The land and the sky fall quiet,
the heart is beating within.
A song echoes a calling
for life to begin again.
Fifty-six days in the goddamn jungle. Miserable, but they were close. The eccentric little man who had led them here, the guide of their guide, was the last in a long chain of people who knew people. They were deep into Peru, so far beyond Brazilian Portuguese by now that the local languages might as well have been inter-galactic dialects. Dave half expected Lando Calrissian to make an appearance at any moment. Or maybe Yoda. But they were close. Finally.
Then it was there. Just there. One moment steaming, bug-infested, bottom of the food chain jungle, the next moment a wall of dressed stone, their guide's guide smiling at them from a seamed, dark copper face. Told you so, that smile said.
Peering up at the smooth surface of the wall – reddish grey brick upon massive brick, barely touched by weather, let be by the voracious jungle -Dave felt like some lucky kid who had found a Golden Ticket in his Wonka bar. If the jungle hadn't already sucked the bulk of his energy from him, if it hadn't been ninety degrees Fahrenheit and ninety-five percent humidity, he would have whooped and done a little jig. As it was, he and Viggo just stood there, sweating and grinning at each other like idiots.
Viggo deserved this, Dave thought. He was a good friend, a devoted teacher, a fine archaeologist, and he drank just a bit too much, trying to suppress the dreams that haunted him. The details were always fuzzy, but the themes were all too clear – love, violence, and loss. The violence alone he could have handled.
Uncertain nights were just one one more thing Dave shared with Viggo. He never knew when he'd wake up sobbing and trembling, not understanding the reason why, only that each time it was for that same reason. If he had not had Eileen with him, too many nights he would have found himself on Vig's doorstep at some ungodly hour with shaking hands and a bottle of what could never be more than a temporary solution.
The old man led them a few meters to the west, hacking their way again through the passive resistance of the Peruvian lowlands. It reminded Dave of something his sensei had once said, "...like fighting an empty jacket." That described the jungle perfectly.
There was the mausoleum entrance, a pair of massive double doors, set well back into the wall. They were bronze, darkened with time, green patina in rivulets over the surface, but still solid, unyielding, no sign of encroachment by spiky bromeliads or the tiny, wild orchids that fastened to anything that sat still long enough. Dave was surprised that he didn't have them growing on his backpack.
"You should wait for moonrise," their guide paraphrased for the old man. "We can only see the directions for opening the doors by moonlight." Tall, slender, barely sweating, the young man regarded them with luminous dark eyes.
Viggo nodded, storm grey eyes gleaming with wonder, long body at ease, accepting. He slung down his pack, flexed broad shoulders. "Didn't exactly come equipped with explosives," he grinned. "Or a skeleton key."
The old man settled on a rotting log, pulled a long-stemmed pipe from his kit, puffed on it slowly, and spoke to Viggo, while the young guide translated. "'Long ago, in the days when this was built, the Manu passed here. You could follow it all the way to the great sea, far to the east. People drew their livelihood from the jungle and the river, and their magic from the moon and the stars, and the living energy of the jungle.'"
The youth shrugged elegant shoulders, elaborating, "The people who built the mausoleum were here first, but his people have lived here for a very, very long time."
He was the best in-country guide Dave and Vig had ever employed, but damn if it didn't bug Dave no end that the kid seemed to make no noise at all when he walked, even ankle-deep in compost.
Viggo traced his fingers over the massive bronze doors, fingertips seeking the shapes and faces of gods and creatures sprung from the imaginations of a people centuries gone. "These are not Incan," he said. "Earlier. A lot earlier." The concept was mind-boggling in the best possible ways. He stopped at one small pictograph in the corner of a larger panel of images, squinted in the fading light.
Re-working a pony tail of long, dark auburn hair, Dave leaned in over Vig's shoulder . "Looks like a small boat, with a man standing in it. What's he holding? A sword?"
Viggo shook his head. "Must be a fishing spear. Who fishes with a sword?"
Dave slapped at his neck, flicked away something winged, many-legged, unnervingly large, and probably as yet unidentified by science, and wondered how long until moonrise.
They watched the great, silver disk rise slowly above the jungle, waiting for it to reach a point where its light could breach the canopy and shine down on the mausoleum doors. Dave looked across the tiny open space at Viggo, who, as usual, waited more patiently than he did. Over the past few years Dave's wife had brought home a dozen attempts at match-making. Intelligent girls, lovely, nice, and each one immediately attracted to Viggo. They never lasted. Dave and Eileen had spent hours staring up into the darkness of their own bedroom, trying to figure out why. Eileen refused to give up. It wasn't good for Vig to be alone. Dave knew she was right, but what were they supposed to do about it, when their best efforts all failed miserably?
Vig, always more patient than Dave. Peers in their field often made the mistake of thinking he wasn't really paying attention, when in fact he was merely not wasting his energy trying to force something to happen. Sometimes, he had advised his partner, you just have to let it be.
The old man – the old man, who looked as though he had been carved from redwood burl, and then varnished - had come to them unbidden, a happy accident. At least, it seemed that way at first, the old fellow practically tripping over their guide in the market square of a large village weeks downriver that had seemed at first like a dead end. The old fellow's own village, tiny, shining, huddled a bare day's trudge from the mausoleum. Small, slight folk, smiling faces, genuine welcome, and something underneath it all had made Dave nervous, but not necessarily in a bad way. Viggo, unafraid yet dubious, had summed it. "Why does it seem like they're expecting us?"
"Ah," Viggo said. And there it was, the moon silvering the great, bronze doors, and a hand print which had not appeared in sunlight. Viggo took a breath, savored the moment, put his hand into the slight indentation. Perfect fit. Dave's stomach fluttered. He didn't like that knowing way the old man was smiling. He told himself he'd been reading too much sci-fi. The bronze doors swung silently open. Or, maybe not.
He had expected rubble, cobwebs, broken skeletons, real Indiana Jones business, but in the lantern light the cavernous building appeared as though it had just been completed. Clean. Even. Mortarless brick connected in crisp joinery, clean lines. Viggo set down his lantern, lit a match, and touched it to the huge brazier in the middle of the floor. It flared up, smoked a little, then settled down to a clean, bright fire that lit the interior beautifully. It was easy for the mind to time-travel here. The carvings on the walls began at shoulder level. Gods. Monsters. Dave fancied he recognized an abstract of that massive insect he'd smacked off of his neck. The carvings were not Incan. Earlier. Dave's mind boggled happily.
They had three choices of direction, each a long, dark trek down a wide passage carved with intricate figures. Each ran downward. Viggo looked back at Dave. "Dude. No wonder the place doesn't look very big from the surface. Most of it's underground." He grinned enthusiastically, his leonine face with its mane of dark sandy hair suddenly looking about seventeen years old. "Sweet!" He tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, did "Eenie, meenie, minie, moe... Let's go that way."
Dave snorted, blue eyes laughing. "Always professional, that's us."
They left their packs behind at the brazier in the lobby, as Dave had chosen to call the entry room. As they advanced down the left-hand passage, Viggo and Dave tried to interpret the ancient carving on the walls, but all they could discern was a sense of awe and confusion. Finally Viggo stopped and shrugged, "I don't think they knew what to say. Something baffled them. We'll come back and look at these properly later, but for now all I see is, 'Something happened. We are amazed and very confused.'" He pointed to a repeating pictograph. "There's that little boat again, with the guy standing in it."
He moved off down the corridor, muttering contentedly to himself, but Dave lingered. The pictograph here was slightly different from the one on the entry door. The man stood in the boat, looking toward shore. Another man stood on the shore. It appeared as though they were both waiting for the tide to bring the boat to land. Dave shook his head, and moved to follow Vig and the elegant youth.
Viggo called back over his shoulder, "I don't suppose that's a sort of Noah myth, do you?"
Dave shrugged, "They're ubiquitous across cultures. Everybody's got a creation myth and some sort of Noah myth. Guy in a boat. Mysterious stranger. What about a Hero Figure?"
He caught up with Viggo, who suggested, "Maybe there was a plague, or a war against a previously unknown enemy, and they were either hoping for a hero to come and lead them, or they got lucky, and someone did." He nodded. "Sure, why not – whoa!"
They nearly bumped into the second set of doors. These were not nearly as massive as the first, but looked just as solid. "Here, hold up your light," Viggo told Dave. He ran his hands over the surface of the doors, traced back suddenly, settled his hand into the shape carved into the bronze. Nothing happened.
Viggo blinked at the uncooperative door for a moment, then motioned for Dave to step up to the door. He took the lantern from his partner. "Dave, you try."
Dave pressed a sweaty hand into the shallow carving. There was a soft click. Dave swallowed hard. Viggo pushed gently, and the door opened with a hiss of air, as though the room beyond had been vacuum sealed. Dave hummed the Outer Limits theme, quit when their guide raised an amused eyebrow at him.
The air was cool, stony, but not musty. The walls glittered in the lantern light, set with quartz. Something large gleamed ahead of them as they entered the long room.
Dave's hackles lifted, that butterfly feeling in his belly again, but it wasn't fear, and for some reason that bothered him more than if he'd been terrified. A feeling in the back of his mind, a fleeting thing, a sense of unbearable loss... Jesus, it was the dream again, except he was awake. He was sweating in the cool room, fought it back, concentrated on moving forward.
They advanced on the mysterious gleam ahead, the guide raising his lantern high. The old man hung back. There was a raised dais at the end of the room. The quartz reflected the lantern light.
"Hey Dave, lookit this!"
He nearly bumped into Viggo standing at the bottom of the dais. Ten, twenty perfect stone steps led up to what looked like a very large box made of clear quartz crystal. It had that smooth, tough look about it that reminded Dave of the famous Crystal Skull. Viggo started climbing the steps.
The old man halted at the bottom and stood watching him, a hint of expectation on his face. The chamber was softly aglow with quartz.
Viggo stopped near the top of the stairs. "Christ, Dave, it's a boat!"
"What? Like the one in the pictures?" Dave jogged up the steps to join him. "A boat in a crystal coffin. What the hell?"
Viggo rose the last steps, stood next to the crystal coffin, peering into the side of it, his gaze drawn to the interior of the boat. The color suddenly drained out of his face.
"Vig, you okay?"
"It's not just a boat," the man whispered. There was a strange, stricken look on his face.
Dave joined him at the top, to stare through the crystal. "There's a guy in there," he said, pointing out the obvious. "I don't think he's an Incan ancestor."
Viggo shook his head slowly, struck speechless, eyes riveted on the figure in the boat.
The guide had come to stand next to them, and stood quietly, watching first Viggo, then Dave.
Dave automatically took stock of the contents of the strange, beautiful little boat.
Blonde hair. Short, carefully clipped beard, a lean face that would have been hawk-like, fierce in life. Nordic features. Round shield at his head, a great sword clasped in gloved hands, the long, wicked blade gleaming down the length of his body. He was clad in a black, leather sleeveless robe over what looked like red silk embroidered in gold. Chain mail appeared at his sleeves. His leather boots showed considerable wear, like his clothing. He had traveled far and hard before his death.
Nope. Not remotely Incan. And that damned dream was circling inside Dave's skull like an insistent circus pony, just beyond his conscious reach. "It's a funeral ship, Vig."
"That's not a Norse blade," Viggo murmured, "Not like any I've ever seen. The hilt is all wrong..." He held the lantern up, leaned in, bracing his hand against the crystal surface, and fell forward. Dave grabbed him and jerked him upright. They stared at eachother.
The crystal had not shattered. It had simply given way before Viggo, parted like the Red Sea before Moses. Viggo stared, trembling. The guide raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"Dave, you try it."
"Do I have to?" But he was already pressing the flat of his hand against the crystal. Cool, smooth... liquid. He shivered, wide eyes looking at Viggo. "I can't even register how weird this is, Vig. It's off my meter."
Viggo motioned to the guide. "You try."
The youth shook his head. "I'd rather not, Senor."
"It won't hurt you, I just need to see..."
"...if I fall in, like you." He leaned on the coffin. "It gives way for only the two of you."
They stared dumbly. Finally Viggo suggested, in an unsettled, reaching for normalcy sort of voice, "We should call in the rest of the team. Get this whole thing back to the university."
The old man spoke from the third step. "'Not yet,'" the young man translated. "'Take him out of the boat.'" The elder's dark eyes pinned Viggo. "'You know how the story goes, Senor.'"
The look on Viggo's face said a thousand things, each of them impossible.
"The details, Dave. Two nights ago I started seeing the details."
The dreams. Dave felt sweat trickling down his spine. "And what did they look like?"
"I know his face. Don't know why, from where, but I know his face." He regarded his younger friend steadily. "I think you know his face, too. We need to take him out of the boat."
Dave frowned. "This is not Sleeping Beauty. Vig, the find should remain intact until the rest of the team arrives. You know that better than I do."
"'He only sleeps,'" the old man said, staring pointedly at Viggo. "' His time of waiting is over. So is yours.'"
Viggo blinked, eyes focused as though some phantom walked between him and the old fellow. He was shaking. "Mine? W-waiting for what?" As though he didn't know.
"'Waiting to fill your emptiness,'" the old man said kindly. The guide gave Viggo a thoughtful look, watched his mind working behind deepening grey eyes.
"He's dead," Dave countered. Why did it wrench him, somewhere deep, to say that? "First of all, he's been here for God alone knows how long, and secondly, look at the state of his clothing on his left side. Massive wounds under there, I'll wager cash. Dead, Vig. Dead as Jacob Marley." The very thought of it made him want to cry. He was going to go nuts if he stayed here much longer.
The old man gestured to the quartz room. "'His place of rest, this. He has been waiting for you. You must quicken him. Let him wake.'"
Dave's skin crawled between his shoulders. He insisted, in what he hoped was the voice of reason, "Dead, Vig." Weeping. In the back of his head he remembered days, weeks of intense mourning that Dave knew perfectly well had never happened.
"What about this?" Viggo dipped his hand into the side of the crystal coffin, rippling it like water. "Explain that."
"You believe in magic now?" What was that creeping up his spine, burrowing between his shoulders? Why did he keep looking back at the Northman's face, not as a remarkable artifact, but as though he expected the eyes to open? His belly felt more full of frogs than butterflies.
Viggo argued, "We've seen a lot of strange things, you and I. Some things we still haven't explained. As for this, all I can believe is what I see in front of me. An apparent corpse, how ancient we can't even guess, but perfectly preserved where we should have found some dusty mummy, and you and I are apparently the only ones who can reach in and touch him." He turned toward the dead man, spoke to Dave, the look in his eyes going on forever. "I know his face."
"I have no answer to any of that," Dave admitted, "but you know the drill. We shouldn't do anything until we get him, his boat, and his giant crystal coffin back to the lab at the university..." knowing even as he said it that he didn't really want to take him back to the university at all, not to some flourescent-lit room in the cold research catacombs of the archaeology department, where God alone knew what might become of him. He wanted to take him home. Some long-dead corpse, and Dave wanted desperately to just take him home. And Viggo had seen his face in the details, and was supposed to wake him up.
Dave wondered if now would be a good time to declare them all crackers and have himself a nice moment of panic.
Dave's mentor stared thoughtfully down at the man lying in the boat, took a deep breath, came to a decision. He took a step, was swallowed into the coffin.
Viggo handed the great sword out to Dave, who took it automatically, a part of his mind hiccupping that he was accepting a longsword from a hand reaching out to him from what should have been solid rock. Then all he could think of was how familiar the hilt felt in his hand, and that it made no earthly sense.
The round shield followed, gently pulled from behind the blond corpse's head. Dave stroked the battered leather surface with something like reverence, shook his head sharply at the confusion that caused.
Viggo braced himself against the side of the boat, scooped the body into his arms, stood with obvious effort, and walked out of the great coffin, quartz shimmering around him.
Viggo was a big man, but the man he carried appeared just as tall, and he had been a warrior in life. Dave moved to help, and the two archaeologists carried him down the steps. At the bottom Viggo knelt, cradling the dead man. He looked up at the old man, seeking guidance.
The elder's voice was gentle, words needing no interpretation.
Viggo gently kissed the dead man's forehead. His eyes closed and tears of grief and hope ran down his face.
The old man reached out a comforting hand and rested it on Viggo's shoulder.
Their guide turned to Dave, advising calmly, "Before you call for the rest of your research team, think about what you might not want to tell the university."
Dave looked up from staring blearily at Viggo and the dead warrior, rubbed at the wet on his cheeks. "What?"
The tall youth nodded to Dave's left. Filling the narrow room were people from the old man's village. Four of the bigger men carried a litter between them.
Dave could hardly speak for the unnamed grief in his chest. In the back of his mind he suspected he had missed something perfectly obvious. "What are they doing here?"
The old man, stroking Viggo's shoulder in a fatherly way, spoke through the young guide. "'The great sea brought Him here, up through the river. When he came here, he was dead. A dead hero. Whose hero, they did not know, but a warrior recognizes his brother, even if he comes from far away, and the chiefs of the city asked the shaman about this man who had come to them. He sleeps, the shaman said. He is dead, but he can be awakened. The question is, When, and by Whom? So they built a room where he might wait, in the same house where their greatest chiefs had been laid to rest. The magic of the boat protects the warrior. The crystal protects them both. Our ancestors came here not long after the warrior did. We have been waiting, too. We knew you would come.'"
Dave wanted to believe it, more than he could explain. "But after all this time..."
"Look," the guide told him. Eyes gleaming in the quartz light, he pointed a long, slender finger at the ground near Viggo's knees.
Drops of crimson. Tiny rivulets of red, bright stains on Viggo's khakis.
Dave stared open-mouthed at the wounded man bleeding in Viggo's arms, felt like laughing and crying, but didn't know why, and surely this was just another bizarre dream?
He knelt in front of Viggo. He rested his hand on the warrior's shoulder. Warm to the touch. Familiar. Dave heard the sound of the man's voice in his head. A brother's laughter. He felt himself disintegrating inside, and didn't care a damn if it showed.
"Vig. His name..."
"I called his name out in the night." Viggo tenderly pushed a lock of blond hair from the Northman's pale face, traced a high cheekbone with wondering fingers. "Beneath a moon and stars I have never seen we called eachother's names in the night." He kissed the man's forehead again, kissed his closed eyes.
"He was taken from us, once," Dave remembered. He helped Viggo to his feet. Together they carried their warrior toward the waiting villagers.
"Not this time," Viggo gritted.
In all the years they had traveled together, Dave had never seen Viggo look so determined as when he declared, "This time, he is ours to keep!"
Their youthful guide followed smoothly after them, smiling affectionately down as the old man walking sprightly beside him pulled out his pipe and rummaged for his tobacco.
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Story notes: Warning: Shamelessly self-indulgent kinda fantasy AU thingy.
A/N: I had a helluva time classifying this, and almost didn't write it, but the Plot Bunny was holding my bus pass hostage.