Belzoni Dreams of Egypt — #5

An Excerpt from the Serialized Novel

Jon Clinch’s Belzoni Dreams of Egypt is being serialized in six ebook installments. This is the start of Part Five. Details and links follow.

The journey to Luxor!

If only I had brought my old journal with me, I should invite you to consult the relevant pages for yourself. Alas, that crumbling volume is housed now in my Piccadilly museum, preserved under glass as if it were the equal of the antiquities that crowd around it. I should be under glass myself by now, I think — under glass for preservation, instead of out here on an angry sea, tending my belly on the deck of a warship and hoping against all odds for the best.

We set out before sunrise, when the sand underfoot was cold as a snowdrift and the breath of our animals escaped in great white gusts. The desert is alive at that hour. Lizards and snakes make their languorous way from the ridge of one dune to the next. Scorpions and tarantulas scuttle about checking their traps. Bandits — larger and more flamboyant than their eight-legged brethren, but far less to be feared in the end — slink back to their roosts to stroke their black beards and plot the next night’s mischief. We would have no trouble from their kind; my reputation and imposing figure, along with the ready rifles of our two former army officers, saw to that.

Never has an expedition of that size moved so silently. Credit the sand, which muffles all things, even history. I had hoped to make the entire march on foot so as to give my assembled army a lesson in leadership by example, but I soon discovered that despite my legendary might and extraordinary lung capacity the sand underfoot made progress difficult. I began to sink once we passed the outskirts of the city — even when we took special care to stay on such roads as presented themselves. My legs became a pair of clumsy stone pillars, my torso a slab of granite carved into my likeness, and the whole lot of me threatened to sink beneath the sand where I might await discovery in a thousand years or so. Rather than risk becoming an example of the buried treasure that I sought, I took refuge upon the largest of our camels.

The journey took three days, as Drovetti had predicted. Very different from Cairo, which was a bustling metropolis at constant war with the desert, Luxor was an outpost that had long ago surrendered. Its buildings were one and all the color of the sand that encroached from every direction. Making our camp on the edge of town, I had the feeling that bits of old Luxor — Thebes, I mean — lay hidden everywhere beneath our feet. Drive a peg to stake down a tent, and it might clang against the capstone of a buried pyramid. That night, while Sarah and I lay awake upon a bed of sand and the sudden cold desert winds buffeted our tent, I felt as I had felt long before in the shop of my father, suspended there over the historic murder of Julius Caesar. Ghosts passed beneath us, ghosts that floated from room to drifted-shut room in an utter darkness that closed their world to me. In the morning I awoke with sand in my fists and a hole clawed beside me deep enough to bury a man.

Belzoni Dreams of Egypt is being serialized in six installments from June through November, 2014. In December, the complete novel will appear in both ebook and paperback editions. Part Five: Luxor is available now as an ebook at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo.

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