The year 1365 N.A. (New Age)
Humanspeak: ‘Valley Ruins’
Kanemalryn: ‘Penemastaeyn al Fayan’
[peh-neh-mah-stay-n ahl FEY-ahn]
“It’s just a crypt, Nathan, calm down.”
“It’s the crypt of a dead witch! This was such a bad idea! Don’t tell me to calm down.”
James snorted and rolled up his sleeves.
“Paranoid much? Don’t worry,” he said, grinning. “The dead can’t hurt you.”
He grinned, looking creepy in the half-light of the stone mausoleum.
“Not even the dead witches.”
Nathan frowned, running his hands through his hair nervously. Dangerous or not, stealing from the deceased felt wrong. It was such easy pickings, though- if it meant feeding his siblings, what could he do? It wasn’t as if the dead were using the riches, after all. Not even the dead witches.
The witch graveyards were, surprisingly, left unguarded. James said it was it was because they had over-inflated egos and believed no one would ever steal from them. Most others maintained it was because the graveyards were cursed.
Nathan didn’t know which was true, but he solemnly hoped he was not picking up a curse. It was the last thing he needed.
James clicked his tongue.
“Are you gonna help, or just stand there looking sad?”
He gestured to the coffin, a heavy, solid mass of rock. The top had already been lifted away, removed by a team of men that James had found somewhere. They disappeared promptly afterward, and Nathan didn’t know where they had gone. He didn’t want to know.
All that was left was the wooden lid of the inner coffin, richly carved and inlaid with gold. It would have been incredibly valuable, but James said it was too heavy. They would just have to settle for the jewelry inside.
They took out their knives, chipping away at the semi-opaque red substance that sealed the casket, dried in dripping rivulet like wax on a candle. Nathan remembered, from a history lesson years previously, that it was made from the sap of the Dameschia tree. The tree had gone extinct more than a hundred years previously, but here they were, chipping away at the sap of tree that had died centuries ago, to get to a body laid to rest more than half a millennium previously. Nathan found the idea mind-blowing. He peered at James to gauge his reaction, but his companion merely looked hungry, his faced twisted up in an ugly expression that one could only describe as greed.
Finally, James raised his hand.
“I think that’s good enough.”
The knives were set aside, and then came the struggle, first, to gain a handhold between the lid and bottom of the coffin, and then to lift the lid. As they finally lifted it up, it made a ‘pop’. They laid the wooden lid against the wall, and looked down at the body.
The corpse was old and partially mummified. Her hair, aged and brittle as it was, still framed her face in tumbling pale curls. She had been dead a while, that was obvious, but was, overall remarkably preserved.
Nathan had been expecting a revolting odor, but there was none. Instead, the coffin smelled of old books with a faint scent of perfume. That was preferable. It made it feel less like they were stealing from the unfortunate dead.
“She was a queen, wasn’t she? Where’s the jewels? The gold?”
He reached into the stone coffin, rooting through the layers of fabric that surrounded the centuries-old corpse.
“Can’t find anything in all this cloth,” he muttered, yanking on the mint-colored pearlescent robes, wrapped in layers upon layers, “all the jewelry must be underneath.”
He gave the outer cloth a hard jerk, and for a single, horrifying moment, it appeared the mummy had sat up by herself, and then fell atop James, who screamed.
Nathan wasn’t sure whether to scream or laugh or cry.
James lay on the floor, gasping, the mummy still on top of him.
“Oh god,” he whimpered, “Oh god.”
His hand had punctured the mummy like a knife, impaled through her stomach. He made a retching noise, like he was about to be sick, as he retracted his hand, the corpse virtually disintegrating. What had been solid before powdered like ash, fluttering away with the soft breeze.
James pulled his hand free, his eyes still squeezed shut, still grimacing.
’Clink’ went a small object as it hit the stone floor.
The sound of metal was one James was familiar with, and in an instant his eyes were open and fixed on the tiny disk rolling across the floor.
His eyes gleamed like he hadn’t just impaled a mummy on his own arm.
“Is that a weird witch ritual,” he said to Nathan, who was suddenly feeling uneasy, “Putting coins inside of dead bodies?”
He reached for the disk, then frowned.
“Not a coin,” James corrected, peering closely at it, “A brooch. Who puts a brooch in a dead body?”
Nathan didn’t know, nor did he care, but James handed him the small jewelry piece anyway.
It was dirty, likely from being stored in a corpse for several centuries, but one could still tell that it was expertly crafted. Circular and dark colored, it was metal, although he had little idea what type. In the center was a crow, wings outstretched. The image was detailed enough that Nathan could see every feather. It was beautiful work, but it had no jewels. It was not even gold.
From the entranceway, there was a rustling noise. The two graverobbers spun around.
“Just a freakin’ crow,” he muttered, “A dumb bird.”
The midnight-colored creature peered at them from inky black eyes.
“Caw,” it said, “Caw.”
But really, it sounded more like “Ha ha.”
“Shoo,” he told it, “Go on. Leave!”
The bird blinked back at him, unmoving.
“Ignore it!” commanded James, who was suddenly smiling from ear to ear.
Among the robes and on the corpse was all the jewelry that they had been searching for. The corpse was wearing multiple long, slim necklaces that appeared to be made from interwoven gold wire laced with gemstones. Loose bracelets and several gold bangles graced her arms.
James was already fumbling to remove the jewelry, looking as happy as a child on festival day. He dropped it into the sack hanging at his side. He was humming a tune, a merry pub ballad.
Nathan had never heard him hum before. As he reached to put some jewelry into his own sack, he noticed that the biggest pieces, the flashiest, those with the most gold, were already finding their way into James’ bag. The smaller pieces, those that were silver or lesser metals were left behind for him to take.
James saw him looking.
“Of course, you can keep the brooch,” he offered, trying very hard to sound reasonable, “It’s probably the most valuable of the lot.”
“Ha,” said the crow, “Ha, ha.”
Nathan got the distinct impression it knew something they didn’t.