Chapter 22 - A Desperate Escape
Wolf stopped just inside the hole. "What?"
"You promised to marry me," Sally said. "I don't want to die an old maid."
"Argh." Wolf wiggled backwards out of the hole. "We can't get married we're too young."
"Not in this land. I checked up on it. Look at us; we belong here for now."
Wolf scrunched his forehead, and then he fingered his bullet necklace; his reminder that all decisions have consequences. A dull crack sounded in the wall of the tomb and Sally started shivering. I've got get her out, now. He took her trembling hands in his trembling hands. "I'll marry you until we see the sun or stars again."
Sally looked down disappointed, then she looked up into his eyes, "Agreed."
Wolf squeezed her hands. "I Wolf marry you Sally Windsor until death or until we see the sky again."
"And I Sally marry you Wolf Wolverine until death, or we see the sky again."
"There, are you happy?"
Sally's eyes started to well up with tears, "Yes, but there is one more thing you must do."
"What is that?" asked Wolf, annoyed and anxious to get out of the tomb.
"A ring; you must give me a ring." Sally walked over to the skeleton and came back to place a green-jeweled gold ring in Wolf's hand.
"You took his ring!" snapped Wolf.
"Don't worry I'll put it back."
Trapped, Wolf placed the ring on her finger.
She admired it a few seconds then looked up into his face. She put her hands on his shoulders, stretched up and planted a kiss on his lips. "I love you." Sally sighed, and placed the ring back on the skeleton's finger.
There was another rumble from the slabs forming the chamber. Wolf, in a tense voice asked, "OK, now can we start?"
"Yes," answered Sally.
"Stay inside this alcove, it's better than the rest of the tomb."
Wolf once again entered the hole and started crawling and despite the slow drip, drip, drip of water from above, the going proved easier than expected. He called back and Sally answered him telling him he had traveled just a handful of meters. With a lot further to go he gave thanks for all the running he did at school. It had taught him to keep going even when stopping looked like heaven, and to keep his mind on the next step. He encountered a rat and challenged it with the point of his knife. The rat scurried off ahead of him.
A thin layer of putrid black mud covered the floor of the tunnel and Wolf soon realized the sticky muck consisted of old rat droppings. He knew he would have to be careful to not get any of it on his face. The fresh scar on his arm worried him, an infection could kill fast. Trying to wipe the muck off only spread it around more.
Wolf crawled long minutes and stopped several times to wipe the muck off the lens of the flashlight, while the black mess spread over more of his body. He wiped sweat from his forehead, transferring more muck to his face.
Water pooled on the floor ahead, but it wasn't too deep so Wolf pushed on, and didn't notice until too late that the level continued to rise. He paused and after a minute he recognized the water didn't rise, but the tunnel dipped to a low point ahead and his body displaced the water, causing the level to rise further. He pointed his flashlight down the tunnel and saw the water leveled out mere inches of the ceiling. He judged the tunnel sloped up beyond that with more space ahead, so he continued. Soon he had to crawl on his side to keep his nose above water.
Wolf panicked and started to crawl faster, pushing waves of the rancid water back and forth. A small wave sloshed over and into his nose and a violent coughing fit ensued while he fought to keep his face pressed against the ceiling of the tunnel. Every hacking cough caused another small wave of water to come up onto his face. Only the desperate fear of drowning kept him from surrendering to the panic.
As he managed to calm down a realization came over him that just one small slip lay between himself and drowning. If he died, Sally would die a slow death by asphyxiation or thirst. He contemplated that horror until a rat swam by his face.
Wolf jerked as the rat clawed its way down his side and past his feet. He dropped the knife and flashlight in his struggle to keep his face above water. The tunnel turned pitch black as the flashlight settled below the ever darkening water.
Some small sane part of Wolf's brain regained control and he held still until the waves stopped. Settling himself into a calm state of mind, he thanked the Wolverine for the meditation lessons. His gasping breath slowed down, and soon he started to feel around in the muck for his knife and flashlight; finding them not far from where he thought he had dropped them.
He proceeded, this time slower, crawling until the tunnel angled up a little and the water level receded, then crawled further. The excess water trickled in a small stream forward into the darkness; the low area behind him would not fill up. He didn't know if there would be any more areas under water.
Wolf out of the water a few minutes and starting to dry, felt the rope tighten. He received three sharp pulls and stopped crawling; it was decision time. There was no more rope. Sally would have to enter the tunnel and then there would be no retreating. He yelled, "Wait, OK?"
"OK," returned her faint reply.
Good, at least sound carried well and the low spot in the tunnel had not filled. They could talk in the tunnel. Wolf turned his flashlight off, closed his eyes, and waited. When ready he opened his eyes to look ahead he stared until he thought he saw something, maybe a dark gray patch in the distance. He couldn't be sure; so he closed his eyes again. When he again felt ready, he opened his eyes and stared until he saw it again, maybe. He closed one eye, then the other. He had indeed seen something. It must be daytime now. He made the most important decision in his life. He gave the rope five hard pulls and yelled, "Go!"
Wolf felt the tension on the rope ease up as Sally entered the tunnel. He continued trying to keep a steady tension to the rope. To make sure, he pulled the rope three times and it went tight. Sally was still on the line so he pulled five times and the tension relaxed. He started crawling again. He repeated the drill several times to take a break and to check on her.
The line went tight on him and he stopped. He gave one hard pull which was answered the same way. She must be at the water. He yelled, "Water?"
"He heard Sally's faint voice. "I'm scared."
After a few minutes Wolf yelled, "On your side."
"OK." After a long pause she yelled, "Pull, OK," and gave five tugs.
Wolf started moving again. He could feel he wasn't just taking up the slack on the rope but pulling dead weight. She had to be in the water, holding her breath. He rolled onto his back and started pulling the rope hard, hand over hand, until he felt three jerks on the taut rope.
"Stop, OK. Water, OK," came Sally's faint voice.
Wolf heard her coughing. When she quit and gave the okay, he crawled forward to take up the slack in the rope and then waited. After a few minutes he felt five tugs, and the tension slacked, so he started crawling. During his next break from crawling he turned off his flashlight and this time he had no doubt about the light ahead. "Light, OK."
"Light, OK," Sally replied. She gave five tugs so they continued.
Muscles tightened in his arms and progress proved hard, but steady, and despite the promise of an end to the tunnel, there came no end to the crawling. Wolf started to feel a breeze and sighed with relief until he realized it came from behind and it picked up fast. A stiff blast of air mixed with black water forced him through the tunnel and he wedged his elbows against the sides of the tunnel to prevent being pushed like a cork. The blast ended just as quick and black water, pushed from the low spot in the tunnel, drained forward past him.
The rope now slack meant Sally had been pushed further down the tunnel so he started pulling. As soon a he felt resistance he pulled three times and was rewarded with three return jerks. "Sally, OK?"
"OK," answered Sally.
"Wait," Wolf ordered and started forward again, crawling until the slack in the rope played out; then gave five pulls and continued.
Wolf lost his dread for Sally's life and the light ahead brightened enough to turn off the flashlight. He tried to pick up the pace but Sally held him back. Reaching the end of the tunnel, his heart sank. A tree root grew down through the middle of the tunnel barring the way. He signaled with three tugs and Sally stopped.
The root was wood and he had his hunting knife. Wolf set to whittling the root by taking thin slices, his arms extended straight out. The work proved very slow, and he decided that if he escaped he would have a saw-blade ground on the back edge of the knife. When he was about a quarter of the way though the first cut, he heard a voice say, "Use saw."
"Who said that?"
Oúre stepped into view. He was squatting down at the entrance to the tunnel to look up at Wolf.
Wolf looked at his knife and remembered the screw-off cap on the end of the handle. Oúre had examined his knife on their last meeting. Feeling stupid, he opened the handle and dug out the coiled wire with a ring on each end. The carbide grit covered wire was designed to tear away at the wood. Wolf set to work, looping the wire around the root and pulling back and forth across the bottom end. In a few minutes he had managed to saw through the root, and in a few more minutes the upper end of the root came loose.
Wolf tumbled out of the tunnel and gave the rope five tugs and started pulling the slack as Sally crawled towards him.
Soon Sally tumbled out of the tunnel and he helped her to her feet. When her eyes adjusted she saw Wolf filthy, covered with black mud. Sally looked down at herself, looking much the same, and smiled. Sally grabbed Wolf in a bear hug and kissed him. Wolf returned her kiss; and then she started shaking, chilled by the cool tunnel.
Oúre unplugged a bamboo tube and handed it to Wolf who recognized the powerful stimulant. Wolf held up a thumb and finger to indicate a measure. Oúre smiled and nodded in approval.
Wolf, holding Sally's chin up, made her drink the required amount of the bitter juice. Then he took his fill. The potion worked fast; he stopped shaking and felt warmer. Sally also looked warmer.
Sally said, "Thank you Mister Oúre. Wolf I love you, and I have a surprise." She started pulling the tail end of the rope from the tunnel and Wolf heard a scraping sound. Soon a package emerged, her shirt tied into a bundle and covered in black mud. She opened the bundle that held the camera, the jeweled breastplate, ring, shield, and the turquoise and gold death mask.
Wolf stunned, said, "You robbed the tomb."
"The tomb collapsed; that was what all that wind and water was about. I saved the artifacts. That skeleton is a crushed pile of dust. Plus there is this," she pulled on the rest of the rope and the sword and spear emerged. "I saved almost everything."
Oúre examined the weapons and pointed to the spear, "Oúre, Oúre."
Wolf looked where he was pointing and indeed there were two carved snakes entwined on the spear near the point. Then Oúre pointed to the sword, "Lobo, Lobo." A wolf's head stamp had been embossed on the blade near the hilt, the maker's mark. The sword could not be native to this land.
Wolf felt sure that wolves never lived in the Amazon.
"Hand," Oúre said pointing to the pages hands.
Wolf held up his hand, "You had better hold up your hand, Sally. I wouldn't want to cross him. He can be very persuasive."
Oúre grabbed the girl's hand and scratched it with a dart point. Then he did Wolf's. He forced the two hands together and holding them said, "Good medicine."
Wolf felt himself falling in slow motion.
Wolf awoke in a hammock, feeling refreshed, free of the effects of the poison frog dart. He had been cleaned of all the black muck, and a healing salve covered the scrapes on his forearms and knees; a save from the Ixbo plant that made the redness of sores vanish. He looked around to see the Wolverine and the Viking sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor of the longhouse, with Shadow laying beside them. They stopped their conversation to stare at him. He looked in the other direction and saw Sally sleeping in the other hammock. She had also been cleaned up. He sat up in the hammock and Shadow came over to lick his face. Once he felt sure of himself he stood up, "I guess I should explain what happened."
"You are the master of understatement," replied the Wolverine, with a hint of anger.
Wolf knew that if the Wolverine wasn't happy then he would not be happy anytime soon. He started a narrative of everything that happened since they entered the tomb. He left out the marriage part, because it no longer mattered; they were out of the tomb. He figured that could be something only Sally could explain.
About the time Wolf finished his narrative Sally awoke with a smile. The Wolverine looked at her a moment, and then back to Wolf. "Is there anything else you want to tell me before I talk to Sally?"
Wolf glanced at Sally and she shrugged her shoulders. "Yes Ma'am."
"Well, what is it, young man?" she asked.
What a choice of words. "We sort of got married."
The Wolverine shot to her feet, her face turning as red as a beet. "What did you say?"
Big trouble, "It seemed a good idea at the time; we were getting ready to die."
"You are not going to die on my watch," snapped the Wolverine.
Couldn't it be arranged?
"May I explain?" Sally asked.
"Wait your turn young lady." The Wolverine turned back to Wolf and waited a moment before saying, "Go on."
"We married until we saw the sky again or until we died. I didn't think it was good to die alone."
The Wolverine harrumphed then turned to Sally. "Your explanation has to be better."
"Yes, Ma'am. It was my idea to marry... I didn't want to die alone. I do love Wolf. I know it won't last, but I thought I was going to die alone. We weren't going to do anything."
"And that is a good thing," snapped the Wolverine. "Finally I get the truth. I feel like taking both of you over my knee and spanking." The Viking put a huge hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off, "I'll make my own decisions Eric." She waited to calm down again before she pointed a finger back and forth between the two pages, "Don't ever get any ideas like that again. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Ma'am," they said together.
The Viking spoke up, "Both of you displayed great courage and resourcefulness. You are welcome to join my band of Northmen when you come of age. Now we must get down to business. There are a number of artifacts that belong to me."
"You!" Wolf exclaimed. "I thought you provided security for the archaeologists."
"I do. I must protect my investment. I'm paying for the whole dig. Don't worry I'm not a craven grave-robber. I loan my finds to the museums. That gold mask will be quite the sensation." The Viking pulled back a cloth to show the treasures: the gold mask, jeweled breastplate, shield, sword, and the ring. The spear had disappeared. The mud covered camera lay ruined and Wolf's face fell in disappointment.
Seeing the boy's expression, the Viking held up the memory card he had extracted from the camera's waterproof chamber. "Some things are worth more than gold. I owe you two, more than you can imagine. There will be a large donation to the school, but, there is one big condition; the two of you must not mention anything about how you escaped, about my presence at this meeting, or about these treasures that were looted by the local bandits. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Sir," said Sally.
"But…" said Wolf.
"But nothing," snapped the Wolverine. "Now that this is all settled, we can return to camp and tell some trumped up story about how you escaped."
They started the walk back towards camp; a much longer distance than Wolf believed they had crawled. The medicine man and his hunters must have carried them there after putting them to sleep. He wanted to keep the tunnel a secret from the Viking and the Wolverine.
Wolf soon found out for sure. The Medicine man, holding the gold tipped spear, stepped into their path, blocking the way, and both adults drew their swords while Oúre dropped the spear and raised his blowgun.
"Stop," Wolf yelled, stepping between them and holding out his arms. "He isn't the enemy." The Wolverine harrumphed, and sheathed her sword. The Viking seemed to consider his options. "You would be dead before you could reach him," Wolf warned pointing to several hunters with blowguns surrounding them. "He means no harm. He's a healer." The Viking eased his sword into its sheath, Oúre lowered his blowgun, and the hunters faded into the forest.
Oúre pointed at the Viking then swept his arm towards the camp. The Viking looked at the Wolverine and she nodded. He walked away, carrying his treasures in the net-bag over his shoulder.
Oúre pointed at Wolf and indicated five days. The Wolverine held up five fingers in acknowledgement. The shaman bowed in agreement. Then he pointed at Sally and motioned for her to come to him. The Wolverine put one hand on the girl's shoulder and the other on the hilt of her sword.
"Oúre no cut." He pointed to the marks on Wolf's face. "Mark, OK, three moon."
The Wolverine told Sally, "He wants to tattoo your arm for three months." She released the girl's shoulder.
Sally looked at the inked paw prints on Wolf's face then walked over to the medicine man.
Oúre pulled out a small brush and inked on her arm an owl with wings open. "Little Owl. Owl go to big man."
Sally looked to the Wolverine who waved her off and she ran after the Viking.
The shaman stepped up to the Wolverine to point at her shoulder. "Oúre cut Warrior Woman. Great honor, good medicine."
The Wolverine surprised Wolf when she slid off the sling and unbuttoned her shirt part way, exposing her wounded shoulder.
Oúre took his flint knife and traced an outline on top of her fresh battle scar. The fresh cuts bled until he rubbed dark powder into the exposed flesh. The bleeding stopped, leaving a raised dark outline of a wolverine rampant. "Ash of honored warrior, you are Great Warrior Woman. Warrior Woman go to Little Owl."
The Wolverine buttoned her shirt and without looking back started to walk. When she did look, Oúre and Wolf were nowhere to be seen. She hastened to catch up with Sally and the Viking.