Page Wolf

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 managed to crawl 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, then he fingered his bullet necklace. There was a dull cracking sound coming from the walls of the tomb. Sally was shivering. He had to get her out, now. He took her trembling hands in his. "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 lightly squeezed her hands. "I Wolf marry you Sally until death or until we see the sky again."

"And I Sally marry you Wolf 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, somewhat annoyed and anxious to get out of the tomb.

"A ring; you must give me a ring." Sally walked over to the skeleton then came back and placed a green-jeweled gold ring in Wolf's hand.

"You took his ring!" exclaimed Wolf angrily.

Sally pointed to the skeleton. "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 hand firmly on his shoulders, stretched up and planted a kiss on his lips. "I love you." Sally looked again back at the ring on her finger, sighed, then took it off and walked back over and placed it on the skeleton's finger.

There was another rumble from the rocks forming the chamber. Wolf, in a tense voice asked, "OK, now can we start?"

"Yes." Sally's eyes were wet with tears.

"Stay inside this alcove, it is better than the rest of the tomb."

Wolf once again entered the hole and started crawling. The going was easier than he expected and soon the only light he saw was his own. He called back and Sally answered him telling him he had traveled about fifteen meters. He knew he had a lot further to go. He gave thanks for all the running he had done. It had taught him to just keep going even when he wanted to stop; to keep his mind only on the next step. He encountered a rat and challenged it with the point of his knife. The rat did not take up the challenge and scurried on ahead of him.

The floor of the tunnel was covered with a layer of black muck. It took a few minutes for Wolf to realize that the muck was full of rat droppings. He knew he would have to be careful to not get any of the muck on his face. The scar on his arm worried him, he feared an infection. Trying to wipe the muck off just spread it around.

Wolf crawled for seemingly hours, although he realized it was probably twenty or thirty minutes. He had to stop occasionally to wipe the muck off the lens of the flashlight, and each time the muck seemed to spread over more of his body. He was sweating and had to wipe his forehead several times which just transferred muck to his face.

The tunnel apparently had a low area; there was water on the floor ahead. It wasn't too deep so Wolf continued on into it. It was warm so he didn't notice until it was too late that the water level seemed to be rising. He paused. After a minute he realized the water wasn't actually rising but the tunnel was dipping to a low point and his body was displacing the water causing the level to rise even more. He pointed his flashlight down the tunnel and saw that the water had risen to within inches of the ceiling up ahead. He judged the tunnel rose up beyond that, and there appeared to be more space up ahead, so he continued. Soon he had to crawl awkwardly on his side to keep his nose above water.

Wolf felt panic for the first time and started crawling faster, which pushed waves back and forth. A small wave sloshed over his nose and he inhaled a small amount of water. He had to stop and deal with a violent coughing fit. 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 a desperate fear of drowning kept him from surrendering completely to the panic.

As he gradually managed to calm down a realization came over him that just one small slip was between him and drowning. If he drowned, Sally would surely die a slow death, whether by asphyxiation or thirst. As he was contemplating that horror, a rat swam by his face.

Wolf panicked, and as he jerked, the rat clawed its way down his side and past his feet. He dropped his knife and flashlight in his struggle to keep his face above water. It became pitch black in the tunnel as the flashlight settled into the muck below the ever darkening, muddy water.

Some small sane part of Wolf's brain regained control. He held still and the waves stopped. Meditating himself into a calm state of mind, he mentally thanked the Wolverine for the meditation lessons. His gasping breath slowed down, and soon he was able to feel around in the muck for his knife and flashlight. They weren't far from where he thought he had dropped them.

He proceeded, this time more slowly. He crawled until the tunnel angled up a little and the water level receded, then he crawled some more. The excess water was trickling in a small stream forward into the darkness. The low area would not fill up completely, but further down the tunnel he didn't know if there would be any more areas under water.

Wolf was out of the water ten minutes and partially dry when he felt the rope starting to get tight. He felt three sharp pulls and stopped; 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 back, "Wait, OK?"

"OK," came back to him faintly.

That was good; sound carried reasonably well and the low spot in the tunnel had not completely filled. They could talk in the tunnel. Wolf turned his flashlight off, closed his eyes, and waited. While he waited he meditated some more. When he was ready he opened his eyes and looked 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 and meditated some more. When he was ready he opened his eyes and stared until he saw it again. 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; Sally was in the tunnel. He continued trying to keep a steady tension to the rope. Sally seemed to move faster than he could. She was smaller than he was. 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?"

"Yes," came Sally's faint voice. "Scared."

"Meditate."

"OK."

After a few minutes Wolf yelled, "On your side."

"OK." There was another long pause then she yelled, "Pull, OK," and gave five tugs.

Wolf started moving again. He soon realized he wasn't just taking up the slack on the rope but pulling dead weight. She had to be in the water, probably holding her breath. Thinking fast he rolled onto his back and started pulling the rope hard, hand over hand, it was faster. Soon he felt three jerks on the rope. He stopped pulling.

"Stop, OK. Water, OK." Sally's voice was very faint.

Wolf had to meditate, he realized he had almost panicked again. He heard Sally coughing. When he was ready he crawled forward to take up the slack in the rope, then he waited.

After about ten minutes he felt five tugs, and the tension slacked, so he started crawling again. During his next break from crawling he turned off his flashlight and this time there was no doubt that there was light ahead. "Light ahead, OK."

"Light, OK," Sally replied. She gave five tugs so they continued.

Progress was hard but steady, and despite the promise of an end to the tunnel, there seemed no end to the crawling. Wolf started to feel a breeze and sighed with relief until he realized it was coming from behind and it was picking up fast. Suddenly it was a stiff then overpowering blast of air mixed with black water. It was forcing him through the tunnel. He wedged his elbows against the sides of the tunnel to prevent being pushed like a cork. Just as suddenly as it had started, the blast was over. He was wet and muddy, and the water was draining past him, undoubtedly pushed from the low spot in the tunnel.

The rope was slack so he rolled on his back and started pulling. As soon a he felt resistance he pulled three times and was rewarded with three return jerks. "Sally, you OK?"

"OK," was Sally's report.

"Wait," Wolf ordered. He started forward again, crawling until the slack in the rope was taken up. He gave five pulls and continued on.

Wolf was finally losing his dread for Sally's life and the light was getting really bright, bright enough to not need the flashlight anymore. He tried to pick up the pace but Sally held him back. She was only going to go at her own pace.

Wolf finally approached the end of the tunnel and what he saw made his heart sink. There was a tree root growing directly through the middle of the tunnel, top to bottom. It was his worst fear; he was trapped. He quickly signaled with three tugs and Sally stopped.

Wolf meditated himself back to calmness. The root was wood and he had his hunting knife. It was his only choice. He tried cutting the root with his knife. Working slowly, ever so slowly, he whittled on the root taking thin slices. His arms were awkwardly extended straight out. A hunting knife was not the best tool to cut the root; he decided that if he escaped he would have a saw-blade cut 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 it had a screw-off cap on the end of the handle. He felt stupid. He opened the handle and there was a coiled wire with a ring on each end. The wire was covered with carbide grit, and was designed to tear away at the wood. Wolf immediately set to work, looping the wire around the root and pulling back and forth across the bottom of it. In a few minutes he had managed to saw completely though the bottom of the root, and in a few more minutes he had the upper end of the root loose.

Wolf tumbled out of the tunnel and was blinded by the morning light. He gave the rope five tugs and started pulling the slack on the rope as Sally started crawling towards him.

It was a half-hour before Sally emerged from the tunnel and had to be helped out to the ground. She had to cover her eyes because of the bright daylight. When she could finally see she realized that the medicine man was standing there. Wolf was filthy, covered with black mud and grime. She looked down at herself; she looked much the same. She could only smile.

Sally grabbed Wolf in a bear hug and kissed him. Wolf returned her kiss; then she started shaking uncontrollably.

Oúre opened a bamboo tube and handed it to Wolf who recognized it as a powerful stimulant. Wolf held up a thumb and index finger to indicate a measure. Oúre smiled and nodded his head in approval.

Wolf, holding Sally's chin up, made her drink the required amount. Then he took his fill. The potion worked fast; he stopped shaking and felt warmer. Sally also was looking like she felt better.

Sally spoke first, "Thank you Mister Oúre. Wolf I love you, and I have a surprise for you." She turned and started pulling on the tail end of the rope that was still in the tunnel and as it came out, there was a scraping sound. Soon a package emerged. It was her clothes tied into a bundle and completely covered in black mud. She quickly opened the bundle and in it was the camera, the jeweled breast plate, ring, shield, and the turquoise and gold death mask.

Wolf was stunned, "You robbed the tomb."

"The roof was collapsing. 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 walked over to examine the weapons; he pointed to the spear and said, "Oúre, Oúre." Wolf looked where he was pointing and indeed there were two carved snakes entwined on the spear near the point. Then he pointed to the sword, "Wolf, Wolf."

Wolf looked carefully; a wolf's head was stamped on the blade near the hilt. It was the maker's mark. The sword could not be native to this land. He was reasonably 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. Be prepared."

Oúre grabbed the girl's hand and lightly scratched it with a dart point. Then he did Wolf's. He forced the two hands together and holding them said, "Good medicine."

When Wolf awoke he was laying in a hammock in a long house feeling refreshed. He had been completely cleaned of all the black muck, and there was salve applied to the scrapes on his forearms and knees. He looked around and saw the Wolverine and the Viking sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor with Shadow sitting down beside them. They were all looking at him. He looked in the other direction and saw Sally sleeping in another hammock. She had also been cleaned up. He sat up in the hammock and Shadow came over to greet him. Once he was sure of himself he stood up, "I guess I should explain what happened."

"You are the master of understatement," the Wolverine replied, a hint of anger in her voice.

Wolf knew, if the Wolverine wasn't happy then he wasn't going to be happy anytime soon. He started into a narrative of everything that happened since they entered the tomb. He left out the marriage part because they were no longer married since they were out of the tomb. He figured that was something only Sally could explain.

About the time Wolf finished his narrative Sally had awoken with a smile. The Wolverine looked at her a second then turned 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 levelly.

'What a choice of words,' thought Wolf. "We sort of got married."

The Wolverine jumped to her feet, her face turning as red as a beet. "What did you say?"

'Big trouble,' thought Wolf. "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?' thought Wolf.

"May I explain?" Sally asked.

"Wait your turn young lady." The Wolverine turned back to Wolf. She had calmed down somewhat. "Go on."

"We only married until we saw the sky again or 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 get married... I was scared I would die alone. I really do love Wolf. I know it probably won't last. But I really thought I was going to die alone. We weren't going to do anything."

"And it 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 then 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 in unison.

The Viking spoke up, "You both displayed unusual courage and resourcefulness. You are welcome to join my band of Northmen when you come of age. Now we will get down to business. There are a number of artifacts that belong to me."

"You!" Wolf exclaimed. "I thought you just 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 only thing missing was the spear. There was also the camera. It was ruined, covered in dried mud, and Wolf looked disappointed.

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," the pages said together.

"Now that that is settled," the Wolverine said, "We can return to camp and tell some trumped up story about how you escaped."

They started walking back towards camp; it was further than Wolf had figured. He realized that the long house was far enough away from the dig that the medicine man must have carried them there after putting them to sleep. He wanted to keep the tunnel a secret. That meant the Viking and the Wolverine didn't know where it was.

Wolf was about to find out for sure. The Medicine man stepped into their path, blocking the way. Both adults drew their swords. Oúre raised his blow gun.

"Stop," Wolf yelled, quickly stepping between them, holding out his arms. "He isn't the enemy." The Wolverine harrumphed, then quickly sheathed her sword. The Viking seemed to be considered his options. "You would be dead before you could reach him," Wolf warned. "He means no harm. He's a healer." The Viking sheathed his sword and Oúre lowered his blow gun.

Oúre pointed at the Viking then swept his arm towards the camp. The Viking looked at the Wolverine and she nodded. He started walking, 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 man 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 then at his arm. "Tattoo, OK, three moon."

The Wolverine looked down at Sally, "He wants to temporarily tattoo your arm for three months." She released the girl's shoulder.

Sally thought about it for a few seconds then walked over to the medicine man.

Oúre pulled out a small brush and quickly marked her arm with ink. "Owl, OK. Owl go to big man."

Sally looked at the Wolverine who nodded. She ran after the Viking.

The medicine man pointed at the Wolverine then at her shoulder. "Oúre cut Warrior Woman. Great honor, good medicine."

The Wolverine surprised Wolf by sliding off the sling and partially unbuttoned her shirt exposing her wounded shoulder.

Oúre took his flint knife and lightly traced an outline on top of her fresh scar. The fresh cuts bled freely until he rubbed some dark powder into the exposed flesh. The bleeding stopped, leaving a raised dark outline of a rampant wolverine. "Ash of honored warrior, you great warrior woman. Now Warrior Woman go to Owl."

The Wolverine buttoned her shirt and left without looking back. When she did look, Oúre and Wolf were gone. She hastened to catch up with Sally and the Viking.