Luxor, Egypt, 1896. An English woman walks slowly along the outer wall of the temple. The hem of her dress is torn. Coarse, black threads drag behind her leaving serpentine trails in the dust. Oblivious, she shields her eyes from the sun and continues searching the hard-packed ground for treasure.
She has no interest in contributing to an academic journal or expanding the body of knowledge. She has wasted too much time politely knocking on closed doors and attending scholarly meetings where she is not allowed to speak. A member of the weaker sex blending into the background like a shadow. But she knows what the others do not. She knows where to look.
A crew of local workers digs inside the temple. Ropes. Pulleys. A growing pile of rocks. Theban consonants as rigid as hieroglyphs echo in the afternoon heat. Screeching wheelbarrows. French overseers cooing like river birds.
She presses her hands on the enclosure wall, absorbs its heat and listens for something else. Something quieter. An ancient secret whispered in the accents of an undeciphered language. The voice the others cannot hear.
When she finds the treasure, she will protect it. She will not let it sit inside a glass case in a dusty display. Or even worse, in a drawer in a dark basement. She closes her eyes and imagines the catacombs beneath the British Museum. White-gloved hands. Her treasure is tagged, labeled and placed on a tray. The drawer slides shut. Hidden from sight. Permanently abandoned. Buried deeper than it is now as it waits patiently in the earth. As it waits for her alone.
Not a broken bit of pottery. Not bright flakes of paint. Not a brittle yellow tooth or a desiccated foot. Something older. A fragment of myth. A scrap of religion. A feather from a gryphon's wing.
She senses its closeness and looks down. A golden speck glitters at the toe of her boot. She stoops, digs carefully, kneels and brushes the dirt away with her fingertips. A delicate earring. Pale, shimmering blue beads. The color of her eyes. She cradles it in her hand. It warms from the heat of her body. Warm for the first time in three thousand years.