She must have sensed his scrutiny. She turned to him, their faces close, too close. “But you were right, Sam,” she said softly. “Before… when you said the dead don’t begrudge the living. You were right. We’re alive… we’re here. And we mustn’t waste this gift with guilt an’ sorrow. That would be the true tragedy.”
He nodded. “It’s wrong to live a life as if you were dead.” His voice was just an exhaled whisper. Sam remembered the years following the loss of his parents. He and his uncle had shared their sorrow together, leaning on each other. But in truth, the two of them were not unlike Maggie. In part, they, too, had barred outsiders, using their shared tragedy as a barrier against getting close to others. He didn’t want to do that any longer.
Sam dared to inch a little nearer to Maggie.
She stared up into his eyes, her lips slightly parted.
He leaned nearer, his heart thundering in time with the drums—then suddenly the music ended. A heavy silence descended over the plaza.
Maggie glanced away at the interruption, ending the intimate moment. “It seems the party’s over.”
Sam’s heart squeezed tight in his chest. He could not trust his voice. He swallowed hard, freeing his tongue. “I… I guess it is,” he choked out.
A figure crossed toward them. It was the shaman, whose name they had learned was Kamapak. On his tattooed face, he wore a wide smile as he approached, climbing the stairs. Sam and Maggie rose to greet him. He babbled in his native tongue, arms lifted in both thanks and farewell, clearly wishing them a good night’s rest. Already the fires around them were being extinguished.
Standing, Sam’s head spun slightly with the effects of the chicha beer. Steadying himself for a breath, he stared at the fading flames, a mirror of his own inner hopes and passions. He turned away. It hurt too much to look.
Chaperoned by the shaman, Sam and Maggie drifted back toward the rooms assigned them. The Inca still talked excitedly as he led them.
Sam wished Denal were still there to translate for them, but he was able to discern a few familiar words. Something about one of their mythic gods, Inkarri. Not understanding, Sam just smiled and nodded in the universal manner of the nonfluent.
When they reached the row of homes bordering the square, Kamapak finally grew quiet and patted Sam on the shoulder. The shaman bowed his head, then whisked away to oversee the end of the celebration.
Maggie paused, watching him leave. Her room was separate from the men’s. Sam stood awkwardly, wondering if that moment ago could be rekindled, but Maggie’s next words doused cold water on those embers. “What was all that about Inkarri?”
Sam shrugged, recalling the Inca’s epic story. Supposedly, Inkarri was the living son of Inti, the Sun, and the last god-king of his people. It was said he was captured by the Spanish conquerors and beheaded, but his decapitated head did not die. It was stolen away and hidden in a sacred cave—where, to this day, it had supposedly been growing a new body. When the body was complete, Inkarri would rise again and restore the Incas to their former splendor.
But this was, of course, just plain myth. The last leader of the Incas had been Atahaulpa. He had been garroted to death by the Spanish army led by Pizarro in 1533, and his body cremated. Sam shook his head. “Who knows what the shaman was suggesting? Maybe in the morning we could have Denal talk to him.”
Maggie frowned. “It’s still strange. I’d always thought that myth originated when tales of the Spanish conquest were mixed with Biblical stories brought by missionaries, stories of Christ’s resurrection. It’s odd to hear the socyoc of this isolated tribe recounting the same tale here.”
“Well, whatever the source, he sure as hell seemed excited.”
Nodding, Maggie continued to stare out at the terraced village as the campfires were extinguished and the torches ground into the sand. Darkness spread across the stone homes, swallowing them away. Finally, she sighed and turned away. “I guess I’d better turn in. We have a long day tomorrow. Good night, Sam.”
He waved her off, then turned to the reed mat that hung over his own door. As he pushed aside the barrier, stories of Incan gods faded into the background, replaced by the memory of Maggie staring up a him, eyes bright with the promise of passion. Sam’s chest still ached at the untimely interruption.
Maybe he had read too much into that fiery moment. Still, he knew the memory of her lips would haunt his dreams this coming night.
Sighing, he ducked into his room.
Friday, August 24, 6:30 A.M.
Joan had not slept all night. She sat at the small desk in her cell, a tiny oil lamp illuminating her work. The crinkled sheet of yellow legal paper was spread upon the wormwood desk. The sliver of a pencil in her hand was now worn dull, the eraser rubbed down to its metal clasp. Still, she worked at deciphering the row after row of symbols. It was her handwritten copy of the coded message found on the back of Friar Francisco de Almagro’s crucifix. Nobody had thought to confiscate the paper from her, but why would they? No one but she and Henry knew the significance of the scrawled symbols.
Joan tapped the pencil against her lips. “What were you trying to warn us about?” she mumbled for the thousandth time since returning to her cell after dinner last night. She had been unable to sleep, her mind fraught both with worry over her imprisonment and curiosity about the revelations in the Abbey’s laboratory.
And her fellow prisoner down the hall had offered her no solace.
After learning of his nephew’s danger, Henry had grown distant from her, his eyes hard and angry, his manner closed. He had not spoken a single word over dinner. As a matter of fact, he had hardly touched his lamb chops. Any attempt of hers to allay his fears was met with a polite rebuff.
So Joan had returned to her cell, tense and anxious. At about midnight, she had begun working on the code after her failed attempt at slumber.
Joan stared at her night’s work. Large sections of the message had been translated, but many gaps still existed. Her success so far was mostly due to the one large clue provided by Abbot Ruiz himself: the name el Sangre del Diablo. From the wide variety of runelike symbols, Joan had already estimated each mark corresponded to a letter of the alphabet, a simple replacement code. So it was just a matter of finding a matching sequence of symbols that would correspond to the same sequence of letters in el Sangre del Diablo. She had prayed that somewhere in the cryptogram the friar would mention the name.
And he had!
With that handful of symbols now assigned specific letters, it was just a matter of trial and error to decipher the rest of the cryptogram. But it was still difficult. She was far from fluent in Spanish. She wished Henry had been there to help her—especially since it was so disconcerting to realize that the tidbits she had deciphered so far were glimpses into a man’s last words, his final warning to the world.
She held the paper up. A chill passed through her as she read: Here is my last willed words. May God forgive me… the Serpent of Eden… pestilence… Satan’s Blood corrupts God’s good work… Prometheus holds our salvation… pray… may the Serpent never be loosed.
Sighing, Joan laid down her pencil and paper, then rubbed her tired eyes. This was the best she could accomplish. Friar de Almagro had been either insane or scared witless, but after what she had witnessed in the vault below, Joan could not be sure his ravings didn’t hold some kernel of truth. Whatever he had found, it had terrified him.
The sound of approaching footsteps echoed down the hall, interrupting her reverie.
Quickly, she folded the yellow paper and pocketed it again. If she had a private moment with Henry, she would get his feedback… that is, if he would listen to her. She remembered how stubborn Henry had been as a youth, full of deep moods that she could never touch back then. But she wouldn’t let that stop her now. Even if she had to twist his arm, she would make him hear her out. Francisco de Almagro had feared something up in the mountains, something associated with the mysterious metal. If Henry’s nephew was in the thick of things up there, Henry had best listen to her.
A sharp knock on her door was followed by a voice. “The abbot wishes to see you both.” The curt voice was Carlos’s. Joan swung around as a jangle of keys unlocked her door.
Henry sat once again in the abbot’s study. Rows of books lined the walls, and the wide windows were cracked open upon a view of the Church of Santo Domingo, its cross bright in the morning sunlight. Behind him, another monk stood guard, pistol in hand.
But Henry saw none of it as he sat huddled in on himself. In his mind’s eye, he pictured Sam buried under piles of rubble and tons of granite blocks. His fists clenched. It was his fault. What had he been thinking when he left the excavation site to a handful of inexperienced students? He knew the answer. He had been blinded by the possibility of proving his theory. Nothing else had mattered. Not even Sam’s safety.
The creak of heavy doors announced the arrival of someone else. Henry glanced back over his shoulder to see Joan escorted in by the dark-eyed Carlos. Her eyelids were puffy, and from the wrinkled state of her blouse and pants, it looked like any attempts at sleep had failed her, too.
Joan offered Henry no smile when she entered the room. But why should she? She was yet another person whose life had been threatened by Henry’s folly. He had reentered her life only to endanger it.
“Sit down,” Carlos ordered the woman roughly. “Abbot Ruiz will be joining you shortly.” The friar then mumbled something in Spanish to the other guard, his words too rushed and quiet for Henry to make out. Then Carlos left.
Joan sank into the other cushioned chair before the wide mahogany desk. “How are you holding up?” she asked.
Henry did not feel like talking, but she deserved at least the courtesy of a response. “Okay. How about you?”
“The same. It was a long night.” Joan glanced toward the guard and leaned a little closer. She touched Henry’s knee, feigning intimacy, just two lovers consoling one another. Her words were no more than soft breaths. “I think I’ve deciphered most of the code on your mummy’s crucifix.”