Malone followed William out of Buckingham Palace toward a guarded gate that led to the street. The afternoon had turned cool, but a brilliant sun warmed the clear September sky.

“We do appreciate your service to the Crown,” William said. “Stephanie said you would be quite helpful. And we definitely need assistance.”

He was curious as to why his boss had so readily volunteered him. He needed to speak with her.

“The car just over there will return you to the hotel,” William continued. “Let me give you my private mobile number. I am available around the clock. Call if anything is needed. I understand you possess an eidetic memory, so I assume there’s no need for me to write anything down.”

He listened and memorized the number.

“You can see how all this affects Her Majesty. I’m extremely worried. The strain is taking a toll. The doctors have repeatedly warned her about undue stress.”

“So let’s do what we can to ease her mind.”

Malone entered Osborne House.

The hotel prided itself on English tradition, but was sophisticated enough to offer all of the amenities modern business travelers demanded. Back in his room, he connected his Magellan Billet — issued laptop to the Internet and contacted Stephanie by email.

So wonderful of you to volunteer my services. I didn’t know you were royally connected. Now tell me what’s really going on.

I received a report yesterday from Langley. A small-time smuggler named Jonathan Kent was apprehended in Liverpool with some unusual lavender-colored material. Turns out it was C-83 explosive. Unfortunately, Kent died before any more could be learned. The car transporting him to London was found wrecked, all of the occupants, including two local policemen, dead. You won’t see a press story on it. The Brits squelched it. They want to see if more C-83 turns up. That’s a powerful explosive. And, by the way, one of the arms dealers who routinely handles it is Peter Lyon.

You think this has something to do with the trial?

That thought crossed my mind. Lyon is not going to sit back and allow us to try his people. I’m guessing he killed Kent and those policemen.

What has this got to do with the queen?

While Kent was in custody, the Liverpool police managed to extract a few tidbits from him. He muttered something about Richard and Albert and changing the course of history. After talking with William and hearing the same thing, I thought a closer inspection was warranted.

What do you want me to do?

Just look around for a couple of days. See if there’s anything to this. They could be separate, unrelated incidents. But my gut tells me they’re connected. If you find nothing, get on with the trial and convict those SOBs. I’m sending you an updated profile on Peter Lyon, along with another file William forwarded to me, which, he says, you need to see.

He watched as the download indicator bar flooded with color. He opened the file on Lyon and absorbed the information. Not much there that he didn’t already know. Lyon was a violent, amoral prick who made his living off other people dying.

He opened the second file.

Color photographs of a spherical cauldron, fashioned of silver or pewter, appeared. Remnants of gilding lined the edges. Eight tattered plates made up the walls, another the base. A scale indicator revealed the object was about eighteen inches long and at least that high. The crafted plates were all crowded with engravings, and he noticed the images — foot soldiers, animals, boar-headed trumpets, knotwork designs.

One plate was missing.

He maneuvered the mouse to a row of smaller images that towered on the right side of the screen and double-clicked. The screen filled with a close-up of one of the plates. The etchings depicted three soldiers toting long shields with bosses, one sounding a boar-headed trumpet.

He clicked on three more of the smaller images.

The enlargements revealed more warriors, boats, battle scenes.

One panel depicted death.

At the end was a narrative.

This vessel was found by a man cutting peat in Yorkshire sometime around 1857. The soil had preserved the silver remarkably well, along with the artistic depictions. Its purpose was surely ritual, hardly suitable for holding liquid, and the elaborate internal decoration on the plates would discount drinking as one of its preferred uses. It would seem illogical to craft something with such care only to expose it to caustic liquids. Investigation reveals the bowl to be Celtic. The serpent with ram’s horns, the torcs worn by deities, and the stags and boar were all regular components of Celtic art. The depiction of the sea creatures and other oddities confirms that this was an accounting of a great event, memorialized in the only permanent way for the 5th to 6th century CE, which is an accurate dating for the vessel’s creation.

This bowl remained with a private collector until recently, when Nigel Yourstone purchased it. We believe this occurred because of a discovery, happened on by chance, at the National Museum in Reykjavik, where Yourstone found the missing panel from the cauldron. It was displayed with an assortment of objects that had been unearthed in Iceland over the past 300 to 400 years. The curator of the museum attached no special significance to the etched silver panel other than to note that it helped establish a 6th-century connection among Ireland, England, and Iceland. The curator thought nothing of that connection since historians have long known Irish monks routinely ventured across the northern Atlantic to Iceland on religious retreat during the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries. Yourstone visited the museum and photographed the panel extensively. With all of the panels in hand, our experts note that he now may be able to complete the message the cauldron was designed to convey.

Malone recalled what had been said at Buckingham Palace about the dead publisher who’d requested an audience with the queen.

He spoke of Arthur.

But how did that fit with this cauldron?

His next move was clear.

Time to pay a visit to Lord Nigel Yourstone.


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