Despite his own size and strength, the force of her effort nearly collapsed his knees, and he pushed back with every ounce of muscle in his quaking legs and back. She, recognizing that he had now solidified his position and hers thereby, drove her shoulder even harder into the obstacle before them, exerting such force upon his limbs that he felt sure his legs must crack or his knees be broken inward. Then, just as he was preparing to collapse with exhaustion, he fell backward onto her, and a rush of light blinded him as the boulder tumbled away, thundering down the mountainside into the sea beyond.
Struggling out from beneath him, his companion brushed the sand from her clothes as she stood up. Legs shaking, he clambered up to join her, then rushed outside into the broad light of day, the fresh wind from the sea billowing up to embrace him. He leaped into the tide and let the waves cover him, washing away the stench of death and the rotting corpse-flesh that still clung to him. Then, rising from the water, he turned back to address the stranger, only to find that she had not followed him out of the cave.
At first he thought that she had vanished altogether, leaving him as alone and free as she had found him alone and imprisoned, but then she appeared from within the mouth of the tunnel, backing into the sunlight as she pulled behind her a great bundle nearly the size of the boulder they had removed in their escape. Striding back up the beach with renewed vigor, he joined her at the opening of the cave and helped her drag the bundle out onto the open sand.
“What is this?” he asked, when she had finally let their burden rest and cast herself down on the sand beside it.
For answer, she twitched open one corner of the bundle, which he now saw had been fashioned from a patchwork of fine clothes tied together by their corners. One side of this mesh fell away, revealing a glittering pile of riches—the vast trove of treasure accumulated over centuries in the tomb they had just escaped.
Looking down at the mound of jewels, decorative weapons, gold and silver dishes and furnishings, and works of pure craft and beauty, he felt a knot of revulsion gather in his throat. “You rob the dead?” he croaked, forcing back the nausea. “All this only to defile the resting place of my friends, my family, my neighbors—my wife? Oh, my wife,” he cried, and he began to weep, suddenly remembering where he had left her. “Have you no reverence, no sense of decency about you, that—”
“The dead have no need of riches,” she said. “They are with God. You and I are alive, and we must make our way in the world yet a while. Why leave these things with the dead when we can make use of them?”
“Only a grave robber,” he sobbed, shaking his head. “All your talk of adventure, of escape from the world—and you are so strong! You only want to save yourself; you could have saved that widow, but you killed her—killed her for her food, so you could stay alive—”
“I didn’t need food,” she interjected in a soft voice, but he paid no attention.
“Killed her for her wealth, and her husband’s wealth. All these riches, and what will you do with them? Idle and enjoy yourself, and spend your days in the sky, doing no one any good? Someone like you—you could change… everything. You could alter things as you see fit!”
Turning away, she lay back down on the sand and closed her eyes. “I did you some good,” she said, without rancor. “Now go, fetch your rations out of the tomb—the food they left you to ease you into death. Say your farewell to your wife, and come share a meal with me. Tomorrow we will leave this place and have plenty to eat.”
He stared at her in horrified disbelief for a moment, then turned, shaking his head, and retreated back into the tomb.