Dark Hunger


Page 16



Farlae slipped out of the room and made for the reception hall, planning what he would say to have a private word with Byrne. It would have to be some urgent matter that would not alarm Jayr—


Halt.


Farlae’s legs buckled, and he fell to his knees as if shoved to them. His nose filled with the stink of burning metal as a strange cloud of glittering gold surrounded him.


This is not your concern, spymaster.


He clasped his hands to the sides of his head as his body went numb and pain crawled through his mind. He could not speak, could hardly think. Who are you? What do you want with me?


Peace, brother. We all serve to protect, and protect we must. I would not hurt you.


Rage pulsed inside Farlae. Fuck you.


The agony spread through him as he fought the invasion, but the alien presence in his head was too strong, and caused him to fall over and writhe. Just as Farlae thought his head might explode, a strange warmth came over him, as gentle and loving as a mother’s caress.


Rise.


Farlae stood.


You will return to your workroom, attend to your duties there, and remember none of this past hour.


A blankness settled over the wardrobe keeper, obliterating everything. A moment later his head cleared, and he eyed his surroundings. He didn’t know why he was in the guest wing, and with the work waiting for him, he had no business loitering here.


Farlae smiled to himself as he made his way to his workroom, nodding to his ladies as he passed their worktables. When he went to his loom, he found the shawl he had been weaving in tatters.


“Viviana?” he called out. “Who the devil has been cutting up this shawl?”


Chapter 7


The first week of excavation at the mission went so smoothly that Alys decided she’d give the interns the next weekend off. They’d be ready for a break, and it would also give her two uninterrupted days to solve some problems that had come up since they’d started digging.


One of those problems was sitting with the students now, entertaining them during their last break of the night by telling them another of his stories about life in medieval England.


“No one noticed the smell because no one bathed,” Beau was saying. “Villeins often went their entire lives without washing more than their hands and feet.”


Brenda’s nose wrinkled. “God, they must have been practically black with dirt. And covered in lice.”


“Don’t forget leprosy,” Charles said, tapping the end of his nose. “I’ve read studies that say as many as one out of ten medieval peasants caught the disease.”


“Plague was more common,” Beau said, shaking his head when Chan offered him a can of soda. “Sicknesses such as smallpox, cholera, and syphilis ravaged without prejudice. Great ladies who went about in public often had to first veil their faces to conceal the scars, the sores, and the boils. The men, who had no such excuse, grew thick beards and fringes of hair to cover what they could. When they became so disfigured they dared not show their faces in public, they would send their stewards to act on their behalf.”


Paolo, the most fastidious member of the team, shuddered. “So much misery, and it could have been prevented with running water and a few bars of soap.”


“A quarter of the world died in the fourteenth century,” Chan put in, “because they had no rat poison.”


“No one in that time knew that the rats could make them sick, or that it was the fleas they carried that caused the Black Death. They were so much a part of everyday life that no one even noticed them. Like bad teeth, which truly was the plague of everyone, rich to wretched. In particular, tooth rot made one queen of England particularly savage. It was said that an inflamed molar drove her to declare war on the Spanish.” Beau caught Alys watching them. “But that tale will wait for another time. I think Dr. Stuart has an announcement to make.”


Alys watched Beau, who began collecting and stacking the dirty plates for washing. He put his own at the bottom of the pile, but before he did, she saw that once again her project manager had barely touched his food.


“Did you need to say something, Doctor?” Chan asked.


“Yes.” She dragged her attention back to her interns. “I’m very pleased with the rate of progress we’re making. If we can keep on schedule this week, and finish processing and documenting, I’m giving everyone the weekend off to stay at the hotel, sleep in, and have some fun in the city.”

Instead of cheering or applauding as they normally would, the students only sat and glanced at one another.


Alys folded her arms. “Don’t everyone thank me at once.”


“It’s not that we’re not grateful, Dr. Stuart,” Brenda said slowly. “A weekend off would be very cool, but you have to stay at the site, and you shouldn’t be out here alone.” She grimaced. “You know. Not with the site being haunted and all.”


“Not the ghost again.” Alys pressed her fingers briefly to her temples. “Please. You are too intelligent to believe in this nonsense.”


“What about the shimmering light Paolo saw last Tuesday night?” Chan asked, nudging the other boy. “You said it moved, like it was alive, right?”


Paolo looked uneasy. “I saw something shimmering.”


“You saw moonlight reflected by the frost on the brush,” Alys said firmly. “The wind picked up, the brush moved, and that provided the ghostly animated effects.”


“What about all the cases that fell over in the stables?” Charles asked. “When we went in to see what happened, there was no one in there.”


“Gravity was in there,” Alys assured him. “You stack too many cases too high, continually shift them by bumping them, and eventually they will tumble over, all on their own.”


“But the ghost tried to push you down the stairs in the cloister just last night,” Brenda insisted. “You could have been killed.”


Alys didn’t want to be reminded of her latest brush with disaster. “No one pushed me. I happen to be clumsy, and I tripped over my own feet. Fortunately Mr. York caught me before I fell.” She still wasn’t sure how he’d done that, but that was a discussion she intended to have privately with her savior. Stop thinking of him like that. “As anthropologists and archaeologists, you will encounter a great deal of superstition and ignorance. You will identify it, study it, and use it to better understand civilizations from the past. Don’t add to it by believing in fantasies like ghosts. There is always a plausible explanation.”


“Okay, maybe the ghost isn’t real,” Brenda said, “but Beau still needs us.”


The other interns nodded, demonstrating another facet of Alys’s problem: Her students were now united in their hero worship of Beau. If she let them, they’d follow him around like a pack of affectionate puppies. “I’m sure Mr. York can spare you for a weekend.”


“But that’s when Beau said he was going to check out the Indian mission,” Chan said. “We wanted to go with him.” His expression grew uneasy. “He did tell you about it, right?”


“We haven’t had a chance to discuss it.” Alys had already vetoed this idea the first time it was proposed, and now repeated what she’d told the interns then: “As I mentioned last week, we have to finish the excavations here at the mission before we start surveying the village.”


“Why?” Brenda asked. “We could do both, couldn’t we? Beau could manage the village site while you continue digging here.”


“It’s not like we’re finding anything useful here at the mission,” Charles tagged on. “The rosaries and prayer books we unearthed are Spanish Dominican. The glass beads left in the dump pit were common trade items. Nothing indicates the Templars came anywhere near the place, assuming they ever…” He stopped and squirmed.


“You’ve gone this far, Charles.” Alys rolled her hand. “You might as well say the rest of it.”


“Okay.” He hunched his shoulders a little before he met her gaze. “Assuming they ever reached America in the first place.”


“See? That didn’t make my head explode.” As the other interns chuckled, Alys sat down at the table. “You are entitled to your opinions, people.” She eyed Charles. “Especially when they’re the opposite of mine.”


Chan nudged Charles. “Yeah, but any other prof would have kicked him off the dig by now.”


“I have more training, more experience, and I’ve definitely read more books than any of you have,” Alys said. “All that means is that I’m farther along in my career. Someday most of you will catch up, and some of you will surpass me. Right now there is only one thing I have that gives me a real advantage over all of you.”


“Your PhD,” Chan said, nodding.


“My patience,” she corrected. “Do any of you know exactly how long it took Howard Carter to find King Tutankhamen’s tomb?” She waited, but no one answered. “It took him thirty-one years, almost half his life. Here in Florida, Mel Fisher spent nearly two decades searching hundreds of miles of ocean floor for the wreck of the Atocha. Dozens of other archaeologists have done the same, with far less illustrious results. The chance at a major discovery might never come along once in your lifetime.”


“Maybe I should change my major now,” Brenda said, looking depressed.


“I just want you to be realistic,” Alys told her. “We’re not looking for a tomb or a sunken galleon filled with treasure. We need one item, one single shred of evidence that proves without a doubt that the Knights Templar came to America. And since we have only a month to find it, the odds are excellent that we won’t.”


“If you know that, if you’re sure we won’t find anything, then why are we still digging?” Charles countered.


“My research indicates that they did come, and not merely to seek sanctuary from persecution.” She looked around the table. “I believe the Templars helped build this mission for two purposes: to convert the natives, and to hide something valuable. I can’t tell you what it is because the Templars deliberately destroyed every record of it. What I do know is that to find it, we must be diligent.”



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