Chapter 44 - Tomb
The clues they uncovered during their journey combined with topographical facts gathered from their Roman map, provided them with hints. The dead explorers used the distance between the two peaks of a range of distant mountains to create a triangle with the tomb, but also noted the position of the stars in relativity to the burial place in the same way sailors navigated a boat.
Another week passed before Talmud informed them that the mountains had appeared on the horizon, and the men calculated the distance with the information at hand.
Talmud established a base camp but pitched their tent some distance from the main encampment. He made sure his men knew that he’d deal harshly with anyone found snooping.
Rowan copied the map and Marcus drew a grid with numbers. Talmud insisted on accompanying them on their nightly searches. Another fortnight passed before Talmud informed them that they were running low on supplies.
He sent his second in command, a man named Mohammud with half his people to fetch supplies. The vampires said nothing, but they wondered if the caravan would return. They often heard snatches of conversations during the day and the early evenings which revealed the growing unhappiness of the humans and their suspicion that Talmud lost his mind.
When they returned to camp on one bitterly cold morning, twenty days later, the caravan had returned, and Rowan wasn’t the only one that noted Talmud’s relief.
The four of them unraveled the past, made mistakes and started over, but as such things happen, they stumbled upon their quarry by accident. They returned to the same area they searched the night before, but couldn’t finish exploring before sunrise.
Rowan stepped in a hollow that gave way and sent her tumbling down the lee side of a dune. She hit her head and didn’t stop rolling until she reached the bottom.
“I’m fine,” Rowan called out when she gathered her wits, and she felt stupid. Sand made its way into places it didn’t belong, and she concluded that happiness would be if she never saw another dune in her life.
“You’re bleeding,” Marcus remarked, she was barely visible in the dune’s shadow, but the night air carried the scent of her blood.
“I hit my head on something,” Rowan explained as she reached for the sore spot on her scalp, and her fingers came away bloodied. She winced. Her head hurt, but the wound would soon heal. She heard them make their way down, but she didn’t lift her head as she waited for the dizziness to settle.
Rowan’s mind cleared as she took in her own words. They reached her and helped her to her feet, but before Alena could inspect the wound, Rowan pulled free of their hold and started back up the dune.
It resembled a divot in the sand, but instinct drew Rowan to it. She knew they found what they were looking for with a certainty that wasn’t natural. Only as she knelt beside it, did something become clear in her mind. It wasn’t the scrolls that brought them to this place, but instinct.
Every night, for the last two weeks, she experienced a restlessness in her soul that compelled her to move in a particular direction, and she suspected Alena also sensed it. The sensation became stronger with each passing night, but she didn’t know what it meant until she touched the sand. Something made her scurry to the summit, and the moon emerged from behind a cloud just as she reached the top.
The ruins of a city lay partially unearthed by the wind, and the map in her mind altered to include what she saw. The knowledge entered her thoughts like a piece of the puzzle falling into place. She didn’t wait for the others as she made her way to the foot of the dune and almost stumbled over a half-buried, roundish metal object. It drew her attention, and she stopped to dig it out.
Rowan rose to her feet with the Roman helmet in her hands just as the others reached her. It reflected the light of the moon as her fingers traced the intricate metalwork. She handed it to Marcus, but even as he studied it, his eyes kept wandering to the ruins.
“I didn’t think we’d find it,” Marcus marveled as he handed the helmet to Talmud who handled it with reverence, and used his sleeve to dust it off before placing it in his bag. Alena and Rowan glanced at each other, and they realized that they never doubted their destination.
Rowan started off again, and within a few feet, she noticed a paved road partially exposed to the night. Worn by wind and the ages, the builders created an absolutely level surface that even time didn’t buckle. Each brick a perfect square crafted with such expertise it seemed no human hand could have formed them. This path led from the city to the burial mounds of their kings, and even though the map indicated a road, they didn’t expect to find an actual street.
The builders placed markers beside the road, square blocks of stone about thigh height, and as wide as her hips, every hundred and fifty feet. They could follow the markers even where the sand covered the paving. It led to the city one way, and right through the dune in the other direction. The dunes created a valley that stretched between them for some distance.
Rowan turned to face the dune. It had to be one of the burial mounds. With the divot ten feet from the top and the road a hundred feet below, it stood to reason that the tombs must resemble those of the pharaohs, but on a much smaller scale. Then again, there were indications that the graves included underground chambers.
The builders might have used the height above ground as a ruse to make the tombs less impressive, and less likely to contain treasure.