Chapter 31 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

A key find at the archeological dig. Comments are welcome.

Chapter 31

The work of the last two months has been tedious but productive, resulting in the elimination of more than two dozen objects from consideration. Were they conducting an archeological dig of general interest, they would have already been most satisfied with the results: a twisted iron gate, nearly intact; a variety of weapons, primarily swords, many still in their sheaths, many with jewel encrusted pommels; leather and silver bridles remarkably preserved; crushed skeletal remains of horses and men, some of the men still cloaked in leather garb, others astride saddles as if buried with their mounts. Each find reassures the small team painstakingly excavating the site that their years of exhaustive research has brought them within striking distance of what will be the most significant archeological discovery in more than a thousand years.

As work began this morning, two men and one woman, each an expert on the relics of Christianity, expected another 10 hours of meticulous, almost delicate removal of more of the same sort of artifacts they have been finding for more than a month. The routine is simple. They review the latest sonar analysis, cordon off an area no more than nine square meters, which, according to their data analysis, contains man-made metallic objects, and set about to explore the roped-off square with tools no bigger than a hand trowel. They will work the same nine square meters until all objects located by the sonar analysis have been positively identified and removed, at which point they will mark off a new nine meter square and repeat the routine.

For more than two months the work of this team of three on the small rise west of the primary construction site near the highway linking Echmiadzin and Shahumyan has been hidden from view by a two-meter high chain-link fence covered in green canvas. Access to the archeological dig side of that fence has been closely guarded since its erection. Naturally, the fence’s appearance instantly became the object of rumor and speculation. Whispers about the discovery of an ancient burial site dominated the lunch-time gatherings of the construction workers for nearly a month. Soon, however, the fence and what may have been going on behind it, was regarded as nothing more than one more piece of a complex, modern construction project, and interest among those not having privy to the business side of the fence faded.

As the three work the square on their hands and knees in the growing heat of the late morning, the woman’s trowel strikes an object that, based on the most recent survey, should be metallic. As has been their habit, all three immediately stop what they have been doing to focus on the latest find. She pulls a small brush from the back pocket or her khakis. She uses the brush to carefully sweep on and around what now appears to be more than a small artifact. She continues to use both her trowel and the brush to remove clear the earth from the object as her two colleagues, now standing directly over her, watch with growing interest.

Slowly, delicately, she uses her brush to remove a final thin layer of dirt revealing the perfectly preserved top of a long, thin, iron box. She sits back on her haunches, puts her hands on her thighs, and looks up at her colleagues who are both staring at the box. The three archeologists simultaneously, and without uttering a word, realize what they have found. They are stunned, momentarily overwhelmed with joy, awe, and fear. Finally, the woman, after a deep, prolonged breath, speaks.

“Get Anatoly.”

The men continue staring at the box, utterly dumbfounded.

“Go, quickly!” she commands.

The men nod, turn and head for the superintendent’s trailer where they will deliver the news that generations of a secret society dedicated to restoring Russia to its former imperial glory have labored without rest to hear.