I've always been fascinated with alternative history, where the names and events of history are swept up into a work of fiction that slides in a new tale in between the pages of record, or twists the existing tales to fit a new narrative. While I'm not about to spin an Eco-ist yarn, I hope you might find a short thread appealing.
During the pandemic of 2020/21, I discovered a British show called Time Team, which its producer had started uploading to YouTube. While it might have a ring of something sci-fi, it's basically hour-long documentaries of three-day archeological digs in and around Great Britain. Though it might sound a bit dull, it's rather fascinating to watch (it helps that they found interesting people to be on screen) and I've been a fan ever since. Each episode often follows an evolving narrative: assumptions are made, they dig, they find things that don't quite fit the original narrative so they have to dig more to try and make sense of it. And let ye think that this is all "just for TV", most of the folks on the show are real archeologists, and several of their digs went on to be record in archeological papers (which, yes, I've found and read a few).
Now that might just be it: I saw a show, I watched it, done. But I have a tendency to listen to music, and mount a story around it. As it happens, I was listening to an instrumental version of Deep Purple's Smoke On the Water, where I envisioned the titular smoke referring to the torches of a viking raid at night. And then, as my brain would have it, throwing in a modern day soldier who saved the day...
Although I shouldn't probably have to say it, I will: this is alternative historic (fan) fiction. Please do not take anything presented here as anything but a work of fantasy, laced with a tremendously thick hommage to Time Team.
The morning at Jarrow was bright but cool, though the forecast promised heat. The sun's burned over the massive carparks of the Port of Tyne, baking thousands of cars awaiting shipment to points abroad. In the little carpark just to the west, across the tidal River Don, the television program crew's own cars were being unpacked, equipment retrieved for the day's work ahead. They joked amongst themselves about the discoveries awaiting them, ribaled each other as long-time colleagues often did.
Out in the field beyond them, the geophysical staff were already pacing over the greenspace, easily one of the smallest fields they'd had to walk in years. The filming crew were already walking through their preparations: discussing with the site supervisor where the digs were likely to be so they could establish sight lines, knowing that the plans were likely to change once "geophys" was complete.
The host, Tony, a self-professed history fanatic, listened intently between sips of tea from his styrene cup, mentally transcribing his introduction for the camera, which would be filmed almost as soon as the briefing was done. Most of it would be wrong, of course, as the shoots tended to upend what they'd intended to discover, often turning into a much richer, more complex story despite any particular malaise and disappointment the host would often feign, such as the complete failure to find a Saxon-era hall, which the site tantalisingly offered.
The producer, Tim, a calmly-demeanoured man wearing a wide-brimmed hat, white shirt rolled to his sleeves, and medium blue trousers, gathered the collected crew and delivered the daily briefing, which was largely supervisory -- who was in charge, locations of portaloos, and safety reminders (though the archeologists were often the ones reminding everyone else). Which a final lack of further questions, the shoot began.
"Over a thousand years ago, the Vikings were an ever-present threat on England's east coast," Tony began in his hurried manner, quickly pacing across the field, ensuring the geophys walkers were still in frame behind him, "and here at Jarrow, just east of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, they struck a blow in September of 794. But what's odd about that particular event is that it was the last time the Vikings were seen on the east coast. To this day, no-one knows why the Vikings moved away to the north to Scotland, and to the west, towards Ireland. Perhaps, buried in what remains in Jarrow's village and ajoining abbey, we might find some of the clues of what history has kept secret for over a millennia." He stopped and paused, and grinned.
"And we've only got three days to find out!"
Corporal Maxwell Stoke arrived at the unremarkable building in an unremarkable building in the outskirts of Sunderland. Next door, the Nissan factory turned out cars he couldn't afford, the bulk of his salary having been garnished for the accident payments and for his ex-wife and children whom he never saw. He wore simple clothing, jeans and a jumper, which was required as not to dispel his activities at the otherwise secretive Ministry of Defense facility. For all intents and purposes, the building Maxwell entered looked as much a part of the Nissan factory, even built by the same contractor, despite a plainly visible fence between the two sites, and the plentiful security cameras at his building.
"You're late," said Major Kent Willoughby, who was waiting just inside the secure doors. His grey eyes tried in vain to bore through Maxwell's ennui.
"Yes," Maxwell agreed without even making eye contact, proceeding to the locker room to change.
"Another pub fight?" the Major noted, seeing a fresh set of stitches just under Maxwell's right eye.
"You have a problem with authority, Stoke!"
"No," Maxwell said, entering the room.
Undeterred, the Major followed. "I am the commanding officer here and you will obey the orders you are given, corporal."
He could have explained the events of the previous evening leading to the extended phone calls of the morning, or mentioned the unplanned hospital visit to address a deep wound, he could have objected to the Major's overbearing nature, and with his training, Maxwell could have easily laid the Major out flat. Instead, he sighed, and nodded slowly. "Understood, Major. It won't happen again."
"For your sake, I should hope not." The Major turned and left.
"Fer crissakes, Max, you should jus' gut 'im," laughed another corporal on Maxwell's shift. "They taught you that, eh?"
"Yeah," said Maxwell as he donned his black uniform and protective gear, including kevlar vest denoting his role at the facility. He said nothing else as he headed towards the guard room.
"Good afternoon, Corporal!" said Sergeant Elizabeth Abernath, the head of the security team. She saw the look on his face and frowned. "Let me guess: Dani, the car, and...," she mused a moment, "no alarm?"
"Afternoon, Sergeant," nodded Maxwell. He went right to the tea station, picked up his mug and poured a cup from the teapot. Lukewarm, he drank it quickly. "Lawyers and gin," he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Still?" she asked incredulously, then adding swiftly: "The lawyers, I mean. I thought you had all that DUI nonsense squared away."
"So did I." Maxwell rolled his head about. "Apparently the husband decided that I hadn't paid enough for the injuries."
"That was two years ago, decided in your criminal...!" Elizabeth trailed off. "Civil court, now."
"I'm sorry, Max."
"It's not your fault," Maxwell said automatically.
She placed her hand on his shoulder. "Max..."
"No, it isn't, Max. You should see that therapist again."
"Court-ordered therapist," he grumbled.
"Does that matter? You were feeling better about--," she cut herself off.
"About what? That I got drunk and clipped a pedestrian, leaving her paralyzed? That the SAS refused my application as a result? Or that my wife left me, or that I was demoted, or assigned as a security guard? Or that my toaster exploded this morning and damned near killed me?" He realized he was gripping the counter so hard that his fingernails had gouged into the yellow laminate. "Sorry, Lizzie."
"It's okay, Max," she said quietly, removing her hand. "I hate to add to your current troubles, then."
Maxwell closed his eyes in resignation. "Double shift, again?"
"'Fraid so. Louis is ill."
Maxwell sighed again. "Fine. I apparently need the quid, anyway."
"Mick!" called out Tony as he hurried walked. Mick was the show's most regular archeologist, and particularly desired on the shoot as he specialized in the Early Medieval period. He was, as usual, dressed in light blue jeans and his trademark bright coloured striped jumper. His long, frizzy white hair blew in the breeze, a regular issue for the camera crew as he had to stand in such a way as not to get the hair in his face when speaking. "I don't think we could have asked for better weather for today's dig ... but I do have to ask," he paused for a dramatic moment, "why are we here? Hasn't Jarrow been thoroughly dug up?"
Mick was very used to the host's questioning, even if it seems superfluous and often pointless. It was, of course, all geared towards television, and having to bring along the audience into a conversation. It was also a set up to allow others, such as Mick, to respond to the question in a manner that would support explanation. As such, he only needed to act as if they hadn't already rehearsed Tony's arrival and the particular topic they needed to breech, and say: "Yes, there have been numerous studies here over the years, but only the abbey itself was excavated, which is why it's in such good nick. They never really got into the village area, nor did anyone try to identify the boundaries. The museum here knows there's something under here, as artefacts have been found over the years, so they want to see the extent of it, as much as we can."
Tony turned to a taller, lightly-bearded man with short hair and tinted glasses, and a dark blue jumper. "John, what has geophys found?" John was the geophysical lead, a strong advocate of knowing where to dig before shovels hit soil, and the butt of far too many jokes for not being a real scientist, which he took all too well ... at least on camera. "We're nearly done the field and we've got some very interesting responses." He held up a printout of the electromagnetic conductivity map his team had generated, showing what, to the untrained eye, would look like television static, run through on random angles with various lines and broken curves, pock-marked with blotches, all in black. "There's been a lot of activity here over the years, which makes finding individual features really difficult," his pen tip focused on a few lines that seemed to surround much of the field, "but it looks like we might have the boundary ditch. We'll need to extend the survey into the abbey to see if completely surrounds the site."
"Any ideas where we can dig?" asked Tony.
"Well, it's a Scheduled site, so we're limited on where we can dig and how large a hole we can dig," said Mick. "We're limited to 25 square meters, which isn't very much." He pointed off-camera, towards the abbey, "and only five of them can be in the abbey."
"So we really need to plan this carefully," Tony explained. He turned to Phil, a large man in red checked short-sleeved shirt with a large, leather hat featuring a feather protruding from the band and a near-permanent sweat stain at the front. Phil's light brown hair exploded outward from under the brim. "Phil, where do you want to start?"
"If John's found the boundary ditch--," Phil started.
"We have," said John.
"I’d like to pu’ a trench over ‘ere," he said, using one of his famously uncut fingernails to point at a place where one dark line crossed over what John had indicated to be the boundary ditch. "I think this could be an entrance."
"That's a good idea," Mick confirmed for the audience. "Hopefully we can get some finds that will help date the area."
"Helen," Tony turned to the only woman, younger than all the men, with a bright face and medium brown hair that didn't go far past her ear. "What value would finds be at such a well-known location?"
"Like Mick said, only the abbey site is well-researched, the rest of the area around Jarrow was only dug in the 1960s and really only superficially. There's been almost no surveys and we don't have a clear idea of when the area around Jarrow was occupied, or for how long. The abbey was in used until about 860, when it was destroyed and abandoned, then resurrected by the Normans in the late 11th century. What we don't know is if there was anyone here in that intermediate period."
"Sounds like we've got our work cut out for us," Tony smiled. The others gathered chuckled, holding it for an uncomfortable moment longer until the cameraman indicated a successful taping. The group then broke up, John returning to his team, Phil whistling for one of the JCB operators to follow him, and Tony and Mick headed to get more tea.
It was nearly midnight, the end of Maxwell's first shift fast approaching. None of the tea or ibuprofen had done anything for his headache, though it had staved off the inevitable sore feet from pacing about the building. The bulk of Operation Tynewear's staff had left hours earlier, leaving a pair of technicians to go over the masses of wire, copper, aluminium, radiation symbols, and racks of hardware that did things Maxwell had neither interest nor need to understand. His job was to ensure the safety and security of the things and the people (in that order) that made up the Operation, lethally if need be.
Mostly, the staff ignored him, like all the other security guards, not the least bit concerned in how well-armed they seemed to be, always walking about like they were expecting a heavy assault at any moment. But such was the case for secretive Ministry of Defence projects that needed to remain invisible and unknown, even the guards outside tended to look and behave like delivery drivers and facility maintenance crew. Heaven forbid a weasel or a rabbit were foolish enough to poke their heads up.
The routine after hours was simple: ensure marked doors were locked, cameras were running properly, inspect the badges of anyone still on premises, have a cuppa, and repeat. It was an hour loop, with three of them walking the loop in twenty-minute intervals while a fourth surveyed on camera.
He entered The Bay, the largest room at the facility, which was slightly larger than a football pitch. The floor was grey, the walls were white, and the only sense of colour came from some of the bits of equipment that were moved about randomly. It had a high, warehouse-style roof that allowed room for the large and awkward devices that did things Maxwell neither understood nor cared to know. During the day, the lights in the room ensured a strong light in all corners, eliminating nearly every possible shadow, but off-shift, most of the lights were off, keeping the room in a deep contrast.
As he rounded a corner, felt a change in temperature, even through his black tactical clothing. Air conditioning in the space came from a large vent that ran around the outside edge of The Bay, right at the roof; what he felt was along the floor. He looked around and spied the policy-violating open door to the outside.
"Desk, this is Beta," said Maxwell into his radio. They always talked in codes, even though the building was radio shielded to prevent anyone from finding out what mysteries lay within.
"Go, Beta," came Elizabeth's voice.
"Someone's opened the cookie jar again," he said, their code for The Bay's emergency exit. It was usually one of the technicians avoiding the security checkpoints for a ciggy. He marched to the door and slammed it shut as loudly as possible, hoping he'd locked out someone on the other side. "And they've broken the alarm," he added, looking at the dangling box that should have alerted security to the open door. "Jar is sealed."
"I'll see whose hands need slapping," said Elizabeth. "Any signs of ingress?"
Maxwell quickly scanned the room. "Nothing obvious--." A wheeled cart moved without any obvious actor. "I have motion. About ten metres in front of me. Anything on camera?"
There was a pause. "Negative, I can't see anything," said Elizabeth. "Get closer."
"Turn on all the lights," Maxwell said quietly. "Don't give it a hiding place."
A moment later, a set of bangs were followed by the pop-buzz of dozens of overhead lights bursting to life. Some of the equipment also turned on, raising the noise level considerably.
"Don't blame me, someone's plugged them into the same circuit. Just be careful."
Maxwell raised his L85A2 automatic rifle and moved quietly towards the cart. When he was almost four paces away, there was a skittering, followed by a crash into a table that knocked over a water bottle onto the floor.
"Uh, I think I see it," said Elizabeth. "It's not a person, anyway."
"Remote?" asked Maxwell, dropping his rifle, and moving more quickly to the sound.
"I'm not sure, it's below the tables."
Another skittering as Maxwell neared the downed water bottle diverted him suddenly to the side, himself knocking into a toolchest, sending wrenches to the floor.
"I see it!"
"Uh, two metres to your two."
Maxwell leapt to the front and right, nearly landing on a large black and white mass of fur and claws that immediately barked, turned and growled at Maxwell.
"Badger," said Maxwell, unimpressed.
"I'll take it back outside," he said, and reached down. The badger, thoroughly uninterested in capture, bolted. Almost immediately it disappeared into shadows.
"For God's sake, don't let it chew on any of the equipment!" said Elizabeth.
"If you're so concerned, Lizzie, why don't you come and help!" Max retorted, swinging around a desk as the badger skittered a shortcut under it.
"No," she replied.
"Why not?!" he demanded, adding an "OW!" as he nearly tripped on a chair leg.
"You called me 'Lizzie'," she said. "I'm just going to sit here and watch."
"Wonderful help you are..."
"You awright, Max?" came George's voice through the radio.
"He's trying to catch a badger," said Elizabeth.
"How's he doin'?" asked George, completely avoiding the question of why there was a medium-sized mustelid in a highly-secure MOD building.
"As you'd expect," chuckled Elizabeth, who then let out a loud laugh as Maxwell lunged at the badger, which side-stepped, and he crashed into a filing cabinet.
"Not helping!" Maxwell shouted back.
"I'm on me way, Max, hol' yer shorts!" said George.
Maxwell got up and shook his even-more-hurting head, and darted far to one side, trying to outflank the badger. He held quiet and waited. But the badger had gone quiet, too.
"Liz-- Elizabeth!" he whispered into the radio. "Can you see it?"
There was a muffle snort before Elizabeth replied: "No," she stifled more of a laugh. "I think it's about three metres in front of you."
Maxwell stood motionless, but knew that the badger could go anywhere and the chase would go on all night. He remembered the snack bar he'd left in his pocket from his last tea break, pulled it out and unwrapped as quietly as possible, and tore off a piece, carefully tossing it on the floor. There was a soft snuffle, and the badger emerged from its hiding place to consume the treat. Before the badger was done, Maxwell tossed another small piece, about a metre away. The badger, sensing nothing afoul with randomly appearing snacks, trundled over to the new piece and started gobbling it up. Maxwell dropped a final piece almost at his feet, hoping the badger no longer cared about being chased.
For a moment, the badger seemed to agree and started towards the newest offering. But it stopped halfway and sniffed the air. And sniffed right at Maxwell. Realizing the moment, and the badger, was about to slip away, Maxwell lunged again, at first to the left and then hard to the right. The animal, trying to flee, dodged to its right to avoid Maxwell, only to come right into his hands. In protest, it snarled, squirmed, tried to bite, and flew its claws all about.
"I got it!"
"Get rid of it! I don't need to call 999 because you got rabies."
As if it heard a suggestion, the badger whipped its head to one side and wriggled, and bit into Maxwell's hand. He, in turn, stumbled and fell backwards into one of the long tables. The table, in turn, knocked over a broom that had been carelessly left out, which fell into a control panel for an overhead crane, depressing the "Release" button.
Above the table was the overhead crane, which carried a large, heavy ring that was attached by thick cables to a series of boxes next to the table. The ring, now released, fell to the table, crushing it to the floor. Maxwell jumped away, biting badger still in hand. However, he failed to jump far enough away, and the ring fell forward on top of them.
To be more accurate, the ring fell around them, as Maxwell and the badger had jumped into the ring's centre space. However, as the ring fell with a heavy thud to the ground, shaking several things around it, Maxwell was nowhere to be seen. He, and the badger, had vanished.
"What do you have, Phil?" asked Tony as he approached a neatly-dug trench. Rectangular, roughly ten metres long and three metres wide, it was meant to capture the full width of what the believed to be the entrance, and some of the adjoining enclosure ditch.
"We 'ave an entrance!" Phil announced, his Black Country accent carrying his pride. "This must have been the primary entrance to the for'ification." He stepped carefully to one end of the long hole. "We've found post 'oles!" he declared happily, then took two steps towards the other end. "An' then we start gettin' some 'ard-packed soil tha' runs for abou' five me'ers." He hopped out of the trench, marched across the space and stepped down gingerly into the trench on the other side. "An' 'ere we 'ave th' other side, complete with," he motioned down to the floor of the pit with a wave of his hand, "post 'oles!"
"Well that's splendid!" Tony exclaimed. "But what does this tell us?" he added.
"Well, it means tha' this was a defended entrance," Phil explained, his hands shaking emphatically, "likely with 'eavy gates and an overhead pla'form t' keep watch over comers and goers."
Tony turned to Mick. "Is this the sort of thing we'd expect for a monastery?"
"Not exactly," said Mick. "Monasteries didn't usually have defences, not in England, anyway. This is probably the village having built a fortification to protect itself and the monastery, because it was more or less the reason the village existed."
"So the walls went all the way around the site?" Tony cast an exaggerated hand well beyond the field to the church ruins to the south, along the river, and back up the opposite of the field, all the way back to where they stood.
"It's possible," said Phil carefully.
"We'll know once geophys has completed their work down there."
"This is the way I sound!" John protested.
"But you sound irritated," said Tim.
"I am irritated!" John returned. "This is the third take of the same information that Tony doesn't like!"
"Tony has to ask those questions, John," Tim said exasperatedly, "for the sake--"
"I know, I know! For the audience!" John snapped. He took a deep breath. "Sorry, Tim, it's just this site is just so damned difficult."
Automatically, the assistant had the cameras start filming again, Tony catching motion and switching back into host mode.
Tony looked around. "For such a small space?" he asked genuinely.
"Rubble," explained John. He pulled out the latest printout, obtained not minutes earlier, and showed it to Tony."There's so much junk under the soil that I can't tell you what's worth digging and what's not."
Tony studied the various blobs that lay inside of and seemingly through clear straight lines. "Well, if this is the inside of the walls," he traced a rectangular space, "would this not suggest spoil form a previous dig?"
"It could, yes, but this space," John outlined another one, "has a similar set of responses and none of the official records suggest that this was ever dug, or used as a spoil heap."
"So this is worth digging?" Tony asked.
"Maybe?" John wasn't sure. "I can tell you that there's a high probability of Phil complaining about geophysics if there's nothing in there."
One moment, Max was seeing the inside of the Operation Tynewear's laboratory, the next he was standing in what looked like a marshy field. In what had to be midday. There were multiple gasps from various people around him, all dressed in what looked like recreationist costumes from some medieval fair. Except there was no fair to be seen.
The badger, now thoroughly annoyed, screeched and wriggled free of Max's suddenly forgetful grasp, dropped to the ground, and scurried away to coincidentally become its own very distant ancestor.
"Uh, hello," said Max, raising his hand and waving gently. None of the people moved. He wasn't sure if any of them even blinked. "Sorry to startle you. Any chance anyone can tell me where I am?" There was a continued lack of reaction. "I'll, uh, I'll just call in."
Max dug into his pocket and pulled out his mobile phone. He noticed immediately the "No Service" in lieu of the "Vodafone" that usually appeared at the top of the small screen.
"Damn," he muttered. He looked at the others, still unmoved, and smiled. "I don't suppose one of you could direct me to the nearest phone?" He paused. "House?" Still nothing. "Do you speak English?" he asked with careful measure. "Français? Deutche? Español?" Out of other languages he knew to pronounce, he sighed exasperatedly. "I swear if this is some kind of prank, someone's going to get an earful..."
One of the people shrieked something Max couldn't understand and pointed somewhere behind him. Several of the others made similar sounds, and they all started running in the opposite direction. Max heard the other voices before he saw them, a group of about fifteen men, also in period garb, though with heavy leather, helmets, and weilding weapons that were decidedly designed to invoke fear as much as lethal damage. The armed men ran after the fleeing people, one turning towards Max, running with a large club ready to swing.
"Sir, please stop!" Max said forcefully. When the man failed to halt, Max raised his L85A2 rifle and flipped off the safety. "If you do not stop immediately, I will shoot!" The man, now within two body lengths of Max, prepared to deliver a hit. Max fired one shot, hitting the attacker in his shoulder, sending him down, mostly in shock. "Can someone please tell me what's going on?!"
The staccato pop of the rifle had attracted the attention of most of the other attackers, who saw one of their own fall to the ground. They changed their direction, all heading for Max.
"Oh for the love of God," Max grumbled. "I will drop each and every one of you right now! Stop!!" Six more rapid shots later, all the attackers lay on the ground, alive, but injured. "What in the hell is going on?!"
One of the people, a young boy, pointed a finger at Max, and said simply: "Brocc."
The people had motioned to Max to follow them, leading him through the marshy fields, in a direction Max assumed to be north, based on the location of the sun. They crossed through the wetness that soaked into Max's boots, the thorns of countless bushes picked at his pants and uniform. It was difficult for him to keep an eye on the people in front through all the vegetation, and he kept constant watch for anyone trying to come up beside or behind him.
After almost an hour and a half of slogging, he saw what looked like a wood fort over the tops of the marsh plants. They forded over a small river to a plain that was surrounded by a tall wall made of tree trunks, placed closely together. Though a rough construction, it looked sound enough at a distance. As he neared, he could see the cuts and burns of assault. The people continued to usher him through a large gate into the courtyard. When he saw multiple archers draw their bows, Max instinctively raised his weapon. Seeing the imminent conflict, one of the people who had led Max said something quickly to the archers, who released their strings. Max scanned around him, then lowered his gun.
The man who had spoken said more words to Max, though nothing Max heard sounded like any language he had ever heard. Given, growing up in Northumberland had exposed him to number of eclectic accents, and he knew a couple of people who spoke Welsh and Gaelic, but this was utterly unlike anything he'd heard before.
"I don't know what you're saying," Max said. He pointed to his ear and exaggeratedly shrugged his shoulders. Dozens of people looked back at Max with the same confusion he showed them.
Another man appeared, this one dressed far more finely than those who had brought Max to the walled fort. He spoke as he stepped towards Max, his hands raised in a posture that Max didn't understand, though neither seemed threatening. Max did not lessen the grip on his gun and his eyes didn't cease to scan the area around him. The approaching man seemed to recognize Max's concern and called for those around him to lower any weapons and show Max their hands.
"Where am I?" Max asked as clearly as he could. "Look, I'm sure this is all a wonderful joke to someone, but I need to get back to my job before I lose it." There wasn't so much as a shimmer of recognition or a hint of humour from anyone. Max grimaced, then in a very exaggerated guesture, motioned to himself. "My name is Max." He then gestured towards the man who had been approaching him.
The man seemed to understand, and said several words, before ending with: "Æðelstān." He then gestured back to Max and said: "Brocc".
"My name is not Brock, it's Max. Em, ay, ecks," he said, suddenly realizing that if the people in front of him didn't understand the Queen's English, the spelling certainly wasn't going to help. What had happened to dump him in the middle of some foreign field where not a single person had even heard a single word of English? And what ass back at the facility was going to get an earful for this?
"Eald Brocc!" announced the man in front of Max, which was repeated by nearly everyone around him. Over and over, all Max could hear was "Brock". Whatever that meant.
"It's Day 2 and we've had some interesting challenges on what should be the easiest site we've ever visited," Tony spoke to the camera as he hurried into almost the middle of the field. "Over there," he pointed to Phil's trench, "we've found what looks like the entrance to this fortification, complete with post holes." He spun to face one of the JCBs pulling out some soil not far from him. "Over here, we're unveiling an area that geophys spotted yesterday that might have some good dateable finds. But," he spun to the south and looked towards the ruins, "geophys has been wrestling with a very noisy bit of ground that has, so far, kept its secrets. Time to find out what they've been up to!" He paused a few moments with a grin. "That'll work?"
"That's good, Tony," said the cameraman. "Tim wants us to go see what Bridgette's got so far."
Tony looked confused. "Isn't Bridg digging Trench 3?" He looked towards where the JCB was dropping a load of soil.
"Mat took over 3," explained Tim. "Bridgette wanted to take 2."
"In case Mat told Phil?" Tony smirked. Mat and Phil worked well together, but Mat would also tell Phil if geophysic's studies had come up dud.
"Something like that," sighed Tim. "Come on, we don't have all day."
"We are ready?" Tony asked, a few steps out of camera frame. The cameraman nodded. There was a moment's pause before he said: "Find anything yet, Bridg?" and walked into frame.
Bridgette stood up, her trowel in hand, having dug down 20 centimeters into the soil. Her jeans were well-stained with soil, her hands dirty; her white tank-top was still dirt-free. Her long, blonde hair was tied off in the back. "I'm not sure, to be honest." She leaned over to a finds tray. "This is a mess of things: pot, some of which might be Saxon, but I'm thinking it's medieval, and this," she held up a piece of shiny white pottery with blue marks, "has to be Victorian."
"So this is a spoil heap," concluded Tony, dejectedly.
"I might agree, but," she stepped into the pit, "do you see this line?" she indicated a barely-visible buldge.
"I've been on this show for fourteen years," Tony explained as he and the cameraman moved to better see what Bridgette was indicating. "You'd think by now it would just leap out at me." He looked at the buldge. "What is it? A wall?"
"It's too narrow for a wall. I'm going to keep--"
"Tony!!" shouted Tim from nearly half a field away. It was very unusual for anyone to shout, especially when Tony was clearly being filmed. "Come and bring Will with you!" Tim turned and headed towards Phil's trench.
"Sorry, Bridg," said Tony. "I'm sure we'll be back in a few." He and Will, the cameraman, trotted to where Tim ended up, just to the west of the entrance. With him was a metal detectorist and Helen, the small finds expert.
"Roll," said Tim, flipping his forefinger around, and stepping to the side.
Immediately Tony snapped into character. "Helen, what's going on?"
"Well, we thought it was a good idea to have a metal detectorist go over the entrance to see if there were any coins," she explained. It was a common practice, as coins were a common lost object near gates. "And we found this," she held up a small object wedged in heavy dirt.
"May I?" Tony asked to hold the object. Helen held it out and Tony held it up for the camera. "What is it?"
"We don't know yet. It's very bent, probably from people walking on it for years and years. But it doesn't look like a coin," she said.
Tony examined the object, but could only make out a bent portion. "It's unusual, isn't it?"
"Well, it would be unusual, if we hadn't also found this one," said Helen, and handed out another clump of dirt. "This one is from out here."
It looked similar, but like the first one, this object seemed otherwise unbent. Tony gently wiped some of the dirt with his finger. "It looks like a tiny cup," he said, seeing the circular shape. "Can you date this?"
"I can't even identify it," said Helen. "I've never seen anything like this before."
"Here's another," said Ken the detectorist, holding up another clump. He swiped a thumb and exposed the cup shape.
"What on Earth...?" Helen mused, looking at the new discovery.
"Helen, can you clean one of those up?" asked Tim, nearing the group. "Maybe we can get a better shot of it on camera."
"Yes, just a moment," said Helen, and pulled out a dental pick from her pocket. She quickly flicked off dirt, exposing the top part, which was a gold colour.
"A small gold cup?" asked Tony.
Helen kept cleaning, removing more dirt, the cup shape extending down to a shoulder that flared out instead of in, and then continued down.
"I think I know what that is," said Tim.
"A bullet casing," said Helen, having exposed enough of the shell to see clearly what it was. "Well, that's a disappointment."
"Are there lots of them out here?" asked Tony.
"Someone shot a lot of bullets out here, if that's what I'm picking up," said the detectorist.
"Go back to Bridgette," said Tim, "there'll be more interesting things there."
Denton Burn, 790
It was barely two weeks later, as Max had steadily taken further and further walks from the fortifications that he had come to know as his temporary home, that he had come across a large stone wall. It was in poor repair, scavenged by locals for materials, but the shape was unmistakeable, as he had spent many an hour upon it growing up: Hadrian's Wall.
Having left the safety of the fortification, having crossed a wide river, having gone for a long hike in hopes of finding his way out of this demented joke he'd found himself in, Max had spied the wall in the distance. At first, it had looked unremarkable, just an ancient wall, and England was replete with ancient things. Having also been a higher point than the ground he stood on, the wall also offered him a convenient point to find the civilization he sought. But no matter which direction he looked, he saw nothing but trees and fields. The wall, at least, offered him a path to walk as he continued his search.
To be fair, Max hadn't initial recognized his path for what it was. He was searching for something considerably more modern than the Wall, so it hadn't occurred to him that looking at the wall would offer anything of value. But eventually, tiring of what was turning into a fruitless search in the waning light of day, he decided to settle down in a corner, where the wall had a bulge on one side. Leaning up against the wall, the fire he had set burning well, he took the moment to look at his highway through the countryside. The construction was certainly ancient and looked very much like the Wall he had seen as a child, on an educational trip with his school. Except that the Wall he was touching looked and felt in considerably better nick.
It was an awful, horrible, long moment as Max's experiences over the previous week sunk in. He had not seen nor heard any planes. Or cars, lorries, trains, or ships. And his radio, up until its battery dying, had steadfastly refused to pick up a signal of any kind on any band. Against all logic, Max could only come to one conclusion. His scream echoed across the countryside.
"It's a grave!" Bridgette exclaimed joyfully.
"We're in a cemetery?" asked Tony. He looked to John who was staring at his printouts.
"This would be the strangest cemetery I've ever surveyed," said John, who had been brought in for the shot. "No clear pits, no east-west alignment. This looks like it might be the only one here," he said, looking around and down to the clearly uncovered slabs of stone Bridgette had uncovered. "And this doesn't look Saxon. This looks neolithic."
"True," said Bridgette, "we normally see just burial, not covered with stone. Which suggests this is either neolithic..." Her head tilted slightly as she thought it out. "Or this person was very high status, warranting a much more important burial."
"Like a chieftain? Or a king? A bishop?" Tony sounded very excited.
"We won't know until get this lid off, and see if there's anything underneath."
"Good luck," said John, turning away. "Tim wants me to survey the area west of the entrance. All those bullet casings are going to be a nightmare..."
Max had hated learning Beowulf in school, the Old English being so ridiculously archaic that he'd largely ignored the entire segment, which his teacher was very quick to address with Max's mother, resulting in a month of washing dishes by hand. And yet, on his first night back in the fortification, his head had snapped up at the mention of the name "Beowulf", as a storyteller wove the not-as-ancient-to-Max tale to the assembled villagers.
He had returned from his journey, both relieved to return to some semblance of home, and utterly destroyed that he had somehow managed to find himself over a thousand years earlier in British history without a hint of explanation. He had, at least, returned with a fallow deer, an offering he hoped would encourage his acceptance. He quickly found he needn't have worried, as much of the village and fortification quickly celebrated Max's return.
Though they still called him Brock.
It was Hāligmonath, the holy month, the month of harvest. By rights, it was the best harvest the community had seen in many years, and they had already had a tremendous feast. The abbot of the abbey had been particularly pleased and declared additional celebrations throughout the month, more than the usual religious ceremonies.
Like most Anglo-Saxon communities, Jarrow had a hall, situated near the Jarrow abbey. Various buildings lay between them serving various communal purposes, including the storehouses and the garrison. Few lived within Jarrow's surrounding defensive walls, their small homes being closer to the fields they tended and animals they kept. Fishermen tied their small boats up at the edges of a small river that flooded twice daily, allowing them to easily sail out and in with their loads.
Jarrow's heavy but withered walls were the height of three grown men, made from trunks of the trees that grew in the massive stand just to the east of the village. A single gate at the west side was the only means in and out, a heavy path leading to the west that fanned out into a foot-trodden delta to the farms beyond. Several platforms ringed the inside of the burh, allowing guards to see over the walls, and were regularly manned to watch for travellers and attackers alike.
On this evening, the wind was light, a breeze in from the Norþsǣ kept the air cool but fresh, the guards on the northeast platforms, Cenulf and Tordag, were comfortably warm under their heavy clothes. The night watch was their regular duty and they had come to enjoy their time together. The older Cenulf had watched over the river's activities for much of his elderly age, having had to give up woodcutting after a felled tree crushed one of his legs. He sat perched on a high stool.
"Looks like the fishermen are returning," Tordag commented, looking to the northeast, where the easterly flow of the river bent towards the north. "Maybe they caught some eels!"
"They went to the Norþsǣ. No eels there," grumbled Cenulf. He liked Tordag, but he sometimes wondered if the young man had any sense about him at all. "Maybe some herring." Cenulf loved salted herring, especially on a cold Sōlmōnath afternoon, to avoid having to eat more of those wretched savory cakes.
"There will be some eels in the slake. Maybe I'll go tomorrow." Tordag didn't bother to ask if his friend wished to come. Even if Cenulf could walk without support, he had refused to go back into the slake after his accident.
"Don't forget your basket," said Cenulf.
"I forgot it only once," Tordag protested.
"And you put the eels down your pants!" Cenulf burst out laughing at the memory. Some below shouted in the dark, ordering silence. "Bah, go back to your drinking!" Cenulf shouted. He turned to his friend. "You bring me three eels, and I'll cook them for you."
"Agreed," Tordag said happily. In addition to being a night watch guard, Cenulf's eel stew was widely known to be the best on the south side of the river. He looked out to the approaching boats, barely visible except for the torches. Something didn't seem right. "How many boats went out today?"
"Three. Gamling's boat is being repaired."
"There's five boats coming in."
Cenulf's voice caught in his throat. "Five?" He struggled to turn and look.
"Do you think--?"
"SHH!" Cenulf threw his hand over Tordag's mouth. "Listen!"
The boats were close enough that the two guards could have seen the shape, had the evening not stolen so much of the light. Though the moon was nearly full, the clouds dimmed it to a bare glow. But the sounds carried well over the land, and what the two men heard was not the sound of returning fishermen.
Cenulf reached over and struck a metal bar with a hammer, its clanking immediately drawing the attention of a guard next to the garrison. "Close the gates!" he shouted. "Prepare yourselves for attack!" Within an instant, the grounds below exploded into motion and shouting and cries of fear.
Tordag looked at the torches on the approaching boats as they rapidily divided, from five to twenty to a hundred. "We're doomed," he said hoarsely.
Cenulf grunted, watching the army of torches spread onto the land. "Go to your son. Tell him to run, run for all of our lives. Tell him to wake Brocc."
"We found bullet casings?" Mat asked. His blue t-shirt bore the yellow logo for the show. The cameras had moved off.
"Dozens of them!" said Tony. He pulled one out of his pocket and showed him. "We're starting to wonder if this was a firing range during the First World War."
Mat examined the shell. "Strange. This doesn't look the right size." He leaned over to his trench partner. "Betty, do you recognize this?"
Betty, the only other person in the trench, got up from scraping for finds, wiped her hands across her pants, and looked at the shell. "It's a five-five-six. This is standard ammunition with British Armed Forces."
Tony blinked. "So someone was ... here recently ... and shot a lot of bullets?"
"Movie set, maybe?" Mat suggested.
"Are you sure, Betty?" asked Tony.
"I used to fire that, myself," she said.
"Betty was Armed Forces, before going into Nightengale," explained Mat.
"So you would know," said Tony.
"I would also know that this," she held up the shell, "is a copy."
"Copy?" both Tony and Mat echoed.
"This wasn't produced by a factory. It's the wrong colour, not proper brass. And see these lines?" she showed clear lines down the side of the casing. "These would be rejected by Logistic Supply, the sides need to be smooth for proper loading and ejection. Someone made these casings by hand in a mould."
"I'm telling you, it's no' possible." Phil stared hard at the abboration sitting in the soil before him. The cameras were rolling as Tony looked carefully at the object. "There's no possible way for tha' t' be 'ere." Phil's trench had dug through the hard-packed soil of the entrance, digging down nearly a half-meter. And it was there that they had found the golden-coloured object.
Tony looked up. "Phil, am I wrong to believe that this is a cas--"
"No way!" Phil yelled. "If'n you're tellin' me tha' those things were made in th' las' thir'y years, there's no way they can be there!"
"Why not?" asked Tony.
"Because that," Phil pointed to an adjacent jagged object, "is a piece of Middle Saxon pot. Right next to a modern bullet casing. Not possible."
"So someone put it there to...?" Tony trailed off, not sure what to say next.
"Also no' possible," added Phil. "That thing is in context with the soil stratification. No disturbance with th' soil around or above it, all na'urally deposited. If someone managed to get that down there without so much as a trace of disturbance, it's time to hang me hat." Phil wasn't even hinting at a joke.
"It was laid in the soil at the same time as the pot?" Tony asked incredulously.
"And again, no' possible. How does a modern bullet casing end up next to thirteen-hundred year ol' pot?"
No-one offered a conjecture.
Two legs pounded into the grasses, racing a boy named Aldor away from the village. His father had been very clear: do not return without Brocc.
Aldor had seen Brocc several times over the four years since Brocc had appeared in the fields and fought away an attack. Brocc still frighted Aldor considerably. Brocc acted rudely, rarely ever spoke when he came into the village, and when he did speak it was worse than listening to a young child. He had spent hours with the blacksmith creating things that the blacksmith would later claim to be black magic. He created things that could fly in the sky at the end of a long thread. But when there was danger of almost any kind, Brocc was often the first to rise, armed with his strange sword that yelled and felled opponents without coming anywhere near them. Aldor wasn't sure if Brocc was a wizard or a demon.
Brocc didn't live in the fortification, or even in the adjacent village. For reasons Aldor didn't understand, Brocc had chosen to live in a small hut well away from everyone else, coming in only to trade his deer kills for things like copper and flour. Otherwise, he was rarely seen. But others went to see Brocc. Aldor's family farm was near the path that led towards Brocc's hut, and he would often see people heading to or returning from. Some looked guilty for having gone out that way. Brocc's hut wasn't the only thing worth travelling to, as the path also headed towads Munucceaster, but the trek to the larger settlement took nearly a day, most people were there and back much more quickly.
Brocc's hut was a quarter of an hour's walk from the burh, out at the edge of the fields, nearly in the woods. In the daytime, Aldor could run the distance in half the time. But it was dark, Aldor was frightened, and without the aid of a torch, Aldor's feel thrice failed his balance, rushing him into the ground. By the time he arrived at Brocc's door, his clothes were muddy and he bled from his hands and knees. The hut looked quiet, there was no visible light anywhere. Aldor hestitated, then heard a distant scream. He took a deep breath and pounded on the door. There was no movement, no sound. Hearing a faint chorus of whoops and yells from the village, he pounded urgently on the door again. Almost immediately, it flung open. Aldor leapt back.
"What?" came a voice from a darkened silhouette in the black room. Aldor stared at the blackness, wanting to keep running. "What do you want?" the voice demanded with careful annunciation.
"Attack," Aldor managed to utter. "The village. At the burh. They're here. Hundreds of them."
Fifteen people grunted as they gingerly placed the large, flat stone that had sealed the grave Bridgette had uncovered carefully on the ground to the side of the trench. The grave, a rough rectangle of flat vertical stones, had been dug down nearly a hand width, allowing a careful removal of the lid. Under the lid was more dirt, sifted into the space over the millennia, mostly hiding the grave's occupant. Very little was visible beyond some bumps in the otherwise smooth surface of dirt.
Bridgette stepped back into the trench and pulled out a stiff brush and started briskly sweeping away the dust and detritus. Most of the others who had come to help move the coverstone started to disperse back to their respective tasks, but were halted when Bridgette let out a brief gasp, followed with: "What the bloody hell?"
Under the edge of her brush was a blackness that clearly showed the letter "R" in faded white.
"We've seen a lot of unusual things in our digs, with our digs starting off with the expectation of a medieval castle and turning into an Iron Age settlement, or finding what we thought was a Roman temple only to find out it's actually just a Victorian folly. But never in all our years have we come across anything like we did yesterday: modern bullet casings in context with middle Saxon pot, and what looks to be Modern English lettering in a grave!" Tony walked over to Mick, Phil, and Helen. "This all sounds impossible!"
"It is!" Phil blurted. Practiced thrice already, Phil's outburst had lost none of the vitriol. "This site is contaminated. We've got modern ar'efacts lyin' next t' ancient ones. We 'ave to consider most of what we find to be useless for datin'. This is something that will take weeks, if not years, t' sort out."
"Phil, you said yourself that those artefacts are in context," said Mick. "Is there any way you know of to put something in context with something else, and not leave a trace?"
"No," Phil said emphatically.
"As much as this pains me," said Mick, cringing at his own thought, "should we not consider the possibililty--"
"Don' you dare suggest it's leg'imate!" Phil uncharacteristically shouted. Realizing that the cameras were still on, he backed down a bit before continuing. "We 'ave an expert who said tha' what we found--"
"I'm very sorry to interrupt," said Bridgette, approaching those on camera. The cameraman whipped around to her, nearly catching both the audio technician and the assitant producer in the process. "This is getting very strange and we really need you to see this."
Bridgette had exposed the upper portion of the grave's occupant, removing the soil and dust from around the edges of the stone-lined space. The skull was visible to almost the temporomandibular joint. It looked like much of the skeleton had been at least partially exposed, but cloths lay over the chest and hips, and the feet.
"It's in remarkable shape," said Tony at first glance, "but what's with the cloths? It's not like he has much to hide anymore." He quickly realized he forgot a question: "Is it male or female?"
"Male," said Bridgette, her voice slightly unsure.
"Why the cloths, Bridgette?" asked Mick. "This should be quite a surprise."
"You might say that," she said worrisomely, and pulled away the one over the occupant's feet. Underneath were bones, as one would expect, but around the ankles were clumps of material, and under one sole was a withered shaft, merged with a darker material.
"What's all that?" Mick asked, waving his finger at the sight.
"That's what has us puzzled," said Helen, squatting next to the feet. "This material," she pointed to the ankles, "has these small metal rings in them," she opened her hand to show oxidized and decayed arcs, only one fully intact, roughly two centimeters across, "and this stuff, which I can't identify at all," she held up a tray with a clump of black brittle material.
"What is that?" Tony asked aloud, largely for the cameras.
"I think it might be artificial. Like nylon," said Bridgette.
"In a cist?" Mick asked incredulously. "You found this buried under a thousand-kilo stone, in the soil, yes?"
"Mmm hmm," Bridgette nodded. Mick didn't ask a qualifying or confirming question.
"What's really weird is this," Helen pulled out a long tongue of what looked like hardened leather. "This was under the sole of the foot, where there would be a shoe or a boot."
"May I?" Tony asked. Helen handed him the object. "It's hard!" He gently touched the edges and brushed away the caked dirt, revealing a criss-cross pattern underneath. "It's too light to be stone. It doesn't feel like metal--"
"Carbon fiber," explained Bridgette, "like the tangs in our work boots for stiffness.
Mick looked thoroughly annoyed. "This is the second time we've found pollution in this dig. I'm going to have a serious talk with the Jarrow Hall board about the protection of this site."
"What's under this cloth?" Tony asked, pointing to the large one over the chest.
Helen cast a glance at Bridgette, then at the camera. "Well, if you thought the feet were weird..." She carefully removed the cloth. The skeleton protruded from the soil, the ribcage having largely collapsed. Across the ribs were small rectangular plates of differing sizes, seemingly laid symmetrically across the chest, though some had slipped down the sides, sticking out of the remaining soil.
Mick looked at Helen and Bridgette. "Are there any finds you can date?"
"Yes," said Helen, producing a finds tray. "Saxon funerary pottery." She handed it to Mick who looked at it closely. "Eighth, ninth century," he muttered. "Where was it?"
"Here," said Bridgette, pointing to a space between the skeleton's legs.
Tony felt Mick's concern. "What's going on, Mick? This is not a normal Saxon burial."
"No," Mick agreed, "I've never seen anything like this before. In context Saxon pot with," he reached over and carefully picked up one of the rectanglar plates. "I don't recognize this, though." He looked at Helen.
Helen shook her head. "I've never seen this before, either."
"That is really peculiar," said Tony, taking the rectangle from Mick. "I can't help think I've seen this before, somewhere. Was there anything else odd about all this?"
Bridgette gently lifted a wide board, covered with clear plastic. Under the plastic was a mostly-degraded mass of black. Though the blackness seemed to be caught in mid-dissolve, there was still enough of it left to see patterns of fabric. But the patterns weren't nearly as jaw-dropping as the markings on them. Long faded and degraded with time, it was still plain for any of their eyes to see the letters: "CUR".
"Cur?" Phil pondered. "You mean like a mongrel?"
"Cur wasn't even a word until the 13th century," muttered Tony, still working through what he'd seen. Phil looked at him incredulously. "I might needle you for the sake of television, but you'd be surprised the things I've had to learn as an actor."
"How'd it get there?" Phil asked, glaring across the field towards the gravesite he couldn't see from his trench.
"Bridg and Helen are trying to figure that out," said Mick. "I'm ... frankly, I'm baffled. All of what they've found was under a thousand kilo slab that took over a dozen of us to move. All of their soil is stratified. Yet they're finding modern-looking artefacts."
"Well, so am I," said Phil, glancing to a finds tray next to him. "Fifty five shell casings so far."
"That's a lot," said Tony.
"It's no' jus' a lot, there's prob'bly another hunnerd ou' in that field!" Phil cast his hand towards the west.
"I am really going to have words with the Board," said Mick, looking at the Jarrow Hall.
"Phil, have you found any of these in context with other finds?" asked Tony.
"Yes," Phil said uncomfortably. He pulled out another tray, with more partially-uncovered shells at one end, and some other artefacts at the other. "These casings were under these coins and broaches, and this...," he lifted up a long, narrow, and pointed object, "a Viking spear head."
"Under?" Mick asked. "Any signs of disturbance? Digging or ploughing?"
"None," Phil said curtly. "And tha' bothers me. How did these get unner leg'i'mate finds?"
"This gets stranger and stranger," said Tony, only to realize he wasn't on camera.
The fortification was in a frenzy, the soldiers barricading the gateway, bringing weapons out of their storage, archers preparing their bows. Attacks on the village were uncommon, but the villagers weren't unprepared -- they had the abbey to protect, and there were many who wished to plunder it, especially those who were surrounding the walls, beating their swords against their shields, chanting and taunting, waving their torches plainly to show their numbers. The burh was quickly surrounded.
Some of the torches were lobbed over the wall, aimed at the buildings inside, hoping to land on a thatched roof and set the entire area ablaze. The Jarrow villagers were prepared, buckets of water quickly putting out the flames. Arrows soon flew over the walls, hitting ground, rooftops, walls, and the unlucky souls who could not get out of the way quickly enough. Axes struck the heavy wood walls, threatening to chop holes in the thinner parts between the massive trunks. Above, defensive archers shot into the flames and the dark, hoping to quell the enslaught, several of them falling to arrows answering from the fray below.
The weakest point in the walls were the gates: logs that had been split and hewn into heavy boards, hinged and held together with thick, rough spikes. Though barricaded with logs and boards and two dozen heavy men to keep the gates closed, a coordinated crowd on the other side started to take runs at the gates, hoping their collective mass would shatter the defense.
Tony stood not far from the entrance trench and looked into the camera. "It's a cloudy and cool morning here at Jarrow as we start our final day, and ... well, we're all quite puzzled by the strange things we keep finding. Out to the west," he gestured towards Phil's trench, "we keep finding spent modern bullet casings, but buried right along with thousand year-old relics! And in a grave we found by the church," he and the camera turned to get the ruins in frame, "we have a Saxon burial containing finds that are decidedly not Saxon." The camera swooped and closed in on Tony's face. "And to make matters even weirder, last night, it seems one of the skeleton's teeth was stolen." He walked a few steps to where Mick, Phil, John, and Helen were waiting. "Have we made any sense of this site so far?"
Mick forced a chuckle on this second take of the day's intro. "Not as much as we'd like. Some of these finds are definitely causing us headaches for trying to date, since modern materials shouldn't be with middle Saxon-era finds."
"Could someone have just dug up the site, placed the modern things in there, and covered it back up?" Tony asked, his hands animatedly mimicking the motions.
"No bloody way," Phil grumbled loudly. "Those i'ems, th' casings and wha'ever i' is in tha' grave, were stra'ified with the finds, there's no signs of disturbance a' all!" He ceased talking, after the previous take had turned into a full-bore rant.
Tony turned to the next person. "Helen, have we been able to identify the more modern finds in the grave?"
Even after three takes, Helen still paused. "Near as we've been able to figure amongst ourselves, it's armour plating with fragments of ... kevlar."
"Kevlar?" Tony annunciated for the benefit of the audience-to-be. "What on earth is that doing in a Saxon grave?!"
"We don't know," said Mick preemptively, even though it had been made clear to Phil to remain quiet. "There's a lot of questions here that we might not be able to answer because it doesn't make any sense."
Tony turned to the camera. "No small challenge for our last day," he said with a slight smile. He held it for a long moment, then looked to the producer. "How's that, Tim?"
"That'll do," Tim nodded.
"I'm telling you this is complete hogswallop! Someone's playing silly buggers on us and I won' stand for it!" Phil yelled. He turned to a camera. "Get out of my face, David, or you'll be eatin' tha' lens."
Brocc grunted. There were a few sounds in the dark before an oil lamp lit. Aldor snuck a peek through the open doorway as Brocc swiftly pulled the blankets from his bed, followed by the hay-stuffed mattress. What was left was a large, low box. Brocc lifted the lid and quickly began drawing out things that Aldor could scarely remember seeing upon Brocc's first appearance: armour as black as night with strange white markings, a black helmet, black clothing, and his strange sword that landed heavily on the ground with a ringless metallic whonk. Aldor wanted very much to step inside and look closer at the strange things, but saw the look on Brocc's face, and stepped back into the night.
"Come in," said Brocc quietly. "It is dark. Safe here."
Aldor came back into the dim light and saw Brocc quickly donning the strange clothes, attaching the armour while sounding like he was tearing it off. In a matter of moments, Brocc had transformed from a man indistinguishable from everyone else in the village into a menacing black form. He reached down and picked up the sword, inspecting it closely, eliciting several clicks and clacks and sounds that seemed like a sword on a sharpening stone. Brocc reached back into box and drew out some more things that Aldor didn't recognize and tucked them into pockets in his clothing.
"Stay here," Brocc said carefully, adding something in a tongue Aldor didn't recognize.
"Raksha, it's so nice to see you!" Tony announced as he approached the grave. Raksha was another of the field archeologists, the only non-Caucasian who regularly appeared on camera, mostly as a result of her lively attitude. Her long, black hair spilled across her dark-skinned shoulders. "Where's Bridg?"
"She wasn't feeling well today, so here I am!" smiled the woman, standing almost knee-depth in a trench surrounding the cist grave. Most of the stones have been exposed, the skeleton being examined by another woman.
"What do you think of our discoveries so far?" he asked.
"This is really a mystery, isn't it?" laughed Raksha. "I've seen some strange things, but this ... this is something new." She leaned in closer. "How's Phil taking all this?"
"Not well," Tony admitted lowly, though enough for his lavalier microphone to hear clearly. He moved past Raksha to the woman examining the skeleton. "Jackie, what do you make of all this?"
"It's definitely odd," said Jackie, an osteoarcheologist who appeared periodically on the show, an older woman with short black hair. "I can't begin to explain the finds, but I can tell you that this is a man, probably well into his eighties, possibly older. He was in extremely good health compared to other Saxon burials I've seen, so he must've been eating well and been high status, as there's no signs of burden on any of these bones."
"Do you know what happened to the tooth?" Tony asked, indicating one of the gaps in the near-perfect jaw.
"No, I'm rather irritated that someone would defile the remains that way. But, removing that tooth exposed something we might not have otherwise seen," Jackie said, leaning in and pointing at tooth next to the gap where a tooth had been. The tooth had a clearly-defined patch. "This man has fillings, several of them, as we've discovered. Dental work is unheard of in the Saxon era -- they'd just pull the tooth -- and this one in particular is a composite filling, not amalgum."
"Composite? You mean, plastic?"
"More or less, yes. Composite fillings weren't even invented until the 1960s."
"Stranger and stranger," Tony murred, backing away. "Helen, have you made any sense of the finds from yesterday?" Tony and the camera shifted to Helen, who stood nearby.
"The armour plating is a metal-ceramic, the sort of thing you'd find in modern vests," said Helen, holding up one of the plates. "This kind of process wasn't known until the late 1970s, so there's no way it could be in a Saxon grave. But the weirdest thing is this," she picked up a large ring. "We found this under his ribs. He might have been wearing this around his neck on a leather strap, and it fell through as the body decayed."
Tony took the ring and examined it. "It's not iron or bronze."
"See the pointed part?" she asked, indicating with her finger. Tony uttered agreement. "This is a firing pin."
"A what?" Tony's genuine shock caught him off-guard and he quickly recomposed.
"A firing pin from a modern rifle, beaten into a circle," she held it up clearly for the camera.
"The questions abound. You're sure that's a modern firing pin?" Tony emphasized for the camera.
"Identified by Betty, one of diggers, she's with Operation Nightengale, ex-Armed Forces," said Helen. "She identified it yesterday."
"Firing pins are straight, what purpose would there be to bend it into a circle?" Tony held the ring and marvelled at it.
"The only reason we could come up with is to render it useless, and therefore the rifle it came from."
"What is it doing in our grave?"
"That's the biggest question. We have no idea."
"Did we find the rifle?" Tony asked cautiously.
"I hope not," said Mick, who had been hiding just off-camera. "Phil might have an aneurysm."
The walls of the fortification had been slathered in pitch and set ablaze, many of the defenders had been wounded, several mortally. The gates were buckling as the attackers swarmed repeatedly, causing the wood in the doors and their supports to bend. Swordblades jabbed both ways through the gaps, trying to find a target. Screams and yells from both sides were full of malice and desperation.
A loud crack announced the failure of another support, eliciting a roar from the attackers, who wound up and rushed the gates in a flood of strength. The defenders rushed to replace the broken beam. Before they could place a fresh support, one of the gate boards cracked, threatening failure.
Suddenly, the sky to the west lit up with a bright, deep red light that lifted into the sky. The roaring came to an abrupt halt as the Wīcingas turned to see the strange, terrible light. It hung a moment before starting to fall back down, then was joined by another. Mutterings amongst them said it was an omen, some called it magic. But their leader claimed the lights were nothing and drove his men forward.
Another red light burst from the dark west, staying near the ground and billowing smoke, quickly followed by another one. Those furthest from the gate turned to look at the bright, red smoke and saw a shape moving through it. They called out in warning, attracting the attention of the others. The attack on the weakened gate stopped as they saw the black shape of Brocc emerge from the smoke.
There was a moment of calm as the Wīcingas faced Brocc, both sides visually testing the other. Then an axe flew across the gap, striking Brocc in the head. The blow sent him the ground, and sent a loud cheer from the Wīcingas. They turned to resume their attack when a loud crack drew their attention back to the man in black, who had stood back up, holding the axe. He looked otherwise unhurt. In a flood, the Wīcingas raced towards Brocc with weapons brandished.
Under his helmet, Brocc grinned with purpose. He drew up his strange sword, his L85A2 automatic rifle, placed the butt against his shoulder, and felled six of the nearest in mere seconds. The rapid shrill burning pop caused several of those running towards Brocc to nearly freeze, a couple to try to run. But the burning popping continued, cutting down barbarians in swaths. Twice, Brocc pulled a spent magazine, slamming in another in a fluid motion, until he came face-to-face with the Wīcingas leader, who lasted barely long enough to raise his warhammer before having a bullet trace through his skull.
This broke the will of the remaining survivors, who with a collective shout, retreated rapidly towards their awaiting boats. Brocc quickly surveyed the gates, saw them still in place though barely standing, and quickly followed the retreating Wīcingas.
Two of the boats quickly pushed off the shore and feverishly paddled out to the open river. One more was filling and preparing to push off the shore. The other two boats were left abandoned, most of their former occupants having been felled in the field. Brocc fired more shots towards the escaping boats, not caring so much if he hit anything, more to drive home a clear message. And he might have left it at that, had the last departing boat not carelessly tried to jeer. In a final act of warning, Brocc took an iron sphere from a hook on his vest, lit the fuse, and threw it onto the boat. A moment later, a tremendous clapping thud set the boat and its occupants into a fireball.
"I hate to corner you like this, Mick, but do you have a theory for what we've been seeing?" Tony and Mick were standing in the field, the abbey ruins behind them. "None of this is making sense. We've found actual Saxon archeology, but we keep finding modern finds mixed in with the ancient ones. And, if what everyone says is true, those modern finds weren't buried there recently."
"It's definitely a conundrum, Tony, it's nothing any of us have ever seen before, either personally or in any of the texts. There's been cases of forgeries and hoaxes, but those have been easily disproven. If these are hoaxes, then they're done with techniques we've never heard of."
"'If' they're hoaxes? Is there a chance that they're not?"
"Well, there's two possibilities. The first is that these are recent placements, someone down here doing things they shouldn't, and flooding of the Tyne deposited silts that are confusing the archeology."
"And how likely is that?"
"Stewart's been looking into the records. The trouble is that while there are floods of the Tyne, it's not clear when this area was last flooded." "So what's the other possibility?"
Mick looked sheepish. "Archeologists deal with certainties and facts, we don't like talking about possibilities without reason. And this one is fairly unreasonable."
"Someone went back in time with a modern rifle?" Tony joked.
"That's totally unreasonable," Mick agreed with a laugh. "The only other thing we can think of is that someone dug up this entire area, then resurfaced it. There's no record of it, and whomever did it would have to do so without anyone noticing, which would be problematic at best. That said, we're putting a new trench not far from Phil's original trench just to see if there's any signs of a resurfacing."
Brocc walked about the village, his long, fine robes flowing in the warm spring breeze, a bunch of yellow flowers in his hand. "Good morning!" he called, walking past a group of men and women outside the long hall, who were preparing the feast for that evening.
"Hello, Brocc!" most of them called back.
"Brocc, will you be marrying Synne and Halig tonight?" asked one of the women.
"They are getting married?" Brocc asked innocently, stroking his long white beard in a mock thought. It had been news for a week that they desired to bond, a union that both families had strongly supported. "Someone needs to remind this old, old man of these things..."
Brocc was, indeed, an old man, having lived much longer than the average villager, easily older than anyone else. Yet he seemed to have the will and strength of someone much younger, which only added to Brocc's never-ending mystique. Brocc didn't actually know how old he was, though he figured from the annual harvests that he had participated in that he had to be 80 or 81.
A young woman, only in her late teens, came up to Brocc and clasped him gently on the arm. "Brocc, you make us look like fools with your age and wisdom."
"Ah, but who is more foolish? The fool, or the fool that follows him?" he winked back, recalling a quote from a motion picture that wouldn't be made for another 1,250 years. The woman laughed and returned to her work.
Brocc went into the burh, his name called by the many guards whom Brocc had trained over so many years. Even at his age, Brocc could readily disarm most of them, and throw a spear with considerable accuracy. Everyone knew about Brocc's strange sword and its abilities, though none of them understood what it was. No-one knew that Brocc had, in fact, disabled it years earlier, before burying it in the marshes. It had served him well, far beyond the years its designers would have ever guessed, but Brocc knew that it would forever change English history were anyone else to ever use it.
He walked into his home, one of the large, stone-walled roundhouses with tall conical thatched roofs. Inside was his family: Aedre, his wife, and Odel, one of her two sons from a previous husband who had died years earlier. Odel was helping his mother fit into her favourite blue dress for the festivities.
"Did you find them?" Aedre asked. She saw the yellow blossoms and smiled. "Wonderful! I was afraid they might be out season, already."
"I found some down by the south stream. The cattle had not eaten them yet," Brocc said, handing the bunch to his wife.
"Ouch!" Aedre shouted, slapping her son's hand. "Watch those pins, boy!"
"Sorry, mother," Odel said. "Your dress doesn't fit as well as it once did."
"Are you calling my wife 'fat'?" Brocc asked with a smirk.
"I would not dare say such a thing!" said Odel. "Offending you is begging for death. Offending Mother is worse!"
Odel finished pinning the dress into place as the three of them chuckled. When he was finished, he left to dress himself. Brocc led his wife to their large bed and sat her down.
"Wife, how long have you known me?" he asked.
Aedre blinked and thought a moment. "I am not sure I can think that far back. But it is a very long time."
Brocc sat down next to her. "For all of those years, you have known me as what?"
"Our greatest defender. Our best soldier. Our leader. You brought peace when we thought there would be none. And you have been my beloved husband for many years." She smiled broadly, then asked: "Are you feeling well?"
"I am feeling old," said Brocc. "And not truthful. Not to the one person with whom I should always be honest."
"For a warrior, you speak often of your thoughts," she said. "I have always found it curious, and yet it is what I love most about you." She touched his face. "What troubles you?"
"My name," he said.
"The badger is a powerful animal, a great name for a great man!" she said.
"But it is not my real name," he said. "Not the one I was born with." He grimaced slightly, knowing he had not actually said his name aloud in decades. "I am Maxwell."
Aedre tried to repeat the word, but struggled with the unfamiliar sounds. She looked at him. "Why did you take the name 'Brocc'?"
"I did not have much of a choice," he laughed. "Hlaford gave me the name the first time I came to the burh. It stuck to me like pitch."
“From what we were told, you were as ferocious as a badger in that battle. Your armour makes you look like one, too,” she smiled. “Why do you tell me this now? You do not use your real name.”
“Because you deserve to know, and it is long overdue that I told you,” he said and stood up, then held out his hand to help his wife up.
"It is an odd name," she confirmed with a grunt as she rose. "Remind me, where are you from, again?"
"Far beyond your imagination," said Brocc, "beyond a thousand harvests."
"It's not flooding," said Stewart, holding some papers in his hands. The landscape investigator had been on the show many times, and was often a source of indisputable fact, rarely incorrect. His scruffy face smirked uncomfortably through thick glasses. "I've gone over every record of this area for the last sixty years, and there's no signficant flooding events of the surrounding rivers, nothing that would have breeched this area."
"That puts the silt theory to bed," said Mick.
"That leaves the resurfacing," said Tony, turning to Phil. "And what did you find?"
"Perfect stra'ification to three me'ers, well past where we're seein' ar'efac's," said Phil.
"So resurfacing is out," Tony concluded.
"It seems so," said Mick.
"And our skeleton?" Tony turned to Jackie.
"I can't say it's Saxon, but everything about it and around it says it has to be about twelve hundred years old," she said.
"So we have a Saxon-era burial of a man with modern armour plating and modern dentistry, and a field full of modern bullet casings dating back to almost the same time. Are we sure we want to discount our rifle-bearing time traveller?" Tony mused.
"Don' you dare!" Phil spat, finger raised angrily.
"Phil," cautioned Tim, behind the camera. "This isn't the time for an outburst. Let's start over--"
"Don' you tell me t'calm down!" Phil snarled. "I've been lis'nin' t' this nonsense and I'm sick a it! There is a bloody archeological programme and we will damn well talk about arch-e-ology! I will not be brought inna these stupid conversations tha' have nothing to do with sani'y!" He stormed off.
Tony spoke up. "Phil, we're not trying to suggest--"
Phil wheeled around. "I get tha' this is teevee and tha' we got to provide en'ertainment, bu' this is complete hogswallop! Anyone goin' back in time would give us a differen' presen', right? Why aren' we affected by this? We keep talkin' 'bout rifles. If there were a rifle, there mus' be gunpowder. Gunpowder four hunnerd years before its first appearance in England? Why ain' this par'a our 'istory?!"
"Maybe it is...," mused Helen.
Phil's head spun so quickly his hat nearly fell off. "What?!"
"The viking raid in 794," said Helen.
"Wha' abou' it?" Phil asked angrily.
"There was a viking raid on Jarrow in 794, they sacked the monastery," said Mick. "But unlike Lindesfarm, where they had run of the place, the vikings met significant resistance. They didn't return to the east coast."
"Aye, the villagers fought back!" said Phil.
"Well, one did," said Helen. She looked around at the others, who were looking towards an approaching figure.
"You're telling me tha' 'e," Phil jabbed finger towards the cist grave, not noticing the others' distraction, "is who drove off th' vikings?"
"If he's the soldier we trained him to be, why not?" asked the approaching figure. Phil whipped around to see a stiff man in an equally stiff Army officer's uniform walk up to them.
"'Oo th' 'ell are you?!" Phil demanded.
"Major Kent Willoughby, MoD," said the smartly-dressed man, producing an identification card.
Phil's eyes seemed to roll of their own volition. "Ah, Christ!"
"Is anyone else as confused as I am?" Tony asked.
Tim came forward. "May I ask the purpose of your visit? We're trying to film a television programme."
Willoughby smiled shortly. "I'm here to answer the question." He produced a small folder and opened it to a sheet that contained the picture and background for Corporal Maxwell Stoke. "We believe this it the man you found. He worked for us, and disappeared about eleven years ago."
"Eleven years," Tony repeated. He looked to Jackie. "You said the skeleton was twelve hundred years old. Are we sure it's the same person?"
"We have a DNA match," said Willoughby. "Your skeleton is definitely Corporal Stoke."
Ten eyes shot to Willoughby. "How did you get the tooth? How did you even know?" asked Mick, somewhat angrily.
Betty stepped around from behind Willoughby. "I took the tooth and gave it to the MoD."
"Why on earth would you do that?!" Jackie nearly shouted.
"I had to know if it was him," said Betty quietly. "I had to know if it was Max."
"Elizabeth," said Willoughby, indicating Betty by her full name, "was Max's supervisor at our facility in Sunderland. She witnessed the accident."
"Accident?" said several of the others.
"There was an incident one evening, some wildlife had gotten into facility. Corporal Stoke was one of our security staff--"
"CUR," said Helen. "Security... that's what was on his chest!"
"He had an incident with one of our experiments. We didn't know what happened to him, but it's clear that he had ... an adventure."
"What kind of equipment?" asked Jackie.
"That information is highly classified," said Willoughby curtly. "Suffice to say, highly experimental, and its effects were not fully understood."
"We're t' take yer word on this, then, tha' this's th' truth?" Phil demanded.
"You're welcome to come to whatever conclusion you prefer," said the officer.
"Why tell us?" asked Mick.
Willoughby shifted uncomfortably. "Maxwell had many friends within the ranks, and while he and I had our differences, I respected the man's dedication. When Maxwell disappeared, it affected many of us, Elizabeth most of all."
"I felt it was my fault, I didn't help him when he'd asked, and because I wasn't there, the accident took his life, or so I thought," said Elizabeth. "After that, I found I couldn't work. I was diagnosed with PTSD and put on leave to recover. Only I never really did. Operation Nightengale took me in, which led me here. When I saw the teeth, it reminded me of Max's smile. But when we saw the fabric, I must have leapt to a conclusion. I took the tooth to Major Willoughby and explained what we'd found, urging him to run a DNA match." She took a shuddering breath. "It might sound really odd, but I've never felt better knowing that Max survived."
"It's highly against protocol, but your discoveries complete Corporal Stoke's story. As the discoverers of its end, we felt it was important that you should also know it's beginning," said Willoughby.
Phil was speechless. Mick blinked. Helen and Jackie looked at each other. Only Tony, the actor, unbound by the formal rules of archeology, allowed his mind to go where the others' couldn't. "He ... time travelled to the eighth century. And fought off a viking invasion."
"I cannot speak to his specific actions," said Willoughby, "but based on what Elizabeth has told me of your discoveries, it certainly seems that Corporal Stoke had a heavy hand in certain events."
"He might have even saved England," Helen realized.
Mick looked at Helen. "Eh?"
"Think about it!" she spoke excitedly. "If, and I realize that this is only a 'what if', a trained military guard--"
"A highly trained and decorated soldier who qualified for the SAS," Willoughby interjected. There was a gasp and a low whistle.
"A highly trained soldier," Helen corrected herself with some amazement, "with his rifle--"
"And in full combat gear," added Elizabeth. "He was that night. It was standard uniform for... the facility."
Helen breathed patiently. "A fully-armed and protected soldier were here for the Jarrow invasion. It would explain the casings and the viking finds in the field." She glanced at Max's profile. "And apparently lived a long life into the ninth century. He was highly respected, as he was given a high status burial, with his grave goods: his uniform and armour went with him." She smiled for the long-departed man. "If it wasn't for Corporal Stoke," she looked quickly at everyone in turn, "we might be speaking Danish instead of English."
"Are you mad?" Phil's forehead looked like it might burst a vein. "Then why weren' there rifles in th' ninth cen'ury?"
"He destroyed the firing pin," explained Elizabeth. "He probably destroyed the rifle, too, as we haven't found it or any parts of it. Or the rifle was ruined from using homemade ammunition."
"The bronze casings!" Helen gasped. "He made his own bullets?"
"You found far more casings in the field than he was issued, and most of them were bronze, not brass."
Both Mick and Phil wiped their heads and stared at each other. "I can't believe it," Phil finally said.
"This is our history, he's our history," said Mick.
Helen smiled. "He didn't change the past. He wrote it." "This is unbelievable," breathed Tony, quickly switching back into his host personna. "We have documented proof of time travel, that we can affect our past that creates our present. How many events in our history might have been a result of one person being in the right place at the right time? Imagine if someone were--"
Willoughby interjected: "I should also add that all of you, including all your staff, will be absolutely bound by the Official Secrets Act. All documentation, computer files, and tapes will be confiscated, and you are to never utter another word of this to anyone else, nor discuss it amongst yourselves, under penalty of unyielding fines and intolerable imprisonment."
"Unyielding?" Phil asked.
"Intolerable?" added Helen.
"Unquestionably," answered Willoughby firmly.
After a painfully long moment, Tony muttered: "Damn. That would have been our best episode."