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Chapter Forty-Seven

The ruined city, 1880

Nagi carefully arranged his treasures in the shelter of the awning they had erected to gain respite from the sun while enjoying the breeze that cooled the evening, mentally cataloguing them as objects with which the ancients had adorned themselves, or weapons, or items of unknown ritual provenance. He felt sure that his diligent attention when Crawford spoke of such matters was profitable, for he could not imagine his older friend being so fiercely interested in things that were of no use. The knowledge was important, thought Nagi, and it pleased Crawford to see him learn. It also pleased Crawford that Nagi would listen, rather than laugh and attempt to turn the conversation to other matters as did the others. When Crawford wished to speak of the items they found Nagi was always pleased to listen, having at those moments Crawford's attention purely to himself. He held up a slim-bladed dagger of beaten gold, admiring the way the sunlight gleamed along its length. Farfarello had snorted in contempt when Nagi had shown it to him, proclaiming it useless and utterly without merit when compared to knives of steel. Schuldig had suggested melting it down, while Micah had offered to fold the blade over and over upon itself to make it easier to carry with other small items of gold. Crawford had been willing to listen to Nagi as the lad suggested with excitement that a princess had owned it and had, no doubt, used it in her unknown devotions. Nagi was sure a fine lady had indeed owned the dagger, and he had been most gratified that Crawford had not laughed once, even when his imagination took flight, unlike Schuldig who had been most vocal and vulgar on rituals Nagi's supposed lady might have enjoyed with a variety of admirers. Nagi sighed, shaking his head. He liked Schuldig, of course, but could not deny that his friend was not of an academic bent or in any way an intellectual. He looked round cautiously, wondering if he would get a clip on the ear for such a thought, but Schuldig, having fallen asleep after a game of cards with the others, was still dozing by Crawford's side, his face peaceful and quiet. Nagi was glad he had not heard, for he did not wish to hurt the mind reader's feelings.

"And what are you doing, little antiquarian?" asked Micah, looking his way cheerfully as Farfarello grumpily conceded defeat in their game of draughts.

"I'm just considering the classification of these artefacts," said Nagi as the man smiled at him. "Perhaps riding ayit was a religious ritual - there are ayit picked out on both sides of the blade. It would have brought them nearer their god, wouldn't it?"

"No doubt," said Micah, clearly struggling not to laugh. Nagi tried not to feel insulted. "Perhaps they sacrificed victims to the sun with that dagger."

"I don't think so," said Nagi. "Farfarello's right, it wouldn't hold an edge, it's far too soft. Maybe it was used in ritual processions or was a votive offering presented by a priestess."

"It's just a toy," murmured Farfarello, lying back comfortably.

"You are fond of that priestess," smiled Micah. "And advancing in your studies, it seems, despite their being in a tongue foreign to you."

"Oh, I think in English almost all the time, now," said Nagi, a statement that while it was not quite as truthful as it might have been was incorrect not through malice but through the lad's enthusiasm and desire to be what his friends would have him be.

"Clever boy," said Micah, looking over to where Crawford sat and read. "Though should you not take the opportunity to improve your grasp of his tongue, Bradley?"

"I have no plans to return to Japan," said Crawford mildly. "It was more necessary, I decided, for him to learn English."

"He may need more than that," said Micah. "Depending on what your plans are, a better knowledge of German would be useful. Did you not become more used to conversing in German than in English as a boy, Bradley? We were forbidden from using our own languages and spoke German all the time."

"He is not wholly without instruction in that tongue," smiled Crawford as Nagi looked annoyed to be spoken of as if he were not present.

"I have heard the fruits of his instruction," said Micah dryly. "Yesterday when he dropped his dinner, for example." He smiled at Nagi's blush, "Come now, lad," he said. "We are all men here, you need not act like a girl caught using intemperate speech."

"I'm getting better at German," muttered Nagi. "It's a hard tongue, that's all, but Schuldig does use it with me." He poked at his treasures disconsolately, thinking that the moment Schuldig awoke he would demand instruction in the language so that he might do more than swear. Micah was right, he thought, the first inclination of Crawford and the others was to speak in German amongst themselves. Thinking of how if he woke at night before his friends were asleep he would find them conversing softly in German, Nagi suddenly wished they had instructed him in that same tongue, unhappy that his knowledge of English was a way in which he was deliberately kept apart from them. He sighed and put his artefacts away, no longer entranced by them, overtaken by a queer feeling of discontent. "Schuldig!" he said loudly. "Wake up! Ich muß mit dich sprechen!"

"Mit dir," said Crawford, Micah and Farfarello as one, all of them then laughing at the exasperation in Nagi's face.

"Was?" said Schuldig in alarm as Nagi shook him. "Nagi? What --"

"Why is it dir and not dich?" demanded Nagi. "How do I say this in German?" He brandished his notes in Schuldig's face, continuing, "Translate Crawford's monographs for me, Schuldig!" Ignoring Schuldig's pleas that it was the most hideous cruelty to drag a man from sleep and expect him to discourse upon points of grammar, the lad pulled him to the other end of the shaded area, pointing at objects and insisting that Schuldig at once supplied him with the German terms.

"We must not laugh," said Crawford, hiding a smile. "It's very cruel." He grinned as Micah turned his own laugh to a cough, saying, "And are you not going to complain that he addresses Schuldig in the familiar form?"

"How well you know me," smiled Micah. "But no, I think it only natural for Schuldig to be addressed so."

"What the devil do you mean by that?" cried Schuldig in irritation, before Nagi claimed his attention once more.

"Mind readers such as he aren't much for formality, I would have thought," said Micah, addressing his answer to Crawford rather than Schuldig. "In the Schloß I was told many such people cannot even distinguish their own thoughts from those of others - surely it would be ridiculous for them to feel anything other than on familiar terms with the whole world?"

"None of you are to call me du from now on," snapped Schuldig. "I mean that!"

"It doesn't take foreknowledge to see that this will become annoying," sighed Crawford as Farfarello sat up, a gleam in his eye.

"He said I could ask about mind readers without causing him offence," hissed Micah in seeming irritation. "I should have known he was not truthful."

"Mention of your time in the Schloß annoys him," said Crawford, frowning at Farfarello's attempts to drive Schuldig from irritation to anger.

"You're right, you're right," said Micah. "I should make allowances for him - he's just so mercurial, I never know when he will take it into his head to be upset at a chance remark or when he will laugh off something more serious."

"He doesn't need allowances made for him," said Crawford quickly.

"You're a good friend to him," smiled Micah. "I'll try to be as patient as you."

Crawford drew breath to say that was not how he had meant his comment to be taken, but closed his mouth once more as the peace of the early evening was shattered by loud German obscenities, Farfarello's barbs having had their intended effect. Patience, it seemed, was exactly what they would all need at that time.

* * *

Crawford stared at a high wall covered from head to foot in inscriptions. The heat of the days left him with a lingering headache, one that was, as it seemed, felt also by the others. They were all irritable and apt to start fights at the slightest provocation. If they didn't find something of use in the very near future he knew he could have to withdraw them from the city. They could not sit within its dry and arid boundaries for ever. "The near future," he thought with impotent annoyance. "Why will it not open itself to me?" He hated now to try to see what the future might hold, seeing now only endless sand and loneliness. "This damnable place," he muttered to himself, taking out his notebook to record the inscriptions.

"More of your native scribbles," said Schuldig's voice behind him. "How can you bear to write down one more word, Crawford?"

"We all have our burdens and tasks, as you well know, Herr Schuldig," said Crawford, extremely politely.

"Is that supposed to be funny?" said Schuldig peevishly.

"It was supposed to be," said Crawford. "We are none of us in the mood for pleasantries, it seems." He sighed as Schuldig interrupted his writing by taking his hand.

"I want to go back to the city," Schuldig said. "I need more peoples' minds about me."

"Soon," said Crawford.

"It'll take at least six weeks to get there!" said Schuldig. "I'm sick of your minds! I want someone else, do you hear me?" He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. Stop looking worried. May I take Farfarello out hunting the natives?"

"We're nowhere near a native town," said Crawford. "Schuldig, we'll go soon. I promise."

"Egypt wasn't like this," said Schuldig miserably. "We weren't so very far from other people, we weren't by ourselves for such a long time and I could divert myself by hating you." He favoured Crawford with a sharp glance. "I'm sorry to disappoint Micah," he said, "but I'm just discontent, not about to slaughter you all in your sleep."

"He said no such thing," said Crawford, strengthening the defences about his mind and cursing his momentary inattention. "Help me with this, Schuldig. I promise you I'll wear you out and you won't have the energy to dwell on things." Tearing out some pages from his notebook he held out both them and a pencil. Schuldig took them, turning silently to the wall. They worked quietly, writing down the whole set of inscriptions, for while Schuldig had little interest in learning the tongue or writing systems of the natives he had written out Crawford's rough notes on many evenings and was well used to writing the script though he could understand not a single word.

"I'm not about to flee by myself across the desert," he said at last.

"Hmm? Oh. I'm glad to hear that," said Crawford, looking up from his task.

"Your vision," said Schuldig with thin patience. "My absence - I'm not running away."

"Of course you're not," smiled Crawford. "You are not the sort of man to run away." He finished the final line and put away his notebook, grimacing as he stretched. "Damn, I am stiff all over," he said. "We need to dig more. There has to be something we're missing."

"We should have Nagi take this place apart brick by brick," said Schuldig. "If that would offend your delicate sensibilities, let us examine the plans once more - perhaps there is another hidden chamber that might become apparent to us."

"We'll examine the plans," said Crawford. "Destruction would miss too much, and I don't want to miss a single line of a text that we might be able to use."

"Are you going to bargain our freedom from them?" said Schuldig. "We'd have done better to hide in one of Europe's greatest cities."

"I'm not going to hide for all my life," said Crawford. "We're going to be free, not fugitives." He squeezed Schuldig's shoulder, continuing, "Let's look at those plans, shall we?" So saying he led the way back to their tent, unrolling the plans they had painstakingly constructed. For some time he and Schuldig bent their heads over the plans, murmuring to each other about the scale and where anything they could have missed might lie.

"This whole wing," said Schuldig, pointing to an area along the outer wall of the temple, "is the storage areas where we found the casks that once held foodstuffs. And here are living quarters. Here is the chamber of pillars and here some of the great rooms for audiences or some other assembly. Where is the temple treasury, Crawford?"

"There may not be one," sighed Crawford. "Perhaps it has been looted, perhaps such things were kept in the palace. It is even possible the ancients did not use treasure in the pursuit of their religion."

"Not if that priestess is any evidence," said Schuldig. "It's here, somewhere. And surely you'll find something useful in it."

Crawford nodded, and pressed dividers and a protractor into Schuldig's hands. "Let us calculate this out inch by inch," he said. "Whatever there is to be found, we will find. Here, this is a map of the City of the Horizon of the Aten," he continued, taking out another plan. "Let us compare them."

"Is there really a link?" Schuldig said, adding quickly, "Never tell Micah I asked you that."

"Our erstwhile masters thought so," said Crawford, "and while they are tyrannical they are not stupid. And we've seen certain things ourselves that would suggest it."

"The ancient natives came to Earth or the ancients of Egypt to Mars?" said Schuldig, bending to his task.

"I neither know nor care," said Crawford, smiling then at the sardonic gaze that met his. "Very well, I care. But I care more about finding something here so that we shall not have wasted our time and effort." Without further discussion they pored over the plans, not taking a break to eat or paying any attention when their friends came to see what was occupying their time. Finding themselves ignored and their attempts at conversation going unanswered, the others left them in peace. Even when Nagi crept in and huddled on their blankets in exhaustion they did not stop their work, barely noticing his presence.

"It has to be here," said Crawford at last, tapping the plan where the bare central courtyard was drawn and pulling off his spectacles to pinch at the bridge of his nose. "We have searched everywhere else. Damn," he ejaculated. "This headache will not lift."

"We have been through that courtyard every day," said Schuldig. "Nagi has felt nothing that might indicate a space beneath."

"Has he really been paying attention, or simply running back and forth avoiding our instructions on wearing his hat?" said Crawford quietly, pulling the blankets over the lad's sleeping form. "You know quite well that if he is to feel something he cannot see he must be paying attention. The entrance - if there is one, yes I grant you that - must be in one of these side wings."

"But where?" mused Schuldig. "This is a big building, Crawford. We have been to the cellars of every side of this place and found only blank and natural rock. Any entrance could take days to find - weeks if we were to be unlucky."

"Ah," said Crawford, smiling. "Come with me." He seized Schuldig's hand and pulled him out into the night, glad for the light of both moons. "It is all right," he said as Farfarello whirled round from where he had stationed himself on watch.

"I hope you will both be fit to stand your turns," grumbled Farfarello as they went past.

"We need our beauty sleep," said Schuldig rudely. "There's no hope for your beauty, so why don't you just stay up till dawn?" Laughing lightly he went on with Crawford.

"Here," cried Crawford when they stood in the great courtyard. "This is it."

"You've gone mad," said Schuldig. "This whole area is smooth and solid."

"Schuldig," said Crawford, "be damned to the entrance. You were right. Oh, stop smiling like that! We are both right and both entitled to our views - I don't want the temple destroyed, you don't want to search for many more weeks. This, however, is as you say, smooth and solid. I don't care if flagstones are ruined! Tomorrow we'll take it all up, every last stone."

"We'll take it up?" said Schuldig plaintively.

"By "we" I mean "Nagi"," said Crawford. "See how I listen to you?"

"What good sense you show in your old age," said Schuldig. "And if you are wrong?"

"Then," said Crawford firmly, "this entire complex comes down, for I will not put my hobbies above the needs of you and the others. I'll have you back in a city as soon as ever I may." He felt light hearted at Schuldig's smile, and the headache that had lasted for days seemed quite unimportant. "This is the last chance I shall have to enjoy this as it is, the last chance for us to enjoy it together - shall we stay out a little longer?"

"Oh yes," said Schuldig, embracing him. "What a proof of friendship, Brad, that you will destroy your beloved old buildings for me!"

"I'd end the world for you," said Crawford quietly, smiling as Schuldig's gay laughter rang out in the still and silver moonlight.
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