Home Crusades Trilogy Lost
Temple
The Book of Secrets Lazarus Vault Secrets of the Dead Orpheus Descent
Zodiac Station
NEW
Features About the Author

About

1st Chapter

Trailer

Read More

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost Temple

PROLOGUE

Crete, May 20th 1941

Legend said this was the first place men flew. Like artificial birds, they had dressed themselves with beeswax and feathers, launched themselves from the lofty palace and soared over the jewelled sea. They had climbed high, ever nearer the sun – until one, a boy, flew too close, melted his wings and fell. By the time the last feather settled on the water the boy had slipped beneath the waves, into myth. Now there were men in the sky again. Instead of feathers they flew on wings of silk, and the webbed harnesses which held them would not melt in the sun. Fallschirmjäger, they called themselves: hunters from the sky. They did not fall, but swooped down to the earth like eagles plunging on their prey.

Pemberton saw them from his office window. He had known he was in trouble when the bombing stopped. For the past week it had been a regular terror: the drone of the engines, then the howl of the diving Stukas and the ground shaking under their explosions. Sometimes the bombs had come so near the villa that the artefacts shivered in their display cases, rattling like loose teacups on saucers, until the staff moved them down to the basement. Now the bombs had stopped, and the staff were all gone – Pemberton had sent them home to their villages and families that morning. He was the only one left. And it was time for him to go.

He grabbed his knapsack from the hatstand in the corner and turned it out over the desk. A week-old sandwich fell limply onto his desk, followed by a half-empty thermos, his camera, torch and penknife, and a few crumpled chocolate wrappers. He kept the torch and the penknife and discarded the rest, though he made sure to pop the film out of the camera. Then, trembling with haste, he unlocked the desk drawer and pulled out the notebook. Dust had spidered the creases in the soft brown leather, and the gold monogram in the corner had almost worn away. It had been a gift from his wife, almost her last, and he treasured it for that alone – but that was not what made it most valuable. The invaders could have everything in the villa – the artefacts and museum-pieces, the clothes and the furnishings imported from England, even his beloved library – but not that.

There was nothing else he could do. He buckled the knapsack and walked to the door; then, seized by a fit of panic, unbuckled the bag again to make sure the notebook was really there. In the hall he made a slow half-turn, taking in the surroundings for the last time. Finally, as a minor act of resistance, he locked every door in the house. If the Germans reached the villa it would delay them for a few minutes, perhaps buy him a little more time.

He stepped out into the sun, while above him a multicoloured canopy of silk clouds – white, red, green, and yellow – drifted earthwards from the sky.

~

Pemberton had waited until he was certain, until he saw the first parachutes blossoming in the afternoon sky. Now it was too late. The whole valley throbbed with the echo of the Junkers-52 transport planes roaring overhead, and he could already hear the staccato thump of gunfire from around the bend that led north to the harbour at Heraklion. The Germans must have landed south of the town, cutting him off, and with every passing moment more reinforcements were jumping in from the Junkers. He wouldn’t get through that way. So he went south, up into the hills and towards the mountains.

He walked quickly. He had been on Crete since before the war, two years now, and his long hikes into the island’s interior had become legendary among his colleagues. The flab that had begun to creep over his belt after too many college dinners had retreated, and if the sun had bleached the last traces of black out of his hair, it had compensated by breathing new health and colour into his cheeks. He was fifty-six, but felt younger now than he had ten years earlier.

When he had gone about a quarter of a mile, he looked back. In the dip below, the excavated walls of the palace of Knossos were just visible in the ring of pine trees. The palace had been his life’s obsession, and even in his hurry he felt a stab of loss at abandoning it to the invaders. As student before the Great War he had helped the legendary Sir Arthur Evans dig it out of its three-thousand-year sleep – a golden age, when it felt as if they tunnelled into myth itself, and every day brought new finds that turned legends into history. Thirty years later, widowed, he had returned as the site’s curator. Archaeology’s age of heroes had passed, and the swift charge of discovery had given way to the meticulous crawl of scholarly analysis, but he had been happy enough. He had even managed a few discoveries of his own – and one that would have astounded even Evans.

Another plane swept in low over the northern ridge. In the clear air he could see it plainly: the squat nose, the black cross on its side, even the white ribbon of the static line trailing behind. It must have reached the end of its drop run; in a moment it would swing around, wheeling back to the mainland for another cargo. Except that it didn’t turn. It carried on over the palace and up the valley, straight for him.

Pemberton was no coward. He had stood in the trenches in Flanders and forced himself over the top with the others, but the sight of the oncoming plane froze him still. He tipped back his head and spun around as it lumbered overhead, the beat of its engines so slow he thought it must drop out of the sky. The square hatch in the fuselage gaped like a wound.

Pemberton jumped: a figure had appeared in the hatchway and was peering out. He must have seen Pemberton, and for a second Pemberton felt a strange communion as their gazes met. Then the man fell. Arms outstretched like wings, he dropped from the plane, hung there a moment, then was whipped away by the slipstream. A long tail unravelled behind him, pulled taut and blossomed into the white dome of parachute, jerking him upright like a marionette. Even then he still seemed to be falling with terrifying speed.

It had taken seconds, but already there were more men in the air behind him. Pemberton looked down. The wind would carry the paratroopers past him, but not so far that he could escape them. He was trapped. With no alternative, he turned back towards the palace in the trees.

~

He scrambled up the four thousand-year-old steps and collapsed behind a wall, breathing hard. Evans’ ambition had not been satisfied simply by excavating the palace: in places, he had actually tried to rebuild it, and the result was a clutch of half-built rooms emerging from the ruins like ghosts. Some visitors found them evocative, others an insult to archaeology; Pemberton, though professionally expected to disapprove, had always been secretly fond of them. He had never thought he would find himself hiding for his life there. He twisted around, and lifted himself to peer out the window.

For a moment he dared to hope that perhaps the paratroopers had landed somewhere else, or maybe headed inland. Then he saw them. They were even closer than he’d feared: in the few minutes it had taken him to run back to the palace, they had extricated themselves from their parachutes, formed up, and begun manoeuvring down the valley. He could see them spread out in a thin line, moving through the dappled olive groves that sloped down to the palace. He counted six of them, in tight-fitting rimless helmets and baggy green smocks that seemed strangely impractical for fighting. If they had taken the road to the west, they would have gone well past the ruined palace. As it was, they would walk straight into it.

From away behind him, something hard and metallic grated on stone. He spun about in terror – then, belatedly, remembered the men in the valley. Had they seen him? No. They had vanished under the shadow of the south wall and were temporarily out of sight. He looked back, more careful this time. In the great courtyard, where the ancients had once danced on the backs of bulls, a huge crimson parachute lay spread out like a bloodstain. The fabric writhed and shivered in the breeze, while behind it a tangled mane of black ropes trailed out to a steel canister about the size of a coffin. Pemberton could see the crack of the impact in the gypsum slabs, and he felt an flash of anger at such casual vandalism.

The first of the German soldiers, a sergeant, hauled himself over the parapet and ran across the courtyard to the canister. The others followed, crowding around him as he knelt and opened the lid. Some of the men were stepping out of the baggy overalls they had worn for the drop, revealing the grey battledress and bandoliers beneath, while others took the weapons the sergeant was handing out. Pemberton watched, appalled.

But away from the soldiers, something was moving. From the corner of his eye, Pemberton saw a figure creeping across the roof of the shrine that stood a little way to his left. He wore a white smock, with a black scarf tied over his head, every inch the traditional Cretan farmer. In his hand, held carefully to avoid scraping it on the stone, was a rifle. It looked even more ancient than the man himself – it could hardly have seen use in the half-century since the Turks were chased off the island – but there was no doubting what he meant to do with it.

Pemberton edged out from behind the column that sheltered him and flapped his hand, trying to attract the Greek’s attention without alerting the Germans. They seemed oblivious to the danger: three of them had lit cigarettes and stood there smoking, while the others packed their equipment into rucksacks. One of them made a joke, and nervous laughter rippled around the courtyard.

Pssssst.’ Pemberton hissed through clenched teeth, pushing caution to its limits in his desperation to stop the Greek. What was the man thinking? The Germans had almost finished unloading the canister and were ready to go. In a few more seconds they would be on the move – and Pemberton would be safe.

The Greek must have heard Pemberton. He turned sharply, angling the gun, then smiled broadly as he recognised the English archaeologist, a familiar presence in the valley. A broken row of teeth gleamed very white against his wizened brown skin. Then he lifted the rifle to his shoulder, squinted down its rusted sights, and fired.

Blood exploded from the German sergeant’s throat as the shot reverberated around the courtyard. On the roof of the shrine, the Greek was frantically trying to reload, tugging on the heavy bolt of his rifle. But the Germans had seen him. Jagged lightning flared from the muzzles of their machine pistols, and a torrent of bullets tore into him. The force of their impact rolled him backwards, leaving a sticky smear of blood across the flat roof.

The guns went quiet. In the far distance, Pemberton could hear the battle for Heraklion still raging, but the sounds were flat and unreal after the savagery of the Schmeissers. One of the soldiers ran forward, up a shallow flight of stairs to the roof of the shrine where the dead Greek lay. He kicked the body, then fired a single redundant bullet into the corpse’s skull. Pemberton shuddered, and edged further around the column that shielded him. Evans’ reconstructed rooms were little more than show-pieces, with no more depth than the wild west facades of a Hollywood studio. With men in the courtyard and now to his left as well, there was precious little space for Pemberton to hide. He pressed his back against the pillar, not daring to move.

Opposite, by the back wall, a shadow moved in the doorway. Pemberton froze, then breathed again. A tiny kitten had sauntered through the door and was standing in the sunlight, staring at him with wide eyes.

Go away,’ Pemberton mouthed, craning over his shoulder to make sure the German on the roof couldn’t see him. What if the cat’s movement attracted his gaze?

The kitten sat down on its hind legs, lifted a paw and began licking itself.

Shoo.’ Glancing around, Pemberton could see the soldier was still on the roof across from him, using it as a lookout to scan the area for more partisans. If he looked over now, he would surely see Pemberton.

The men in the courtyard shouted impatiently. Their sergeant was dying and they were keen to get him help. With a last look down the valley, the soldier on the roof turned back. Pemberton’s shoulders slumped forward, and he hugged his knapsack with relief.

But the cat had stopped washing itself and was standing very still, wobbling a little on its stubby legs. A crow had flown down and perched on the bullet-riddled corpse, oblivious to the German standing a few feet away – or to the young predator, crouched in the shadows. The kitten’s tail quivered, and its open jaw made a strange clicking sound. Then it pounced.

After that, everything happened too fast for Pemberton to see. The man on the roof spun around, spraying an indiscriminate stream of bullets into the open room. His comrades in the courtyard could see even less, but they were in no mood for caution. They opened up with everything they had, and suddenly the air was filled with a storm of lead, concrete, stone and plaster. Something sliced open Pemberton’s cheek, just missing his eye, but he barely felt it. He leaped to his feet and, still clutching the bag, hurled himself through the opposite doorway. He never saw what happened to the cat.

~

The palace of Knossos was no longer the labyrinth it had been in legend, but there were still ways to lose yourself in it, and Pemberton knew the layout better than any man alive. He burst through the door, almost oblivious to the shouts that followed, and dropped over the edge of the balcony into the open ruins below. A slit opening led into an underground chamber, beneath the room he had come from, then out into the sunlight again. Here a succession of long corridors stretched out to his left but he ignored them and turned right. They had not excavated much here, afraid of disturbing the foundations of the ruins above, but they had driven a couple of test tunnels under the great courtyard. One of them went all the way to the far side. If he could get there, he might be able to work his way down to the east gate and slip out among the trees at the bottom of the valley. Footsteps pounded on the terraces above him and he pressed himself flat against the buttress wall. If anyone looked over the edge now he would be in plain sight. But no-one came. There was the opening, a black hole in the embankment a few yards away. He ran to it and squeezed in. It was not much wider than Pemberton himself, and several times he banged his shoulders on the old timber joists that shored up the ceiling. Fine streams of loose dirt sifted through the cracks, settling in the creases of his shirt and trickling down his collar. Worst of all, there was no room to look back to see if anyone had followed him. He could only struggle grimly on, pushing his bag in front of him, towards the small square of light that winked at the end of the tunnel.

At last he reached it. With a final heave, he pushed the bag out so that it dropped onto the floor, then slithered after it. He was now in the shaft of the grand staircase, the best-preserved part of the palace. That had not satisfied Evans, who had embellished it still further with replica frescoes and painted columns, so that it looked almost as it must have done those thirty-three centuries earlier. To his right, a flight of stairs led up towards the courtyard, while another flight disappeared down on his left to the lower levels. If Pemberton could only get down there…

Flat footsteps rang out on the stairs above. Before Pemberton could move, they rounded the corner and stopped short on the landing. A German paratrooper stared down on him. He was limping slightly, perhaps from the parachute drop, but the gun in his hand didn’t waver.

Was haben wir hier?’ His young eyes widened as he took in the strange sight. He had expected another farmer, or maybe a lost soldier, not this bedraggled, bespectacled English archaeologist. ‘Was bist Du denn für einer?Engländer? Soldat?’ He jabbed the Schmeisser at Pemberton. ‘Spion?

Pemberton wrapped his arms around the bag and closed his eyes. Everything had been for nothing, and now he would die here: one last skeleton in the minotaur’s labyrinth. Irrelevantly, he thought of all the tombs he had broken open during his career, and wondered if their angry denizens would be waiting to abuse him in the afterlife. At least he might see Grace again.

A shot rang out, echoing around the gloomy shaft. To his surprise, Pemberton didn’t feel a thing. Perhaps the soldier had missed – or perhaps he was already dead. He waited for what seemed an eternity for the man to finish the job. When nothing happened, he opened his eyes.

On the landing, the German soldier lay flat on his back, his toes in the air and the soles of his boots pointing towards Pemberton. Blood dripped from the step. Before Pemberton could hoist in this sudden reversal, a dark figure had flitted past. He ran up the stairs three at a time, checked the German’s pulse then turned back. He was not wearing a uniform, but there was a pistol in his hand and what looked suspiciously like a knife bulging from his boot. His tanned face was frowning, troubled by something.

He stared down at Pemberton. ‘Are you the king of Greece?’

~

Pemberton gazed up blankly at the man who had saved him. Sunlight from the shaft above cast a slanted shadow over his face, revealing a tough mouth, weatherbeaten skin, and stubble that suggested he had left his bed in a hurry that morning. Dark eyes glinted in the gloom.

There was nothing Pemberton could think to say except, ‘Do I look Greek?’

The man shrugged. ‘They told me he might be here.’

‘He was.’ Pemberton struggled to his feet, not quite sure how he had come to be having this conversation. ‘He stayed at my house.’ He still remembered the shock of returning to the villa and finding the Greek monarch there: the New Zealand guards patrolling the garden, the liaison officers shouting into the radio they had erected in his study, the redundant courtiers sitting on the terrace chainsmoking their way through endless hands of cards. ‘They moved him on three weeks ago – to Chania, I think.’

‘Well he’s not there now.’ The man snapped open the breech of his revolver and replaced the spent cartridge from the pouch on his belt. ‘He escaped this morning – no-one knows where he went. They told me to look out for him here.’

Pemberton squinted at him. ‘Who are you?’

‘Grant.’ He didn’t offer a hand.

‘John Pemberton. I’m the curator here.’

‘Good for you.’ Grant holstered the revolver and knelt down to pick up the machine pistol. He rifled through the dead German’s uniform, extracting three spare magazines and – to Pemberton’s horror – two hand grenades.

‘Surely you won’t use those here?’

‘Why not?’ Grant tucked the grenades into his belt and slung the machine pistol over his shoulder. ‘If you’re worried about chipping the paintwork, I’d say you’re a few thousand years too late.’ He turned back up the stairs. ‘Wait here.’

Pemberton’s mouth was very dry. ‘Where are you going?’

‘To find the King of Greece.’

~

Pemberton waited, huddled in the shadows in the crook of the stairwell. Grant’s footsteps died away quickly and he was left in silence. Trying not to jingle the buckles, he opened the knapsack and reached in. The notebook was still there, thank God: he ran his fingers over the smooth leather, and wondered what on earth he was doing. Where had Grant come from? Would he come back? Even if he did get rid of the soldiers in the palace, how would they ever manage to evade the others that must be swarming all over the island? Pemberton was no stranger to warfare, but for twenty years he had only experienced it through the muffled blanket of archaeology: scorch marks on walls, bronze blades pitted and notched, very occasionally a skeleton to be photographed, tagged and displayed. Now he was in the middle of it, and the thought that he might become fodder for some future archaeologist was not a pleasant one.

Shouts rang out, very near by, followed by three quick shots. Pemberton flinched. This was a dangerous place to be – he needed somewhere darker, more out of the way. Treading softly on the broad stairs, he tiptoed further down, towards the Hall of the Colonnades.

~

Grant knelt beside the bodies of two German soldiers and slotted three new cartridges into his Webley. It was a habit he had learned early on, to always reload when you had the chance. He’d lost count of the number of times the extra bullets had saved his life.

Two more, he thought. He had been watching the valley from a hidden lookout all day, ever since a panicked adjutant had arrived at his billet gibbering that the King of Greece had gone missing. He had seen the planes streaming in, the blizzard of paratroops falling over the island and the smoke rising from the towns, and felt his rage mount. Why should he be sidelined because some idiot politician was worried about a king whose own subjects didn’t even want him? He had seen Pemberton leave the villa, then watched the squad of paratroopers make their landing up the valley. That was when he had left his post and crawled down the slope to the palace. SOE hadn’t sent him to Greece to gawp at royalty; they had sent him to kill Nazis. And that was what he intended to do.

Keeping low, he crept down the eastern slope of the palace. He had had plenty of time to study it from above, but now that he was down among the ruins it was almost impossible to reconcile his birds-eye view with the sprawling chaos around him. It was a sniper’s dream, so much cover spread across so many different levels that he didn’t know where to look.

Patience,’ he murmured to himself. It had never been his strong point. But there were still two Germans prowling this labyrinth, and if he blundered about he would make easy prey. Better to–

A fragment of stone on the wall beside him exploded under the impact of a bullet. He hadn’t seen where the shot came from; instinctively, he grabbed the Schmeisser with both hands and swung around to lay down a suppressing fire. Two bullets spat out of the muzzle; then – nothing. Jammed. He tore it off his shoulder and threw it away, diving to his right as more shots whistled over his head. The bastard was above him. Staying on his stomach, he wriggled along the shallow trench that had once been a royal corridor. A dark chamber loomed at the end of it, a cellar built into the hillside. If he could make that, he would at least have a roof to protect him. Blood pounded in his ears, but he could hear the German soldier scrambling down after him. Abandoning caution, he flung himself through the open doorway as another volley of bullets chased him in.

He had come into a long, thin room, with a succession of bays opening off on either side like cattle stalls. Low walls divided them, and each seemed to be occupied by massive clay urns, each one taller than Grant himself. For a moment, he thought about trying to crawl inside one to hide –then dismissed the idea. He’d be trapped like a rat in a bag.

More shots flew through the doorway, kicking up plumes of dust from the dry floor. He ran to the end of the chamber, looking for a door, even a hole in the wall. There was nothing – the door he’d come in by was the only way out. Just my luck, he thought grimly, the one solid room in this whole bloody ruin. The last bay on his right was empty: he hurled himself into it, just as his pursuer came running through the door.

For a moment there was silence, while the German waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and Grant crouched behind the wall. He tried to peer out, but the fat-bellied jar in the next bay blocked his view completely.

Rudi,’ he heard the soldier call. ‘Komme. Ich habe ihn.

There was no reply. That was good, thought Grant. Better still, the voice had sounded uncertain. He didn’t know where Grant was, and he didn’t want to find out on his own. That was very good.

Quiet as a cat, Grant eased himself over the low wall and dropped down into the bay on the other side, behind one of the massive jars. Thumbing back the hammer on the revolver, he leaned around, feeling the clay coarse and cold against his bare arm. Where was the German?

His gun came out from behind the jar, and a beam of light from the door caught its barrel. Only for a second, but it was all the nervous paratrooper needed. A burst of gunfire raked the room, and thick lumps of clay flew off the jar. One struck Grant’s right hand; before he knew it his fingers had sprung open and dropped the revolver. It fell to the ground, and another layer of sound joined the cacophony in the chamber as the shock of the impact triggered the firing mechanism.

Grant dived back behind the jar. Thank Christ the Minoans had built it to last: the bullets had cracked it but not broken it. Meanwhile, the shot from the Webley seemed to have given the German pause for thought. He had stopped shooting – perhaps he was waiting for his comrade to join him. Peering underneath the jar, Grant could just see a pair of polished black boots standing to the right of the door.

Now he knew where the German was, but he had no way of getting him. The Webley lay on the sandy floor, almost close enough that he could stretch out his arm to grab it, just far enough that he would certainly die if he tried. He had the knife in his boot, but he’d never get close enough to use it. That left…

Grant looked down at the two stick grenades tucked into his belt. He thought of the poor archaeologist, the horror on his face when Grant had taken them from the dead German.

Sorry, old man’, he whispered. Then he unscrewed the cap in the grenade’s handle, felt for the cord inside and gave it a sharp tug. Onetwo… He stood, bent his arm and lobbed the grenade towards the far end of the passage. Three… It spun through the air and vanished out of sight. Four… A knock as it struck the rim of the jar next to the soldier, then a hollow thud as it dropped inside. Five

A cloud of clay shards enveloped the German as the jar disintegrated, and he screamed. Grant didn’t hesitate. He threw himself into the passageway and grabbed the revolver, rolled into a crouch and squeezed off three quick shots almost before he stopped moving. The second two were unnecessary. The paratrooper slumped to the ground among the pulverised remains of the jar. His face had been mashed into a bloody mess, and blood trickled from the small hole just below the eagle insignia on his left breast. He didn’t move.

Grant looked down at the pile of clay and dust, unrecognisable from the great artefact it had been. That’ll give the archaeologists something to piece together, he thought.

And that was when he heard the shot.

~

John Pemberton was terrified. Not since Paschendale had he felt dread like this – and at least then, for all the horror, he had had his men around him. Now he was alone. From somewhere nearby, maybe just the other side of the wall, he heard a furious fusillade of gunfire, a pause, and then a deep booming explosion which seemed to shake the palace to its foundations. Had the bombers come back? Echoes from the blast lapped around the stone shaft, so that he didn’t hear the shots that followed – nor the footsteps creeping quietly down the stairs.

The first bullet caught Pemberton in the shoulder, spinning him around so viciously that the second missed completely. The third did not: it tore through his shoulder blades and erupted from chest. He fell forward, then rolled over onto his back. A dark mist clouded his eyes. At the bottom of the steps, he could dimly see a snarling monster advancing towards him. In the strange criss-cross shadows of the hall, it almost looked as horns had sprouted from the rimless helmet he wore.

Even in his dying moments, Pemberton only had one thought. The book. He reached for the knapsack – but it was not there. He’d dropped it when the first bullet struck. Squinting through the blood-soaked haze, he saw the bag lying beside the pillar. He turned onto his side and stretched towards it.

A heavy boot came down hard on his hand. He barely felt the pain, but the sickly sound of fingers cracking made him scream aloud. The monster laughed, enjoying his agony.

Wünschst du dieses ?’ The voice was harsh and indistinct, the bovine mockery evident. Keeping his rifle trained on Pemberton, the monster reached down and picked up the knapsack, dangling it just out of Pemberton’s grasp. Pemberton flailed, but could not touch it. His lungs were wracked with pain now, each breath barely worth the effort, and a pool of blood was spreading around him. The monster had unlatched the bag and was rooting inside it: he pulled out the torch, the penknife, two bars of chocolate – and then the notebook.

Pemberton groaned with despair. The monster laughed – a horrid, snorting sound that turned to uncomprehending snuffles as he pawed through the pages.

Wass ist das?’

‘Go to hell.’

It took all of Pemberton’s energy just to say it – but it enraged the monster. Rearing up, he threw the book aside and upended his rifle like a club. Pemberton didn’t even have the strength to flinch. Over the monster’s shoulder, he saw a dim shadow moving behind the columns on the stairs like the flicker of a flame. But of course, there had not been a fire in here for three thousand years.

~

Behind the column, Grant couldn’t see the German, but he saw the black shadow looming across the dying archaeologist. Forgetting his pistol, he pulled the knife from his boot and vaulted down from the open stair. Two silent bounds took him across the chamber. The German began to turn, but too late: Grant crooked his left arm around the German’s throat, pulled him back and plunged the knife hilt-deep into his neck. For a second, the man’s head tipped back and he bellowed with agony. Then, with a twist, Grant pulled the knife clear. Blood sprayed from the wound, soaking Grant’s face, and the German went limp. Grant shoved him aside and looked down.

One glance told him that Pemberton would not leave that room alive. His cheeks and lips were white, his body so drained that the wounds no longer bled. But there were still a few drops of life in him. He raised a trembling arm and pointed to something behind Grant. His mouth stretched and puckered in a succession of grimaces, trying to force out a few last words. Grant knelt beside him, putting his ear to Pemberton’s lips while his eyes followed the outstretched arm. There, in the corner, a small brown notebook lay splayed open on the floor.

Don’t…’

Pemberton broke off in a fit of choking. Grant cradled his head against his chest. He wanted to tell him not to speak, to save his strength, but he knew there was no point. Whatever the old man had to say, he might as well get it out.

White hands, suddenly strong again, clutched the collar of Grant’s shirt. Dull eyes sparked into life and fixed on him. ‘Don’t let them take it.’

Then the hands went limp, the eyes closed, and Grant smelled the familiar, lavatorial stench of death.

He carried the archaeologist’s body outside and laid it in the palace’s open foundations, covering the corpse with rubble to protect it from scavengers. One of the stones had a strange mark cut into it, a three-pronged design like a pitchfork or a trident, and he used that as a headstone. He took what he could from the dead paratroopers and reloaded the Webley. Then, like the heroes of old, he went in search of battle.