Episode 3 Larra's Mongolian Adventure - Chapter 4 The Treasure of Genghis Khan

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    The Adventures of Larra Court

    Episode 3
    Larra’s Mongolian Adventure
    Chapter 4 The Treasure of Genghis Khan

    Larra bit down hard on the leather strap, trying to stifle her cries. Her breath came in sharp short gasps. Droplets of perspiration poured off her naked body. Her hands were pressed hard against her distended belly and her legs were spread wide. She was experiencing more pain than she cared to think about.

    She had been in labor for over eight hours. Her day and night of passion with Tabin had had not unexpected results. Now she was struggling hard not to scream from the acute pain of childbirth. Mongol women were expected to endure labor without complaint. For Larra it was doubly important that she make no sound. Her status in the Mongol community was at stake. More importantly, however, there was a Japanese patrol only a few hundred feet from where she lay hidden in a small patch of scrub.

    The Mongol tribe had been on the run from the Russians and Japanese for the last few weeks. Heavy Russian patrols, backed up by Mongols loyal to the new communist regime in Ulan Bator, had flushed Tabin’s followers out of their mountain hiding place. They had been forced to seek refuge in neighboring China, where they had almost immediately run into a heavy Japanese presence. Now they were attempting to lay low until the present danger passed. With the Japanese so close to them, any sound would give away their position. After a several weeks of running the Mongols were too worn down to face up to an all out Japanese assault.

    And so Larra clenched her strong white teeth on the leather strap, fighting back the almost irresistible urge to scream. It was a warm August day and at her insistence, her Mongol midwives had removed most of her clothing. Even so, the exertions of childbirth had caused her to break out into a heavy sweat. She tried to control her breath, focusing on ignoring the pain and trying to direct her thoughts elsewhere. She drifted back to the day after she and Tabin had first made love.

    Larra and Tabin had ridden back to camp from the hotspring. Upon their arrival Larra had taken up residence in Tabin’s yurt. No one in the tight knit Mongol community questioned the fact that Larra was now Tabin’s woman. Nor did anyone think that a formal ceremony celebrating their union was necessary. For hundreds of years it had been Mongol custom to raid neighbors for women, adding them to their households. As far as the rest of Tabin’s followers were concerned Larra fit into that category.

    Despite her new relationship with Tabin, Larra was still mindful of her mission. She knew that she was in the area of the tomb of Genghis Khan, but exactly where it might be in this wilderness region she had no idea. During her excursions into the area around Tabin’s village she had seen no sign of any marker or any other indicator that something as important as a tomb might be nearby. But of course, it might well be that the great khan’s tomb was so carefully hidden that there might not be any marker showing its location. Still, Larra was convinced that there must be something in the area to show where such an important site would be. It was just a matter of finding it.

    Whenever she was able Larra rode out into the area around the Mongol camp. As she covered the ground closest to the camp, she widened her search. Eventually she found herself riding quite far from the camp. Often she went alone, and on one of these occasions, she found that she was close to the hotspring where she and Tabin had first made love. Larra smiled to herself as she approached the entrance to the steaming canyon. This place held pleasant memories. She rode into the canyon, cheered by the warmth of the vapors. It was about noon and the light of the sun even at its low winter angle streamed into the canyon. As it shone through the thick clouds rising from the pool, it broke into numerous rainbow patterns. A kaleidoscopic of color swirled through the narrow cleft, turning it into a wondrous fairyland.

    Larra was entranced. She had never before encountered such extraordinary beauty. She rode farther into the canyon looking with awe and wonder at a sight she might never see again. Unexpectedly, her eye caught something that seemed out of place in the natural landscape. It was a faint scratch on the surface of the canyon wall. It was something that she would normally have ridden right by had she not been so fascinated by the astonishing display of light and color.

    Curious, Larra dismounted. Up close the scratch turned out to be Mongol script that had been cut painstakingly into the rock. With a sense of growing excitement, Larra scrambled closer. She had learned enough about the Mongol language to be able to read a little of it. Unfortunately, her Mongol language texts had been with the equipment that the Japanese had taken from her. Painstakingly, she copied down the script, using a piece of charcoal she had taken with her from the campfire, and a piece of birch bark. It was the best she could do, as all her writing materials had been lost as well. Perhaps there would be someone in Tabin’s camp who could decipher it for her.

    Having finished copying the script, Larra moved a little farther up the canyon. Perhaps there was more writing farther in. Sure enough, there was more writing a few yards farther along. Dutifully, Larra copied this script as well, and then moved a few steps more into the narrow fissure. There was still more writing deeper in the canyon. It was almost as if the ancient script was leading her up the valley. Finally she reached the hotspring itself. She could go no further without getting wet. “Well, why not?” she murmured. “I need a bath.”

    Larra quickly stripped off her heavy winter garments and eased herself into the steaming water. “Ohhh, that feels good!” she gasped. Wading farther out she rolled over on her back and glided toward the far side of the pool. She closed her eyes as she floated, reliving her first sexual experience with Tabin. That had been a remarkable day and night. She wished that he could be here with her now, but he was away on one of his expeditions. This time he was leading a raid against the Russians. She worried about his safety, but there was little she could do to discourage him and she would not have tried in any case. He was a Mongol after all.

    Larra was approaching the far side of the hotspring. The water temperature here was very hot. Thick clouds of vapor blotted out the far wall. She swam as close as she could before the intense heat forced her to swim to cooler depths. But in the few seconds she had been close to the wall she had seen something that intrigued her. She could not be sure, but there appeared to be a narrow ledge cut into the far wall of the pool. The trick was how to get close enough to be sure of what she had seen.

    I don’t want to get boiled, she thought, but maybe I’m just going to have to chance it. Quickly she swam back to the edge of the pool and pulled herself out. Then she walked back toward the entrance of the canyon. The air cooled rapidly as she left the area of the hot spring. Soon she had reached an area where the ground was still covered with snow. Larra let the frigid air envelop her. She stood there for a full minute, until the effects of the hot spring had worn off and she was beginning to shiver, then just as quickly she ran back toward the pool and dove in immediately.

    The momentum of her dive carried right across to the far side of the pool. The heat welled up around her, but the cold air had done its work. For a few seconds she was able to withstand the hot water. That gave her enough time to reach the far wall of the pool. There, as she had guessed, was a small ledge just above the water’s edge. Hastily she scrambled up on it, before the heat of the water got to her. Once there she pulled herself to her feet. She immediately noticed that the same sort of inscriptions were carved into the rock above the ledge. The ledge was so narrow that she was forced to press her body to the rock wall in order to fit on it. Larra looked to her left. The ledge seemed to peter out; she couldn’t go that way. She slowly edged along to her right. In this direction the ledge was wider. Soon she was able to turn and walk normally. Moving carefully in the thick clouds of vapor, Larra slowly moved along the ledge. A shape loomed before her. She moved closer and saw that her way was blocked by a wooden door set into the rock. The ledge had come to an end, but obviously continued on the other side of the door.

    Larra ran her hands over the rough wood. The door was constructed of heavy planks bound with iron bands. From the corroded appearance of the iron it appeared that the door had been there a long time. Set into the outside of door was a heavy iron ring. Larra grabbed the ring and twisted it. With a grinding sound, the ring slowly turned. Then there was a sharp click and the door slowly swung open, screeching mightily on its rusted hinges.

    The open doorway revealed a cave, but that was all. Stygian darkness greeted her, and she could make out almost nothing inside. Cautiously she began to step forward. As she did so she noticed that the floor of the cave was made of wood. She stopped. “That’s curious,” she muttered. “Why build a wooden floor in cave?” She waited a few minutes allowing her eyes to adjust to the dark.

    “I really need an electric torch,” she thought. But the Mongols had no equipment like that. She was going to have to make do. Perhaps she could make some sort of torch of her own from pine boughs.

    By now she could see a little of what was in the cave. Across from her was what appeared to be a torch set in a wall sconce. Maybe she wouldn’t have to make her own torch after all. She would just have to get some matches from her saddle and light the one in the cave.

    Larra stepped onto the wooden floor and reached for the torch. As she did so the floor gave way beneath her feet as she was dropped into some sort of deep pit.

    Only her lightning reflexes saved her. As she dropped into the pit, Larra threw her right arm out and caught the ring of the open door. For a person of normal strength it would have been a wasted effort, but her finely tuned muscles arrested her fall. For a second she hung perilously by one arm over the black hole and then swinging her body around she seized hold of the ring with her left hand as well and then pulled herself back out of the shaft. Breathing heavily, she reflected on her narrow escape. Picking up a pebble she tossed it into the deep opening. There was no sound. It seemed to have no bottom. A drop far that would have killed her.

    Larra shuddered. In all the literature she had read on archeological sites she had never come across any mention of a site that was booby-trapped. And yet, clearly this was such a trap. Apparently the literature needed some updating. She would have to be careful. Where there was one trap there might be another.

    Larra knelt and checked the floor that had given away beneath her. She could see now that there was a locking mechanism built into the floor that when engaged would prevent it from opening. She pulled the trap door up and locked the lever into place. Then she turned and dove far out into the pool. A minute later she was back with her box of matches. She waded as far into the pool as she could and then tossed the box into the open cave. She had to wade quite close to the hottest part of the pool to do this in order to make out the cave entrance through the dense clouds of water vapor. The temperature here was almost scalding and Larra could feel herself turning lobster red. Quickly she retreated to the cooler parts of the hotspring. Climbing out of the pool, she used the same technique as before to cool herself off and then made another swimming dash to the ledge. This time she made it without getting quite so overheated. She was getting better at this sort of thing.

    Larra reentered the cave. This time the floor held firm. Removing the torch from its sconce, she examined it carefully. The cave was dripping with moisture and there was no guarantee that the torch would light unless it was formed of some extremely flammable material. She held the torch to her nose and sniffed deeply. There was a strong smell of pine pitch. Whoever had designed the torch had been well aware of the conditions that it would have to operate in. Larra struck a match and held it to the torch. For a few moments it merely sputtered and then it caught. Greasy black smoke rose into the thick air of the cave as the torch flared to life. It crackled and spat as it burned, but it gave off quite a bright light.

    Stepping cautiously, Larra moved farther into the cave. She felt a little silly walking naked as she began her exploration, but realized that it did not make much difference as no one else was around and the air was very warm. She suspected, however, that the air would cool as she moved farther from the hotspring and then it might be useful have some warmer clothing. In the meantime she needed to proceed carefully so as to avoid any more booby-traps.

    She was now about fifty feet into a long passage that led from the door. The flickering light of the torch revealed nothing special. And then she came to another boardwalk. “Another trap?” wondered Larra.

    She examined the boards painstakingly. One curiosity was the fact that the wood had not rotted away after so many years. She noticed that all of the boards were stained a peculiar greenish color. Perhaps there was some sort of natural preservative in the water that dripped from the roof of the cave.

    The boards she was examining seemed to be laid directly on the stone floor of the passage. There was no pit beneath them, but it was still strange. Why build a wooden sidewalk where none was needed? Gingerly, Larra put her weight on the first board. Nothing happened. She shifted her weight forward and took another step. As she placed her full weight upon the walkway, the second board sank beneath her feet. There was a sudden noise to her right, as off something heavy sliding on crude runners. Acting almost on instinct, Larra jerked back. With a crash a horizontal portcullis slid across where she had stood a split second before. If she had not lurched out of the way it would have crashed into her.

    Larra examined the barrier that now blocked her way down the passage. It was very similar to a medieval portcullis in a castle gate, except that instead of sliding vertically it had slid horizontally across the passage. Its heavy wooden slats were held together with wooden pegs and iron nails. The right side of the gate protruded from the wall. The left side was pushed hard against the left wall of the passageway. The bars on that side ended in sharp points. If it had hit her she would have been impaled as the gate slammed into the wall.

    Larra shuddered. That had been a close call. She wondered if it was worthwhile continuing. She was alone and naked in a dark tunnel that went who knows where. And a booby-trapped tunnel at that. If she had been caught in any of the traps there would have been no one to help her if she survived. She was being foolish. Logic dictated that she turn back and return better prepared and with a few helpers. But Larra did not feel like being logical. Instead she checked the gate to see if she could get past it.

    She found that where wooden pegs had been used the horizontal and vertical slats were still firmly held together. The iron nails however, had been severely corroded and many of the bars were loose. With a little bit of effort Larra was able to work a couple of the bars far enough apart to squeeze her body through. By now her torch was burning low. She would soon have to turn back if she did not find another.

    The boardwalk continued for as far as she could see. She would have to be very careful, and almost tiptoeing, Larra glided down the passageway, testing each board before she placed her weight on her forward foot. It was beginning to become quite cold in the passage now. She was well beyond the influence of the hotspring and the temperature was dropping rapidly. That was another reason for returning and coming back better prepared. But still Larra pressed on, even as goosebumps appeared on her satin skin and she began to shiver.

    “Just a few steps more,” she thought, as her teeth began to chatter. The passage made a right angle turn. Larra peered into the gloom. She could make out a heavy wooden door similar to the one that had led into the cave. In its center was set a large iron ring identical to that of the outer door. The wooden walkway led all the way to it. Larra temporarily forgot about the cold and the dimming light of her torch. Perhaps she had reached the end of her search. She stepped up to the door and turned the iron ring.

    The ring refused to move. Using all of her strength, Larra heaved on the heavy metal ring, but she could not budge it. “I need more leverage,” she thought. Turning, she quickly retraced her steps to the heavy portcullis. Seizing hold of one of the loose bars she had squeezed past, she began to work it back and forth, hoping to snap the remaining nails that held it in place. In a few minutes she had worked it free. She looked at her dimly burning torch. She estimated that it might burn for another ten minutes. She would have to act fast.

    This time she almost ran down the passage. Reaching the heavy door, she inserted the heavy wood slat into the ring and then heaved on it. The ring moved, but so did something else.

    The sound came from behind. Larra turned her head. She was just quick enough to catch a glimpse of a massive object swinging toward her from the roof. With nowhere to go, she had just enough time to drop flat. The massive deadfall skimmed over her, removing a few shreds of skin from her bottom and her back. Larra pressed herself to the floor as the deadly device swung back and forth above her, gradually slowing to a complete halt just above the small of her back.

    For a few moments Larra just lay there in pitch darkness. Her torch had gone out when she had dropped to the floor. Then slowly, she edged herself out from under the trap. She felt around her in the darkness. She had brought the box of matches with her. Finally her hand landed on it. She took out a match and struck it.

    The deadfall was a nasty object consisting of a long pendulum-like lever that descended from a gap in the ceiling, and a heavy wooded T-bar at the bottom. The T-bar was studded with iron spikes, a single one of which would have killed her it had struck her. Larra fumbled for another match and lit it before the first one died. She turned toward the now open door. Raising herself she tentatively stepped through the doorway. The first thing she saw was another torch in a wall sconce directly in front of her. Quickly she lit the torch before her match died. The torch flared to life, and Larra looked around her. What she saw took her breath away.

    She was standing in a large room hewn out of solid rock. Dominating the center of the room was a mounted man astride a typical Mongol pony. He was dressed in full Mongol armor and outfitted in every sort of Mongol finery. The horse too was decorated with a highly ornate saddle and silvered trappings.

    Wary of further traps, Larra approached the mounted figure. “Could it be the Great Khan?” she wondered. She held the torch close. In the dim light the horse almost seemed alive, even though she knew it could not be. Lifting the torch high, she saw to her disappointment that the helmeted head was empty. The armor had been placed on a framework in a manner intended to simulate a real man. Carefully Larra walked around the impressive mannequin. The guttering light of the torch threw bizarre shadows on the wall giving the entire tomb a ghostly aspect that sent chills down her spine. Stacked neatly about the interior walls of the vault were all of the articles that might be of use to a Mongol warrior in the afterlife. Many of the items were a mystery as they had been packed in heavy sealed boxes. But those that were in plain sight included a complete yurt, swords, bows, arrows, quivers, lances, shields, and numerous other pieces of gear intended to aid a warrior from the steppes. From an archeologist’s standpoint it was a treasure trove of unparalleled proportions.

    Larra completed her circuit of the crypt. Everything needed to maintain a Khan in the hereafter was present, but one very important item was missing. Where was the body of the Great Khan himself? She was now aware of the fact that she was shaking from the cold. Over in one corner of the tomb she spied a dark red hanging. She draped the material about herself, amazed that it had lasted so long. It helped to insulate her from the cold of the crypt, but she knew that she would have to leave soon. She realized that she should not be in such a rush. After all, it had taken Howard Carter months to remove all of the items from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Why should she expect to find everything in only fifteen minutes?

    Wrapped in the drapery, Larra continued to pace about the tomb. There had to be more than this. Where had the tomb-makers hidden the body? Suddenly she had a flash of inspiration. Getting down on her hands and knees she explored the floor around the horse and rider. Her heart leapt. In the floor was a crack that went clear around the mock horseman. There seemed to be a chamber beneath it. Larra followed the crack all the way back to her starting point without finding any sort of lever or handle. She would have to move the horseman to see if there was an entrance underneath.

    Larra realized that she could not do much more than she had. She would need help to move the horseman, and she had already stayed too long. Even draped in the cloth she had found, she was beginning to shake uncontrollably. She was right on the edge of hypothermia. Also, her torch was almost at an end. She needed to get back to the hotspring fast.

    The walk back was uneventful. But Larra barely made it. Her naked body was shivering so violently that she could hardly walk. She had cut her excursion too fine. A few more seconds and she would have been unable to make it back. Reaching the edge of the hotspring she hurled herself into the steaming water. She immersed herself to her neck, allowing the penetrating heat of the hotspring to revive her. “D..D..Damned goo… good th… th… thing th… this w…w…was h…here!” she stammered through chattering teeth. Without it her disregard of her own safety would have proved fatal.

    Slowly the heat of the pool put life back into her limbs. After a long soak, she climbed from the pool. It was now dark and too late to return to camp. Pulling on her clothes she made ready to spend the night in the canyon. The heat of the hotspring would keep her comfortable through the night. She would just have to cook herself a meal and prepare a bed. An hour later Larra was sleeping peacefully, exhausted from her day’s adventures.

    The next day Larra rode back to camp. Tabin had been somewhat concerned about Larra’s absence, even though he knew that she could take care of herself. Larra explained what she had found. Strangely, she found that Tabin was not quite as enthusiastic as she was, but he listened politely while she babbled about her discovery.

    The next day Larra, Tabin, and a few other Mongol warriors rode out to the hotspring. They were fully equipped to explore the tomb properly. While they rode Larra and Tabin discussed her find and Larra discovered why Tabin had been somewhat reserved when an overzealous Larra had arrived back in camp, bursting with the news of her find.

    “I admire your accomplishment,” Tabin said. “It is something no one else could have done, but what you have found is a part of the heritage of my people. I am not sure that we should be disturbing the resting place of the Great Khan.”

    “I understand,” said Larra, “you are concerned that I might desecrate the tomb.”

    “Yes, I know that you have lived for just such a discovery, but I am afraid of what might happened if the Khan’s resting place is opened. Mongolia is communist now and the followers of that faith have been known to attempt to destroy the past.”

    “I think you may be right,” Larra replied. “That is why I do not intend to reveal the location of the tomb to anyone but you.”

    ‘Then how will you profit from the discovery?” asked Tabin, mystified.

    “With this,” said Larra, holding up a Japanese camera. “I found it in our yurt. I expect you had forgotten about it. I have enough film and flashbulbs to record what is in the tomb without disturbing it.”

    Tabin looked relieved. He had no wish to quarrel with this strange and beautiful woman. She was unlike any woman he had ever met. Not only was she incredibly beautiful, and a wonderful lover, but she was as tough as any Mongol warrior. She needed no protection from him or anyone else. Although that gave her an attitude of independence that he was not used to, he had grown to love her deeply and did not want to lose her.

    They rode on into the canyon of the hotspring. The pool of hot water was not deep and it was not difficult for the crew that Tabin had brought with him to construct a crude bridge over to the ledge that Larra had found.

    Fully equipped with torches and tools Larra and Tabin made it to the crypt without difficulty. Larra had found all of the booby-traps and it was a simple matter of dismantling the portcullis to allow all of the party to enter the tomb.

    Larra and the Mongols entered the vault in reverent silence. All of the Mongols immediately dropped to their knees upon entering the tomb, leaving only Larra standing, but even she bowed her head in deference.

    Eventually all of the Mongols rose to their feet and the exploration of the tomb could begin. Larra began to snap pictures, choosing her shots carefully so as to preserve precious film and flashbulbs. Eventually they had to decide whether or not to move the horse and rider. Would such an action be considered sacrilege? The decision finally came down to one of satisfying their curiosity. All of the party wanted to see what the slab beneath the horse and rider hid.

    It was but the work of a few moments to move the mounted replica out of the way and reveal a large stone slab set with four iron rings. A man grabbed hold of each ring and heaved mightily. Larra held her breath in anticipation of what she might see. The heavy slab was slowly pulled away from its position in the floor. Gradually a dark opening revealed itself. Larra leaned forward. She was almost beside herself with excitement. Slowly the straining men pulled the slab clear. It was no easy task as the huge piece of stone was about four inches thick.

    With a grinding crunch the slab moved away from the opening. With a sense of disappointment Larra saw that all that was revealed was a set of stone stairs descending into darkness. She had so hoped for a spectacular discovery. Tabin sensed her disappointment and put his arm about her. Larra gave him a brief kiss. “I guess we’ll just have to check this out,” she said.

    Without waiting to see what the others wanted, Larra took the lead. Holding her torch high she made her way down the stairs. The stone steps went down about ten feet and then ended in another long tunnel. Larra moved very cautiously. This seemed like the perfect place for another booby-trap. The tunnel floor was quite wet, and Larra guessed that they had descended below the water table. Still, the water was only about an inch deep and seemed to be running off through cracks in the rock so it should not present a serious problem.

    They proceeded slowly down the dank and dark tunnel, the continual sound of dripping water sounding in their ears. Somewhere up ahead must be the tomb of the Great Khan. Larra could hardly stop herself from breaking into a run, but she knew that could be fatal. She had found three traps so far. It was more than likely that there were a few more up ahead. Larra stopped. The floor had changed. Just before her was a raised slab of rock, almost like a small wide step. It was about two inches high and three feet across. Was it the release lever for another gravity-based trap? The others crowded up to her. Larra spread her arms warning them back. “What is it?” Tabin whispered.

    “I’m not sure. I have already triggered three traps. I want to check out why this stone is raised. It does not seem to be a natural irregularity in the floor. The question is to determine why it was made.”

    One of the Mongol warriors accompanying them pressed forward. “Careful,” Larra cautioned. She looked up to see who it was. Larra saw with some annoyance that it was a warrior called “Nayan.” He had been one of the few members of Tabin’s followers who seemed to resent her. Although Nayan would not confront Tabin over the issue, Larra was sure that he resented the fact that a woman had so much influence over Tabin. Larra had always tried to be diplomatic about the situation, but the underlying resentment was always there. Now he was challenging her authority by placing himself in possible danger.

    Nayan lifted his foot as if to place it on the slab. “Don’t,” Larra warned, “you could trigger a trap!” In answer, Nayan jumped completely across the slab, landing lightly on the other side. For a second, nothing happened, and then Larra saw that the floor was settling slightly under Nayan’s weight. It was not the slab that was the trigger, but the floor on the other side of it. Larra shouted a warning, expecting something dramatic to happen, but other than the slight settling of the floor under Nayan’s feet nothing happened. Relieved, but puzzled Larra held her position. Then, she became aware of a rumbling sound coming from behind her. She turned and saw a massive block slowly descending into the passage about thirty feet behind them. Too late she realized that they were now trapped in the dark tunnel. Then from the direction they had been moving came another sound and a second massive slab began to move downward into the tunnel about twenty feet in front of where she stood.

    Seemingly paralyzed by the unexpected events the others of her party merely stared about them in bewilderment, but Larra sprang into action. Leaping past Nayan she dashed toward the descending block and thrust her torch under it. She was not a second too soon. The massive slab crunched against her torch, snuffing it out and partially splintering the wood. Larra knew that it could not hold for more than a few seconds. “Quickly,” she screamed, “Get under it!”

    Tabin was the first to react. Rushing forward he dove headfirst beneath the stone. Following his example the others dashed up and scrambled under the stone. Now only Nayan and Larra were on the other side. “Hurry,” she shouted, “The torch won’t hold much longer.”

    As if to add emphasis to her words, the stone lurched down a few more inches, only the fact that Tabin had jammed his own torch under the slab on the other side kept it from coming down all the way. Now too, Larra became aware of another complication. The water in the passage, which had barely come over the bottom of her boots, was now rapidly rising. There was one more element to the trap, that of cold rising water!

    Nayan still held back. “It will fall on me!” he said, tremulously.

    “If you stay here you will drown! Hurry!”

    Nayan seemed transfixed. Larra could wait no longer. Dropping into the water, she half crawled, half paddled under the stone. The water was rising faster now. It did not appear that they had much time. They had to find a way out of the passage before they drowned. Larra pulled her feet clear of the slab. A second later it splashed down into the water, leaving Nayan trapped on the other side.

    The situation on the their side of the slab was not much better. Their torches had gone out when they ducked under the stone. Soaked with water they were now useless as sources of illumination. As a result, they now stood in pitch darkness with the water now up to their knees and rising at an alarming rate. Ahead of them in the darkness they could hear the sound of falling water. It roared into the passageway with the sound of a small waterfall. “We cannot stay here!” Larra shouted. “Follow me!”

    Holding her hands in front of her Larra felt her way forward. The water was now up to her waist and the pressure from the water flooding into the chamber attempted to push her back. Together, the remaining members of the exploration party, five in all, pushed their way toward the sound of the waterfall. Larra knew that it was critical for them to escape quickly. The water swirling around them was frighteningly cold. Hypothermia would set in unless they got out soon. Eventually, they reached the site of the falling water. Feeling about her Larra was able to determine that it was a solid column of water about two feet across. It was falling with such force from the top of the passage, that it would be impossible to boost someone into it. “Let’s try farther on!” Larra shouted.

    Grabbing Tabin’s hand she pushed on up the passage, feeling before her with her other hand. The water was now level with her breasts and rising quickly. Soon it might be necessary to swim. The water was so cold that Larra’s breath came in gasps. Suddenly she bumped up against a solid stone wall. Feeling along it she found that she and Tabin had reached the end of the passage, and that there was no exit from the trap they were in.

    Thinking quickly, Larra gathered the members of the expedition about her. There was only one chance to escape and it was a slim one. Hastily Larra explained her plan, pulling off her sodden clothes as she did so. Within a minute she had stripped naked. She retained only the camera, which hung by a strap about her neck. The water was now so deep that she was forced to swim, as were the other members. Unfortunately, two of the Mongols did not know how to swim. Screaming in panic they thrashed about in the freezing water. Grimly Larra and Tabin swam back toward the incoming water. There was nothing she could do to help them. Treading water, she and her remaining companions waited as the water rapidly deepened. In a short time it should be deep enough to test her plan, provided that they could survive in the chill water that long.

    The water was now almost at the ceiling of the passage. When only a couple of inches was left Larra took a deep breath and swam into the waterfall. The force of the plunging water suddenly diminished. As she had hoped, once the passage was filled the water draining into it would lose its impetus. Now she and the others would be able to swim into the chamber from which the water had entered. If they were lucky there might be a way out.

    Groping her way upward Larra swam into the upper chamber. She hoped that the others were following. Swimming as strongly as she could Larra stroked upward. She desperately needed air. For what seemed like an eternity she rose through the frigid water. Just when she thought her lungs would burst, her head broke through the surface. Gasping in great gulps of air, Larra treaded water and looked about her. She seemed to be in the middle of some sort of underground lake, but she was no longer in complete darkness. From somewhere light was percolating into the chamber giving her enough illumination to see where she was.

    Tabin’s head broke the surface beside her. “Come on,” Larra yelled, and stroked toward the shore of the lake. They had to get out of the water before they became too cold to function. Together, they managed to make it to the edge of the water and pulled themselves out. Naked and shivering they clung to each other by the side of the lake. There was no sign of the remaining Mongols. Larra felt a deep sense of guilt. It was her curiosity that had resulted in their deaths.

    Larra looked about her and saw that they were in a large cave by a subterranean lake. About a hundred yards away light was streaming into the cave from a large opening. She forced herself to get to her feet. It would be so easy to stay where they were and slowly freeze to death, but she knew they had to find some way to warm up. Tabin already seemed to be going into a sort of stupor, one of the first signs of dangerous hypothermia.

    Larra hauled on Tabin’s arm, forcing him to his feet, and dragged him toward the cave entrance. They had to save themselves quickly. As she neared the cave entrance Larra saw that the opening was partly screened by a grove of willows and aspens, which were now devoid of their leaves. Perhaps they could get some wood and make a fire. Tabin seemed unable to go much farther and he was slowing Larra down. His steps were irregular and staggering. He leaned more and more on Larra for support. Suddenly, Larra spotted a possible solution to their predicament. Over the years the wind had blown all sort of debris into the cave, including many leaves from the aspens and willows. They were piled in heaps among the rugged stones near the cave entrance. Directing Tabin over to one of these heaps of leaves, she lay him down and then piled leaves over his naked body. Then she snuggled herself in beside him. She was rewarded with a feeling of heat, as the insulating property of the leaves allowed her body to warm up.

    Larra awoke. It was dark once again. She must have slept for hours. Beside her she could feel Tabin’s warm body. He was breathing deeply but peacefully. Gently, Larra stroked his hair and face. He gave a little grunt and rolled over, presenting the front of his body to Larra. Enfolding him in her arms she pulled him close and planted a long kiss on his lips. Tabin opened his eyes. He had been sleeping deeply. His last memories had been of stumbling confusedly behind Larra as she dragged him along. He realized that this luscious woman had saved his life. “My beauty,” he said, “I’m glad I found you.”

    Larra did not answer, shifting her body she nestled even closer to him, reveling in his warmth. The sensation of her body so close to him was amazingly erotic. Fumbling through the leaves he cupped her left breast in his hand. She arched against him, pushing her pelvis close to his stiffening shaft. Soon their straining bodies were locked in tight embrace as they made passionate love. Larra’s incoherent cries echoed out of the cave opening.
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