"Bloody Ben" Coffin in
by Jeffrey Blair Latta
Chapter Eight - Beneath the Pyramid
He was in a chamber with walls adorned in the two-dimensional Egyptian style. He lay on a cot, and as he came to, coughing and choking, a man seated beside the pallet sprang to his feet and staggered back against the wall. The man was evidently one of the Egyptians, with black skin and a bald head. He wore a white robe, bound at the waist with a cord. His eyes flared with fear.
Coffin sat up quickly.
"God's blood," he cursed, wiping his mouth. "What torture is this? If Blackbeard intends to drown me, let him be done with it!"
For a moment, the Egyptian stared at him with a puzzled furrow to his brow. Then he shook his head. "You misunderstand," he insisted. "We have saved your life. We dug you out of the sand and brought you here."
Coffin was baffled. "Then you're not working for Blackbeard? I thought he was your sungod, Ra."
The Egyptian scowled, then spat on the floor. "We do not follow the pretender. We are not fools like those others."
The pretender? Now that was the sort of talk Coffin liked to hear. Apparently some of these Egyptians had some sense, after all. Coffin asked: "How many of you are there--who don't follow the pretender, I mean?"
"A dozen, but we are growing." He said this with considerable pride.
Coffin frowned. It wasn't much, but it was something.
"I appreciate you saving me, don't think I don't. But, tell me, why did you do it, anyway?"
"Because Ra willed it."
There was a sustained pause. Coffin wasn't sure he had heard right. "I thought you just told me Ra is a pretender, a fake."
"That is correct. We follow the true sungod, the true Ra!"
Coffin blinked, wishing he had never set foot on this mad island. "And just who the devil is this true Ra?" he asked, irritated.
"Aye, now that would be none other than yers truly, it would!"
At the sardonic shout, Coffin shot to his feet and spun around. One hand dropped to his sash, groping for his cutlass, but it was nowhere to be found. He slowly lowered his hands and grimly regarded the figure framed in the doorway.
"Jebediah Scroggs," he breathed tightly.
The one-eyed pirate lifted off his tricorn with a courtly flourish and gave a mocking bow. His long orange-red hair flashed like liquid fire in the light of a dancing torch. He grinned and stroked his fiery locks with his hook hand. "Aye, that's right, Coffin. But I'm a sungod now--or hadn't ye heard?"
"It was during the reign of the ancient Pharaohs in Egypt," Scroggs related. "As ye know, the Pharaohs buried themselves with all their wealth in tombs inside their pyramids. But, somehow, thieves always managed to find their way into the tombs, to loot the treasures and desecrate the mummies. So this one Pharaoh, by the name of Imhotepamun had hisself an idea. He got together all his retainers and his treasure and left instructions that when he died, they was to carry his mummy across the ocean and build a pyramid on the farthest, most uninhabited island they could find. He figured it this way: the one sure thing that could keep his tomb safe from looters was distance. Well, his retainers did as he asked; they came to this island and built his pyramid and stuffed his mummy and his treasure inside. Then, even after all that, they stayed on to watch over that pyramid. And they've been here ever since."
Scroggs paused in his narrative and closely eyed Coffin, to see how he was taking this. A smile played about the villain's lips.
"Fantastic, ain't it? But that's the story these heathens told me. So it seems ye were telling the truth about the treasure. I owe ye an apology."
"Apology accepted," Coffin replied quietly.
"Blackbeard happened upon them a few months ago and used that trick of his with slow-match to fool them into thinking he was their sungod, Ra. But there was some of 'em as wasn't fooled. Then ye took me ship and set me adrift and I found me way to this island meself. When they saw me flaming locks, well, it weren't hard to convince them that I was the real sungod. They've never seen red hair before. Then who should wash up on this selfsame shore, but me old friend Bloody Ben!" He laughed at the irony of it, then settled back to his narrative. "When I found out ye had run afoul of Blackbeard and him going to drown ye in the tide, I told 'em ye were me helper and it were me will that they save ye."
Scroggs chuckled again as if at some tremendous jest. Coffin just scowled. Scroggs hated him, wanted him dead. So why had he saved his life?
"All right, Scroggs. Now tell me the why of it. Why did you have them save me?"
Scroggs' voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper and he leaned forward. "For the treasure, of course!"
He reached into a pocket in his damask waistcoat and drew out the gold key with the eye on the end. Then he drew out a second key, identical to the first. He set them both on the table between the two men. "These heathens told me as to where the entrance is leading to their treasure, but it takes two keys to get to it--aye, and two men to work the two keys. One of their keys was stolen by pirates a year ago--they told me that. They sent a man after it, but they haven't heard back from him."
Coffin recalled the man who had attacked him aboard the Devil's Daughter. At least, that was one mystery solved. Scroggs continued: "And I knew that had to be the key ye carried in yer sash. But they guard that treasure like the very devils--even their sungod is forbidden to go there. That's the only reason I've kept ye alive. Otherwise, I'd've just taken yer key and finished ye off."
Coffin regarded the keys gleaming on the tabletop. "So, you need me to help you work the keys to get at the treasure of this Imhotepamun?"
"Now you've got it."
Coffin was grim. "And why should I trust you? What's to keep you from killing me the minute I've gotten you into the tomb?"
Scroggs just chuckled a moment, one hand stroking his narrow chin. "Well, as to that," he told Coffin, "I don't see that ye have much choice. The only reason ye're alive is because the sungod wills it. Refuse me, and I promise, me matey, there are worse ways to die than buried to yer neck in the sand!"
Soon they climbed from the tangled trees and looked over a rise down onto an entranceway set in the sloping side of the great pyramid. Two white robed guards stood watch before that entranceway, their bald heads reflecting the amber light of hanging lanterns. They were both armed with muskets with which they had presumably been supplied by Blackbeard.
Scroggs silently passed Coffin a cutlass. Coffin accepted the hanger but glanced at his enemy in surprise. "I have no choice," Scroggs explained. "It will take the both of us to overpower those men."
Together they crept down from the rise, taking advantage of the shadows as they worked their way toward the unsuspecting guards. It was over in a heartbeat. Without a sound, they sprang forward, blades flashing like lightning--and two men slumped dead in the grass.
No alarm had been raised.
Scroggs handed Coffin one of the two keys, then gestured to the key holes on either side of the entranceway. But now, this close, Coffin could see through that entranceway and he saw there was no door to prevent their entrance. Instead, a flight of stone steps led down into a well of dark, still water. Seeing his look, Scroggs explained: "Aye, that's the trick of it, and a clever one it is, too. There's a long passage leading to the tomb and that passage is flooded with water. Turn the keys and the water drains away, but only for fifteen minutes at a time."
Coffin knelt beside the well and scooped up some water to his lips. He spat it out. "Salt. There must be passages connecting the tunnel to the sea." Then suddenly he had another thought. "The man who gave me this key, he told me the treasure was guarded by a monster."
Scroggs scoffed. "Bah, these heathens told me the like tale, but I don't believe it. Just a legend to keep them from robbing their own tomb."
But Coffin wasn't so sure. Everything else had turned out to be true. So, why not the monster? He stared down at the dark water and felt a chill touch his spine.
"Let's do it then," Scroggs said, stepping to the right keyhole. "Together now." They both inserted their keys, then paused. "And remember, we'll only have fifteen minutes to reach the tomb and grab what treasure we can. Then the water starts to fill the tunnel again. Ready now. On three--one, two, three!"
Together they turned their two keys. For a moment, nothing seemed to have happened. There was no sound of machinery, nor gears turning. The night seemed suddenly to hold its breath. But then Coffin whispered: "Look! The well!"
Slowly, the level of black water began to fall. Step by stone step was revealed as the ocean water gently receded into the darkness below. When the water was low enough, Scroggs caught up a lantern and hissed: "Come on!"
Carrying his own lantern in one hand and the cutlass in the other, Coffin followed Scroggs down the steps into a tunnel that ran off into a deep, fathomless darkness. The water was still up to their knees overflowing Coffin's flaring-topped boots, but, even as they followed the tunnel, it continued to drop. Soon it was no more than scattered puddles that splashed underfoot and reflected their lanterns in dazzling white bursts as they ran
As the two men forged along the narrow passage, Coffin remained constantly alert, eyes straining into the darkness ahead, ears keenly listening, still thinking about the story of a monster guarding the treasure. Then suddenly, Scroggs reared to a halt nearly causing Coffin to run into him from behind. Scroggs gestured to a grille set in the floor of the tunnel.
"What do ye suppose that's for?" he asked. He held up his lantern, but couldn't see beyond the grille. "One of the tunnels to drain the water?" he ventured.
Coffin didn't know, but something about that grille caused the hackles to rise on his neck. As Scroggs stepped over the grating and continued on down the tunnel, Coffin raised his own lantern, trying to see what lay beneath the grille, but it was useless. There as only darkness. He too stepped over it, then hurried after.
And then, suddenly they came upon a second set of steps. Scroggs breathed out a curse of sweet victory and fairly flew up the stairs. Coffin heard his shout of triumph from above and rushed to join him.
As he reached the top of the steps, the light of his lantern played suddenly over the chamber revealed--and he blew out in disbelief.
It was indeed the treasure of a Pharaoh. Everywhere lay statues of gold and ivory, heaps of jewels and rivers of fiery gemstones. A model of an Egyptian barge was done in flashing gold and glimmering silver. Beside it sat a magnificent throne of gleaming lapis-lazuli and beside that a richly carved divan of ivory and jet. Overall, as if standing eternal watch, ranged countless statues of animal-headed gods, themselves fashioned of priceless stones and metals.
The whole reflected the light of the lanterns, burning like molten fire, dazzling the two pirates and rendering them both speechless with the unbelievable opulence of it all.
Then Scroggs broke the spell. "Quick, we haven't much time before the tunnel floods again. Grab what ye can!"
They had both brought sacks to carry the booty and now, with grasping hands, they began to scoop up great fistfuls of gems and gold, as if digging in a sandy beach, filling the sacks as quickly as they could. In short order, both sacks were full to bursting. Then, as Coffin went to lift one sack, Scroggs gestured to a small gold statue of Anubis.
"Wait," he said. "We can fit that one. Can ye reach it?"
The statuette was perched high atop a wooden cabinet; Coffin had to stretch to reach it. He strained for it. Then, even as his fingers scrambled deliriously over its cool, gleaming form, he heard a low chuckle behind--and felt the blow as Scroggs' hook hand struck him across the back of the neck...
When he woke, only seconds had passed, but he lay on his side, his hands bound behind his back. He snarled, struggling against his bonds, knowing it was useless.
"Ye bloody devil!"
Scroggs merely laughed with wild, mocking merriment. "I made a deal, Coffin. Oh yes, a deal with the devil for one moment alone with ye, and the devil delivered ye into me hands. Aye, and that moment was everything I hoped."
"I'll kill you, Scroggs."
"Oh no ye won't. All ye'll do is die. And ye'll be a long time doing that as well, I imagine!"
Scroggs paused as, from somewhere in the surrounding pyramid, there rang the metallic clank of a sluice opening. Immediately, the water began creeping up the steps once more. Scroggs grabbed up the two sacks and rushed to the steps, pausing at the top.
"Farewell, me beauty. I leave ye to yer fate, sealed forever in this dark tomb. Buried alive!"
Still laughing, he ducked down into the tunnel and was gone.
Previous episode: Buried in Sand
Next episode: The Secret of the Ship Eater
The Ship Eaters is copyright 2001, Jeffrey Blair Latta.