the mask of inti
As his plane landed in Madrid, Dr Fielding’s excitement mounted. He was so close to the object he had chased around the world for nearly fourteen years. He reminisced about the effort that it had taken him to reach this far- climbing the mountains of South America in search of the ruins of Machu Picchu, traversing the deserts of Africa, sailing four times across the Atlantic in often treacherous weather and even travelling into the depths of Asia.
The year was 1927 and Dr Fielding’s journey had thus far taken him to all four corners of the globe- from the scorching deserts of Africa to the freezing tundra of Iceland. At each destination, he had been sure that he would find the fabled mask of Inti, a solid gold mask four feet high, used by the ancient Incan people in their worship of the sun god. But at each new location, he had found nothing but more clues, more puzzles. But this time he was sure he knew its location. Inside a cave in Africa, where Pizarro waited out a particularly violent storm after being blown off course on the way back to Spain after the Incan conquest, he found a scrap of diary. Dr Fielding could hardly contain his delight when he translated it and found that it contained the location of Pizarro’s secret, private treasure hold, in his town of birth- Trujillo.
Dr Fielding had kept this discovery from his team, because he was a greedy and selfish man. He wanted all of the glory for himself. Once he and his team had arrived back in London, he had told them that the expedition was complete, that the mask was never to be found. He invented a fairly plausible story- that the mask had been melted down with all of the other Incan metalwork and used in the construction of items for the Spanish. After resting in London for a few weeks and making some discreet enquiries, he was ready to claim his prize.
So now he was landing in Madrid, ready to make the eight hour journey to Trujillo and begin the final search for the mask. He found a taxi and directed the driver to take him to Trujillo. The journey was rough, the unpaved road full of bumps and dips and the inside of the taxi was soon filled with dust. The journey felt like it took an age but finally the taxi stopped in a small town, which the driver assured him was Trujillo. All that Dr Fielding wanted to do was begin the search, but he knew that it may take him several days, so he checked into the only local hotel and re-read the diary section. For the rest of the day he wandered the town, trying to find any landmarks still standing since the time of Pizarro, almost four hundred years ago. As the sky turned dark, he returned to the hotel, his search fruitless. This was going to be harder than he had imagined.
The next morning he awoke and had decided on a new plan of attack- he would follow each landmark mentioned by Pizarro in sequence. The first one mentioned was the ‘South road’. Dr Fielding assumed that this referred to the southern road out of the town so he made his way there. After arriving he began looking for a ‘rocky outcrop in the shape of a horse’, the next of the clues that Pizarro had mentioned. After searching for half an hour, he began to lose hope. He spotted an old woman sitting in front of her house along the street and decided to ask her. Upon asking her, she told him that her grandmother had often pointed out a particular outcrop and mentioned a long dead myth about a horse which had become petrified as it circled the desert. She did not seem surprised when he told her he had seen no such thing from the road. “It looks like a horse no longer.” She told him. The ravages of time and the constant wind which blew across the plains had long since transformed it into just another rock formation. But luckily she offered to show him where it lay. Far in the distance she pointed to a nondescript rock jutting out from the plain.
Dr Fielding walked towards it, as excited as he was when he had first heard of the legendary mask. Once he reached it, he sat and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, while re-reading the last of Pizarro’s instructions. ‘Follow the trail of the wolf to the west, until you reach the mouth of a cave.’ The wolf trail of which Pizarro had written had disappeared into the plains. Nonetheless, Dr Fielding got out his pocket compass and began to walk west. On the horizon he could see a small hill and he was sure that this was where he would find Pizarro’s treasure cave. He walked for hours, barely pausing to have a drink of water from the bottle he had brought with him.
After several hours of walking he reached the hill. He could not see a cave mouth anywhere. He began his search. Dr Fielding suspected that there was an underground river or other water source nearby as this particular part of the plain seemed to have much more vegetation than the rest of the plain. Ivy crawled up steep rock faces cut into the hill, while the base was covered by thick bushes. This made Dr Fielding’s search all the more difficult as he had to force his way through the vegetation to inspect each part of the hill.
Finally, after negotiating through a particularly thick section of the brush, Dr Fielding spied an opening. Energy flooded his weary limbs as he realised that this was the cave that he had been searching for. He felt like Aladdin standing at the mouth of the Cave of Wonders, ready to enter the unknown.
He stood at the entrance to the cave, too excited to enter. Finally, after years of searching, his goal was so close. He lit one of the torches that he had brought, took a deep breath and began his descent into the earth. The cave was pitch black inside, condensation dripping from the roof. In the first few metres he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. As he moved deeper into the cave mouth, he disturbed a nest of bats which flew at him, their leathery wings beating at his head and body. There was nothing he could do except stand and bear the brunt of their attack. After what seemed like an eternity the last of the bats flew out of the opening. He continued his journey into the fabled cave. On the cave walls, he began to see crude markings, arrows and faded writing, guiding him deeper inside. His heart began to race. Finally, up ahead, he saw that the cave was coming to an end. Niches had been cut into the walls of the cave, housing all manner of Incan treasure- sacrificial knives, finely decorated bowls and metalwork of extraordinary beauty. All items that, according to official records, had been destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. But Dr Fielding was only interested in one thing.
At first glance he did not see the mask he so longed for anywhere. His heart sank. “Perhaps,” he thought, “Pizarro wrote of another treasure and not of the mask.” He started searching the Incan treasure, to catalogue in his own mind what was in the cave. As he reached the last niche, his boot thudded against something heavy, something which appeared to be part of the cave. Dr Fielding looked down. On closer inspection the supposed rock turned out to be a large object covered by a dirty piece of cloth. His mouth turned dry as he slowly pulled the cloth off. It was the mask! He could not take his gaze from the golden sight that he was presented with, a sight which he had dreamed of for so many years. So overcome was he with emotion that he danced on the spot. Finally his long search was over. Finally the mask was his.
Suddenly he heard a loud crack and a crash behind him. He turned and saw that the roof of the cave was collapsing. As quickly as he could he wrapped the cloth back around the mask and lifted it. As soon as it was off the floor the weight made him stagger. There was no way that he could make it out of the cave with his treasure. But there was no way that he was leaving it behind. He half dragged, half carried the mask along, but before he had gone five steps, it was too late. The entrance was blocked. His first thought was to call for his team to rescue him, but he immediately realised that his team was not with him this time. He quickly thought of the people who knew where he was. But there was no one. Even the old lady who had helped him with the first leg of journey did not know where he had gone after the outcrop. He sank to the floor, desperate to think of a way to escape. As the torch extinguished his last thoughts were of his foolishness for giving in to his lust for power and glory.
Dr Fielding wrapped the cloth back around the golden mask and lifted it. As soon as it was off the floor the weight made him stagger. Metre by metre he half dragged, half carried his treasure outside the cave. As he approached the opening, he saw that it had turned dark. Hastily he set up a makeshift camp and went to sleep, his arms around his mask.
The next day he made the journey back to the village. He crept back to his hotel, staying out of sight for fear that someone might steal the mask from him. There he put the mask into a special suitcase he had prepared for it, got into a taxi and made his way to the airport. As soon as he arrived back to England, the fear of someone stealing his mask returned. He did not let it out of his sight for the whole taxi ride to his house. Once it was in his house, he unwrapped the cloth and stood staring at it for two hours.
From there, Dr Fielding’s obsession only grew. He let no-one see the mask, not even his closest friends. Every day he spent several hours in a room simply staring at it. Finally, towards the end of his life, Dr Fielding became so consumed by the mask that he did not leave his house. He spent every waking minute in a room with it and had to be coaxed out to eat or sleep. Until his death he was the only one to see it.