- 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
Derrick followed Callum as he led them up the drive of a sprawling farmstead to the small house in the center. It almost blended into the landscape with how low it sat. Taylor’s camera shutter accompanied their footsteps as he took pictures of the surroundings.
“The first building was somewhere that way–” Callum gestured off to the left field–“It was a pile of rocks when my grandfather was a boy, but we dismantled that long ago. My father took the stone and used it for wall repairs.”
Derrick checked out the hip-high wall that encased a flock of sheep and a handful of donkeys on the right. The left of the drive had a similar wall that contained a herd of shaggy brown cows with horns. One lowed at him as he passed.
“Are there any records dating to the original purchase?” Kally kept pace with Callum.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Callum admitted. “The oldest record we have is in the family bible. It dates to the 1630s.”
That caught Derrick’s attention. “This same property was in your family’s possession for over four hundred years?” He gaped. “How is that even possible?”
“It’s been in the McLeod family for half that time.” He beamed at them. “The rights are unique. When the first McLeod settled here, the land was part of the eldest daughter’s dowry, and all rights were in her name as she was the oldest. That’s been the tradition as long as anyone can recall. No matter man or woman, the firstborn inherits the land unless they cede it to a younger child, but that happens rarely.”
“So I take it you’re the eldest of your siblings?” Kally asked.
Callum shook his head. “I’m the third. My oldest sister wanted to be a doctor. My older brother coaches rugby at a college on the mainland.”
“They left you the land, then,” Taylor said.
Callum nodded. “I’d never dream of selling it,” he stressed. “People have asked me many times, but nothing will convince me. When I die, it’ll go to my daughter or her siblings if she doesn’t want it.”
“Continuing the tradition,” Kally smiled.
“How did that tradition start?” Derrick asked. He was curious. It’s rare for any family to stay in one place for so long.
“Goes back to that ancestor I was tellin’ you three about.” Callum paused to open the gate leading to the front yard. “Family legend is he bought this place with his wife’s dowry. Wanted to ensure that none of their descendants ever had to worry about finding a home. One would always be there for them.”
Up close, the house seemed bigger. Derrick blinked in surprise. It was a single-story farmhouse built with large, flat, yellow-gray stones. The rounded roof had patches of green lichen between its tiles. Irises and crocus flowers sprouted along the rocky pathway and circled a connected sunroom, whose windows revealed more colorful plants inside. Benches with intricately carved arms sat beside the windows, and their equally detailed window boxes filled with pink flowers he couldn’t identify.
“My wife wanted to meet you all before I took you to the marker.” He gestured them inside and sat on the bench by the door to remove his boots. All three young adults followed his example.
Derrick toed off his Vans while taking in the cozy kitchen setup. Piles of blueberries lay on the counter on towels as if they’d been washed. Rows and rows of glass jars were lined up next to them. The whole room smelled of plants and spices.
“Is she making jam?” Kally asked.
“She is.” Callum pointed at the jars. “Ira’s known for her blueberry preserves at the local market. She grows the bushes herself.”
“Amazing.” Kally glanced around with an awestruck expression on her face. Taylor shuffled in place next to Derrick.
“Calm down, man,” Derrick hissed.
“Can’t help it,” Taylor whispered. “I need the loo.”
“If you boys need the toilet, it’s down the hall,” Callum said. Apparently, he’d overheard them. Taylor squeaked a ‘thank you’ and chucked his camera at Derrick before he sprinted off.
Derrick fumbled with it before it settled in his hands. The most recent picture was on the little screen. A tiny furry calf was licking its nose in the image. It was cute, but Derrick thought Taylor might have taken it for personal reasons, not for their report. A speck in the background made him frown. He zoomed in.
“Is this the stone?” He held the camera out for Callum to look at.
“Yes,” he agreed. “It marks the original boundary. Of course, we’ve expanded a bit since then.”
Derrick looked at the creatures that surrounded them. That would explain why it was in the middle of the cow field.
“How do you know it’s the original boundary?” Kally gestured for the camera. Callum shrugged.
“Always has been.”
A peppy pop tune started trilling through the air, and Callum patted at his pockets for a moment before he extracted his phone.
“Yes, love,” he grunted. “Ach, I’ll tell ‘em.” He paused. “Yes, dear. All my love to her as well. Love you too.” He hung up and faced them.
“Ira’s mother needs a hand for an hour. She’ll be back in a little bit to meet you all,” he explained. “She’s looking forward to it.”
“That’s fine,” Taylor said. He stepped into the room, much calmer than he’d been earlier. “We can make some impressions of the images to examine later and take some more photographs if that’s alright with you.”
“Fine by me. Make sure you show Ira when she gets here.” He chuckled softly. “She’s fascinated with this stuff. We found a few things on the property during plowing times or while gardening. Little things, mind you, nothing to write the papers about. It’ll be nice for her to talk about it with folks that know what’s what.”
“We’ll be happy to chat,” Kally nodded.
They tugged their shoes on and went outside. There wasn’t a gate in the wall, so they climbed over the side and trekked through the field. Derrick tugged his sweater closer as the wind picked up and slammed into him. The cows didn’t seem to mind. All that warm fur meant they could continue to munch on grass without worry. He was jealous.
“Here!” Callum led them to the monument.
It was smaller than Derrick expected. He wasn’t tall by any means, but the monument barely reached his chest. It wasn’t slender like some of the standing stones he’d seen before. Someone left it round on one side and cut it flat on the other. The flat area had markings, but they were difficult to make out because of wear. He reached out and ran a finger over the bumpy surface, feeling the ridges that could be runes. Kally’s hand joined his on the surface. Her fingers drifted over the notches reverently, like she was afraid to touch them.
“Wow,” she whispered. “Wow.”
“Don’t get too excited,” Derrick warned her. “It might not help us.”
Kally frowned at him. “Are you trying to live a boring life?” she asked. “Everything is worth getting excited over.”
“She’s correct,” Taylor said. He shoved his way forward to take another shot. “Whether it’s valuable or not–” he grinned at Derrick over the lens–“It’s all exciting.”
Light blinded Derrick for a minute, and he blinked away the camera glare with a frown. “You better delete that.” He gave up glaring when Taylor grinned at him. “What should we do first?”
“I’ve got some chores to finish,” Callum interrupted. “Just head inside when you’ve finished.” They all agreed, and he sped off, pushing the occasional cow out of his way.
They spent the next hour making rubbings of the surface and taking photos. Derrick laughed when actual runes took shape on the papers. He didn’t know what they said, but it was something.
Kally measured the surface of the rock and wrote down the type and color information and sketched a rough image of it. “I’m done,” she said once she completed the outline.
Derrick heard something pop in her back as she stretched. “Think we have enough to analyze at the lab?”
Taylor nodded. “We have plenty.”
As they trekked to the house, a blue truck rumbled up the drive.
“Must be the wife,” Taylor observed. He guessed right. When they arrived, a gray-haired woman ushered them inside. She smiled brightly after they introduced themselves.
“I’m Ira,” she said as she sat them at the table. She placed a plate of crackers and fruit out for them. “Feel free to sample some of the jam, too. It’s a fresh batch.”
They each took a spoonful and spread it over a cracker. Derrick groaned when it hit his taste buds. It had the perfect blend of sweet and tart with floral undertones.
“Did you put lavender in this?” Kally covered her mouth with her hand and spoke around the food.
“I did!” Ira clapped her hands together. “It’s French lavender. I grow it next to my bushes.”
“This is amazing,” Kally moaned. Taylor hummed in agreement, already loading up another cracker. “Please let me pay you for a jar before we go.” Ira flushed a little at her compliment.
“Oh, please take a jar on the house,” she giggled. “Anywho, tell me about what you’ve found.” She sat across from them at the table. “Callum never tells me enough.”
They went through an abbreviated version of events. Ira listened with rapt attention as the supply of crackers and jam depleted on the table.
“That sounds fantastic,” she said once they’d finished. “And you’ll finish looking at the sketches when ye’ return to Edinburgh?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Derrick said. “We don’t have the expertise to decide anything now.”
“I can understand that,” Ira agreed seriously. “Would you like to see some of what I’ve found in that section? It used to be a field before the cows moved in. All sorts of things would turn up during plow time.”
She presented a row of items safely encased in a cloth-lined craft box. The small collection consisted of cut iron nails, earthenware sherds, a group of beads, and half a ceramic ring with faded etchings.
“These came from the plowing,” she explained again. “I try to keep them grouped by location.” She put it down and showed them another box with more earthenware and miniature statue fragments. “We pulled these out of the backfill from a well.”
Each item was dirt-free and had a tag detailing its coordinates and depth. It was an impressive array. Derrick knew archaeology students that weren’t this careful. He examined a pottery sherd.
“Derrick,” Kally whispered.
“Check this out,” she whispered and held a piece of polished rock up to his nose. Derrick went cross-eyed, trying to see it.
“What is it?” he asked for the third time.
“Hnefatafl.” She pulled the artifact away and glanced at him with a wide smile. “The king.” Derrick stilled.
“Are you sure?” He leaned back to get a better look.
“The crown is pretty self-explanatory,” she snarked.
“I was just checking.” He reached for the statue and turned it. His breath caught. “It’s the same design.”
“Are you sure?” Taylor asked. “It could just be similar.” Derrick shook his head.
“Kally and I reviewed the images of the artifacts a few nights ago,” he explained. “Every piece of the game had a mark near the bottom.”
“I thought it was a rune,” Kally admitted. “But Dr. Fraiser nixed that when I called her yesterday. She said it’s likely a signature.”
“And look.” Derrick flipped the game piece over and held it up for Taylor to examine. He squinted at the mark etched into the base of the king.
“You’re sure it’s the same?” he asked. His nose scrunched and his brows furrowed as he studied it.
“This matches the set we have in the lab.” Kally grinned. “No doubt.”