One of the servants stepped forward, bearing a wooden tray on which sat the double crown of the Two Lands. The children had been expecting a typical golden, pointy crown encrusted with jewels and this headdress couldn’t have looked more different. A red outer piece, a sort of top hat without a brim and which was open at the top, contained something resembling a white skittle which rose up higher than the red outer part. A curling red cobra reared upwards on the front of the crown to complete the design.
‘I take it you haven’t seen one of these before,’ said the king, noting their interest. ‘It’s called the Sekhemti and it’s actually two crowns worn together to unite the two parts of Egypt. I am Lord of the Two Lands, so the white part, or Hedjet, represents Upper Egypt and the red crown, called the Deshret, stands for Lower Egypt. I’ll show you what it looks like when I put it on. It’s quite heavy so you can understand why I don’t wear it all the time.’
The king reached for the crown, lifting it carefully off the tray and as he raised it above his head something caught Max’s attention. He was sure he’d heard a scratchy rattling noise coming from inside the Sekhemti which no one else seemed to have noticed and he glanced up at the crown as Tutankhamun began to lower it carefully on to his head. Without any warning Max leapt up with all his strength, knocking the crown from the king’s hands and sending it flying across the room. With a loud crack it split apart into two separate pieces; the red section rolled under a table while the white part ended upright against a chair leg.
There was a collective gasp of shock and for a moment nobody moved. The servants were horrified, praying this wasn’t an evil omen as they looked worriedly from one to the other.
Jemima, filled with embarrassment, was furious with Max.
‘What are you playing at, you bad, bad cat? Oh, I’m so sorry, your highness. I don’t know what’s come over him – he doesn’t usually do naughty things like that.’
She grabbed hold of Max, hauling him towards her.
‘S-s-s…’ he stammered, whispering in her ear. ‘S-s-s…’
‘Be quiet,’ she hissed. ‘I’m not interested in how “sorry” you are. I’m furious with you. You’re an embarrassment.’
Meanwhile Tutankhamun hadn’t moved. He remained rooted to the spot, his hands empty, regarding the two parts of his crown which lay in separate pieces on the floor. He too hoped it hadn’t been a sign sent by the gods, warning him that his kingdom might soon fall apart.
It was Joe and Charlie who finally broke the stunned silence by racing across the room to retrieve the fallen crown. Charlie snatched up the red Deshret and Joe went for the white Hedjet. As Joe lifted it up, however, something black and scuttly moved underneath and he quickly slammed the white skittle back down on the floor.
‘There’s something under here,’ he exclaimed.
One of the servants stepped forward, gingerly raising the white crown a few inches. Peering underneath, he gasped and immediately dropped it once more.
‘S-s-scorpion,’ he stammered. ‘A great big one.’
‘That’s what I was trying to tell you,’ Max muttered in Jemima’s ear. ‘I saw it move when he picked up the crown.’
‘Would it be poisonous?’ asked Jemima out loud.
‘Oh yes,’ replied the servant. ‘Very poisonous. Deadly, in fact.’
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