Sneaky Peeks

In this new section, I will be posting occasional extracts from my forthcoming novels. Today I’ve added the first two chapters from the first draft of The Trojan Code. This is a very exclusive moment for you, as it’s not even had its first edit. Accordingly you might find the odd typo and possibly grammatical errors, but I think it’s the rawness of this ‘work in progress’ that will enable you to be part of its organic growth and change.

The second extract is from Catherine, Blood and Fire, which will be published under the name of Peter Caulfield. I had started this novel before The Trojan Code had been conceived but such was the demand for the next Jake Sullivan story that I’ve put it on the back burner. Nevertheless, I’m really excited by it and I’m delighted to share some of it with you.

If you read these excerpts, please share your views with me in the comment box at the bottom of the page. All opinions are welcomed and could even help to shape the novels in question.

THE TROJAN CODE

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CHAPTER 1

The Home Office, Marsham Street, London

Lisa Burrows sat back with an air of satisfaction and watched as the Home Office’s most sensitive files appeared on her screen. She double-clicked one at random but as it opened, a hand snapped shut the screen of her laptop.

“There’s no need to delve into the files thank you Miss Burrows.”

Lisa glanced at the slightly plump, balding man standing by her side. “It hardly matters now, Mr. Carmichael.” Her voice had a gentle Scottish burr to it.  “The fact the file opened is testament to the inadequacy of your security systems.”

“The fact you got in to our system is testament to its inadequacy. How the hell did you do it?”

Lisa smiled, “If I tell you that, then you won’t need me to plug the hole.”

Alan Carmichael, Head of Information Security, opened the laptop again. “Could you have made alterations to that file without us knowing?”

“Absolutely. I could have changed it, copied, downloaded or deleted it and you’d have been none the wiser. There would have been no footprint, no indication that any changes had been made. Tell me again why the Home Office IT Director isn’t here with us?”

“He’s in a meeting with the Home Secretary.”

“Shame.” Lisa wrinkled her nose. “He’d have understood what I was talking about. So what now?”

“I’ll arrange a meeting for you with our IT boffins so you can discuss your findings and advise accordingly.” Carmichael moved to the door. “Thank you for your help. Please leave your laptop where it is. You can have it back once it’s been wiped and reformatted.”

Lisa snorted and clicked on an icon that read, ‘Shred and Destroy.’ Immediately her laptop came to life and obliterated everything on it.

Carmichael spun the laptop around so he could see the screen. “What did you just do?”

She smirked.  “You didn’t really expect me to leave the contents of my laptop intact did you?”

“Miss Burrows, really!”

“All the software I use for security testing, I designed. Do you really think I’d want your techie-boys poking about in the engine room, discovering all my professional secrets? I’m shredding the data to protect my intellectual property rights. Do you have a problem with that?”

“Miss Burrows,” Carmichael tried his best to look and sound benign, but it was shallow and Lisa knew it. “We need to ensure your laptop doesn’t leave here with anything it shouldn’t have on board. I’m sure you understand.”

“Absolutely and now that it’s been wiped, you are welcome to inspect it.”

Carmichael frowned. She was a smart cookie; too smart. She obviously knew that he wanted to keep the laptop so that his IT team could deconstruct her software and she had parried that plan very effectively.

There was a knock at the door and Carmichael wrenched it open in temper. “Yes?”

The man at the door was an inch or two over six feet tall, ruggedly handsome and dressed in a Saville Row suit. “Mr Carmichael, my name is Tony O’Brien. We’ve not met before, but I’ve been tasked with reviewing the tests on your computer systems.”

Carmichael’s frown deepened even more. “Why? Who do you work for?”

O’Brien stepped into the office and proffered the ID card hanging around his neck. “MI5.” He glanced over at Lisa and for a split second lost his train of thought. She was beautiful. Her black hair was cut into a feathered bob that framed her face to perfection and intensified the brightness of her vivid blue eyes.

She stood up and smoothed out the creases in her masculine pinstriped suit. She liked the look of him and noted how agreeably proportioned he was and how there was some nice muscle definition pressing against his expensive charcoal grey suit.  Lisa gave O’Brien a sunny smile and walked over. “I don’t think we’ve met before either.”  She held out her hand and O’Brien took it.

“No I don’t think we have.” he swallowed and smiled back.

Carmichael bristled. “Why is MI5 reviewing the tests?”

O’Brien continued to hold Lisa’s gaze as he answered. “I can’t tell you any more I’m afraid, not until we’re alone.” He smiled at Lisa again. “I’m sorry, but it’s all highly confidential.”

She nodded. “I imagine it is. For your information, I’m the one who’s been running the intrusion tests so if you need to speak to me, here’s my card.” She smiled again. “Nice to meet you Mr. O’Brien.”

O’Brien’s brown eyes twinkled as took the card and dropped it in his pocket. “Call me Tony, please.”

Carmichael rolled his eyes, “Oh for goodness sake. Miss Burrows we’re done here, thank you very much. Report to my Secretary and he’ll see you off the premises.”

O’Brien looked disappointed. “Does she have to leave right this minute?”

Lisa laughed. It was a bright infectious laugh. “The Home Office is paying me by the hour and I suspect Mr Carmichael is worried about his budget, which is why he’s so very keen to get me out of the door.”

O’Brien suddenly realised he was still holding her hand so he gave it a little squeeze and let go. “Well it was a pleasure meeting you.”

Lisa coyly fluttered her eyelashes at him, but it was a deliberately exaggerated Betty Boo impression. “Yes I’m sure it was. Goodbye. Goodbye Mr. Carmichael. I’ll send you my invoice.” She winked at O’Brien and left the office.

Carmichael glared after her. “Bloody whippersnapper. Thirty years old and thinks she knows it all.”

O’Brien smirked. “Hmm, I’m forty-six, do you think that’s too big an age gap?”

Carmichael ignored the comment. “So what do you want to know?”

O’Brien nodded at Lisa’s laptop, “Did she manage to get into your network?”

“Yes she bloody-well did.”

“Then, whippersnapper or not, I suspect she does know it all.”

 

CHAPTER 2

Two months later

Ministry of Intelligence, Tehran, Iran

“Is it finished?”

Hassan Arshad pulled nervously at his collar.  The man sitting behind the ornate rosewood desk was Sadeq Al-Zahedi, senior minister at SAVAMA, Iran’s notorious Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran, He had a reputation for being cruel, sadistic and devoid of any compassion.

Al-Zahedi glared the elderly bespectacled programmer, whose balding head now glistened under a thin veneer of perspiration. A thin bead of sweat had settled on his moustache. “Well?”

“Yes Sir, it is finished.”

“Then give it to me.” Al-Zahedi jabbed his hand in Arshad’s direction. “Now, if you please.” Arshad tentatively stepped forward, stretched out and placed a memory stick into the waiting hand.  Al-Zahedi stared at the small piece of plastic. “The code is complete?”

Arshad nodded. “It is.” He watched in trepidation as Al-Zahedi pushed back his chair and walked around the desk. He stopped in front of the old man.

“Given your age, I find it quite unbelievable that you are the best we have. I’m sure we must have younger, brighter computer technicians than you.” He turned the memory stick over in his fingers. “Will it work?”

Arshad looked at his feet, unwilling to make eye contact in case it was misinterpreted as disrespect.  “If Allah be willing.”

“If Allah be willing?” Al-Zahedi lunged forward and the old man recoiled as Al-Zahedi grabbed the collar of his jacket. “Allah does not enter in to this,” he roared. “I ask again, will it work, yes or no?” He grasped Arshad tightly around the throat. “Do not make me ask a third time.”

Arshad coughed and spluttered. “Please, I cannot breathe.” His voice was raspy and faint.

Al-Zahedi sucked air over his teeth and released his grasp. Arshad fell back against the polished desk.  “Yes. It will work,” he replied hoarsely.

Al-Zahedi’s demeanor immediately softened and he smiled broadly. “Excellent. And this is the only copy?” Again he turned the small but precious item over and over in his hand.

“It is.”

Al-Zahedi walked back behind his desk and pulled something from one of the drawers. “And do you remember what I said when you first started this project?” He walked back to Arshad and placed an arm around his shoulder. “Do you remember the level of secrecy I put on it?” He began to walk him to the door.

“I do, I do. You said it was highly secret and that I should not discuss it with anyone but you.”

“That’s right,” said Al-Zahedi, “and I must be sure that you obey that command.”

“I-I have, I w-will,” Arshad stammered.

“Yes you will. Allah be praised.” With one quick move he produced the dagger that he’d taken from the desk and slit the old man’s throat.

Arshad shrieked and fell to the floor. He clutched at his throat as his blood poured onto the polished marble from the widening slit, his eyes full of bewilderment and terror. Al-Zahedi watched in mild amusement as Arshad’s body jerked and gurgled. He watched until the flow stopped and the man lay dead and then he shouted for his aide.

A small bespectacled man came running from a side office and stopped in astonishment when he saw the body and the large pool of blood.

“Fetch Merjdad Khan and send someone in to clean up this mess.”

oOo

Sadeq Al-Zahedi sat his tall, thin frame onto a comfortable sofa and indicated to Merjdad Khan to take the settee opposite.  Khan dutifully sat and tried to read Al-Zahedi’s granite-black eyes. It was impossible.

He sat back and accepted the coffee that the aide offered. “Well, what do you want from me this time?”

Al-Zahedi inwardly winced at Khan’s directness and lack of respect, but he chose to say nothing. He was a useful resource, for now at least. He brushed his hand through his neat black hair, which was lightly flecked with grey and then stroked his sharply-trimmed, close-shaved beard. “I need you to find someone.” He pulled the memory stick from his pocket and tossed it to Khan. “I need someone very talented, the best you can find, who can plant this code for me.”

Khan looked at the stick with indifference. “That shouldn’t be difficult. Where is it to be planted?”

“In London. Find someone in the UK who has the talent and who can be bought. Offer whatever you need.”

Khan looked puzzled. “If it’s a computer code of some sort, surely it can be planted from here. Why London?”

“Because MI5 is the target and, because of their unparalleled security, it has to be planted directly into their computer systems.”

“Ahhh.” Khan shook his head. “Then you are asking for something that might not be possible.”

Al-Zahedi glared. “Make it possible.”

Khan mulled over the problem for a few seconds. “I’ll have to pass this to Rajdi. He is due to leave London and return home at the end of the month.” He narrowed his eyes. “Am I permitted to ask what the code is, exactly? What it will do?”

A smile spread across Al-Zahedi’s thin lips. “It will bring Britain to its knees.” The smile spread even wider revealing white, perfectly even teeth. “It will decimate the population and it will finish that accursed country for good. Then we will turn our attention to the United States.”

“I thought we had slain that particular beast. Are we not now in accord with them? Are we not now entering into trade agreements with them?”

“They think we are allies, that is all that matters. It’s the same for the Britain, but by the time we have finished with them, both those beasts, as you put it, will be well and truly slain.”

Khan smiled back, “Then I’d better get on with it.”

 

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CATHERINE – BLOOD AND FIRE

Catherine - Blood and Fire

CHAPTER ONE

The point of the dagger hovered a hair’s breadth above the artery pulsing in her neck. She pushed up with all her might against the hand of the man straddling her but the blade didn’t budge.

“No, no, NO!” she spat through gritted teeth as she writhed and twisted to get away from the lethal shard of steel.

He leered down at her, exposing his broken yellow teeth. “You – are – going – to – die” he panted as he pressed down, determined to end her life.

“NO!” she spat again.

Yes,” he rasped and fell upon her with all his weight.

She felt the sting of cold steel as it sliced deeply into her neck. As the blade sank through her flesh it severed a thin leather cord around her throat and a silver Celtic knot fell into the mud which swallowed it greedily. Her eyes opened wide in terror, “Hengist..no…”

A wide arc of blood spurted from a severed artery and quickly pooled across the slimy brown river mud that covered them both.

He leered again, his face now inches from hers; she could taste his fetid breath. “Yes Catherine,” he snarled, “yes… at last.”

Catherine tried to speak again but the knife had now severed her windpipe and vocal chords. She could feel her life drifting away as her vision faded. She had to offer a prayer to her gods, quickly, before it was too late. She had to ease her passage to the afterlife, or she would be eternally damned and left to wander the sorrowlands for all eternity. She had to… she…just…had…to…

Hengist rolled off and pulled himself up onto all fours. He was panting hard. It had been quite a fight. She was a fierce warrior and there had been times when he truly feared he would not survive this final encounter.

A nervous whinny from the riverbank made him look up. Until now his horse had been standing dolefully grazing on sparse clumps of samphire. Now it pawed the ground; its head up, ears back and its eyes staring wildly as the stench of freshly spilled blood assailed its nostrils.

Hengist pulled his dagger from Catherine’s neck and then prised her dagger from her dead fingers. He had coveted it for a long time; beautifully made, with an intricately carved hilt and finely honed blade.  He climbed unsteadily to his feet and stood waveringly as he weighed the two daggers in his hands. He managed a weak smile and threw his own back into the mud before he looked back at the body lying at his feet.

The greatest priestess that the tribes of the Southlands had ever known now lay dead and drained of blood in the stinking river mud.  Without her strength and rallying cry, there would be no more resistance from her loyal tribes. Now it was time for him and his brother Horsa to turn their attention to those that had harboured and aided her over the past few months. Hers would not be the last blood spilled before this week was done.

 

CHAPTER TWO

Antoinette Desselle clambered out of the water-filled trench in the back field of the Riverside Primary School in Kent.

“What now, Walter?”

A short podgy man was hailing her. Antoinette smiled at the sight of him; his trousers were too short and his belt was cinched so tightly that his large belly wobbled fluidly over the top. A mop of unruly ginger hair flopped up and down as he trotted across the field towards her. He thrust a newspaper into the Frenchwoman’s hand. “It’s made the press.”

“Oh you’re joking!” She unfolded the paper with a snap and glared at the headline. HENGIST AND HORSA LIVED!  New archaeological dig suggests our most notorious Saxon warriors really existed. “That’s just great!” Her accent, normally soft and lyrical, was much sharper than usual. If there was one thing this renowned 50 year-old professor of archaeology hated above all else, it was publicity about her work.

She stood and read the article in full, her brows knitted above her angry green eyes. Her grey hair, devoid of most of its blonde rinse, was scrunched up into a hairband. Several rogue wisps had pulled free and were annoyingly blowing in her eyes. Every time she pulled them away, her fingers left fresh muddy smudges on her face. Typically though, no matter how dirty and dishevelled she got, Antoinette’s French elegance and vivaciousness shone through, much to the envy of the other women on the dig. She finished reading and turned back to the trench, “Charley!”

Kneeling in thick, sticky sludge, Charlotte Chandler-Price had just sliced another thin wafer of mud from the side of the trench wall. “Coming.”

She withdrew her trowel and stepped out of the ditch.  For a second or two, the slice clung determinedly to the edge before it succumbed to gravity and slowly peeled itself away and plopped into the brown mud below. Something protruded from the mud face by the tiniest fraction and glinted in the muted early morning sunlight – something that had been waiting 1500 years to be discovered.

Charley nodded at Walter and took the paper that Antoinette held out to her. At 28 years old she was considered to be a “Mature Student,” something that rankled with her, especially as she looked a lot younger than her years. Even the chipped and peeling mirror in the dormitory tent couldn’t help but reflect her flawless skin, strong cheekbones and mass of tousled dark brown hair. At 5’9” and nicely proportioned, even Walter Smith, who was generally unappreciative about everything, had to admit to himself that she looked good, even in mud-soaked overalls.

Charlotte (Charley) Chandler-Price was one of a number of students at the site who had volunteered for field-work to improve and sharpen their skills and she had proven herself to be an exceptional archaeologist, something that had not gone unnoticed by her professors and Mlle. Deselle in particular. Unofficially, Charlotte was there as her protégé.

She read the headline.  “Oh what?  Oh this is terrible. We’re going get all sorts of rubber-neckers here now. Where on earth did they get this information?”

Walter Smith scowled angrily at Antoinette. “You have archaeologists and several students working this dig, not to mention two technicians, a digger driver, a local historian and an archivist. It’s hardly surprising it’s got out.”

Antoinette stepped forward and poked his big flabby stomach with her finger, “I can vouch for my students, just as I can for the rest of the team. Most of these people have worked with me on many, many excavations and I trust them completely.  In fact, Walter, the only people I do not trust, are you and your fellows from the British Museum, so drop that accusatory tone.”

Walter looked aghast and stepped back, out of poking range, “What?  I… how dare you.”

Antoinette’s Deselle’s demeanour relaxed instantly and she laughed, “Oh Come on mon cher ami, you have been wanting us to go public about this dig from the outset. You are desperate to appease the NAS Grant Committee and let the world see how they made our wonderful discoveries possible, yes?”

“It’s true that The National Archaeological Society is watching this dig with particular interest Ms Desselle, but as far as I’m aware you’ve not actually made any wonderful discoveries, have you!”

Antoinette laughed again, “All in good time, Walter, all in good time.  C’mon, let’s discuss this over le petit déjeuner”

“What?”

“Breakfast, Walter. Come on.”

She turned towards a tatty-looking marquee and beckoned Charlotte to follow, but Walter caught her sleeve. “I am not discussing anything in front of your students, Miss Desselle.”

Antoinette’s vivid green eyes flashed angrily as she peeled his fingers from her fleece, “Charley isn’t just one of my students, Walter. You know her background, yes? She completed her Bachelor’s degree with the highest of plaudits from her professors, myself included; she is now working on her Masters and, if you remember, it is predicted she will achieve a Doctorate in record time. I – we, are very lucky to have her on this dig. Now come on.”  She set off across the field, her arm linked with Charlotte’s. Walter Smith sighed and trotted after them.

When he caught up he couldn’t resist trying to start another argument, “I still say it was a mistake to hire you, Miss Chandler-Price,” he panted, “fresh out of university, little or no field experience. What were you studying before this, languages wasn’t it? It strikes me you don’t stay grounded for very long before you lose interest.”

Charlotte glanced back at him, “I’ll ground you in a moment you fat twat!” she muttered

“Shh!” scolded Antoinette.

“What was that,” Walter cried indignantly, “I didn’t quite catch…?”

“I said, I’ve had plenty of field experience thank you Mr Smith. I doubt Professor Desselle would have invited me along if she thought I’d be a liability.”

They entered the marquee and Smith stopped and looked about him. The interior had been roughly divided into thirds: a rest area with camping chairs and tables, a kitchen/dining area with tables and chairs, and several camping stoves. The remaining section was a dormitory area, separated from the rest of the tent by portable modesty screens. “How much is all this costing I wonder?” he grumped.

“A lot less than staying in hotels, Walter,” chided Antoinette.

They reached the kitchen, where one of the students was on breakfast duty. In front of him was a not-so-healthy supply of fried food. Charlotte grabbed a freshly washed tray from the stack and helped herself to a plateful of fried egg, bacon, beans and toast and plonked herself down at the nearest table. Antoinette took the seat next to her, and Walter shuffled over and flopped down opposite. Charlotte stared at his tray in astonishment.

“Are not feeling well, Mr Smith? I thought a man like you would be eating double rations. Are you sure that mug of coffee will see you though to lunchtime?”

“A man like me? Are you suggesting I’m fat?”

Antoinette kicked Charley’s ankle, “I’m sure she meant nothing of the sort, Walter.”

“Hmm. Well as it happens, I’ve got no appetite; not today.”

The women chose to ignore the man’s overt invitation to ask what was wrong. They knew that once you opened that particular sluice gate, you would be quickly drowning in a torrent of self-pity and depression.

Charley filled her fork with bacon and was about to put it to her mouth, when she stopped and turned to her Professor. “Are you worried about that local rag?”

Antoinette nodded, “It will reach the Nationals,” she looked pained, “It’s bound to.  We’ve only got these few weeks of school holidays to complete the dig and any disruption to our routine will be disastrous.”

Charlotte smiled. “I would have loved to have seen the faces of the children when they were digging the hole for their time capsule and unearthed a Saxon dagger.” Her bright green eyes flashed mischievously, “I wonder what it would fetch on the open market.”

Smith spluttered, spraying coffee onto his lap. “You cannot be serious….” The promised tirade died quickly when he realised she was just teasing him. “Very funny.”

“I thought so,” she chuckled.

Smith tapped the table, “All joking aside, you don’t seem to be getting very much done.”

Charlotte glared at him. “We haven’t done as well as we’d hoped, for sure. Trench one, where the Professor and I are working, has only given-up the original dagger that the children found, but…’

‘But, Walter, we have found a few artefacts in trenches three and four,” offered Antoinette, soothingly.

Smith stared glumly into his coffee, “Such as?”

“Such as weapon fragments, some clothing toggles made from horn and some pottery; all of it, as far as we can tell, Saxon.”

He continued to look miserably at his coffee mug. “But why do you think this dig will prove that Hengist and Horsa really existed?”

“Hengist and Horsa are not the point!” jumped in Charlotte. “The Saxons landing here in Thanet is stuff of legends. Until those children found that dagger, there had been no finds anywhere in the county to suggest any Saxon occupation…”

“Charlotte’s quite right,” interrupted Antoinette. “East Anglia or Northumbria had always seemed much more probable as a landing site and we know that Maldon in Essex has quite an enviable Viking history; but now, for the first time ever, we have possible proof that Saxons were here in Kent.”

Walter sat back in the cheap plastic chair, which complained by creaking loudly, “So by virtue of this confirmation, Hengist and Horsa could have existed too!”

Antoinette raised her eyes to the heavens. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves Walter. We’re not here to hunt-down proof of those two brothers; we’re simply trying to establish whether that dagger and the other artefacts are part of a Saxon settlement.”

“But if they are definitely Saxon, what else could it mean?” he protested.

Charlotte shook her head. “Mr Smith, it’s possible that artefacts were actually in the hands of ancient Britons, maybe the spoils of some plunder or other; they could simply have been discarded or dropped in the river.”

Smith looked incredulous, “You mean that small river beyond the school grounds?”

“Yes,” Charlotte replied. “It’s a tributary of the River Stour.”

“Yes I know what it is, but it’s a good hundred yards away!” He sat forward again as Antoinette reached into her bag and pulled out an Ordinance Survey map which she spread on the table.

“It would appear that back in the fifth century, that river actually ran through this site.” She traced the route of the tributary with her finger. “I think that trenches one and two are actually in the old river and the other two trenches were on the land.”

Smith studied the map and then looked down at the coconut matting on the floor, “So this whole area could have been under water? How can you tell?”

“The type of mud, animal remains, vegetation remains, silt deposits etc. Trench one is totally different to trenches three and four. They all indicate that this was a water course.”

“So what are you hoping to find, a big boat?” Smith guffawed and stole a slice of Charlotte’s toast.

Charlotte shot him a look, “Do that again Mr Smith and I’ll stab your hand with my fork.”

Antoinette winked, “She means it; you can’t steal a girl’s toast and get away with it.”

Smith took a bite and tossed the slice back onto Charlotte’s plate. “Here, you can have it back if it’s that important to you.” He scraped back his chair and hauled himself to his feet, “I’m going back to London to see if I can keep the Press at bay. I suggest you step-up the pace a bit and start finding something to justify this charade.”

As he shambled-off, Charlotte removed the slice of toast from her plate with a grimace and then glared at him, “Go fuck yourself Mr Smith.”

He stopped instantly and spun around, “What did you say?”

Antoinette grinned back at him, “She said good luck, Mr Smith.”

He wasn’t convinced; he was sure he heard the little mare tell him to go fuck himself, but he wasn’t about to make a scene. Instead he just glared at Charlotte and left without another word.

Antoinette waited for him to leave the marquee before remonstrating with her protégé. “You must learn to hold your tongue Charley. We cannot afford to upset him, however odious he is. If the NAS pulls our funding, the dig will stop.”

Charlotte mopped-up the last of her beans, “I’m sorry. He just…”

It wasn’t necessary for her to finish the sentence; Antoinette Deselle felt exactly the same.

 

CHAPTER THREE

“Oh bugger”

“You have a problem?” Antoinette looked into Charlotte’s trench.

“No, not really. A whole wodge of the trench wall has just fallen into the mud. Would you pass me that spade please?”

Antoinette handed Charlotte a stubby spade. “Be careful Charley. It will be very easy to lose small artefacts in that mud.”

Charlotte nodded, “I’ve got my sieve.”

Satisfied, Antoinette set off to monitor the work in one of the other trenches, leaving Charlotte scooping mud into the sieve.

She decided to abandon the spade and get her hands dirty instead. She pushed her fingers into the cloying sludge and her fingertips fleetingly touched something cold and hard, “What’s this?” she whispered to herself and her fingers probed deeper into the mud. Briefly her fingers touched the object again before it slipped away.  She felt about for the object again and this time her fingers closed around it. Got you!  She pulled it clear and wiped it on her overalls. It’s a brooch. She clambered from the trench and crawled on all fours to a nearby bucket, where she dropped the artefact into the clear, purified water it contained. She gave the bucket a swirl and then pulled the item out again.

“Holy shit, it’s perfect.” Charlotte’s hand started to tremble as she looked down at the shiny, intricate Celtic brooch in her open hand. It was possibly the finest example of ancient Briton silverwork, she’d ever seen. It was circular – about two inches in diameter and consisted of two distinct parts: a beautiful raised centrepiece, probably an inch across, that consisted of a solid silver ring containing an intricate pattern of intertwined knots, set upon a larger, flatter pattern of knots.

Charlotte was suddenly aware that her hand was tingling. The sensation quickly became full-blown pins and needles and she dropped the brooch onto the grass. Ow, ow, ow. She shook her hand to ease the sensation and it dissipated almost immediately. I should call Antoinette over to see this. She knew it, but somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to attract her attention… not just yet anyway. Charlotte wanted to be up-close-and-personal with the brooch a little longer, before it was taken away and bagged-up.

With a quick glance at Antoinette, who was still at the other trench, Charlotte removed her neck chain and poked an end through one of the knots on the brooch and then fastened it around her neck again. With one more glance over at Antoinette, she tucked it out of sight, into her shirt.

The moment the pendant touched her skin she felt a fierce attack of pins and needles spread across her chest, “What the hell…?” She reached inside her shirt to pull it out, but before her hand reached it, she felt a massive jolt. It felt like being hit with a sandbag. The force of the impact bent her double where she knelt. She clutched her chest; it felt as if it were being crushed. Wild thoughts careered around her brain, What’s happening? Is this a heart attack?

She tried to get to her knees, I must call for help, but another jolt topped her back into her trench. She tried to get up again, but got hit by a third jolt. Everything went black and she fell into the mud, face-first and unconscious.

oOo

She didn’t know how long she had been out, but as she came round, Charlotte was aware that she was still lying in the mud, but now there was a chill breeze blowing across her back. She felt very cold, very wet and extremely uncomfortable. Her memory of what happened was hazy. Not sure if she had been taken ill, or been in an accident, she lay still for a moment and kept her eyes closed, trying to sense if anything hurt.

Shit, I can’t breathe properly! Her hand flew to her nose and mouth and found a thick layer of mud had covered her face and clogged her nostrils; She scooped the mud clear and then slowly lifted her head – just enough to aid her breathing. Charley relaxed a fraction, OK, so I’m not hurt; that’s good.  She turned her head to one side, opened her eyes…. and screamed!

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Charlotte was lying in the mud, face-to-face with another woman and staring straight into her bright blue pleading eyes. Charlotte screamed again and pushed herself away. There was a ragged slit in the woman’s neck, and the mud all around was grotesquely mixed with the blood that still pumped gently from the wound.

“Holy shit! What’s happened to you?”  She looked around for help and to her astonishment, she saw that they weren’t lying in her trench, but on the mud flats of a river. She slid around in the mud to get her bearings. Behind her, the river bank was about 50 yards away. She scanned it, looking for something – anything that was familiar – the school buildings maybe – but it was all open fields and woodlands.

“What the hell’s going on? Where’s the school?” A noise made her spin around to look at the nearer riverbank. There was a man clambering out of the mud and struggling through the reeds towards a horse.

“Hey!” she shouted, but the man didn’t seem to hear. “Hey, I need some help here!” Why is he ignoring me? She was just about to shout again when she remembered the wound in the woman’s throat.  Holy crap, is he the one who stabbed her?

Instinctively she pressed herself back into the mud, fearful that if he saw her, he would come back and kill her too. He wouldn’t want any witnesses who could alert the police.  She felt trapped and her mind was racing. What to do now?  She couldn’t just let this woman die, but if that man saw her moving about, she would be as good as dead herself. Jesus I’m so cold.

Charlotte looked back at the woman. She was still alive – just, and still mouthing something. “What are you trying to say? Why did he do this?” she whispered.

The woman was all but dead. The blood flow was weakening by the second and Charlotte knew that she couldn’t be saved; not without an immediate blood transfusion… and still the woman mouthed something…

She steeled herself and slowly crawled back through the bloody mud, to the woman’s side, praying that the man on the bank wouldn’t see the movement.

“What is it? What are you trying to say?” With an involuntary shudder of revulsion, she put her ear close to the dying woman’s lips.

Whatever she was saying, it was virtually inaudible. She had no breath left to speak, but still the mouth moved. Charlotte plugged her other ear with a finger and moved so closely that her free ear actually touched the woman’s mouth. “What are you saying to me?” she pleaded.

This time when the lips shaped the word, the faintest breath of air completed the task, “Hengist,” she whispered.

“What?” Charlotte snapped her head up to look at her. “Did you say Hengist?”

The woman said nothing more. Her mouth had now stopped moving, her lungs were as empty of air, as her veins were of blood. Her lifeless eyes now stared fixedly ahead.

Charlotte glanced back up at the river bank again and saw the man was now on his horse.  What the hell’s going on? Now that she could see him more clearly, something about him jarred; something was out of place with the world she knew. She studied him, determined to give the police a good description, and suddenly realised what was wrong: He was wearing a knee-length cloak held with a brooch. Beneath the cloak was a bright red tunic of linen and on his legs he wore leggings, bound with strips of cloth. Jesus Christ, he’s dressed as a friggin Saxon!

As he pulled his horse away from the river, his dank, long hair flowed out from beneath a conical steel helmet and Charley let out a gasp – About twenty yards inland, a bank of early morning mist slowly rolled away from the river, and through haze Charlotte could see glimpses of more riders. Within seconds the mist had revealed an army of several hundred men on horseback and all dressed as Saxons.

The man raised an ornate dagger to the sky and let out a chilling scream of victory as he kicked his horse into a canter towards his men. A huge cheer went up, and as he reached them they all turned and disappeared into what was left of the early morning mist. Charlotte only just managed to stifle another scream before she blacked-out again.

 

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