The Crown of Tassilo 3








Michael Arram








  In the dim light of his bedroom’s dying coal fire, Martin rose on his elbow and looked at Leo lying next to him.  Despite all his attempts at distraction, he could sense his lover was still angry.  ‘He got to you,’ he said starkly.


  When Leo glanced up, Martin could see there was no smile on the other’s face, which was a rarity.  ‘Damn the man!  What a thing to say … no, what things to say, and on such a day.’


  ‘I have to confess I thought he had more tact.  He was pretty close-mouthed at school.’


  ‘He’s been brooding about Maxim for years.  It seems to me that in part he’s attempting to pay back his uncle for the slights his mother imagined.’


  ‘Hmm.  I’m sure you’re right, Leo.  But there must be more to it.  James is no fool.  He has some sort of reasoning behind what he said, I’m sure of that.’


  Silence greeted his remark, and for once Martin felt he was doing more harm than good with Leo.  He pushed back the covers, shivering in the cold air, and found his pyjama bottoms on the floor.


  A hand stroked his back.  ‘Are you leaving me?’  The voice was needy and a little pathetic.


  ‘This isn’t Piotreshrad, and coming to you was taking a risk.’


  ‘Fine.  Off you go then … when I need you most.’


  Martin struggled into his pyjama top.  ‘When you get manipulative, I think I really must go.  I don’t want to encourage that sort of behaviour in you.’


  A small and welcome chuckle came back to him out of the darkness.  ‘Till tomorrow, then.’


  ‘You know I’ll miss you.’


  ‘I know.  I love you, Martin.’


  ‘I know that too.  Sleep well, my prince.’








  The next morning’s Strelzen express train from Hentzau reached the Königs Rudolfs Bahnhof right on time.  A line of porters was already waiting to receive the first-class carriages.


  Leo and Pip were a little blasé at the arrival in the Rothenian capital, though neither had been there for four years.  The three boys were travelling alone.  King Maxim and the rest of his family had returned to Piotreshrad, whence they would leave the country at the Saxon border.  It had not been thought politic for the former king to visit the capital at this delicate time.


  The same caution did not apply to the boys. They had successfully argued that they needed to take the quickest route home to England if they were to return to school in time to take advantage of the last preparation for the Oxford responsions.  They nonetheless planned to be in Strelzen overnight, courtesy of Pip’s Uncle Welf, who was putting them up in his home on Strelsenern Anhöhen.


  They crammed into two taxis, bodies in one and bags in the other.  Martin stared out at the astonishing city he was suddenly driving through.  ‘But it’s beautiful!’


  ‘I told you,’ agreed Leo.  ‘You shouldn’t listen to Pip.  He has the aesthetic sense of a water vole.’


  Pip looked mildly offended.  ‘We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  It just so happens that art and architecture are not my strong points.  Take those away and Strelzen is a bit … well, boring.’


  Martin was rapt.  Even the city’s Victorian buildings had a certain distinction about them.  They were built in the same limestone as the more ancient areas, where there was little brick and no concrete.  Long suburban boulevards gave way to narrower commercial streets.  The city bustled with economic life.  As the taxis entered the Rudolphs Platz by way of Königstrasse, he glimpsed through the cross streets the spires of a great cathedral on a hill towering above the New City, the Nuevemesten.


  Then he pointed to the top of the square.  ‘Is that the royal palace?’


  Leo nodded.  ‘It was, but no one lived in the Residenz much after Queen Flavia died.  Maxim occupied the Osraeum, a smaller palace around the corner.  However, the president lives in the old palace now.  I hope he’s done it up.  It was a bit dilapidated when I was last there; it smelled of damp and dust.’


  The taxis drove up the east edge of the square and then along the side of the palace and down the slope through a hillside park towards the river.  On the far side of the bridge at the bottom, the road curved up through villas surrounded by large gardens.


  Amstelstrasse 46 was Professor von Tarlenheim’s residence.  It was one of the more modest dwellings, built along the lines of a French country house, with green-painted shutters.


  Two children were waiting on the steps: Osku, now a sturdy boy of nine years, and his small sister Lena, only four.  It was Pip to whom Osku rushed.  Pip hurled his cousin into the air and caught him, the boy howling with happiness.  Leo picked up and kissed Lena, then took her hand and led her inside as a maid opened the door.


  Ulrica von Tarlenheim came into the hall smiling to welcome them.  Welf had gone to the university for the morning, it appeared.


  ‘How do you like the new house?’ Pip asked.


  ‘We needed the space for his library.  The apartment in Osragasse was large, but his books were spilling over into the bathroom where the damp was not good for them.’  She looked around with a smile.  ‘It’s a lovely house, and your Uncle Henry has a room upstairs when he’s in the city.’


  ‘No sign of his settling down, then?’


  ‘None whatsoever.  Every time we see him it’s a new lady friend.  But if you want the truth, it’s his aeroplanes he’s in love with.  He’s planning to try out the new Falke 9 with a non-stop flight from Hofbau to Halifax.  Anyone who is anyone nowadays has to fly the Atlantic, apparently.  Anyway, come and have a little lunch, then I suppose you three have plans I don’t need to know about.’


  Leo grinned.  ‘You could say that.’


  After lunch they strolled together down the hill, crossed the river and climbed through the Volksgarten to Leibgardgasse.


  Pip and Leo reminisced about life under the monarchy.  ‘Army Day was grand.  There was always a huge parade, and the royal family rode through the streets with a cavalry escort.  We both had regiments.  I was colonel-in-chief of the Guard Dragoons, and Pip had the Dragoons of Strelfurt.  I was a brigadier-general too.  What a meteoric military career!  We’ve got the pictures back at Piotreshrad; we really did look very sweet in uniform.’


  Pip commented sadly, ‘The colour has gone out of life since those days.’  He gestured across the road where soldiers in khaki battledress and flat caps guarded the War Ministry.  ‘The Guard Fusiliers were a brave sight in blue, white and gold, and the Life Guards!  My word, what we’ve lost.’


  Leo came to a halt on the pavement and appeared to ponder.  The other two stopped with him.  Turning and looking at Pip’s raised eyebrow, Leo said with a peculiar emphasis, ‘One day the Crown of Tassilo will return, and with it all the colour and life of this land.  I feel it.’


  They strolled on in silence.  For Martin’s benefit, Leo led them down to the Neuebrücke so he could look at the ancient Osten Tor.  The tower was part of the medieval barbican that had once protected the Staramesten, the Old City, before the new district of Strelzen was developed across the river.  The afternoon had turned so cold, however, that his two friends hustled Martin away from his sketch of the tower’s machicolations well before he was ready.  He shoved his notebook into his overcoat as they led him up the long hill of Domstrasse back to the Rudolphs Platz.


  Leo looked at Pip.  ‘Flaviener Hof?’


  Pip shrugged.  ‘Berwinckels.’


  ‘In this weather?  Come off it, Pip, I need a hot chocolate.’


  ‘Or something stronger?’ Martin interjected hopefully.


  ‘Only if you order it.  It’s time you tried your Rothenian out amongst the natives.’


  So they queued for a table in the busy tavern.  Leo and Pip seemed delighted to be there lining up patiently amongst the bourgeois shoppers.  They started a merry conversation with a family behind them, in which Martin found himself joining.  He had been taught well.  His Rothenian was both colloquial and rapid.  By the time they were seated, he felt as at home in the Flaviener Hof as he did in the Cardona Restaurant in Medwardine High Street.  He duly ordered hot chocolates all round, his nerve having failed at the potential embarrassment of being refused alcohol.


  ‘So did you ever come in here when you were a boy?’


  Leo smiled.  ‘Me?  No, it was Pip who had the normal childhood.  I was locked up in a German castle till I was seven, and then had two years in Rothenian royal palaces.  It’s a wonder I learned to stir my own tea.’


  Pip laughed.  ‘But then your grandfather took you in hand, bless old Gus.  You had a glorious time in Hentzau and Piotreshrad with him and Anton.  He even made you get a job delivering papers the summer you were eleven.’


  ‘It paid well – but my, the customers were mean when you forgot the delivery.  One set his dog on me.  I pedalled like mad to get away from it.  I can still feel its hot breath on my bare leg.’


  Martin caught Leo’s eyes and lost himself in the smile he found there.  He had learned to love the boy’s gentle moods and humour.  But what did Leo see in him?  He never knew and Leo never told him, but miraculously somehow it was clear that, for whatever reason, he was himself loved – perhaps more faithfully than he loved Leo.








  This has to be a cosmic joke, Leopold of Thuringia thought to himself.  Four hundred young people were at their desks in the South School of Oxford University’s Examination Halls.  Leo had been placed directly below and in front of the portrait of his godfather, Kaiser Wilhelm II, painted in the doctoral robes of the university, the insignia of the Garter round his knee, chin up in his usual commanding pose.


  How did that particular portrait survive the Great War to remain on display to the present generation of students?  It gave Leo a high idea of the university’s will to resist wartime hysteria and intolerance.  Four desks along to his right, he saw Martin Tofts intent on the Mathematics special paper, the one that would either earn or lose Martin the scholarship he had to have to come to Oxford.  Martin was chewing his pencil, a habit Leo deplored.


  Leo knew precisely how important this paper was to Martin.  Leo’s anxiety for his friend was quite as acute as Martin’s own.  But he shook his head and went back to his own paper.  Although Mathematics was not a particular strength of his, he knew more than enough to sail through the responsions at the mark required to secure matriculation.  Martin, however, had to be in the top five of the examining class.


  The clock ticked by and Leo finished.  As he checked his answers, his eye roamed the other portraits on the walls, among which the house of Hohenzollern was well represented.  He gave a little smile to see on his left a portrait of Edward, prince of Wales, heir to Victoria, in his undergraduate gown and the ribbon of the Garter at his own matriculation.  The smile was because Leo would be the royal highness matriculating in the class of 1928.  The ribbon and star of the Garter would be bestowed on him in St George’s Chapel at Windsor that very spring, on his eighteenth birthday.


  He and Martin had such different lives and expectations.  He tried not to think of it.  It was easy enough to forget at Medwardine, but not so easy in the wide world beyond.  It made Leo anxious.


  An outbreak of coughing and rustling caused Leo to glance up.  The invigilator had left the elevated desk from which he was surveying the bowed heads of the candidates.  It was nearly time.  Leo looked along the rows.  Martin was done, so much at least was good news.  Leo caught a flash of his dark eyes, but there was no smile behind them.  That was a bad sign.


  The end was called and the candidates rose with a scrape and shuffle of chairs on floorboards.  They filtered out, Pip and Leo closing around Martin.


  Pip was straight in.  ‘How did it go, Tofts?’


  Martin seemed on the verge of tears.  ‘The Geometry was not what I expected.  I think I loused it up.’


  Leo soothed him.  ‘It always seems worse in the aftermath of an exam.  I’m sure you did fine, Martin.’


  ‘Chin up, Tofts.  We have faith in you.’


  Martin heaved a sigh and Leo’s heart went out to him as he mastered himself with a smile.  The boy would have his reward for that, Leo was determined.


  They and the rest of the Medwardine candidates had been accommodated in New College in the more modern buildings on Hollywell Street.  Since they were expected to eat in hall that night, they strolled over and through the stretch of city wall in the college gardens.


  ‘Oh damn me!’ laughed Pip.  ‘We’ll never get Tofts past that obstacle.  Which idiot put a medieval monument between us and dinner?’  Sure enough, the notebook was out of Martin’s pocket and he was engaged in sketching a plan of a mural tower.


  ‘Later, Tofts.  Come on.  I’m hungry!’


  ‘Won’t be long, hang on.  I say, this is a well-preserved stretch.  Amazing!  The only other thing I know like it is York.  Must be from the middle of Henry III’s reign.’


  ‘So indeed it is.’


  The three boys turned.  A rather portly gentleman in a cloak and broad-brimmed hat was watching them, amused.  He was leaning on a stick, and behind a thick white moustache his mouth was curved in a smile.


  ‘Tell me how you know the date, young man.’


  ‘Oh … well, sir …’  Tofts went off on one of the technical monologues his friends knew too well, and had come to dread.


  But this old gentleman listened patiently and came back with questions and qualifications.  He and Tofts became animated and eventually the balance of the exchange shifted towards the elder man, while Martin stood more and more rapt, asking questions and taking notes.  Leo and Pip just looked bewildered.


  Finally both Martin and his new acquaintance fell silent, smiling at each other.  ‘And why are you here?’ asked the elder.


  Pip butted in.  ‘We had vague hopes of dinner, sir, which we’ve just abandoned.’


  The man laughed.  ‘Oh, they won’t start without me.  I’m the Subwarden, and the Warden is away.  Now boys, you must be Medwardinians here for responsions, and would one of you be the Prince of Thuringia, whom I’m told is a candidate?’


  Leo admitted it.


  ‘A great honour, your royal highness.  I very much admire King Maxim, who’s been a guest here on several occasions.  Now, perhaps you might introduce your friends.


  ‘This is my cousin, Philip Underwood von Tarlenheim-Eisendorf zu Templerstadt, prince of Murranberg.  The scholar of monuments is our good friend, Martin Tofts.’


  The Subwarden took Martin by the arm and invited the other two to follow him.  He continued their animated talk about fortifications as they travelled the paths and passageways, eventually coming out in a screens passage where an anxious butler looked relieved to see the Subwarden.


  ‘You know who that is?’ Martin commented across the table to Leo as they began their duck confit.


  ‘A nice old buffer?’


  ‘It’s Sir Maurice Henson.’


  ‘And …?’


  ‘He’s the man who conducted the first excavations of the Crusader fortresses in Palestine.  He made the archaeological survey of the walls of Istanbul for the Ottoman emperor back in the 1890s.  I’ve got all his books.  And he talked to me almost as if … as if I were his equal too!’


  ‘You certainly made an impression, Martin.’


  As the meal was ending, a college servant appeared and asked their highnesses and Mr Tofts if they would join the Subwarden in the Senior Common Room after dinner.  Leo and Pip looked pointedly at their friend.


  Quite a few fellows were gathered in the common room, pouring their coffees or husbanding their brandies.  It was obvious that meeting the notoriously wealthy Prince of Thuringia was their principal motive for being there.  Leo, with Pip at his elbow, affably obliged by circulating and chatting.


  ‘I wonder if they know it’s St John’s we’re heading for?’ Pip whispered out of the corner of his mouth.


  ‘Don’t disillusion the poor dears,’ Leo retorted.


  In the meantime, Martin was off in a corner with the Subwarden, closely engaged in a discussion about Sir Maurice’s career in the heroic age of archaeology.  Martin was spellbound at the professor’s account of digging in Egypt and Palestine with Sir Flinders Petrie.  Remembering his own excavations at Belsager a few years earlier, he earnestly questioned Sir Maurice about excavation techniques, and then blushingly confessed his early meddling with the material past.  He got a concentrated look from the Subwarden as he did.


  Sir Maurice wanted to know his plans, which led to asking him if he would like to join an excavation the Ashmolean was sponsoring at a Roman site in Shropshire not far from Medwardine.  The Subwarden smiled at the young man’s eagerness and enthusiasm.


  It was a bemused Martin Tofts who stumbled with Pip and Leo out into the night and back to their lodgings.  ‘A good chat?’ Pip asked him, while smiling at Leo.


  ‘You wouldn’t believe …’








  All Martin’s schemes toppled down with the receipt of the letter from the Registrar of Oxford University.  It congratulated him on passing the responsions stage of his matriculation and very much regretted his failure to achieve the place in the class necessary to qualify for a university scholarship.  Nonetheless, it was hoped he would matriculate in the Michaelmas term, your very humble servant, etc.


  Leo caught the look on his face as he folded up the letter.  ‘Bad news?’


  ‘The worst.’


  Leo slid next to him on the sofa.  ‘I’m sorry, Martin.  What can we do?’  He was running over in his mind how he might with decorum offer the money to fund his lover’s university education.  Unfortunately, he knew all too well that Martin’s response to any such charity would be very hostile indeed.


  Martin pushed his head back into Leo’s shoulder and found it being caressed and lightly kissed.  He had in fact pondered his options if he failed in his attempt at Oxford, and had not been so starry-eyed as to refuse to take advice on the subject from his housemaster.


  ‘I can go to University College in London and study for an archaeology degree there.  The fees are far less than for Oxford, and I think the family can scrape it together.  I might even live at home and take the train up to Paddington to save costs.  It’ll be what I want to do.  The only problem is, I won’t be able to study alongside you and Pip … and you in particular.’


  Leo sighed.  ‘There are the holidays, you know.  We won’t lose touch.  We have too much to keep us together.’


  Martin didn’t dignify that well-intentioned but desperate reassurance with a response.  He and Leo both knew that such arrangements broke down and distances opened up between people, even people in love.


  About all Martin had now to look forward to was the trial dig at the end of March at Berechester, the Roman site between Medwardine and Ludlow.  He had signed up to join Sir Maurice Henson’s team as soon as the school released him for the week.  Leo was loyally accompanying him, though Pip had declined the temptation.


  So the two boys arrived on the milk train at the small station of Berechester early one damp Monday morning, looking for someone to tell them where the Oxford University dig was to be found.  The platform was empty and there was no cab or carriage to take them anywhere.


  They sat on their haversacks and thought a while.  Eventually, Leo pulled out his Ordnance Survey one-inch map and indicated where he thought the excavation might be.  ‘Logically, Tofts, the Roman site is not going to be too far from the church.  If you look at the map, the church is oddly detached from the village, so I’ll bet it’s there.’


  Twenty minutes later, standing at the lych-gate of an empty churchyard, Leo had to admit that maybe his logic had not been watertight.  But as they were poring over the map again, a clergyman emerged from the south porch and blinked at them.


  Martin, who knew a lot of Anglican clergy, understood their appetite for local news.  He greeted the gentleman with confidence and asked about the excavation.  They had come to the right man, and indeed got rather more information out of him than they wanted.  He sent them down to Puddifoot’s farm in the valley below, where they found a field in which a group of students were erecting some green Boer War-vintage tents, the sort favoured by Scouting jamborees.


  They joined the young men, one of whom found a clipboard with their names on.  Leo and Martin felt a little shy of these second-year university students, so very organised and confident.  The bearer of the clipboard, introduced as Austin Jarrett, seemed aware of their nervousness.  With a smile he led them over to a tent.  ‘You’re in here, Underwood and Tofts.  Medwardine school, eh?  A man from there was in my college.  Humphreys?’


  He caught Martin’s sudden stiffness.  ‘Didn’t get on with him?  Not surprised.  Arrested by the police propositioning chaps at the public toilets on Christchurch Meadows.  Got sent down.  Dreadful scandal.  I take it he was always that way inclined?’


  ‘Er, yes.’  Martin could not stop his face burning.


  ‘Dear me.  Some boys never grow out of it, do they?’  Then he laughed.  ‘You’ll need to put up your own camp beds.  We’ve dug a pit for the toilet, and you wash upstream there.  I hope you can cook.  A sad deficiency in that department in the team, alas.  We’ll be eating at the Black Bull in the village, I fear.


  Martin and Leo looked at each other quirkily.  ‘I hope you’ll always be that way inclined,’ Leo muttered, while Martin made the noise of a subdued explosion.  They entered their tent and unpacked.


  It seemed that Jarrett was the dig supervisor.  He was formidably knowledgeable about the archaeology of Roman Britain.  His expertise in the period and in the routine of an excavation instilled some humility in Martin.


  Sir Maurice had already marked out the trial trench he wanted dug across the site.  He would not himself be there till the third day.  As tyros, Martin and Leo were set to carrying buckets of earth and wheeling barrows the first day.  It was exhausting work, even in the cool and damp conditions of early spring.  The soil was a heavy, wet clay.  The two awoke aching the next morning on their uncomfortable camp beds and washed in cold stream water.  Shaving was not an option, though it was not yet a pressing necessity for either of them.


  On the second day, when the trench was cut and some masonry revealed, the two were issued with small trowels.  For Leo’s benefit, Jarrett explained, ‘These are the principal tools of our trade, Underwood.  Drop forged.  You can always tell an experienced investigator by how worn-down his blade is.  You scrape away the dirt patiently.  When and if you find anything, you work around it carefully.  Don’t pick it up till it’s recorded.  Got that?’


  ‘Yes.  What do you think we’ll find?’ Leo asked innocently.


  Jarrett stared at him.  ‘Well … nothing much, probably.  That’s archaeology.  The stratification of the soil and the lay of the masonry are all we’re after.’


  Leo persisted gamely, ‘And what building do you think this is?’


  ‘Hang on a sec.’  Jarrett retrieved a folder from the storage tent.  ‘Sir Maurice has developed a new technique involving aircraft.  In high summer when the fields are driest, the areas with masonry beneath them show up.  The grass above them withers quicker, and you get patterns visible from above.  Sir Maurice had the known Roman sites in Shropshire and Herefordshire surveyed by air last year, and this is what the photos revealed about Berechester.’


  Leo and Martin examined the pattern of lines in the aerial photograph.  Martin said, ‘I can see the main settlement there.  It lies next to the modern village and the river.  But we’re here, upstream.  This large and isolated complex.  It can’t be a villa, can it?’


  Jarrett nodded approvingly.  ‘No.  Wrong shape.  Our best guess is that it’s a sizable religious site.  It certainly isn’t military.  If it were a post house it would be on the Roman road, which runs that way.  I suppose it might possibly be industrial, but there are traces of an oval bank around the site, which screams temple precinct to me.  So it could be interesting.  Just please don’t think this is treasure hunting, Underwood.’


  Jarrett directed the two to a portion of the wide trench and put them to scraping.  When they were working to his satisfaction, he went back to his sketches.  The sun grew higher in the sky and it got quite warm.  Finally Martin stripped off his shirt.  Leo did his best not to find the sight distracting, but it soon became evident he could not summon up the sort of concentration on the task that Martin was capable of.  He kept looking across at the muscles moving under Martin’s pale skin and the curve of his abdomen as he dug.  Leo lectured himself severely, then sighed in resignation, forcing his attention back to the dark, slimy soil he was shifting grain by grain.


  On the third day, a certain tension emerged amongst the team as Sir Maurice was imminently expected.  He arrived by car at midday, dressed in tweeds and old-fashioned gamekeeper’s gaiters. Greeting each of the students affably by name, he pulled out his (well-worn) trowel, and started working slowly and patiently in the trench to Leo’s left.


  After about half an hour, Sir Maurice paused to light a pipe which he withdrew from his jacket pocket.  As he applied a match to the bowl, he sat beside Leo.  ‘I had not expected to see your royal highness here.  I was told you were supposed to be at Balmoral over Easter.’


  Leo smiled up at the old man.  ‘Martin is a great enthusiast.  He talked me into it.’


  ‘And is there an archaeologist in you, sir?’


  ‘Sometimes.’  Leo gave an interior grin at the arch significance of that remark.  He responded to Sir Maurice’s cocked eyebrow by adding, ‘I can see how people like Martin get carried away with it all.  But I fear … I’m rather afraid there’s more of the treasure hunter in me than the scientist.’


  ‘Ah well, sir, that’s how it all started in England of course, plundering iron-age barrows.  It’s still a regrettable aspect of the way things are in Egypt and Italy.  But though the professionals deplore it, it has to be said that deep down we all itch to find a chamber full of gold and jewels – purely for scientific reasons, of course.’


  ‘And have you ever had such a moment, Sir Maurice?’


  ‘No, sir.  But I tell you what I have observed over the years.  It’s this.  There occasionally appear gifted young men who have a strange instinct for the great discovery.  Schliemann was such a one.  Wherever he put his shovel he struck gold, sometimes literally.  It’s luck, of course, but luck can be concentrated in one individual.’


  Things suddenly clicked into place for Leo.  He glanced over to Martin, scraping away devotedly and unconsciously at his corner of the trench.  ‘And you think my friend Tofts is that kind of man?’


  The professor looked startled.  ‘Why, yes.  Yes I do.  What he told me of his boyish excavation at Belsager followed the pattern remarkably.  He is a natural archaeologist, or rather an unnatural one, in that he’ll have far more than his share of important discoveries.’  Sir Maurice chuckled in a way that reminded Leo of his own grandfather, making him think very well of the old man.  And with that, inspiration struck Leo.  ‘Sir Maurice, do you think you could give me a moment of your time?  I have an idea I’d like to share with you.’








  Martin scraped on.  He had been given the job of clearing a stretch of limestone walling to the foundation.  It was a hard and thankless task as a section had tumbled at some point, and most of what he did was isolating and lifting individual dressed stones.  The fifth day was passing and it seemed that any expectations his friends had of his producing some sort of extraordinary discovery out of the blue would be disappointed.


  The day was cloudy and cool, with a hint of rain to come, though it was still holding off well into the afternoon.  Things were wrapping up, and Jarrett was finalising his drawings.  Martin picked up the idea that there was some disappointment amongst the team.  The trench had been barren of anything to indicate the purpose of the Roman building, or its precise date for that matter.


  Unlike Leo, who had taken himself off to the Black Bull for a long lunch with two of the less-dedicated Oxford students, Martin continued to work methodically, one stone at a time, completely oblivious to boredom.  His latest target came loose, a particularly large block.  He was dusting around it ready to lift after recording its position, when he noticed with some satisfaction an element of carving on the underside.  There was a chamfer and some fluting visible which indicated the building had once had some high-quality stonework on its upper levels.  He grinned to himself.  This was the sort of discovery that would get Jarrett excited.


  He was about to call the supervisor over when his brush cleared a stretch under the stone and a rather familiar shape appeared.  Martin patiently worked away with trowel and brush till there was no longer any doubt.  Beneath the block, protected by the way it had fallen, was a pile – quite a large pile – of leaden tablets reminiscent of the dedication plaque he had found under the altar of Belsager priory, though rather smaller.


  He sat back, his head buzzing.  The drying soil had been brushed clear of the surface of the topmost tablet and there was undoubtedly writing on it: DIVI. NODONTI APOLLONI. M. AVR. CLVNIVS.  Martin moved his lips soundlessly: ‘Marcus Aurelius Clunius to the god Apollo Nodons.’  They had been excavating a temple sanctuary built in honour of a Romano-British god of healing.


  ‘Jarrett!  Er … JARRETT!’ he shouted.


  When Leo got back from the pub, it was to see a knot of excited students gathered around Martin in his part of the trench.  Sir Maurice was there puffing his pipe.  He caught Leo’s eye and gave him a broad wink.