Barbara glanced at her watch in frustration. It had been hours since the Doctor had gone for the anti-venom. She knew the TARDIS was massive, but this was ridiculous.
She looked back at the unconscious man lying on the bed. Occasionally the pain the venom was causing as it coursed through his system, attacking everything in its path, would break through his coma and he would buck and cry out. Sometimes he would lay moaning and muttering to himself, the words always unintelligible, but when exhaustion took over from these fits, as now, he lay quietly. It was at these times that Barbara felt her nerves shredding. At least when he was moving she knew he was alive. Disgusted with herself for wishing more pain on her friend, she threw down the cloth she had been using to dab at the man’s damp flesh. Rising to her feet she strode across to the tent flap and peered out.
Why did things have to go badly all the time? Ever since joining the Doctor, they seemed to move from one crisis to another. It was beginning to get old.
The school teacher was beginning to think it might be better to leave, just stay here, in this time. Okay, it was over thirty years after their time; most of their friends would be middle aged and older. They, themselves, would be younger than some of the pupils they had taught. It would also mean that they wouldn’t be able to live too close to the old neighbourhood, but was that such a great sacrifice? At least it was the right planet and it was the closest they had come to the right decade, at least while they were the proper size anyway.
She glanced back at the man as he groaned quietly.
Now she began to get an insight into what Ian had gone through on that particular ‘adventure’, all the result of the TARDIS doors opening at the moment of materialisation. She would never forget the expression she’d seen on his face when she had come round, the insecticide having caused another blackout. She realised at that moment that he had worked out what had happened to her, why she had been so insistent on finding a cure. That expression also told her she was dying. She had known anyway, but the pain behind his eyes, the pain he tried to hide, had just confirmed her fears.
Of course they’d scrapped through by the skin of their teeth, as usual. They had been restored to their normal size and the poison dose became so small that it no longer devastated her system. The whole thing had just left her feeling very tired and very thirsty.
Susan and Ian had helped her through to her sleeping quarters, Susan being recalled to the console room, to help repair the scanner screen.
Barbara had lay on the bed and allowed her eyes to slide close, to open a few moments later when she had realised that Ian was still in the room. She had struggled back into a sitting position.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked, coming to sit next to her.
She shrugged. “I tried to several times, but I......”
“What?” he asked gently.
“I didn’t want to worry you,” she stated lamely.
“Oh, Barbara.” The man had laughed, putting his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her tightly. “If something like that ever happens again,” he had lectured, looking straight at her, “worry me.”
Barbara had nodded and with a kiss to her cheek he had left her to change and get some rest.
The woman’s attention returned to the present as one of the archaeological students past the tent.
“Rupert!” She called to the ginger haired teenager.
“Yes, Barbara?” he replied coming towards the tent.
“Could you sit with Ian for a few minutes? I’m going to find out what’s taking so long.”
“Sure.” Rupert placed himself in the chair beside the bed.
“If he wakes up, call me.” With this instruction and one more glance at the man on the bed, the school teacher left the tent and headed for the doctor’s abode.
She heard the two men talking before she reached the tent and the sound made her angry. They didn’t have time to be standing around having deep and meaningfuls! Her strides lengthen and she entered the canvas shelter with some force. Both occupants looked up in surprise.
“My dear Barbara,” the elder of the two started, “has something happened? How’s Chesterton?”
“Dying!” she snapped before considering her words. “Do you have the antidote?” she asked, taking a deep breath.
“Yes, Doctor Patrick is looking at it now,” the old man explained, taking the woman’s hands in one of his own and patting them gently with his other.
“Why can’t we just give it to Ian now?” she demanded.
“Look,” the young physician started, “I’ve got to make sure it’s the right sort of antidote. If I pump the wrong stuff into him I could end up killing him quicker than the snake. Plus of course like everything else, medicines have use by dates. I’ve got to ensure this stuff’s not too old or it’ll be worse than useless.”
Barbara tried to calm herself down. They were sensible arguments, but it just meant more waiting. “Well, when will you be ready?”
“Just about,” the medic snapped the cap back on the bottle, “now.” He picked up a hypodermic kit and made his way out of the tent, before sticking his head back through the flap. “Are you coming to see a genius at work?” He withdrew his head as the Doctor, blustering, waved the woman out.
Once more Ian pushed open the heavy temple doors, he rubbed his hands together as he re-entered the structure. The temperature had dropped again; it must be near freezing now.
He’d searched for half an hour but could find no sign of Sennu. He’d known she would take the implication badly, but he also knew he had to break the news gently. At least now the seed of doubt was in her mind, telling her what he had over heard might be easier.
He jumped round as his thoughts were interrupted, violently, by the thunderous slamming of the doors behind him. Standing with his back against them was Sham, a sneer spreading across his features, the expression suggesting he had a really bad taste in his mouth.
“So, master Ian,” he started scornfully, “you know what I am doing?”
“I believe so.” The school teacher nodded, keeping his expression neutral, but being careful to watch the smaller man as he moved away from the doors and deeper into the building.
“So the priestess was right, you were sent by the gods,” Chesterton remained silent, “but not to help her perhaps.”
Sham stared at the younger man, his gaze as penetrating as any look the Time Lord himself could produce.
“No. More likely to stop me!” He laughed maniacally. “That can not be done. I am already a master magician, but when I find the book of Thoth, no one will be able to stop me.”
“Book of Thoth?” Now Ian was completely lost, he thought it was a simple case of tomb robbing for gold, but what on earth was the book of Thoth?
Both men turned to face the opening door, this time the priestess stepped in. Chesterton turned again at a gasp from his side, to find Sham removing a knife from his own arm.
“My lady,” the scribe stumbled over to the woman he pretended to serve, “you must leave at once.”
Sennu took in the blood flowing from the deep wound, noticed the knife lying at the school teacher’s feet.
Her eyes lit up, shocked. “What goes on?”
“He tries to kill me, because I know his true nature,” the scribe declared, pointing a red finger at the younger man. “I saw him in communion with his master.”
“Sennu,” Chesterton started forward, hands spread wide.
The scribe scuttled theatrically away, taking shelter behind one of the woman’s shoulders, stemming the blood with the edge of his cape.
“You see, he fears for his true identity,” the old man muttered.
Ian stopped his forward motion as the priestess raised a hand, suspicion clouding her gaze; had she been wrong after all?
“Tell me what you know, old man,” she stated, her eyes never leaving Ian’s face.
A gleam of triumph showed in Sham’s eyes as he began his story. “My lady, he did not come here because of a snake bite, he came here as a snake. As we suspected at first, he is an agent of chaos, sent to disrupt our efforts.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed, and the school teacher was very much afraid that she was falling for the story.
“He stabbed me,” the old man continued, “because I saw him communing with Apophis.”
Ian snorted. “That is ridiculous.”
Sham leaned in closer to Sennu, making sure his words were heard. “See how he wriggles to escape the truth, like the serpent he is!”
Chesterton could see the words having the desired effect.
“My name is Ian Chesterton,” he stated. “I am a man, not a serpent or any other ‘agent of chaos’.” He waved his hand dismissively. “I don’t even know who Apophis is.”
He felt the air in the temple turn cold. Glancing up at the two Egyptians he realised, too late, that he had just said the wrong thing.
“How can you say you work for the almighty Ra and yet have no knowledge of a god of the underworld, particularly when that god is Apophis?” the woman asked coldly.
The school teacher stared at them both, not sure how to answer the charge. Finally a glimmer of hope reached his mind. “I explained earlier my lady,” he decided to adopt Sham’s fawning term, “that the transference had clouded my mind. These questions and challenges have come before I am fully restored.” He saw uncertainty in her eyes, felt his case growing stronger. So did Sham.
“I can prove to you what he is,” the old man snapped.
Both Ian and the priestess looked on, the same question in both their minds, as the scribe staggered exaggeratedly over to a shadow strewn corner. Bending down he retrieved what looked like a dirt sculpture. With an effected groan, he lifted the item level with the woman’s eyes as he drew up to her shoulder.
“I have infused this with his life essence.”
Ian stared at the small model of a striking snake, but where as the light of realisation had filled Sennu’s eyes, puzzlement still clouded his mind.
“What’s that suppose to be?” he half laughed. He knew he shouldn’t ask, but he had a feeling that no matter what he did he had lost this round.
“You see,” the scribe again pointed that blood covered finger towards the teacher, “he is ignorant of the ways of divine heka. Well, servant of Apophis, watch as your master’s likeness is smote and your life force is drained away.” With maniacal laughter the old man threw the statuette to the floor where it smashed, the pieces all but disappearing in the dirt.
For a moment all three people stared down at the remnants as the echo of the event rumbled about the cavernous building.
Slowly, Ian became aware of a slight tingling in his fingers, working its way into his hands, then his arms. The pain, when it came, was sudden and intense, like receiving a long drawn out electric shock. Gripping his head to try to force the ache out, he fell to his knees, a groan escaping his lips.
“You see,” the old man was almost hysterical, “you see!”
“There we go Babs,” the medic withdrew the needle from Chesterton’s arm, “told you there was no need to panic.”
The words were barely out of the man’s mouth before the patient began to buck.
“What’s happening?” the Doctor demanded.
“I don’t know,” the physician was attempting to take the writhing man’s pulse, “the reaction shouldn’t be this violent.”
“Are you sure it’s the right antidote?” Barbara asked, coming to kneel beside her friend.
Both the priestess and scribe looked on, shocked as the man kneeling before them started fading, then reappearing.
Ian was returning to his own time, he knew, but he needed to stop Sennu’s murder. He glanced up planning to warn her, his throat contracted as he drew breath to speak. The last things he saw, before this world faded out of existence, were the maniacal smile of the scribe and the crying eyes of the priestess.
The violent reaction stopped as quickly as it had started. It left not only the patient but everyone in the tent breathing heavily. Slowly Chesterton’s eyes flickered open.
“What took you so long?” he croaked.
The laughter made Ian jump, the kiss planted briefly on his lips by Barbara made him smile.
“Mmmm, must try this again sometime, I like the welcome home.” The slap he received across the arm, made him smile wider.
“Well, I think that’s more than enough excitement for the poor man,” smiled Doctor Patrick. “I think we should leave him to rest.”
“I’ll stay here,” Barbara insisted, stepping away from her embrace with the Doctor.
“I think you need as much sleep as he does,” the medic stated, casting a critical eye over the woman.
“I’ll rest here,” she insisted.
“He’s right Barbara.” All turned their attention to the man in the bed. “You need to get some proper rest. You’ve been sitting in that chair all this time.”
All three observers raised eyebrows, surprised by this unexpected knowledge. With a puzzled frown the woman nodded, saying she would be back in an hour to check on him.
Once the tent was empty, Ian found his mind wandering back to the situation he had left behind. If he was right and what happened were real events, then he had left Sennu to be either completely discredited or killed. Either choice didn’t make him feel very good. He tried to tell himself that Sham and the priestess had now been dead for over five thousand years, but when you’d time travelled as much as he had, that made little difference. They were still real people, whom he’d met and interacted with.
Closing his eyes he tried to put the thoughts out of his mind. The doctor had been right, he did need to sleep, let the antidote work its magic. He turned on his side, as that one word started the whole thought process again. It took a long time but eventually fatigue won the day and Ian slept.
It had been three days since Ian’s ‘return’ and Barbara was beginning to feel like she was back at school. Every time she had gone to his tent, he was doing something he shouldn’t be.
Doctor Patrick had told him to take it easy, but the two school teacher’s seemed to have very different ideas what that phrase meant. Well, Barbara was determined that Ian would see it her way, even if she had to give him detention and make him write lines: ‘I will not go for long walks around my tent, until told I can by a qualified physician.’
She smiled. She had to admit she wouldn’t have it any other way; they both seemed to enjoy the challenge - whose teacher’s look was better. So far she had won every time.
Just this morning, when she had taken his breakfast in, she’d found him searching for some archaeological book or other. She’d given him her look, and he’d climbed back on to the canvas bed with a muttered ‘no wonder all the pupils were scared of you.’
He’d refused to elaborate on the remark when pressed, just smiled knowingly, content to score a few cheap points. She had let him, he was still ill.
Another evening was drawing in and Barbara was taking Chesterton his dinner, another interesting concoction from Khufu’s truck. Pushing the tent flap aside she found him sitting up in bed, a wide smile lighting his pale features highlighting the darken circles around his eyes. If she didn’t know better, she'd swear that his pyjamas had been freshly pressed.
“Good evening Barbara.”
The woman eyed him suspiciously, looking about the tent for the booby trap. Luckily there were no doors to suspend buckets of water from.
“What have you been up?”
He pointed at his chest innocently, “Me Miss?”
Barbara grunted and laid the tray of food down on the bed. The school master looked down at it, a grimace fleeing across his face.
“Yet another dubious offering,” he muttered. “To tell the truth I’m not that hungry.”
He waited for the normal reproach, when none came he looked up. The woman still stood there. In her right hand, held at shoulder level, a wondrous sight: a chocolate bar! His eyes lit up.
“Is that for me?” he asked hopefully.
“Yes,” he held his hand out, “after you’ve eaten your dinner.”
His face fell, and she had to stop herself from laughing. He looked like a five year old who’d just been told his birthday party had been cancelled.
“Yes, matron,” he muttered sulkily.
Barbara filed that one away with all the other things she’d need to remind him of when he was better.
“I’ll bring it back later.” She was just about to leave when she was called back.
“Can we talk?” he asked, patting the chair next to him, “I need something to take my mind off this.”
He lifted the spoon and watched, distressed, as the gloop didn’t so much as fall from the utensil as stretch gently down from it until it hit the plate, where it was sucked back with unnatural speed.
Barbara watched, feeling very bad for the man, but it was for his own good.
“Yes, I think you probably do,” she agreed.
She watched as he took his first mouthful, a shuddering running through his body, both eyes closed, his face as creased as a week old newspaper abandoned on the London underground.
She couldn’t resist - “Is it nice?”
The expression she received in reply would have killed most mortals but she just laughed. “I’m sorry.”
“What’s been happening in my absence?” Ian asked, trying to drag a few reluctant remnants from his teeth with his tongue.
“They decided to keep digging,” Barbara started, hoping he wouldn’t be offended. “We thought it was best to keep everyone busy.”
He nodded, lifted the spoon, studied the contents then allowed it to fall to the plate.
“What about the body?”
“Well, when the police and coroner arrived, the only things they could tell us straight away was that it was definitely a dead body and that it wasn’t Mohammed. Apparently they had arrested him for pick pocketing in the local market, so he was in jail when the body was found. They are going to get back to us when they know anything definite, which should be soon actually.”
“How are communications now?”
“Fine. We had a huge electrical storm while you were unconscious, cleared the static completely.” She eyed the man, her teacher mask slipping back into place. “And if you think I haven’t noticed that you’re not eating, then you’re wrong.”
She hadn’t said it, but even so Ian had heard the ‘young man’ on the end of that sentence. Reluctantly he lifted the spoon again. With a muttered ‘that chocolate better be worth it.’ He closed his eyes and shovelled the ‘food’ in.
The ‘meal’ was over and Ian had devoured his somewhat melted treat. He lay on his side along the canvas bed, watching as Barbara returned with more drinking water. She poured out a cup each.
“Barbara,” he ventured, taking a sip from the cool water, “have you ever heard of priestess called Sennu?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she replied, after a moment’s thought.
“Or a scribe called Sham?”
Another moment, “No, why?”
A sip of water. “Just names I heard somewhere.” He didn’t quite lie. He looked up; his companion hadn’t bought it, but left it there.
“What about ‘the book of Thoth’?”
“Why the sudden interest?” she wanted to know. “You usually fade out when I start on one of my ‘lectures’.”
“I do not!” Ian exclaimed, scandalised. Okay it was true, but he was admitting to nothing.
“Mmmm!” Barbara commented, disbelievingly.
“Thoth was the moon god of writing and knowledge,” she began on a sigh. “Usually shown as a baboon or an ibis headed man.” She studied her pupil to ensure he was still awake. Eerily he was paying rapt attention. “He would record the results at the weighing of the heart ceremonies.”
“Like the hieroglyph you shown me in the temple?”
“Yes.” She took a breath and sip of water. “Some cults believed he held secret knowledge of magic and immortality. In fact the book of Thoth was a legendary book of magic, said to be buried in a tomb somewhere.”
“Has it ever been found?”
“Not before we left home, but since then,” she shrugged, “I don’t know. You have to remember it may not even have existed.”
“So, it would have increased someone’s magical power, is that the general idea?”
“I would image so.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Why the sudden thirst for knowledge?” He opened his mouth to reply. “And don’t tell me you just read about it somewhere.”
Ian considered his options. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Barbara, there had been occasions when he had trusted her with his life, and if those situations arouse again he would be more than willing to do the same. If he was honest with himself, he wasn’t sure why he was reluctant to tell her.
“It’s something that happened while I was unconscious......”
The moment was broken by the Doctor bursting through the tent flap.
“My dear young lady, there you are.”
“What’s the matter Doctor?” Barbara asked helping the elderly man to a chair.
“Oh, I’m quite pooped,” the Time Lord stated, fanning himself with a handkerchief.
“Well Doctor?” the school master asked.
“The archaeologists have just stopped digging for the day. Geoffrey wanted me to let you know that they expect to be down to the tomb tomorrow. He wants to discuss the plans with everyone.”
Barbara looked across to Ian. “Oh, I see.” She looked back at the Doctor. “Ian and I wanted to talk,” she explained, “could you tell me what happens.”
Ian felt the Doctor’s eyes turn on him. “Oh, of course my dear. I’m sorry Chesterton, I should have realised.”
“No, that’s fine Doctor. Look Barbara, why don’t you go?” The mention of the tomb had cast a grey cloud across his mood.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, go on,” he said with forced cheerfulness. “You don’t want to be in the dark for the best bit.”
“Why don’t you come to? I could help you.”
“No, no.” He stretched theatrically, not even fooling himself. “I’m exhausted; I think I’m going to turn in.”
She studied him closely, an expression that reminded him of the priestess. “If you’re sure.”
He nodded. “See you in the morning.” He pulled the covers over his head, turning his back on his two friends.
After a short time he heard them leave the tent, and he rolled onto his back.
Barbara paused outside. The Doctor had preceded a few paces before noticing.
“What’s the matter?” He asked, coming back to join her.
“It’s Ian.” She turned to face the tent, now in darkness. “He’s got something on his mind, something he doesn’t know how to express.”
“Well, surely that’s to be expected isn’t it?” the Time Lord pointed out gently. “He nearly died you know.”
“I was aware of that!” She snapped irritably.
“I’m sorry Barbara,” the Doctor patted the woman gently on the arm, “but you know what I mean. An experience like that can change a life. I’ve known people who have returned from the brink of death completely changed, sometimes for the good, sometimes not so.” He sighed. “We should be glad that Ian is just feeling a little subdued, it could have been much worse.”
“Yes, I know.” Barbara sighed too. “I just don’t like to see him like this.”
“I know, my dear.” The Doctor steered her slowly forwards, towards the others he could see gathering.
He had seen many relationships grow, on many planets and in many times during his travels, and he wondered how long it would take for his two companions to realise the depth to which their own friendship had developed.
“We must give him time to sort through his own feelings. Then I’m sure he’ll be ready to talk to you about them.”
“You think so?”
“Barbara! Do you really doubt it?”
“No, no I suppose not.” Her face brightened a little.
She studied the stars, just beginning to reveal themselves in all their glory. So many of them. More than she’d ever seen in her life before.
“He’s been asking some very strange, very specific questions in the last few days.”
“Oh, what about?” The Time Lord’s interest was piqued.
“Egyptian mythology mostly. He’s never been all that interested before. I know he just tolerates me talking about it all the time since we’ve been here.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
Barbara waved away his platitudes. “When I pressed him about it just now, he started telling me that something happened when he was unconscious.”
“Something?” The Doctor stopped, staring, bright eyed, into the woman’s face. “Like what?”
“Well, I don’t know, that’s when you came in and then he just shut me out again,” she replied, sharper than she had intended - frustration colouring her tone.
“Well, I’m sure it’s nothing to be worried about. The human mind is a wonderful piece of machinery. It doesn’t stop until the last possible moment.” He started walking again, holding onto her arm so she was forced forwards with him. “Yes it grabs onto any shred of information to keep itself going. People have reported seeing and hearing all kinds of things.”
“I know. This just seems different.”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t think so.” White hair stirred, as head was shaken. “Still,” he lifted a hand to place the index finger on his lower lip, “I think we should keep a close eye on our friend tomorrow when that tomb is opened.”
“Why?” Barbara was completely mystified by the Doctor’s words. “Doctor?”
“Ah, it looks like we’re the last to arrive my dear,” he stated, as if completely forgetting the previous conversation. “Hurry and find a seat, we can’t keep them waiting any longer.”
With a deep sigh and a wish that just once she could understand the Time Lord, Barbara sat in the sand, legs curled to one side of her body.
The camp was up early the next day. Not only was this day for ‘the archaeological find of the decade, possibly the century’ as Geoff had put it last night, but apparently the police and coroner would be returning with news of the body. They didn’t want to broadcast what they had found over the radio, they insisted on coming out to the camp. It all sounded a bit dubious.
Ian was just slipping into his shirt when Barbara entered the tent carrying his breakfast.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Because modesty forbids me from going out naked,” he said, tucking the newly fasten shirt into light fawn trousers.
Barbara tutted. “What are you doing out of bed? Again,” she added after a brief pause.
“I’m going down to the dig.”
“Has Doctor Patrick said it would be alright?”
He studied the contents of the tray before replying. “I didn’t ask.”
Barbara was just about to leave the tent in search of the medic, when Ian caught her arm.
“I just want to go down and see what they’ve found. Please.”
He tried his best ‘cow eyes’, and despite her better judgement she felt it working. “Alright, but I’m staying with you. I want to make sure you behave yourself.”
“But of course.” His face was split by a smile.
“Why are you so keen?” she questioned, watching as he slipped on some light canvas shoes.
“Look, I know I’ve not been around for most of the digging.” Ian explained, sipping his breakfast juice, “but I was here when all this started.” He made his way over to the tent flap. “Besides, I want to see what the tomb looks like now it’s finished.”
“What do you mean ‘now it’s finished’?” Barbara frowned.
“The digging, of course.” The pause had been just long enough for the woman to pick up on. With the frown set in place, she followed him out of the tent.
The students were working down what was a very substantial hole, the front of the tomb already visible. It wasn’t very glamorous looking but it was impressive. Large stones shaped precisely, all the more impressive when you realised that everything had been made without the aid of modern machines.
“Professor,” Jenny, one of the older students called, pointing to a small conical piece of pottery that had just been uncovered.
Geoffrey bounded over, taking the newly recovered artefact from the ground, carefully noting where it had come from.
“It’s a funerary cone isn’t it?” Barbara asked, stepping carefully down into the hole, checking to make sure that Ian was down safely.
“That’s right,” the professor said, turning the item round in his hands.
“What’s that?” Ian asked, as Geoff passed the item back to the school teachers, while he began rooting around the tombs facing.
“It’s like a head stone,” Barbara explained. “It would be left in front of the tomb, or sometimes there was hole over the entrance and this,” she hefted the pottery before passing it to Ian for closer inspection, “would be placed inside. It’s to let people know who’s in there, what they did and, in some cases, who they’re related to.”
Chesterton was always nervous about handling things of any antiquity. It would be just his luck for something that had survived floods, fires and hurricanes, to suddenly find itself in a thousand bits at his feet. He couldn’t resist, however, touching something that to him, just a few days ago hadn’t even been made, but that was now thousands of years old. He had discovered early on in his travels that if you thought about it too much it made your head spin.
“How old would you say it was Geoff?” Barbara was asking, still studying the object now in Ian’s hands.
“Oh, about five and a half thousand years, I’d say. Looking at the style, and from what we know of the surrounding area, it won’t be much younger than that. Ah!” The exclamation came as his fingers disappeared into a small hole in the wall in front of them. It was just above head height and was large enough for him to fit three fingers in.
“This,” he started, carefully taking the cone from Chesterton’s hands, “would have fitted here.”
He carefully slipped it into place, the thin end of the cone slipping easily into the hole. The fatter, flat end looked out at them.
“Can I have a brush please, Jenny?”
The required tool was handed up and all in the trench looked as Geoff lightly brushed at the exposed end of the stone.
Slowly, like melting snow, the dust was swept away and small perfectly executed hieroglyphs were revealed.
“Can you read it?” Ian asked, not so much excited as anxious, he didn’t know why. The priestess would be dead by now, whether by fair means or foul.
Geoff slipped the cone back out. There were a few anxious moments as it looked as though the stone had become wedged, there were a few nervous laughs as it came free so quickly it was nearly dropped.
“Well, let’s see.”
The professor removed his glasses from their case and placed them on the bridge of his nose, from where they started a slow descent, to be pushed back up, moments before they could fall.
“Well roughly speaking,” he started, after a moments muttering, “Scribe and master magician Sham, favoured of the gods, lord of the people, defeater of evil.”
Barbara turned to look at Ian, who just stood staring ahead, the sun glinting off suddenly pale skin.
“Are you okay?” Jenny asked, noticing the pale man, his hands shaking, a look of shock on his face.
“I think he needs to rest,” Barbara stated quickly, taking hold of one of his hands. “Could you help me please?”
“Is he okay?” Geoff asked, as he watched the school teacher being pulled from the trench.
“He’ll be fine, he just needs to sit down,” Barbara explained, leading the man to the eating area.
Geoff watched them go, and then turned back to the work at hand. He placed the funeral cone back where it had been found. “Right, let’s get this section cleaned up, recorded then we move on to......” a pause for drama, “.......the tomb.” He affected his best hammer horror laugh, and was under whelmed by the response. “Please yourselves,” he muttered, climbing back out.
He had spotted a cloud of dust heading across the desert, straight for them. Their visitors would be arriving sooner rather than later, he felt.
Ian drunk thirstily from the bottle of chilled water. He hadn’t spoken since the hieroglyphs had been translated, and apart from the occasional ‘watch that rock’, ‘sit here’ kind of thing, Barbara too had been silent.
She had decided to save questions until they were both settled and now she found herself watching the Doctor in the distance pottering around the finds table, occasionally picking something up to study closer then returning it to its previous position. She frowned. She could have sworn he had just put something in his pocket. She sighed. She was probably wrong, her mind was elsewhere.
As soon as Ian took the bottle from his lips and had swallowed his last mouthful, the inquisition started.
“So, a scribe called Sham?”
Ian wasn’t sure what he was being asked, so he remained silent. It didn’t go down well.
“Ian, are you going to tell me how you knew?”
The school teacher couldn’t come up with a good story, and any way, he reasoned, talking about it might help. The pause had been just a bit too long for Barbara though.
“Ian? Have you suddenly become some kind of psychic?”
“No,” he stated quietly.
“Then how did you know that was his tomb?”
“I didn’t know that was his tomb,” he explained, looking down at his hands, still wet from the condensation on the bottle. “I thought it belonged to a priestess called Sennu. That’s who it was built for.” He looked into her face, and saw only worry there, a need to understand. He sighed, how was he going to explain this without sounding mad. “I met them.”
Well, now he had started, he supposed he should just plough straight on. “Remember last night, when I started telling you about something happening to me while I was unconscious?” He was encouraged by her nod. “Don’t ask me how, but I woke up in that temple.” He indicated the ruined building opposite them. “It was complete and the tomb was being built.”
“Sennu and Sham?”
“They were the people I met in the temple.”
“A priestess and a scribe.” Not so long ago Barbara would have laughed at such a suggestion, put it down to hysteria. Three things convinced her otherwise - the name on the tomb, the fact that she had now seen and heard of stranger things and lastly and most important - it was Ian.
Neither of the teachers saw the Time Lord standing a little distance away listening to the rest of Ian’s story.
Geoff had been right, the police and coroner had arrived early. They didn’t look happy as he greeted them, and they refused to comment on the case until they could speak to everyone at once. He invited them into his tent, offering food and water while he gathered the troops.
“And that’s when I woke up back here,” Ian finished.
“That’s fantastic!” Barbara exclaimed.
“You believe me?” He tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice.
She laid a hand on his cheek. “Of course I do.”
He smiled with a sigh. “Good, now I just need someone to explain how.”
“Ah, Doctor there you are.” The voice from behind span them about. Hurrying away from them, stumbling in his haste was the Time Lord. He was intercepted by the robust archaeologist. “We need everyone in one place. The police are back, they want to talk to us all.” Geoff steered the elderly man over to the gathering students, then went in search of more lost sheep.
“Oh, my dear young people, you gave me quite a turn, I didn’t expect to see you there.” The Doctor called to Ian and Barbara, as if he was surprised to see them.
“Doctor, were you listening in just now?” Barbara demanded.
The white haired man pulled himself up to his full height. “Excuse me young woman, I have perfect manners.” He ignored Ian’s slightly choked laugh. “I do not listen to others conversations unless invited to do so.”
He acted being offended so well, that Barbara felt her anger disappearing.
“Of course not Doctor,” she replied with an indulgent smile.
It took another half an hour before the last person was retrieved from the outskirts of the site. Once everyone was seated and quiet, Geoff, ever the showman, introduced the local police inspector - Iffram, and the coroner - Doctor Hamil.
Iffram was the first to speak.
“We have returned,” he started in heavily accented English, “because we wish to tell you the results we have from the body found outside Miss Wright’s tent.” He nodded at the woman in question, noting the young man sitting next to her place a protective arm around her. “Then, we have a few more questions that need answering, possibly in town for one or two of you.”
This started a speculative murmur going about the gathered people. He allowed it to continue for a few minutes while he watched the faces about him. Watching, he was always watching.
“Now, I am going to leave the technicalities about the body to Doctor Hamil.”
He stepped aside to allow a small, balding, olive skinned man to occupy centre stage.
“Well the state of the body offered quite a few challenges, as I’m sure you can appreciate,” the coroner started, a very English twang to his accent; the result of a British education, no doubt, Ian found himself concluding.
“We were, however, able to ascertain a number of things; the body was that of a female, late twenties, early thirties. Traces of her last meal were still evident in her stomach.” He watched as several people screwed up noses and a muttered ‘yelch!’ went around the collection of students and teachers. It was perverse he knew, but he loved the reaction of ‘civilians’ when he started talking about stomach contents. “Seems to have been a crude meal of beef and rough bread.”
Barbara felt Ian tense beside her.
“Cause of death seems to be a snake bite; two small puncture wounds were just discernible on the left calf. Unfortunately identification of the victim is going to be virtually impossible.” He paused, glancing across to the inspector, who barely nodded, never taking his eyes from the crowd. “As I said, medical science can achieve wonders now, but even we are finding it hard to identify a woman who died five and a half thousand years ago.”
The previous silence was broken by uproar, the sound of many questions, all being asked at once. Interestingly enough, the inspector noted, only two people were still; Miss Wright and her young man. They sat staring at each other, their expressions stunned.