A church outside Thessalonike, northern Greece
The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Me’dia and Persia,” intoned the old preacher, reading aloud from the open Bible on his pulpit. “And the rough goat is the king of Gre’cia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.” He paused and looked around the packed church. “Every Bible scholar will tell you the same thing,” he said, leaning forward a little, lowering his voice, confiding to his audience. “The ram Daniel speaks of represents the Persian king Darius. The king of Gre’cia represents Alexander the Great. These verses are talking about Alexander’s defeat of the Persians. And do you know when Daniel wrote them? Six hundred years before the birth of Christ, two hundred and fifty years before Alexander was even born. Two hundred and fifty years! Can you even begin to imagine what will be happening in the world two hundred and fifty years from now? But Daniel did it.”
Nicolas Dragoumis nodded as he listened. He knew the old preacher’s text word for word, because he’d written much of it himself, and then they had worked together in rehearsals until every word was perfect. But you could never really tell with something like this until you took it to the people. This was their first night, and it was going well so far. Atmosphere-that was the key. That was why they had chosen this old church, though it wasn’t an official service. The moon showed through the stained-glass windows. A bird hooted in the rafters. Thick doors excluded the outside world. Incense caught in nostrils, covering the smell of honest sweat. The only lighting came from lines of fat white candles, just bright enough for the congregation to be able to check in their own Bibles that these verses were truly from chapter 8 of the Book of Daniel, as the preacher had assured them, but dark enough to retain a sense of the numinous, the unknown. People in this part of the world knew that things were stranger and more complex than modern science tried to paint them. They understood, as Nicolas did, the concept of mysteries.
He looked around the pews. These haggard people. People with compacted lives, old before their time, taking on backbreaking work at fourteen, becoming parents at sixteen, grandparents at thirty-five, few of them making it past fifty. Unshaven faces gaunt from stress, sour from disappointment; skin leathery and dark from too much sun; hands callused from their endless struggle against hunger. And angry, too, simmering with resentment at their poverty and the punitive taxation they paid on what little they earned. Anger was good. It made them receptive to angry ideas.
The preacher stood up straighter, relaxed his shoulders, and continued his reading. “Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.” He gazed out into his congregation with the slightly manic blue eyes of a madman or a prophet; Nicolas had chosen him well. ” ‘Now that being broken,’ ” he repeated. “That phrase refers to the death of Alexander. ‘Four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation.’ And that refers to the breakup of the Macedonian Empire. As you all know, it was broken into four parts by his four successors: Ptolemy, Antigonus, Kassandros, and Seleucus. And remember, this was written by Daniel nearly three hundred years earlier.”
Unrest and anger weren’t enough, reflected Nicolas. Where there was poverty, there was always unrest and anger, but there wasn’t always revolution. There had been unrest and anger in Macedonia for two millennia, as first the Romans, then the Byzantines and Ottomans had oppressed his people. And every time they struggled free from one yoke, another had been placed on them. A hundred years ago, prospects had at last looked bright. The 1903 Ilinden Uprising had been brutally crushed, but then, in 1912, a hundred thousand Macedonians had fought side by side with Greeks, Bulgarians, and Serbs, finally to expel the Turks. It should by rights have been the birth date of an independent Macedonia, but they were betrayed. Their former allies turned upon them, the so-called Great Powers collaborated in the infamy, and Macedonia was cut up into three parts under the wretched Treaty of Bucharest. Aegean Macedonia had been awarded to Greece, Serbian Macedonia to Serbia, and Pirin Macedonia to Bulgaria.
” ‘And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land.’ The little horn is Demetrios,” asserted the preacher. “For those of you who may not remember, Demetrios was the son of Antigonus, and he had himself proclaimed king of Macedonia, even though he was not of Alexander’s blood.”
The Treaty of Bucharest! Just the name had the power to twist and torture Nicolas’s heart. For nearly a hundred years, the borders it had laid down had remained largely unchanged. And the loathsome Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgars had done everything they could to eradicate Macedonian history, language, and culture. They had shut down free speech, imprisoning anyone who showed the slightest defiance. They had appropriated the properties of Macedonian farmers and resettled outsiders on them. They razed villages, orchestrated mass murders and rapes, turned Macedonians into slaves, and then worked them to death. They committed ethnic cleansing on a grand scale, without a peep of protest from the wider world.
But it hadn’t worked. That was the thing that gave Nicolas hope. The spirit of Macedonian nationhood still burned strong. In pockets across the region, their language survived, as did their culture and church. They lived on in these simple yet proud people, in the glorious sacrifices they had already made and would soon make once more for the greater good. Someday soon his beloved country would finally be free.
“And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.’ ‘And the place of his sanctuary was cast down,’ ” repeated the preacher. “That’s this place. That’s Macedonia. The land of your birth. It was Demetrios, you see, who began the chaos that has engulfed Macedonia ever since. Demetrios. In two hundred and ninety-one BC. Mark that date. Mark it well. Two hundred and ninety-one BC.”
In Nicolas’s pocket, his cell phone began to vibrate. He gave few people this number, and his assistant, Katerina, had strict instructions not to put any calls through tonight. He stood and walked to the back doors. “Yes?” he asked.
“Ibrahim Beyumi for you, sir,” said Katerina.
“The archaeologist from Alexandria. I wouldn’t have bothered you, but he says it’s urgent. They’ve found something. They need a decision at once.”
“Very well. Put him through.”
The line switched. Another voice came on. “Mr. Dragoumis, this is Ibrahim Beyumi here. From the Supreme Council in-“
“I know who you are. What do you want?”
“You’ve been generous enough to offer sponsorship in certain-“
“You’ve found something?”
“A necropolis. A tomb. A Macedonian tomb.” He took a deep breath. “From the description I was given, it sounds just like the Royal Tombs at Aigai.”
Nicolas clutched his phone tight and turned his back on the church. “You’ve found a Macedonian royal tomb?”
“According to this description, maybe. But I won’t know for sure until I’ve inspected it myself.”
“And when will you do that?”
“First thing tomorrow-providing I can arrange financing, at least.”
In the background, the preacher was still talking. ” ‘Then I heard one saint speaking,’ ” he intoned, squeezing every sonorous drop from the biblical prose, ” ‘and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?’ How long shall Macedonia and the Macedonians be trampled underfoot? How long shall we pay the price for Demetrios’s sin? Remember, this was written three hundred years before the sin of Demetrios, which took place in two hundred and ninety-one BC!”
Nicolas clamped a hand over his ear, the better to concentrate. “You need financing before you inspect?” he asked sardonically.
“We have a peculiar situation,” said Ibrahim. “The man who reported the find has a very sick daughter. He wants funds before he’ll talk.”
“Ah.” The inevitable baksheesh. “How much? For everything.”
“In money terms?”
Nicolas clenched his toes in frustration. These people! “Yes,” he said, with exaggerated patience. “In money terms.”
“That depends on how big the site proves to be, how much time we have, what kind of artifacts-“
“In U.S. dollars. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands?”
“Oh. It typically costs six or seven thousand American dollars a week for an emergency excavation like this.”
“How many weeks?”
“That would depend on-“
“One? Five? Ten?”
“Three. Two if we’re lucky.”
“Fine. Do you know Elena Koloktronis?”
“The archaeologist? I’ve met her once or twice. Why?”
“She’s on a dig in the Delta; Katerina will give you her contact number. Invite her tomorrow. If she vouches for this tomb of yours, the Dragoumis Group will give you twenty thousand dollars. I trust that will meet all your excavation costs, plus any more sick children who turn up.”
“Thank you,” said Ibrahim. “That’s most generous.”
“And get Katerina to talk you through our terms.”
“You don’t think we’d provide funds on this scale without terms, do you?”
“As I said, talk to Katerina.” And he snapped the phone shut.
” ‘And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.’ Two thousand and three hundred days!” cried the preacher exultantly. “Two thousand and three hundred days! But that’s not precisely what the original Bible text says. The original text talks about the ‘evenings and mornings of sacrifices.’ And those sacrifices took place once each year. Two thousand three hundred days, therefore, doesn’t mean two thousand three hundred days at all. No. It means two thousand three hundred years. And who can tell me what date is two thousand three hundred years on from the sin of Demetrios? No? Then let me tell you. It is the year of our Lord two thousand and nine. It is now. It is today. Today our sanctuary is finally to be cleansed. It says so in the Bible, and the Bible never lies. And remember, this was all predicted exactly by Daniel, six hundred years before the birth of Christ.” He wagged a finger in both admonition and exhortation. “It is written, people. It is written. This is our time. This is your time. You are the chosen generation, chosen by God to fulfill his command. Which of you dare refuse his call?”
Nicolas watched with gratification as people turned to look at one another, murmuring in astonishment. This was indeed their time, he reflected, and it wasn’t a fluke. He’d been working toward it for fifteen years now, his father for forty. They had operatives in every hamlet, town, and village. Vast caches of weapons and food were waiting in the mountains. Veterans of the Yugoslavian wars had trained them in ordnance and guerrilla campaigns. They had sleepers in local and national government, spies in the armed services, friends in the international community and among the Macedonian diaspora. And the propaganda war was in full swing, too. The schedules of Dragoumis TV and radio were crammed with programs designed to stir Macedonian fervor, their newspapers filled with stories of Macedonian heroism and sacrifice, alongside tales of the opulent lifestyles and unthinking cruelty of their Athenian overlords. And it was working. Anger and hatred were building across northern Greece, even among those who had little sympathy with the separatist cause. Civil disturbance, riots, increasing incidents of ethnic assaults. All the telltale trembling of an imminent earthquake. But they weren’t there yet. Much as Nicolas craved it, they weren’t quite there. A revolution needed people so worked up they wanted martyrdom. Break out the guns now, and it would look promising for a while, but then everything would fizzle. The backlash would come. The Greek army would deploy on the streets; families would be menaced, and businesses investigated. There would be arbitrary arrests, beatings, and counterpropaganda. Their cause would be set back years, might even be irreversibly crippled. No. They still needed something more before it could begin. Something particular. A symbol that the Macedonian people would be prepared to fight to the death for.
And it was just possible that his recent phone call from Egypt might provide it. THE EGYPTIAN ARMY OFFICER was still speaking on the phone. He seemed to be talking for a very long time. He came out with a pen and a pad of paper and crouched to jot down the license number of Knox’s Jeep. Then he went back inside and read it out to whoever was at the other end of the phone.
The Jeep’s keys were in the ignition. For a crazy moment, Knox contemplated driving for it-if Hassan caught him, he was finished anyway. But though the Egyptian soldiers looked cheerful and relaxed enough, that would change in a heartbeat if he fled. The threat of suicide bombers was simply too high around here for them to take risks; he’d be shot dead before he made it fifty yards. So he forced himself to relax, to accept that his fate was out of his hands.
The officer replaced the handset carefully, composed himself, then walked over. He wasn’t swaggering anymore. He looked thoughtful, even apprehensive. He gestured to his men. Immediately, they became alert. He stooped a little to talk through the Jeep’s open window, tapping the spine of Knox’s passport against the knuckles of his left hand as he did so. He said, “I am hearing whispers of a most remarkable story.”
Knox’s stomach squeezed. “What whispers?”
“Of an incident involving Hassan al-Assyuti and some young American man.”
“I know nothing about that,” said Knox.
“I’m glad,” said the officer, squinting down the road to Sharm as though expecting a vehicle to appear at any moment. “Because, if the rumors are true, the young foreigner in question has a very bleak future.”
Knox swallowed. “He was raping a girl,” he blurted out. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Contact the authorities.”
“We were in the middle of the fucking sea.”
“I’m sure you’ll have your chance to tell your side.”
“Ballocks,” said Knox. “I’ll be dead within an hour.”
The officer flushed. “You should have thought of that before, shouldn’t you?”
“I should have covered my arse, you mean? Like you’re doing now?”
“This isn’t my fight,” growled the officer.
Knox nodded. “People in my country, they think that all Egyptian men are cowards and thieves. I tell them they’re wrong. I tell them that Egyptian men are honorable and brave. But maybe I’ve been wrong.”
There was an angry muttering. One of the soldiers reached in the open window. The officer clamped his hand around his wrist. “No,” he said.
The soldier retreated, a little shamefaced, while the officer looked down thoughtfully at Knox, clearly uncertain what to do. A pair of headlights crested a hill behind. “Please,” begged Knox. “Just give me a chance.”
The officer had noticed the approaching headlights, too. His jaw tightened as he came to his decision. He tossed the passport onto the passenger seat, then signaled his men to stand aside. “Get out of Egypt,” he advised. “It’s no longer safe for you.”
Knox let out a long breath. “I’m leaving tonight.”
“Good. Now go before I change my mind.”
Knox put the Jeep into gear, accelerated away. His hands began shaking wildly as his body flooded with the euphoria of escape. He held himself back until he was a distance down the road, then he whooped and punched the air. He’d done a stupid, reckless thing, but it looked as though he’d got away with it.
Nessim, Hassan Il-Assyuti’s head of security, arrived in Knox’s Sharm backpacker hotel to find the middle-aged concierge snoring raucously behind his desk. He came awake with a strangled shriek when Nessim slammed down the wooden access hatch. “Knox,” said Nessim. “I’m looking for Daniel Knox.”
“He’s not here,” said the concierge, breathing heavily.
“I know he’s not here,” said Nessim coldly. “I want to see his room.”
“But it’s his room!” protested the concierge. “I can’t just show it to you.”
Nessim reached into his jacket pocket for his wallet, making sure that the concierge caught a glimpse of his shoulder holster while he was at it. He took out fifty Egyptian pounds and set them down on the counter. “This is me asking nicely,” he said.
The concierge licked his lips. “Just this once, I suppose.”
Nessim followed the fat man upstairs, still brooding on what had happened on the boat, the humiliation of being bested by some beach bum foreigner. At first, he had thought that Knox would be easy to track down, but it wasn’t proving that simple. He had word back from a contact in the army that Knox had somehow bluffed his way through a checkpoint. When he heard about that, he had felt a spike of intense anger and frustration. How simple it might have been! But he knew better than to make waves. Only a fool took on the army in Egypt, and Nessim wasn’t a fool.
The concierge unlocked and opened Knox’s door, looking around nervously lest other guests see what was happening. Nessim went inside. He had one night to capture Knox, and he had that only because Hassan was on morphine to manage his pain. When he woke in the morning, he would demand to know what progress had been made.
He would want Knox.
Nessim fingered the shabby clothes hanging in the wardrobe, checked the side pockets of the red canvas bag in the bottom, crouched to inspect the books lined up on the floor against the walls-a few comic novels and thrillers, but mostly academic works on Egypt and archaeology. There were CDs, too-some music, others for his laptop. He picked up a comb-bound document. The front page, in both English and Arabic, read: Mallawi Excavation First Season Notes Richard Mitchell and Daniel Knox
He flipped through it. Text and photographs of an excavation near an ancient Ptolemaic settlement a few kilometers from Mallawi in Middle Egypt. He put it back thoughtfully. Why would an Egyptologist be working as a dive instructor in Sharm? He checked a few more documents. Maps and photographs of reef systems, as best he could make out. He took the canvas bag from the wardrobe and packed all Knox’s documents inside. Then he packed up Knox’s laptop, too, and his work-related CDs and floppy disks. In the top drawer of Knox’s desk, he found photocopies of his passport and driver’s license, presumably in case he lost the originals, and a strip of color passport-size photographs, no doubt for one of the myriad documents foreigners needed to work in Sinai. He scooped these up and tucked them away in his jacket pocket. Then he picked up the canvas bag and laptop to take away with him. The concierge gave a little whimper. “Yes?” asked Nessim. “Is something the matter?”
“No,” said the concierge.
“Good. A word of advice. I’d clear the rest of his stuff out if I were you. I very much doubt your friend will be coming back anytime soon.”
“No.” He handed him one of his business cards. “But call me if he does.”