Archaeology student and expert in African history Tallahassee Mitford has been asked to authenticate some ancient artifacts. But there’s a strange energy emanating from the relics, which, according to legend, can hold the soul of an entire nation. As she examines an ankh, talisman of the Egyptian gods and the key to all life, Tallahassee hears a deafening clap of thunder, followed by total darkness. She awakens to find herself lying under a scorching desert sun, surrounded by ruins and pyramids. She has been kidnapped by the powerful spirits released from the ankh and hurled back in time to a Nubian kingdom in Meroe, a little-known nation that exists in the shadow of Egypt.
Reborn as Ashake, a magnificent warrior princess, Tallahassee must help Candace Naldamak, ancient Queen of Meroe, defeat the evil Khasti, who has found a way to pierce the walls between timelines. Ensnared in a power struggle for the throne, guided only by her knowledge of African history and her own free will, Tallahassee will endure a life-threatening trial by fire before she learns the true reason she has been summoned here.
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About the Author
For well over a half century, Andre Norton was one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. With series such as Time Traders, Solar Queen, Forerunner, Beast Master, Crosstime, and Janus, as well as many standalone novels, her tales of adventure have drawn countless readers to science fiction. Her fantasy novels, including the bestselling Witch World series, her Magic series, and many other unrelated novels, have been popular with readers for decades. Lauded as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, she is the recipient of a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. An Ohio native, Norton lived for many years in Winter Park, Florida, and died in March 2005 at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
Wraiths of Time
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
The box was placed in the exact center of the desk. Under the full beam of light Jason Robbins had turned on it, its eighteen inches of age-yellowed ivory glowed as might polished wood. Or was she only imagining that, Tallahassee wondered. This artifact had a quality of — she searched for the right word, then knew it was one she would not use aloud — enchantment, that was it. There was a golden inlay on the lid, as well as four other disks, inlaid with gold, one on each side. She could guess without touching that they had been fashioned of that pure, soft gold used in ancient times.
"Well" — the grey-haired man, apparently in charge here, leaned forward a little — "can you give us any lead, Miss Mitford?"
Tallahassee found difficulty in turning away from the box at which she had stared from the moment Jason had snapped on the desk lamp.
"I don't know." She spoke the truth. "There are elements of African design, yes. See." She pointed a finger, nearly as ivory in color as the time-darkened box itself, at the gold inlay on the lid which formed a strip curved like a snake to travel the length of the ivory. Yet the spiral had no real head, rather there was a strip of precious metal bent at right angles — not unlike a stylized hunting knife. "That really combines two known devices of old kingship. This device at the top is the 'plow' which we believe was carried by the rulers of Meroë. The rest is of a later period, perhaps, a symbolic sword blade in the form of a snake. But these two forms have never, to my knowledge, been found so linked before. The Meroë dynasties borrowed greatly from Egypt, and there the snake was a sign of royalty, usually a part of the crown. These" — her finger moved to the disks at the sides — "are again symbolic. They resemble very closely those gold badges that were worn by the 'soul-washers' of the Ashanti, the attendants of the king whose duty it was to ward off any danger of contamination from general evil. Yet — though it combines symbols from two, maybe three periods of African history, it is very old —"
"Would you say a museum piece then?" The man Jason had introduced as Roger Nye persisted. His tone was impatient, as if he had expected some instant snap judgment from her. And his tone aroused in Tallahassee her own, sometimes militant, stubbornness.
"Mr. Nye, I am a student of archaeology, employed at present to help catalogue the Lewis Brooke collection. There are many tests that would have to be made to date this artifact, tests for which one needs certain equipment. But I will say that the workmanship ..." She paused before she asked a question of her own:
"Have you seen the rod of office in the Brooke collection?"
"What's that got to do with it? Or are you saying that this" — Nye indicated the box — "could be a part of that collection?"
"If it is," she was careful in her answer, "it was not included in the official customs inventory. However, there is something ..." Tallahassee shook her head. "You do not want guesses, you want certainties. Dr. Roman Carey will be here tonight. He is coming to study the collection. I would advise you to let him see this. At present he is the greatest authority on art of the Sudan."
"You are sure it is Sudanese?" Now it was Jason who asked the question.
Tallahassee made a small gesture. "I told you, I cannot be sure of anything. I would say it is old, very old. As to its general point of origin I would believe Africa. But the combination of symbols I have not seen before. If I may ..." She put out a hand toward the box, only to have Nye's hand close tightly about her wrist in a lightning-quick movement.
She looked at him in open amazement and then irritated dislike.
"You don't understand." Jason broke in again, speaking very swiftly as if he were afraid she could keep no better rein on her temper now than she could when they were children. "The thing is hot!"
"It radiates some form of energy." Nye studied her with those measuring eyes. "That was how it was found, really. It was by sheer chance." He freed her hand, and she jerked it back to her lap. "One of our field men went to put his kit in a locker at the airport. He had a geiger counter with him and it started to register. He was quick to use it and located the source of radiation in a nearby locker. Then he called me. We got the port key for the locker. This was the only thing inside."
"Radioactive," Tallahassee murmured. "But how ..."
Nye shook his head. "Not atomic, though a counter can pick it up. It's something new, but the lab boys did not want to take it to pieces —"
"I should say not!" Tallahassee was thoroughly aroused at the suggestion of such vandalism. "It may be unique. Has it been opened?"
Nye shook his head. "There is no visible fastening. And it seemed better not to handle it too much until we were sure of what we had. Now what about this rod of office you mentioned, what is it and where was it found?"
"There was a strong belief in the old African kingdoms that the soul of a nation could be enclosed in some precious artifact. The Ashanti war with England a hundred years ago came about because an English governor demanded the King's stool to sit on as a sign of the transferral of rulership. But even the King could not sit on that. Sitting on a floor mat, he might only lean a portion of his arm upon it while making some very important decree or when assuming the kingship. To the Ashanti people the stool contained the power of all the tribal ancestors and was holy; it possessed a deeply religious as well as a political significance — which the English did not attempt to find out before they made their demands.
"Other tribes had similar symbols of divine contact with their ancestors and their gods. Sometimes at the death of a king such symbols were retired to a special house from which they were brought to 'listen' when there was need for a grave change in some law or the demand for a decision involving the future of the people as a whole. These artifacts were very precious, and among some tribes were never seen at all except by priests or priestesses.
"The rod of office which Lewis Brooke found is believed to be one of these tokens. And because he discovered it in a place that has some very odd legends, it is of double value."
"He found it in the Sudan then?"
"No, much farther west. It was nearer to Lake Chad. There is an old legend that when the Arab-Ethiopian kingdom of Axum overran Meroë, the royal clan — and they themselves were the descendents of Egyptian Pharaohs and held jealously to much of the very ancient beliefs — fled west and were supposed to have established a refuge near Lake Chad. There has never been any real proof of this, not until Doctor Brooke made his spectacular find — an unplundered tomb containing many artifacts and a sarcophagus, though the latter was empty, and there was evidence that no body had ever been within it. Instead the rod of office rested there."
"The soul of the nation buried," Jason said softly.
Tallahassee nodded. "Perhaps. There were inscriptions, but, though they used Egyptian hieroglyphics, the later Meroë tongue has never been translated so they could not be deciphered. Dr. Brooke's unfortunate accidental death last year has delayed the work on the whole project of arranging and identifying the artifacts."
"I am surprised," Nye commented, "that he was allowed to take anything out of the country to bring here. The new nations are doubly jealous of losing any of their treasures — especially to us."
"We were surprised, too," Tallahassee admitted. "But he had full permission." She hesitated and then added: "There was something odd about the whole matter, as if they wanted to get rid of all the finds for some reason of their own."
Jason's eyes narrowed. "A threatened uprising, perhaps, using the old rod of office for a rallying point?"
Nye's attention swung from the girl to the young man. "You believe that?"
Jason shrugged. "Rebellions have been started on lesser excuses. Remember the Ashanti and their stool."
"But you say yourself that was a hundred years ago!" Nye protested.
"Africa is very old. It has seen the rise and fall of three waves of civilization — maybe more for who has actually identified those who ruled at Zimbabwe or in the intricate fortifications of Iyanga? Men remember well in Africa. The later kings might not have any scribes, but just like the Celtic lords of Europe who had no written language, they had trained memory banks among their own kind — men who could stand up in council and recite facts, genealogies, laws reaching back three and four hundred years. Such skills do not die easily among such people."
Inwardly Tallahassee was ready to laugh. Jason was drawing on her own knowledge now, though he had often enough in the past shrugged at her comments and conversation as being deadly dull. Who cared what happened two thousand years ago anyway? The best time was here and now.
"Hmmm." Nye leaned back in the chair behind the desk. He was not focusing on either of the young people, nor even on the box now. Instead his eyes were half-closed as if he were thinking deeply.
Tallahassee broke that moment of silence. "I would suggest —" she said boldly. After all no one had made plain just what this Nye's authority was in the matter (though she judged from Jason's hurried call which had first brought her here that he was some VIP of the type who is never identified publicly, if he can help it). "I would suggest that you put that" — she gestured at the box — "in the museum safe. There is perhaps only one man, Dr. Carey, who can make a true identification if that is what you need."
Nye opened his eyes wide then in a long stare turned on her, as if he could unlock her thoughts by merely looking at her intently. The girl lifted her chin a fraction of an inch and met his gaze with one as steady.
"All right," he decided. "And I want to see this 'rod' of yours into the bargain. But not right now. We've got to think about who planted this — here. Robbins, you go with her ..." He glanced at the watch on his wrist.
"It's nearly closing time for the museum, I take it. Better make it fast — we don't want any action which can be noted as out of the ordinary, not if this thing has any political overtones."
He had brought out a briefcase, snapped it open. To Tallahassee's surprise the interior had been metal lined. Now Nye produced a pair of tongs from the inner cover of the case and used them to slide the box into it. As Tallahassee stood up, Nye handed the case to Robbins.
"Yes, it's lead-lined, Miss Mitford. We're taking no chances about the radiation, even if it is a new one to us. Robbins had better carry this. When does Carey get in?"
"He should be there already."
"Good enough. Ask him to call this number" — Nye scrawled some figures on a card and pushed it to her — "as soon as he can. And thank you, Miss Mitford. Put the case and its contents in the safe. Robbins will drive you."
He turned to pick up a phone as if Tallahassee had already dissolved into thin air. The girl waited until the door of the office had closed behind them before she spoke again.
"Who's that playing James Bond?"
Jason shook his head. "Don't ask me, girl. All I know is that the Big Chief himself couldn't get better service if he showed his face in these parts. I'm small fry, but I got asked in 'cause somewhere along the line since that was found yesterday somebody said, 'Oh, my, now just maybe that's African!' I guess then somebody went and asked the computer who locally could tell them the truth and I got punched out. But I saw it wasn't modern — so I called you."
"Jason, do you really think this is political? I know that finding the rod in the sarcophagus was odd, and it does make some sense about it being a 'soul' burial. But this thing ..."
"It was you, Tally, my dear, who tied this to your rod, remember?"
"Because there is something alike in them" — she watched him stow the heavy case in the car — "only I can't just put a finger to it. It's more a feeling than anything else." She bit her lip. There she went again, one of her hunches. Someday she was going to be proved very wrong, and when she was —
"One of those feelings of yours, eh?" Jason's left eyebrow slid up. "Still having them?"
"Well, a lot of times they've paid off!" Tallahassee retorted. "You know they have."
"You've been lucky," was Jason's verdict as he edged the car into the heavy traffic of the beginning rush hour. "Will we make it before they close up that repository of dead knowledge for the night?"
"They close to the public at four, but the back door is for staff and I have a key. The alarms won't go on until Hawes has made sure everyone is out of the offices and that those are shut for the night. Dr. Carey should be there."
Jason concentrated on his driving, Tallahassee was content to sit quietly. She tried to understand the odd emotion inside of her which she had been aware of ever since she had gotten into the car. Twice she had actually turned her head to glance into the narrow back seat of Jason's bug. No one there. Yet the sensation of another presence was growing so acute it made her nervous, and she had to exert more and more control not to squirm around again and again.
The thought was strong in her now that what they carried was important Not, she believed, exactly for the reasons that the mysterious Mr. Nye might think, but for some other reason. That was probably her "hunch" busy working overtime, and she tried to dismiss all thought of what they carried, of the museum even. Her vacation — it started next Monday. She had had to wait for the coming of Dr. Carey ...
Not that it was a real vacation and she was going to utterly escape her job. But to fly to Egypt and join the Matraki party! Egypt–Meroë ... She could not keep her thoughts on vacation plans. That nagging feeling persisted. But she was not going to give in to it!
The traffic was lighter now as Jason swung off the expressway and started through the series of streets to get to the museum. It was darker than usual — a lot of clouds piling up — maybe a storm later on.
When the car pulled into the narrow back way used by delivery trucks, Tallahassee got out quickly. She had fitted in her key and had the door open when Jason followed her, his arm dragged down under the weight of the case.
"Who's there?" There was a light only at the far end of the hall, and it seemed twice as dark as usual.
Then the upper lights flashed on, and she could see the chief guard.
"Oh, you, Miss Mitford. 'Bout ready to lock up."
"We have something for the safe, Mr. Hawes. This is my cousin, Mr. Robbins. He's with the FBI here."
"Saw your picture, Mr. Robbins, in the paper last week. That sure was a good haul you fellows made, pickin' up all them drug smugglers."
Jason smiled. "The boss says just routine. But I'm glad that the public appreciates our efforts now and then."
"Did Dr. Carey come?" Tallahassee wanted to get rid of that case, put the building and this day out of her life for now.
"Yes, ma'am. He's in that extra office of Dr. Greenley's, fifth floor. The back elevator's on, faster for you than the stairs."
"I left my car just out there," Jason pointed. "Be back as quick as I can."
"That's all right, Mr. Robbins. Nobody'll bother it there."
Tallahassee hurried around a corner and into an elevator. Jason had to take long strides to keep up with her.
"You're in a rush all of a sudden," he commented.
"I want to get that in the safe," she said with an emphasis she regretted a moment later when again his left eyebrow arose in question.
"Well," she added in her own defense, "I can't help what I feel. There — there's something wrong."
She saw the eyes in Jason's brown face go suddenly sober.
"All right. I'll accept your hunch as real. This has been a queer one from the start. Where's this safe?"
"In Dr. Greenley's office."
"There's one thing — don't forget to tell this Carey about Nye wanting to hear from him."
She had almost forgotten Nye; now she hoped she could find that card in her purse. The urgency that gripped her had absolutely no base in anything but her nerves. But she felt if she did not manage to get rid of the case and out of here something dreadful was going to happen. And so acute was that feeling she dared not let Jason know the force of it. He would think she had lost her mind.
In the fifth floor the hall lights were still on, and their footsteps on the marble floor were audible. But Tallahassee found herself straining to pick up another sound, perhaps a third set of heel taps. That belief — no, it could not be a belief — that they had an invisible companion was intensifying. Tallahassee caught her lower lip between her teeth and held it so, using all her self-control to keep her eyes straight ahead, refusing to look over her shoulder where nothing could possibly be.
Excerpted from Wraiths of Time by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1976 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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