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Crusader Gold

Chapter One

I think we've hit pay dirt!"

Jack Howard looked up from the chart table to the minarets dotting
the Istanbul skyline, then down to where the excited shout had come
from the foredeck below. He quickly replaced the nautical dividers
he had been using and swung out of the bridge door for a better
view. He had been on edge all morning, hoping against hope that
today would be the day, and now his heart was racing with
excitement. When he saw what was happening he turned and slid down
the metal handrails three flights to the walkway on the port side
of the ship. Seconds later he was mingling with the crew on the
foredeck, his dark blue fisherman's jersey conspicuous among the
overalls bearing the logo of IMU, the International Maritime

"Right. What have we got?"

Before the crew chief could reply, one of the divers surfaced in a
tumult of white water off the port bow. Jack leaned over the
bulwark railing to watch as the diver spat out his regulator
mouthpiece and injected a blast of air into his stabiliser

"It's Venetian," he called up breathlessly. "I'm sure of it. I saw
the markings."

The diver vented his jacket and disappeared back beneath the waves.
Jack watched the slew of bubbles that rose from his exhaust and
that of the three other divers who were guiding the lifting
platform to the surface. It was a potentially treacherous
operation, with Sea Venture maintaining position against a
five-knot surface current. A slight wobble in the current and the
divers and their precious cargo would be swept off into one of the
busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Jack narrowed his eyes as the sunlight glinted off the waves, his
rugged, tanned features creasing as he kept his attention glued on
the spot where the diver had disappeared. Behind him the machinery
on the foredeck clunked and whirred into action and the crane
dipped with the weight of its load. Slowly, inexorably, the cable
rose from the seabed a hundred feet below, groaning alarmingly as
the current took hold. The crew lining the railing seemed to hold
their breath as the cable creaked upwards inch by inch. At last the
spread of chains holding each corner of the platform appeared and
Jack knew they were safe. Sea Venture had been positioned with her
port side in the lee of the current, facing the shoreline of the
old city, and the lifting platform would now be protected by the
deep draught of the vessel.

From the murky depths an oblong form began to take shape. Jack felt
the familiar tug of excitement, the burst of adrenaline he always
felt at this moment. Despite being present at some of the greatest
archaeological finds ever made, he had never lost the thrill that
came with every new discovery. Even the most mundane object could
open a whole new window on the past, give reality to momentous
events only obscurely remembered in myth and history. As he watched
intently, his hands gripping the rails, the four divers emerged at
the corners and the platform was winched clear of the waves. When
they saw what lay in the middle, the crew erupted in a ragged
cheer. Months of planning and days of round-the-clock effort had
paid off.

"Bingo." The crew chief grinned at Jack. "You were right

"Couldn't have happened without your hard work."

It was a great gun, a gleaming bronze cannon at least two metres
long, its upper surface washed clean of the accumulated grime of
centuries and shining like gold. Jack could immediately see it was
an early type, its ornate cylindrical breech tapering to an
octagonal fore end. He had seen similar guns, dating from the
sixteenth century, from King Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose in
Portsmouth and from shipwrecks of the Spanish Armada. But this one
looked older, much older. After the crane had slowly swung its load
over the railing and deposited it on the foredeck, Jack strode over
for a closer look, the crew crowding eagerly behind. He ignored the
spatter of mud from the cleaning hose as he crouched down and
stretched his hand reverently towards the gun.

"The Lion of St. Mark's," he said. "It's Venetian all right."

He pointed to a raised casting near the breech end of the gun. The
image was unmistakable, a winged, forward-facing lion wreathed in a
leafy garland, one of the most potent symbols of medieval Europe.
He traced his fingers over the emblem and trailed them towards the
rear of the breech. Suddenly he raised his other hand to order the
crewman holding the hose to avert the flow.

"There's a foundry mark," he said excitedly. "In front of the touch

"It's a date." The crew chief leaned over Jack, shielding his eyes
from the glare. "Anno domini. Then Roman numerals. I can barely
make it out. M, C, D . . ."

"Fourteen fifty-three," one of the others exclaimed.

"My God," Jack said quietly. "The Great Siege." He had no need to
explain that date; its significance had been drummed into the crew
during his many briefing lectures. 1453. The year of the
greatest-ever showdown between East and West, a clash of titans at
this crossroads between Europe and Asia. The year of the last dying
gasp of the Roman Empire, its domain shrunk to this one defiant
promontory from its heyday fifteen hundred years before, when Rome
had ruled the greater part of the known world. For a moment Jack
felt a frisson of energy as he pressed his hand against the cold
metal of the gun. He glanced along the line of the barrel towards
the city of Istanbul, its minarets and domes rising like a studded
jewel from a mirage. He was touching history itself, drawn into the
past with an immediacy no textbook could ever convey.

After a moment he stood and arched his back, his tall, lean frame
towering over most of the crew. "It's a field piece, a siege gun,
much bigger than the antipersonnel breech-loaders carried on ships
of this period. My guess is we're looking at one of the guns used
by Sultan Mehmet II and the Ottoman Turks to pound the city
defences." He gestured towards the shoreline where the fractured
remains of the Byzantine sea walls were just visible, their
impressive stature further reduced by earthquake and modern
development. "The Ottomans would have used any gun they could lay
their hands on. This one was cast in Venice earlier that year, then
maybe captured in battle or by pirates, then used against the
massed forces of Byzantium behind those walls, including the
Venetians themselves. The Turkish media are going to love

As the crew dispersed back to their jobs, Jack looked again at that
emblem on the gun. Like his own forebears in England, sea captains
and explorers who had touched the farthest reaches of the globe,
the Venetians were maritime adventurers who had spread their
tentacles across the Mediterranean world, even installing a colony
of merchants here in Constantinople. Theirs was a world of trade
and profiteering, not imperialism and conquest. Yet they had been
responsible for one of the greatest crimes in the history of
civilisation, a crime which had drawn Jack to this spot and which
he was determined to fathom before the expedition was out.

Back on the bridge, Jack resumed his seat behind the chart table
and rolled up his sleeves. It had been a cool early summer morning
but the sun was beginning to bear down as the sea mist burnt off.
He looked over at Tom York, IMU's senior captain, a neatly attired,
white-haired man who was conferring over the main radar screen with
the ship's second officer, a newly appointed Estonian who had come
with impeccable credentials from the Russian merchant marine
academy. York glanced keenly at Jack and inclined his head towards
the window from which he had been watching the scene on the
foredeck below.

"I'd say mid-fifteenth century, from a distance." York had begun a
distinguished career in the Royal Navy as a gunnery officer and
since then had developed an expertise in early naval ordnance which
had proved indispensable on IMU projects. "I can't wait to take a
closer look. Right at the dawn of naval gunnery. But too late for

Jack nodded. "Fourteen fifty-three, to be precise. Almost two
hundred and fifty years too late. We're looking for something way
before guns were used at sea. It's a terrific find and I didn't
want to deflate the crew, but we've got a long way to go before we
reach the Crusades."

Jack gazed pensively towards the shore, his view momentarily
obscured by an overcrowded ferry that passed perilously close to
the excavation. In the shimmer of phosphoresence left in the boat's
wake the city seemed to be floating on a cloud, like a heavenly
apparition. It was one of the supreme images of history, a
palimpsest of the greatest civilisations the world had ever known.
To Jack's eye it was like a cross-section through an archaeological
site, only instead of layer built upon layer, here everything was
jumbled, the threads of history all interwoven and nothing
clear-cut. At the lowest level were the cracked and fissured
remnants of the walls of Constantinople, first planned by the
emperor Constantine the Great when he moved his capital here in the
fourth century AD and abandoned Rome to decline and ruin. Above the
walls rose the slopes of the much older Greek acropolis of
Byzantium, a name which survived as the term for the Christian
empire of the Middle Ages which was based in Constantinople and
traced its roots back to Rome. Above that rose the sprawling
splendour of the Topkapi Palace, hub of the city the Ottoman Turks
renamed Istanbul after they defeated the Byzantines in 1453 and
shining heart of the most powerful state in the medieval world.
Higher still, above the few remaining wooden houses of old
Istanbul, rose the minarets and cascading domes of Hagia Sofia,
once the greatest of all Christian cathedrals in the East but after
1453 a holy site of Islam. And somewhere, Jack knew, it was
possible, just possible, that the sprawling mass of the city
concealed evidence of a migration at the very dawn of history, of
settlers from a precocious civilisation who had fled their citadel
of Atlantis as it was inundated by floodwaters far to the east in
the Black Sea.

He could hardly believe it was six months since he and Katya had
lost themselves in the labyrinthine back ways of the city. It had
been a time of supreme exhilaration, basking in the discovery of a
lifetime, but a time also of emptiness and loss. For Katya it had
been the devastating truth about her father's evil empire, a
revelation which weighed heavily on her despite all Jack's efforts
and led her to return to Russia to spearhead a renewed effort
against the illegal antiquities trade. For Jack the sense of
personal loss had been more acute, and he still felt it now. He had
been with Katya when the search for Peter Howe had finally been
called off. Howe had been a friend since boyhood and Jack was
reminded of him every time he saw Tom York, his limp a legacy of
the same gun battle. Jack had insisted on staying with Sea Venture
over Atlantis until the search had finally been called off. For
many days afterwards he felt that his ambitions had become entombed
in the Black Sea with the wreck of Seaquest, that he had no right
to risk the lives of others in his search for adventure. It was
Katya who had nursed back his confidence as they became absorbed in
the history of Byzantium during their long days together exploring
Istanbul. She had persuaded him to reawaken a schoolboy dream he
had cherished with Peter Howe, a dream of a fabulous lost treasure
which had become all-consuming after Jack and Katya had parted ways
at the airport, a dream which had led Jack back to where he was

"I've done it!"

Jack snapped out of his trance and hurried over to the source of
the noise in the navigation room behind the bridge. In the darkened
interior he could see where the radar and position-fixing consoles
had been stacked on either side to make way for a complex array of
electronic gadgetry surrounding an outsize computer screen. In the
midst of it all, oblivious to his presence, sat a swarthy,
dark-haired man with a rugby player's physique, his eyes glued to
the screen and his head clamped in earphones festooned with

"Good thing you finally lost some weight," Jack said. "Otherwise
we'd be excavating you out of this."

"What?" Costas Kazantzakis shot him an impatient glance and
reverted to the screen. Jack shouted the words at him again.

"Okay, okay." Costas lifted off the headset and leaned back in what
little space he had. "Yeah, well, it was scraping my way through
that underwater tunnel that did it. I've still got the scars. If
anything good came out of that project it was the gods of Atlantis
warning me to pull back on the calories."

Costas craned his neck around and took in Jack's mud-spattered
sweater. "Been playing again?"

"Siege gun. Venetian. Fourteen fifty-three."

Costas grunted then suddenly snapped the headset back on as the
screen erupted in a kaleidoscope of colours. Jack looked on fondly
as his friend became absorbed again in his task. Costas was a
brilliantly inventive engineer, with a PhD in submersibles
technology from MIT, and had accompanied Jack on many of his
adventures since the foundation of IMU over a decade ago. His hard
science was a perfect foil to Jack's archaeology. Not for Costas
the complex interwoven threads of history and the uncertainties of
interpretation. For him the only significant problems were those
that could be solved by science, and the only complexity was when
things failed to work.

"What's going on?"

Maurice Hiebermeyer squeezed through the doorway beside Jack. His
frame was definitely on the bulky side; Hiebermeyer seemed to be in
a permanent sheen of sweat, despite his baggy shorts and open

Jack nodded in greeting. "I think Costas has finally got this thing
to work."

Jack knew what was coming next. Hiebermeyer had flown in by
helicopter the night before from the Institute of Archaeology in
Alexandria, like a bird of prey pouncing on its target, hoping that
Jack would be looking ahead to the next project, having found the
problems of excavating in Istanbul's harbour insurmountable. They
had last spoken on the deck of Sea Venture six months ago when
Hiebermeyer had mentioned another extraordinary find of ancient
writing from the necropolis of mummies that had produced the
Atlantis papyrus, and since then he had been bombarding IMU with
phone messages and emails.

He fumbled with a folder he was carrying. "Jack, we need to . .

"It will have to wait." Jack flashed a good-natured smile at the
portly Egyptologist. "We're on a knife-edge here and I have to
concentrate. Sorry, Maurice. Just hang on till this is over." He
turned back to the screen and Hiebermeyer went silent.

Chapter One, Excerpt two


The screen rippled with colour, and the two men moved up behind
Costas for a better view. They were looking at a video image, a
floodlit grey mass with a mechanical pincer arm extending into the

“We’re now almost fifty feet below the sea floor, one
hundred and sixty-eight feet absolute depth from our present
position.” Costas removed the headset and leaned back as he
spoke. “In a few seconds the imaging will automatically
revert to sonar and the ferret should be back on line.”


Costas glanced apologetically at Hiebermeyer and handed over a
plastic model he had been holding like a talisman, an odd
cylindrical shape that bore a passing resemblance to the
remote-operated vehicle they had used to explore the Neolithic
village in the Black Sea. “A combination remote-operated
vehicle, underwater vacuum cleaner and sub-bottom sonar,” he
enthused. “It’s controlled from here via an umbilical
and can burrow through sediment with pinpoint precision, sending
back images as crisp as an MRI scan. At the moment it’s
digging through terragenous sediment, land runoff, tons of it.
We’re at the edge of the channel swept by the Bosporus, but
even so there’s vast quantities of sediment, several metres
per century. We need to go deep if we’re to stand any chance
of finding what we want. The weight of that chain is going to bury
it further still.”

“Ah, the chain,” Hiebermeyer murmured. “Remind

Jack shifted over to a yellow Admiralty Chart of the Istanbul
approaches pinned to the wall beside Costas. Their position was
clearly marked at the outer edge of the estuary that cut through
the city, its sinuous scimitar shape defining the promontory of
Byzantium and forming one of the greatest natural harbours in the
world. To the ancient Greeks this was Chrysoceras, the Golden Horn,
as if a giant mythical bull had embedded itself in the Bosporus as
it strained towards the Black Sea, a significance not lost on the
three men with the bull imagery of Atlantis still fresh in their
minds. Jack picked up a pencil and traced a faint line over the
entrance to the estuary. “During the Byzantine period the
Golden Horn was closed off in times of emergency by a giant boom
almost a kilometre long, huge links of roughly forged iron held up
on pylons and barges. It was attached here, on a tower near the
extremity of the city walls where the estuary meets the Bosporus,
and here, about three hundred metres away from us on the Galata
shore. The chain is first recorded in the eighth century AD and had
a famous role in the Great Siege of 1453, but we know of only two
occasions when it may have been breached. The first was in the
eleventh century, when a gang of Viking mercenaries supposedly got
their longships over it. The second is more definite, in 1204, when
Venetian galleys broke it with a ram. The chain was rebuilt, but a
severed section may have been lost on the seabed. If we can find
it, then we’ve hit the layer with the loot and we’re in

“The first link in our story.” Costas’ pun
scarcely concealed his anxiety, his fingers quietly drumming the
desk and his eyes flitting over the screen. The image had gone dark
and the only indication that the ferret was operational was the
depth gauge in the corner, cycling with agonising slowness through
one-inch increments.

“So how can you be so certain about the location?”
Hiebermeyer had put his own quest on hold and was becoming absorbed
in the project.

“It’s always been contentious, but a fifteenth-century
manuscript unearthed in the Topkapi archive last year gives an
exact position fix between known monuments on the

“I don’t like it.” Costas glanced at the wall
clock and shifted uneasily in his seat. “If that gun was from
1453, then we’ve got at least five metres of compacted
sediment to dig through before we’re anywhere near the target
layer. And we’ve only got twenty minutes before Sea
has to shift position.”

Jack pursed his lips in shared concern. This project was like no
other they had worked on, a constant game of cat and mouse in one
of the most overcrowded waterways on the planet. They had a
six-hour window each day authorised by the port authorities, but
even so they had to shift repeatedly to let a ferry or cargo vessel
past, some with draughts so deep their screws churned up the bottom
sediment. Jack had every confidence in Tom York’s ability to
troubleshoot the navigation, and Sea Venture’s
dynamic positioning system meant that she could reacquire precise
co-ordinates with ease. But there was no protection for the
excavation on the seabed, nor, more important for Costas, any
guarantee that his prize creation would not become enmired forever
with all the other detritus of history.

Hiebermeyer sensed the tension and persisted with Jack. “So
what’s this childhood dream of yours?” Jack took a deep
breath, nodded and beckoned Hiebermeyer over to a computer console
on the far side of the room. It was a story he had told a hundred
times before, to the crew, to the press, in his repeated attempts
to gain backing for the project from the IMU board of directors and
the Turkish authorities, but it never failed to send a shiver of
excitement up his spine.

“The Great Siege of 1453 was one of the defining moments in
history,” Jack began. “The death knell of the biggest
empire the world had ever seen, the event that gave Islam a
permanent foothold in Europe. But for the city of Constantinople a
far more calamitous event took place two and a half centuries
earlier. Desecration and rape on a colossal scale, a horrendous
atrocity even by medieval standards. And the perpetrators were not
infidels but Christians, Crusaders of the Holy Cross, no

“The Crusades,” Hiebermeyer said. “Of

“The time they didn’t quite make it to the Holy

“Remember what Professor Dillen drummed into us at
Cambridge,” Hiebermeyer murmured. “That the greatest
crimes against Christendom have always been caused by Christians
themselves.” The two men had been contemporaries as
undergraduates, and when Jack had returned to complete his
doctorate after a stint in the Royal Navy they had studied early
Christian and Jewish history together under their famous

“The date was 1204,” Jack continued. “Pope
Innocent III had called for a fourth Crusade, yet another doomed
expedition to free Jerusalem from the infidel. How the noble
knights of the Crusade came to be diverted from their cause to sack
the greatest treasurehouse of Eastern Christianity is one of the
most appalling sagas in history.”

The small screen in front of them suddenly flashed up an image
recognisable the world over, four splendidly wrought horses in
gilded copper standing together in front of an ornate architectural

“The Horses of St. Mark’s,” Hiebermeyer

“A few tourists would drop their cameras if they knew the
truth about how these sculptures reached Venice.” Jack was in
full stride now, his words tinged with anger. “The leaders of
the Crusade needed someone to ship the knights and their equipment
across the Mediterranean to the Holy Land. And who better than the
Venetians, the greatest maritime power of the day? But the
Venetians had other ideas up their sleeves. The Byzantine Empire
based in Constantinople had begun to encroach on territory near
Venice in the Adriatic Sea, and the Venetians didn’t like it.
Venetian merchants in Constantinople had been murdered. The
Venetian doge Dandolo had been imprisoned and blinded by the
Byzantines years before and was secretly bent on revenge. Then the
Crusaders proved unable to come up with the cash for their passage
after they had embarked, which virtually enslaved them to the
Venetians. Add to that a claimant to the Byzantine throne among the
Crusader ranks, and the stage was set. Pope Innocent III found
himself unwittingly sponsoring the sack of the second city of
Christendom, the focal point of the Eastern Church. Once they
arrived at Constantinople,  the Crusaders forgot the Holy
Cross and behaved like any other marauding army of the Middle Ages,
only with a ferocity and barbarism unparalleled even for that

“What happened?”

“Imagine if an army out of control landed in London and
stripped all the public statues, desecrated Westminster Abbey,
emptied the British Museum, burned the British Library. All the
symbols of nationhood and the treasures of empire lost in a single
bloodsoaked rampage. In Constantinople the holy warriors applied
their much-vaunted Christian zeal to the great churches, Hagia
Sofia foremost among them, looting the hallowed relics of a
thousand years of Christianity.

They destroyed the libraries, descendants of the ancient libraries
of Alexandria and Ephesus, an incalculable loss for civilisation.
They stripped the Hippodrome, the ancient racing circus that was
the focus of the city, leaving only the fragments of sculptures you
see there today and a few monuments too large to

“The Egyptian obelisk of Thutmose III,” Hiebermeyer
said, nodding.

Jack gestured at the screen. “We know that Constantinople was
the inheritor of all the greatest treasures of western
civilisation. Priceless artefacts that had once been in Egypt and
Greece and the Near East were first brought to Rome as the empire
expanded. Then, when Constantine moved the capital, many of these
treasures moved with him, shipped across the Mediterranean from
Rome to Constantinople. The Horses of St. Mark’s may
originally have been fifthcentury BC Greek creations, perhaps
embellishing the famous sanctuary at Olympia. Five centuries later
they’re in Rome, on top of a triumphal arch of Nero in the
Forum, part of a sculptural group showing the emperor drawing a
four-horse quadriga. The arch was destroyed by Vespasian
but the image survives on Nero’s coins. Four centuries after
that they’re here in Constantinople, perhaps in the
Hippodrome beside that obelisk. And remember, Constantinople had
never been sacked before 1204. The treasures that, from eyewitness
accounts, were plundered by the Crusaders can only hint at what was
here. Some of the loot was melted down for bullion and coin. Other
treasures, like the Horses of St. Mark’s, were shipped back
to Venice and the Crusader homelands --- France, Spain, the Low
Countries, England --- where they may still lie secreted away in
the great cathedrals and monasteries. And other objects, especially
antiquities with pagan symbolism, were desecrated and hurled into
the Golden Horn.” He paused. “When Peter Howe and I
first heard this story we became convinced that one of the greatest
troves of ancient art anywhere in the world may lie on the sea
floor below us now.”

There was a sudden commotion behind them as  Costas drew his
chair up to the video screen. Hiebermeyer’s eyes remained on
the image of the horses and he put his hand on his friend’s

“You say anything from ancient Rome could have been brought
here,” he said quietly. “Last year after our little
adventure on the Black Sea I was called to Rome to translate an
Egyptian hieratic text found on the site of Vespasian’s
Temple of Peace, near the spot where the fragments of the marble
plan of the city were found. It proved to be one of a series of
bronze plaques attached to the public colonnade of the precinct,
each with an identical text in all of the main languages of the
Roman Empire: Latin, Greek, Egyptian, Aramaic, you name it. They
were proclamations listing Vespasian’s victories and
Rome’s triumph. Their subject was the Jewish

Jack turned from watching Costas and looked Hiebermeyer full in the
face, his dark eyes fathomless.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Hiebermeyer
asked haltingly.

Jack remained silent.

“My God.” Hiebermeyer’s German accent grew more
pronounced, and his voice wavered. “The Jewish treasures of
the Tabernacle. Vespasian had them consigned to the Temple of
Peace, never to be paraded again. They passed into legend.”
His voice became a whisper. “Could they have been secretly
shipped to Constantinople before Rome fell?”

“The thought had occurred to me,” Jack replied

Hiebermeyer took off his little round glasses and mopped his
forehead. “The sacred vessels of the inner sanctum. The
golden table. The menorah.” The last word was a hoarse gasp.
“Do you have any idea what we could be getting

“Yes,” said

“We’re not just talking fabulous treasures here.
We’re talking major present-day ramifications. The menorah is
the symbol of the modern state of Israel. Any hint that we’re
on to the lost treasure of the Jewish Temple and the result could
be explosive. Literally.” 

“It doesn’t go beyond these four walls,” Jack
said firmly. 

At that moment there was a whoop and a joyful string of expletives
from the other console. Jack and Hiebermeyer quickly returned to
their positions behind Costas, and the ship’s second officer
appeared beside them. Jack glanced curiously at the man and then
reverted to the screen. They could immediately see why Costas was
jubilant. The screen had transformed into a fantastic multicoloured
image, the lines and contours of the scan as sharp as a 3-D
computer drawing. In the centre were unmistakable signs of human
agency, a dark twisted mass embedded in the sediment of the sea
floor. It was an immense metal link, at least a metre long, a
figure-eight shape crudely welded at the waist. A second link was
looped through it and extended offscreen to the right, but the loop
to the left was scarred and buckled where the adjoining link had
sheared off. 

“Fantastic!” Jack clapped Costas on the back. He was
overjoyed, his mind already racing forward to the next stage of the
search, but his eyes remained glued on the screen as the camera
panned forward to the edge of the exposed metal. Wedged into the
final loop was a fragmentary mass of wood, evidently ship’s
timbers, a section of overlapping hull strakes with lines of
regularly spaced dark protrusions where the iron rivets had been
preserved for more than eight hundred years in the anaerobic ooze.
Jack and Hiebermeyer both gasped as they realised what was woven
through the link, a mass of white that looked like denuded branches
from a tree. It was a crushed human skeleton, its arms pinned at
grotesque angles through the metal, the skull distorted and barely
recognisable but still covered with a rusty brown stain where there
had once been a close-fitting conical helmet with a

“There’s your chain, and one of its casualties,”
Costas said. “Now it’s time to get out of

Costas activated a control to cast off the ferret’s umbilical
just as the ship’s engines began to throb. Jack left
Hiebermeyer with him and followed the Estonian officer out of the
navigation room to join York on the bridge. He would broadcast the
news of the discovery to the crew during the hour that Sea
would have off-site before the shipping lane was
accessible to them again. He looked out of the window beyond the
orecarrier waiting to traverse the passage and to the low arches of
the Galata Bridge, its road bustling with morning traffic and its
balustrades lined with hopeful fishermen, oblivious to the true
treasures that might lie beneath them. The choppy waters once plied
by the pleasure barges of emperors and sultans now shone again, the
result of a massive cleanup operation in the past decade. As Jack
looked beyond the bridge to radiant skyline, he felt again the
allure that had drawn him and Katya to seek out Istanbul’s
deepest secrets. 

For all its chaos and dark history, this city had come to symbolise
hope; it was the place where Jack had revived his passion for the
mysteries of the past that had driven him since

He looked down as the sparkling waters off Sea
s bow erupted in turmoil from the vessel’s
water jet stabilisers. He was exhilarated beyond belief that they
had made a discovery that could vindicate his dream, a
stepping-stone to even more sensational finds over the coming days.
The chain put them right at the key moment in history, and showed
they were at the outer limits of the harbour where the spoils from
the Sack of Constantinople had been dumped. All they had to do now
was work their way into the Golden Horn and they should hit pay
dirt. But as usual Jack’s jubilation was tempered by anxiety.
The pressure was now on. 

They still had a long way to go. He knew they would have to keep
coming up with the goods for the authorities to continue boxing in
the sea lane for them; the gun and the chain had proved him right
but would also raise expectations. He looked again at the waters of
the Golden Horn, shielding his eyes against the brilliance of the
glare, and prayed fervently that it would live up to its

Chapter Two 

Maria de montijo shifted almost imperceptibly on her stool and
briefly shut her eyes. It had been their longest day in the
cathedral precinct so far, and despite the adrenaline that had
sustained her hour after hour she knew her concentration would soon
begin to wane. 

Outside, the dull grey English afternoon was beginning to darken,
and she could hear the insistent patter of rain on the windowpanes.
She straightened her back, blinked hard and raised the palette with
her cleaning tools to the edge of the frame. In the utter silence
of the room, time seemed to stand still, and all attention was
focused on the intricate pattern of ink revealed by the microlight
only inches from her face. She breathed slowly and deliberately, at
the end of each exhalation bringing her brush to bear with a
steadiness born of years of experience. After fifteen minutes she
rocked backwards and handed the palette to her

“That’s it,” she said. “We’re

She carefully pulled back the angle-lamp to reveal the entire
inscription, the product of more than a week of painstaking labour.
With the patina of centuries removed, the letters stood out crisp
and black as if they had been applied only days before. 

Tuz ki cest estorie ont. Ou oyront ou lirront ou ueront. Prient a
ihesu en deyte. De Richard de haldingham o de Lafford eyt pite. Ki
lat fet e compasse. Ki ioie en cel li seit done. 

The unfamiliar spelling of the Old French only served to deepen the
mystery of the man who had composed it. After a moment of
contemplation Maria turned encouragingly to her assistant, a
willowy young man with steel-rimmed spectacles, who eagerly leaned
forwards to make the translation. 

“All those who possess this work, or who hear, read or see
it, pray to Jesus in his godhead to have pity on Richard of
Holdingham or of Sleaford, who made it and set it out, that he may
be granted bliss in heaven.” 

It seemed appropriate that Richard’s last words should also
be theirs, that they should finish their task at the spot where the
scribe had last lifted his quill from the parchment almost seven
hundred years before. 

Twenty minutes later Maria stood in the centre of the room and
gazed one last time at the map before it was sealed behind its
protective glass covering. With the spotlight now removed, the
low-intensity glow of the room seemed to accentuate the age-old
appearance of the vellum, the shadows and undulations showing where
the calfskin had shrunk and buckled with the passing of the

Normally the job of cleaning manuscripts would be left to her
technical staff at the institute in Oxford. But when the call came
for a new programme of restoration on the Mappa Mundi in Hereford
Cathedral, the temptation proved too great. It was the chance of a
lifetime, the opportunity to work on the greatest extant
thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript, to touch with her own
hands the most important and celebrated medieval map in the

As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, the familiar form began to take
shape. Almost filling the immense squared parchment was an orb more
than four feet wide. At the centre was Jerusalem, and below it the
T-shape of the Mediterranean dividing Asia, Africa and Europe.
Squeezed in at the lower left were the British Isles, and in the
exergue beyond was the inscription she had been cleaning.
Everywhere on the map were hundreds of miniature drawings with
captions in Latin and French, some illustrating biblical stories
and others depicting bizarre creatures and mythical

It was a cornucopia of fact and fantasy, the supreme expression of
the medieval mind. Yet it was also hemmed in by ignorance. In its
order and confidence the map seemed the last statement on the world
of men, yet beyond the thin strip of ocean that encircled
Christendom lay nothing at all. To Maria the figure of Christ in
the gable above seemed to be sitting in judgement not only on the
dead but also on the living, on men with the hubris to think that
the myriad wonders they had crammed into their map of the world
represented anything like the entirety of God’s

“Dr. de Montijo. You must come at once.” 

The dapper figure in the clerical robe caught up to Maria as she
made her way briskly across the cathedral forecourt, her umbrella
raised against the perennial English drizzle. She was due back in
Oxford that evening and had little time to spare if she was going
to catch the train. 

“This had better be good,” she said, her slight Spanish
accent giving a lilt to her voice. “I’m scheduled to
give a seminar on Richard of Holdingham at my institute in about
three hours and need time to prepare.” 

“That may just have to wait,” the little man wheezed
excitedly. “The workmen in the old Chained Library have just
made an extraordinary discovery. Your assistant is already with

Together Maria and the cleric approached the north porch of the
cathedral. With its soft honey hue the weathered sandstone of the
buttresses made Hereford seem less forbidding than many of the
great cathedrals of England, yet even so the effect when they
entered was awesome. Maria glanced down the nave to the altar and
up at the cavernous space in between, her view framed by the
massive pillars on either side that rose to the smaller arches of
the clerestory and the spreading fans of the ceiling vault far
above. As she followed the cleric up the north aisle she was
assailed by the smell of damp stone and a faint hint of decay, as
if the sickly reek of putrefaction which had permeated the
cathedral for so long had left a lingering aura long after the last
burial vaults had been sealed. 

The nave had changed little since Richard of Holdingham last passed
this way. She brushed against a pillar and felt a sudden thrill of
intimacy, as if she had reached back in time to shadow the great
man’s footsteps. In his day the ponderous masonry of the
Normans had been in place for only a century, yet a minster had
stood on this spot since the time of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of
Mercia. It had been the Cathedral Church of St. Ethelbert, the king
of East Anglia who had been foully murdered nearby. In
Richard’s day it also attracted pilgrims who came from far
and wide to pay homage to Thomas Becket, the archbishop martyred at
Canterbury, whose enamel reliquary had also survived through the
centuries, another of the cathedral’s great treasures
alongside the Mappa Mundi. 

After passing the north transept they reached the choir aisle where
the map had been displayed over the past century before being moved
to its present home in a purpose-built museum outside. Immediately
opposite the blank space on the wall was a low doorway into the
outer structure of the cathedral. Through it the beginning of a
spiral staircase could be seen. 

“The reconstruction work is almost complete,” the
cleric said. “This is just a precaution.” He passed
Maria a yellow safety helmet and put one on himself, its appearance
incongruous above his brown clerical cassock. As she followed him
up the steeply corkscrewing steps, his words resounded with a
muffled echo. 

“A sandstone cathedral is like a wooden ship,” he

“Keep an old hull in service long enough and all the timbers
will need to be renewed. Like HMS Victory. Sandstone
isn’t the most durable building material. When we moved the
library we took the opportunity for some much-needed stone

They were nearing the chamber which had once held Hereford’s
world-renowned chained library, a fabulous collection including
rare incunabula, books printed before 1500, as well as 227
manuscript volumes, beginning with the priceless Hereford
of the eighth century. Both the books and the cases to
which they had been chained were now reconstituted in the museum
which housed the Mappa Mundi, itself once also stored in the

After ascending to the clerestory level, they squeezed past a stack
of freshly quarried blocks and stood at the entrance to the
chamber. In the thin rays of daylight cast through the slit windows
they could just make out the paler patches along the walls where
the bookcases had once been. Instead of a library, the chamber now
looked like a medieval stonemason’s workshop, with cutting
tools and fragments of decayed masonry piled all over the

At the far end a group of workmen were huddled over a patch of
bright light in the wall. It came from a hole where two blocks of
masonry had been removed, leaving a space just wide enough for a
slender form to get through. At that moment a head appeared
upsidedown, its tousled blond hair and glasses caked in

“Maria! You’re not going to believe

Crusader Gold
by by David Gibbins

  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Dell
  • ISBN-10: 0440243939
  • ISBN-13: 9780440243939