More Precious Than Gold

by Mark and Karen Eidemiller

Chapter Sixteen

The battle had been the easy part. Now came the mourning, as the people of the Valley of the Vanished awoke from the effects of the anaesthetic gas and learned that their queen, their Monja, was dead.

I suppose it was hardest on Monja's own children and grandchildren, who never had a chance to say goodbye.

There's a modern proverb that says that pressure makes diamonds. During the hours following Monja's death, there was one diamond who shined above the rest -- Monja's eldest son, and now King, Mordecai.

Standing tall before the bedside of his mother, tears streaking his face, he humbly assumed the mantle of regal responsibility.

He recognized Clark as the man his mother had spoken of for many years, and acknowledged him as a friend and an ally. In short order this eldest son of Monja also had taken command of the Valley, and, like Josiah in the Old Testament, started restoring order among his people.

Woodward and her soldiers were placed on the Island of Shame for safe-keeping, with several armed Mayan brutes waiting for them if they dared try to reach the other side of the moat, regardless of the fact that they were women.

Gumball tried to make contact with Monk, while Amy, Dot, and I moved among the villagers, ministering to any needs. There was initial suspicion towards us as outsiders, but now-King Mordecai -- after a visit by John Blue Corn -- verified that we were trustworthy.

In front of the pyramid, overlooking the river, a half-dozen funeral pyres were being prepared. Since there was no open ground large enough to relocate the helicopters, they remained where they were, a bizarre contrast to the ancient golden structure.

That night, Clark came to the Island of Shame to speak to Woodward. Her attitude was ungrateful as she crossed the plank.

"You here to gloat?" she said, sneering.

"No," he said simply. "I want you to see something. Follow me."

As they walked away from the Island, Clark's attention was drawn to the amazonian Bonnie Clayton. She caught his eye, then offered a slight smile and a subtle salute. He nodded acknowledgment, then continued with Woodward behind.

"You lost others," Clark stated bluntly. "The natives reported a crashed helicopter just beyond the mountains."

Woodward hesitated, her throat tight, then replied, "Yes."

They approached the small clearing where the bodies of those killed in the earlier battle had been placed. Torches ringed the area, putting forth an eerie light. As they entered the clearing, Woodward spotted something new, and her jaw dropped.

Clark saw her reaction. "King Mordecai instructed several of his men to retrieve the bodies from the craft and bring them here for a proper funeral."

She looked over the additional six bodies, and knelt down next to one in particular. Her hand reached out, but she couldn't touch the bloodied form of the young blond woman. Then her body started shaking and tears fell down her cheeks, and Clark could read her lips repeating, "I'm sorry, Tracy."

After several minutes she stood, and turned to Clark with a curious expression. Her smugness was no longer.

"How?" she strained. "Why?"

"Despite what you may think of these people, they are quite civilized, and have a high regard for life ... even the life of their enemy. In their culture, to allow the dead to pass from this life into the next without a proper internment would be dishonorable. It would be an insult, so to speak, in the face of God." He paused. "The internment ceremony will be tomorrow. If you give me your word that your people will behave peaceably, you will be allowed to join us."

Woodward looked at Clark for several moments, trying to see beyond the emotionless exterior. "Why should you trust me?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Why should I not?"

She paused a moment, then nodded. "You have my word," she said softly. "Thank you."

"King Mordecai, Monja's eldest son, has also assured me that your people will not be harmed as long as they act responsibly."

Woodward replied, "I appreciate that."

As they walked back to the Island, Woodward tried to understand what was going on. Her smug attitude had been replaced with surprise, and not a little confusion.

"So what do I call you? Doc?" she suddenly asked.

"My name is Clark."

"Jill." She paused. "So what happens now? After the internment?"

"Since you and Pat were the primary instigators of this matter, you will go before King Mordecai. And he will decide what happens."

"Oh, great," she mumbled. "So Pat's gonna get off scott free."

Clark stopped and looked at her. "Why do you think so?"

"Because we're on her turf."

"That means nothing here. She will face judgement according to what she has done, not who she is."

The internment of the dead, regardless of cultural background, has always strained and drained the emotions, and this one was no exception.

Only those members of the Valley were allowed to take part in the actual ritual. One-by-one, the bodies were placed upon funeral pyres and cremated. Then their ashes were carried in golden urns by the nearest blood-relative, to the top of the golden pyramid where the water flowed out. Then, slowly and deliberately, with Mayan words of farewell and dedication voiced to the Creator, the ashes were poured into the water, where they flowed down and into the lake, and eventually out of the Valley to the Great Unknown.

To one side, set apart from the people of the Valley, the survivors of Woodward's group stood, quiet or crying, as witnesses to the ritual. When the ashes of their friends were added to the stream, emotions broke wide open. Many responded by dropping to their knees in tears, or clinging to one another for support. Others, like Bonnie Clayton, gave honor to the fallen by standing at attention and freezing in sharp salute.

Gumball and Amy stood with Dot and me. Gumball comforted his 'little sister' with an arm around her shoulders, and I held tightly to my wife's hand.

Nearby, Pat and her two pilots stood watching the proceedings, and I saw her stiffen and ineffectively try to hide the emotions as the bodies of her two guards were cremated and carried by Mayan natives to the top of the pyramid, then committed to the Great Beyond. Tears streaked her face, and her lips moved silently.

The final body to be delivered was that of Queen Monja. We all watched as King Mordecai climbed the many steps of the golden pyramid with the urn. Matching him step for step on the other side of the waterfall was Clark, dressed in ceremonial garb similar to Mordecai's.

At the top of the steps, Mordecai stretched out his arms to Clark, and the two of them held the urn aloft, above the mouth of the fountain. As if in one voice, they spoke the Mayan words of dedication.

Then Mordecai released his hold on the urn, and Clark finished the ritual, slowly pouring the ashes into the waters. They stood tall and motionless, like two stone idols, as the ashes traversed down the golden pyramid, into the lake, and out of sight.

The two men descended the steps of the pyramid, again in perfect synchronization. At the bottom, Clark stopped while King Mordecai stepped into the open and raised his arms for attention. He spoke a few words to close the ceremony, and everyone was dismissed.

We were escorted into the structure they called the Hall of Justice. It was like something out of The Ten Commandments, minus Charleton Heston and Yul Brynner.

I'd been surprised that we'd been included as witnesses to these proceedings, again considering we were outsiders. But I chalked it up to Clark's influence on the new king.

We came in through a large door at one end. Two rows of pillars ran parallel from one end to the other. Behind the pillars against the side walls were stone bleachers, galleries where viewers could watch the proceedings. We were directed to the right side gallery. John Blue Corn sat with us, as interpreter and friend.

A few minutes later, others were escorted into the hall, eight adults and seven children. They sat in the gallery opposite us.

John Blue Corn leaned in to us and identified them as Monja's family. There was Esther, the eldest daughter, with her husband and three children. Beside her was Ruth, next oldest, with her husband and son. On the lower bench was Matthias, the next oldest son after Mordecai, with his wife and two children. Sitting near him was Miriam, the youngest daughter; her husband comforted her in her grief.

"There had been another son," added John Blue Corn. "His name was Micah. He was but a boy when he and his father died in the accident in the caves."

I moved over to Clark. "How are you doing?"

"I am ... fine," he said.

I didn't believe him for an instant, and we both knew it. But I didn't push it. I knew he was seriously concerned about the fate of his cousin, his only living relative. And I had to admit, we all were concerned, despite the fact we started off as adversaries.

I didn't see Pat, nor Woodward; I assumed they were sequestered offside -- and, hopefully, apart from one another.

We waited for several minutes. Then two natives entered with bell-like objects, stood before the throne, and simultaneous struck them. The clang echoed throughout the hall, demanding our attention.

King Mordecai entered from one of two doors on either side of the throne. Clothed in royal attire, he looked around the hall, and nodded solemnly in our direction. Then he walked over to the other gallery, where he reached out to a boy of ten. The boy stepped off of the bench seat and hugged the man.

"His son, Benjamin," said John Blue Corn. "Mordecai's wife died when the boy was born."

Mordecai walked back to the throne. He paused a moment, looking up at the solid gold seat of power. Three steps led up to it, and he took them slowly, settling into the chair.

He picked up a golden rod from a recessed niche in the chair, and declared aloud, "Bring them in!"

In front of each gallery was a door. These opened, and Pat and Woodward were directed in. They were accompanied by two guards each. Neither woman showed any resistance.

King Mordecai looked them over, examined them from the throne, then leveled the rod at Woodward.

"Jillian Woodward. You led your people with the intent of conquering my people. Your people spilled the blood of my people, killed my people. You and your people caused destruction in my village. Do you have anything to say in your defense?"

She stood tall and faced the monarch. "Your Highness. My intention was never to take life. I was led to believe that you were a hostile people, and I sought only to restrain your people long enough to achieve my true intention -- to capture Patricia Savage. I strongly regret the deaths of your people at the hands of mine, but those who did the killing were themselves killed." Her face mirrored anger. "Believe me, sir, if your people hadn't killed them, I would have!" She collected herself. "Sorry. I speak for my people when I say that we are prepared to repair any damage we have caused. Thank you for allowing me to speak, Your Highness." She bowed respectfully, and stepped back and waited.

King Mordecai sat and observed her. Then he spoke. "Jillian Woodward, your actions are that of violence, and your motives slavery. You are correct in your assessment -- those who took life had their own lives taken from them. Have you reconciled your differences with Patricia Savage?"

Woodward looked over at Pat. "Not yet. However, I believe that ... in time ... we shall."

"Very well. Restitution will be made by your people to my people. Your life is spared."

"Thank you, Your Highness," sighed Woodward, visibly relieved.

King Mordecai looked over at Pat, then leveled the rod. "Patricia Savage, come forward," he commanded.

She didn't look back, but slowly stepped towards the throne of judgement. She didn't look very well, which was understandable. There wasn't a sound in the room.

"Patricia Savage," started King Mordecai. "When you came among my people, you came as a friend. You gave the substance known as silphium to my mother the Queen and restored her youth -- and her joy -- for a brief time. But, in the end, the silphium hastened her death." He paused. His eyes bored into her like lasers. A wave of crying came from the gallery containing Monja's children.

Mordecai paused a moment. "Had you not come to this Valley, my people, nor my mother the Queen, would have suffered death and loss. You alone are responsible for this deed." The silence which followed hung like a hangman's noose around Pat's neck. "Do you have anything to say in your defense?"

Pat opened her mouth twice to speak, but no sounds came out.

I may be the law in my own country, she thought, on my precious Caroline Island, but here I'm subject to the laws I've broken.

All the things I've done in my arrogance and pride. All my youth, my power, my possessions -- all gone, useless, to end here.

How ironic, in the land that Doc's father -- my uncle -- came upon those many decades ago, I would meet my end, branded as a criminal. Here it started. If it hadn't been for Doc and the gold here, they would've never come to rescue me from the man who had killed my own father, all because of that strange map. I, too, would've been killed then, and all that happened since then would never have happened.

She reflected on all the people she'd hurt.

Caroline, my true daughter! I wonder what she must think of me? I've made a real mess of it, haven't I? Going off in search of profits and power and pleasure. Where are they now? Just memories, soon to die with me.

Oh, Tom! If I'd only taken my eyes off myself and saw your love for me ... what could we have been? I was so wrapped up in my own life. And now I see I have no one else to blame but me. Doc admitted his actions had been stupid and prideful. Why couldn't I have?

She pictured those women, their lives and bodies destroyed as a result of her greed. She thought of Jodie Sims and lamented, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I wish I could make it up to you.

I see the mistakes in my life, and how I tried to blame others. I can't do that anymore. The fault is mine, and I must face the consequences.

She lowered her head and spoke. "I have no defense, Your Highness. I am ... guilty."

King Mordecai's face was a cold mask, as if it were carved from the gold she had sought to attained for herself. "Very well. Life has been taken. Life must be taken." He stood, and leveled the scepter at her. "Patricia Savage, when the sun is high in tomorrow's sky, you will be taken to the temple, and it is there that your life will be taken from you in ritual sacrifice. Your body will be ... discarded ... in the sacrificial well. You will die without honor."

Although everyone expected the sentence to be harsh, the proclamation brought gasps from many of us. Pat stood there, unmoving. She had accepted her fate, like a lamb to the slaughter. Her shoulders were slumped, her head bowed. She was broken and defeated.

I looked over at Clark, wondering how he was taking this. His normally-chiseled countenance was even more so, and I could see his lips move slightly. I strained to hear what he was saying, and finally heard the word he repeated.


I tried to say something to him, but he suddenly bolted forward from the gallery, towards the throne. "I demand an audience of the King!" he spoke loudly and forcefully.

Just then, I knew what his plan was. "Oh, God," I whispered, and began to pray.

King Mordecai was shocked by the outburst. "Doc Savage, you have no -"

"As a recognized brother of the People of the Valley, I demand an audience of the King!" he repeated, clarifying himself. He stood tall.

King Mordecai's mouth closed. He sat, and was silent for several moments as their eyes met. Then he nodded. "Very well. Our brother is recognized. Speak."

Clark bowed low before the throne. "Your Highness. I deeply apologize for the impetuousness of my actions, but I must say ... what I have to say."

Clark stood tall and continued. "Your Highness. My cousin Pat means much to me. I know she has done wrong in the past, but I request she be given a second chance."

Mordecai was swift with his response. "Your request is denied! Life has been taken! Life must be taken! It is the law!"

"Then take mine," said Clark, his arms slightly away from him, his palms open and facing upwards. "Take my life in place of my cousin Patricia's. Honor will remain."

There was a collective gasp throughout the crowd at the declaration.

Pat swung around to face Clark. Her eyes were wide and full of tears. "NO!" she screamed. "You can't do this for me! You can't!"

Watching the drama unfold, I leaned in closer to my wife and whispered, "Greater love hath no man ..." She nodded in recognition, then took my hand and joined me in prayer.

King Mordecai sat quietly, then suddenly -- and loudly -- commanded, "SILENCE!"

Everyone froze and held their breaths, waiting.

Mordecai stood at the top step of the throne and looked down. His face did not give away his thoughts.

"Clark Savage, Jr. Your father brought much to our Valley. We were in danger of becoming extinct from our own lack of knowledge. Your father educated us, helped us to survive. For this we owed him much -- our lives -- and repaid it with the gold to him, and to you.

"You have also brought much to this Valley, and to my -- our -- people. We also owe you a great deal.

"I will admit that your actions confuse me. I do not understand why you would wish to give your life in exchange for this person who brought death to one so close to both of us. But now I see, and I understand. And this action has returned the honor to our people."

He raised both arms skyward. "Let it be known that I rescind my sentence against Patricia Savage. You have shown humility in accepting your fate, and not arrogance. You have also shown compassion by not wanting your cousin to take your place. Your life is spared."

He paused, then lowered the rod straight at Pat. She looked up and met his eyes as he simply ordered, "Go now, and do no wrong."

At my side, I heard a choked whisper from my wife: "And Jesus told her, 'Go now, and sin no more.'"

Pat stood there transfixed. Then her eyes rolled up in her head and her legs folded. Clark was instantly there to catch her, lowering her to the floor.

When she came to a few moments later, the first thing she saw was Clark's smiling face over her. Gripping the arms that cradled her, she buried her face in his chest, tearfully repeating how sorry she was.

As he helped her to her feet, she noticed that Monja's family was not present. "They did not take the final judgement very well. But Mordecai is talking privately with them, and I believe he'll be able to help them understand."

"I hope so." She looked around and saw Woodward. With a less-than-confidant step she approached her and extended a hand.

"You beat the rap," said the black woman. "But we lost."

Pat met her gaze. "I'll make things right -- I promise you that. Just give me a chance."

Woodward looked at her, trying to see if she was real or bogus. Then she nodded, "Okay. We'll see."

"There's one more thing. I need to apologize to your people."

Her eyebrow raised. "What's your game now?"

"No game. You convinced me that changes need to be made. The first change has to be in me." She tapped her chest. "They need to know this."

"They'll never believe it."

"They will if you take me to them."

"I don't guarantee anything."

"I'm not asking you to."

She thought it over. "Deal. But let me suggest a different approach. We're gonna be here a few days patching things up and making good on our end of things. Join us. Work side-by-side with us. Get your hands dirty. Let them see the changes -- if there are any. Then they'll be more open to what you have to say." She paused. "I still don't make any guarantee, and I might have Bonnie play bodyguard for you, but it's the best deal I can offer. What'cha say?"

Pat smiled. "You've got a deal."

The two women shook on it.

Go to Chapter Seventeen

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