As Howard Carter stood atop the Theban horn, looking straight down into the Valley of the Kings, that was the number on his mind.
It had rained the night before, a violent colossus of a storm that had literally formed rivers and caused landslides along the hills.
The upper layer of soil had been washed away, making it the perfect place for Carter to be strolling at that very moment. With his eyes fixed on the ground, and the number forty-three rattling around his head, he was scanning the freshly scrubbed earth for a telltale fissure or cleft that might yield a new tomb entrance.
Once again his heart was pounding. He was thinking how much he loved his job and that one day it would lead to great things. It had to. He had paid his dues.
Carter still felt an indescribable power in the Valley of the Kings and believed that the area had a life of its own. He found it alternately spiritual and playful, a mischievous wasteland that continually taunted Egyptologists who believed there was nothing left to discover. Time and again, great explorers had declared that they’d found all there was to find.
And then the valley would reveal another tomb or another cache of mummies, and the frantic spending and digging would resume.
Carter had carefully studied the detailed records of every Egyptologist since Napoleon and his men came through here at the turn of the nineteenth century. He had also studied the pharaohs’ line of succession, comparing their names with the list of mummies that had already been found.
Simple cross-referencing told him that several pharaohs were still somewhere below him in the valley floor, just waiting to be discovered.
So now he gazed out over the valley, wondering about the mysterious forty-three.
Forty-three was not a person’s name. In fact, Carter had no idea what it might be. Tomb discoveries were numbered sequentially, and in the previous three years an astounding ten new tombs had been located by Frenchman Victor Loret. But after finding KV 42 in 1900 and allowing Carter to help him do the major portion of the excavation, Loret had quit the valley.
KV 43 was still out there, waiting for someone to find it.
Carter suspected, sadly, that he would not be that man. The cost of hiring several hundred diggers for a season was more than five thousand pounds sterling. Add to that astonishing sum the cost of a yearly concession, lodgings, food, donkeys, shovels, picks, and wheelbarrows to move the excavated stone, and it was obvious that Egyptology was the calling of the rich. What chance did Carter, the son of a simple portrait artist, have of finding a great pharaoh’s tomb? But still he could dream. And he was here rather than in dreary old England.
Carter stared out at the folds and tucks of the valley, as if merely by looking long enough he would spot some obscure sign of a tomb. Finally, he settled down onto the ground, sitting cross-legged on the only smooth patch of yellow dirt for a hundred yards in any direction. He opened the cover of his sketchbook.
Holding his pencil lightly to the page, then running it over the paper in quick bursts, he drew a simple outline of the valley floor and of the low flat mountains to the west. His challenge, as always, was to somehow capture the peace and grandeur that permeated that place. But for all Carter’s genius as an artist, pencil lines on a piece of white paper could never fully convey the wonders of this magical spot.
There was great history here, if only he could find some of it himself, if only he could find KV 43.