William’s immediate impression of the valley floor was one of disappointment. Compared to the massive scale of the great pyramids of Giza, the barren landscape was underwhelming. There was nothing visible that marked the area as a special burial ground for ancient Pharaohs.
The men dismounted their donkeys and led them down a track to the valley floor. They followed a sandy road mapped out by rocky retaining walls supporting mounds of loose gravel and stone. William thought that perhaps they were the product of past excavations. The dugout entrances of the tombs were marked with coded signs. They followed the guide to a sign that read ‘K35’ and stopped at the top of a rough flight of stony steps leading down to a wooden doorway.
“This is the tomb of Amenophis II,” the guide announced. “This tomb is very special because the pharaoh’s mummy is still in the burial chamber. You will see him today.”
Although curious at the prospect of seeing a real Egyptian mummy, William felt a grip of apprehension. The guide told them that nine mummies were discovered in the tomb, but only Amenophis II remained. William enquired why.
“Because the tomb was originally intended for him,” the guide answered.
Tethering the donkeys, the men followed the guide through the wooden doorway, into a cavernous stairway illuminated by a single electric light bulb. Placing his hands on the cool walls, William steadied his footing as he descended through the dim capsule of stone. The musty space echoed with the muffled voices of a group ahead of them, but for the most part William and his friends remained quiet. Concentration assisted them down the uneven stone steps and sloping corridors that led them deep beneath the valley floor.
Entering a series of small, empty rooms, they took a 90-degree left-turn and descended another flight of stairs. The gloomy, unadorned stairs and corridors in no way prepared the men for what awaited them.
“Goodness,” William finally found his voice, as he brushed his fingers back through his cropped hair. “I didn’t’ expect this at all.”
“Astounding,” Stephenson’s eyes were wide and smiling. Barr remained quiet, but his facial expression gave away his thoughts.
Once the three travelers recovered from their initial surprise, they moved slowly around the space. Each step represented a new discovery: the six ornate pillars, the ceiling painted like a night blue sky shining with gold stars, the intricate border frescoes that ran around the top and bottom edges of the walls, and the detailed depictions of the pharaoh’s daily life. The room, in its entirety, stole the men’s undivided attention along with their voices. What was there to say? No words could adequately describe the vision before them.
Silently, they neared a rail that blocked the far end of the six pillars. Squeezing into a space beside another group of visitors, they were taken aback as their eyes focused on the sunken floor below.
Their guide joined them at the rail and whispered, “This is the mummy of Amenophis II.” His voice bounced softly off the walls.
William stared at the blackened face of the Pharaoh. He appeared well preserved, despite the thousands of years that had passed since his death. Suddenly, William felt a twinge of uneasiness in the presence of the dead king. Perhaps, because death has marred much the past two years. Listening to the guide’s spiel, he thought about the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the pharaoh’s death; the years of preparation prior to him taking his final breath and the splendour of his final resting place. Somehow, it seemed obscene, compared to the hastily dug graves and quick burials of fallen comrades on the battlefields. He was relieved when they began to ascend to the surface, to the land of the living.
That evening, before going to bed, William tried to digest the events of the long and tiring day. They visited several tombs and ruins, before making the return trip to Luxor by donkey. Although he knew that words could not paint a true picture of what they saw or experienced, he continued his letter to Cis.
This morning at 0330 hours, we crossed in a boat to the West bank and put in a long interesting day. Rode donkeys to a lot of ruins, thence about five miles through a barren gorge to the Tombs of the Kings. Some of these are lit with electric lights, but if a party wishes to do the trip in style, they can have them all brilliantly lit by giving notice the day previous and paying £E2.
The natives run alongside pestering one to buy antiques, scarabs, beads – also the hands and feet of Mummies. The whole of the hills are honeycombed with tombs of minor folk and from these came the hands and feet……
Folding the unfinished letter once again, he placed it in his kitbag and grabbed a window faced envelope he had kept from the telegraph office and sat it on the writing table. Then he retrieved a small pile of blackened wheat grains from a tied handkerchief and placed them, with great care, in the envelope, before sealing it shut. Fingering the envelope, his thoughts were filled with stories of an archaeologist called Howard Carter who had discovered several royal tombs. That afternoon, they saw his house which had stood empty, high on the cliff top, since the onset of war. The war had halted his search for the tomb of the boy King, Tutankhamun. William smiled to himself, knowing, first hand, the thrill of discovery. He had found his own little treasure in a tomb that afternoon.