Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh: Chapter One

November 1907

Chapter One: The Wretched Reticule

Even with the windows closed, the sand still managed to creep into the railway car and find its way into the most inconvenient places. I shifted uncomfortably on the seat, blew the dust off the pages of my journal, and focused on the list I was composing. Seeing things laid out in black and white often helps me think better.

Things To Do In Egypt

1. Avoid the nefarious Serpents of Chaos, a secret organization determined to obtain any and all cursed artifacts and use them for their own ill gain.

2. Locate Major Harriman Grindle, my contact at the Luxor branch of the Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers, the honorable group of men dedicated to stopping the Serpents of Chaos.

3. Help Mother find the Temple of Thutmose III. While my research had indicated there might be such a temple, I had overstated the case in order to convince Mother to return to Egypt so I could—

4. Return two powerful artifacts, the Orb of Ra and the Emerald Tablet to the wedjadeen, a shadowy organization than not even the Brotherhood of Chosen Keepers had heard of. According to the Egyptian magician Awi Bubu, they are charged by the Egyptian gods to guard and protect the same ancient, powerful artifacts as the Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers are.

5. Convince the wedjadeen that I should not be punished for having their powerful artifacts in my possession.

6. Also convince them that since my friend Awi Bubu had sent me to return these powerful artifacts to them, he should be forgiven for his past mistakes that had caused him to be expelled from their ranks.

7. Learn the circumstances of my birth. Awi Bubu seemed to think my peculiar talents of being able to detect ancient magic and curses had been given to me for a reason.

I studied the list. It didn’t look quite long enough, frankly. A mere seven things shouldn’t feel as if the weight of the known world were resting on my shoulders, should it?

A low, unhappy warble emerged from the basket on the seat next to me. I glanced anxiously at Mother, who raised a warning eyebrow. Oh, yes.

8. Keep Isis out from under Mother’s feet at all times.

I slipped my pencil in my pocket, then put my fingers through one of the slats in the basket to reassure her that I was still there. When I felt the feather light touch of her soft, warm nose, I inched my fingers around to scratch behind her ears. That seemed to appease her somewhat. She didn’t quite purr, but she almost purred, and that was victory enough for me.

Mother had been furious when she’d learned I’d snuck Isis along on the trip. Luckily, we’d been far out to sea and it was too late to turn back. I know it was wrong of me to smuggle her along, and not only because it annoyed Mother (although I do try to avoid needlessly annoying my parents whenever possible. There are enough times when I simply have no choice.) The reason it was wrong had more to do with Isis herself. She wasn’t fond of cooped up spaces, nor was she fond of long journeys on the ocean. I knew she would be miserable until we arrived in Egypt. But I also knew I would be even more miserable without her company for months and months. Besides, she had some . . . power, some special quality that had a strange effect on some people that might come in handy on this trip.

If I was going to be thousands of miles from everyone I knew and needed to tackle dangerous duties on my own, then it seemed to me I ought to have at least one ally I could count on. Honestly! Mother was lucky I hadn’t tried to smuggle Sticky Will along on the trip. Although, it was difficult enough smuggling a cat—smuggling a twelve-year-old street urchin with a talent for picking pockets would have been impossible.

With an ear-splitting screech of metal and a final, sickly chug, the train pulled into the Cairo station. I had to brace my feet to keep from pitching onto the floor and I flung my arm out to keep Isis and her basket from tumbling off the seat. Across from me, Mother rocked backwards as the train braked, then pitched forward, her head nearly landing in my lap.

She quickly sat back up and adjusted her hat. “We’re here!” she said cheerfully.

“We’re here,” I agreed, carefully setting the basket to rights.

“Collect your things, dear. We’ll be de-boarding in a few minutes.”

“Yes, Mother.” I took my hand from Isis’s basket, annoyed to find that the silken cords to my reticule had gotten wrapped around my wrist again. I must say, fashion is a mystery to me. How on earth can ladies stroll around with a beastly reticule wrapped around their wrists? The cords get twisted and tangled, then grow so tight it feels as if it has cut off all the circulation to one’s hand. Not only that, but the horrid thing bumps and thumps against one’s leg with every step. Sighing with annoyance, I jerked at the silken cords, trying to get the blood flowing back into my hand.

“What are you doing?” Mother asked.

“Straightening this wretched thing out,” I muttered, watching the reticule spin round and round as I untwisted the cords.

“I thought you loved that little purse! If I remember correctly, you begged and begged for me to buy it for you.”

I bit back a sigh of frustration. Why do grownups always remember the things you wish they wouldn’t? “Well, that was before I knew what a lot of bother they’d be.” What I’d really wanted was a muff, but even in November, Egypt was too hot for one. It would have made a wonderful hiding place, though. One where I could have kept my hands safely wrapped around the—

“Here, give me that.” Mother reached for the purse.

“No!” I jerked it out of her reach. “I need to practice, don’t you think? I’ll be a grownup before you know it, and I’ll need to know how to carry a reticule properly. If I don’t learn now, when will I?”

Mother stared at me for a long moment, then shook her head. “Your grandmother is right. You are a peculiar child.”

Her words stung me to the quick. Peculiar? Peculiar!

Seeing the stricken look on my face, she gave me a smile she meant to be comforting. “Don’t worry, dear. We all go through peculiar stages, but we grow out of them.”

It did not make me feel one whit better that she was hoping—counting on the fact—that I would grow into someone different from who I was.

All the joy and promise of this trip evaporated. One part of me longed to explain the true reason I acted so peculiar, but I didn’t think the true reasons would make her feel any better. In fact, she would most likely ship me off to a sanatorium if she knew that I spent most of my time removing black magic and ancient curses from rare and powerful artifacts in the Museum of Legends and Antiquities that my parents oversaw back in London. Or that I spent quite a lot of energy avoiding secret societies that would love to get their hands on those artifacts and use them for their own evil ends. No, I was fairly certain Mother wouldn’t consider that any less peculiar.

Completely unaware of the turmoil inside me, Mother stood and brushed off her skirts. “Get your things, dear.”

Another low-throated warble emerged from the basket on the bench next to me. “Isis doesn’t like being called a thing,” I pointed out.

Mother stopped her grooming and speared me with one of her stern looks. “Since Isis was not invited on this trip, I do not particularly care what she likes and does not like. Do not try my patience, Theo. The travel and the delays have done that well enough. Now come along.”

Feeling that perhaps coming to Egypt with Mother was a very bad idea, I grabbed my traveling satchel in one hand, Isis’s basket in the other, and pushed to my feet.

“Your hat,” she reminded me, motioning to the pith helmet on the seat cushion. Bother. I set down my satchel, plunked the hat on my head, picked up the satchel again, then followed Mother out of our compartment and thump-bumped my way down the narrow, cramped aisle.

In the station, faint traces of heka and ancient magic hung in the air, mingling with the soot and steam from the train. I sneezed, then gingerly picked my way down the steps to the platform, the small weight in my reticule heavy against my leg. The Orb of Ra within it was a constant reminder of why I was here and the promise I made to an Awi Bubu when he was on his deathbed. (Or so I had believed at the time, otherwise I would never have made it.) However, while he hadn’t died from the injuries he’d sustained, he hadn’t recovered enough that he could travel to Egypt himself.

Thinking of the Serpents of Chaos made me uneasy. My shoulders twitched, itching for the safety of our hotel room. “Is Nabir meeting us?” I looked around the crowded station, hoping to spot the familiar face of Mother’s dragoman.

“Not this time,” she said. “He’s in Luxor putting together a team for the dig. We’ll find a porter and obtain transportation to the hotel ourselves.”

Easier said than done, I thought, trying to push through a knot of people milling about the station. In truth, it was more of a mob. And while I remembered Cairo station being busy, I didn’t remember it being this busy. “What are all these people doing here?” I asked over the rising hum of the voices. “Is it a holiday of some sort?”

“I’m not sure, dear,” Mother called over her shoulder, “but stay close so we don’t get separated.”

I squeezed around a group of men, all wearing long white robes and arguing forcefully with each other. With a stab of surprise, I found myself longing for Father. He was quite efficient at coaxing people to give way. Of course, that was due to the cane he wielded with such devastating effectiveness. Even so, I had not expected to miss his solid presence quite so much. Unfortunately, the museum’s current exhibit had become so popular that the board of directors wouldn’t let him leave.

Unfamiliar foreign voices filled the station, sounding angry and frustrated. Mother gripped her satchel more firmly and glanced back to be certain I was still right behind her. I was glad to see that, peculiar or not, she didn’t want to lose me in this crush. I gave her a smile of reassurance, then turned my attention back to looking for a break in the crowd through which we could slip.

That was when I noticed an odd, spindly man fighting his way through the throng. His eyes darted over the heads of the jostling crowd, searching for someone. Thoughts of the Serpents of Chaos immediately filled my head. I glanced over at Mother to see if she had noticed—or recognized—the fellow, but she seemed reluctant to take her eyes from the baggage car, afraid our trunks would disappear from sight if she so much as looked away.

The man was quite tall, and long-limbed. His hair was so fair as to be nearly white, as if all the color had been washed out of it. There was something a bit twitchy about him that made me wonder if his bones didn’t quite fit in his skin.

His searching gaze landed on Mother and me, and a determined gleam appeared in his eyes, like someone zeroing in on a target.

Just as I was trying to decide if Mother and I could give him the slip, he gave a vigorous shove past one last barrier of bodies and popped through the crowd like a cork out of a bottle to land neatly in front of us.

His pale blue eyes blinked rapidly as he tugged his jacket back into place and straightened his tie. I saw that there was a bit of hair on his upper lip that wanted to be a mustache when it grew up. He sent a quick, unreadable glance my way then bowed to Mother. “Mrs. Throckmorton?” he asked.

I gripped the satchel and reticule more tightly.

“Yes?” Mother asked with chilly politeness.

“I am Jonathan Bing of the Antiquities Service. I’ve been sent to escort you to your appointment. When I stopped by the hotel to collect you, they said you had not yet arrived. I thought I’d best come check on your train since this business”—he nodded his head toward the crowd of Egyptians—“was going on today.”

Mother visibly relaxed. “And we are so very glad that you did.”

“What exactly is this business?” I asked looking back at the edges of the throng where a lone man stood on a crate, addressing the others.

His gaze followed my own and his nose wrinkled faintly in distaste. “The Nationalist Party. They’re having a demonstration to protest the British presence here in Egypt.”

“Yes well, they are taking up rather a lot of room,” Mother said as someone jostled her and sent her stumbling into me. “Would you be so kind as to take this?” Mother thrust her small carry-aboard suitcase at him, then grabbed my elbow in a firm grip.

Some of the tension left me, and suddenly, the teeming masses of humanity seemed less threatening.

Taking Mother’s suitcase, Mr. Bing began using it rather like a battering ram and forced a path through the scrum. We followed gratefully in his wake.

At first, Bing had little success in getting through the solid wall of bodies. I was quickly surrounded by black robes and turbaned heads. If it hadn’t been for Mother’s solid hold on me, I’m afraid I might have panicked.

The man on the crate let loose with a new torrent of words, and the crowd erupted into cheers and surged forward, as if to embrace him on their wave of joy. The three of us were carried along with them. “What is he saying?” I asked Bing, nearly shouting to be heard.

“Nothing good,” he shouted back. I scowled. He was my least favorite sort of grownup—the kind that never told children anything.

A tall, bearded man bumped into me and knocked my elbow out of Mother’s grip. Within seconds, the sea of strangers closed in around me and I couldn’t see any sign of Mother’s dusty rose traveling suit or the tailored lines of Bing’s morning coat. A firm hand grabbed my arm. Chaos, I thought, with a hot bubble of panic. I bit back a scream and tried to jerk away.

The grip tightened painfully. “This way!” Bing shouted. Bing, I told myself. It was only Mr. Bing. I allowed him to tug me through the wall of bodies until finally we were on the other side. I spotted Mother waiting for us and started to head for her, but a squeeze on my shoulder held me back.

“What?” I asked Mr. Bing.

“Wigmere,” he said out of the side of his mouth. “Wigmere sent me.”

I stumbled to a stop when he uttered the name of the head of the Chosen Keepers. “Really?” I asked.

He nodded and turned his attention back to Mother, waving to her to let her know he’d found me. For the first time since stepping off the train, I relaxed. I should have known Wigmere would have arranged for some sort of help here in Cairo. Especially with the burden I was carrying.

* * *

Mr. Bing deposited me next to Mother, then braved the crowd once more to oversee our luggage.

Outside the train station, the smell of old magic was stronger and mixed with the heat and the dust and something a little bit . . . gamey. I turned to find a small herd of donkeys and donkey boys waiting nearby. That was it; the smell of donkey.

Finally all of our belongings were duly collected and we loaded ourselves and our luggage into the conveyance. The driver slapped the reins and the carriage moved forward.

The streets of Cairo still looked the same as they had on my first trip. Mostly. They were lined on either side by high narrow houses with second and third stories that jutted out over the street. Windows were covered with elaborate latticework that looked like exotic lace. And the colors! Violet, mulberry, olive, peach, and crimson, with the occasional flash of silver or brass. It was as though someone had spilled a paint box in the sand. Even so, it seemed to me that the shadows were darker, deeper and more threatening than on my last visit.

I kept a careful eye on the men in the street—barefoot Egyptians in tattered cotton, Bedouin in long billowing robes, effendis in their red fez’s—looking for any sign of the Serpents of Chaos, but everyone seemed as he should.

When at last the hotel came into view, my sigh of relief was cut short when a swarm of vendors and street sellers descended upon our carriage like one of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. They pressed around on all sides, trying to sell whips, fly swatters, cork-lined hats, or locally crafted fans. One man carried an enormous stick covered with dangling shoes and nearly beaned us with it as he tried to show us his wares.

The hotel doorman—a giant, burly fellow—waded through the bodies, shooing them aside as if he were brushing crumbs from a table. He reached our carriage and cleared enough space for us to get out. Then he planted himself on one side of us and Mr. Bing took up the other as we made our way to the safety of the hotel lobby. The cool quiet was like a balm to our battered souls after the pandemonium of the morning.

Porters were sent to fetch our trunks and we were quickly shown to our rooms. Mr. Bing offered to wait downstairs while we freshened up, then escort us to the Antiquities Service.

“Don’t dawdle, Theodosia,” Mother said, when we reached our suite. “We’ve got to meet Mr. Bing in a quarter of an hour. I don’t want to keep Monsieur Maspero waiting any longer than necessary.”

“Yes, Mother,” I said, then thump-bumped my way into the room where the porter had set my trunks. I nudged the door closed with the toe of my boot, then set my satchel and basket on the floor. I knelt down to open the wicker basket. “We’re here,” I told Isis. “You can come out now.”

As soon as I lifted the lid, she shot out of the basket like a black lightning bolt. She stalked around the room, stopping to sniff here and there, trying to determine if the room met with her approval.

While she was deciding, I rifled through my trunk looking for the least-wrinkled frock I could find. The butterscotch-colored taffeta seemed to have traveled the best, so I took it out and shook the wrinkles from it. By that time, Isis returned to me and bumped her head against my ankle. “Is everything all right, then?” I asked her.

She meowed, and I bent to scratch her behind the ears. She ducked away from my hand and meowed again, this time prancing over to the window.

“Of course!” I said, horrified that I hadn’t thought of it first. “You must be desperate to go out.” I hurried over and opened the window, happy to see it overlooked a garden of some sort. “But do hurry back,” I told her. “I’ll need you to stand guard while I’m out with Mother.”

Isis gave a short warble of consent, then leaped outside and disappeared among the bushes.

I stepped out of my travel-stained gown and went to wash the travel dust from my face, neck, and arms. Scrubbed clean, I stared at myself in the mirror, looking for any sign that my eyes might be beginning to turn brown like Mother’s. But, no luck. They hadn’t gotten more blue like Father’s, either. They were still the color of swamp mud and unlike anyone elses in my family.

Answers, I promised myself. I would find answers on this trip. That was the other reason I had agreed to keep my promise to Awi Bubu.

I went back to the bed and slipped into my clean frock. I wished desperately that there was some way to carry a five pound stone tablet on my person, but there simply wasn’t. I would have to leave the Emerald Tablet where it was. I was very careful to not let myself think of the hiding place in case someone skilled in Egyptian magic could snatch it from my mind.

Just as I’d finished brushing my hair, Isis appeared on the windowsill. “Perfect timing—oh, what have you got?” Something small and wriggly dangled from her jaws. I hurried over to shut the window and lock it tightly behind her.

“Theo? Are you ready?” Mother called out.

“Coming!” I called back. I turned to Isis. “Don’t let anyone near our treasure. I’m counting on you.”

She gave a low-throated growl, then stalked back to her basket, climbed in, and began to make crunching sounds.

“Er, enjoy your dinner.” I glanced at the reticule on the bed. I thought briefly of putting it in one of the drawers, but a reticule was the first thing even a common thief would look for. No, it seemed best to bring it with me. Sighing, I slipped the wretched reticule onto my wrist and went to find my mother and Mr. Bing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Unicorn's Tale: Chapter One

Chapter One

October 1928

“I still don’t understand why we had to come to France,” Nate grumbled as he dragged his rucksack on the ground behind him. Not liking the bumpy ride, his pet gremlin, Greasle, scampered up the pack’s buckles and pouches to his shoulder.
“We came to France because our lives can’t just stand still while we wait for news of Obediah Fludd to surface,” Aunt Phil explained. “We still have a job to do, Nate. And today, being a beastologist brings us to France.”
She stopped walking and Nate bumped into her. “Sorry,” he mumbled, embarrassed.
Aunt Phil reached out a hand to steady him. “We have scouts everywhere, keeping an eye out for Obediah. If he’s spotted, we’ll know soon enough. Now, pull yourself together. We’ve work to do.”
Cornelius, Aunt Phil’s pet dodo, sniffed. “If the boy were a true Fludd, he wouldn’t snivel so much.”
As Nate glared at him, Greasle piped up. “Seems to me there was a certain dodo doing an awful lot of sniveling this morning. Something about nots wanting to be left home alone.”
Cornelius raised his beak into the air and fluffed his feathers. “I wasn’t sniveling. I was being cautious. I’d already been attacked once, you know.”
“You weren’t attacked!” Greasle scoffed. “A door accidentally falled on you.”
“Enough!” Aunt Phil said.
“He started it,” the gremlin muttered. 
Nate let himself fall a few paces behind Aunt Phil and lowered his voice. “Bickering with Cornelius is not going to help convince Aunt Phil to let me keep you,” he pointed out.
Greasle’s shoulders drooped. “I know. But I can’t stand it when that overstuffed pigeon be’s mean to you.”
“Are you two planning on joining us any time soon?” Cornelius drawled.
Nate looked up to see that the dodo and Aunt Phil had reached the farmhouse and he hurried to catch up. A flock of chickens had stopped scratching in the dirt to stare curiously at Cornelius.
Nate sent the dodo a sly look. “Relatives of yours, Cornelius?”
The dodo clacked his beak in annoyance.
“Don’t worry about him,” Greasle told the chickens. “He’s just a big, fat chicken who can’t even lay eggs.”
Just as Aunt Phil whirled around to give everyone another scolding, the farmhouse door burst open. A short, round man tumbled out into the yard. He wore a black cap and smelled of garlic and sausage. “Dr. Fludd! I had nearly despaired of your arrival!”
“I’m sorry Monsieur Poupon. We came as soon as we got your message. It does take an hour or two to cross the channel—even in an airplane. Now, what’s all this about a guivre infestation?”
“Le dragon showed up in my well two days ago and won’t budge.”
“One guivre can hardly be considered an infestation," Aunt Phil pointed out. Besides, you are having an unseasonably warm autumn. Perhaps he just needs to cool off for a bit—”
Non! He may not cool off in my well. Le guivre, he carries disease, the plague! All my family, my animals, will become sick if you do not remove him at once.”
“Nonsense.” Aunt Phil bristled. “That is merely an old rumor started in the Middle Ages. It has long been proven false. Guivres carry no diseases.”
The farmer’s face grew red and he clenched his fists. “Are you saying you won’t remove him?”
“No. I am simply pointing out that you have nothing to fear but inconvenience. Come along, Nate. Let’s go see to the guivre. We’ll let you know when we’ve finished, Monsieur Poupon.”
With that, Aunt Phil headed back down the walkway. “I don’t want that poor guivre around you any longer than necessary,” she muttered to herself.
She was so annoyed with the farmer that she marched right past the path leading to the well. Not wanting this to take any longer than it had to, Nate stopped and called her back. “I think this is the way,” he said, pointing to a low wall of thick gray stone.
“Now that is clever,” Cornelius drawled. “Finding a well in plain sight. I take back everything I ever said about your lack of Fludd skills.”
“If you can’t say something helpful, then don’t say anything at all,” Aunt Phil told the dodo. To Nate, she said, “Thank you.”
When they came to a stop in front of the well, Greasle whispered in Nate’s ear, “What’s a guivre, anyway?” 
“I don’t know,” he said. “But we’re about to find out. Now be quiet so I can pay attention.” He didn’t want to miss a thing. Aunt Phil might quiz him on it later. Or it could turn out to be a matter of life and death. One never knew with her.
She set her pack on the ground then leaned over the well. “Hello?” she called out, her voice echoing down into the dark depths.
In answer, a great gushing stream of water shot out of the well. Aunt Phil leaped back, avoiding the hosing. Unfortunately, Nate didn’t. The jet of water cascaded down on his head.
“Sorry about that,” Aunt Phil said as he wiped the water from his eyes. “I should have warned you.”
Nate wrung the water from his coat, glad they were having a warm autumn. On his shoulder, Greasle gave a quick shake, flinging the water from her oily skin.
Aunt Phil turned back to the well. “Thank you, dear, but I didn’t need any water today,” she called down. “I actually wanted to have a little chat with you. Do you have a moment?”
The splashing stopped, then slowly, something big and slithery began to rise up out of the well’s depths.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Wyverns' Treasure: Chapter One

Monday, August 15, 2005

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: The Basilisk's Lair: Chapter One

Chapter One

September, 1928

Perched atop his camel, Nathaniel Fludd plodded through the desert sand. He did his best to ignore the merciless sun and hot dry wind.

Beastologist, he thought, trying out the title. I am a beastologist. One week ago, he’d been a cast off, unwanted by just about everybody. Now, he was a beastologist-in-training. He imagined introducing himself. “Why yes, Nathaniel Fludd here. Pleased to meet you. What’s that? Oh, I’m a beastologist.” The faces around him would look duly impressed.

Aunt Phil’s dry voice poked though his daydream. “This might be a good time to check your headings.”


“The heading?” she reminded him. “You’re supposed to be navigating the way back to Wadi Rumba.”

Nate looked down at the compass in his hand. The needle pointed to the north, but there was no town where it should be. He shook the compass, hoping maybe that would help.

“It’s not stuck, Nate,” Aunt Phil said. “Think. What did I tell you about north?”

“That the compass needle always points there?” He tried to keep the frustration out of his voice.

“And what else?”

Nate sighed. He was tired and his brain felt as fried as a breakfast egg from the heat of the Arabian sun. He wasn’t interested in learning how to navigate right now. All he wanted was someplace cool to lie down. And water—an entire tub full of water.

But Aunt Phil was relentless. Once she had gotten it in her head that Nate was to learn how to use the compass, that had been it. He was in charge of getting them back to Wadi Rumba. The problem was, he was failing miserably. He scrunched up his brain, trying to remember everything she’d told him. “Oh!” He remembered something. “Are we still above the equator? Because maybe I got that backwards.”

Before Aunt Phil could answer, Greasle poked her head out of his rucksack. “Why’re we stopped here?”

Aunt Phil glanced at the tiny gremlin. “Just orienting ourselves,” she said.

“Well hurry up already,” Greasle said, but softly, so Aunt Phil wouldn’t hear her.

Nate glanced back at the compass. The needle had moved a few degrees to the east. He frowned at Greasle. “Get back in the pack. You’re making the needle jump again.”

“Sorry,” she muttered. “I likes it better in the pack anyway.”

Nate immediately felt guilty for snapping at her. She was his best friend, after all. His only friend, really. And it wasn’t her fault they were off course. At least, he didn’t think it was her fault. “Could Greasle’s effect on the compass have put us off course?” he asked.

Aunt Phil shook her head. She didn’t look hot or tired at all. “No, as long as the gremlin stays in the pack where she belongs, she has no effect on the compass. We’re off course because you didn’t allow for the difference between true north and magnetic north.”

“Oh yeah.” He’d completely forgotten about that part. He looked around. Nothing but miles of sand and scorching heat. His first test at a true Fludd skill and he’d failed. But maybe now Aunt Phil would take over. He looked at her hopefully.

She shook her head. “No, Nate. We learn best from our mistakes. I’m willing to bet you’ll never forget the magnetic north differential again. However, in the interest of time, I will tell you need to adjust by four degrees to the east.”

Nate grit his teeth, then set the outside ring on the compass four degrees to the east. As he looked up to reorient himself, he saw a cloud of dust coming toward them. “Look,” he said.

Aunt Phil lifted the binoculars from around her neck. “Riders,” she said after a moment. “Looking for us, it seems.”

“How can you tell that?” he asked. Her skills never ceased to amaze him.

She lowered the binoculars and smiled. “Because they’re waving. Come on. Let’s ride out to meet them. They weren’t scheduled to come looking for us for another two days.”

“Then why are they here?”

“That’s what I want to find out,” she said. “Something must have come up.”

Nate’s heart sank at the cheerful, Oh good, an exciting new disaster tone in his aunt’s voice. It could only mean one thing: Trouble.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix First Chapter

Chapter One

It was one of the most important moments in Nathaniel Fludd’s young life, and he was stuck sitting in the corner. Miss Lumpton had promised him an overnight trip to the city to visit the zoo. Instead, he found himself in a stuffy office with their suitcases at his feet and his sketchbook in his lap. He’d been given clear instructions not to listen in on Miss Lumpton’s conversation with the lawyer. The problem was, they sat only three feet away and the lawyer spoke rather loudly. Nate tried to concentrate on his drawing.

"Thank you for coming on such short notice," the lawyer said.

Nate drummed his heels on one of the suitcases to try to drown out the sound of their voices. Miss Lumpton shushed him.

He stopped kicking.

"You said you had news?" Miss Lumpton asked.

The lawyer lowered his voice, and Nate felt as if his ears grew a bit, straining to hear. "We’ve had word of his parents." Nate’s head jerked up.

Miss Lumpton caught him looking. "Keep drawing," she ordered, then turned back to the lawyer. Nate kept his eyes glued to the sketchbook in front of him. But even though his pencil was moving dutifully on the paper, every molecule of his body was focused on the lawyer’s words.

"On May twenty-third of this year, the airship Italia crashed on the ice near the North Pole."

Nate’s pencil froze. His body felt hot, then cold. He hadn’t even known his parents were on an airship.

The lawyer continued. "After months of searching, only eight of the sixteen crew have been found. The boy’s parents were not among them."

Miss Lumpton put a hand to her throat. "So what does that mean, exactly?" Her voice wobbled.

"It means that, as of this day, September fifth, 1928, Horatio and Adele Fludd have been declared lost at sea."

"I thought you said they crashed on the ice?" Nate blurted out. Luckily, Miss Lumpton was too busy fishing for her handkerchief to notice he spoke out of turn.

"Yes, well, technically, the ice was frozen seawater," the lawyer said. "But either way, I’m afraid your parents aren’t coming back." Miss Lumpton began to cry quietly.

Nate hadn’t seen his parents in more than three years. Of course, he’d missed them horribly when they first left. He’d been comforted only when they promised to send for him on his eighth birthday.

"You need a little more time to grow up," his father had said. "When you’re old enough to travel well and your sense of adventure has developed, we’ll send for you then."

Time had passed. On his eighth birthday, Nate had been excited, but nervous, too. He wasn’t sure his love of adventure had shown up yet. But his parents’ letter asking him to join them never showed up, either. "Just as well," Miss Lump-ton had sniffed. "Their job is much too important to have a youngster tagging along, getting in the way."

On his ninth birthday Nate had been hopeful. Miss Lumpton told him not to be silly. His parents’ work was much too dangerous for a young boy. Especially a young boy like himself, one who liked quiet walks, reading, and drawing. Clearly he wasn’t suited to a life of adventure. Nate was a little disappointed—he thought he had felt the smallest beginning of an adventurous spark.

By his tenth birthday, Nate had buried the memory of his parents and never took it out anymore. Much like a toy he’d outgrown, he told himself. But the truth was, thinking of them hurt too much.

And now he would never see them again.

Miss Lumpton dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief. "So the poor boy is all alone in the world?"

Nate wished she’d stop crying. It wasn’t her parents who’d been lost at sea.

"No, no, my dear Miss Lumpton," the lawyer said. "That is not the case at all. The boy is to live with a Phil A. Fludd."

Miss Lumpton stopped crying. "Phil A. Fludd? Well, who is that, I’d like to know."

The lawyer studied the paper in front of him. "A cousin of the boy’s father. Lives in Batting-at-the-Flies up in North County."

Miss Lumpton sniffed. "Well, what about me?"

Suddenly Nate understood why she’d been crying. She hadn’t been worried about him at all.

"They’ve left you a Tidy Sum, Miss Lumpton. You shall not want."

Miss Lumpton’s tears disappeared. She sat up straighter and leaned forward. "How much?"

The lawyer told her the amount of money she would
receive. Her cheeks grew pink with pleasure. "Well, that should do very nicely."

"In fact," the lawyer said, "my clerk is holding the
funds for you. If you’d like to check with him when we’re done—"

Miss Lumpton stood up. "I think we’re done."

Nate looked at her in surprise. He didn’t think they were done. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t stay with Miss Lumpton. Why couldn’t things go on the way they had for the past three years?

His governess came over to where he sat and gave him an awkward pat on the head. "Good luck, dear boy." She grabbed one of the suitcases and left the room in search of her Tidy Sum.

Nate did feel like crying then. Instead, he blinked quite fast.

"Now," the lawyer boomed, "we must go, too." He pulled a pocket watch from his vest and looked at it. "You have a train to catch."

"A train?" Nate asked.

"Yes. Now put that book of yours away and come along." The lawyer closed his watch with a snap. "Eh, what have you drawn there?" he asked. "A walrus?"

"Er, yes." Nate shut the sketchbook quickly, before the lawyer could recognize himself.

"Well, do hurry. It wouldn’t do to miss the train. It wouldn’t do at all." The lawyer came out from behind his desk and grabbed Nate’s suitcase.

Nate stood up and tucked his sketchbook under his arm. The lawyer clamped his hand onto Nate’s shoulder and steered him out of the office.

Nate had to take giant steps to keep up. The train station was only two blocks away, but Nate was out of breath by the time they got there.

"All aboard!" the conductor called out.

"Here." The lawyer thrust the suitcase at Nate and shoved a ticket into his hand. "Hurry, boy! They won’t hold the train for you." His voice was gruff and impatient. Nate wondered if the lawyer would get a Tidy Sum for getting him on the train.

Once he was onboard, Nate hurried to the window to wave goodbye, but the lawyer had already left.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus: Chapter One

Chapter One – The Great Awi Bubu

M A R C H 2 3 , 1 9 0 7

I HATE BEING FOLLOWED. I especially hate being followed by a bunch of lunatic adults playing at being occultists. Unfortunately, the Black Sunners were out in full force today. I’ d spotted the first one on High Street, and by the time I’ d reached the Alcazar Theater, there were two more on my tail.

I glanced at the sparse crowd waiting outside the rundown theater, my heart sinking when I saw that Sticky Will wasn’t there yet. Not knowing what else to do, I got in line for the ticket window, then checked to see if the men would follow. One leaned against the building across the street, and another one lounged against a lamppost, pretending to read the paper.

“If you aren’t going to purchase a ticket, get out of the way,” a coarse voice said.

I pulled my gaze away from my pursuers to find the woman in the ticket booth glaring at me. While my attention had been focused elsewhere, the line had moved forward, and it was now my turn. “Sorry,” I muttered, setting my coin on the counter.

She snatched it up and shoved a green paper ticket at me. “Next?” she called out.

As I left the ticket booth, Will was still nowhere in sight. Keeping a close eye on the Black Sunners for any sudden moves, I ventured over to the playbill pasted to the crumbling brick wall.


The lurid picture showed a man in traditional Egyptian garb raising a mummy.

I was relatively sure that whatever the Great Awi Bubu did, it was n o t Egyptian magic. He was most likely some charlatan taking advantage of London’s heightened interest in all things Egyptian.

Not that I’d had anything to do with that —well, not intentionally anyway. All those mummies running loose in London hadn’t really been my fault. How was I to know that there was such a thing as a staff that could raise the dead? Or that it would be lurking in the Museum of Legends and Antiquities’ basement? It could have happened to anyone.

Sticky Will had been instrumental in fixing the situation, and in the process he’ d learned a little more about my unique relationship with the artifacts in my father’s museum. Rather too much, if you asked me. But it couldn’t be helped.

Oh, he didn’t know I was the only one who could sense the vile curses and black magic still clinging to the artifacts. Or the true extent of my knowledge of the ancient Egyptian rituals and practices that I’d used to remove the curses. But he had seen some of the magic in action. And he’d seen what unscrupulous people were willing to do to get their hands on it. Consequently, Will now spent a large portion of his time scouring London in search of even more Egyptian magic, determined to prove that he was ready, willing, and able to take on the dark forces that surrounded us.

Which was why I now stood in front of the Alcazar Theater, ticket clutched in my hand, after everyone else had gone inside. The Black Sunners across the street —they called themselves scorpions, in honor of an old Egyptian myth —also seemed to realize that the crowd had thinned. With no one else about, one of the scorpions —Gerton, I believe —decided to make his move. Stepping away from the building, he headed across the street.

Will or no Will, I had to get inside. As I turned for the door, I heard a loud, wet, snuffling sound from behind the ticket booth. I perked up. There was only one person I knew who could turn a runny nose into a calling card: Snuffles.

I hurried around the corner, nearly bumping into one of Will’s younger brothers. He wore a loud, plaid morning coat that was so large it nearly dragged on the ground. His sleeves had been rolled up several times, and he peered up at me from under an enormous bowler hat that was held in place by his rather remarkable ears. “Yer late,” he said.

“No, I’ m not. I’ve been waiting here for ages. Where’s Will?”

“’E’s inside already. Sixth row from the stage, center section, aisle seat. And ’e says to ‘urry. The show’s about to start.”

“Aren’t you coming?”

“I’ll meet you inside,” he said, then disappeared back down the street.

With one final glance in Gerton’s direction, I proceeded to the theater entrance, gave my ticket to the porter, and went inside.

The lobby was empty and I could hear the feeble music of an out-of-tune piano. I opened the door that led to the auditorium and found that the lights had already been turned down. I let my eyes adjust to the dark, relieved when I finally recognized Will in the sixth row. He was easy to spot, actually, as he kept turning in his seat and looking around.

For me, no doubt.

He spotted me, then waved. I hurried to the empty seat next to him.

“Wot took you so long?” he asked.

“I’ve been waiting out front for ages,” I said. “Where were you?”

Before I could answer, Snuffles and another boy appeared in the aisle. “Let us in,” Snuffles said, a bit urgently. I turned my knees to the side so he could work past me. The second boy removed his tweed cap as he scooted by and I recognized the thin, pinched features of another one of Will’s brothers —Ratsy. We had met briefly aboard the Dreadnought during a rather distracting set of circumstances. Nevertheless, he gave me a nod of greeting.

“How did you get in here?” I whispered to Snuffles.

He looked at Will, who pointedly wouldn’t meet my gaze. “We used a side entrance, miss. Now ’ush. It’s about to start.”

Just then, the piano music became louder, more jangling.

The curtain opened. I settled back in the lumpy, threadbare seat, and resolved to enjoy myself.

The stage held two fake palm trees, a pyramid that looked as if it was made of papier-mâché, and half a dozen burning torches. A sarcophagus sat in the middle of the stage. The music stopped, and the theater was so quiet you could hear the hiss of the gas lamps. Slowly, the lid to the sarcophagus began to open. It fell against the side with a thud, then a figure rose up from its depths.

“The Great Awi Bubu,” a loud voice intoned from somewhere offstage, “will now perform amazing feats of Egyptian magic. This magic is old and dangerous, and the audience is advised to do exactly as the magician says in order to avoid any misfortune.”

The magician was a skinny, wizened man who did indeed look to be of Egyptian descent. His head was bald and rather large. He wore a pair of wire spectacles perched on his beakish nose; it gave him the air of a very old baby bird. He wore a tunic of white linen with a colorful collar that looked vaguely like ancient Egyptian dress.

He stepped toward a basket near the front of the stage. Will elbowed me in the ribs. “Watch this now,” he whispered.

“I am watching,” I whispered back. What did he think, that I was sitting here with my eyes closed?

Awi Bubu pulled a flutelike instrument from the folds of his robe, and began to play a strange, haunting melody. Slowly, he sat down in front of the basket and crossed his legs. After another moment of music playing, the lid of the basket began to rise. It swayed gently, then fell to the side.

“You must all be very quiet,” the announcer told us in a hushed voice. “Any sudden noise could be disastrous.”

A moment later a small, dark form appeared at the lip of the basket. It hesitated for a moment, then darted free and scurried over to the magician. Several more forms followed. Scorpions —scores of them. I shivered as they scuttled their way up Awi Bubu’s legs, onto his chest, and across his arms. One even climbed up his neck to rest on his bald head, like a macabre hat. Throughout it all, other than playing his flute, the magician did not so much as twitch a muscle.

As the audience held its breath, there was a disturbance at the back of the theater. “Hey! You can’t go in there without a ticket!”

I craned my neck around to see two heavily cloaked men walking down the aisles, searching the faces in the theater. More scorpions! Only this time, of the human variety.

I scrunched down low in my seat, grabbed Snuffles’s hat, and plopped it down on my own head, trying not to think of lice. I held my breath, hoping Gerton and Fell wouldn’t spot me.

The strange music chose that moment to clatter to a stop. The two human scorpions came to a halt in the aisle, giving the porters a chance to catch up with them. As they were escorted out of the theater, Awi Bubu opened his eyes and, with surprising grace, rose to his feet, the scorpions still clinging to him. The audience gasped.

Next to me, Will shuddered violently. “That’s disgusting, that is.”

“There must be a trick to it,” I whispered back to him.

“Scorpions are deadly poisonous. Perhaps he’s had all their stingers removed.”

Will cut a glance my way. “Do you always try to ruin the suspense, miss?”

Before I could reply, there was a nudge in my ribs. “Can I ’ave me ’at back, miss?”

“Sorry,” I said, handing it to Snuffles.

“Shh!” someone behind us hissed.

I scowled, but was saved from answering when the music began again, coming in short staccato bursts. The scorpions changed their direction and began to crawl off the magician. However, instead of heading back to the basket, they scuttled to the edge of the stage. A woman screamed, and the audience reared back in their seats.

“Quiet now,” the announcer reminded us. “You don’t want to provoke the magician’s beasties.”

The entire audience (myself included) held its breath as the scorpions hovered at the edge of the stage. Finally, they gave one last wave of their claws and swarmed back into the basket.

The audience relaxed a bit as the magician went over to secure the scorpions in the basket. Before he had finished, there was a loud thumping from within the pyramid. After two more thumps, something crashed right through and onto the stage. We all gasped in surprise as a mummy lumbered out. I glanced at Will, whose eyes were as big and round as guineas. Honestly. It was clearly a man wrapped up in linen; how could anyone be fooled by this? They wouldn’t be if they had ever seen a real mummy. Especially if they’d been unfortunate enough to see a real mummy on the move, as I had. I stifled a shudder.

“It’s right creepy, ain’t it, miss?” Will whispered, mistaking my shudder as having to do with the mummy onstage. Not wanting to ruin his enjoyment, I simply said, “Fascinating.” (Fascinating is such a lovely word—it covers so many possibilities.)

The mummy shuffled around onstage a bit while the audience oohed and aahed. Then the mummy paused, as if noticing the audience for the first time. Slowly and with great theatrics, he began to lurch toward the audience as if he planned to come right off the stage and into our midst.

“Awi Bubu seems to have lost control of the mummy,” the announcer said in a breathless voice. “Quick now, before it’s too late, toss coins at him. Coins are the only thing that will
stop him.”

Oh, for heaven’s sake. What kind of operation was this anyway? There was a halfhearted smattering of coins onto the stage. From the corner of my eye, I saw Will, Ratsy, and Snuffles all toss something toward the mummy. That’s when I began to get angry. Will and his brothers had so little, as did most of the other people in this rundown joke of a theater. How dare the management try to milk even more of their hard-earned money from them?

Finally, as if beaten back by the coins, the mummy retreated into the pyramid. The audience settled down, and I shifted in my seat.

The torches dimmed and two stagehands dressed as Egyptian slaves hurried out onto the stage. While they laid bricks down on the floor, Awi Bubu went to one of the fake palm trees and lifted a bronze dish from behind it.

“For Awi Bubu’s next amazing feat of magic, we need a volunteer from the audience. Who will volunteer?”

Like deranged jack-in-the-boxes, Will, Snuffles, and Ratsy leaped to their feet, their hands thrust high into the air. Awi Bubu studied the audience carefully before raising a long skinny arm and pointing at Ratsy.

He gave a hoot of glee, and Will and Snuffles groaned in disappointment. An usher arrived at the end of the row to escort Ratsy up onto the stage. Once Ratsy was there, Awi Bubu positioned him on the bricks, face-down, then set the vessel on the floor by his head. One of the stagehands lit some incense, and Awi Bubu poured a few drops from a
flask into the bronze dish.

A jolt of recognition shot through me. The Great Awi Bubu was reenacting an ancient Egyptian oracular ceremony, the very same one Aloysius Trawley had forced me to
perform a few short weeks ago! Whoever this magician was, he clearly knew something about real ancient Egyptian practices. Which made him very interesting indeed.

“Remove all thoughts from your mind,” the magician instructed Ratsy in a low, sing-songy voice. “Let it become a blank slate by which the gods can communicate.” Then he
began to chant. “Horus, we call upon your power and strength. Open this child’s eyes to your wisdom.”

I sat bolt upright in my seat. Those were the exact words that Trawley had used. Did this Awi Bubu belong to Trawley’s Arcane Order of the Black Sun—a secret society dedicated to matters of the occult? Is that why Trawley’s men had been so comfortable barging into the theater?

As the smell of incense in the theater began to overpower the smell of gin, Awi Bubu asked Ratsy a question. “What is your name?”


“What is your occupation?”

“A rat catcher.” I was suddenly very glad Will hadn’t been picked; he’ d have been forced to confess he was a pick-pocket in front of this rough crowd.

“Where do you live?”

“Nottingham Court, off Drury Lane.”

The magician turned to the audience. “Who has a question they’d like to ask the oracle?”

Hands shot into the air. How could people be so gullible? How could they not tell this was all a hoax? But no one seemed to suspect a thing. They were all waving their arms in the air, hoping Awi Bubu would pick them.

“Will me old man’s ship come in soon?” a young clerk clutching his hat in his hand called out.

“No. He will be in debtors’ prison by the end of the year,” Ratsy intoned in a hollow voice.

A woman sprang to her feet. “Will my son get better?”

“’E’ll be right as rain come next Tuesday.”

She closed her eyes in relief.

“What ’ orse should I bet on this Saturday?” a man shouted.

“Pride o’ the Morning,” Ratsy said. The man—along with half the occupants of the theater —hastily scribbled the name down on a scrap of paper.

“Will there be any more funny business like them mummies?” an old man asked, his question causing the others to quiet down.

There was a pause, then: “The Black Sun shall rise up in a red sky before falling to earth, where a great serpent will swallow it.”

I gasped. Those were the very words I had uttered to Trawley! How did Ratsy know? Had Awi Bubu slipped him a note? Whispered in his ear? Surely this proved the magician was one of Trawley’s men.

“It is time to come back to earth, my child,” Awi Bubu said gently.

Ratsy blinked, then scrambled to his feet and looked sheepish. “Will I ’ave a chance to do magic?” he asked.

“You have done magic,” Awi Bubu informed him kindly. Then he bowed. The audience applauded, and Ratsy flushed bright red all the way to his ears. Awi Bubu motioned to
Ratsy, and the audience applauded even louder. As Ratsy made his way back to his seat, the magician bowed one last time, and then the curtains closed.

People began leaving their seats and heading up to the exits, but there was one determined man coming down the aisle. Gerton had got past the porter somehow.

I quickly turned to Will. “Do you think you could get us backstage? I’d like to meet this magician of yours.”

Will’s face brightened. “’E’s something, ain’t ’e, miss! I told you I could be more than just an errand boy. I’ve got a nose for this stuff, I ’ave.”

“Er, yes, you do,” I agreed. “Can we hurry?” I asked, glancing once more at the approaching Gerton.

“I’m sure Ratsy can get ye back there. Let’s ask ’im.”

We went toward the stage and caught up with Ratsy just as he was coming down the steps. He still looked a bit dazed and sheepish. “Did I really do magic?” he asked.

“Sure did, bucko! Spouted out all sorts of stuff. Ratsy’s small pinched face glowed with pleasure. “D’ you fink you could get us backstage? You knows the way, don’ t you, Rats?”

Ratsy nodded. “Sure.”

Will turned to Snuffles. “You guard the exit so it don’t get locked before we’re done ’ere.”

With a quick look around, Ratsy led me and Will toward a small door to the left of the main stage. I glanced over my shoulder. Gerton was still searching through the seats, trying to find me.

Almost as if he’d felt my gaze on him, he lifted his head and looked my way.

I quickly darted through the door, hoping he hadn’t seen me.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris: Chapter One

Chapter One: A Grand Fete

The lace on my party frock itched horribly. I don’t understand how they can make things as complex as motorcars or machines that fly but can’t invent itchless lace. Although Mother didn’t seem to be plagued with this problem, I would have to pay close attention to the other ladies at the reception this evening to see if they exhibit any symptoms.

“You’re surprisingly quiet, Theodosia,” Father said, interrupting my thoughts.

“Surprisingly”? Whatever did he mean by that, I wonder?

“I would have thought you’d be chattering a mile a minute about Lord Chudleigh’s reception.”

Tonight was to be my big introduction to professional life. And I planned to savor every second of it. I would be the first eleven-year-old girl ever to walk in their midst. What if they should ask me to make a speech? Wouldn’t that be grand? I would stand there, with all eyes on me—keepers and lords and sirs and all sorts of fancy folk—and then I would . . . have to say something.

Maybe having to speak wouldn’t be such a great idea after all.

Mother put her gloved hand on Father’s arm. “She’s most likely nervous, Alistair. The only young girl among so many important dignitaries and officials? I would have been tongue-tied at her age.”

Well. That wasn’t very comforting. Maybe I should have been more nervous than I was. The carriage turned a corner and my stomach dipped uneasily.

We reached Lord Chudleigh’s residence in Mayfair, a large red brick mansion with white columns and windowpanes. At the door, a butler bowed and greeted Father by name. Then we were motioned inside, where we joined an absolutely mad throng of people, all dressed in fine frocks and evening coats. There were marble floors, and the hallway sported Greek columns. Actually, the whole place had the touch of a museum about it: Grecian urns, a bust of Julius Caesar, and even a full coat of armor standing at attention. Suddenly I was glad of all that itchy lace—otherwise I would have felt dreadfully underdressed.

I slipped my hand into Mother’s. “Lord Chudleigh’s house is even grander than Grandmother Throckmorton’s,” I whispered.

“Don’t let her hear you say that,” Father said.

“How could she possibly hear me?” I scoffed. “She’s miles away in her own grand house.”

The look on Father’s face gave me pause. “Isn’t she?” I asked hesitantly.

“I’m afraid not.” His tone was clipped, as if he wasn’t very happy about it, either. “She moves in the same social circles as Lord Chudleigh.”

I stared out at the crowd of people, desperate to spot Grandmother. If I saw her first, it would make avoiding her all that much easier.

Although really, I oughtn’t worry, I told myself as we moved into the enormous ballroom. I was on my best behavior and had no intention of drawing any unpleasant attention to myself. Not even Grandmother would be able to find fault with me tonight. Except she believes children in general, and me in particular, should be seen as little as possible and heard even less. Just my being here would be an enormous affront to her sense of propriety.

Music played in the background, but people weren’t dancing—they just stood about talking and drinking champagne. We weaved our way among the guests until a tall man who looked vaguely familiar waved us over. Father immediately altered his course and began herding Mother and me in that direction.

When we reached the gentleman, he leaned forward and thumped Father on the back. “It’s about time you showed up, Throckmorton. At least you had the good sense to bring your lovely wife.”

Mum put her hand out, but instead of shaking it, the man lifted it to his lips and kissed it! He’d better not try that with me, was all I could think. Luckily, he didn’t. In fact, he ignored me until Father cleared his throat and put his hand on my shoulder. “And this is my daughter, Theodosia, Lord Chudleigh. The one we spoke about.”

“Ah yes!” Lord Chudleigh bent over and peered down at me. “Our newest little archaeologist, eh? Following in your mother’s footsteps, are you, girl? Well done.” He reached out and patted me on the head. Like a pet. I’m sorry, but
you simply don’t go around patting people on the head like dogs!

Father tightened his hand on my shoulder in silent warning. “So. What’s all this I keep hearing about an artifact of your own?”

Chudleigh looked smug. “After you came rushing home in such a hurry, I had to make a quick run down to Thebes to secure the site.”

Father winced slightly. “So you’ve mentioned.” Under his breath he added, “Three times.” Then, louder, “I’m terribly sorry about that. If my son hadn’t been so ill . . .”

“Eh, it felt good to get out into the field and get a taste of what you do.”

Chudleigh nudged Father with his elbow. “I got a chance to find a little something of my own down there, too. Standing in plain sight, it was. Don’t know why you and your wife didn’t send it straight along with the first batch. In fact, I have a treat for everyone tonight.” He puffed up his chest and rocked back on his heels. “In honor of my most recent find, we’re going to have a mummy unwrapping!”

A mummy unwrapping! My stomach recoiled at the very idea. Didn’t he understand that mummification was a very sacred death rite of the ancient Egyptians? That unwrapping a mummy would be the same as undressing his grandfather’s dead body?

“Sir,” I began, but Father’s hand pressed down on my shoulder again. Surely I was going to be bruised black and blue from all this hand clamping.

“Fascinating, sir,” was all he said. “We’ll look forward to it.”

“Good, good. Thought you might.” Chudleigh nodded. Father excused us, took Mother’s and my elbows, and began to steer us away.

Mum muttered under her breath, “I thought unwrappings went out with Queen Victoria.”

I whirled around to Father when we were out of earshot. “Why didn’t you say something? That’s desecration, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I suppose it is, Theodosia. But I’m not personally responsible for every mummy that comes out of Egypt, you know. Besides, the man’s on the museum’s board. I can’t risk getting on his bad side, and telling him that unwrapping his new mummy is bad form would certainly do that.”

I turned to Mother.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Don’t look at me. I’ve already got a hard enough row to hoe being a woman in this field. I can’t afford any appearance of sentimentality or emotion.”

Well, it had been worth a try. “Where do you think Chudleigh found the mummy? I never saw one in the tomb or annex. Did you?”

“Well, no. But then again, I was preoccupied with getting you out of there safely. Now, let’s get this wretched evening over with. Oomph!”

Mother removed her elbow from Father’s ribs. “Tonight’s supposed to be a treat,” she reminded him.

Indeed, I had hoped for a lovely evening out with my parents. I had also hoped that my dressing up in fancy clothes and attending one of their social events might have allowed them to see me a little differently.

Or simply see me, rather than spend the entire evening looking over my head at other adults.

Pretending I hadn’t heard them, I raised up on my tiptoes, trying to spot the mummy. I couldn’t believe I would have overlooked a mummy lying about in plain sight, even if I had been being chased by the Serpents of Chaos.

It was hopeless. There were too many people, all of whom were taller than I was. When I pulled my gaze back down, I found an elderly man examining me through his monocle as if I were a bug at the end of a pin. A very round woman dressed in mustard-colored ruffles lifted her lorgnette to the bridge of her nose, then tut-tutted. Honestly! You’d think they’d never seen an eleven-year-old girl before.

“I suppose we’d best go pay our respects to Mother.” Father made the suggestion with the same enthusiasm he might have shown for leaping off the London Bridge straight into the foul, icy water of the river Thames.

Which was precisely how I felt about seeing Grandmother, frankly. Luckily, the crowd shifted just then and I spied someone I recognized. “Oh look, Father! There’s Lord Snowthorpe.” And although he wasn’t one of my favorite people, he was standing next to one of my favorite people, Lord Wigmere. Only, I wasn’t supposed to know Wigmere even existed, as he was the head of the Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers, a secret organization whose sworn duty was to keep watch over all the sacred objects and artifacts in the country. Because the British Empire had amassed quite a few relics and ensorcelled items, it was quite a job. It was the Brotherhood that stood between our country and any of that ancient magic getting loose and wreaking horror upon us. Well, them and me, that is. I waved at the two men.

“No, Theo!” Father hissed. “I don’t wish to speak to—”

“Throckmorton!” Lord Snowthorpe called out.

“Oh, blast it all. Now look what you’ve done.”

Didn’t Father realize that Snowthorpe was a hundred times better than Grandmother? Besides, I was hoping one of these gentlemen might be as repulsed by the mummy unwrapping as we were. Since they didn’t work for Lord Chudleigh, perhaps they could put a stop to it.

When we reached Snowthorpe, Lord Wigmere winked at me, then ever so slightly shook his head, letting me know I wasn’t to let on I knew him. I winked back.

There were a lot of false hearty hellos and good-to-see-yous exchanged, then Snowthorpe got down to his real reason for wanting to say hello: nosiness. “I say, did that Heart of Egypt of yours ever turn up?” he asked.

Father stiffened, and Mother raised her nose into the air. “I’m afraid not,” she said. “The burglar got clean away.”

That was a subject I wouldn’t mind avoiding for a while longer. Say, a lifetime. My parents had no idea that I had been the one to return the Heart of Egypt to its proper resting place in the Valley of the Kings. It had been the only way to nullify the dreadful curse the artifact had been infected with. Of course, I’d had a bit of help from Wigmere and his Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers. But my parents didn’t know that, either.

“What was all that rot you fed me about having it cleaned, then?” Snowthorpe demanded.

“We . . .” Father turned to Mother with a desperate look on his face. She stared back, fumbling for something to say.

They couldn’t have looked more guilty if they tried, so I spoke up. “The authorities had asked us to keep quiet until they made a few inquiries. They didn’t want the perpetrators to catch wind of how much they knew or who they suspected.”

Four pairs of eyes looked down at me in surprise.

“Isn’t that what they said, Father?”

“Yes,” he said, recovering nicely. “Exactly what they said.”

Wigmere’s mustache twitched. “Do introduce me to this charming young lady, Throckmorton.”

As if we needed any introduction! We’d only worked closely together on averting one of the worst crises ever to reach British soil.

“Forgive me. Lord Wigmere, this is my daughter, Theodosia Throckmorton. Theodosia, this is Lord Wigmere, head of the Antiquarian Society.”

I gave a proper curtsy. “I’m very pleased to meet you, sir.”

“And I you.”

Before Snowthorpe could begin jawing on again about the Heart of Egypt, I decided to raise my concerns. “Have you heard what Lord Chudleigh’s planning for this evening?”

I felt Father scowl at me, but I did my best to ignore him, which was rather difficult when his heated gaze threatened to burn a hole through my skull.

Snowthorpe brightened. “You mean the mummy unwrapping?”

“Yes, but don’t you think it’s wrong to do it as . . . entertainment?”

Snowthorpe dismissed my words with a wave of his hand. “Gad no! It’s good for business, that. People love mummies, and whenever their interest goes up, so do museum ticket sales.”

“But isn’t it desecration?”

The pleasant expression left Snowthorpe’s face and he looked down at me, almost as if seeing me for the first time. “You sound just like Wigmere here. He’d have us ship all our artifacts back to Egypt if he had his way.”

Well, certainly the cursed ones, anyway. I sent a beseeching look in Wigmere’s direction, but he shook his head sympathetically. “I already tried and got nowhere. Chudleigh’s too intent on having his fun.”

Disappointment spiked through me. I looked over my shoulder. The crowd had broken up a bit and I caught a glimpse of a table with guests clustered around it, but I still couldn’t see the mummy itself.

Really, this fete of theirs was no fun at all. Not what I thought of as a proper party. I caught yet another old codger staring at me and realized that such scrutiny had made me beastly thirsty. I suddenly craved a glass of lemon smash or cold ginger beer. As I searched the crowd for the man with the refreshment tray, yet another old lady examined me through her opera glasses. I wrinkled my nose. Didn’t these people realize how rude that was?

The woman dropped her glasses, and I was dismayed to find myself staring into the shocked face of Grandmother Throckmorton! I quickly turned away, pretending I hadn’t seen her.

Seconds later, a very stiff-looking footman appeared at Father’s side. “Madam wishes me to request you attend her immediately.”

“What?” he asked, then caught sight of his mother. “Oh yes, of course!” He bid goodbye to Wigmere and Snowthorpe, then herded us over to where Grandmother was conversing with a rather short, barrel-shaped man. When we reached her, she offered up her cheek to Father for a kiss. He did so (grudgingly, I’m sure), and then she turned to Mother and inclined her head slightly. “Henrietta.”

“Madam.” Mother nodded back.

Grandmother ignored me completely. She still wasn’t speaking to me for having run away while under her care. Even so, I wanted to prove I could be polite even if she couldn’t and gave my very best curtsy. “How do you do, Grandmother? It’s very good to see you again.”

Grandmother sniffed in disapproval, then asked Father, “What is she doing here?”

“Now, Mother. She did make a rather remarkable find, locating that secondary annex to Amenemhab’s tomb. Lord Chudleigh suggested we bring her along to celebrate her first find for the museum.”

“This is no place for children and her schedule is already far too irregular. If you cannot see to her proper upbringing, perhaps I shall take her to hand.” Grandmother studied me for a long moment, then continued. “Have you had any luck in locating a new governess for her?”

Mother and Father exchanged guilty glances. I could tell they’d forgotten all about it. “Not yet. But we’ll keep looking.” Mother missed the look of scorn Grandmother sent her way, but I didn’t. I narrowed my eyes and glared at the old bat.

Except she was so busy ignoring me, she missed it and turned to the man standing beside her. I was left to stew on the idea of Grandmother overseeing my upbringing. I was torn between horror at the thought and fury at her treatment of Mother.

“Alistair, I’d like you to meet Admiral Sopcoate.”

Admiral Sopcoate had a jolly face. He was quick to catch my eye, then smiled. I liked him immediately.

Admiral Sopcoate shook Father’s hand. “What is it you do, again, Throckmorton?”

Father opened his mouth to respond, but Grandmother talked over him. “He’s the Head Curator of the Museum of Legends and Antiquities.”

When Grandmother said nothing more, Father quickly stepped in. “And this is my wife, Henrietta. She’s the museum’s archaeologist and brings us a number of our most spectacular finds.”

Grandmother sniffed.

“And this is my daughter, Theodosia,” Father continued.

Admiral Sopcoate reached out and took my hand. (No head patting or hand kissing here! I knew I liked him for a good reason.) “Pleased to meet you, my dear.”

“And I you, sir.” Still determined to be on my best behavior, I added, “Perhaps you’d like to come by and see our museum someday? We’d be happy to give you a tour.”

Grandmother’s eyes flared in irritation. She fixed me with a gaze that clearly said, Do not dare speak again in my presence, then turned back to the admiral. “We were just discussing Admiral Sopcoate’s newest addition to the home fleet, the Dreadnought.”

“Yes! Have you seen her yet, Throckmorton?” Sopcoate asked.

“I can’t say as I have,” Father said. “Although I’ve read a bit about it in the paper.”

“The Dreadnought is the newest crown jewel in Her Majesty’s fleet,” Sopcoate explained. “Makes every other battleship in the world obsolete.”

“If you ask me,” Grandmother butted in, “we can’t have enough battleships. Not with Germany’s determination to become the world’s greatest naval power.”

“Now, now, Lavinia,” Admiral Sopcoate reassured her. “The British Navy is twice as strong as the next two navies combined.”

Lavinia! He’d called her by her Christian name! I’d forgotten she even had one.

“Not if Germany has its way,” she answered darkly. “They are determined to challenge our naval supremacy.”

“Don’t worry.” Sopcoate gave a jolly wink. “Once those Germans see the Dreadnought, they’ll put aside their misguided ideas of naval equality with England.”

“But isn’t that rather like baiting a bear?” Father asked. “How do you know they won’t come out swinging, determined to build even more battleships of their own?”

Couldn’t grownups talk of anything but politics and war? I knew that the Germans and the British were on the outs with each other, but if you asked me—although no one did—that was mostly the fault of the Serpents of Chaos. They were a secret organization dedicated to bringing about disorder and strife in their quest to dominate the world. Specifically, they wanted Germany and Britain at each other’s throats. They wanted instability and utter chaos so they could move in and seize power. However, now that Wigmere and I had foiled their plans, this whole war-cry nonsense would surely die down.

Luckily, before the adults could go on too long, we were interrupted by a faint clinking sound. Lord Chudleigh was striking his champagne glass with a tiny fork. “Time has come, everyone. Gather round. Here’s your chance to see a mummy unwrapped, the unveiling of the secrets of the Egyptians.”

An excited murmur ran through the crowd, and everyone shuffled over to the table on which the mummy lay. I tugged on Father’s hand. “Do I have to watch, Father? Can’t I wait over there?”

He patted my shoulder. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, you know.”

Of course I knew that! That wasn’t the issue. It just seemed wrong to be unwrapping the poor mummy in front of all these gawking visitors who didn’t give a fig about ancient Egypt or the scholarly pursuit of Egyptian burial practices.

As we drew closer, I made a point of hanging back behind Mother and Father, but then Admiral Sopcoate stepped aside. “Here, young lady. Come stand in front of me so you can see better. You don’t want to miss this!”

Of course, he was just being kind. I opened my mouth to say, “No thank you,” but caught Grandmother’s eye. The warning glint told me that refusing wasn’t an option. Biting back a sigh, I stepped forward and found myself in the front row, merely three feet away from the mummy on the table.

“This unidentified mummy was found inside the newly discovered tomb of Amenemhab,” Chudleigh went on. “We’re hoping that by unwrapping him tonight, we will learn more about who he was, as well as insights into the mystery of mummification. Are you ready?”

A wave of assent rose up from the gathering.

“Throckmorton, Snowthorpe, would you do the honors, please?”

Father blinked in surprise. He quickly hid the look of distaste that spread across his face and stepped dutifully forward.

“Let’s start from the feet, shall we?” Snowthorpe suggested.

I thought about closing my eyes, then wondered if Grandmother Throckmorton would be able to tell. Testing the theory, I screwed my eyes shut—just for the merest of seconds. Immediately there was a sharp poke in my shoulder blade and a disapproving sniff.

I opened my eyes and thought briefly of handing her a handkerchief. Honestly! I didn’t see how it was rude to close one’s eyes but perfectly all right to sniff constantly, like one of those pigs that can root out truffles. I turned my attention back to the front, but looked steadfastly at Father instead of the mummy.

It takes a surprisingly long time to unwrap a mummy. To entertain his guests, Lord Chudleigh jawed on about mummy legends and curses—the most sensational rubbish he could find, and most of it not even close to the truth. When he got to the part about how they used to grind up mummies to be ingested for their magical properties—that part true, unfortunately—I was so utterly revolted that I blurted out, “You’re not going to grind this one up, are you?”

There was a long moment of silence in which everyone chose to stare at me, and I suddenly remembered my promise to do nothing to call unpleasant attention to myself.

Chudleigh gave a false laugh. “No, no. Of course not. This one will become a part of my own personal collection.”

“Oh. I beg your pardon,” I said, vowing to keep my mouth shut from now on.

At last Father and Snowthorpe came to the mummy’s head. I studiously kept my eyes glued to Father’s face. When the last bandage was lifted away, the crowd gasped in delighted horror.

I will not look, I will not look, I told myself. But sometimes the more you concentrated on not doing something, the more drawn you were to doing it. In the end, my curiosity got the better of me and I looked.

“Behold—the unknown priest of Amenemhab!” Lord Chudleigh called out.

A smattering of applause ran through the crowd, and unable to help myself, I stepped forward, my eyes fixed on the mummy’s face. It was a face I had seen only a few short months ago, when I’d been forced to confront three of the Serpents of Chaos in Thutmose III’s tomb. Their leader’s words rang in my ears. That is twice he’s failed me. There shall not be a third time.

“Oh no, Lord Chudleigh.” The words bubbled out before I could stop them. “That isn’t an unknown priest of the Middle Dynasty. That’s Mr. Tetley. From the British Museum.”

Monday, August 01, 2005

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos: Chapter One

December 17, 1906

I don’t trust Clive Fagenbush.

How can you trust a person who has eyebrows as thick and black as hairbrushes and smells of boiled cabbages and pickled onions? Besides, I’m beginning to suspect he’s up to something. What’s worse, I think he suspects I’m up to something. Which I usually am.

Not that anyone would take the word of an eleven-year-old girl against that of the Second Assistant Curator—even if that girl just happens to be the daughter of the Head Curator of the museum and is rather cleverer than most (or so I’ve been told; oddly, I don’t think they meant it as a compliment). As far as I can tell, it doesn’t make any difference to adults how clever children are. They always stick together. Unless you are sick or dying or mortally wounded, they will always side with the other adult.

That’s certainly the case here, anyway. My father oversees the Museum of Legends and Antiquities, the second largest museum in London. As a result, I spend most of my time clattering around this old place. I don’t mind. Really. Well, not much anyway. Though it would be nice if Father remembered I was here once in a while. . . . However, I’ve got plenty to do. The museum’s got loads of secrets, and I’ve discovered I’m very good at ferreting out secrets. And curses. You’d be surprised at how many things come into the museum loaded with curses—bad ones. Ancient, dark, Egyptian-magic ones.

Take this morning, for example, when a crate arrived from Mum.

At the sound of the buzzer, I hurried down to Receiving. Dolge and Sweeny, the museum’s two hired hands, were just opening the doors to the loading area. Yellow fog began oozing into the room like a runny pudding. Outside, I could make out the drayman, blowing on his fingers and stamping his feet, trying to stay warm as he waited next to his cart. His carriage lanterns were lit and looked like two fuzzy halos in the thick fog. Sweeny hopped off the dock and together they lifted a crate from the back of the cart and carried it inside. As they made their way past me, I craned forward to read the label. It was from Thebes! Which meant it had to be from Mum. Her first shipment from the Valley of the Kings! The first of many, most likely.

Once they’d placed the crate on an empty worktable, the drayman tipped his cap and hurried back to his cart, anxious to be on his way. Dolge closed the door behind him with a resounding clang.

By this time, all the curators had arrived, and we all gathered round to watch Father open the crate. As I inched closer, I saw that, once again, he wasn’t wearing any gloves. My own gloved fingers twitched in dismay.

“Um, Father?”

He paused, his hands hovering over the crate. “Yes, Theodosia?”

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get splinters?” Everyone turned to stare at me oddly. “Nonsense!” he said, never taking his eyes from the crate.

Of course, I didn’t give a fig about splinters. They were the least of my worries. But I didn’t dare tell him that.

With everyone’s attention once again focused on the crate, I shuffled closer to Father’s side, trying to reach him before he actually touched whatever it was that Mum had sent. I made it past Dolge and Sweeny with no problem, but I had to hold my breath as I sidled past Fagenbush. He glared at me, and I glared back.

When I reached Father’s side, I dipped my hand into the pocket of my pinafore just as he plunged his hands into the crate. As unobtrusively as possible, I slipped a small amulet of protection out of my pocket and into his. Unfortunately, my action did not go unnoticed. He paused and scowled at me. “What on earth are you doing?”

“I just wanted to get a good look, Father. I am the shortest one in the room, you know.” To turn his attention from me back to the crate, I leaned forward and peered in. “What do you think she’s sent us this time?”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out.” His voice was tinged with exasperation. Then luckily he forgot all about me as, with great ceremony, he reached into the crate and lifted out an absolutely fetching black statue of a cat: Bastet, the Egyptian fertility goddess.

The moment I laid eyes on it, I felt as if a parade of icy-footed beetles were marching down my spine. My cat, Isis, who’d been skulking under the workmen’s bench, took one look at the statue, meowed loudly, then streaked off for parts unknown. I shuddered. Once again Mother had sent us an artifact positively dripping with ancient, evil curses.

“Are you all right, Theo?” Nigel Bollingsworth, the First Assistant Curator, asked. “You’re not taking a chill, are you?”

He peered at me in concern. Next to him, Fagenbush studied me as if I were something nasty my cat had dragged in. “No, Mr. Bollingsworth. I’m fine.”

Well, except for the black magic rolling off the new cursed object. Of course, Mother never realized it was cursed. Nor did Father. Neither one of them ever seemed able to tell.

None of the assistant curators seemed to notice anything, either. Except for that rat Fagenbush. He eyed the statue with his face aglow and his long, bony fingers twitching. Problem was, he looked like that half the time, so it was hard to know if it was the artifact or he was just being his own horrid self.

As far as I knew, I was the only one able to detect the black magic still clinging to the ancient objects. Therefore, it was up to me to discover the nature of this statue’s curse and how to remove it.


When Mother arrived tomorrow, she was sure to have loads of new artifacts with her. Even more crates would trickle in over the next few weeks. Who knew how many of the items would be cursed? I could be busy for months! The only good thing about that is it would keep me out of Mother and Father’s way. They tend to get annoyed when I’m underfoot and then begin talking of sending me to school. This way, at least I’d be able to spend some time with Mum.

Still, while hunches and gut instinct were all well and good for a First Level Test, I had to be logical and scientific about this. I needed to conduct a Level Two Test as soon as possible.

My chance came when everyone had cleared out of the receiving bay and returned to their duties. Since I didn’t have any duties to return to, I was able to hang back unnoticed.

I went over to one of the shelves that lined the receiving area and took down a small, battered Canopic jar. It had come in badly damaged, and since it wasn’t particularly valuable, no one had taken the time to restore it. I had begun using it for collecting wax (old candle stubs, sealing wax, that kind of thing), which I used extensively in my Second Level Test. Wax is very good at absorbing heka, or evil magic.

I removed some of the wax bits from the jar and carefully set them in a circle around the base of the statue.

By dinnertime, the entire circle of wax bits was a foul greeny-black color. Drat! I don’t think the wax has ever turned dark that quickly before. Now I had to come back and conduct a Third Level Test. Unfortunately, in order to do that, I needed moonlight. Moonlight is the only way to make the inscribed curses visible to the human eye.

Of course, the only way to view something in moonlight is at night.

And I loathe the museum at night.