The sunlight shimmered off the sand like gold—and it was majestic, all of it, the desert and the crumbling monuments; all steeped with antiquity and a mysterious kind of magic. The only hint of modernity for miles was the dusty Jeep driving through the thin valley.

          The door of the Jeep slammed shut and five American tourists filed out, along with their tour guide. Elizabeth Harrison shaded her eyes from the blinding desert sun, taking a sip from her canteen to stave off the unbearable heat, and hoisting her backpack higher up on her shoulder.

            This was what she’d been waiting for her whole life, she thought. Butterflies flooded her throat, and her heart pounded painfully. Here was her dream, just yards away from her: the chance to explore the tomb of King Tutankhamen, the most iconic figure of Ancient Egypt, just before returning to college and studying archaeology academically.

            Meanwhile, as she was reveling in her ecstatic glee, the tour guide was speaking in a heavy accent to the other tourists about the significance of Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb; how the Egyptians had switched from pyramids to hidden tombs in order to protect their kings from unscrupulous tomb raiders; and that the pharaohs were buried with their treasures because they believed they could take all the riches to the next life.

            Mostly, the tourists just snapped pictures of the unremarkable entrance to the tomb, and took sips from their water bottles.

            Come on, let’s go, thought Elizabeth impatiently. Can’t I just explore the tomb on my own, without a stupid tour group?

            But the group entered the tunnel eventually. Stepping into the shadows was like immersing herself in cool water—it was at least ten degrees colder where the sunlight never touched. Down the set of expertly carved stone stairs, she felt like she was delving deeper and deeper into history, like every step brought her closer to Tutankhamen himself.  The tour guide was chattering away, but Elizabeth didn’t catch a word of it. She clicked on her flashlight to see. Though empty of treasures, the passage took her breath away.

            Carvings—hieroglyphs, ancient resurrection spells, prayers to aid the journey to the afterlife, stories of King Tut’s life told both in pictures and words—decorated every surface. Designs and depictions of gods filled all the spaces in between, their vibrant colors well-reserved.

            Stepping inside, Elizabeth felt a hush—as if the gods were demanding quiet in such a sacred place—and the dust floating in the air made her neck prickle. This was a magic place, undoubtedly, she thought.

            Even though the group had moved on to the antechamber, Elizabeth was still in the entrance passageway, studying the carving of Osiris.

            “So you’re interested in Egyptian gods?” asked a voice behind her.

            She jumped a mile, but it was only the tour guide.

            “Yes I am,” she said, catching her breath, “I’m studying to be an Egyptologist at Oxford.”

            The tour guide smiled. “Are you? Then this is the place for you. I’m showing the others the antechamber now. Are you coming?”

            “Just a second, I’ll be right there. I’m trying to read some of this.”

            The tour guide raised his eyebrows, evidently impressed that she knew hieroglyphics, but left her to her slow-moving translation. She heard the sounds of the tour group ooh-ing and ah-ing over the magnificent antechamber, the voices growing fainter and fainter as they moved further away. She could no longer see the flashlights from the group, just her own light.

            The message written under Osiris was difficult to translate—apparently the ancient Egyptians did not care for simplicity in terms of language. Something about the gods smiling—on the king, perhaps? And then something about the omniscience and omnipotence of the gods, she could make out that much.

            One phrase stood out clearly: He will live forever.

            “Well, you were right about that, Tut,” she muttered. “You did live forever, just not the way you expected.”

            She was almost to the end of the first line when she realized how quiet it was.

            “Uh, hello?” she called behind her. “Did you guys move on without me?”

            She headed for the antechamber. As safe as she knew she was, the darkness and silence of the tomb was a little creepy, and the quicker she found the others, the better.

            The wide room was empty.

            Her heart climbed into her throat and her palms began to sweat. She sprinted to the next room, the only room where they could have gone.

            It was empty.

            “Guys? Where did everyone go?” she called. Her own words echoed off the stone walls, but she heard no sound from the other rooms. “This isn’t funny…”

            She ducked into the next room, looked around corners, in all the shadows, in all the hallways she could find—and it occurred to her that she had no idea where she was.

            This room—it had to be the treasure room, didn’t it? But it was too large…maybe it was the burial chamber. She checked the hallway—and it didn’t even look familiar.

            Now her breath was coming and going in gasps. This just didn’t make any sense.

            Tutankhamen’s tomb was not like Khufu’s pyramid—it was not built to confuse, no labyrinthine passageways and dead ends to trap tomb raiders. This tomb’s layout was simple and to the point, relying on its secrecy of location to protect its treasures.

            If there were only a few rooms in the whole tomb, how could she be lost?

            Her flashlight began to flicker. Its batteries were going out.

            “Hello?” she cried, panic cracking her voice. “Please, can anyone hear me?”

            The dim light cast sharp shadows on all the carvings. On the wall opposite her, Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming, seemed to leer at her with beady eyes, the scales in his hands weighing judgment on a dead soul. She shivered.

            She closed her eyes. Just think this out, she told herself, trying to breathe slowly. You’re getting all worked up, but you can figure this out. Some Oxford student you are…

            The group must have already left the tomb, she decided, feeling her heartbeat slow a little. She must have just missed them while she was running around in her panic. She almost smiled a little, feeling utterly foolish. She opened her eyes.

            And gasped.

            In front of her, the carving on the opposite wall had changed—now Anubis was looking straight at her, pointing with his left hand to the doorway. Her eyes were wide as coins and never left Anubis; she felt along the wall behind her and ducked out into the hall where he pointed: it was her only exit.

            She clapped her hand to her mouth again. A picture of Isis pointed in the same direction down the hall as Anubis had. Next to her, her son Horus pointed urgently the same way.

            She swallowed hard. Both ends of the hallway were just as dark and looked exactly the same—but something about Isis’s benevolent command made her follow the goddess’s directions.

            She couldn’t help but run. Though the tunnel was dark and her light was flickering on and off, she noticed more reliefs of gods and goddesses; all of them pointing down the hall…almost like they wanted her to go this way…but that was absurd.

            Was that light coming from the end of the passage?

            Thank the Egyptian gods, it was light! Elizabeth began to laugh with relief as she ran towards it. The tunnel got brighter and brighter, until she could actually see the entrance to the tomb, her exit, blissfully dazzling, and the air smelled fresh again. She climbed the stairs three at a time and burst out into the desert.

            She cried out in frustration.

            The Jeep was gone. There was no sign of the tourists or their guide. The desolate Valley of the Kings was dead silent.

            Elizabeth groaned. How far was it to Luxor from here? Not too far, she knew, but she would have to cross the Nile to get there. She hardly had any water left in her canteen for a long trek across the desert, and she didn’t even know the way.

            But she had no choice. All she could do was point herself east and hope she would reach some sign of civilization before she died of thirst or sunstroke. She took a deep breath, hitched up her backpack, and started her trek across the desolate limestone valley.


            It felt like hours, though it probably wasn’t even close to that, that she climbed up powdery boulders, trying to find the quickest way to the top. The Jeep had come down the long way, but Elizabeth didn’t want to waste time in this heat. The work was grueling: finding handholds and footholds that wouldn’t crumble away, trying to find the least steep route, sweat pouring down her neck, a part of her mind berating herself for not putting on more sunscreen.

            At last, she hoisted herself up and collapsed at the top, panting to catch her breath. She took a long gulp from her canteen and poured water over her head, sighing.

            Damn tour group, she cursed under her breath. Why the hell couldn’t they have waited for me?

            It was baffling, though. Why hadn't they waited? Why had they driven off so quickly? She tried not to think of her strange experience in the tomb—it could only have been her imagination combined with her alarm.

            When she had caught her breath, she forced herself to sit up. As she did so, she caught sight of the city across the Nile, and the lush oasis surrounding it.

            She blinked. She rubbed her eyes to make sure there wasn’t sand in them, making her see crazy things. And then blinked again.

            It was there all right. She was seeing it, but she didn’t believe it.

            It was Luxor, alright; it had to be. From far away she recognized the temple from photographs. The one major difference: it wasn’t crumbling. The stone temple to Amen-Re stood stately and magnificent as if time had never worn it away.

            Was that a chariot being driven towards the city?

            And the mighty indigo Nile that stretched out between Elizabeth and Luxor carried a ship in its currents: a ship rowed by many oars, a graceful but ancient-looking ship. The alabaster city of Luxor, even from this distance, looked to be a thriving metropolis.

            She let out a shaky laugh. This couldn’t be real.

            “Oh my Lord”, she breathed, “I’m in ancient Egypt.”


            Elizabeth stared openmouthed at the graceful ship slicing through the Nile.

            “It’s not real,” she told herself, “it’s just a mirage, and if I walk close enough, it’ll disappear. I can’t really be back in time—the sun must be getting to me.”

            She staggered to her feet and stumbled forward, her eyes fixed on the faraway city—the image shimmered in the waves of heat rolling off the sand. Though it came closer and closer as she sojourned towards it, it did not disappear, no matter how many times she blinked or told herself it couldn’t be real. Her mind was hazy and numb with the intense sunlight, even with her sun hat and dark sunglasses.

            She walked and walked and walked. She walked until she was certain her muscles would give out. The city on the other side of the river just got closer and closer. Sand changed slowly to grass, getting fuller and thicker and moister under her feet. She walked until she was in arm’s reach of the reeds and papyrus stalks on the riverbank.

            Oh, cool, glorious water! She didn’t even stop to think, just scooped water into her mouth, felt it soothe her parched throat, and splashed it onto her sweaty face, her arms and neck, washing the sand off her. No wonder the Egyptians looked to the Nile as a deity, as their life-giver and parent—praise the glorious Nile, she thought gratefully.

            Feeling slightly more alive, Elizabeth looked around at where she was. Behind her was mostly desert, save for the grassy strip of marsh along the river. To the left and right of her was farmland—the earth churned up from recent plowing—but where she stood appeared to be a gap between two properties. She spotted a dark-skinned farmer driving a plow pulled by oxen, tilling the soil slowly.

            It occurred to her that, once she did reach civilization, she was going to stick out like some kind of alien. Though the Egyptians had a broad range of skin tones—from the beautifully ebony Nubians (who lived in what would one day be Sudan) to the Mediterranean tan—they still had probably never seen Anglo-Saxon pale before. Odder still would be the blonde hair, when everyone around her had glossy or textured black. That, plus her modern-day khaki shorts and t-shirt, made Elizabeth feel very awkward indeed. She didn’t know much of the Egyptian language, either, she realized with chagrin, and there was no translator here for English, a language that didn’t exist yet.

            She tucked her hair up into her hat, partially to keep it out of sight, and also to keep it off her face and neck.

            “Excuse me, miss,” said a voice.

            Elizabeth started. Standing behind her was a middle-aged Egyptian farmer—his eyes lined with kohl to keep the sun’s glare out, his bare chest and muscled arms sticky with sweat, his head shaved bald to keep cool. He was looking at her curiously.

            “You look lost,” he observed.

            She blinked several times at him. This was a very complicated hallucination from the sunstroke, but she was going to treat it like it was happening—it couldn’t be real, because an ancient Egyptian was speaking to her in English, just moments after the language-barrier problem had occurred to her.

            The farmer cocked his head to the side, looking slightly concerned when she didn’t answer. “Miss, have you been out in the sun too long?”

            She shook herself. “Er, no, I’m sorry, I just—I’ve walked here from the Valley of the Kings, and I—I just wanted to get to the city. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to trespass on your property.”

            He shrugged. “You’re not trespassing,” he waved her apology away. “Have you got a boat?”

            “Er...no, I’m afraid I’m not from around here,” she said. Then, perking up with sudden hope, she asked, “Have you got a boat? I could pay you for a ride across.”

            “A foreigner, eh?” he remarked, assessing her up and down with a critical eye. Elizabeth flinched, remembering too late: Egyptians did not trust foreigners. “Well,” he said finally, apparently determining that she wasn’t dangerous, “if you can pay me, I’ll take you across.”

            Elizabeth slung her backpack off her shoulders and zipped open her wallet. Sighing at the pockets full of useless paper money, she finally pulled out some change—a few dimes, a nickel, and a handful of quarters.

            The farmer examined the American money curiously. “What kind of coins are these?” he wondered. “And what king’s face is stamped here?”

            “Um...the great kings of my country’s past—King Washington, Roosevelt, and Jefferson,” Elizabeth explained, tongue-in-cheek, trying not to laugh.

            He held up a dime. “Is this real silver?”

             “Of course it is,” she lied, feeling guilty the moment it was out of her mouth. But the coins were heavy, metal, jingly, and shiny, so the man took her at her word.


            There was some sort of commotion in the streets—people were clearing the center, and there was an excited buzz of chatter. Elizabeth hurried to the side with the rest, craning her neck to see over the crowd—what was all the fuss about?

            Then she heard the shouts.

            “Make way for the Pharaoh!”

            Elizabeth’s mouth gaped open. The pharaoh! She would finally be able to determine exactly when she was—but more importantly, how many people could see the king of Upper and Lower Egypt in the flesh, in all his finery and power?

            Then she saw it: a litter carried by servants, surrounded by officials, advisors, and priests. On the litter, a man was seated on a golden throne. Behind him walked servants and slaves with ostrich feathers, fanning him.

            “Make way for his royal highness, King Nebkheperure,” called a vizier imperiously.

            The name stirred something in Elizabeth’s memory, but she couldn’t quite remember which pharaoh had had that name. The crowd cheered for their king. Some people sank to their knees in homage. As the king drew nearer, Elizabeth could see why: the golden throne, set with precious stones and embellished with winged scarabs, the king himself sitting still as a statue and stern as a god in his nemes headdress and wesekh collar, holding the crook and the flail—the spectacle was enough to inspire worshipful awe.

            As the king drew near enough for Elizabeth to study his face, her heart stopped.

            It was a handsome and poised face—full, round lips, almond-shaped eyes lined with kohl, and gracefully arched eyebrows—full of both serene composure and subtle power.

            A face Elizabeth had seen before. A face immortalized in gold and transformed into the iconic symbol of ancient Egypt.

            It was Tutankhamun.

            Her knees went so weak that she sank into a kneel.


            “Where are you from?” he asked her curiously. “Surely you are not one of my subjects.”

            “No, my lord,” she said, looking at her sandals, “I come from very, very far away.  Across the Sahara desert, there is an ocean—and after that ocean is another large continent, and that is where I live, the...um, the Kingdom of America.”

            She heard the king rise from his throne and come down the steps towards her, but she did not dare look up at him. He seemed to be studying her closely.

            “A mysterious kingdom from across the sea?” he scoffed. “That is a very thin story.”

            “But sire, it’s the truth!” she protested.

            “You do not need to conceal it from me,” he said, softer, almost whispering. “I know who has sent you. I am the prime communicator with the gods; I can recognize a sign when I see one.”

            Elizabeth stuttered for a moment—she had literally no idea what he was talking about. But it sounded as though he was asking to be in her confidence. She dared for a moment to allow her eyes to flicker to him. His face was very earnest, no hint of condemnation or condescension in them.

            “Come now, can’t you reveal your purpose to me now that I understand?” he prodded. “I know the gods have sent you to me.”

            Elizabeth’s lips twitched. “What gave it away?” she asked, playing along.

            “Your hair, of course,” he said, in a tone that suggested it should have been obvious.

            Of course, she thought, wanting to kick herself for not remembering. The Egyptians believed that gold was practically sacred—the skin of the gods. They associated gold with the celestial; thus her golden locks must have seemed to indicate that she, too, was of divine origin. It almost made her want to laugh...almost.

            “Your majesty is very clever,” she said quietly.

            He ignored the compliment. “Do you have a message for me from the gods?” he questioned her with narrowed eyes, as though trying to see straight through her.

            Elizabeth fidgeted. What now? she gulped.

            He picked up on her inability to answer. “No,” muttered, almost to himself, “you may have been sent by the gods, but you didn’t realize it. You are just as ignorant on their plans as I am. You must have grown up in another land and never realized that you had been marked by Sekhmet, goddess of the sun—who else could have made your hair gleam gold like the sun itself? No, she marked you so that I would know to pay attention to you—but why? What does it mean?”

He circled her, looking her up and down as though he were taking a mental note, trying to see something hidden. It was making her uncomfortable.

            “I—I don’t know what you mean, my lord,” she admitted. “I don’t know anything about signs.” And blonde hair is perfectly common in the U.S., she thought dryly.

            He paused for a long moment, and she did not dare peek at his expression.

            “Well,” he said finally, in an unexpectedly brisk tone, “as long as we are trying to decipher that question, you may as well stay close by.”

            She looked up at him, startled. “I beg your pardon, my lord?”

            Surprisingly, he smiled at her. She felt her cheeks burn pink, and internally cursed herself for being so obviously besotted like a schoolgirl.

            “I would like you to stay here in the palace as my guest,” he explained. “If you don’t object, that is,” he added with a smirk.

            She blinked. “Wait—really?”

            He laughed—the ringing echoes bouncing off the walls of the throne room. For some reason, the sound made Elizabeth’s bones feel oddly liquefied, like she was slowly melting.

            “Yes, really,” he said indulgently. “Actually, the court is returning to Memphis in a few days—perhaps you would not object to accompanying us?”

            Elizabeth’s mouth was gaping open widely. When she realized this, she snapped it shut and turned a darker shade of magenta. “Thank you, your highness,” she managed to breathe.