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Luke and Jobyna looked around the cave in astonishment. Using the flint kit in his pouch, Luke lit two wall-lamps. Jobyna breathed a deep sigh of relief as yellow light crept its way to the dark corners of the cavern. They could now see what was in the cave. The sight caused their eyes to widen with amazement.
Lifting one of the wall-lamps from its holder, Luke started towards the back of the cave. There in the darkest corner he saw chests, one upon the other. Passing the lamp to Jobyna, he cast his eyes toward the largest chest. He let his hands wander over the top. The latches were ice-cold to his touch. Jobyna's breath thundered in his ears as he gingerly attempted to lift the lid. To his relief, it opened with little more than a mouse-size squeak.
"It's the same as the other one, Jo; full of coins, jewels..." His words were lost as Jobyna gave a blood-curdling scream. Luke spun around, his hand automatically pulling the dagger from the sheath at his waist. Drawing himself upright, he prepared to attack.
"There's ... s-someone ... behind ... that ... chest, over there," she stammered.
Luke turned his head. The great opening to the treasure cave was still shut. He narrowed his eyes to focus in the dimness. The boy could just make out a form, someone or something, sitting, leaning--not moving.
"Come out! Now--if you're man enough!" Luke commanded. Jobyna crouched behind the chests. The form did not move. Luke waited.
"Hand me the lamp, Jo," he hissed, motioning with his left hand, not taking his gaze off the 'enemy'. Jobyna inched forward and put the lamp into Luke's outstretched hand. His breath came faster as he swungthe flame in front of him. The figure behind the chests did not stir. It seemed to be slumped over at a strange angle. Luke hesitantly took a step closer. Still no movement from the 'thing'. Luke took another step forward. He could now make out the form. It had the appearance of a man with his head resting on his arm. Luke thought, Maybe he's sick.
He called, "Hey, you! Who are you?" There was no answer. Luke waited. His gut feeling told him this was something bizarre. Jobyna approached behind Luke, who took another unsteady step towards the inert shape. He was only a few feet away and could feel his heart pounding behind his ribs. With the lamp raised above his head, Luke could clearly see it was indeed a human frame, a man.
"Be careful Luke, maybe it's a trick! Look at his clothes!" Jobyna hissed.
Luke took a deep breath, mustered up all the courage he had and leapt upon the chest, kicking the shoulder of the man.
"He's got to be..." Luke said as the body fell backward, "dead!" In great relief, he sheathed the knife.
Jobyna gasped as the 'face' grimaced at them. The eyes were closed; the mouth gaped open, revealing a distended tongue surrounded by shrunken gums and missing teeth. A look of agony pervaded the dry leathery face, the skin opaque across the cheekbones. The forehead was wrinkled in deepest worry.
"Why, he's been dead for months, he's dried out!" Luke exclaimed as he took the flame close to the face. The skin had the look of parchment left out in the sun too long--it would disintegrate at the lightest touch.
Jobyna's legs grew weak as she sank slowly to the ground. This was an extra nightmare, adding to the many they had experienced over the last week.
Luke's attention was on the chest. This one was different from the others; it had a flat top with several unusual items laid out on it; a scroll, a ring, a quill pen, an open bottle of dried ink, a large jeweled case, and a beautiful gold medallion with a raised emblem. Embedded in the gold were precious stones, diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. The medallion truly was a thing of magnificent beauty. Luke examined it, holding it close to the lamp. He seemed mesmerized by the glimmer of the jewels. The medallion was unlatched, a small padlock and key attached to one end. With his mind still on the luster of the gems, Luke put it around his neck and snapped the padlock closed. He drew the lamp nearer; turning slowly back and forth, he watched the adornment glowing, live with colors. "Little sister, what do you think of this?" he said, grinning at Jobyna, "Look at your big brother!"
Jobyna gazed at the splendor of the medallion. "I don't like it! You shouldn't have put it on. It belongs to ... to ... that man! That dead man!" She shuddered, adding, "It might even be Cousin Leopold..."
Luke held his lamp close to the corpse's face again and said, "Not cousin Leopold, not unless he lost all his hair, and shrank a lot. It couldn't be Samuel either; it's far too small, too thin; look, he has no flesh, just bone under the skin." He stared closer and said, "Maybe this man stole the king's clothes ... look at the size of those gems!"
Jobyna shivered as she said, "Come away Luke! Please don't touch him!" She was thinking of their father's cousin, the king, who had disappeared almost two years ago. She murmured, "He would be smaller ... it's nearly two years; he wouldn't be much more than a skeleton. Oh, I hope it isn't Cousin Leopold! I wish he would come back..."
Luke broke into her musing, "But, Jo! Don't you see? We're rich, all this is ours now." Luke spoke as in a trance; his eyes glittering like the gems. He picked his way to the opposite wall of the cave, trying to count the number of chests.
"Luke, you're not in reality. How can this belong to us? We could never use it all anyway." Jobyna's voice sounded as though she were speaking through a long tunnel.
"First of all, I'm going to light more lamps." He lit another, and brought it to his sister. "We'll take a closer look at the coins in the chests. If they bear the imprint of our kingdom, the first thing I'll do is go and buy fresh bread. Gold will go a long way to buy our way out of our predicament. Think of what the Frencolian knights would do for a bag of coins!"
"Luke, you wouldn't think of bribery--would you?" Luke did not answer, so Jobyna continued, "Luke, surely God didn't bring us here just to use all this for--bribery!" Jobyna spat the word as if it left a bad taste in her mouth.
Luke remained silent. He was terribly hungry and desperately tired. As he lit the lamps around the walls, he wondered if this was a horrible dream. Maybe someone was torturing him, and all that had happened lately was just a suggestion to his confused mind. His hand flew to his neck. His fingers crept down the row of gold pieces and clutched the medallion. He squeezed until it dug into his palm, making the reality of it shoot up his arm. No! All of this was--incredibly--real! Luke scooped a handful of the shiny gold pieces. Sure enough, the K/F on the face with the image of King Leopold meant these were going to be very, very useful to him and his sister.
"Little sister, we need to sleep, and then, when it's light, I'll go to a village, or manor-farm, and buy food." Taking up the leather water bottle he drank deeply, then gave it to Jobyna.
"I don't want you to leave me here, Luke!" Jobyna said, suddenly feeling awake. The events of the past week whirled in her head. "You'll be killed ... like Papa ... and Mother!" She broke into deep sobs, then, gasping, she prayed aloud, "Please God, don't let them be dead! Keep us from our enemies. Oh, God, if we're found, you must make us strong. I feel ... so ... small ... lost ... so weak..."
Luke sat on the cold stone beside her and took her into his arms. Laying her head on his chest she sobbed louder and he could not stop his own tears from flowing. Together they wept, sharing the cruelest feeling of loss and binding their sibling hearts together forever.
"God ... will ... take care of us," Luke said, his voice unsure and full of tremors. He rocked her in his arms as one would a young child who was in great pain.
"Why ... didn't ... he ... take ... care of ... of Papa, and Mother?" she struggled for breath with each word, and her question remained unanswered.
Jobyna was finally still, silent, and then, with anger in her voice she said, "He murdered them! Our innocent parents. Who is he anyway? A self-pronounced king who took over our cousin's throne. He's evil. He wants to rid Frencolia of the last of our Cousin Leopold's family--us! And he's killed Papa and Mother."
Luke thrust his sister from him, saying gruffly, "Somehow, Jo, I believe God has ... he has Mother, and Father, in his care. We have to believe that!" Standing, he moved away from her, feeling overcome with grief. Kneeling beside a chest, he struggled to pull his mind from the dastardly murder of his parents.
Jobyna heard the lid creaking open then the sound of Luke digging his hands deep into jewels.
Bringing a lamp closer, Luke fingered the gems, but his mind was now on the body. If that is Cousin Leopold, he thought, the knights need to know about him. The rumors that Elliad killed Cousin Leopold must be false, or how did he get locked in here? If Elliad knows about this cave and its treasure, why is it all still here?
Luke's mind switched suddenly and he called to his sister, "I hope they don't find the Gospel Books! Father hid them behind a secret panel, in the wall of his bedchamber. If those books are destroyed, then all is lost for Frencolia!"
"Why do you say, 'all is lost'?" Jobyna's voice was sleepy now.
"Theon, the evangelist, gave those books to Father, six years ago. They're the originals, to be copied for others to read. Elliad wants them. Sabin said Elliad would destroy them. His reign of murder and injustice will be all people will ever know, that's what I mean. All will be lost! If only Cousin Leopold had believed the Book! If only Father..."
"Papa said it's wrong to keep saying 'if'." Having said this, Jobyna settled herself down to sleep.
"Well, he said it himself, many times," Luke protested. He leaned back on the chest, thinking.
"Tomorrow, we'll read that scroll," Jobyna said, and yawned. "Maybe it will tell us who that dead man is..."
Luke's mind drifted between wakefulness and sleep. Here is the secret that Sabin said was in the valley and for which he urged me to search. Some secret--a cave full of treasures! Jobyna is right though--what use is it all?
His mind drifted and he started up, then relaxed, then sat up before settling down again. Frencolia's future will be dark if Elliad destroys all the Books. I remember Cousin Leopold saying that he wanted the words of the Bible put into practice, they would make people honest. I know he only wanted more tax--looks like he got plenty from what's in all these chests. He always worried about other kingdoms, and he should have had his mind on Elliad--traitor, murderer...
Luke's mind flew to Sabin, the faithful servant who had brought them to the safety of the secret valley. He had gone to buy food but had not returned. Luke opened his eyes, and then closed them. Regardless of Jobyna's plea, Luke knew he must leave the valley. If Elliad's men had captured Sabin, he would likely be put under torture and forced to reveal this hiding place.
With a bag of gold coins from this cave, I'm sure I can buy freedom and help for Jobyna and me, Luke thought.
His final thoughts as he fell asleep rose from his stomach, which growled at him. How hungry he felt. Tomorrow I'll ride out of here and make some necessary purchases, he promised himself.