Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger (20 page)

BOOK: Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger
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The axe cut through the slithering rope a hairs-breath from Maroof’s foot. The rope disappeared forever into the Arctic sea, and the big black sailor grabbed desperately at outcroppings to keep his momentum from taking him into a freezing death.

Panting, Sinbad and Maroof looked at the dark surface of the water. There were bubbles . . . and a lot of blood.

The ice settled down and Melanthius hurried over to them, followed by Farah and Dione, who set down the fur-covered baboon cage at a distance. The old Greek looked at the bloody surface of the pool and sighed.

“Too bad you couldn’t hold him. I would have liked to examine the creature. Walrus Giganticus, you know.” He peered at their strained and exhausted faces. “Prehistoric.”

Sinbad wiped his face and got shakily to his feet. “My profound apologies,” he said with a slight bow. “Next time . . . I will try harder.”

Farah helped Maroof to his feet. “Are you hurt?” she asked.

The big black man shook his head. “It is said a man has only one life. Now I have two. I owe them both to Captain Sinbad.”

Hassan came up, shaken but well. He laughed at Maroof. “I have never seen a black man turn white before!”

Maroof laughed with him, then sobered as a part of Bahadin’s clothes popped to the surface.

“The walrus might have killed us all,” Hassan said.

Sinbad shook his head. “We were the invaders. We surprised him. He might have run off had he seen us at a distance.”

“Aye,” conceded Hassan, “but we still need food.”

“We almost
were
food,” Maroof said.

Sinbad laughed and slapped the battered black sailor on the shoulder. “Whatever beast that eats you, my friend—I hope he likes tough meat!”

“He won’t have to salt me,” the dark sailor grinned. “And I hope I make his stomach hurt!”

“Where’s Ali?” Hassan grumbled. “We have a lot of work to do, cleaning up . . .”

“Look!” They followed Farah’s finger and saw a dark figure on the surface of the ice, crumpled and still. “Ali!”

His chest was crushed. The great weight and muscled flippers of the walrus had killed him and everyone felt guilty because they hadn’t noticed.

CHAPTER
17

T
he wall of ice loomed over Zenobia’s metal boat in a cliff of endless white. It curved off in both directions across their path as the Minaton propelled them toward it with effortless, perpetual labor at the oar-mechanism. Zenobia and Rafi, swathed in thick furs, stood at the railing, staring at the line of ice cliffs ahead.

“No sign of a tunnel through these cliffs,” Rafi said with annoyance. “They look as impenetrable as the Walls of Byzantium.”

Impatiently, Zenobia gestured at the ice wall. “The chart in the scroll is precise. There
is
an entrance.” She glowered to the right and left, her clawed foot scratching on the icy deck. “I mean to find it.”

The witch-woman raised her arms, spreading them wide, her dark eyes glaring. She spoke as if uttering an incantation. “Minaton! My Minaton! By Hecate and by all the powers of the Lord of Iron and Brass, by the Great Hephaestus to whom I have pledged my soul! Faster!” Her voice came out as a screech, her face framed in the tiger hood she wore, her eyes glinting with demonic concentration. “Faster!
Faster!”

The great golden bull-headed figure picked up the pace, his metallic labors increasing. The ship moved faster and faster as the speed increased. The oars beat at the icy dark waters. The sharp metal prow cut faster through the thin layer of ice that covered the slate-colored waters, crinkling and crushing and breaking. The sound was a crystal chittering in the frigid air, a tinkling, cracking, slicing sound. Zenobia’s gleaming metal ship raced toward the wall of ice.

Rafi was in a panic. With staring eyes he screeched at his mother, “Order the Minaton to stop! Mother! Stop it!”

“No!”
his mother screamed back. The floating chunks of ice were hitting against the speeding hull like booming gongs now. Rafi clutched at the railing, staring wildly.

“Sail on! Sail on!” Zenobia screamed, her eyes glinting with demonic concentration. The impassive bull figure labored on, its powerful metal arms churning the air. The ship’s sharp prow sliced through the dark Arctic waters cleanly.

Rafi’s stare grew fixed, watching the ship speed through the icebergs and floating islands of ice, racing along the great white wall of frozen death at an alarming rate. Quietly, he whimpered.

Sinbad paused on the ridge, knee deep in fresh snow. Below, a long broad snowdrift, unmarked by man or beast, led down to a glacial valley. He frowned, seeing wisps of mist coming from the ground ahead. He beckoned Melanthius forward from his trailing position as the two-sledge expedition moved down the slope toward the valley floor.

The sailor pointed at the mist, which they could now see was hot vapor rising from cracks in the rocky land. “How is it possible?” Sinbad asked. “What is this?”

“They are called funerals,” the Greek wise man answered.

“So much heat amid so much snow and ice?” Sinbad asked in wonder. The snow and ice were melted well back from each rift in the rocks.

“The source must be deep down under the surface of the earth,” the old Greek said, peering at each passing funeral vent.

Sinbad scratched at the ice on his beard. “The secret of the Arimaspi?” he suggested. “Could they have found a way to harness such heat?”

Melanthius looked up brightly at the ship’s captain, his bearded face breaking into a wide grin. “Excellent, Captain Sinbad! I’ll make a philosopher of you yet!” Then his smile faded. “But the truth is, I don’t know. Perhaps the Shrine will reveal the mystery to us.”

They descended into the shallow valley and crossed it, making a wide track in the snow. The next valley was deeper, with the far side steeper and more difficult to scale. The next valley was deeper and surrounded by even higher hills. They camped that night in the bottom of that valley, against the bare, gray-black rock that was becoming increasingly more evident.

They found a niche in the rock and did not need to tip over their sledges. The weary sailors dropped almost where they stopped, and Farah, Sinbad, Dione, and her father built a fire and ladled out bowels of hot soup and shreds of dried meat.

Sinbad stood the first watch, too excited to sleep despite his tired muscles. Ahead, he thought, just ahead. The appearance of the hot vapors, the increasing frequency of cold but uniced areas, the steeper hills, rapidly rising to mountains—all these things were signs that Sinbad took as good. A secret valley would need protection from the fierce Arctic winds, he thought. And perhaps the volcanic gasses were the answer. An island of warmth in a sea of ice.

The veteran sailor thought back to the legends he had heard, fanciful tales of secret valleys hidden away in steaming jungles, in icy wastes, even the legend of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu still somehow existing under the seas that swallowed them. Sinbad would have once denied the possibility of such strange things, but his experiences of the last few years had taught him that legends had a basis in fact, that myths were sometimes only distorted truths, often old and elaborated upon, but still true.

Hyperborea. Perhaps tomorrow, he thought, perhaps tomorrow . . .

Sinbad struggled up the rocky slope, trying not to dislodge stones that would roll back upon the rest of the expedition. He paused for breath, looking back at the figures hauling on the sledges below. Even Farah and Dione were helping, though they had all forbidden the old man from trying to assist.

Below, behind were the descending ridges, each capped with more and more ice and snow until the distant hills were white, blending in with the great wasteland of the gray-white ice pack beyond. Sinbad turned to climb to the crest, hoping that this precipitous peak was the last. Snow lay in the cracks and there was much ice to worry about, slippery and dangerous—but less and less of it as Sinbad scaled the rocks.

The turbaned sailor climbed to the top, crawling up over the last rock, breathless and puffing. He lay for a second, recovering his strength, and he felt something on his face.

Something warm.

Sinbad opened his eyes. What he felt was a warm wind. His eyes blinked. His face was wet. The ice that had for days encrusted his beard and eyebrows was melting.

Struggling to his feet Sinbad raced across the rounded crest of the mountain and looked down into the long, wide valley. He gasped. Blinking, he wiped his face, staring unbelievingly. Then he turned and ran back to the colder side of the hill and shouted to those below.

“Come! Hurry! Hassan, come ahead with a rope! We’ll pull up the sledges from here!”

Hassan untied a rope from the stores and struggled up the hillside while the others took a break. Sinbad pulled him over the last rock and Hassan gasped.

“It’s . . . it’s warm!” He started toward the valley beyond, but Sinbad stopped him.

“Let’s get everyone up here first,” he said.

They tied the rope to an outcropping for safety, then dropped it to the sledges. With a man pushing and guiding and two strong men pulling, the first sledge was up to the crest of the mountain fairly soon. Farah and Dione waited, resting on a rock, with Melanthius prowling around restlessly, while the second sledge was pulled up. The rope was dropped again and Maroof assisted the old Greek into the crudely rigged slings. Hauled to the top, Melanthius blinked in astonishment and staggered toward the warm side of the mountain.

Sinbad and Hassan brought up the princess, then Dione, and finally the agile Maroof, who used the rope to swarm easily up the hillside. Only then did Sinbad walk to the valley side of the hill and stand with Farah and Dione to marvel at the sights below.

A magnificent panorama was spread out below. The rocky hillside was less steep on this side, sweeping down into a broad, open plain, green and luxuriant. The mountain upon which they stood was part of a vast ring that enclosed and protected the valley. Over the distant peaks, across the fertile valley, hanging like a shimmering halo, was the extraordinary vision of the ephemeral Aurora Borealis.

“At last . . .” breathed Farah, throwing back her fur hood.

“Hyperborea,” sighed Melanthius. Dione said nothing.

The sailors joined them, opening the collars of their fur clothing, which were now dripping with melted ice. They, too, stared with wonder and delight at the vision below them.

Sinbad pointed at the Aurora Borealis. “What is that strange glittering curtain of light hanging above the mountain tops? I have never seen a sight like that.”

Melanthius was delighted. He slapped the scroll hidden in the fold of his crudely sewn fur coat. “Exactly as described in the scrolls. The Arimaspi called it the crown of light, the gift of the Winter Apollo.” He pointed down and to their left. “There, directly under the Aurora, beyond that range of mountains . . . is the Valley of the Shrine!”

“What are we waiting for?” Hassan asked gruffly.

Sinbad grinned and motioned for them to descend. The last snowdrift lay directly below, thin but thick enough to romp in, and that is what they did.

Whooping and shouting, the members of the expedition plunged delightedly down the slope. Crying out as the sledges gained speed, they guided them deftly through the rock outcroppings. Even the aged Melanthius acted like a delighted schoolboy, kicking up snow and shouting with joy.

Sinbad swept Farah into his arms and jumped on the back of the sledge carrying the baboon in his cage. They rode the sledge down swiftly and Hassan threw a snowball after them. The sledge ran out of snow and skidded into young green grass and struck a rock. It tipped over with amazing slowness and Sinbad carried Farah free. They fell into the grass, laughing.

In moments the rest of the party arrived, ripping off their heavy furs and falling to the ground to laugh and even cheer. Old Melanthius came down last and stood on the edge of the snow, breathing deeply and smiling.

Even the baboon, for days reduced to a chill ball of dark fur, was beginning to chitter.

“Soon, Kassim,” Farah said in a whisper. “Soon!”

CHAPTER
18

T
he waterfall was magnificent, a high-tumbling cascade of white water that splashed off a few rocks, dividing and falling in a rush, roaring and misty. The water boiled white where it hit, then spread out into a wide pool lined with rocks and lush tropical growth before it narrowed and became once again a winding river.

The sun was shining. Everything was lush and green, with thick woods all around and a few butterflies flopping here and there. Melanthius was taking vegetation samples and writing notes in a thick parchment notebook, using a twig for a pen and ink from berries he had gathered. Sinbad was standing on the river bank, tying his cummerbund after a refreshing bath in the stream. Droplets of clear water were still beaded across his bare chest and back.

Having finished tying the long cloth at his waist, he did not put his shirt back on, but was rather enjoying the sun on his back as he rolled up and tied their fur clothing into tight bundles. One by one he stuck the furry lumps under an overturned sledge so that they would be safe and handy for the return journey.

Maroof helped him lower the sledge over the bundles, then the big black man began gathering stones and weighting down the wooden sledge so that neither predators nor weather could turn it over again. The stones would also hide it to some degree from any others that might come upon it.

Nearby, Hassan was drying strips of meat on stones in the hot sun, the flesh of a small deer they had sighted. Not far away the baboon was sitting in his cage tearing savagely at an avocado pear. His elbow struck the cage and jarred loose the door, which swung open. The baboon looked, blinked, then immediately saw the strips of drying flesh on the rocks. Tossing aside the pear, he jumped and ran right at Hassan.

The burly sailor jumped back at the growling attack, but the baboon was only after the strips of meat. He grabbed up two handfuls, jammed one fistload in his mouth, and scampered back to the cage. He slammed the door behind him and reached around to slip the latch back on. The astounded Hassan could only stare, then curse quietly and begin laying out more strips of red meat.

BOOK: Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger
6.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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