Chapter Twenty Three - Gold Fever
The dig site bustled with desperate activity. The collapse of the tomb had deeply affected Dr. Johnson, who took the loss of the two children personally and had retreated to his tent. Everybody else tried to dig out the remains of the cave-in. The stones of the tomb proved too large to move, even with all the assembled horses teamed together. They would have to dig around and under the collapsed stones.
It wasn't so much that the horses couldn't pull the stones across level ground. It was that they would have to be lifted up five meters to get them out of the hole and that would require special rigging to achieve; rigging that would take days to build.
The Wolverine sneaked Sally into the campsite and got her cleaned up and dressed. Then they went to the dig to watch the activity from a distance. She took Sally to the doctor's tent to tell him of the children's escape. It took the doctor a minute for the realization to set in that Sally actually stood in front of him. He stood and gave the girl a bear hug. Sally felt him shaking uncontrollably.
"Where is Wolf?"
"Alive," the Wolverine responded. "There was a tunnel leading to the outside. It has also collapsed and I don't think you should try to find it. Some things are better left alone. That tomb is such a thing. Be happy with what you have. It is not worth a single life. The Northmen are in agreement and will stop the excavation of the tomb by force if necessary. Continue with the rest of the dig if you will. Our support ends in a week. Let's go tell everyone to stop the rescue."
Sally started walking to the dig site followed by the doctor and the Wolverine. She made it through most of the crowd and placed a hand on Grace's back. "Grace, you can stop digging."
Grace spun around and stared at Sally, and then screamed, "Sally!" She dropped her shovel and grabbed the girl in a big bear hug, lifting her off her feet. "How... how did you?" She started crying. Through her tears she asked Sally, "Where's Wolf?"
"He made it out. He saved me."
"But where is he?"
Sally whispered, "He's with the medicine man. I can't breathe; let me go."
The dig site was now silent. Stunned looks fell on everyone's face. Arms reached out to touch Sally. Finally Grace let her down.
Dr. Johnson announced that the two pages had found a way out just before the tomb collapsed but unfortunately that had collapsed. It would be impossible to enter the tomb. He admitted he had forgotten to upload the pictures that Wolf had taken.
He did not mention that the Viking had the memory card. Later, when he returned to his tent, he discovered Wolf's staff and potions missing.
The archaeology students, by ones and twos, greeted Sally and she received a lot of hugs and kisses on the cheek. They dragged the girl to the mess tent to sit and be served with lunch.
After a late lunch Sally returned to her work of teasing pottery out of the ground with a dental pick. The shards of pottery were photographed and drawn without being moved. She asked Professor Sook, "Why can't I just extract the shards and box them as a group?"
The professor answered, "It's sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. Knowing the original location of each piece makes it easier to put the pieces back together. I'll tell you this, the best clues to a civilization can be found in a trash pit. That is where broken items were discarded." Looking at Sally's downcast face, she continued, "This was definitely not a trash pit. The arrangement of all the pottery finds suggested it was once a longhouse, but a trash pit is sure to be nearby."
Grace continued to make the drawings that were so important to the research. Professor Sook taking Graces' drawings, drew lines to numbers around the edge which matched numbers on a list indicating what every item was or was believed to be.
Professors Faux and Neal directed the actual digging. They used the drawings to plan the locations to dig next. Angie, one of the archaeology students actually numbered every item before being removed from the ground, and worked with Grace to make sure the numbers on the drawings matched.
Sally found that most of the artifacts were the broken shards of pottery, made by hand from clay and fired at low temperature, probably in a campfire. All the pottery jars and bowls were weak and could break easily; that was until she started uncovering the lip of a jar that had a shiny surface.
The jar Sally uncovered had been glazed and fired at high temperature. When she uncovered it some more, she found out the jar was intact.
Professor Neal pulled Sally from the dig taking her into the tent used for documenting the artifacts. There he gave her the job of picking the dirt out of the jar; she being the only one with hands small enough to fit into it.
Professor Neal told her, "The people had made a kiln to fire the jar. It is a sophisticated technique and indicates we are dealing with a technologically advanced civilization, compared to the current native population."
Sally, using the dental pick, scratched at the dirt plugging the mouth of the jar until she had dug into it a few centimeters. There the dirt turned soft and crumbled easily in her fingers. She picked a small chunk then crumbled it to get it out of the jar and into a bowl. Once out, she crumbled the pieces even further looking for anything of value to the archaeologists. She broke up one chunk and found the first tooth.
She asked the professor, "Why is there a tooth in the jar?"
Professor Neal looked at the tooth, "I don't know. We'll have to keep on exploring the contents for any more clues."
The outside of the jar had illustrations of a couple of figures in the glazed surface. When Professor Neal examined the drawings with a magnifying glass, he spotted a club in one figure's hand, and what looked like a sword in the hand of the other figure. It appeared to be a battle scene with the tooth possibly being a trophy. The professor encouraged Sally to continue cleaning the inside of the jar. She discovered twelve teeth which she neatly arranged on the table by size. The last tooth she pulled out was capped with shiny smooth gold. She stared at it for a few seconds before calling the professor back over to look at it.
Professor Neal fingered it a minute then stepped out into the light and held it up to examine with a magnifying glass. When he was finished he handed it back to Sally. "Place it with the other teeth and don't lose sight of them."
"Not everybody is trustworthy."
"Whenever gold is involved someone is bound to be tempted. That is why it is called gold fever. We have to make sure no one puts it in their pocket. It would be like falling off the face of the earth a second time."
"I would never do that."
"You I trust. Everyone else I watch."
Prof. Neal went to fetch Dr. Johnson. Sally continued to check the jar for more contents. She soon had it cleaned out and called Grace over to do a drawing. That is when Grace gave her the news.
"They've found five more jars next to where you found this one. They expect to find more."
"No way! Were they the same?"
"I think so. Here is my drawing." Grace held it up for Sally to see. "They were in a neat row."
"What are they going to do with them?"
"I imagine that after they are cleaned and photographed you'll be digging the insides out."
Dr. Johnson entered the tent and the girls went quiet. He looked at Sally, "Have you told anyone besides Grace what you have found?"
"Good keep it to yourselves." Dr. Johnson added as an afterthought, "Everybody is going to find out soon enough it's just a matter of when."
The dig team was abuzz with rumors. Everyone knew about the pottery jars and some knew they were important by themselves. What everybody wanted to know was what they contained. Digging was halted for a long break and everybody gathered around the tent that the jars were being cleaned in.
Dr. Johnson wanted a good record of the outside of the jars so Grace drew pictures of the scenes depicted; then Prof. Neal added detail gleaned by using his magnifying glass. It was a tedious process and made hard by the action of the groundwater over the years. The glaze was badly etched by the acids in the soil and had a metallic sheen.
It became apparent that each jar depicted a different war scene. They were of battles between two men with one in the process of killing the other, usually with gruesome results. As each jar was rotated there were depictions of three or four scenes of the same fighters. The scenes would be of the fighters meeting each other, fighting, one killing the other, and usually a scene with the victor standing over the other's dead and dismembered body.
Dr. Johnson, after examining the jar and its contents, said to Sally, "The dirt that crumbled between your fingers is probably ash."
"Ash?" Sally asked.
"These jars contain the cremated ashes of warriors. Collect the ashes and return them to the jar."
It soon became evident was that there were over a hundred jars at the dig. The next thing was the number of swords depicted on the sides of the jars. Swords were unknown until the European conquers came to this land. These jars were much older than the known dates of the Spanish and Portuguese arrivals. Dr Johnson put a stop to the opening of any jars after the first one was opened by Sally. He did not want the commotion caused by the news of gold teeth to upset the dig.
His wish was upset by two incidents. One was when a jar was accidentally dropped and broke open. The dropped jar contained a full set of teeth and five of them were capped with gold. The other happened when they found a jar depicting a sword-wielding woman. The jar depicted her killing then decapitating her foe. There could be mistake of the fact it was a woman; she was full figured and like the men she wore only a loincloth.
Dr. Johnson quickly confiscated the jar and had it packaged in a box for transport. He called a meeting with the professors, knights and the Viking. He opened the box and showed them the find. "This jar is more valuable than any gold mask. There are few depictions of woman warriors, much less one over a thousand years old. I truly believe it is that old. If this jar is what I believe it is; it contains her teeth as well as her ashes." The doctor paused to let his words sink in. "These are not trophy jars. These hold the remains of the victor. And here is why I think so: No two jars depict the same victor. If a great warrior had more than one foe's ashes, he would have more than one jar. Also, all jars are in one location, and that suggests a temple or other place to honor dead heroes. The proof is in this one jar. If it contains the teeth of a woman then it is probably the remains of the warrior depicted."
"For now I entrust this to the care of the Wolverine; it seems appropriate." The doctor handed the box to the knight, and then he brought up another identical box and opened it. It contained the jar and teeth that Sally had cleaned. He repacked it and closed the lid. Then he numbered it with the same number as that on the box the Wolverine had.
Everybody in the room knew what had been done and knew they had an important secret to keep. The Wolverine placed her box in a sack and exited the tent. Only when she had returned without the sack did everybody else got up to leave.
Later during the day the Raven called a meeting of the knights, squires and pages. "I have reason to believe we will be attacked tonight. There are too many rumors going around among the hired workers. We seem to have attracted some unwelcome attention from the nearby villagers. As word spreads, more bandits could be coming. It is all about the gold, so for now we keep our bulletproof vests on and our knives handy. We also keep our other weapons handy."
"My knife is just a small utility knife and I'm not that good with my bow," Sally complained.
The Wolverine, without a second thought, handed her long dagger to the girl, "Here is a true lady's weapon. Use it well."
Sally held up the sheathed knife; it had a wide cruciform hilt and a long handle that for Sally was two-hands long. The pommel was set with a large green jewel. "I can't take this; it is too valuable."
"Pull it out."
Sally exposed the blade. It was a third of a meter long and very skinny; almost a short sword in Sally's hands. The smooth blade had the wavy lines of folded steel. She tested the edge with her fingertip and accidentally drew a drop of blood.
"There, it likes you. It belongs to you now, Lady Sally," said the Wolverine firmly.
The Raven continued with his orders, "Red and I will take the first watch, the Bear and Bill will take the second and the Wolverine and Bob will take the third."
"What about us?" Grace asked.
"You two will sleep with the big tent with the archaeology students. I want you to sleep in shifts. Notify us if you hear or find out anything. This is what you've been training for. You have new friends; use them. Find out if anything fishy is going on. Your aptitude for listening is your greatest weapon; use it. Don't ask a lot of questions."
After supper the Raven and Red quietly left camp on foot to patrol the forest around the dig. They occasionally met with a patrol of Northmen and quietly exchanged gossip. They were a pleasant enough band and very polite.
It was just as they were returning to camp to turn their watch over to the Bear and Bill that the alarm sounded. There was shouting coming from the area of the mess tent and the Raven and Red ran to take action.
They found the Bear and Bill attending one of the archaeological students, who sat on the ground with a stunned look. A quick examination showed that he was just shaken up. Once he could make sense he said he was going to the mess to make a snack when he surprised a man who didn't belong in camp. He had yelled an alarm then had been hit by the man in the head and stomach.
Soon the Wolverine and Bob arrived and filled in on the situation. The knights and squires, heavily armed, moved out in search of the attacker. The Raven and the Bear, with their squires, circled around the camp looking for tracks. The Wolverine searched among the tents. Her primary focus was to calm everybody down and get them to be silent. The Wolverine was obeyed and soon all the archaeological students were gathered in the big common tent. Dr Johnson took a head count then left to gather the professors.
As the Wolverine prowled among the various tents, she found hers sliced open. She had just left it intact less than five minutes before. Whomever it was she was searching for was still nearby. Using her sword she turned over her stuff and looked under her saddle, and found the package she had been guarding missing. She turned her attention to the other adult tents and found that Dr Johnson's tent had also been ransacked. She couldn't tell if anything was stolen, but guessed that something was.
The Wolverine completed her search of the camp and found the tent containing most of the jars had been sliced open and several of the jars missing. Then she heard the high-pitched scream.
When the first alarm had been raised, all the students in the common tent were awakened and arose an anxious commotion among them. Grace, who stood watch, shook Sally out of a deep slumber. She then strung her bow and notched an arrow and Sally quickly girded on her dagger. About that time the first adult entered the tent. Grace could tell right away that it wasn't one of the professors, so she brought up her bow to challenge the man.
The man acted faster; he grabbed one of the archaeological students and used him as a shield against Grace. "Everybody get down on the ground," he growled. "Put that thing down or I shoot." He held a gun.
There gasps and a couple of screams. Students hastened to lie down on the ground.
Grace stole a glance around the dimly-lit tent, looking for Sally but not seeing her at first, but finally glimpsed the page standing behind the man. Sally stood too close to her line of fire. Between the student and Sally, she didn't have a clean shot at the man. She slowly lowered her bow.
The man kept the gun at the boy's neck and reached for his knife. Suddenly Sally let out an ear-piercing scream. The man spun around and was promptly stabbed in the gut by Sally's knife. The man let go of the boy and tried to grab for Sally, but he was too slow. She had pulled her dagger and rushed past him pushing the boy out of the way.
Grace had a clear shot and took it, nailing the man in the chest. The gun he held fired once before he dropped it. He also dropped his knife and grabbed his belly before collapsing on the ground.
The Wolverine and Bob entered the tent and rushed to the man. The knight rolled him onto his back, and then pulled his shirt up to look at his chest and belly. The man had already lost a lot of blood; he was dying.
"Here Ma'am," Sally said. She turned around and yelled, "Grace!"
Grace lay on her side, clutching her chest and convulsing. The Wolverine instantly knelt at her side. "Grace, Grace, hold still." She put her hands on Grace's shoulder and hip, forcing her to lie still.
She had a large burned hole in the chest of her shirt, but no blood. She was gasping for breath.
Grace finally managed to relax a little and stop writhing around, obviously in a lot of pain. It took a great deal of assurance to get Grace to lie perfectly still. When she did, she managed to breathe very lightly, without gasping for breath.
Dr. Johnson arrived and took one look at the gunman, and then he turned his attention to Grace. He yelled for everybody to stand back or leave; the tent emptied out. The doctor and the Wolverine lifted Grace up and laid her on a table. He opened her shirt exposing her bullet proof vest, a mess of burnt fibers and torn layered bits of cloth.
The doctor unsnapped the sides of Grace's vest and gingerly raised it. The bullet had not penetrated through it, but her chest had an angry red color. A quick examination revealed several broken or cracked ribs. Someone had brought the doctor's first-aid bag and he set to work bandaging the girl. When he finished the Wolverine put a new shirt on her. The doctor gave her a shot for pain and had her placed on the cot in his tent.
Someone had placed a sheet over the gunman, so the doctor pulled it back and checked him out. He lay dead. The Wolverine asked the doctor if he knew who the man was. The doctor replied, "A worker who helped bring in supplies. He was very surly. He worked mostly with Prof. Faux who, by the way, is missing."
The Wolverine turned her attention back to Sally who stood nearby looking shocked. Her night shirt bloody as she was still held the dagger. "Sally, how do you feel?"
She weakly said, "Did I kill him?"
"He is dead. Let's take a walk."
They exited the tent and walked over to the dig site. "Am I in trouble?"
"Not from me. Why don't you tell me what happened?"
Sally related her story from the time she had awoken till she pushed the boy away from the man."
"Let me get this straight. You screamed and ran into him, because he was pulling a knife?"
"Yes, Ma'am. He was trying to pull the knife and hold the gun at the same time. I figured if I screamed it would distract him and I could push the boy away. I didn't expect him to turn into the dagger. I just tried to give Grace a clear shot. Did I do wrong?"
"You screamed to distract the man?"
"And you were not afraid?"
"No, Ma'am… Yes, Ma'am. I was terrified."
"It's all right. You should have been terrified. I would have been." The Wolverine thought a minute, "You did good; very good. You saved a life, possibly more. You are an owl."
"I think I'm going to puke." Sally doubled over and emptied the contents of her stomach. The Wolverine led her to the mess tent, gave her some water and tried to comfort her.
Dr. Johnson came in and sat down next to the Wolverine. "Prof. Faux is the only one missing. The jars from your and my tents are missing as well as a handful of the others. They were after the gold. The Bear and the Raven are chasing him and whoever else is involved. We're going to have to abandon the dig. The discovery of gold has made it much too dangerous for the students, even with Eric and his crew providing security."
"I think that would be the safe decision," the Wolverine said with bitterness. "I almost lost one of my students. I will probably lose another when her parents find out what happened. I had better get her out of the country before that man's relatives find out. Any good will we had earned with the villagers is probably lost. As soon as Wolf shows up we are leaving. I suggest you leave with the Northmen."
"You're right I'm sending the students home in the morning with our finds and the professors will clean up and extract the remaining jars. If you capture Faux it will buy me time to get everything out."
The Wolverine was getting annoyed with the doctor, "I'm trying to tell you that you should all leave as a group. Be satisfied with what you already have."
"I guess you're right."
"You know I'm right, I wish that tomb had never been discovered."
"It could have proven that Europeans had come this far into America, earlier than anyone had thought possible. It is now just another mystery, a lost piece of history. I do have some good news; he got away with an empty box."
"The one he took from my tent is also empty," the Wolverine said. "It looks like we had the same idea." She stood up and walked over to a food box and extracted the artifact she guarded. "I'm taking this one back to my school. If I guess right there are more like it to be found."
"That's fair," the doctor said.
"You tell Grace it is fair!" The Wolverine stormed out of the tent, dragging Sally with her.
Grace slept fitfully. Every time she tried to move the pain awoke her. One time she awoke and there was a little man standing over her. He wore a loincloth and a brightly feathered headdress. He had a staff that looked familiar; it was Wolf. He handed her a small wooden cup, "Drink." She downed the bitter liquid. "Hold this," He held up his staff for her to grab. He placed his hands over hers and quietly chanted a prayer several times.
A soothing relief came over her chest and she soon fell into a deep sleep.