Graham Steele watched in silence as the couple made their way to their car. The sun had just set, and he checked his watch. 7:45 pm. They were several hours late.
He had missed the ferry that had taken them to Robben Island, and had chosen a seat at a well-known fish restaurant adjacent to the pier where they must disembark again.
Powerless to do anything but wait, Graham had agonised whether to keep the pier and ferry under careful watch, or to return to the car park and wait for them there. In the end it had been simple enough. When asked what time the next ferry would arrive, the clerk at the ticket counter had cheerfully explained that there were no more trips for that day. And so Graham had spent the next three hours waiting for them in the car park.
Now, he drove quietly several car lengths behind as he tailed them back home.
Bill had told Graham that he suspected that Johnny may be in contact with Cheryl at some point, and now Graham believed he had the proof. His phone rang. It was Bill.
‘He’s in Brazil again, Steele. The little shit is in Brazil!’ Bill’s voice was cold. ‘We’ll get him this time! I want you back Stateside on the next flight.’
Jade followed Johnny down the ramp and took in her surroundings. Dense green forest
encircled them, and the sights, sounds and smells were so familiar to her that they brought on a wave of nostalgia.
‘Where are we, Johnny?’ she asked.
‘Your village is about half a day’s march that way,’ he replied, pointing vaguely into the impenetrable jungle.
‘Why have you brought me here?’ she asked again. Johnny looked at her, not having anticipated the question.
‘I’m so sorry my love, I thought you would have guessed,’ he replied. ‘The temple that housed the Eye of the Sun is just ahead. Inside, when I was last here, I saw many scrolls. I am hoping that I may find some truths hidden among them.’
Johnny gave Jade a reassuring smile, and she returned it trustingly. Taking her hand, he said, ‘Come, my darling, follow me. The temple is as much your heritage as it is mine. Your grandfather explained your ways when he led me here, and he would have initiated you to its mysteries. Alas, he is not here, so it falls to me, my heart.’
Jade seemed a little nervous. Johnny squeezed her hand and smiled again.
‘There is nothing to worry about, my flower, I am with you. I have already penetrated its secrets. There is no danger,’ he said.
They walked through the trees and came out on the forgotten temple. Covered in trees and vines, boulders strewn about, it was an imposing edifice. The sun broke through the canopy in fits and starts, and it was apparent that from above this building would be invisible.
Johnny led Jade around the base until they came to the dark, uninviting entrance. The previous time Johnny had been here he had arrived on foot, and was ill prepared for what lay ahead. He now had the advantage of hindsight, and had prepared himself accordingly. The ship had provided a flashlight of sorts; a black, cylindrical object that illuminated all around it, and he had taken a blood sample in the ship’s surgery and placed it in a clear vial. That way he could produce blood at will at the required checkpoints.
The ship had also supplied him with another device that he now wore on the belt at his waist. It was completely devoid of detail; silver with smooth, rounded edges that fitted comfortably in his palm. It reminded Johnny of the smooth, water worn river stones he used to play with as a child on the fishing trips he took with his father. They skipped beautifully across the water’s surface if thrown correctly. It was a basic communications device that allowed him to talk to the ship without the need to wear the comfortable but cumbersome armour. He couldn’t access the ship in the same way the suit allowed, but at least he was in contact, and that gave him some comfort.
He led the way into the dark tunnel, and lifted the illuminator. The entire passageway lit up as if in broad daylight. This wasn’t the weak glow of a burning brand, or the pitiful yellow beam of light emitted by our modern, battery-powered torches, but a bright, energetic luminescence that permeated every nook and cranny the entire length of the tunnel. Johnny could see the false door at the end meant to beguile and trap pretenders.
As they made their way down the tunnel, Jade “oohed” and “aahed” at the dazzling artwork portrayed on the walls.
‘Can you read these signs?’ Johnny asked.
She shook her head. ‘I deem it likely that my grandfather would have taught me these symbols long before bringing me here had he understood them,’ she replied. ‘Our people have lost the art of writing.’
Johnny approached the wall and explained it to her. ‘These symbols all have meaning. It was this portion that saved my life and showed me the secret of the temple.’
‘What does it say?’ she asked.
Johnny cleared his throat and began:
Beware, beware, O stranger, who dares to enter here!
The precincts of the gods this is, hallowed and austere.
Pure of heart, and cleansed of sin, you must be to proceed,
If wealth you seek, then death you’ll find, to satisfy your greed!
Only he who has their blessing may dwell between these walls,
Only those who bear their likeness may dine within their halls.
If rest you seek, and solace begs, then come and be at ease,
But ensure you pay the doorman, the keeper of the keys.
His fare is fair, his payment due, so give him what he needs,
A drop of blood is all he asks to satisfy his greed.
Should you satisfy his hunger, admit you then he must,
Should your payment be substandard, your bones will turn to dust!
Heed this well, O stranger, for your fate is in your hand,
Keep your wits about you when you tread on hallowed land.
‘Oh Johnny! What if you had missed this, or couldn’t read and understand the warning?’ Jade cried.
‘I would probably never have made it out alive, and I would not have been able to save the ship, or rescue you, Jade,’ he replied. Jade looked deeply upset, and Johnny laughed.
‘My angel, I did get out alive, I did save the ship, and I did rescue you! Stop fretting over what could have happened. We are here, and we are happy and free!’
She smiled up at him, and then they both grinned at each other as his ebullient mood infected her too. Armed with this new spirit of adventure and indestructibility, they continued to the end of the brightly lit tunnel. A closed door beckoned to be opened.
‘See here, Jade,’ said Johnny, ‘this door is meant as a trap to fool the unwary. The actual door is here, to the right, but to access it, one places a sample of their blood in this receptacle on the left.’ He showed her a slightly raised portion in the plaster. A smear of dark brown blood gave evidence of his last visit. He took out the vial of blood, poured a few drops onto his finger, and wiped it against the wall. Immediately the door to the right opened, and they made their way into the shorter tunnel before them. This tunnel ended in a T-section, with the options of going either left or right available.
‘The writing up there,’ said Johnny, pointing to the wall in front of them, ‘explains that the servants may use the left hand passage, but only the gods have access to the right. I tried it, and it admitted me Jade. Proof on top of proof that I am a god.’ Jade looked as if he were telling her something she had long tired of hearing, and only listened to humour him.
‘Your turn,’ he said.
Jade’s complacency vanished in an instant. ‘Johnny! I couldn’t. What if …?’
‘Jade, we’ve been over this already.’ It was his turn to humour her. ‘The ship obeys you, the temple will too.’ He led her the few steps it took to reach the door that blocked the right-hand passage, and indicated the handprint on the wall.
‘Oh …’ was all she said before placing her hand on the imprint. The door immediately opened for her and they both laughed in relief.
‘See? You silly girl,’ Johnny mocked fondly. Jade smiled, and he could see the pride in her face at this last, absolute confirmation of their shared heritage.
Johnny glanced around. On his previous visit, he had only the bare light of the burning torch to illuminate this area, and hadn’t spent much time here. Now he held the illuminator before him and examined his surroundings. This was, he assumed, the gods preserve, and he supposed this was where they took their ease. It looked like a communal rest area, what we would call a lounge, or perhaps a clubhouse, and Johnny could almost imagine where he would put the television, or the pool table. None of the original furniture remained, and he supposed it had either rotted to dust, or been removed. It was stark and bare. Faded murals covered the walls, but in the absence of any writing, Johnny didn’t pay them much mind.
‘Look here, Johnny,’ called Jade. She had discovered a small tunnel leading off the main room. Johnny got his bearings and imagined that it ran parallel to the shorter tunnel. He realized that it must cross overhead the main tunnel to the other side of the temple. They ventured through and found themselves in another large room. The previous room had scenes of battle and war, similar to those in the tunnel, but this one had a water and marine motif to it, and mosaic tiles of blues and turquoise decorated the walls and floors, depicting fish, shells, and waves.
Jade gave a little cry of delight as she noticed the room’s main feature. A large Roman-style bath dominated the centre of the room, still filled with water. To their surprise, there was steam rising from the surface, and Johnny knelt down and tested the water with his finger.
‘It’s warm!’ he exclaimed. ‘Jade, this water is warm. It must be a thermal spring or something.’ Jade ran forward and thrust her hand into the water. She gasped in pleasure, and then that universal female need for cleanliness and comfort took over. She stood up, and to Johnny’s intense embarrassment, she started stripping off her clothing.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked, averting his eyes. Jade smiled at him, her brows arched coyly.
‘I’m getting in, that’s what I’m doing. Care to join me?’ The wonder of this beautiful creature that he had come to love so much gradually replaced Johnny’s embarrassment as she removed the last of her clothing and slipped gracefully into the water. His heart was beating faster than ever, and he felt that same queasiness that he did on occasion when watching her move around, and he had never wanted to get wet so much in his life before. He ripped off his clothes and jumped into the water, making a massive splash. Jade squealed in delight, and they spent the next few minutes splashing and enjoying the novelty of an abundance of hot water.
Gradually, however, a new mood overcame them, and Johnny sensed the change in Jade. The beautiful young woman who now sat quietly and expectantly on the step, her hair covering her body modestly, wasn’t the giggling girl he been playing with a few minutes earlier.
Johnny felt awkward. This was new territory for him. Gone was the strong, wilful and independent young man who had already proved his worth many times. He sat a little apart from Jade, and stared at the murals on the far wall with a studied air.
‘My lord …’
Johnny started. He glanced over at her and his heart missed a beat. Gosh – she was gorgeous!
‘Why do you avoid me, my lord?’ she asked quietly.
If only she would stop calling me that! he thought. It was driving him mad. That simple title, used so often, was now fraught with sexual undertones that were playing havoc with his body. He could feel the blood rush to his head, and cringed inside as he felt his ears burn with embarrassment.
‘My lord? Do I displease you?’
With a groan, Johnny turned to face her.
‘Jade! You have no idea how much you please me. You make me mad with my love for you!’
‘So why do you avoid me?’ she asked quietly.
‘Jade, we are young; too young. We can’t do this. It is wrong.’
‘My lord, my people marry at our age,’ she said, a puzzled look on her face.
It was one of those moments where their differences in upbringing and culture struck Johnny. He was imposing western beliefs and norms on a girl who had grown up in the jungle, and to whom nudity and sex were natural and healthy things, not the dark, dirty shameful acts society would have you believe, but normal – even godly.
Jade held out her hand to him. It was a simple and honest invitation, devoid of guile, and it destroyed the last of Johnny’s resistance. They spent a long time in the pool, and when they finally emerged, they left the last vestiges of childhood behind. There was a new bond between them; a link forged of steel that nothing could break.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2013
Cover artwork: John Killin © 2013
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© 2013 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved