“In shape Egypt is like a lily with a crooked stem. A broad blossom terminates it at its upper end; a button of a bud projects from the stalk a little below the blossom, on the left-hand side. The broad blossom is the Delta, extending from Aboosir to Tineh, a direct distance of a hundred and eighty miles, which the projection of the coast— the graceful swell of the petals— enlarges to two hundred and thirty. The bud is the Fayoum, a natural depression in the hills that shut in the Nile valley on the west, which has been rendered cultivable for many thousands of years by the introduction into it of the Nile water, through a canal known as the “Bahr Yousouf.” The long stalk of the lily is the Nile valley itself, which is a ravine scooped in the rocky soil for seven hundred miles from the First Cataract to the apex of the Delta , sometimes not more than a mile broad, never more than eight or ten miles. No other country in the world is so strangely shaped, so long compared to its width, so straggling, so hard to govern from a single centre.”
George Rawlinson’s words, not mine; written in 1881. Wonderfully evocative, aren’t they? And when you look at the map of Egypt’s ancient cities, you can see it for yourself: the flowerhead on its tortuous stem, the bud. As a name for Egypt, it’s obviously not a workaday, Monday-to-Friday sort of name, but the special kind that you dust off and only wear for best.
Today’s a day for dusting off. I’m reaching the point in Gilded Scarab where I’m going to have to think hard about the Egyptian section of the story: Rafe and Ned have been reunited. They are slowly building a real relationship, instead of one that was pure animalistic sex (not that Rafe thinks there’s anything wrong with that, btw). And in a couple of chapters, the aviator of Ned’s aeroship will be found dead and Rafe will be stepping in to take his place, flying Ned’s archaeological expedition to Cairo at the start of the first digging season of the Twentieth Century.
Something has to happen there that will bring their relationship to a head. An explosive something. A something that will have them pitted against each other, fighting the mystery and fighting to believe in each other.
And I have no idea what.
But I am about to go and read Rawlinson again to see if I can come up with some ideas. Mummies, tombs, grave-robbers, the coughing of a lion carrying across the sands on a star-lit night… there’ll be something there, surely.
In the meantime: