July 16, 2010

Artwork by Lauren T. Hart

Denmark, despite appearances, is a much bigger piece of land than a world map would suggest and in spite of her efforts and all she had learned, seven years later Anna found herself no closer to finding her father than when she began.

After a couple of years on her own, Anna had teamed up with Dr. Oliver Houser, an archaeologist and his team, most of whom came from the states, who was studying not simply ancient runes, but the potential for them to contain hidden meaning. Though she soon discovered that below the surface, and just beyond the doctorate, Dr. Houser was little more than a treasure hunter.

Anna didn't care what his motivations were. He had connections and he tended to take an interest in the areas she'd wagered to be the most likely locations to find her father - or as the runes she'd deciphered told: the place his heart dwelt for all time.

After the fifth year Anna began to think that if she were a mortal, that is to say, if she didn't have all the time in the world to follow the ramblings of poorly written poetry and confusing riddles all over Denmark, she might really be starting to feel as if she were wasting her time. She wondered, in a life as long as hers, what exactly constituted wasted time. Mortality itself seemed to give mortals a sense of purpose in their lives. So perhaps the answer was that all of her life, her very existence was a waste. Or maybe she was just bored.

Not to say that she hadn't made any progress. Over the years she had become quite proficient in reading and translating runic inscriptions, which is not as easy a task as it may seem. Runes are riddles in and of themselves. Each represents a letter, as well as a name of a Norse god and what they had dominion over. These fell under directions as well as seasons. Some represented days of the week, others indicated numbers. Their meaning could change depending on how they were arranged, the direction and style they were written in, and even according to the region they were written in. Learning that bit of information had been perhaps the most helpful as it narrowed her search more than anything else had.

Initially, Dr. Houser had been reluctant to take her on as a part of his team. But once it was made clear that she would pay her own way, and agreed to give him complete credit for any findings they claimed - claimed being the key word here, as researchers made claim to their findings and treasure hunters simply sold them - he welcomed her aboard.

For the most part, Dr. Houser came across as a stern and serious man, but Anna knew it stemmed from being cautious and contemplative. She knew she often came across this way herself. She appreciated the quality knowing that what makes a person this way was often a solid indication of having something to protect... or to hide.

Dr. Houser's team also included a fellow archaeologist Dr. Amanda Greenbaum. She was awkwardly in love with Dr. Houser and had a tendency not only to idealize him but also to mirror his stern behavior. Despite her adoring mimicry, Dr. Houser remained ever oblivious to her affections. Anna could only guess at whether he was doing so purposefully or not.

Dr. Greenbaum's actual temperament didn't lend itself to being contemplative. She was too scatty and was often prone to fanciful outbursts of a poetic nature.

Their regional expert was a Danish born Scotsman named Johan Galbraith who relocated to Denmark after inheriting several expansive plots of land, some of which were believed by Dr. Houser to be potentially lucrative excavation spots. As such Johan had taken a risk and invested financially in Dr. Houser's research. Nothing they'd discovered thus far had returned anything of much value, but Johan wasn't ready to give up on his treasure hunt, even after twenty years of searching.

Johan was a happy, suspicious and miserly chap with a quick and often wry wit. And when sufficiently plied with alcohol would tale tales of supernatural phantoms, banshees and wraiths that would roam the land. Anna had thought to ask him about vampires and immortals more than a time or two but had instead decided to take the stance that all of it was nonsense.

Thomas Newton hailed from New York, which Anna concluded must be where Meline was currently living, as Thomas first mistook her for a girl named Melissa Barrett from his civics class, and had since been intrigued by the idea of doppelgangers. As it happened this was another topic that Johan would expound on from time to time, though none of his drunken stories ever had happy endings and doppelgangers brought with it a particularly gruesome bit of lore about the double consuming the original and taking their place.

Johan thought it was all in good fun, but after hearing the stories, Thomas avoided close contact with her.

Kevin Pike was from Wisconsin. His two favorite things, as he put it were "football and digging." He liked finding things but was more interested in the act of discovering than in the discovery itself. He was also an avid reader. Anna liked this about him. She also liked that he had the stamina to keep up with her and didn't assume that just because they were having sex with each other implied that they were in a relationship with each other.

They'd only been on the team for about six months but it was these last two, the interns, which gave the team a real sense of legitimacy. They did the grunt work, and if they were really lucky would get to appear in photographs featured in obscure archeology magazines along side Dr. Houser, if he found anything while they were with him.

They had set up what was their fifth base camp in as many months, next to a dry riverbed, near a mass of rune covered stones. It was only a few miles away from a rocky hillside that bordered the ocean.

Hundreds of years ago it could have very well been a lush green valley, or maybe not, but it fit the description of the area she was looking for and was a cranny she hadn't previously checked. So while Dr. Houser, Dr. Greenbaum, and Mr. Galbraith plotted and planned as they hovered over what was - at least as far as Anna could decipher - a burial mound of someone's treasured loved ones, she snuck away for a long walk.

Kevin decided to follow.

She tried to dissuade him first with her pace, but after a couple of miles, and without even a hint of being out of breath, he caught up to her.

"You're like a puppy dog." Anna chided.

"I'll take that as a compliment," Kevin smiled. "Dogs are loyal, smart, and adorable."

"You know, I hadn't planned on taking a leisurely jaunt across the hillside," she informed. "I was planning on hiking to the edge of that ridge over there." She pointed it out to him in the distance.

Kevin squinted at the horizon, then laughed uncomfortably. "What the hell for?"

"Are you sure you want to be an archaeologist?" Anna eyed him. "I'm going to see what's over there."

"Yeah, but why?" Kevin asked. "Back near the camp, there are some very lovely stones with some very lovely markings on them. That," he pointed to ridge, "is more than half a days hike there and back."

"Yep." Anna quickened her pace.

"Okay," Kevin shrugged. "So, what are we looking for?"

"Who says I'm looking for anything?" Anna said innocently.

"Come on," he said. "I promise not to tell anybody, besides, you know you can trust me." He grabbed her around the waist, stopping her and pulled her into his arms. "Have I ever let you down?"

Anna eyed him as she ran her fingers lightly across his chest. "Why are you so curious all of a sudden?"

"You're so suspicious," Kevin kissed her pursed lips. "If I know what you're looking for it makes it easier to find."

Anna sighed. "The stones near the camp are markers to a burial site; which means at one time, there must have been homes around here someplace, right? That's what I'm looking for. Evidence of life."

Kevin nodded. "Like the town that's about thirty five miles from here." Kevin said.

"Yeah," Anna nodded, pulled away from him and kept walking. "Except, this way."

Their trek didn't uncover any significant findings and other than the two times they had sex once they had reached the ridge, the trip was, on the whole, uneventful.

As they neared camp they could hear the unmistakable sound of the generator humming in the distance. A large white tent had been set up over the burial site and even though it was still light outside, bright lights glowed softly from within. The smell of canned meat and potatoes wafted in the air.

"Shit." Kevin said, looking agitated, as soon as he saw the tent.

"Not to worry," Anna said. "This isn't Houser's first grave robbery, I'm sure it wont be his last."

Kevin didn't look comforted.

"Where have you two been?" Dr. Greenbaum snapped as she came running to meet them. "Wondrous things afoot here, some very peculiar findings, and you two are missing them."

"Dearing!" Houser yelled, tossing back the fabric of the tent door and storming toward them.

Dearing was the name listed on her birth certificate, so she thought it a suitable fit in the search for her father, though she might have gone with something else had she known it was going to become her primary name for the past few years.

"Yes, Dr. Houser."

"You wander off all you like Dearing, but don't take my hired help with you." Dr. Houser said fiercely, emphasizing his seriousness with wide outstretched arm gestures.

"What's the matter Dr. Houser, did you have to get your hands dirty?" Anna replied.

"I think it's the sweating and heavy lifting our old boy dislikes so much." Johan chimed in with a laugh.

"We would of course like to get your translation, now that you're here," Dr. Greenbaum said. "It really is very peculiar."

Anna turned to Kevin, who looked like he might be sick. "Are you feeling alright?" she asked.

"Uhm, not really." Kevin said. "I think I'm going to call it a day and go lay down in my tent. You go on."

It seemed overkill for escaping Houser's wrath, but it worked. Dr. Houser shook his head and brushed Kevin off with a wave of his hand. Kevin turned and headed for his tent.

"I'll check on you later," Anna called as she headed for the tent over the dig site.

A large tarp, covered with a sheet of fabric lay near the excavated grave. Another tarp covered the open pit where they were digging. Anna shook her head at the irony of the situation. Besides honoring a departed loved one, it seemed obvious that grave markers sent an unspoken message not to dig there. Besides, taking trinkets from the dead seemed so... cowardly and petty.

Anna eyed the script on the stone.

"Well?" Dr. Greenbaum said anxiously, "What do you think?"

"It's a family plot," Anna said. "Some of the etchings look like they've been removed. The family name is Fonnesbech... Treasured loved ones. Is that what made you decide to dig Houser? One man's treasured dead is another man's treasure?" she chided.

Dr. Houser cleared his throat and folded his arms.

Anna continued her translation. "Let's see, according to this you've discovered Mr. Fonnebech's first wife and true love, the one who holds his heart for all time. Now that's very sweet isn't it? And his infant son, whose death was followed shortly thereafter by his mother, the second wife whom he didn't love near as much as the first apparently, and later... a married daughter... Her husband must have been a real piece of work. If I understand this correctly she was pregnant when she died and her family reclaimed her and buried her here."

"Yes, yes. That was our translation as well." Dr. Greenbaum said, excited.

"It's a little odd, but it doesn't exactly shout treasure trove of riches though does it?" Anna said. "Were you hoping they were all buried with their wedding rings?"

"Well now, there's more. Look here Miss Dearing." Dr. Greenbaum pulled back the drop cloth on the tarp to reveal three individual piles of remains, one large and long and two very small, partially wrapped and in varied states of decay. Next to them lay several well-worn and decayed pieces of wood.

"It's one woman, who as far as we can tell was not pregnant and two infants." Dr. Greenbaum said. "The smaller one on the left looks to have been premature."

"So, you haven't uncovered the other two graves, and someone didn't think it was important to mention a premature stillborn." Anna said. "It's nothing to write home about."

"Tell her my favorite part," Johan said from the doorway of the tent then took a long swig from his flask.

Dr. Greenbaum pursed her lips and looked to Dr. Houser.

Dr. Houser shifted his weight from one foot to the other and cleared his throat. "It would appear..." he cleared his throat again. "That two of the women, the absent ones," he waved toward the tarp, "were... initially... buried alive."

Dr. Greenbaum picked up a long plank of wood and showed it Anna. "Look," she pointed out, "scratch marks. And-" she replaced the scratched plank of wood and scurried over to a table at the far end of the tent. She returned with an item wrapped loosely in cloth in her hand. "The littlest one, your stillborn, was buried with this," she pulled back the cloth to reveal a large amulet, with a large blue stone at it's center. It was rimmed with silver and etched with runes that spoke of a cursed man, frozen in time, sworn to watch over his female offspring for all of time.

"I've never seen anything quite like it," Dr. Houser said.

"And a stone that size," Johan added, "Probably worth at least a hundred thousand."

Anna's mind raced as it tried to make the pieces of this new puzzle fit the clues she already had. A valiant man with daughters three... Anna's mind was reeling in a full tilt spin as she tried unsuccessfully not to jump to conclusions. "Excuse me," she said. "I... I'm not feeling very well all of a sudden."

"Not you too," Dr. Greenbaum said, "I hope it's not food poisoning. What did you two eat for lunch?"

"Canned spaghetti." Anna mumbled as she left the tent.

She caught sight of Kevin standing near his tent talking to Thomas. They held each other's gaze for a moment then she averted her eyes and paced at speed to her tent.

"Anna?" Kevin called after her, but she ignored him.

She had found the place her father's heart dwelt for all time. It was with his first wife, the love of his mortal life.

It seemed safe to assume that his second wife and the daughter mentioned on the stone had also joined the immortal realm and their deaths extravagantly faked. She wondered why but knew that in the end it didn't really matter.

It was also safe to assume that if this area was still under watch, as the writings of The Line of Lineage suggested and her father was the man she believed him to be, time was of the essence, and if she didn't act quickly, it seemed unlikely that any of them would survive.


Chapter 29 - Seven Years ~ One Day

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart