“HALT THE EXCAVATION!”
The voice echoed down the corridor above the din of hammering and chipping.
The overseer was furious. No one but the pharaoh could issue such an order.
He planted his feet, placed one callused hand on each hip, and turned to glare at this offensive idiot, whoever he might be.
He heard footsteps slapping down the corridor, then the angry cries of workmen who were being trampled on by the interloper. Of course, they were prisoners of war and petty criminals who would be executed when the job was finished to keep the tomb’s location a secret. He cared little that they were inconvenienced.
A royal page skittered to a halt directly in front of the overseer. He wore a fashionable kilt and an extra-heavy application of eyeliner that had begun to run in the heat.
The overseer believed that the man worked for the royal vizier, though he wasn’t certain. Either way, it was best to keep his temper in check. He forced himself to count to ten, lest he smack the man across his arrogant face.
“By what right do you barge into my construction site and issue such a decree?” the overseer said in measured syllables.
“By order of the royal vizier,” replied the page.
The overseer calmed down a little. “I’m listening. By order of the vizier, what?”
“The pharaoh is dead.” The page leaned forward and whispered in a voice so low that the overseer could barely hear. “There are rumors that he has been murdered and that more deaths will follow.”
The overseer’s shock was evident, which pleased the gossipy page. “Is this a secret?” asked the overseer.
“The biggest. If I were you, I would not repeat it.”
“You just did.”
“You are not me, grave digger.”
There was a moment of strained silence. The overseer was so consumed with the astounding news that it took a moment for the ramifications to sink in.
“I can’t finish this tomb in seventy days,” he said, alluding to the prescribed mourning, embalming, and mummification period before a pharaoh would be sealed inside the ground for eternity. “It is impossible.”
“That is why I have come. We will finish this tomb later. The pharaoh will be buried in the tomb at the center of the valley.”
The overseer was once again astonished. “That is no tomb for a pharaoh. It is a trifle. Just four rooms and the narrowest of hallways. It is a closet!”
“Yes, but it is a finished closet.”
“It still needs to be painted,” replied the overseer, trying to maintain some control over the situation. It was customary to paint scenes from the pharaoh’s life and his journey into the afterworld on the walls in vivid colors.
“Exactly. You had better get your men painting pretty pictures.”
“Stop the excavation!” roared the overseer. He paused and then looked at the page curiously.
“Inherit this tomb?” answered the page, anticipating the words.
The overseer nodded.
“The royal vizier has graciously offered to take it off the pharaoh’s hands.”