Not Like Indiana Jones
“Do me a favor, darling, and put that box in the kitchen,” Maggie called.
Derrick hefted the box onto the dense oak table. Dr. Keirnan’s house was small and cluttered with paraphernalia from multiple eras. Some of it was labeled, but most were sitting on every bit of counter space in piles, boxes, or bags from the collection sites. She dedicated the rest of the room to bookshelves stacked to the brim with papers and plastic-bound notes. The kitchen was the only space left for them to gather.
Despite the absent elbow room, the house was neat. All three of them could move around, provided they were careful of delicate artifacts, and take seats in front of the quaint fireplace that had been lit almost as soon as they’d walked in the door. While Kally took advantage of the bathroom to shower, Derrick and Taylor were tasked with locating materials. They sifted through Dr. Keirnan’s extensive collection of notes and checked recordings for the ones she thought would be useful. They’d amassed a small pile of paper, tapes, and photo books before she’d returned from setting up the beds in her guest room.
“I hope you three don’t mind sharing a room,” she said before starting a kettle for tea. “I only have one, but many student researchers and excavators come in simultaneously, and bunk beds seemed the best way to go.”
“That’s perfect for us, Dr. Keirnan,” Derrick assured her. Taylor looked up from a photo scan to nod along.
“We appreciate you letting us stay at all,” he agreed. Dr. Keirnan tittered as she handed them both mugs of hot water with tea bags.
“It’s not a problem. Working with the youth of today keeps me young.” She flipped a timer for the tea and thumbed through their pile. “Now, let’s see what you have here.”
As the tea steeped and Kally returned from her shower, the four reviewed potential material material and collected more at Dr. Keirnan’s request. By the time the tea was drunk and the fire burned itself out, their mound of notes was twice the size it had been.
“This is the one thing I hate about academia,” Kally groaned. She placed a sticky tab on a chapter heading and tossed the book onto the table before pushing her reading glasses further up her nose. “So much freakin’ reading.”
“What did you expect?” Taylor grumbled as he rubbed the crease that had developed on his forehead. He, too, had hit his limit, evidenced by the drooping eyelids and no sign of his usual proper posture. He slumped in the chair while he scanned two different images of grave goods.
“I wanted to be like Indiana Jones,” Kally sighed. “You never see him doing research.”
“We don’t speak that name in this house,” Dr. Keirnan interrupted. She collected their mugs and dropped them in her sink. “You’ve done a beautiful job of picking out what you want to look at. I think it’s time we go to bed and get a fresh start in the morning.” Her eyes tilted up in a broad smile, and Derrick almost preened. Going from a hard-ass professor like Dr. Fraser to someone that handed out compliments like candy was doing wonders for his ego.
The three students shuffled back from the table and cracked various joints as they stretched stiff muscles. Derrick rubbed his sore eyes as he followed Kally and Taylor to the room. When the door shut behind them, he sank onto the futon in the corner where his duffle had already taken up residence. Kally and Taylor looked at the made-up set of bunk beds with frowns.
“Hey, Taylor,” Kally started. She waited for him to turn to her. He probably expected a serious question, given his rigid expression.
Instead, what came out was, “Are you a top or a bottom?” She wiggled her eyebrows at him and pasted on a tired smirk.
Derrick huffed a laugh as Taylor’s face settled into the resignation only the very exhausted possessed and ignored Kally to climb onto the top bunk. Kally shrugged.
“Thought I’d ask.”
* * *
Derrick’s dreams were filled with bones and gold. He didn’t sleep well for the first few nights in a new place and the result was vivid dreams that haunted him well after he woke. Skeletons, the same ones they’d discovered, played with the Viking chess game. He also dreamed one cradled the altar cross under their chin like a child with a toy. Then things shifted to the rings and bracelets scattered on trays back in the lab. In his mind’s eye, he saw the one skeleton present them to the other before taking up the sword and charging at his dream self.
He woke up wrapped in sheets and sweaty because of the constricting fabric and more exhausted than he had been when he went to bed. He mourned that there was no smell of coffee, just a kettle going off and his classmates chatted in what they probably thought was a hushed tone. A wave of homesickness started to pinch at his gut. Derrick missed his and his girlfriend’s studio apartment with the water-stained ceiling and the coffee pot that doubled as a ramen cooker in the most desperate of times.
Dr. Keirnan still had her hair in curlers as she flitted about the kitchen. While she popped English muffins into a toaster oven, Kally flipped sausages in a pan on the stove, and Taylor put out place settings and brewed tea.
“Good morning, sunshine!” Kally chirped as he shuffled over to the chair. “Welcome to Chateau de Orkney, where your dining options include the regular bangers, toast, eggs, and beans, extra White with no seasonings more offensive than pepper, and, as a special treat, oatcakes!”
Derrick hummed and did his best to look coherent as Kally placed food on platters. They scarfed down the delicious oatcakes, and Dr. Keirnan pulled out The Pile. Somewhere between sorting and stacking the notes, Derrick had started to refer to it by that title. The thought of having to dissect The Pile without even a drop of coffee filled him with dread.
“I want you all to start with these,” she said and pushed the genealogies they’d dug out towards them. “Then, look into the folk narratives that were recorded. They might prove more useful than you’d think.”
With the determination of slightly affronted cats, they started sorting genealogies by area and the era in which they arrived. Derrick’s eyes glazed over within thirty minutes. The words on the page jumbled in his head until his vision blurred in and out of focus. Who needs drugs when exhaustion exists?
“If you’re bored,” Taylor said over a laminated, yellowed family tree. “Start on the recordings.”
Derrick nodded. The first tape had a man talking about a farmstead that had been in the clan for generations. He then trashed his neighbor in a quick brogue filled with colloquialisms that Derrick would have needed years and a decoder ring to decipher. He knew the feud must be an old one because the same neighbor apparently leaped over the stone wall that separated the properties, narrated by the recording team between laughter and shocked yells. The two started a knock-down drag-out fight the recorder tried to disrupt. Silence reigned then the recording picked up again and filled his headphones with the sound of a pen clicking and a defeated sigh.
‘The feud started in the year 1027 A.D.,’ a voice in a wilted British accent said. ‘Because of a cow.’ He paused again and sighed. ‘Neither man could agree on whose ancestor actually stole the cow.’
The tape ended.
Few of the remaining interviews were as interesting or as volatile. Instead, they discussed community legends and the history of specific landmarks like the church. Despite the bland subject material, Derrick took notes on a legal pad that started to run out of pages in an hour.
‘My family can link their history back to Iceland,’ a pompous-sounding voice declared. ‘They came from the Hall of Ragnar the Shrewd. His eldest son founded this town. Gunnar the Witch-Killer.’
Derrick frowned and scribbled both names into a margin. He knew little about Scandinavian culture, but monikers like that weren’t normal. As he paused the tape to check through his previous notes, Kally leaned over to check his findings.
“You heard about Ragnar and Gunnar, too?”
Derrick nodded. “Just now.”
“They get a lot of footnotes in some of these things.” She laid a family tree in front of him. “Either someone’s lying, or Gunnar was a whore.”
Sure enough, at the bottom, a note declared that the descendants, despite not having evidence, believed that they were related to Gunnar the Witch-Killer.
“It’s mentioned in the church records as well.” Taylor flagged a page in a history book. “Gunnar was a devout Christian in the early days of the community. He set up the church and even welcomed displaced priests to stay there. There’s mention of trying to get him sainted, but nothing ever came of it.”
“Someone was playing politics,” Kally grunted scornfully. “It’s not a new thing.”
“Religious support was never anything to sneeze at, even in non-Christian societies.”
They all turned to Dr. Kiernan. She’d abandoned them to write in her study and had only just emerged. A glance at the clock informed them it was past lunchtime.
“Didn’t Vikings worship Odin or something?” Derrick asked.
Dr. Keirnan only frowned at him instead of rolling her eyes. She shook her head. “Some Norse peoples adhered to Pagan ideologies while others turned to Christianity and the new avenues of power it brought. Whether their interest was faith-based or for political power, we won’t know. The Norse kings weren’t the first to cling to religion to hold on to their thrones, and they won’t be the last.”
Kally nodded and whispered a small, “hear, hear!”
“I wonder where Gunnar got the title Witch-Killer from,” Taylor mused.
Dr. Keirnan patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll give you a few people to ask about him. He’s quite the fascinating character, but I only ever focused on him in passing. My main body of work is in farming practices and dietary developments. There are a few local history buffs here. They obsess over Gunnar. Three days should be plenty of time to ask them some questions.”