“There!” A fleeting glimmer down a narrow hall to the left beckoned Melinda like the beam of a lighthouse. She set down her small electric lantern and switched on her helmet light. He knees already ached from crawling through the tomb’s outer passages, but she dropped heavily onto them anyway, trusting her kneepads a bit too much. She ignored the pain and crawled forward.
The rough stone of the tomb floor seemed a wonder in itself. She could not be sure without further study, and better lighting, but the ridges and bumps she felt through her gloves seemed too organized to be the simple etchings of time. When she could spare her eyes to glance down, she spotted several swirled patterns that reminded her of the Ancient’s glyph for sun. The part of her mind that never stopped noted the patterns and quietly made plans to procure better grants. The other part of her mind, the part she used when she needed to focus, plunged straight ahead toward her quarry.
What reflected light in that way? Something made of gold, perhaps? A lady’s arm-band? Or maybe a piece of ceremonial armor? She moved as quickly as the small space allowed. It occurred to her she might be crawling after something she would not be able to move once she got to it. Such details mattered very little to her, though. She only hoped it would not turn out to be some piddling, redundant find, like another pile of the coins of which her team already unearthed a plethora. The chamber narrowed as she crawled. Before long the walls brushed against her shoulders.
Just as she made up her mind to back her way out before she got stuck, she caught a glimpse of what must have reflected her lantern. A couple of yards ahead, in a cranny almost too narrow for Melinda’s shoulders to fit through, a wood chest studded with crystals waited for her to retrieve it. She scrambled forward, eliciting many protests from her knees, to grab hold of it.
“Hey guys! I found something in here! You gotta see this!”
A chorus of “What? What is it? What did you find?” chimed from behind her until a masculine voice called out, “Here, I’ll help. I’m coming in.”
“No good! It’s too narrow. I’ll have to try to bring it out myself.”
Another chorus, this time of, “Good luck! Be careful, now. Mind you don’t damage it… or you,” twittered in the background while Melinda shifted her shoulders enough to let one arm reach forward. She wasn’t sure what she would do if the chest refused to budge, but her musings along that line quickly died when her hand grasped a handle and the chest moved easily at her bidding.
Melinda stifled a squeal of triumph. She knew full well it might be premature. When she got a good grip on one handle, she shuffled backwards. The rearward trip took more effort than the forward one, not just because of the weight of the chest, but because of the narrowness of the chamber. As soon as it widened enough, Melinda shifted to move forward again, pushing the chest ahead of her. When the ceiling rose high enough for her to walk on her knees, she carried the chest. Finally she reached her waiting colleagues and stood. Everyone clustered around her, eager to be the first to note some identifying characteristic.
Although it weighed more than she estimated when it moved so easily for her in the chamber, she insisted on carrying it outside herself. The men protested that one of them ought to carry something so heavy. Melinda ignored them. As Melinda emerged from the tomb and the sun got its first glimpse of the chest in thousands of years, the group of archaeologists gasped. Melinda’s hands began trembling when she realized what she held. She lowered herself slowly to the ground, carefully setting the chest down.
What she took for crystals in the cave shimmered with the fire of diamonds in the light of day. The latches, handles, and lock, though dusty, still shone gold. Beautiful patterns that must have taken months to carve decorated the fine acacia wood. The chest alone promised to fetch a handsome research grant or three. What of the contents? Melinda gently elbowed a couple of her colleagues back as their curiosity drew them closer to the chest. She bit her lip and brushed a finger across the lock. If only…
She pulled a set of lock-picks from her pocket. Her colleagues sang a new chorus of “Gently now. Careful with that. Here, now, wait till we get to the lab. She is a professional, you know.”
A twist here, a lift there, until a barely audible click hushed the gathered onlookers as if someone fired a gun. Melinda lifted the lid and nearly fainted when she saw what waited inside. A great cheer went up from the group of archaeologists. A happy tear slid down Melinda’s cheek. Never in all her life could she have dreamed of uncovering a find this big. Her colleagues congratulated her heartily, shaking her hands and slapping her back. A few ran off to the store tents to break out the bubbly. Others went straight to the work tents to begin preparing for the transport of the treasures to their lab. Ecstatic Nationals clustered around or helped the team, chattering excitedly.
Melinda let the activity hover on the edge of her awareness while she stared at the treasure and thought a silent prayer of thanks. Scrolls! Intact, nearly perfectly preserved scrolls! Whether they contained royal proclamations or simple financial ledgers mattered very little. They offered precious knowledge one way or another. She wanted to pick one up and start reading, but she knew better than to handle the delicate parchment. She’d be there, though. Oh, yes. She would be there when it was time to read them.