The Lost Sister [4/6]
Part four of our book serialisation
The Lost Sister
by Paul Harris
This story is serialised in six parts and does not appear in the print edition of The Ambler
The story so far…
After a series of weird and terrifying visions Jim Smith, with the help of his two friends is trying to make sense of it all.
He has employed a young girl who appeared on the scene and her behaviour becomes increasingly more mysterious.
He is shown a photograph of an ancient statue which is thought to be of the sister of the Emperor Augustus. He is sure that the girl in the photograph is the same girl that is in his employ, which he knows cannot be possible.
Is he going mad?
Is he somehow connecting to the past?
If yes then he needs to know why.
Stroganoff, chilled wine and chilling news
Stone was taking a shower, it had been quite an eventful day and he was ready for a chance to relax for a couple of hours. A nice meal and a glass or two of wine would go down very well, it would also give him a chance to further discuss and think over the day’s happenings with Smith. He wanted to get to meet Leah and Libby in a neutral setting to see what he made of them. Smith had filled him in on the events at the cottage earlier and he now needed to try and discover what the significance of these two ladies was in this mystery.
He had already decided that Leah was quite simply a good friend of Smiths and would go to the ends of the earth to help him. He could see immediately what Smith it seemed could not. She was in love with him and practically worshiped him. Well, if he cant see it then it is not going to be me who opens his eyes, keep well out of that one I think. Anyway, I don’t think that there is anything too complicated about her, but I will wait and see. As for the other one, Libby, I am very interested in her. I cannot wait to see what she has got to say about herself. If even a fraction of what Smith claims is true then this would be the most remarkable thing he had ever been involved in. He stopped himself, hold on I like a good story but I am an educated man, I surely can’t believe any of this hokum about her being the sister of the emperor Augustus. I think Smith is telling me what he believes to be true but someone somewhere has got their wires crossed and I mean to get to the bottom of it.
They had arranged with Leah that the four of them would go out for dinner, Smiths treat, at the local restaurant. It was actually on the second floor of the pub in the village square but it served very good food, and though not cheap it was always a good night out. He also knew the owner quite well from his frequent visits to the pub and he was always well looked after when he went for a meal.
Libby had not been seen that day and Leah was going to try to contact her. Leah had not quite seemed her usual self and was unmoved when told she was on for a free night out. This in itself was strange because Leah was usually so enthusiastic about anything like that, reacting with almost child like excitement.
“I will pass on your invitation” was all she said.
It was about 7.30pm and the two men were ready to leave for the restaurant. Just as they were about to go, the phone rang, Smith lifted the receiver.
“Hello” the phone was silent for a few seconds. Hello who is there?
“Its Leah, its about tonight. We can’t make it for dinner, Libby is not at home and I am not feeling too well, I have a splitting headache.
Oh, right, er well thanks for letting me know, I hope you feel better soon. Try and get some sleep and hopefully I will see you tomorrow. Mrs Lit is coming in so if you want to have a bit of a lay in then go ahead.
The phone went dead. Smith held it to his ear as it continued to buzz, listening to the dialling tone. He knew there was no one listening but he said hello again anyway. He was amazed at the way that the conversation had ended. I have never known her to react like that, ever. I must have done something to upset her without realising it. But even if she is upset that was really out of character.
What is it Smith? Asked Stone.
“The girls are not coming to the pub, some sort of problem” he did not feel like going into detail. So what now Doc.
Before Stone could answer the phone rang again, Smith pounced upon it thinking it would be Leah ringing to apologise or at least offer further explanation.
“Hi Mr Smith, its Lucy from Durham , we spoke earlier today.
Smith paused for a second, he then realised who he was talking to. “Hello, sorry you took me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting you to call”
“Well I know it is evening but I thought you might want to know what we have found out as soon as possible. We have come up with some really interesting information. It is too good to discuss over the phone, I would like to discuss it with you and Doctor Stone in person”
“Right, I see, er where do you live Lucy, is it anywhere near here?”
“I was just about to say I only live about 15 miles away from you, it would be no trouble to drop by, in fact I would be pleased to, the news is quite exiting. I don’t want to go into detail now I will save it until I see you”
“Listen Lucy, Doctor Stone and I are just about to head off to the pub for a drink and something to eat, why don’t you join us. I would be pleased to buy you dinner”
“That sounds good to me, it has been a long day. Where will I find you”
“As you come into Ambleworth on the coast road you will see a T junction at the top of a small hill. Turn right, go past the castle and down the hill into the village square. The pub is on the right hand side, it’s called the Hideaway. We will wait in the main bar until 8.30pm and then we will be in the restaurant, we have a table booked. I will have a glass of dry white wine on standby for you”
“How did you know I like dry white wine?”
“Just a lucky guess”
“OK that will be great, oh and by the way, you and the Doc, have a drink standing by for yourselves, you’re going to need it, see you soon” she rang off.
Smith smiled to himself. He had enjoyed talking to Lucy, she seemed very pleasant and was easy to talk to. In fact he realised that he had probably been flirting a little, the first time he had felt like doing that for a long time. It made him feel good.
Jim Smith and Doctor Stone stepped out of the side door of the shop and onto the street. It was about 7.50pm and the light was still quite good outside. The evenings at this time of year were a great source of pleasure for Smith, he liked to walk in the mild spring air and breath in the fresh sea breeze that was a constant companion to walkers in the small coastal village. As they strolled through the tiny square the fragrance of the air was made even more enchanting with occasional spice-laden interruptions from the local Indian take-away, drifting on the gentle evening wind, and the numerous fish and chip sellers who were dotted around the narrow streets. Their golden fried wares filling the air as they walked passed.
The aromas of varying foods, each one seeming more mouth watering than the last, were making both men look forward to the up coming meal. It would be a welcome change of mood to sit and share an evening, have a drink and discuss things in a more light-hearted manner.
In the spirit of the evening smith had actually made the effort to get dressed up a little, wearing a new shirt and handing an outing to his best casual jacket. He was glad he had, it lightened his mood even more, he realised suddenly that he was feeling good, relaxed and happier than he had for ages.
The sinister feeling of recent days had passed and all those worries now seemed silly and exaggerated. He still had the suspicion in the back of his mind that he may have experienced some sort of breakdown and that he was somehow responsible for all of the recent events. But for now that was out of his thoughts and becoming increasingly more distant.
When they reached the Hideaway it was already busy, the bar, even though well staffed, was besieged by customers waiting to be served.
“Seems popular, this pub” said Stone. “That is always a good sign”
The Hideaway was an old style pub that oozed character. Like numerous buildings in the village it had a great deal of history attached to it and had seen much comings and goings over the years. It had once been a coach house and still had many of the original features in place. This gave it a very welcoming feeling and the combination of old and modern had been managed with great sensitivity and good taste to preserve the sense of a time gone by. The front windows looked toward the estuary and it was not too difficult to imagine the old sea dog fishermen walking their weary bones up the riverside path for a tankard of ale, a pipe of strong tobacco and a warm by the log fire.
Real ales were on sale, as were modern lagers and strong ciders. A credible selections of wines were always available and a large selection of whiskeys and spirits too. The proprietor would offer to stock any wine or spirit that a regular customer asked for. The large bar downstairs had live music on Friday and Saturday evenings and they ran a Pub Quiz every Wednesday. It was a main source of social interaction in the village and very well patronised. Many a romance had started and flourished under that roof, and the restaurant was often the scene of happy anniversary celebrations.
As they were waiting for their turn to be served a voice came from the end of the bar that Smith recognised.
“All right Jim, haven’t seen you for a while, where have you been? I must say you’re looking well have you been ill”
“Very funny, actually I have been in a running battle with a bunch of ancient Roman soldiers, spent a few weeks in hospital an a coma like state, had a series of convulsions, and staggeringly real visions. I have a woman who died two thousand years ago working for me and I am apparently the latest member of a family that dates back to the Iron-Age. Apart from that it has been fairly quiet really”
Stone smiled and the man behind the bar just gaped at Smith for a few moments before saying “Same old Jimmy, more storeys than the Brothers Grimm.
“Well you did ask” said Smith
“Any way what does a person have to do to get a drink in this place, twenty pints of your finest foaming brew landlord, and my friend will have the same”
The man chuckled and filled two-pint glasses with beer and passed them over the bar.
“On the house Jim, I did hear you had not been well it is good to see you back in circulation”
“Thanks said Smith, let me introduce my friend, this is Doctor Stone an expert in ancient artefacts and a professor of Durham University . Do you know Doc I still don’t know your first name”
Its Albert but please call me Al, and I think it is about time I called you Jim, now that we are drinking buddies” he smiled and winked at Smith.
OK Al, old buddy, this is the landlord of the Hideaway. Derek Hurley, better known as Dirty Dek, that’s nothing to do with his sex life, he is just a bit of a soap dodger. He is the only man I know who wears a fly-paper for a necktie. He also fancies himself as a bit of a comedian. He’s got more patter than two weeks rain so don’t get talking to him, you will never get away”
“Very nice to meet you said the Landlord.
“And you too Derek, great pub you have here, really good atmosphere.
“Take no notice of our postmaster general Al, He is probably still drunk from the last time he was in here. When he’s had one too many he’s like a bull in a Chinese shop, I think we had to turf him out in the snow if I remember correctly”
Smith stared at the grinning face of the landlord in front of him, for a fleeting moment the memory of the night of his first vision came back to him, and with remarkable clarity. It was the last thing he wanted to think about tonight.
“We have booked a table in the restaurant for later, we have a guest coming, could you put a couple of bottles of decent wine to chill in that machine of yours, and make sure we get a decent table near one of the windows”
The Steptoe theme played as Stone’s mobile rang. A few of the nearby drinkers turned their heads in Stone’s direction for a couple of seconds and then continued their conversations.
“Hello” Stone listened to the call for a minute or so before speaking. OK Lucy we will order for you and see you in 20mins”
“She is on her way, she says she will have whatever we have, she’s not fussy”
“Its just as well if she’s knocking about with you Jim” said the Landlord, obviously delighted with his own witty remark.
Well she wouldn’t be seen dead with you mate, returned Smith. Have you had a look at yourself lately? You couldn’t bend wire that shape.
“Listen to him, said the landlord now in full bantorial swing. He thinks he’s lovely doesn’t he. Never met a mirror he didn’t like our Jim. I tell you what Al, if he was a lolly he’d lick himself.
Smiths return was equally as cutting, “You know Al, when Dek was a baby he was so ugly his father had to fit shutters on his pram!
Stone was was grinning as he listened to the old sparring partners go through their paces. It was quite entertaining listening to one try to out insult the other.
Just after 8.30pm all three were sitting at a table in the restaurant, sipping a drink and waiting for the meal that would be about 15mins, according to the young waitress.
Stone had introduced Smith and Lucy to each other and they were now just exchanging how do-you-do’s.
Lucy was about 25 years old. She seemed very self-assured in her manner without being in any way pushy or irritating. She was pleasant and had a broad smile that was very disarming. Her hair was dark and about shoulder length, it was cut into a modern style that suited her and was well groomed. She was smartly dressed in a dark jacket and skirt with a white silk shirt and a discreet but impressive combination of what looked to smith like very expensive handbag and shoes. These, both being made of a dark burgundy red leather and matching each other perfectly, they looked both smart and sophisticated. She obviously had good taste and it enhanced the first impression that Smith already had of her from their earlier conversation.
The restaurant was full, it was too warm for comfort and Smith was glad he had asked for a table next to the window. At least they could get a slight respite from the heat with the incoming air.
Have you been to this village before Lucy? Asked Smith
“Yes a few times, in fact I have even been in this pub before, I came here to celebrate a friends birthday a couple of years ago. I couldn’t remember the name of it, but when you suggested it earlier but I thought it might be the same place. It is a nice pub. If I remember correctly the food is good too.
What did you order?
“We asked for 3 Beef Stroganoffs, Garlic bread and a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, I hope that is OK”
“That is perfect, I am starving”
“So Lucy, what is this astounding information you have for Jim and myself. I hope it is as good as you made it sound”
“I think you will be very interested in what I have to tell you” She began.
As I said earlier we can usually trace back three or four hundred years without too much difficulty. We managed to trace your line back initially to about 1650. This is standard on a basic search and it did not show up anything remarkable. Your family during that time were basically ordinary village folk, probably living mostly from localised fishing and related crafts. I was preparing to conduct an extensive search, which of course would have taken much longer when I had a brainwave.
When you said today that you had taken part in a D.N.A. test it made me think that perhaps we could try a search on it as a long shot. It was a long shot that has paid off big time.
I got your D.N.A. profile from the central data bank and ran the details through the computer. We keep information on any interesting finds that we get, as do all University’s. It is up-dated by many people in all different fields of archaeology just about every day, with new information coming on to it all the time.
Anyway, to get to the point. I ran the details and to my amazement up pops a match. A very close match.
“A match with who” said Smith.
Right, listen to this.
“Recent excavation work on Lindisfarne, or Holy Island as it is sometimes called revealed some very interesting finds. Included in these finds were burials, these have been accurately dated to about 620 AD. They were untouched and had Christian origin. Now we know the tiny community was a Christian centre of learning and shining beacon of civilisation through the early Dark Age period. And we also know that this community was attacked and ruined by the Viking raids beginning in 792 AD. Anything worth taking was taken, and all were slain. So it would appear that the earlier date of between 620 and 792 would fit the graves that were found, because the graves would have been unmarked, the Vikings would not have been aware they were there, and would probably not have been interested even if they had known. But of course these burials would not have taken after 792 because all the Vikings did was throw the dead bodies of their victims into the sea. After that date the site was considered too dangerous for the monks to inhabit and the monastery was eventually abandoned.
By this time Stone was almost salivating with anticipation. He was listening intently.
Lucy continued, Mitochondrial D.N.A. is something that is passed on to you by your mother, everyone has it and it does not change from one generation to another. So in other words if your ancestral line was here at a given time your Mitochondrial D.N.A. must have been here also. If we can find it and extract it, we can match it.
“Now here comes the good bit. One of the graves on Lindisfarne was preserved so well that D.N.A. was present and was extracted and recorded. It was probably a Christian monk of the period. A large silver cross was placed on the body and it was buried in the grounds of the abbey.
The D.N.A. extracted from that grave was an exact match for your own D.N.A. Jim”
“Which means what?” Asked Smith
“Which means that you had a very distant ancestor living just up the coast on Lindisfarne . And as that is a mere stones throw away I would think it safe to assume that the person buried in that grave was from this village or its surrounding area”
“I knew it, I knew it, Stone blurted out, I knew that there must be a connection. That is brilliant work Lucy, absolutely top notch”
“Stone thought for a minute and then said, that could be our way in, it could be the key to finding out more about you ancestry. The church in the village has been in existence for at least 1400 years, we know that from previously found evidence. Churches are usually constructed on sites that are considered previously to be places of worship or ceremonial gatherings. If the church yard, where you found the amulet was considered a special or sacred site in the iron-age or earlier then it is just possible Smith”
“What is just possible” Smith asked.
Stone drew in a breath before he answered, as if this was a moment he had waited all of his career for or perhaps all his life for. He then started to speak in a very deliberate controlled manner
“That the church site may contain ancient graves.
The graves may still have remains of the dead once buried there.
Those remains may be in a state of some preservation.
That we may be able to extract a sample of D.N.A.”
He paused for a second. Then said .
“The D.N.A. may match yours”
“Whoa there cowboy” said Lucy. That’s a lot of maybes.
That would be outrageous if we could pull it off.
Oh my God think of what a stir that would cause”
Smith had remained silent throughout the Doctors unbridled excitement. He was trying, with some difficulty to digest what he had just heard. All of the information concerned was new to him. He knew nothing of mitochondrial D.N.A., he had never heard of it. The fact he had what appeared to be an almost certain direct connection with a world that functioned 1400 or even 2000 years ago was incredible and he was having to think very hard about it.
“Let me get this straight Al, you think that one of my ancestors may be buried in the church grounds and the body has been lying there for two thousand years. You also think that you may be able to connect me to that body by a D.N.A. match. Is that correct?”
“As unbelievable as it seems that is exactly what I think. Of course it is a very small chance that we can do it, and it will take some work, but it is possible”
Er excuse me Sir..
“Three Beef Stroganoffs Sir? The young waitress was standing at the side of the table holding a large tray with the three meals, piping hot and steaming. The tray looked too heavy for her slim form and slender arms to bear. And she looked in a hurry to unburden herself of the load. The three diners had been so engrossed that she had gone unnoticed for a few seconds until she spoke. She was only about 17years old and looked like it was her first experience of working. She hesitated before speaking again in a rather timid voice.
Three Bee…Yes I am sorry said Smith, we were sort of engaged in something there. Please, it looks delicious, thank you.
She placed the plates on the table in front of the diners and asked if there was anything else they wanted. Smith politely assured her they had everything they needed for now. Enjoy your meal she said, and disappeared back toward the kitchen for her next set of meals.
“Well I don’t know about you but I am ready for something to eat said Smith, I think we can talk more about ancestors later, what do you say?
Smith poured wine into each of the glasses for Lucy, the Doctor and himself. He raised his glass and said Cheers, they replied with the same gesture. And all began to tuck in.
The full moon hung like a perfect pearl, platinum light shone through the cloudless sky and onto the land below. Its reflection shimmered on the calm sea and the breeze stroked the water into gentle waves. The scene seemed idyllic and undisturbed.
A shooting star crossed the sky, a silver rapier slash in the blackness. The night air was warm and the sweet scent of Honeysuckle rose up from the flora climbing the wall at the back of the garden.
In the upper branches of the cherry tree an owl sat in surveillance, saucer like eyes blinked occasionally as the night air rustled through the leaves. The large bird was scanning the area with its natural night vision, looking, patiently waiting, a rustle in the grass below a tell tale of something small scurrying across the garden. The owl did not move or react in any way. The fortunate creature was not what she was seeking.
The back door of the cottage opened and a flood of light was released into the garden night. Leah stood in the doorway silently, as if waiting for someone. Up above the grip of the powerful talons relaxed as the owl launched itself from the tree, huge wings opened with the faintest whisper of noise as it took to the air. A second later and Libby was standing at the door looking at Leah with a stare that would bring a chill to the bravest heart.
With a great coldness in her eyes and the same icy determination in her voice Libertina the Lost sister of Rome spoke, calmly and with a certainty that was natural to someone supremely confidant in their superiority, a person who always got their way.
“The time to act is very near, I am ready to do what I have waited all this time for. What I have craved for these many long years. My revenge, my honour will be satisfied, my pride restored. It will be so, by the will of the great Emperors of Rome, by the memory of the mighty Augustus Ceasar himself. It will be so. And you will help me, my ancestors will hail you, their spirits will rise and reward you”
Leah looked straight at her companion, her mouth formed a thin smile. Her face, which was usually a pleasant countenance of innocence, was no longer so. Her skin appeared pale and the smile made her look somehow cruel and unforgiving.
“Yes I will help you” was all she said.
The night breeze sang as quietly as a whispered promise through the cherry tree leaves and a large cloud brought darkness to the sky, it obscured the moon from view like a veil drawn across the face of a young wife in mourning. A sudden chill descended on the small garden as the blackness deepened.
The two slightly built women went into the house and the door closed on the night
When Smith awoke the next morning he could hear Stone moving around in the kitchen, it sounded like he was making coffee. It was about 7am and Smith felt groggy after his nights sleep, but he had slept well and was refreshed. The night before had been enjoyable and all three had been careful not to over indulge, after Lucy’s revelation’s the conversation had been mostly around how they were going to proceed, and today promised to be far too busy to be shuffling around with a hangover.
Stone was already making arrangements with his University colleagues and Smith was wondering how he could make himself useful to the cause. He quickly showered and dressed and went through to the living room where Stone was sitting, mobile phone pressed to his ear talking to some unseen assistant or advisor about what he wanted them to do.
“O.K. said Stone, we will see you there, get the equipment together and get there as soon as you can, I have a feeling that time is not on our side with this one”
“Morning, said Smith up and at em eh, It sounds like you have been busy. What is the plan today then. I remember you saying last night that we should get down to the church today and start searching the grounds, is that right?”
“Yes said Stone I have an archaeological geophysicist coming to the site this morning and we need to make good use of his time”
“A what, What do they do” Smith was genuinely puzzled.
Stone turned towards him,
“They use sound waves to detect objects beneath the surface of the ground. They fire sound downward and then register on a monitor where the sound is bouncing back. It is a bit like sonar in a submarine. It is a fairly new method but has proved to be extremely successful. It means that if we can get a good reading from the geo-phys we can sometimes know exactly where to dig. And just as importantly where not to dig. That saves us a great deal of time, and we don’t have to disrupt the landscape unnecessarily. Of course it is not always 100% reliable, a drain or a long buried pile of old bricks looks pretty much the same as archaeology on the readouts, so we cant rely on it to do all our work for us”
“Can I help in any way, I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. It would do me good to do a bit of digging or something. It is a long time since I did any manual work and I could do with a bit of exercise. I noticed when I walked back from Leah’s yesterday that I was blowing a bit. I used to be able to walk twice that distance and not even break sweat. I suppose its called getting older”
“Digging a site is not as easy as you think, a certain amount of care is required, people being clumsy with a spade, or treading on things have ruined many objects and caused more damage than anything else. These ancient finds are quite often unique, the only one of their kind, we must take care when we find them. We must show respect to the past. Anyway, what I want you to do Jim is more important to this project than digging, I want you to be on site all the time you can spare, just look and listen for anything that might jog your memory about those visions you had. Or if you see anything at all that means something to you, speak up immediately. I can lend you a digital recorder to make verbal notes so you don’t forget anything. I know that probably doesn’t mean a lot to you, but it could prove to be vital”
After a quickly prepared breakfast of eggs, toast and coffee they were ready to leave. They drove the short distance down to the church in the Doctors estate car, he had some equipment in the back along with a pair of overalls, wellington boots and a bright yellow hard hat. All of which had been used many times and were a permanent fixture in the car boot.
Smith was still concerned about Leah, he had been thinking about her behaviour the previous day and could not make any more sense of it now than he could then. He decided that he would leave her alone for a couple of days to see how the situation developed. He did not think there was much he could do about it at the moment anyway, she would not confide in him and he did not want to appear to be prying into her business. Plus he was now committed to helping the Doctor today at the church and after all the effort that had been made on his behalf he had to focus on what he had been asked to do. He had Mrs Littleton to run the shop for him, he was lucky that she was so obliging at short notice. But she seemed happy enough to do this,
“It makes a change, and the money always comes in handy” she had said to him in her usual cheery manner.
All manner of equipment and gear had been assembled at the church yard. Many people were busily setting up for their own role in the operation to come. Two large vans had appeared and were parked in the small village square, they were packed with computers and monitor screens. The people of the village, having no warning or knowledge of what was going on were gathering in small groups on the perimeter of the proceedings, chatting and speculating as to what was happening.
“Do you think it is a bomb” said an old lady with her small dog by her side, the dog was sniffing the air and growling, in a bad temper.
She was talking to Mundo, real name William Mundy. He was a retired local. He liked to tell people, anyone he could get to listen, of what he did during the war. What he didn’t say was that he actually spent the war years working on the market in Alnick. Stories of daring do and heroics under fire. He had been telling these stories so long that he had begun to believe they were real. But he was the only believer, everyone who lived in the village new it was only tales, and just humoured the old man.
They often met when out for their daily constitutionals. That was unless she saw him coming in advance and in doing so managed to make a quick detour to avoid his usual verbal bombardment. The only reason she was talking to him now was because in her alarm she had not noticed it was him she was addressing.
His reply came with the usual dismissive authority of the bar-stool preacher. There was nothing he didn’t know, or so he thought.
“Nah, more likely to be something wrong with the water mains, these pipes run everywhere you know. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are all being slowly poisoned. My stomach has been playing up something wicked lately, I knew there must be a reason for it. Bloody water company, the money they charge for water rates as well. Us pensioners should get free water, I have always said so. They will be charging us for breathing the air next. Bloody government.
While he was talking, and his tone was escalating from a complaint to a rant, the old lady and her dog had quietly moved a few paces away. He suddenly realised, when in full flow, that he was talking to himself. He looked around, feeling a little bit foolish, and then saw someone else he recognised and decided to try his luck in that direction.
At about 10am all involved in the dig declared themselves ready to begin. The people there were of all ages and possessed a multitude of skills and specialities. Smith watched with a great deal of interest and excitement as they set to work. Taking readings, making measurements, recording findings. At first he thought it looked manic, but as he soon observed it was an ordered and very well managed operation. Everything that happened was fully discussed and noted precisely, no event was considered too obvious or not worthy of being recorded.
As the morning progressed information started coming in from the team, it was collated in the mobile operation centre housed in one of the vehicles on site. At about 1.00pm Stone came out of the van looking exited. He shouted over the square.
“Jim! Can you come over here a moment? We think we may have something interesting.
Smith was immediately intrigued by the tone of voice used by Stone, He sounded as though he had just had some excellent news. He was holding a computer printout in his hand. As Smith approached he waved the paper at him franticly.
“Wait till you here this Jim. The other day, when we were talking about where you were positioned the first time you saw the Romans, you said you could only see them from the knee upwards, you told me where you were standing, I have it in my notes. Can you just confirm exactly where they were walking from and to”
Stone thought for a few seconds about this. He wanted to be sure his information was correct.
They walked over to the side of the church and down the narrow lane that led to the river.
“Here, they walked up the incline from the river and passed me as I stood in this spot”
“Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant” said Stone.
Smith wanted to ask a dozen questions but he didn’t get the chance to speak before Stone started talking again.
“We have here a reading of what looks like something man made about 30 meters long and straight. It could be an ancient walkway, or what remains of one. It appears to be about 40cm below the surface, Just off to the side of the existing current lane. 40cm, that is approximately the length of the lower leg of a full grown man”
“What difference does the length of a man’s leg make?” asked Smith.
“Think about it Jim, an ancient pathway below the surface. You saw these soldiers marching, but you could not see their legs from roughly below the knee. That is because their feet were walking on the buried pathway. We don’t know yet whether it was actually a road or what, but I am pretty sure this will prove to be a walkway, of Roman origin and probably the short road leading to a enclosure of some kind. Such as joining one part of a fortification to another and then down to the river bank. I would expect that if we keep looking we may find the remains of a jetty or landing there. It was most likely constructed to make the transference of material by cart easier”
“You must be kidding” said Smith.
“I suspected this when you first told me the story, it is not the first time such an incident has been reported.
“I think you are not telling me everything you suspect Dr Stone. How could I see people walking toward me, as clear as I can see you, I could even smell them, and yet you say they were what? Walking through the ground on a hidden path or road. If you suspected this then you must have some thoughts on what has caused it. So come on spill the beans”
Stone paused for a moment and then spoke.
“I can’t fully explain what has been happening to you, at the moment like you I am trying to make sense of it. But if it will help I will tell you what I think.
You seem to have an ability to connect to the past, this allows these visions, or whatever they are to occur. I think this has been with you all your life but dormant because it needed to be triggered, you needed a catalyst to make the connection. I believe that trigger to be the amulet. You have already stated yourself that you have not had any visions since you gave it to me, and yet it has been in my possession for a couple of days and I have not experienced anything out of the ordinary. This would indicate that the connection is unique between you and a past event, the amulet only affects you. You have somehow been drawn into a world of events that seem to be ancient and yet factual. I know this sounds crazy and as a man of science I deal in facts, and as much as I hate saying it this is nothing to do with science. The only evidence we have is an amulet a picture of an ancient statue, and most importantly, what is inside your head. Only you know what you witnessed, and to be honest, most level-headed people would simply not believe you. I, for my sins, do believe you. It is incredible and ridiculous, but in this case I can’t offer any other explanation.
The first time you saw the Roman soldiers was such a shock to your mind that your body shut itself down for a few weeks. As these happenings continued you became a little bit stronger each time because the shock became reduced.
Now what makes this even more interesting is that the original owner of the amulet was last seen in the spring of 9AD which is exactly 2000 years ago, and you have been contacted by a person who looks very similar to the only image we have of the owner. So it would seem to me, and this of course is only speculation, that the event that connects you to the past is coming to an important anniversary, two millennia. Someone involved in that event was related to you and that is why it is you who have been contacted.
I think the original owner of the amulet is looking for you.
Why? I do not know.
There, I have said it. 25 years of education, experience and building up a reputation and here I am talking like a character from a spiritualist society. If I am not careful I will end up looking like a charlatan. The academic world is very unforgiving, once you have made a fool of yourself the mud tends to stick. So I think we will keep our views strictly between the two of us for now Jim. What do you think?”
A dangerous outcast
The view from the Palatine hill was a special one, and one that was savoured by all Romans who experienced it. For it meant that if you were looking down from that lofty and leafy position you were almost certainly a person of privilege and great importance in the recently formed empire. The Palatine was the chosen location for the home of the Emperor. To look upon Rome from there was special indeed.
Libertina gazed over the city landscape and thought about how she was going to miss this view. She felt she could hardly bear to contemplate what life would be like cut off from Rome and its society. Did she really have to leave, was it not unavoidable. She had thought long and hard about how she could manoeuvre events to her satisfaction, she could not find a plan that would work without endangering herself. She had tried with no success to enlist help in the matter, no one would dare get involved. And so she was now regretfully resigned to what seemed to be the inevitable. Leaving the spectacular city where she had spent almost all her young life, to live amongst Barbarians. The thought almost made her feel physically sick. Dirty, foul smelling Barbarians with their vile customs and unspeakable language. Surely someone would save her. Someone must help.
The time was almost upon her and these last few days would be precious and also sad. Her friends had virtually abandoned her as they could not be seen to be associated with any scheme or plot that may be hatching. For Libertina, the slightly built girl with the pretty face and dark eyes was well known for her ability to draw others into her will. To persuade others to do her bidding, whether they agreed or not men and women alike had found themselves completely in her control. It was not fully understood how she managed to do this but it was widely known amongst the citizens of Rome that it was not wise to hold her gaze for too long. This seemed to be the key to her power over others, her ability to mesmerise the unsuspecting and enlist them in what she wanted. Once her bidding was carried out she would abandon them and claim no knowledge of their actions or intentions. She had done this, and got away with it on many occasions, seemingly totally innocent and free of involvement. Like the time she used the slave of the wife of a man she wanted for her self as a future husband. He unwittingly added poison to her evening drink and she died. She then in an attempt to gain the favour of the man shouted louder than anyone else for the punishment by death of the hapless slave. She had got away unpunished for many evils. Until recently that is.
She had made an error in her judgement, an error that she would now regret probably for the rest of her life.
Her mistake was to upset the Emperor. Something that was not only foolish, but also extremely dangerous. She was the sister of the Emperor, he was ageing now and becoming more feeble by the day, but his mind was still as clear and sharp as ever. She had miscalculated his ability to catch her out and the extent of his wrath when he did so.
Her relation to Augustus was not a blood one. She had been adopted by him and given the title of Sister to the Emperors, rather than daughter. It was an honorary title and bestowed upon her in respectful memory of her father who was a member of the senate and a life long friend and advisor to Augustus.
It was in fact her fathers lasting memory and the shrewdness of Augustus that had spared her life. The Emperor did not want to harm her, for executing your family members was not good for business, but he felt that her presence in Rome was becoming a liability and she was not to be trusted to keep out of trouble. He also new that he could use her as a make weight in a peace negotiation with the chief of the central German tribes. They had been a thorn in the side of the empire for years and his sister being married to their leader would be an interesting proposition. It would give Rome an excuse to send spies or visitors as they would call them into German territory. Augustus felt no malice toward his adopted sister, and although there were many years difference in age between them he had a respect for her intellect and would genuinely miss her company. But her deeds could not be left unpunished, and no harm would come to her, it would just mean her mischief would be out of his sight. She did not know it but he intended to invite her back to Rome one day, in the future when she had learned to behave or at least not get caught.
She had been up to her old tricks and expecting as usual to escape detection. A close friend of a member of the pretorian guard had reported his wife being poisoned by a trusted slave. The ensuing investigation pointed a very long finger of suspicion at Libertina. Unfortunately for her Augustus did not believe her defence. The standard punishment for this would be death by strangulation. But she had been offered the chance to keep her life and to redeem herself in the service of the Empire.
Marriage had been arranged and the time to meet her betrothed was drawing near. She would be leaving in a week to travel overland with the legions to Germania , home of the barbarians. As a parting gesture Ceasar had commissioned a full size statue of her in the finest marble. This would stand in the forum for all Rome to see. He had also given her a personal gift. An exquisite amulet of the finest pure silver, set in the centre with a highly polished oval piece of porfiro. She wore it when she posed for the sculpture, and she had requested that it be included on her likeness. She had sworn a sacred oath to the Gods that the amulet would remain a lifelong cherished possession that once adorning her neck would not leave her body, until her death. And even then it would still be hers and she would pursue in spirit anyone who tried to claim it for their own. She believed that any power of control the Gods had granted her was distilled down to its finest essence and would remain in the amulet for eternity. Around the centre stone she had asked the metal smiths to engrave the words that recognised this, my power my control.
She had been honing her skills for many years and the more she was able to harness her ability the more her mind turned cruel and malicious. She was becoming resigned to the fact that she would be leaving Rome soon, but she would never accept the notion that she would not return someday. The mantle of the Emperor would not rest with Augustus for much longer and once he was gone she would seize her chance to claim back her rightful place. Over the coming months she must think with all her cunning, use her intelligence to carve out a scheme that would see her reinstated to the social world she knew. She had spies in the senate and at the Emperors palace, she would plot and plan and somehow turn the tide of events back in her favour.
She continued to look out over the vista of Rome , quietly working on a solution.
The day for departure was at hand. Libertina made her way with her slave girl down to the courtyard of the palace. The Emperor was not present, he had more pressing business in the senate, and he was also letting her know that by not being in attendance that her departure was not a cause of great sorrow to him or to the imperial household. She had chosen her own path and now she must walk along it.
Some odious palace toady, a man who she despised, and she made no secret of her loathing, made the official goodbyes.
She said a very curt thank you as he wished her a safe and quick journey, then she signalled her readiness and the party began to leave.
They would travel the short distance to the outskirts of the city where they would meet up with General Varrilius and the 13 th legion.
It was overbearingly hot in the morning sun and the slaves walking alongside the covered litter that bore Libertina were fanning the air franticly, hoping she would not become too overheated and want to vent her annoyance on one of them. The slaves knew only too well how vicious her anger could be, she would not hesitate in having them whipped and smile as she watched. As they lumbered along she was deep in thought about what awaited her, she knew that her easy life and all that went with it were being left behind. The next two months of travel were going to be extremely difficult for her and as she looked at the ghastly backsides of the soldier’s horses marching in front of her litter she knew she would be staring at them for weeks to come. She held her violet scented kerchief to her nose and wished more than ever that she could avoid the upcoming journey.
Upon the hill on the North side of the city the Legion was ready to leave. A magnificent riot of colour that would form the escort for the Imperial sisters journey. Red cloaks, metal helmets and shining swords, gleaming in the hot sunshine and dazzling to look upon, fighting men who were eager to start their mission. Horses trained especially for battle conditions and sweating with excitement strained at their bridles to be on the move. In the middle of this colossal movement of military strength a small girl sitting on a chair under a canopy was terrified at her prospects, but her cruelty and lack of human compassion would not let her fear show. Weakness was not an option.
She took one final look back and then turned away, a small tear was forming, it left her dark oval eye and began its trickling course down her olive skinned cheek, but her kerchief dealt with it immediately.
She did not know it then but that was the last view she would ever have of her beloved Rome .
In the forests of Germania a deadly trap was being set. An envoy had delivered the word from Rome , a proposition from the Emperor himself, The Ceasar Augustus would consider it a great honour if Ardonious chief of all the tribes north of the great Rhine river would except his sister in marriage. The union would ensure greater harmony between two magnificent cultures and bring a prolonged peace and prosperity to all. The Germans would enjoy the protection and guidance of Rome , the Romans would reap the rewards of mineral wealth and trade with Northern Europe . At least that was the theory, in truth the Romans were just trying to find the path of least resistance into the territories of Germania . Once a foothold was established then the Empire would begin to flex its mighty muscles. The Roman culture would absorb the German tribes and they would themselves become Roman in time. Either that or they would resist and be destroyed, along with their way of life and customs. What Northern Europe represented to The Roman Empire was a vast territory that was waiting to become part of Rome but was not yet named as Rome . It was not considered in any way the property of the people who lived there.
But the Germans had other plans, they were a tough resilient people who refused to bend to the will of anyone. They were also cunning and well versed in the art of deception, they had seen through this scheme and were now waiting for their Roman visitors. The ground they had chosen was well known to them and would be exactly suited to their own style of warfare. That was to descend on the foe from ambush, strike with the element of surprise, wreak havoc and then disappear before the other side could organise any retaliation.
For the last month they had been preparing. They had built a four foot high camouflaged fence that ran along high ground each side of a narrow path through the thickest part of the forest. This fence was over a mile long and so well integrated into the forest fauna that it melted into the background. Thousands of men would hide behind it ready to strike. Due to the narrowness of the path the Roman legion would have to form a line no more than two abreast to pass through the densely wooded area. This meant that a distance of as much as two miles separated the front ranks of the legion from the ranks at the rear. The Legion were at their most efficient as a fighting unit when they were in formation and standing side by side, they could destroy any foe when they fought like that. But this would be different, no room to make formation, a narrow ribbon of men stretching for miles being attacked from a hidden position above them. A rain of arrows, spears and skull crushing rocks would descend on them, followed by a hoard of screeching blood thirsty Germans. No way to escape, no where to hide, no mercy shown
The dig at the church was well underway, the representatives from government agencies on site watching the proceedings like hawks. Woe betide the person who does any damage on their patch.
Small plastic trays holding scruffy looking bits of pottery and other objects were being passed from the shallow trenches on to the tables that had been set up. These items, no matter how battered and dirty were to be cleaned and examined with great care, catalogued and sealed in bags to be taken away for further scrutiny. Occasionally an excited cheer would be heard from the trench as some unexpected object was unearthed.
Smith was watching the events as the day went on, the objects that he saw being examined just looked like the most boring uninteresting things he had ever seen. He could not imagine why they would cause so much interest amongst the dig team. A jug handle and a sharp needle shaped piece of metal were not what he considered exciting.
He was wandering around trying to make useful observations as Stone had asked him to but he ended up feeling like he was just getting in everyone’s way. After a while he walked along the lane to the river and sat down on the seat by the bank.
The ducks and swans were swimming back and forth looking for food in the clear water. Smith watched them for some time, not really paying attention as he was thinking of other things. His mind kept re-playing recent events and he could not concentrate, he realised that he had not read a newspaper for days and there was probably a great deal of catching up to do with life in general. This whole thing had completely taken over his life and he wished with all his heart that it could be over and done with.
He was thinking deeply about the conversations with Lucy and how it made him feel. The thought of ancient ancestors and their escapades was a dramatic image and in the daylight by the river it seemed almost ridiculous.
A muffled ringing sound aroused him from the world of his thoughts. At first he didn’t realise what it was, then the penny dropped.
“My mobile, in my pocket” he said out loud.
The phone receiving incoming calls was such a rare event that he was always surprised when it happened. There were very few people who had the number and they were mostly people he saw every day and so had no real need to call him.
“Smith! Where are you” Stone barked down the phone.
“I am by the river, just sitting. I needed to get away for half an hour. Why is something wrong?”
“No nothing wrong, take a break for a while if you feel you need to. We are still working up here. When you are ready come up to the van and find me”
Smith jumped to his feet and began walking the short distance from the river to the mobile operations centre.
“I am on my way he said into the mobile”
Smith arrived at the van feeling a little breathless. I must do something about my fitness he thought. He stepped inside the large vehicle and Stone and two colleagues were looking at some kind of plan on the desk.
“Hello Jim, thanks for coming up so quickly. Are you feeling all right. Please don’t stay here if you want to go and rest. We can continue without you”
“No Al, I am fine I just wanted a few minutes to think that is all”
“Good man” said Stone smiling. “I want you to have a look at this chart, it is a scale drawing of the church yard and surrounding area. It includes the river side and the lane down to it”
The chart was about four feet square. It was too big to lie flat on the desk in the van so they laid it down on the floor. Smith recognised the features in the drawing and after a few seconds was aware of how impressively detailed it was. The church and the surrounding walls, the paths and gateways were all shown in perfect proportion and scale. On the chart additional marks had been made in pencil. These marks did not seem to be in any sort of pattern or order, more haphazard and irregular.
“Jim, can you show me on this chart where you found the amulet. Take some time to think about it and try to be accurate. It may prove to be important”
Smith looked ponderously at the chart laid out in front of him. He was trying to remember the day when he stumbled upon the object. The event itself was clear enough in his memory but he was not sure exactly where it happened. He walked a mental tour of the churchyard, asking himself what was he standing beside, where was the gateway in the wall. Then he remembered, he had been looking at a curious carving on the side wall of the church and wondering what it represented. As he walked away he was considering the carved symbols and how he must enquire about their origin. An overhanging tree branch had grown so large he had to side step to avoid brushing his head against it. That was when he caught his foot on the amulet. The object was still half buried and caked with dirt. He almost didn’t bother to pick it up, as he thought at first that it was a piece of stone. But he did bend down and pick up the clump of soil and metal, he ran his thumb over it and dislodged some of the clinging earth. He immediately revealed the shiny silvery amulet and its purple centre stone. Just visible was the engraved inscription around the edge that he could not understand.
Smith kneeled down to get close to the chart and tentatively pointed a finger at the spot he had identified.
“There, or very near there” he said
Stone marked the spot and picked up a clear plastic overlay and placed it on the chart. It had a number of roughly rectangular markings on it that matched up with some of the pencil marks on the scale plan of the ground.
“The pencil marks represent the places where we found identified graves, these are all less than 200 years old. This overlay has the results of the survey made by the Geo Phys team, you can see a series of dark shapes show up. These shapes are readings from the equipment they show anomalies in the ground. That is to say there could be something buried in the ground that is not identified, we wont get too excited just yet because it could also be rubble or caused by natural means. Now where you just indicated as the place that you found the amulet is interesting. Look at the overlay in relation to the chart”
Stone placed the clear sheet on top of the chart and the two sets of markings began to correspond, the mark of the place Smith identified was obscured by one of the oblongs on the overlay. Stone glanced at his colleagues, a look passed between them that Smith noticed although he could not in that instant figure out what it portrayed. He guessed that they must have been discussing this as a possibility before he arrived.
“So what do think that means” said Smith”
“Lets not get ahead of ourselves here. We don’t know for sure what is in the ground until we open it up and take a look. That is the next step, now that we know the spot where you made the discovery that is where we will look next.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent assessing the days work and what had been found so far. Nothing spectacular had been unearthed but the archaeologist’s assured Smith that the finds, although visually unimpressive, were important confirmation of the area being inhabited by Roman and Celt peoples.
Smith stayed with the team all the way through the day and accepted their invitation to join them for dinner at the Hideaway. The conversation was lively and interesting and the evening passed quickly and in good spirit. The party decided to retire at about 10pm as an early start and long day were ahead of them tomorrow.
Smith had returned to his flat and gone immediately to bed. He slept soundly, the deep and dreamless sleep that comes with exhaustion. He had felt no need to set his alarm clock as his presence at the dig was not required first thing.
When Smith awoke it was 8.15am. His eyes opened and he sat up in bed with a start. For some reason he felt like there was something important that he had forgotten about. It took him a couple of seconds to gather his thoughts and figure out that all was well. He showered and got himself ready, after a large breakfast he felt ready to face what was ahead that day.
Smith closed the door to the flat and began the walk to the dig site at the church. He walked at a brisk pace to get his heart beating and blood circulating. When he arrived at the site it was a hive of industry, there were at least 30 people involved in the dig and they all seemed to be busy doing something. He made his way to the church garden and as expected the side wall area was where he found Stone and his two assistants. They were all looking into a freshly dug large hole about 8 meters long and 3 meters wide. As he approached them Stone turned and greeted him.
“Morning Jim, we have just opened up this small trench here and no prizes for guessing what we have found”
“What” said Smith in a rather shaky voice, he almost did not want to hear the answer. He knew really what Stone was going to say but he was hoping all this might just go away if he ignored it.
“Human remains, a very well preserved set of bones and not only that but also we have what is left of two swords, the curious thing is that one appears to be Roman and the other Celtic. It is not usual for a body to be buried with items from another culture”
“Is this relevant to the amulet” asked Smith
“We cannot be sure yet, we need to make tests on the finds and see what we can come up with. But one thing I can say, a grave that appears to be ancient has been discovered on the very spot you said you found the amulet. That definitely tells us the area was occupied, and the finds within the grave show evidence of two different cultures. So we know for sure there is some tie in with the Romans. This is fantastic because if we can date it accurately to before 43AD then we will know for the first time that Romans were in this part of England before the invasion. Now the other thing that I am hoping will happen is the bones we found will give up some DNA. If we can tie this burial in to the one at Lindisfarne then we can link it to your ancestors and Bingo! We have hit the jackpot”
“Do you really think that is possible Doc? It just seems unbelievable to think I am directly related to a bundle of two thousand year old bones”
“Wait a minute Smith, I didn’t tell you all of it. In the grave was a complete human skull. Undamaged and in tact. We are sending it away to be DNA tested and also for full facial reconstruction. That means we can have the face rebuilt on to the skull and get a very good idea of the features, the shape of the face etc.It is always fascinating to see what the ancients look like, and for you this will be particularly interesting as it may prove to be part of your past”
“Whaaat? This is getting worse every minute. You are now saying that you have found a skull that belongs to goodness knows who, and you are going to make it back into a head with a face. And all this has something to do with me. Wait! Don’t tell me, there is a birthday card for me in there as well. And a bottle of ancient whiskey, and some Roman after-shave”
Smith was getting more than a little ruffled with these latest developments. And it was now starting to show. He felt his heartbeat quicken, and for a moment he was unsteady on his feet. This feeling passed quickly and as he regained his composure he let out a huge sigh and he just stared at Stone, feeling bewildered, the look in his eyes betraying his attempt to be in control. Revealing that he was more scared than he liked to let on.
“All right Smith, calm down said Stone trying to reassure him. I know all of this seems incredible, and a lot of it is still theory. But I believe we are on the brink of a remarkable discovery. One that could have a massive impact on the worlds of Archaeology and Genealogy and how we learn about them in the future. Do you have any idea what it will mean if we put this all together, it will, in the words of the esteemed Archaeologist Jimmy Crankie, be Fandabidozy”
For a moment Smith just looked at Stone, both men serious and unsmiling. Then the flood gates opened and the two of them cracked up simultaneously. The childishly silly remark was just what was required to break the mood. They both laughed out loud like two drunken sailors, shoulder heaving, jaw breaking, belly aching laughter. The strain of the last few day exaggerating the laughter. And for a few minutes Smith cast off his worries and fears.
When normal service resumed and they had both got the tension out of their systems Smith asked.
“How long will it take to do this facial reconstruction, I always thought things like that took weeks to complete”
“It all depends on where it is being done and who is doing it. Our contacts in Manchester are the best in the business, if we explain the situation and ask for priority, we can have it within 10 days. One of the team will take it down there this afternoon so they can get cracking”
CONTINUED IN THE NEXT ONLINE ISSUE OF THE AMBLER (June/July 2010)