- The Grave of Valkyries – Part 1
- The Grave of Valkyries – Part 2
- The Evidence
- A Stopping Place
- The Storm
- Ragnar’s Hall
- Not Like Indiana Jones
- A Homecoming, A Gift
- Dragon Heads
- Dust and Misogyny
- Stone Walls
- The Vikings
- Circumstantial Truths
- Dance With Me
- Find a Question
- A New Home
- The King
- Three Springs
- Goodbye, Hello
- Unexpected Arrivals
- Bishop vs Rook
- Cause of Death
- Midnight Visitor
- Dark Nights
- Good Morning
Derrick clutched the game piece and context information in one hand as they waved goodbye to Ira and Callum and headed toward the bus stop.
“Dr. Fraser will not believe this,” Kally whistled. “A mystery that predates the first millennium being solved by yours truly.”
The bench sat in a puddle of white light, and they huddled together while they waited.
Taylor giggled. “I doubt either of us will have a problem deciding our doctoral thesis topics.”
“You’re insane if you think I’m ever gonna talk about anything else,” she replied.
Derrick smiled as they bantered back and forth. Ira had gifted them the game piece so they could complete the set at the lab. His heartbeat picked up at the idea of seeing the complete set put back together for the first time in close to 1100 years. The chance to discover and examine something of this scale while still an undergrad was amazing.
The bus squeaked and groaned to a stop. Only two other people were traveling back into town at this late hour. With all the empty space, they decided to spread out. Kally kicked her feet up and looked out the window. With a jolt, the emerald fields flew by.
“It’s a shame we have to go tomorrow,” she whispered. “If only some spare grant funds were available.”
“Let’s be realistic, ‘spare’ and ‘grant funds’ don’t belong in the same sentence,” Derrick quipped. He agreed, though. It would be nice to stay for a few more days and talk more with Callum and Ira.
“I’m surprised they let us take the piece back,” Taylor said, glancing down at the file and baggie Derrick was holding.
Kally held a hand for the file. “I sure as shit wouldn’t have.” She flipped it open when Derrick passed it to her. “There’s so much information she collected as well. It almost feels like the etchings were redundant.”
“I’m sure the professor will be happy with what we collected,” Taylor said, leaning back in the seat.
The thought of assembling all their scattered papers and scanned copies from Maggie’s house made Derrick groan.
“Hmm, can’t wait to put it all together in a report,” he mumbled sarcastically.
“I can’t wait to send the report,” Taylor said with a sly grin. “The department head absolutely hates Dr. Fraiser. That’s probably part of the reason we didn’t get funding.”
Kally nodded. “I’m surprised he hasn’t tried to fire her.”
“She got tenure before he got the position,” Taylor explained. “It’s been a spite war ever since.”
“Will he let us publish the research if she leads?” Derrick hoped their work wouldn’t collect dust in a file box somewhere like Kingsly’s.
“He might make it difficult, but I don’t think he’ll be able to stop us.” Taylor patted Derrick on the shoulder. “I’ll keep you in the loop even after you’re back in the States.”
He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten. With a month left of his semester abroad, he couldn’t prepare everything for the presentation.
“You’d better,” he tried to say firmly, but it sounded sad. Taylor squeezed his shoulder and withdrew. Kally pouted across the aisle at them.
“I can’t believe we won’t get to finish this together,” she said mournfully. “I’d keep you here until you graduated if we could.”
Derrick ignored the prickle behind his eyes and chuckled.
“The university bursar would have a few things to say about that,” he said.
They chatted back and forth while the bus wound through streets lit by the setting sun. With a shriek, it stopped, and the doors opened as the lamp posts turned on. The rest of the trip to Maggie’s house was quiet. They all stared at the shops they’d been in and the views they wouldn’t see after tomorrow. Like a funeral procession, they wandered up the steps to the blue door that bore Maggie’s nameplate.
“I’m going to miss staying here,” Derrick admitted. Dr. Keirnan’s house was warm and cozy, nothing like the student dorms back in Edinburgh.
“Me too,” Kally agreed. The door opened, and Maggie’s face popped outside. Her pinched brows relaxed after she saw them.
“Stop standing out in the dark,” she scolded and shooed them inside. “I thought you were salesmen or missionaries.” Without giving them time to settle, she turned and beamed at them. “How was the trip?”
They showed her the etchings and the game piece. Maggie confirmed their suspicions that it was, in fact, the king piece in a Hnefatafl game.
“It was a strategy game that they expected raid leaders to excel at,” she said while holding the piece up to the light. She tilted it back and forth in the light while her other hand reached for a magnifying glass. “It’s definitely bone,” she said once she’d peered through the lens. She handed it back to Taylor and watched him repackage it.
“You’re lucky they were willing to give away such a precious thing.” She glanced down and pointed at the page that detailed where and when the piece was found. “And damned lucky the one who found it cared so much about preserving context.”
Kally and Taylor both beamed. “We recommended Ira try to get involved in some local digs,” Taylor explained. “She’s the type of volunteer that helps rather than gets in the way.”
“Cheers to that,” Maggie laughed and raised an imaginary glass. “Well, head to bed so you can catch the ferry tomorrow. Breakfast will be ready before you leave.” She went to stand, but Derrick put a hand out to stop her.
“Um, I–” he hesitated when she looked at him– “I wanted to say thank you, Dr. Keirnan, uh, Maggie,” he stuttered. “You did a lot to help us out. We’ll never forget that.”
“He’s right,” Kally agreed. “Thank you so much.” Taylor nodded in agreement.
Maggie smiled at the trio. “Oh, hush,” she tittered and patted Derrick on the cheek. “You three were a delight. I look forward to seeing the report on all your findings.”
Packing his bag, the next morning felt like a last goodbye. Even Kally was silent as they boarded the ferry and settled in for the six-hour ride. Kally stared out the window at the passing cliffs, Taylor fiddled on his phone beside her, and Derrick struggled to find a comfortable position in the tiny chairs for his cramped legs.
“We should send Ira and Callum a report of the findings,” Taylor said firmly and looked up from his phone screen. “They should get a mention as well.”
“Obviously,” Kally said, still looking out the window.
Taylor wormed a hand around her waist and pulled her into his side. She flopped onto him without a fight and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Any word from the professor?” Derrick asked.
“She wants to see us when we get in.” Taylor showed him a text. The words ‘no matter day or night’ were capitalized.
“Why the urgency?” Derrick leaned in. Professor Fraser wasn’t usually that demanding.
Taylor shook his head and sat back. “She wouldn’t say.”
After docking, they took the train to the university. The security guard at the humanities building waved them through with a smile.
“She said she’d be in her office,” Taylor said, charging off in that direction. The squeaky wheel on his rolling suitcase accompanied him and echoed in the empty hallway. Derrick and Kally followed.
“We couldn’t find a cup of coffee first?” Kally grumbled.
Dr. Fraser’s office door was covered in paper flowers, newspaper clippings, and pictures from archaeology digs worldwide. Her face was in many of them.
Derrick knew from the student gossip it was her husband’s doing. Apparently, three years ago, he’d waited until her class was in session to sneak over from the art building and paste the collage without her knowledge. That she had taken nothing down said she either loved him or couldn’t be bothered. They knocked and waited for her to answer.
“Come in,” she ordered.
They entered to find the usual paperwork explosion covering every available surface. Dr. Fraser had her hair pulled into a tight bun and her thick glasses perched on the end of her nose as she typed an email. The keys on the old keyboard clacked as she used only her pointer fingers to punch in the words.
“Sit anywhere that doesn’t have something important on it,” she said after they continued to stand in silence. Derrick wondered what her definition of important was.
Taylor pushed their bags into the hall and scooted a pile of documents out of one chair. Kally sat in his lap with a smirk while Derrick removed a box lid filled with nails and brick fragments from a stool in the corner. He perched precariously on the wobbly seat while the professor sent the email off with a sigh.
She removed her glasses and looked at them. “I know you three did much work this past week.” It was a precursor to a hard conversation, but Taylor nodded and responded.
“We have everything in a file and recorded digitally,” he said.
“What about the artifact you brought back?” Dr. Fraser asked.
“In Derrick’s bag.” Kally waved off into the hallway.
“Good, we’ll need it.” She pinched the bridge of her nose and looked at them almost apologetically. “I have good news and bad news,” she began.
“Good news; I’m getting more funding to finish cataloging the skeletons, and a few more department members will assist us henceforth.” She held up a hand in a stop motion when Kally and Taylor leaned forward excitedly. “No talking. Bad news; Mr. Arron O’Donnel,” she said the name with a hiss. “Let slip to the public that the bodies of two Vikings were found on his property. Newspapers have gotten a hold of the story and are running rampant. In exchange for the extra funding, Dr. Toad–” she shook her head, and Taylor snorted into Kally’s shoulder–“Excuse me, department head, Dr. Toad, gave us a deadline of three weeks to have the report ready for presentation to the public.”
“How many assistants is Dr. Todd giving us?” He asked once he stopped laughing.
“Three,” she said. “Which isn’t enough, but it’s all I’m getting.” She smacked a hand on the desk and stood. Her gaze landed on each of them. If this were a movie, she’d be wearing a general’s uniform and probably smoking a cigar, about to lay out the final battle strategy to a rag-tag troop of soldiers.
“This is to remain strictly between only authorized staff. Understand?” She started listing things on her fingers. “If newspapers call you, no, they didn’t. Anyone emails you, it goes to spam. If anyone approaches you on campus, you yell for security.”
“Yes, professor,” they chorused. She smiled.
“Good, get a good night’s rest. I’ll review your investigation tonight. We start tomorrow morning.”