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Valhalla rising, p.39
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       Valhalla Rising, p.39

           Clive Cussler
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  "But the only hard evidence that they came to North America is their setdement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland," said Pitt.

  "If they sailed and set up colonies in France, Russia, England, Ireland and the far reaches of the Mediterranean," Marlys argued, "it stands to reason they could easily have entered middle America down the St. Lawrence River or around Florida, into the Gulf and up the Mississippi. They could have used the inland river water systems to explore vast regions of the country."

  "As indicated by the stones with runic inscriptions they left behind," offered Giordino.

  "Not just by Norsemen," said Marlys. "Numerous people from the Old World visited the Americans before Leif Eriksson and Christopher Columbus. Ancient seafarers of many cultures sailed across the Atlantic and explored our shores. We've found stones with inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Cypriot script, Nubian letters and numerals, Carthaginian Punic script, and Iberian Ogam. Well over two hundred stones inscribed with the Ogam alphabet, which was used mostly by the Celts of Scodand, Ireland and Iberia, have been found and translated. The landscape is littered with stones carved with scripts that have yet to be identified. Early peoples may have traveled on our home grounds as far back as four thousand years ago." She paused for effect. "And the alphabetic inscriptions are only the half of it."

  Kelly stared in disbelief. "There's more?"

  "The petroglyphs," Pitt guessed.

  "The petroglyphs," Marlys echoed, with a nod of her head. "There are hundreds of recorded examples of carved images in stone of ships, animals, gods and goddesses. There are faces with beards that look identical to those from ancient Greece; heads of people that are nearly identical to those carved around the Mediterranean in classic times. Birds in flight are big favorites, as are horses and boats. There are even petroglyphs of animals that are foreign to the Americas, such as rhinos, elephants and lions. A great number of the images are astronomical, showing stars and constellations, whose positions in the stone correlate with positions in the sky thousands of years ago."

  "As I told you over the phone," said Pitt, "we are investigating Kelly's father's fascination with a series of rune stones he discovered and studied fifteen years ago."

  Marlys looked up at the ceiling for a moment, recalling. "Dr. Egan's studies concerned a series of thirty-five rune-stone inscriptions that told of a group of Norsemen who explored the Midwest in 1035 A.D. I recall he was obsessed with the inscriptions in the hope they would lead him to a cave. Where? I have no idea."

  "Do you have any records of them?"

  Marlys clapped her hands. "This is your lucky day. Come out to my office in the barn where I have them filed away."

  What was once a barn built for a dairy herd had been converted into a giant office. The hayloft was gone and the high ceiling was open. Rows of library-style bookshelves took up half the space. A huge square table sat in the center of the room, with a cutaway entry to the middle where Marlys worked behind a pair of computers. The table was piled with photographs, folders, books and bound reports. There was an expansive monitor beyond the desk. Beneath it were shelves containing videotapes and discs. The old wooden plank floor was worn smooth and still showed nicks and dents from the hooves of the cows when they entered and exited during milking. Through a doorway a laboratory could be seen, the walls and floors of which looked to be coated with white dust.

  One side of the spacious room was filled with artifacts, ceramic bowls shaped into pots, human heads and figures, and animals. Several were creative interpretations of almost comical humans in strange and sometimes contorted positions. At least a hundred smaller unidentifiable artifacts were preserved in a great glass case. Pitt was particularly taken by several stone masks, very similar to those he'd seen in museums in Athens, Greece. None could have been carved by American Indians depicting members of their own tribe. All the bas-reliefs were images of men with curly beards, an interesting phenomenon since the native inhabitants of North, Central and South America were lucky in never having to shave.

  "These were all found in the United States?" asked Pitt.

  "Discovered in every state from Colorado to Oklahoma to Georgia."

  "And the artifacts?"

  "Mostly tools, with a few ancient coins and weapons for good measure."

  "You have an amazing collection."

  "Everything you see goes to a university archive and museum when I pass on."

  "Remarkable that so many ancient people came this way," said Kelly in awe.

  "Our ancestors were just as curious as we are about what's over the horizon." Marlys swept her arm at chairs and a sofa as she searched the bookcases. "Make yourselves comfortable while I look for the records of the inscriptions that interested your father." After less than a minute, she found what she was looking for and pulled out two thick reports in metal binders and carried them over to the desk. One held over a hundred photographs, and the other was bulky with papers.

  She laid down a photograph of a large inscribed rock, with Marlys standing next to it for perspective. "This is the Bertram Stone, found on the other side of the lake by a hunter in 1933." Then she went to a tall cabinet and removed what looked like a white plaster cast. "I usually shoot photos after highlighting the inscriptions with talcum powder or chalk. But if possible, I paint on several layers of liquid latex. After it dries, I transport it to my lab and make a mold with wet plaster. When that dries, I reproduce it on a blueprint machine and highlight the indented images or script. Letters and symbols then show up in the eroded stone that were not visible to the naked eye."

  Pitt stared at the twiglike markings. "A few of the letters are the same as our current alphabet."

  "The script is a combination of the old Germanic Futhark alphabet and the later Scandinavian Futhork. The first used twenty-four runes or letters, the second, sixteen. The origin of runic script is lost in time. There is a slight similarity to ancient Greek and Latin, but scholars think the basic runic alphabet originated in the first century with Germanic cultures who linked it with the Teutonic language of the time. By the third century, it had migrated into the Nordic countries."

  "How do you know the writing on the stone isn't fake?" The question came from Giordino, a worldly skeptic.

  "A number of reasons," Marlys answered sweetly. "One, police forgery experts have examined several of the stones and unanimously agreed that the carved inscriptions were made by the same hand. All characteristics are identical. Two, who would travel two thousand miles around the country carving runic inscriptions about a Norse exploration expedition if it never happened? For what purpose? Also, if they were fake, they were made by someone who was a master of the language and alphabet, as attested to by modern experts on runology who found no incorrect variations in the letters. Three, the Bertram Rune Stone was first discovered, according to local historians, by a tribe of the Ojibways, who told early settlers about it in 1820. It was next recorded by French fur trappers. It seems extremely unlikely that someone else carved the stones long before the area was settled. And finally, four, although carbon-dating analysis only works with organic materials and not with stone, the only method to judge aging is to study the amount of erosion on the rock over the years. The weathering of the inscriptions and the hardness of the stone as exposed to the elements can give an approximate time of antiquity when the letters were carved. Judging from the wear and tear on the rock from wind, rain and snow, they were dated between 1000 and 1150 A.D., which seems reasonable."

  "Have any artifacts been found in or around the stones?" Giordino pursued.

  "Nothing that has survived the years of exposure."

  "Not unusual," said Pitt. "Few if any artifacts ever turned up along Coronado's trail centuries after his trek from Mexico as far as Kansas."

  "Here's the million-dollar question," Giordino asked Marlys. "What does the stone say?"

  Marlys took a CD disc and inserted it in her terminal. In a moment the letters, highlighted on the mold cast from the liquid late
x, were revealed in great detail on the monitor. There were four lines of almost 140 letters.

  "We may never have a totally accurate translation," she said, "but six runologists from here and Scandinavia agree that the inscription reads . . .

  "Magnus Sigvatson passed this way in year 1035 and claimed the lands this side of the river for his brother, Bjarne Sigvatson, leader of our tribe. Helgan Siggtrygg murdered by Skraelings.

  "Skraelings translates to barbarians or lazy heathen, or in the old vernacular, wretches. We must assume that Siggtrygg was killed during a clash with local native Indians, the early ancestors of the Sioux and Ojibway."

  "Magnus Sigvatson." Pitt spoke the name softly, accenting each syllable. "Brother of Bjarne."

  Marlys sighed thoughtfully. "There is a saga that mentions Bjarne Sigvatson along with several boatloads of colonists setting off from Greenland toward the west. Later sagas claim Sigvatson and his people were swallowed up by the sea and never seen again."

  "The other thirty-four stones," said Pitt. "What do they reveal?"

  "Most of them seem to be boundary markers. Magnus was quite ambitious. He claimed a quarter of what became the United States for his brother, Bjarne, and his tribe." She paused to scan another highlighted inscription mold on the monitor. "This one reads . . .

  Magnus Sigvatson came ashore here."

  "Where was this stone found?" inquired Giordino.

  "Bark Point, which sticks out into Siskiwit Bay."

  Pitt and Giordino exchanged amused glances. "We're not familiar with the names," said Pitt.

  Marlys laughed. "I'm sorry. Siskiwit Bay is on Lake Superior in Wisconsin."

  "And where were the other rune stones found?" asked Kelly.

  "These Norsemen were quite wordy when you consider that probably fewer than a quarter of the rune stones they carved have been located and translated. The first and last was discovered at Crown Point on the southern end of Lake Champlain." She paused and looked at Pitt with a sly grin. "That's in upstate New York."

  Pitt smiled back courteously. "I know."

  "From there," Maryls continued, "three stones are found at different sites in the Great Lakes, suggesting that they sailed the waterway north to the St. Lawrence River. They then came through the lakes until coming ashore at Siskiwit Bay. Once there, I believe they portaged their boats from one body of water to another until they reached the Mississippi River, where they began their journey south."

  "But Bertram Lake is not on the river," stated Kelly.

  "No, but we're only two miles away. My guess is the Norsemen would come ashore and conduct short treks into the countryside before continuing downstream."

  "How far did they reach?" asked Giordino.

  "Stone inscriptions were found on a meandering course through Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas. The farthest stone was found by a Boy Scout troop near Sterling, Colorado. Then we estimate they trekked back to the Mississippi where they had left their boats. A stone was uncovered on the west bank of the river across from Memphis, which read,

  "Boats stay here guarded by Olafson and Tyggvason."

  She continued, "From that point they must have sailed up the Ohio River and into the Allegheny River, where they made their way to Lake Erie before retracing their path back the way they had come to Lake Champlain."

  Kelly looked puzzled. "I'm unclear as to what you mean by the first and last stone."

  "As close as we can tell, the Lake Champlain rune stone was the first inscribed at the beginning of the expedition. There must be others, but none have been found. When they returned nearly a year later, they made a second inscription on the stone below the first."

  "May we see them?" Pitt asked.

  Marlys typed on her keyboard, and a large stone appeared on the monitor. Judging from the man sitting on top of it, the height looked to be ten feet. The stone sat in a deep ravine.

  Above ten rows of inscriptions was carved the petroglyph of a Viking ship, complete with sails, oars and shields on the sides. "This is a tough one," said Marlys. "None of the epigraphists who studied the stone have agreed one hundred percent on the message. But the translations are fairly similar in text." She then began to translate the lengthy inscription.

  "After six days travel up the fjord from our families at the settlement, Magnus Sigvatson and his 100 comrades rest here and claim all the land within sight of the water for my kinsman and leader of our tribe, Bjarne Sigvatson, and our children.

  The land is far larger than we knew. Larger even than our beloved homeland. We are well provisioned and our five small ships are stout and in good repair. We will not come back this way many months. May Odin protect us from the Skraelings."

  She went on, "I must warn you that the translations are very vague and probably do not convey the original meaning. The second inscription carved on the return reads . . .

  "Fourteen months after leaving our families, we are but a few days' sail down the fjord to the cave below the high cliffs to our homes. Of the 100, we are now 95. Bless Odin for protecting us. The land I claimed in my brother's name is larger than we have known. We have discovered paradise. Magnus Sigvatson."

  "Then there is a date of 1036."

  "Six days' sail down the fjord," Pitt repeated pensively. "That would suggest the Norsemen had a settlement in the United States."

  "Has a site ever been discovered?" asked Giordino.

  Marlys shook her head. "Archaeologists have yet to find one below Newfoundland."

  "You have to wonder why it disappeared so completely."

  "There are ancient Indian legends that tell of a great battle with strange wild men from the west with long chin hair and shiny heads."

  Kelly looked confused. "Shiny heads?"

  "Helmets," Pitt said, smiling. "They must be referring to the helmets the Vikings wore in combat."

  "Strange that no archaeological evidence of a site has ever been discovered," said Kelly.

  Pitt looked at her. "Your father knew where it was."

  "How makes you say that?"

  "Why else would he become so fanatical in his search for the rune stones? My guess is that your father was searching for the cave mentioned in the final inscription. The reason he suddenly dropped his research is because he must have found it."

  "Without his files and papers," said Giordino, "we have no direction. Without a ballpark in which to launch a search, we're floundering in the dark."

  Pitt turned to Marlys. "You have nothing from Dr. Egan that might give us a clue to what data he was accumulating?"

  "He was not a man into correspondence or E-mail. I don't have so much as a scrap of paper with his signature. All our sharing of information was done over the phone."

  "I'm not surprised," Kelly murmured resignedly.

  "And rightly so," Giordino said. "Considering his problems with Cerberus."

  Pitt's eyes stared into the vague distance without seeing anything.

  Then they focused on Kelly. "You and Josh said you searched the farm for your father's hidden laboratory and turned up nothing."

  Kelly nodded. "True. We searched every square inch of our property and those of the neighboring farms on both sides. We found nothing."

  "How about the palisades facing the river?"

  "One of the first places we looked. We even had rock-climbing clubs come in and check the rocky bluffs. They found no sign of caves or a path or a stairway leading across the face of the cliffs."

  "If the only inscription about a cave was on the first rune stone, why run around the country beating the bushes searching for more inscriptions that revealed nothing?"

  "He didn't know that when he launched his search," Pitt surmised. "He must have hoped that other stones might give him more clues. But his quest turned up dry, and the trail always came home to the first rune stone."

  "What inspired him to search in the first place?" Giordino asked Kelly.

  She shook her head. "I have no idea. He never told my mother and me what it was he
was looking for."

  "The cave in the high cliffs," Pitt said slowly.

  "You think that's what he was looking for?"

  "I do," Pitt came back positively.

  "Do you think he found it?"

  "I do," Pitt repeated.

  "But there is no cave," Kelly protested.

  "It's a question of looking in the right place. And if we find it, too, it will open the door to a closetful of mysteries, including your father's secret project."

  "You might take a new direction in your search," said Marlys.

  "What are you suggesting?" asked Pitt.

  "I believe it would be helpful if you consulted with Dr. Jerry Wednesday."

  "And he is ... ?"

  "A leading expert on the ancient Hudson River Valley Indian tribes. He might be able to throw some light on contact with the Norsemen."

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