Excerpt from The Cold Heart of Hyperborea

3.

Conrad von Honig stared down at Dr. Anders Dokken.  The great man was dead.  Dokken had been famous in his day amongst Nordic historians.  He often lived the history he studied, recreating the tools, clothing, crafts, boats, and villages of the people he studied.  His main thrust was Viking culture. He had explored more barren coasts and craggy mountains in the Arctic than anyone, charting Viking camps and religious centers from Svalbard to Greenland.  Alongside famous explorers such as Thor Heyerdahl, Dokken had a fierce proponent of wider diffusionist theories and had spent years doing hands-on research attempting to show the wider spread and impact of the Vikings throughout Europe and even North America.

Von Honig had learned a lot from the old man over the years.  He had consulted with him for decades. Their greatest collaboration, however, had been the Skidbladnir expedition. Not only had they successfully sailed a Viking longship across the Arctic, they had built the vessel by hand, using ancient woodworking techniques. A television special was made of this voyage and it ended with their “Not-So-Great Heathen Army” landing on the coast of East Anglia in mock invasion of England. It had been a ratings hit and set Dokken’s reputation as a modern-day Viking explorer in stone.

Now, Anders Dokken would explore no more.

Not only had he been beaten, but Anders had been shot through the left temple. The cold twilight of the Arctic had preserved everything without decay.  The dark frozen spray of blood and brains on the bed beneath his head.  Even the powder burns against his cold, gray skin still showed. His murder was fact.  Dokken had joined his Aesir gods now.

His daughter was another story.  Svetlana was missing.

Von Honig turned towards Bierra, the Sami tracker that was standing in the door of the cabin. He was familiar with about a dozen languages, but not the Sami tongue.  He asked in Norwegian, “Still no sign of her?”

Bierra shook his head.

It was bad, but not as bad as Conrad had feared.  There were seven dead. Six of the Dokken’s Norwegian team, one Sami.  The rest of the Sami had faded into the wilderness when the attack occurred. Svetlana was not one of the victims. She had been kidnapped by the Russians. She was now across the border in the Soviet Union.

Bierra said, “The shaman wants you to come join in the purification ceremony and the singing of joiks. The spirits of the dead may contaminate us here.”

“I’m not.  There isn’t time. We leave now.  I’m sorry.”

Bierra nodded.  He reached into his beautifully patterned jacket and pulled out a statue with overly large dark eyes and a female form.  “Take this. Mother Mattarahkka sees all.  She can even see in the dark.  She brings luck and helps people find hidden objects.  May she preserve us.”

Conrad took the surprisingly heavy wooden statue.  He hefted it and looked down.  He knew of the Earth goddess of the Sami. Normally, he loved participating in indigenous cultural events.  It was vital to soak up that knowledge.  He loved learning rituals and lore firsthand. He simply could not waste the time now. He didn’t want anything, whether gifts, lore, or blessings. He was focused on saving Svetlana if possible. But he also did not want to insult the Sami.  “Thank you.  May the Mother help us.” He unzipped his jacket and put the statue inside.  “Please, tell your shaman I mean no insult.  But there is no time to waste.  Prepare to leave. Get any supplies you need for the sled dogs and the journey we discussed this morning.  We’re heading into Russia. To the megalithic site in Kola they were studying.  Also, I don’t like guns very much, but take a rifle.  We may need it.”

Gregoire Legault stepped up behind Bierra in the door of the cabin. He towered over the little Sami.  An ex-Legionnaire, Gregoire was an accomplished war-photographer who had traveled the world to document some of the most treacherous places on earth.  He was large, strong, and capable, which is why Noel de Sapin had sent him to Norway with Conrad.

“Mr. Von Honig, I have to protest.  Mr. De Sapin sent me to film everything, but also to help protect you.  I’m not saying I’m your bodyguard, but–”

“You aren’t my bodyguard. You are not here to protect me or stop me.”

“But it’s the Soviet Union! You don’t go traipsing across the border. You’ll never make it back out!”

“Don’t worry, you aren’t going. You’ll be safe.”

“I will if I have to, but that isn’t the point.  There is no reason to go.  They can’t just kidnap a foreigner.  We can contact the embassy and–”

“Listen, Gregoire.  You and I both know this isn’t the official government we’re dealing with.  This Russian officer may be in the military, or he may be KGB, but either way he is just a criminal.  Look at what he has been going, facilitating the looting of ancient sites and smuggling the goods across the border.  They shot half this camp in cold blood.  This is nothing the Soviet Union would do.  They would not recognize any wrongdoing, especially for something like illegal antiquities dealing. Could you imagine them admitting the Soviet military was involved in the international black market?  It would spark a political firestorm.  No.  But, if we do notify them, what would happen is this Russian would kill her instantly.  He would finish covering his trail and wrapping this operation up. She would be deep beneath the Barents Sea before the first official inquiry began.  The fact that he doesn’t know I am coming for him is my chance.  He won’t expect me to show up on his doorstep.  It may be our only chance to save Lana’s life.”

“I still think this is a bad idea.  Mr. de Sapin warned me you were terribly impulsive.  You should not try to sneak into the Soviet Union.”

“Hey, it isn’t every day you get to invade Russia.  Plus, it’s winter.  What could go wrong?  Finally, there is a girl involved.  Ahh, romance.  I don’t have a choice.”

Legault stared at him for several minutes.  He crossed his arm, still blocking the doorway, and tilted his large head over against the frame. “This isn’t a joke.  We’ve both been behind the Iron Curtain. They play deadly serious over there.  I’ll take my chances in any jungle or desert before I sneak into the Soviet Union. It isn’t a cowardly move, it is a smart move. There has to be a better way.”

“I know.  It is what it is.  I don’t follow rules very well.  Listen, I want you to stay here.  No, I’m ordering you to stay.  Tell Noel too bad, you tried, I was an obstinate asshole, and left you behind.  But, I am not risking any more lives.  Just mine.”

Gregoire Legault nodded and stood aside.

“Thank you, Gregoire.  Listen, I want you to photograph everything.  This crime scene for the authorities. But, also the entire camp.” Conrad looked at the pile of papers that littered the floor and desk of the cabin.  It had been ransacked when the Soviets searched the cabin.  He walked over to the desk and rummaged through the stacks.  There were maps of sites, drawings of cairns, standing stones, rock formations, and inscriptions. He pulled out a map of a stone henge type structure with astrological signs and lines superimposed all over it. “Especially the paperwork, notes, and maps. Document everything you can.  There is a lifetime of research in here.  Preserve as much of it as possible for me and Father Christmas to research later when we get back to Paris.”

Conrad often called Noel by the pet name “Father Christmas.” On a shelf above the desk was an array of arrowheads, flint tools, small shell beads, coins, and other artifacts. He picked up a handful of them, dropped them in his pocket, and walked back to the door.

“Will do,” Legault said.  He pulled his camera around on its cord and popped off the lens cover.

“Let’s go,” Conrad said to Bierra, motioning him out the door.

As they stepped out of the cabin, Legault warned Conrad, “I won’t waste my breath on good luck.  But I think you are making a mistake.  The only thing you will find there is death– or worse, a gulag.”

Conrad’s eyes flashed coldly in the bleak Norwegian dawn.  “I think you are right.”