The Staff of Moses – Chapter 18

The Estate

They hiked down the canyon, keeping to the shadow of the western wall as much as possible while navigating the wash of boulders and heaped-up sand strewn along the floor of the canyon. According to the archaeological reports that Oliver had read, the canyon was thought to have once been the site of a small oasis, with a winding stream running out from a small lake at the end of the canyon. An unknown nobleman, who Oliver hoped would turn out to be Sephor, had built his estate around the oasis. The estate had thrived for an unknown period of time, the size of the central house and its numerous outbuildings was testament to that, but eventually the oasis spring had dried up and the estate had been abandoned. The site had only been excavated by a single crew of archaeologists since being discovered on satellite scans thirty years before, and that team had spent less than a month at the site before rumors of a curse and lack of funding drove them away. Nobody had conducted a serious investigation of the site in the nearly twenty years since.

A ten minute hike along the dry stream brought them to the hole in the wall.

Shards of metal poked out of the crumbling brick wall, remnants of an iron grate that had once prevented anyone from sneaking into the estate through a tunnel under the wall where the stream flowed out. Through the gap, Oliver could see the paved surface of the courtyard, still visible in places where the archaeologists had dug away the drifts of sand. Statues of men and animals were placed throughout the courtyard, some standing and others toppled into humps, their broken shapes covered by drifts of sand. Inside the walls the stream bed became a brick-lined depression in the sand, meandering back and forth across the courtyard, occasionally widening into areas that must once have been calm pools of water, before it disappeared around the corner of the house at the far end of the yard.

“So, I know where I’d begin if we were preparing a proper excavation, but what does my favorite grave robber suggest in moments like this?” Diana quipped as they stood on either side of the broken down wall.

Oliver kicked at a small stone with his toe, then bent down and hefted it in one hand. “Generally I’ve got a better idea of what I’m looking for before I go in. In this case, however, we don’t have much to go on. We don’t really even know for sure that this is the right place.”

“So, what then?”

Oliver tossed the stone through the gap in the wall and watched it skip across the sand and clatter to a stop against the shoulder of a shattered statue.

He waited, listening.

After a minute or more passed with no sign of movement beyond the wall, Oliver stepped carefully over the rusted iron and toppled bricks to stand within the walls. He held up a hand for Diana to wait where she stood outside the wall.