They broke down and extended their stay with the doctor. Professor Fraser had taken it well. She sounded mildly peeved at the amount of grading she’d have to do alone.
“Tell Maggie she owes me a drink,” she grunted over the line before the connection died and the dial tone took over. Taylor looked at Derrick and Kally while the receiver dangled from his fingertips.
“I think she gave us her blessing.” He left the phone on its perch on the wall of the bus stop and checked the colorful map of routes and times. “Next bus comes at ten,” he said. Kally hummed and shuffled from foot to foot. Derrick burrowed further into his fluffy coat. It struck him how cold it could get in the highlands. Orkney was worse somehow.
The bus stop offered almost no shelter from the winds that fluttered over the landscape. Each little burst of chill air felt worse than the last. Derrick’s eyes watered as he tried to focus on the view to distract himself.
Orkney is flat. Green grass and sheep covered almost everything in every direction. If he squinted hard enough, maybe he could he see the other edge of the island where it dropped off into the ocean. During their stay, it had been an almost constant presence. It was soothing, familiar.
“It’s here,” Taylor announced. As soon as he said it, a bus rumbled around the bend. The engine sputtered as it came to a stop, and the driver opened the door. His silent glower could only be an invitation. They climbed aboard and looked for a row of seats.
A few other people sat in the vehicle, each occupied with a gadget, newspaper, or book. An older man in the back placed his finger at the halfway mark in a tattered edition of Fifty Shades of Grey. He looked engrossed.
“At least it’s warm in here,” Kally griped. She shoved her hands between her thighs. Once again, she’d designated Taylor as her personal heater and cleaved to his side like a limpet, if limpets wore canvas jackets with a pink patch on the back that shouted “Pussy Power” in all caps. Her other patches were tamer, but no less loud. An older woman sniffed as they scootched by her. Taylor seemed to accept his recent growth and maneuvered them both into seats.
“It’ll be about twenty minutes. Don’t get comfortable.” He wrapped an arm around Kally. Derrick gave it two weeks before they proclaimed they were dating. The bus lurched forward, and they all settled in.
Kingsly had traced the farmstead they were visiting back to the general time of their lady Viking. There were no records regarding the property ownership. But excavations had revealed it was in use around the same time as Gunnar’s witch hunt. Derrick hoped the site itself would reveal some clues. Dr. Keirnan’s friend, who was in charge of the area during the dig season, had been generous to let them onto the property and answer questions.
As the sign for their stop rolled up, Derrick prepared to leave the general comfort of the bus and brave the chill air once more. He wondered why Ingrid and her thrall had settled here.
“I hope those bones are Ingrid’s,” Kally muttered, almost to his thoughts.
“Why?” Taylor seemed curious as they exited the bus and stepped out onto the path.
“We could put a name to the body and tell her story.” Kally listed things on her fingers. “She was a sailor and a warrior who had a thrall she was buried with. There were multiple signs of a full life and items that show she was well off. Could you imagine the books people could write about them?”
Derrick couldn’t help but chime in. “Throw in the lesbian angle, and you’ve got your next blockbuster.”
“Exactly!” Kally’s eyes gleamed. Taylor saw her get lost in her story and burst her bubble.
“Don’t get too carried away. It sounds cool, but it’s all speculation.”
Kally blew a raspberry at him. She countered, “All of history is speculation. We just try to find enough physical evidence to make it sound plausible.”
The gravel crunched beneath their feet as they finished making their way to the site. A middle-aged man in worn khakis, a Hawaiian shirt, and a wide-brim hat waited at the gate. He waved and called out when they were within hearing distance.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” The man shouted. Derrick hesitated at the American accent. The man was short and stout with salt-and-pepper hair and a five-o’clock shadow. He trotted over to them with a smile that radiated warmth.
“Dr. Allen?” Kally asked. The man nodded.
“That would be me,” he said. His dark blue eyes bounced between them. “I’m guessing you’re Kally and Derrick, the two yanks like myself?”
They nodded. Dr. Allen smiled wider. “Awesome, and you must be Taylor. Welcome to the Orkney site!” He reached out and shook their hands before waving them toward the gate.
“I don’t know how much you know about the history of Vikings in Orkney, but you’re in for a treat. Very few homesteads this old are in such good condition.” He unlocked the gate and ushered them in. “See, most had stone foundations, but this one had a thick layer of fieldstones at the base of the walls. We excavated about 60cm of packed local quartz that indicated the building shape.”
“How deep was it?” Taylor asked.
“The first row of stones was about 33cm below the surface. Our team collected and recorded the smaller items and got permission to set up a small museum for visitors. It’s the off-season, so we lock it. There’s plenty of time to look through it today since I have a key.” He shepherded them toward a long shallow pit that dipped into the earth and encouraged them to climb in.
“Almost everything is outlined in stone,” Kally breathed excitedly. “Oh my God, that’s a hearth and the room delineation. It’s so obvious!” She tripped over her feet in her haste to explore before she righted herself and continued on.
“If you head about ten meters that way–” Dr. Allen pointed northward–“There are another two buildings set apart.”
Kally was off like a shot.
“She’s excited about this discovery,” Taylor explained. Dr. Allen laughed.
“She should be!” He flipped his hat off and ruffled his hair. “If what Mary and Maggie have been telling me is accurate, you all caught one hell of a find.”
“Is it possible they were together?” Derrick took the chance to ask. He ignored Taylor’s put-upon sigh. Dr. Allen hummed and cocked his head.
“We can’t know for sure, but it’s always possible. Academia has a stigma against queerness in archaeology, but it’s wrong to rule things out because of bias. Remember, we work in a developing field. The sooner academics break from the white, male, Christian viewpoint, the better off we’ll be.”
“Multiculturalism and inclusivity!” Kally yelled. Her voice echoed over the open space.
“I think I have that on a t-shirt,” Derrick murmured.
Their guide laughed. “Come on, I’ll show you the collection.”
The museum was modest, a single building that looked like a refurbished shed. Just as the bolt of the lock turned, Kally joined them. The door swung open, releasing the smell of old paper and aged wood. With a flick of the hidden light switch, the room came to life. Glass boxes containing lined artifacts sat under a light layer of dust. Dr. Allen pulled a blue rag out of his pocket and gave them a cursory wipe.
“Take a peek and ask questions if you have them,” the doctor invited. “I’ll try not to lecture, but interrupt me if I start.”
“Please lecture,” Taylor chuckled. “We’re skipping class to be here.”
Derrick started pacing around the cases. Each item lay in organized rows nestled on foam inserts. He slowed down when he rounded the corner and spotted a case filled with small objects.
“Hey, Kally,” he called. She popped up from where she’d been reading a description on one case and bounced over.
“Whatdy’ya need?” she asked. Derrick pointed at the bottommost object.
“Isn’t that one of those henef-nefta…” He waved his hand and squeezed his eyes closed, hoping the word would return to him.
“Yeah!” He pointed at it again. “Isn’t that one of those pieces we found?” Kally peered through the glass.
“It is,” she agreed. She edged closer until her glasses clicked against the glass. “You think it’s part of the same set?”