TROUBLE IN MAYAPAN
A Norreys Jewel Adventure
By Andre Norton
10: An Aquamarine Set in Stone.
“Any port in a storm---” Norgate said. “Get back in your stalls, fella here's where we hit water again---”
“Good surface---” Kane looked at the green-blue surface below dubiously.
“It had better be! With that much we can't stay upstairs and there isn’t time to beat it back to the river before it closes in. So-- hold on to your seats, my hearties, and pray that there are no booby traps waiting for us.”
Peter crawled hurriedly back into his seat and took the grip the pilot recommended. He was almost glad when the shock of surfacing came rocking him loose and banging him against the dunaged with a force to set him gasping. Now clouds of white sprayed out across the window and then began to die. He lost no time in joining the others in the cockpit, Norgate was beaming on the world.
“Nothing to it,” he repeated over and over. “Luck sure is riding our tail this trip. Any special spot on shore you have a hankering to land, Columbus? Say the word and we'll taxi over, gentle like.”
Kane was un-slinging a pair of powerful binoculars. “Suppose you give the old man a chance to get an eyeful first,” he suggested. “then if I bring you in on a headhunter's doorstep, it'll be my fault and not yours.”
“Just so. We'll do a little putt-putting around while you play lookout. How about a nice perch on a wing, now?”
“Just what I was thinking, myself.” Kane calmly edged out onto the wing surface and began a detailed study of the shoreline, seemingly impervious to the rain which plastered his clothes to flesh within seconds. After a space too long to suit his impatient companions he scrambled back to drop over them both.
“Near the head is something-- partly in the water. It may be only a rock escarpment or the debris from an old landslip, but it has suggestive outlines. Take it easy through, there may be stuff under water.
“Are you telling me? I take you half way maybe-- the rest you walk! Think I want the feet pulled off the old girl now?”
Not until days later did Peter come to know the lengthy chance Norgate took as he walked the amphibian across the waters of that off-the-map lake. A sunken log, an unseen shoal---one of half a hundred traps might have ripped the pontoons of the frail craft and wrecked them utterly. But, as Norgate had pointed out so jubilantly, from the moment they touched the waters luck herself seemed to have taken her place among them and they were able to anchor the plane to the shore at a reasonable distance from the grayish protrudence Kane had guided them too.
One never knew real rain, Peter decided shivering with the flail of the water about his shoulders, until one was caught in this overflow. It stung the eyes, flooded the nostrils, set you gasping for breath, beat with a steady rhythm on your body. Yet Kane had wallowed ashore through it all and was advancing, rifle in hand towards the patch of gray. Peter pulled himself through the sticky mud and water grasping at vines and branches to get purchase through the thick fly trap glue which seemed to mark the meeting place of land and water in this new world.
Then his boots scrapped on something harder and he barked one shin painfully against a sharp edged block of stone. Vines and the thousand and one scouts of the jungle had done their best in a skirmish to hide the firmer footing. He could see Kane swinging a jungle knife in one hand and fending off streamers of vegetation with the rifle in the other as he fought his way forward. And the passage of the larger man opened a path for Peter. He came up breathless, his ribs aching with the effort of climbing up and down the fallen ranks of stone to find Kane in a sort of clearing on a mound. Not four feet before the other's muddy boots was a drop clean and clear to the lake, Peter skidded forward to look down at the rain peeked water. But it was something very different which caught his full attention.
Stones, huge stones, dressed roughly and fitted together with a skill which kept all but the smallest of wind born seeds from taking refuge in the dark crack lines. They were standing on the top of a manmade immense. And now that he knew that it was easier to mark the lines below, running out into the depths of the lake---almost like the markings of an ancient dock.
Peter twisted around to look at the land behind him. The lumps of tumbled stone which broke the regular pattern of the forest were not natural. Kane prodded the nearest with his toe.
“New York maybe-- a thousand years from now,” his voice was almost harsh through the rain. “This was a port of some kind-- and an important place.”
“But---” it was Norgate's faint drawl which answered him, “a very singular one. Piast would go quietly mad here---” With a sharp tug he pulled away a whole section of vines and attendant creepers and bared another, almost buried portion of a titanic, brutally plain wall. “This stuff,” the pilot tried to fit the point of a small stick into right angled line of meeting between two stones, “Is new---”
“Rather well worn for new---”commented Kane.
“I mean-- it's new to me. I've seen Mayan stuff and the Temple of the Sun in Mexico. And I saw Machu Pikachu too once-- This is a little like that. Only no carvings-- at least we haven’t seen any. No Feathered Serpents, or Sun Gods or whatnot leering at us. Yet the guys who built here had a lot of practice and were no backwoods hillbillies. I’ll bet this was a fort of some kind.”
“Natural position for one,” agreed Kane. He had slung the rifle and brought out the binoculars again, “Hmm----” He stopped the slow sweep across the horizon facing north---- “There's your outlet-- and I’ll bet the first emerald we kick up the head waters of the Rio Jaguar.”
Norgate was engaged in the very childish occupation of tossing bits of stick down into the water, watching them float out of sight with the grace attention of one studying a weather report.
“Stiffish current and right inshore too,” he commented. “Listen!”
All Peter could hear was the steady hiss of the rain, and then---as he strained to catch any sound above or below it---a dull roar---almost like the roll of very distant thunder except that it was continuous.
“Falls!” Kane nodded. “Up in your mountains somewhere. And that water has the right fleck of ice in it.”
Norgate lost interest in the water below and was pushing back into the green draped ruins. Some minutes after he disappeared into their shadow he let out a shout which brought Peter sliding towards his place of disappearance and made Kane restore his binocular and follow, A little precipitately.
They were fronted by a dark hole in the masonry, it might once have been a wide low doorway but now within they could see the flash of the small pencil light Norgate always carried at his belt.
“Come right in,” the pilot's voice boomed hollowly out at them. “I've found the Ritz-Carleton of this part of the woods. Don't step on any snakes----”
Peter stopped short, almost in mid-step but Kane banged into him and sent him over the threshold into a shot of cave of tumbled masonry. The walls were damp and green with moss and the whole space smelled of old, old nastiness but it was out of the constant rain fall. Norgate was kicking at a pile of matted stuff in the far corner and in the light he thru upon it Peter saw the gray white of bones.
“Larder-- or ex-larder of one of our four-footed friends,” the pilot was holding his nose with an exaggerated gesture of disgust. “Don’t think he ever heard of the deep freeze.”
Kane sniffed too--- “Or of lavender between the bed sheets,” he added. “is the jaguar still looking upon this as a happy home?”
“I think not. The stink is a little too old. Maybe just his summer home by the sea or something of the sort. But with a little cleaning up this might be a cozy enough hole.”
“I've seen worse,” agreed Kane. “Carting all that stuff up here will be a good job.”
Norgate grinned. “Just flex all your muscles and think of your doughty pioneer ancestors. In twenty-four hours you won't know the place.”
“That,” Kane poked an intrusive vine out of the doorway, “is what I am afraid of. Well, what's got to be done, has got to be done. Shall we start bending the weary backs?”
With mattocks they cleared away the underbrush which had managed to find a precarious life among the stones. Norgate and Kane swung together, the rhythm of the steady rise and fall of the blades making a click-clack pattern. Peter found himself detailed to the messy job of housecleaning within the den itself. Brooms were improvised and he loaded the smelly underbrush on a branch drag and pulled it far enough away to be out of nose reach.
Hot and tired and thoroughly disenchanted he was grubbing around on the floor when Kane looked him on in.
“How goes it, my good man? Found any pay dirt yet?”
“I've found dirt and plenty of it!” Peter snapped. “A little warm water and some strong soap---”
“Ah-- there you speak of the delights of civilization. And we no longer are within the reaches of civilization-----” he stopped as Norgate pushed past him and dumped a very wet armload of heavy branches on the floor.
Peter flared up. “Look here-- I just got the last of that stuff out and now you come in and---”
“This is different,” the pilot was busy shedding handfuls of the leaves from the wispy fronds and throwing them helter-skelter on the floor. “The Indios speak of this, the smell of the crushed leaves-- it keeps away snakes and bugs.”
He bore down with his heel on some of the scattered leaves and an odd, rather pungent and aromatic scent was wafted through the general odor of damp and decay.
“The good old rushes on the floor our Norman ancestors knew,” Kane observed admiringly. “very effective. And where do we hang the armor, my good man?”
“Around our middles until we know who the neighbors are! I have no great desire to wake up some fine morning and find my only head in the shrinking pot to be sold to some tourist for half price---”
“Are there really headhunters here?” Peter tried to pry the truth out of their nonsense.
“There are a hefty lot of them not two hundred miles away-- across the Brazilian border. And borders mean nothing to that crowd. Any number of them may be roosting around watching us right now.”
Leaving that cheerful thought to chew on, let's get the stuff stowed,” Kane started for the rough hole in the brush which marked the path they had torn.
“Are we going to stay here?” demanded Peter following, close behind him.
“That is the general idea. This is a good place for a base camp with landing for the plane. We'll unpack and play house while Norgate goes home for another load.”
Peter held his arm up to protect his face from whipping branches. It sounded so very simple. But-- he glanced at the wild tangle of stone and growing stuff. A whole army could be hanging around behind that stuff watching them. And once Norgate took off again they would be on their own against the whole of this wilderness.
Packing the supplies ashore from the plane and then up the steep slope to their chosen fortress was no simple matter. Within the next two hours Peter came to look back at his task of room cleaning as a pleasant and profitable job. But he set his teeth and plodded on with his share or more than his share if he could make it. He might be green but he was determined to pull his weight with the others.
The light brandage of their first hours in the new land was markedly absent and Kane's grunts had an explosive character which argued ill for the amount of temper behind them. Norgate just held his tongue and pushed, pulled or carried as the circumstances demanded.
Once the stuff was up they could pull it under shelter and take a breather while Norgate coaxed a small fire into being and set the coffeepot over the puny flame. With the fire, small as it was, and the piles of supplies about them, the stone walled cave took on a different air altogether. If the jaguar would just remember now that he didn’t live here anymore----
“Right smart bit of work,” Norgate looked about him admiringly. “You boys will be right at home now---”
“Sure.” Kane was prying a lid from a can. “And how soon can we expect you back?”
Norgate held up his fingers. “One day to go. Two days for the rest of the supplies. One day to return. And another for good margin.”
Well, we'll keep our idle hands out of trouble while you're gone. A little look-see around the lake will do no harm. And some testing for stones---”
“Then-- when I return-- up to the mountains!”
“By plane? I thought you said---” began Peter.
“I did,” Norgate interrupted, “and I repeat it. That country is not for the bird man would want to keep healthy. No, the water that fills this lake comes from up there and the best way to travel in this country is along the streams. We shall find the one which will lead us. How Piast will green with envy when I tell him that you two are roosting right in the center of a lost city! That I will certainly do.”
Under Kane's direction they stored the boxes and bags in a regular pile against but not touching the back wall of the half room they had cleared. Peter noted that those holding the trade goods were placed on top, within easy reaching distance. He knew the procedure one followed in new country, dealing with forest tribes who had not before contacted traders. How one selected a place some distance from the camp and put there a selection of trade goods, leaving it strictly alone. Then, if within a day or two, the trade goods vanished and some native goods were left in its place, the trader would know that his presence was welcome and business could commence. But if the goods remained, firmly rejected by the unseen watchers of the camp, there was no use in trying further. The wisest and safest thing to do was to put that place miles behind as quickly as possible.
But in this jumble of ruins how could one know if there were any natives lurking. What good would it do to put out on one of these rocks a few yards of print cloth, a handful of glass beads and a knife or two?
“You have Downes’ lucky piece about you?” Norgate asked casually.
Peter's fingers pulled the top button of his shirt out of its hole and fished up a piece of stout cord on which swung the jade disc the old soldier of fortune had given him.
“Unhuh. Well, just keep that close, son,” advised the pilot. “if it did come from up in this country it might be a passport to some of the inhabitants. Now, just as soon as I shovel in the grub, I'm for a little shut-eye. I'm not used to doubling for a pack mule and I have a big day before me tomorrow.”
Kane sprayed the D.T. around their apartment, built up the fire and settled himself just within the doorway with the rifle across his knees while the other two crawled into blankets which in the damp did not seem superlous. The scent from the crushed leaves w s strong in Peter's nostrils as he squirmed about hunting a soft spot where there was none.
Either the scent or that too hard bed kept him awake in spite of the weariness in his back and shoulders and the ach in his legs. He was, he decided, too tired to sleep. Kane was a motionless projection of the wall, a guardian carved and set there by the men who had raised these giant walls.
Through half closed eyes Peter traced by the flickering firelight the blocks of stone above his head. He knew a little of stories of this continent---the authorities said that these people had had no wheels, no form of machinery as known to modern man. How had they been able to man-handle such unwieldy blocks into place, to cut and set them so perfectly than even the jungle had not yet buried them? He soothed the jade disc with his thumb. Wasn't jade supposed to be one of the hardest of all stones? And yet they had fashioned this delicate carving with the same apparent ease as they had built these walls. He was sure that both were the work of the same people. Had the animals come from here too? The animals which Piast had puzzled over because of their lack of resemblance to any catalogued form of South American art?
What sort of men had last lived in this room? Kane said it might have been part of a fort protecting a port. Dark skinned warriors wearing fantastic headdresses in the form of animal heads or crowns of brilliant feathers---armored officers with jade plugs in their ear lobes and collar necklaces of gold---traders------
The fire light was a red and yellow tapestry through which brown men moved, long lines carrying packages wrapped in braided fibers. There was a hustles, a sort of panicky hurry-----
A tall man with a grinning spirit jaguars head mounted on a skull cap helmet stood there urging them on. He had a fresh gash still gaping rawly on his fore-arm, the spear he leaned upon was splintered n at the top of the heft, he shouted at the line of bearers.
The last of the laden men passed down a slope, and were gone. Then the officer with the jaguar helmet turned and started straight into the broken room where Peter lay. In his dark face his yellow brown eyes were set at a strangely familiar angle, his beak nose jutted proudly over a mouth which was thin and tightly set with pain. There was something broken, haunting in that last long look towards the firelight-----
Then he turned, the spotted cloak of Jaguar hide swung wide across his shoulders He limped, leaning heavily on the spear, limbed out of the fire into the dark. Peter's fingers cramped hard about the carving above his heart. The warrior in the jaguar skin had worn its twin, swinging free from his collar of twisted gold.
Peter blinked smarting eyes and found himself staring up into Kane's shadowy face. He pulled himself reluctantly from the blankets and took the rifle the other pushed at him.
“Keep the fire burning, for Pete’s sake!” the other hissed. “And let Norgate sleep He'll need the rest if he's to take that spin tomorrow. Rouse me out at four and don't be afraid to yell this time if you see any eyes leering at our in the night. That jaguar might just be hanging around—“
The whisper died away as Kane settled himself into the hollow on the other side of the fire. Peter crawled to the vantage point where the other had been on guard. Beyond the circle of the flame light was only the heavy dark. But the rain was over and out on the lake he could see the silver plane set by the moon. He turned the wood Kane had brought out to dry and settled himself down to wait.
There were all the sounds of the night he had heard on his last spell of guard duty along the river. And above them, heavy and continuous, that far away sullen roar which the others had said meant a falls back in the mountain country. Something small scuttled across the rocks just beyond eye-sight he pulled the rifle up on his knee and instinctly looked for the gleam of eyes which might be there. But this time no topaz globe hung in the shadows of the night.
Right here had marched that long line of bearers with the burdens. And just there had stood the helmeted officer------. Peter grinned at his own imagining. Sure, it all might have happened just like that, a rear guard maybe leaving a fort for the last time. But who would ever know whether it was true? With this sort of background a guy could dream up any sort of a weird picture and make it seem real.
Digitized and edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lotsawatts ~ February, 2016
Never before seen novel by Andre Norton
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Victor Horadam
Duplication of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.