The Forth Conspiracy by Thomas Thorpe

Posted on Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Forth Conspiracy by Thomas Thorpe

“Master, you have found the Forbidden City of my ancestors! It is said that the Pharaohs once built a secret hiding place never to be discovered. They could spend a year inside, if necessary, secure from their enemies with a few trusted slaves to serve them. I thought it to be only a bedtime story, until now.”

William gazed in astonishment at the huge space. The torchlight revealed a distant ceiling one hundred feet above a geometric pattern of cube-like buildings laid out in orderly rows. The space extended at least as wide and its length stretched beyond the illumination of their flames.

He sighed in the absolute stillness. Besides Bidderman, we are probably the first visitors to this place in over three thousand years.

He turned to the slave. “I’m only interested in recovering a document that belongs to my family. It was hidden here years ago. Search the buildings, but disturb nothing. The rest we shall leave for the archeologists.”

They stood on a small rise overlooking the carefully laid out pattern of buildings. Each row contained seven flat-roofed structures measuring ten feet on a side. Two pathways separated the inner three buildings from the two at each end. Behind this array, William could make out a second line of similar stone houses. He counted the tops of seven rows and could just make out three other tall constructions toward the rear of the cavern. Looking closer at the nearby enclosures, he could see intricate carvings of half-naked human figures etched above the doorways of the center three cubicles. Those confinements at the ends of the rows were unmarked, possibly to be used by the slaves. In the dancing torchlight, each house appeared foreboding with hollow doorways and two small triangular-shaped windows.

The two visitors walked to the center-most domicile of the first row, stepping over a surface as smooth as a marble. In the absolute quiet, both men spoke softly as if on sacred ground. William followed Salaam inside. As he passed over the threshold, he caught a glimpse of a shadow out of the corner of his eye. It moved quickly around a corner at the end of the row.

Blasted flickering torch makes the shadows jump, William mused with an eerie discomfort.

Inside the room, a wall divided the living quarters from a bathing room holding a table littered with small clay containers. The floor of the main area displayed rotted mats and decayed fabric pieces. In one corner, a stack of papyrus rolls exhibited the inscrutable markings of the famous Egyptian hieroglyphics. William could not tell if the house had ever been occupied or whether it lay in wait for some future emergency. By mutual consent, they turned and quietly stepped back outside.

William scratched his head. “We’ll have to go through each one, Salaam. You start at the left end and search to the middle of each row. I’ll take the four rightmost. We’ll work our way toward the back and meet in front of those larger buildings.”

They moved off in separate directions.  Most of the cubicles were empty. As each site was searched, William occasionally caught sight of Salaam moving between buildings at the opposite end, shaking his head to indicate no significant discovery.

When the last row was searched, William stepped into the open area in front of the structures at the rear of the cavern. Thirty feet away, a round tower stretched upward into the darkness. It was flanked by two featureless buildings looking like huge boxes, fifty-feet on a side.

Probably storehouses, he thought.

After a moment’s hesitation, William walked to the central tower, which measured ten feet in diameter across its base. He crouched in front of a small doorway, and then wiggled inside. The room was disappointingly devoid of artifacts. The low circular wall surrounded a shallow pit in the middle of the space, leaving a two-foot wide walkway around the perimeter. Three poles were set in the grooves of a low wall that encompassed the center recess and extended across the blackened pit. Overhead, the room narrowed, but its roof was beyond the torchlight.

He tramped around the interior and was about to leave when he spied a narrow shadow on the otherwise featureless floor. One of the smooth stones was slightly raised. William bent down and used his fingernails to pry up an inch thick layer of marble. Underneath, a hollow space extended downward several feet below the cover between foot-thick granite blocks.  Resting at the bottom was a mound of cloth, not ancient Egyptian, but modern wool.

Shaking with anticipation, William carefully picked up the clump of material and found a roll of paper inside. As he delicately unrolled the parchment under the flickering torchlight, tears began to form. Before him was the bequest of the Earl of Rothmere and there, near the bottom, the name of Darmon was clearly written together with the boundaries of the Mayfair property.

He carefully re-rolled the paper and placed it within an inside pocket, then he crawled back outside.  “I have it, Salaam! Come here. We can leave this place now.”

He waited in silence for a minute and called again. What’s that confounded Bedouin gotten into now? Behind the last row of buildings to his right, light from the other torch reflected off the adjacent walls.  William lumbered quickly toward it.

As he rounded the row and turned to his left, the light source came into view. The torch lay on the ground sputtering in front of the second doorway. William stopped. “Salaam?”

He hurried to the entrance and saw a foot jutting just inside. William stopped. He thrust his torch inside the doorway. On the floor, Salaam lay on his back, motionless, staring up.  Blood oozed from his throat. A brown stain spread over the floor.

William jerked back in panic. The hairs stood up on his neck. Someone else is in the cavern! A cold sweat formed on his brow. He glanced over his shoulder at the distant trap door. Had the other slave followed them inside and murdered his comrade? Terrified, he backed inside, watching for any movement. Stacks of boxes rested against the wall beyond Salaam’s body. At the base of the pile, a remnant of another burned out torch smoked in the gloom. Someone had already been in there before they arrived. But who could have known that a visitor would find a way inside at this time?  It had to have been Ravensforth who waited for them! William could barely breathe. He forced his body to step back to the entrance and peered out. There was no sign of anyone. He took a deep breath and crept away from the sputtering torch, leaving his light behind as well, not to reveal his location.

He tiptoed quietly on trembling legs, crossing each row toward the bank under the tunnel opening. Where is the blackguard? Did he leave already?

Upon feeling the rising ground, he started to crawl upwards. What if he left and took the line? He began to shake uncontrollably.

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Genre – Historical / Mystery / Thriller

Rating – PG

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