Valhalla rising, p.52

Valhalla Rising, page 52

 

Valhalla Rising
 



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  Kelly looked at the instrument dial on the fathometer. "The bottom drops off steeply before sloping toward the middle of the river."

  "Nothing yet," Giordino said quietly. "The rock appears all crammed together."

  "I have something," said Pitt almost casually.

  Giordino looked up. "Like what?"

  "I have what looks like man-made markings in the rock."

  Kelly looked up at the cliff. "Like inscriptions?"

  "No," replied Pitt. "More like marks from chisels."

  "No cave or tunnel from the sonar," Giordino droned.

  Pitt came around the side of the cabin and jumped down on the work deck. "Let's pull in the sensor and anchor the boat just offshore."

  "You think we should go dive before finding a target?" asked Giordino.

  Pitt leaned back and stared up the steep palisade. "We're directly below Dr. Egan's study. If there's a hidden cavern, it has to be around here. We'll have an easier time sighting it beneath the surface by eye."

  Kelly expertly turned the boat in a tight circle and shut down the throttle as Pitt pulled in the sensor and dropped the anchor. Then she moved it slowly in reverse in the direction of the river current until the flukes dug into the bottom. Then she switched off the ignition and shook the droplets of moisture from her long braided mane. "Is this where you wish to park?" she inquired with a cute smile.

  "Perfect," Pitt complimented her.

  "May I come, too? I got my certification in the Bahamas."

  "Let us go first. If we find something, I'll surface and wave you in."

  It was summer, and the Hudson River water was a brisk seventy-two degrees. Pitt opted for a neoprene quarter-inch wet suit with pads on the knees and elbows. A weight belt with light weights to counteract the buoyancy of the wet suit was clamped around his waist. He pulled on a pair of gloves, his fins and hood before slicking the inside lens of his mask and pulling the straps over his head, setting the mask atop his head with the snorkel dangling. Because he would be diving in no more than ten feet, he did not wear a buoyancy compensator, preferring more freedom and ease of mobility for moving in and around the rocks. "We'll free-dive first and check out the landscape before we use the tanks."

  Giordino nodded silently and lowered the stepladder over the stern. Instead of falling backward over the side, he dropped down three rungs of the ladder, then stepped off into the water. Pitt swung his legs over the bulwark and slipped in with the barest hint of a splash.

  The water was as transparent as glass for thirty feet before it faded into a gloom turned green with clouds of minuscule algae. It was also cold to the flesh. Pitt was warm-blooded and preferred his water temperature to be in the low eighties. If God had meant for humans to be fish, he thought, He'd have given us a body temperature of sixty degrees instead of ninety-eight-point-six.

  Pitt hyperventilated and curled forward, lifting his legs and using their weight to push him downward in an effortless dive. The great jagged rocks were massed together like pieces of an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle. Many weighed several tons, while others were no larger than a child's Radio Flyer wagon. He made sure the flukes of the anchor were securely dug into the sandy bottom before surfacing for air.

  The current pulled at Pitt and Giordino, and they used their hands as anchors, clutching the rocks and pulling their bodies over the moss-coated surfaces, thankful they had had the foresight to wear gloves to protect their fingertips from the sharp edges. They soon realized they were not in the right area, because this part of the slope disappeared toward the center of the river too gradually.

  They surfaced for air and decided to split the search. Pitt would head up and Giordino would follow the rocky shore downriver. Pitt gazed at the sky to get his bearings on the buildings sitting near the crest. He could just make out the top of the chimney of the house. He swam against the current, parallel to Egan's house and study four hundred feet above.

  The mist was clearing and the sun was beginning to sparkle the water, casting dappled and shimmering light across the slime-coated rocks. Pitt saw few fish larger than his little finger. They darted around him curiously without the slightest show of fear, somehow knowing that this weird lumbering creature was far too slow to catch them. He wiggled a finger at them, but they spiraled around it as if it were a maypole. He continued lazily kicking his fins while floating on the surface and breathing slowly through his snorkel, as he watched the craggy bottom pass beneath.

  Then suddenly, he swam over an open stretch free of the rocks. The bottom was now smooth and flat with a channel cut through the rubble. He judged it dropped off thirty feet before he swam across to the other side, where the jumbled rocks appeared again. Returning across the gap, he measured the width at roughly forty feet. The channel beckoned toward the shore where the rock slide had fallen into the water. He sucked a cubic foot of air into his lungs before holding his breath and diving down to look for an opening through the jagged fall of rock. The boulders, one overcropping the other, looked cold and somber as if there was something diabolic about them, almost as though they held a secret they were reluctant to reveal.

  Weeds swayed in the current like the long fingers of a ballet dancer. He found a ledge free of growth that had strange chiseled markings in the hard surface. His heart leaped two beats when he recognized one as the crude carving of a dog. His lungs felt squeezed, and he surfaced for another breath of air. Then he dived again, swimming and sometimes using his hands to pull himself around the rocks.

  He watched as a ten-inch smallmouth bass swam from under a large overhanging slab of stone. It saw Pitt's shadow and quickly disappeared. He angled down and chased after it under the ledge. A dark tunnel appeared through the rocks and beckoned him. The skin on the nape of his neck tingled. Another breath on the surface and he entered the opening cautiously. Once inside and free of the glare outside, he could see that the burrow flared out ten feet ahead. That was as far as he decided to go. Expelling the last of his air, he returned to the surface.

  Al had climbed back on the boat, having found nothing of interest. Kelly was sitting on top of the cabin, her feet on the deck of the bow staring in Pitt's direction. He waved both arms and yelled. "I found a way inside!"

  Kelly and Giordino needed no further urging. In less than three minutes, they were stroking against the current beside him. Pitt did not remove the mouthpiece of his snorkel for further conversation. Excitedly, he motioned for them to follow him. They paused to fill their lungs, and then Giordino and Kelly trailed behind Pitt's fins through the jumbled mass of stone debris.

  They swam through the narrow section of the tunnel, their fins brushing against the sides and disturbing the growth into a green diaphanous cloud. Finally, just when Kelly was beginning to fear that she only had a few seconds left before opening her mouth and taking in a mouthful of water, the cavity fanned out and she gripped Pitt's left ankle, using his momentum to propel her to the surface.

  Their heads came free of the water in unison. They spit out the mouthpieces of their snorkels, raised the dive masks over their heads and found themselves in an immense cavern whose roof towered two hundred feet above their heads. They stared in complete surprise, without fully comprehending what they had discovered.

  Pitt gazed up in wonder at the head of a serpent with bared fangs that was staring down at him.

  57

  The gracefully curved serpent head, intricately carved with mouth agape, stared sightlessly at the water flowing into the cavern, as if searching for a distant shore. On an enormous ledge four feet above the water's edge, six open wooden boats, held upright by their keels and wedged by wooden cradles, sat side by side, stern to bow. The serpent rose on the bow post of the largest boat nearest the rim of the ledge.

  The boats were built entirely of oak, the largest stretching more than sixty feet in length. The sun's reflection coming through the water in the tunnel cast feathery ribbons of light against the elegantly shaped hulls. From their view in the water, the dive
rs could look up at the keels and the broad, symmetrically arched hulls with their clinker-built, overlapping strake planking that was still held together with rusting iron rivets. Below the rack where shields had once been stored, oars still protruded through small round ports. Now gripped by ghostly hands, they seemed poised, waiting for a command to row. It seemed inconceivable that such aesthetically elegant hull lines could have been designed and built a thousand years in the past.

  "They're Viking," Kelly murmured in astonished awe. "They've been here all the time and nobody knew."

  "Your father knew," said Pitt. "He knew from the Viking inscriptions that they had settled on the palisades above the Hudson River, which led him to the discovery of the tunnel leading down to the cavern from above."

  "They're well preserved," Giordino observed, casting an admiring eye over the Viking ships. "Despite the dampness, I see little signs of rot."

  Pitt pointed up at the masts that were still standing with their furled red-and-white coarse woolen sails, then at the vaulted roof of the cavern high above their heads. "They left them stepped because of the cavern's lofty ceiling."

  "They look as if all you had to do is drop them in the water, raise the sails and go," Kelly whispered in breathless wonder.

  "Let's take a closer look," Pitt said.

  After removing their fins, face masks and weight belts, they climbed a rock-chiseled stairway to the top of the ledge and mounted the boarding ramps that ran from the rock to the upper strake of the largest ship. The ramps were sound and obviously put there by Dr. Egan.

  The light inside the cavern was dim, but they recognized the objects scattered on the floorboards. What looked like a body was wrapped in a burial shroud. On each side were smaller bundles in burial shrouds. Around the bodies, a treasure trove of artifacts had been literally dumped in scattered disarray. There were gilt-bronzed figures of saints, a stack of illuminated manuscripts in Gospel Latin and reliquary boxes filled with coins and silver chalices, most likely all stolen from monasteries during raids on England and Ireland. Amber necklaces, gold and silver brooches, elaborate silver-and-bronze necklaces and bracelets lay in piles inside elaborately carved wooden boxes. Bronze dishes and incense burners from the Orient, along with furniture, textiles and linen, and a beautifully carved sled for the chief to be towed on in winter snow, were also lying about.

  "My guess is this is Bjarne Sigvatson," said Pitt.

  Kelly looked sadly at the two smaller bundles. "They must be his children."

  "He must have been quite a warrior to have accumulated this much wealth," Giordino muttered, gazing raptly at the treasures.

  "From reading Dad's research notebooks," said Kelly, "I had the impression important chieftains were sent to Valhalla after a glorious death, along with all their worldly goods and chattels, which included their horses, other animals and their servants. He should also have his battle-axe, sword and shield. I see none of these."

  "The burial was a rush job," agreed Giordino.

  Pitt motioned toward the boarding ramp. "Let's have a look at the other boats."

  To Kelly's horror, the adjacent boats were strewn with bones intermingled with broken and shattered household goods. Few skeletons were intact. Most looked as though they had been hacked to pieces.

  Pitt knelt and studied a skull with a jagged gash in the top of the cranium. "There must have been a terrible massacre."

  "Could they have fought among themselves?"

  "I don't think so," said Giordino. He removed an arrow that was embedded between the ribs of one pile of bones and held it up. "This says Indians."

  "The sagas suggested that Sigvatson and his people sailed away from Greenland and were never heard of again," said Pitt, trying to imagine a face on the skull. "It also lends credibility to the legend Dr. Wednesday told of the Indians slaughtering all the Vikings in the settlement."

  "This proves it was no myth," Giordino said quietly.

  Kelly looked at Pitt. "Then the Norse settlement. . ."

  "Was located on your father's farm," Pitt finished. "He found artifacts and was influenced to launch his research project."

  Kelly wrung her hands mournfully. "But why did he keep it a secret? Why didn't he call in archaeologists to conduct excavations? Why not show the world that Vikings had arrived in what is now New York and begun a colony?"

  "Your father was a brilliant man," said Giordino. "In his mind he must have had a good reason for the secrecy. He definitely didn't want an army of archaeologists and reporters invading his privacy during his experiments."

  Thirty minutes later, while Kelly and Giordino examined the rest of the Viking ships-not an easy undertaking in the dim light of the cavern-Pitt began wandering around the ledge. In the gloom he spotted a stairway hacked into the rock that led up into a tunnel. He climbed the first four steps with his hand trailing along one wall for support, when his fingers met with something that felt like an electrical switch. He touched it lightly and determined that the lever swung clockwise. Curious, he turned the lever until it clicked.

  Suddenly, the entire cavern was illuminated by bright fluorescent lights set into the rock walls.

  "Cool," Kelly uttered in surprise. "Now we can see what we're doing."

  Pitt walked over to where she and Giordino were searching through one of the boats. "I know another reason why your father kept this place a secret," he said slowly, deliberately.

  Kelly seemed only mildly interested, but Giordino stared at him. He'd known Pitt too long not to recognize when he was about to spring a revelation. Then he saw the direction in which Pitt's eyes were aimed and he turned and did the same.

  A long, cylindrical iron vessel was moored to a dock along the far side of the cavern. The hull was covered with a thin coating of rust. The only noticeable protrusion was a small hatch tower set several feet aft of the forward bow. The vessel had not been visible in the darkened cavern interior until Pitt had turned on the lights.

  "What in God's name is that?" Kelly muttered.

  "That," said Pitt, with a note of triumph in his voice, "is the Nautilus."

  Their astonishment at standing on a dock that had been built by Dr. Elmore Egan and staring down at the legendary and fabled submarine was equal to what they'd felt with the discovery of the Viking ships. To suddenly find a marvel of nineteenth-century engineering that everybody had thought was fiction was like a dream turned real.

  At the foot of the dock, rising along the rim of the rock ledge, was a pile of stones stacked in the shape of a sarcophagus. A wooden plaque with carved letters revealed it as the final resting place of the submarine's creator:

  Here lie the mortal remains of Captain Cameron Amherst.

  Made famous by the writings of Jules Verne as the immortal Captain Nemo.

  May those who someday discover his tomb

  honor him with the respect he deserves.

  "My esteem of your father continues to grow," Pitt said to Kelly. "He was a man to envy."

  "Knowing Dad built this monument with his own hands makes me proud."

  Giordino, who'd lagged behind after exploring a side cave, approached the dock. "I found another answer to the mystery that'd been bothering me."

  Pitt looked at him. "Which mystery?"

  "If Dr. Egan had a hidden laboratory, where was the source of his electrical energy? I found it in a side cave. There are three portable generating units in there, connected to enough batteries to power a small town." He pointed down at the dock and the series of electrical cables running along the edge and through the hatch of the submarine. "Ten to one he used the interior for his laboratory."

  "Now that I see the Nautilus close up," said Kelly, "it's much bigger than I imagined."

  "She hardly looks like the Disney version," Giordino mused. "Her outer hull is simple and functional."

  Pitt nodded in agreement. The top of the hull rose but three feet from the water, giving a bare hint of her mass beneath. "I estimate her length at about two hundred and
fifty feet, with a twenty-five-foot beam, larger than Verne described. She's close to the dimensions of the first Navy submarine with advanced hydrodynamic design that was launched in 1953."

  "The Albacore," replied Giordino. "I saw her sailing down the York River about ten years ago. You're right. There is a resemblance."

  Giordino walked over to an electrical panel mounted above the dock beside a gangplank leading to the submarine's deck next to the hatch tower. He pressed a pair of switches. The interior of the vessel was instantly bathed in light that beamed up through a series of ports along the roof and through larger view ports seen below in the water.

  Pitt turned to Kelly and motioned down the open hatch tower. "Ladies first."

  She placed her hands against her chest as if to slow her pounding heart. She wanted to see where her father had worked all those years, to see the inside of the famous vessel, but she found it difficult to take the first step. It seemed to her that she was entering a house of ghosts. Finally, with great force of will, she entered the hatch and climbed down the ladder.

 
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