn't look up at the approach of some twenty scabrous buccaneers, but merely sniffed the air suspiciously.

"Jonathon." Her voice, as usual, was filled with that faint air of exasperation that so characterises her conversations with me. "Have you brought that camel down here again?" I didn't answer, eliciting a little sigh of irritation; and setting down the hammer and chisel with infinite care, she turned slightly and looked up at me. Her face paled, and she gave a little squeak. I tried to smile reassuringly, which isn't easy when you have a pirate's large hand clamped over your mouth. Eudoxus, his typically unpleasant smile making his eyes glow despite the limited light, started forwards.

Now the thing that you have to remember about Evie is that she's not like other women. My apologies of course - times have changed, and women with them - but back then most women were very definitely of the helpless type. Whether it was years of being told that they weren't capable of helping themselves, or whether they just grew differently then, who can tell, but Eudoxus was undoubtedly expecting to encounter someone who would scream at him, swoon, and generally be very easy to deal with. What he hadn't expected was Evie.

She flew at him as he came towards her, snatching up the bloody great mallet as she rose, swinging it madly with such a fierce gleam in her eye that she even terrified me. Eudoxus let out a startled yelp and back-pedalled - then at a guffaw of mocking laughter from his 'ship'mates, he headed towards her again. She swung the mallet once more; he dodged it and made a grab for her other arm; and with a yell that sounded very like a bull gorilla in the middle of the mating season (no, I don't know either, but grant me a little dramatic license), she swung her fist right into that most sensitive part of his anatomy. He crumpled, whimpering. I sympathised.

"Stay back." She was still brandishing that mallet. Nobody made a move towards her now, either too startled, too afraid, or because they were about to let her have it with their heavy artillery. Casey the one-armed Irishman pulled a rifle from his back that made Niko's elephant gun of ten years previously look like a child's water pistol, and pointed it unswervingly at my quite remarkable sister. She wilted. Pete let go of me, and flung me in her general direction.

"Jonathon, if you're going to persist on bringing greasy unsuitables to meet me, I'm going to have to start refusing to be introduced." As usual she was hiding her nervousness between a strange sense of humour, and an emphasis of the more well-to-do side of her nature. I offered her an apologetic smile, all that I ever seemed to do in these situations, and claimed that it hadn't been my fault. She's heard that argument many times before, but to her credit she usually looks as though she believes me.

"Sorry, sis." I would have pulled out my whisky flask, but I had been relieved of it earlier, and it was currently swinging from the belt wrapped around one pirate's astoundingly large waist. His too short shirt, pitifully incapable of containing his girth, ended some six inches prematurely, with the result that a large tattoo of a hammerhead shark swelled and flopped with the rolls of fat in such a manner that its head was resting on the flask's previously gleaming silver-coloured lid. I suddenly had no wish to get it back, no matter how much I would have liked a drink right then.

The pirates ignored us largely, save for the poisonous glares of Eudoxus, as they began to examine some of the items that were lying about the room. As luck would have it this was where the family had been storing many of their finds, and therefore one corner of the room was positively overflowing with carvings, statuettes and pieces of carefully worked gold. A large plate, enamelled in blue, reflected its patterns back in Niko's face as he bent over it. He seemed pleased, if his huge and toothless grin was anything to go by. The masses of tangled curls were largely grey now, but that did not detract from his imposing figure. Even Evie's usually buoyant personality seemed dimmed by him, and she clearly did not think much of that grin.

"Where is the rest?" If we had hoped that Niko would be satisfied with this remarkable haul, we were wrong. Already he was looking around. "There isn't much here. You've been working here several days."

"This is most of it, actually. We've mostly been working on cleaning off the hieroglyphics." Evie nodded at the walls, retracting a little into my embrace. I wasn't used to such shrinking behaviour from her, but to be fair she had been more than a little startled by events. Niko didn't look as if he believed her.

"Well then maybe your parents have found some more trinkets for us." He stepped forwards, and barked out his question directly into our faces. "Where are they?" Evie looked indignant, as though cross with him for thinking that she would fold under so primitive an attempt to frighten her, but Niko showed no sign of frustration. He merely signalled for Eudoxus.

The younger pirate came towards us horribly quietly, quite a feat given the rocky nature of the floor, and the clunky appearance of his leather shoes. He was holding a dagger; a small glittery blade with an enamelled handle twisted into some shape I couldn't see. His long hair was glowing in the light from Evie's lamp, and his nasty little eyes were grinning at us. I had seen enough of his vicious nature in the past to know that anything he did was not just for show, so I told Evie to come clean. For once in her life she took my advice, and pointed a shaky hand down a low tunnel.

We proceeded awkwardly, for the tunnel was not wide enough for easy passage. I had several ideas for a swift and sneaky escape, but there were no forks, and I couldn't get far enough ahead. Besides, Eudoxus was never very far away, and even though it's not generally easy to be menaced by a bloke in a suit of shiny blue satin, with Eudoxus things were very different. I'd have found him menacing if he'd been dressed in yellow Wellington boots and a flowery swimming costume. It wasn't at all easy to forget that he was always right behind, with his knife all ready to do a frenzied bit of stabbing. I could practically hear him quiver with anticipation.

After a while the tunnel widened out, and I could see the lights up ahead. I hadn't been this far before, because I'd limited my own activities to the first few rooms. (I'd lost interest pretty quickly, once my usual inability to find anything had shown no signs of dispersing). I could hear somebody singing, which was easily identifiable as dear old dad. He had a habit of singing operatic arias when he was digging, as well as various lighter numbers of a more populist stance. His favourites were Gilbert and Sullivan, and he had a particular fondness for The Pirates Of Penzance. Strangely fitting in these circumstances, but almost never in any others. You can't imagine how strange it is, to wake from your childish slumbers in a dark cavern sixty feet beneath the desert sands, surrounded by weird statues and bizarre carvings of staring, animal-headed deities, whilst a disembodied voice warbles I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General at about three times the speed that anybody else can manage. And people wonder why I turned out so peculiar. I felt Evie holding my arm, and wondered if she had a plan. She often does. They're not as good as Rick's, admittedly; but since we didn't have Rick back then we had to make do with the best alternative.

As the sounds of singing increased in volume - a sure sign that something interesting had just been found - I hoped that mum and dad wouldn't be too cross with me for getting them killed; particularly just when things were getting exciting for them. Dad launched into something bombastic from The Mikado, and my mother hushed him ineffectually, muttering about the loose rocks in the ceiling.

Our little group came slowly into their cavern, moving with more caution that we had used to sneak up on Evie. Just like their daughter before them, neither looked up. Mother gestured at a pile of dust with a few uncertain shapes buried beneath it, and said something very cheerful about an incredible find. To be fair, she and dad would think just about anything an incredible find, but Niko didn't know this. In consequence he brightened considerably.

"Step away from that treasure." Actually I think he said something much ruder, but I don't want to get into trouble if somebody's eager sprog picks this book up and reads a few epithet-filled lines. My parents looked up, that glint in their eyes that suggested mild affront. The band of ramshackle pirates pushed Evie and I into the room, whereupon Eudoxus immediately began to do his threatening act. It was fairly obvious that he very much wanted to try his hand at filleting, a fate that I was pretty anxious to avoid.

Mum and Dad were gathered up and herded over towards their sheepish looking children, and the pirates began to examine the boodle in the cave. It was mostly statues; large stone ones that had been hidden in some secret compartment, and a collection of small glass ornaments set upon the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of a drawing room sideboard. Most were animals - oxen, crocodiles, birds of various kinds, none any bigger than the size of a man's clenched fist. Evie looked hugely excited, and I could tell that she very much wanted to go and have a closer look. Eudoxus would have loved that opportunity to put his skills into practice, and she very wisely stayed still; but she was practically jumping up and down on the spot with repressed enthusiasm. Dad asked me lots of questions - notice how he immediately assumed that it was me who knew what was going on. I explained about my not very nautical friends, with their Jolly Roger-bearing camels, and their piratical vocabulary, and their habit of popping up out of the sand dunes like refugees from some adventure novel of the high seas, set in the eighteenth century. He sighed, the way people do when faced with some minor irritation, and demanded to speak to the Governor. I don't think Egypt actually had one at the time, or if he did he kept very quiet about it, but it sounded impressive. People always respond when you demand to speak to governors, because it sounds as though you move in governing circles as a matter course, and know all of the politicians personally. Niko told him to shut up, and started loading little glass animals into a wooden box. As an ancient storage chest it was probably part of some dead nobleman's grave goods, and was probably worth considerably more to an archaeologist than the glass animals being put into it, but the pirates didn't know that, and the combined Carnahans obviously weren't about to tell them.

We waited in silence for a good deal of time. Dad was pacing irritably, muttering to himself in the way he had. He used to talk to himself in Ancient Greek, a habit he had had since Evie and I were children, when he had wanted to be able to swear without his small daughter (or more particularly his sharp-eared son) picking up any unsuitable words. I don't know if he had forgotten that Evie at least is a multi-linguist (when it comes to languages that nobody else speaks anymore) or whether he just used the language out of age-old habit. Either way it was proof to us that he was angry. My mother put on her placid face, which was one that she brought out whenever she wanted to keep Dad's feet nailed to the floor. He never responded to it, but she always tried anyway. Something to do with being in love I expect.

I don't know whether it was when Casey dropped a glass figurine that Dad snapped, or if it was when Niko, swinging the full trunk, caught it a glancing blow on the rocky wall. Either event was, in his mind, wilful, wanton vandalism; the worst kind of brainless action from the worst kind of brainless crook. I had seen him come over that way once before, years ago, when a pair of chinless wonders down from Oxford for the summer had been attempting to deface a slab of stone, in the hope of turning the beautifully preserved hieroglyphics into something obscene. His shoulders quivered, the moustache he was forever attempting to grow shook slightly on his furiously stiff upper lip. Even his shirt buttons shook with fury, and his knuckles went extremely white. My mother tried to calm him, but with the sort of growl more usually heard from the mouths of extremely hungry lions anxious to tear something limb from limb, he started forward. The pirates weren't actually watching us, but even so I don't think Dad really expected to be successful. He was unarmed after all, and not especially large.

They stopped him when he reached them, when his hand was on Niko's arm. He was attempting to deliver a punch that, in all honesty, would probably have been about as effective as a fly attempting to drop an elephant with a swift uppercut. I was partly impressed by his bravery, partly amazed that any relative of mine could possibly have attempted anything so daft, and partly enlightened as to where I get it from. Whatever my feelings about the affair, though, I could hardly stand by and watch the pater dragged down under the combined force of six smelly pirates. Well could I? Actually yes, I very probably could. The important thing is, though, that I didn't.

I started forward at speed, grabbed the nearest buccaneer, and hauled him away from my father. Fortunately he hit his head when he fell away, so he did not immediately return to the fray. I grabbed another, pulled him backwards off balance, and was immediately seized by a vicious-looking Casey. He tried to hammer a blow home into the top of my skull, but I sort of fell out of his way in a manner that was entirely unplanned, but succeeded in looking impressively rehearsed. My mother was heading into the fray as well by now, doing her usual act of managing to look both surprisingly lethal and endearingly maternal all at the same time. (I say 'usual act', but she didn't do it that often. Only when we found ourselves in particularly dire circumstances... which was once or twice). I wasn't sure what exactly she was planning to do - and neither do I think that she had much idea - when all of a sudden Evie changed the game entirely by launching into a series of impressively tactical missile attacks.

Ducking, my inventive little sister grabbed something off the ground and hurled it - easily becoming the first, I have to assume, to fell a pirate with a small black statue of Anubis. Mother joined in with remarkable spirit, showing a lightness of foot that I hadn't seen her demonstrate since my very early youth, when a visiting relative of my father's was woken in the early hours by Apis, the pet asp, sneaking into bed with him. I shouldn't think he was in any real danger, at least until he started thrashing about and screaming, but my mother flew to his assistance with remarkable speed nonetheless. She was like that again, now - leaping over the packing crate, grabbing at a leather pouch of archaeological tools, and hurling them, like sharp metal rain, at anybody wearing a coloured silk shirt. For myself I was engaged in a hand to hand battle with two of the buccaneers, neither of whom were ones that I knew. One was a large fellow with fists like hams (and, fortunately, a brain to match) whilst the second was more or less my own size. He was of a similar age, too, although there the resemblance ended. The fellow was an obvious cad; and besides, he had no sense of style. Nobody can really get away with wearing ballooning scarlet pantaloons and a purple waistcoat, and certainly not with a green silk eye-patch to boot. He was trying to hit me with his gun, which really did beg the question as to why he didn't just fire the thing. It was old, though, so perhaps he was nervous about pulling the trigger. Better guns than that have exploded, and when they do that they tend to take all kind of limbs and appendages with them.

It was my father who brought an end to things, the way fathers are somewhat inclined to do. He had made it to the other side of the cavern, where his gun was lying in its woven leather belt, and without waiting to be disarmed by the three large buccaneers dashing his way with scimitars drawn, he fired three shots into the ceiling. There was a worrying downfall of small rocks, but the roof held. Everybody became very still - my mother, a large hammer held above her head, about to fling it at the surprisingly cowed One-Eyed Pete; Evie, struggling in the grip of two grim-looking nasties with more rings in their ears than the rest of the gang put together, whilst Eudoxus and Casey closed in looking wicked; and myself, frozen in mid-dodge, as I attempted to avoid the sizeable fists of the larger of my two pirates. The smaller one, who had just received the full brunt of a - if I do say so myself - rather impressive punch, was wobbling on his heels, needing to fall over but afraid to do so. Clearly he believed that if he moved even in that way, my father would shoot him. I wasn't about to tell him that my father had never shot anything that was even remotely alive, at least since he was a teenager living back in England, and was about as likely to shoot toppling pirates as he was to fire upon a member of his own family.

If you've ever tried to hold twenty irate pirates at gunpoint, when there's only one small pistol handy, you'll know that my father faced an almost impossible task. The buccaneers hardly looked as though they were about to surrender, so I very quickly grabbed the nearest firearm to hand, and joined him in the lop-sided stand off. My mother assisted as well, snatching a mighty rifle belonging to one of the pirates. It was nearly as big as she was, and she had a hell of a job just trying to hold it - but I knew that she was a crack shot, and so fierce was her expression that the pirates acted as if they knew it too. One by one they backed down, and the two still holding Evie gradually released her. She pulled away from them in obvious disgust - although whether that was as a result of their general natures, or just their personal hygiene it was impossible to say. As she passed Eudoxus she gave vent to at least some of that disgust, by means of a most unladylike manoeuvre with her knee that left the long-haired pirate rolling around the floor in agony. The strike so reminded me of the way in which Kashmira had dealt with him ten years earlier that I was quite inclined to giggle. I didn't though. Whenever I giggled in their presence my parents were apt to accuse me of drunkenness, and although they were usually right, I was mildly sensitive about the issue.

That was about it really. We held them at gunpoint for a while, until Dad thought up a way to get them out of the caverns without them gaining the upper hand. We managed it eventually, and were left with twenty angry pirates tied to bits of ruined temple out in the middle of a deepening, and somewhat chilly, desert night. My mother and Evie were dispatched to fetch the nearest form of authority, which turned out to be a dozen soldiers on manoeuvres not terribly far away. They took delivery of twenty shivering, fuming, glaring buccaneers, who swore at everything that moved, declared war on everybody, and demanded to be removed to at least half a dozen different countries of origin for their trials. They were told to shut up, so I imagine that their pleas went unheeded. Given the look on the senior officer's face as he rode out of our camp with his prisoners, I would imagine that the pirates would have been lucky even to have reached civilisation alive, let alone be deported back to their varying homelands, for whatever reason it was that they had wanted to be transported back there anyway. To be honest with you I never saw so much as a man of them again, so I never found out. I'd ceased to care though, to be frank, because very soon there were many other things in my life that required all of the energy that I had.

We returned to our tents not quite knowing what to do. It's hard to do the normal things, such as making meals and settling down to sleep, when you have so recently been held prisoner; whether the person doing the holding is a disgruntled poker player, a deserter trying to escape justice, or even a brightly clad pirate with rings in his ears, and a cutlass the size of the Sphinx hooked on his belt. We talked for a while, mostly about anything other than the pirates, and my mother made a pot of tea. Dad offered to put some whisky into it, but strangely enough even I didn't want alcohol that night. We chatted and shared a few archaeology jokes (What did the mummy say to the professor? Is that a chisel in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me? - well I never said that they were funny archaeology jokes). Crude, I'll grant you, but these things help to pass the time, and we were all strangely unwilling to go to bed that night. Perhaps it was adrenalin, or delayed reaction, or whatever they call it these days - or perhaps, somehow, we realised that we would never be together like this again, as we had been so many times before, around a campfire in the middle of the desert. I don't think that I could ever have believed there would come a time when we didn't do that kind of thing, in our batty little mismatched foursome. Even though I was lousy at the business, I still enjoyed our digs. The tents that steadily filled up with scorpions, no matter how many obstacles you tried to put in their way; the water that always tasted of camel; the food that was always full of sand. The hours of back-breaking work under a hot sun that my family was convinced I ought to enjoy... Actually I don't miss that last bit so much, and I've had the other bits lots of times since, on my own, or with Evie, or with friends. Never again with my parents though. Not after that night.

We started to pack up in the morning. My parents had found a good deal of interesting things, including some that they wanted to begin studying immediately, back in the more comfortable surroundings of the Cairo museum (they were getting old, I suppose). They were going to leave the rest of the temple for others to uncover, mainly archaeology students coming out in a week or two for practical experience on a number of digs. Evie went with them, eager, in her endearingly bookish way, to cross reference lots of lists with lots of other lists that she had already made - lists of what she had found and where she found it, not to mention what it all actually was (yet another of the bits that always eluded yours truly). She didn't look too much at the things that Mum and Ddad had found, for she had her own interests, and her own plans for the next few years that were lying ahead of us. Given what happened later, of that small mercy I am extremely bloody glad.

After cataloguing their discoveries at the temple, things changed for my parents. Amongst the rest of the bric-a-brac (I can imagine them turning in their graves right now to hear me calling it that!) they had found a set of stone tablets telling of the life of a king of fabulous wealth, whose reign had come at a time of great importance for the Ancient Egyptian world. There were indications in the text about where his tomb might be found, and where other accounts of his life might be located. The more general work of Egyptology began to have less importance for my parents, who were hugely excited about the implications that this apparently legendary king might have for their studies. If his wealth was still intact within his tomb - wherever that might be - then they could learn untold things from it; from the carvings, from the paintings, from the ornamentation, and even from the mummy itself. Evie was less interested, but her enthusiasm has always been for the written word, and she prefers her hieroglyphs and pictograms to statues and ancient jewellery. Whoever this legendary king was, she would rather leave him to her parents, and instead focus on learning more about Ancient Egypt in general. As I said before, as things were to turn out I was very grateful for that.

As time went by, more and more information came out about this legendary king. Other scholars had heard rumours, and one of them - Lord Caernarvon - had already been searching for this particular king's supposedly fabulous tomb for some years. He and my parents joined forces, along with another fellow called Howard Carter. I only met him once, but he struck me as a nice enough sort - quite like my father, and damn near as enthusiastic. He had a passion for playing draughts, and liked nothing more than to play a game by candle light in some ancient temple just reclaimed from the sands, whilst his colleagues tried to sleep nearby. I should imagine that he and Dad got on like a house on fire, given my father's own little eccentricities.

It took them a long time to unravel all of the information, and when the tomb was eventually found it was more or less by accident. Some local fellow was walking in the desert and his foot slipped down a hole. He found steps beneath, contacted people he knew who liked that sort of thing, and the rest, I suppose, is history. My parents, with their colleagues, uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamen lost beneath that incongruous little hole, full of more riches than almost anybody in the world had ever seen before. I saw some of the pieces at the museum in Cairo, where they were taken for a while. More gold than I've seen in one place before or since. The fairy tale didn't last though.

I said at the beginning of this chapter of my story that these years might have been a taste of things to come - and so I believe that they were. In the future I was to become rather used to curses; those concerning mummies in particular, and especially those that dealt with grim forms of death. Tutankhamen's tomb was reputed to be cursed, to protect the treasure within it. Not many people believed it, but one thing I've learnt from events in my life is that the modern world, secure in its position of determined superiority, has a habit of belittling ancient beliefs. I did too, once - but I've learnt a lot since then. You can't watch long-dead mummies return to life without changing your beliefs a little. Even now many people will still tell you that the Curse of Tutankhamen is an old wives' tale; that the string of deaths that followed the opening of the tomb were down to chance and coincidence. I'm not so sure. After all - I've met dead people. I've seen ancient gods brought to life. I've seen curses resurrect long dead sinners; drain the life from perfectly healthy people; bring the Plagues of Egypt back out of history. I've got reason to believe in the impossible. And I know that, less than twelve months after opening Tutankhamen's long forgotten tomb, my parents were dead. You can call it an accident, and perhaps it was; but also perhaps it wasn't. Some rumours aren't just stories. Some legends aren't just make-believe. There really are monsters you know - I've seen them. I've seen shadows come to life in my bedroom at night, and I've seen people snatched by black shapes beneath their beds. I've heard growls in the middle of the night that were dismissed as nothing but the wind - until they came back with a vengeance when everybody was asleep. I've seen ghosts try to murder the living, and seen prophecies come true after every scholar and expert has denounced them as foolish supposition.

So yes, I believe that the servants of Tutankhamen killed my parents, however many thousands of years after they themselves had died. Some things that have been buried were never meant to be dug up, and maybe the next part of my tale will convince you of that. In the meantime, listen more carefully next time your house creaks in the night, and don't be so quick to dismiss it when your children think they've seen things hiding in the shadows when they're trying to sleep. Maybe they're just imagining it - or maybe they're right. Weirder things have happened.

And mostly they've happened to me.