CHAPTER NINE

Malone was perplexed. “I’ve never considered Arthur a historical figure. I took him more as a creation of poets and novelists.”

Goulding explained that, until the 12th century, Arthur was known only in bardic tales and Welsh poems. But Geoffrey of Monmouth changed everything in 1136 when he translated the History of the Kings of Britons, a fanciful account, more fiction than reality, that elevated Arthur to a king. The story was immensely popular, and the Welsh seized on Geoffrey’s imagination. They’d never submitted to Saxons or Normans and saw in Arthur a way to keep a rebellious spirit simmering. Three hundred years later, when Sir Thomas Malory finally wrote his epic, Arthur was forever ingrained into the realm of myth.

“He was real,” Goulding said. “But not the chivalric character Malory envisioned. More likely a brutal, barbarous man who fought Saxons, not unlike a thousand other warrior leaders who arose during our Dark Ages. He was fortunate, though, that later poets saw something more in him. So they manufactured a legend.”

Malone knew about the History of the Kings of Briton, a famous and valuable rare edition. Books were his private passion. He collected them by the hundreds, his house back in Atlanta lined with shelves. His dream was to one day own a bookshop, but he doubted that would ever happen.

“It’s absolutely impossible, though, to know where truth stops and fiction begins,” Goulding said. “We can only hypothesize.”

Malone faced Mathews. “I’m assuming all of this is important in some way to what’s currently happening?”

“Vitally. But to comprehend what we are facing, you must know the historical background.”

Malone motioned to the book on the desk and the passage Goulding had read to them. “The cross found by the monks noted, Here in the Isle of Avalon lies buried the renowned Arthur. What’s the connection to Glastonbury?”

“That’s the easy part. Arthur lived in the middle to latter part of the 6th century. Glastonbury was then to English Christendom what Westminster and Canterbury are now. The abbey was situated on an island surrounded by the River Brue. The Welsh called it Ynys Avallon, the Island of Apples. So it’s easy to see how the cross’ inscription came into being. Remember, it was Malory, 300 years later, who bestowed magical qualities on Avalon. Before that, it was simply a place.” Goulding motioned again to the computer screen. “The cauldron tells us a great many things. Are you aware of the Irish settlement in Iceland?”

He shook his head. “I’m aware of Viking colonization, but know nothing about the Irish.”

“There’s a journal. Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. Voyage of St. Brendan. It’s in the British Museum and details how a party headed by St. Brendan left County Kerry, Ireland, in 539 CE. They sailed across the Atlantic to the Hebrides, then on to the Faeroes.” Goulding paused. “It was only a short hop from there to Iceland, and St. Brendan made the journey. He discovered, though, that Irish monks had already been traveling there, using the isolated land as a religious retreat. Which was no small feat for the time, sailing the cold waters of the open Atlantic in tiny boats made only of skins.”

When Malone thought of Iceland what came to mind were volcanoes, whales, and snow. Not religion.

“The Landn?mab?k,” Goulding said, “is a famous Icelandic text that tells of a mariner, Ari Marson, who was driven off course by a storm to a place he called Hvitramannaland. There, he found Irish Christians. Translated, Hvitramannaland means ‘Greater Ireland.’ We know that place today as Iceland.”

“I had no idea Europeans ventured west before the Vikings,” Malone said.

“Traditionalists would argue pre-Norse Irish colonization of remote western regions was isolated or accidental. It’s a two-day sail from Scotland to Iceland, and they contend anyone who made that journey did so involuntarily. A victim of a shipwreck or blown off course. But there is a respectable amount of evidence to suggest an intentional Irish presence in Iceland, Greenland, and perhaps even North America long before the Vikings arrived.”

Goulding reached toward the table and grabbed several color photographs.

“These are close-ups from the plates on the cauldron. Notice the images of volcanoes, icebergs, and whales. None of those would have existed in England or Ireland. Clearly, the engraver was aware of Iceland. The ceremonial bowl is definitely 5th- or 6th-century Celtic and, most important, depicts a great warrior’s death.”

Malone studied the images. A man dies from a blow to the head. He’s placed on a boat and taken to an island where there are volcanoes, whales, and icebergs. Then the body is carried ashore and encased within a mountain.

He faced Mathews. “What the hell is going on here?”

“It would seem obvious. Lord Yourstone is searching for the grave of Arthur.” Mathews motioned with his cane toward Goulding. “Tell him what the cauldron says of Arthur’s final resting place.”

“According to the plates on the ceremonial vessel, Arthur’s body was taken to Iceland. There he was buried, safe from Saxons. The bodies at Glastonbury were decoys, and the monks knew that, which might explain why they kept the discovery secret for so long.”

“What makes Arthur so important now?”

“It’s a matter of history,” Mathews said. “So many kings have tried to make the connection. Edward I called himself Arthurus Redivivus—Arthur Returned. Centuries later, Henry VIII’s aim was to eliminate everything Catholic, so he destroyed all of the monasteries, including Glastonbury. Yet even Henry possessed an emotional attachment. His older brother, who should have inherited the throne, was named Arthur, but he died before being crowned. Henry VII, the first Tudor king, was intent on using the Arthurian legend to solidify his family’s claim to the throne.”

“In the 13th century, King John did the same thing,” Goulding said. “He killed his nephew, Arthur, who should have succeeded to the throne. John’s father, Henry II, was obsessed with Arthur and wanted his successor to bear the name. Henry II was the first monarch to unite France and England under one crown — save, of course, Arthur himself, if legend is to be believed. The French took pride from their connection to Charlemagne, but Arthur’s heritage was even older. John’s murder of the heir apparent stopped any unification, and France was forever lost.”

Malone sat forward in his chair. “Yourstone is trying the same thing?”

“Precisely,” Mathews said. “He wants to use English tradition to his favor — and what better way than through Arthur?”

“To what end?”

“To make Eleanor, his daughter-in-law, queen.”

* * *

Yourstone left the palace through a rear entrance and marched directly to his waiting Bentley. Victoria had kept the contingent from the House of Lords busy, discussing in detail the prospect of any legislative changes to the monarchy. The men around the table had assured her nothing would receive the necessary majority from their side of Parliament, and she’d been pleased with their confidence. His misgivings about the queen and her husband had faded over the course of the two hours, yet the entire purpose of the gathering continued to bother him.

He climbed into the Bentley and cautioned himself against paranoia. Within the palace only Eleanor was aware of what was happening. Yet there was still Cotton Malone.

Meeting with the queen.

He’d sat patiently listening to the lords and Her Majesty discuss what he knew to be a moot issue. There was no way he would ever allow changes to the monarchy, besides ones he’d already contemplated that would strengthen rather than weaken the institution.

The House of Yourstone would not begin business with a deficit.

“Back home,” he told his driver.

The car motored from the palace.

* * *

Malone considered what Thomas Mathews had just said and noted, “Eleanor is third in line to the throne.”

“I am aware of that. Her brother and nephew come before her. But Richard has been the subject of brutal attacks by the press. He has virtually no public image. We now know that Nigel Yourstone has been orchestrating those attacks.”

“And you haven’t bothered to tell the queen?”

“That would be problematic. There is no way to maintain a secret within Buckingham Palace. In order to stop this, we must have total secrecy.”

“So you think Yourstone is trying to prevent Richard from becoming king?”

“There is no doubt. And that will not be difficult. Richard could easily be primed to abdicate. Which is precisely what Yourstone is planning.”

“And my visit to Yourstone compromised all of that?”

Mathews nodded. “He now knows that someone is watching.”

But none of that was Malone’s fault. He hadn’t asked to be involved and had been thrust into this fight with little to no information. He was only doing what the queen of England and Stephanie Nelle had asked him to do.

“Cotton, I don’t want to overdramatize the situation, but Yourstone and Eleanor are plotting the death of Albert. With Albert dead and Richard abdicating, Eleanor is queen.”

He decided to tell Mathews the rest of the bad news. “There’s been a meeting of several lords at Buckingham Palace, which is surely over by now. Yourstone was there.”

And he explained more.

“I have to check with my people,” Mathews said, when he finished. “Assess the damage.”

Malone looked at Goulding. “While he does that, I need to use your phone.”

* * *

“Mr. Malone, you are saying my daughter is plotting regicide.”

The queen’s voice cracked with emotion.

He’d called William at the palace and told him he needed to speak with Victoria immediately. Mathews had okayed the call, provided no mention was made of him or his agency’s involvement.

“Malone’s right,” James said through the speakerphone. “You heard Yourstone earlier. He told us there are precious few secrets in this world. But I believe we have just confirmed one.”

Malone listened as they explained what happened at the meeting.

“What do we do now?” Victoria asked.

“At least Yourstone knows we’re watching. It might slow him down.”

“Why not just arrest him?” James asked him.

“We have no proof. Talk about a PR disaster. You’d have a giant one. It’s too early for that. But security on Albert should be tightened. Perhaps a retreat to an estate for a few days. That’ll make him easier to protect.”

“He has some previously scheduled duties for today,” William said.

“Finish them. Then change his schedule.”

“And what of our daughter?” Victoria asked.

“Keep her isolated. Do nothing to alert her suspicion.”

“And Richard?”

“He’s not a player, until Albert is dead. Since that isn’t going to happen, just let him be.”

“You sound confident,” the queen said.

“I am.”

“And what of Yourstone?” James asked.

“Leave him to me. No more contact with him, either.”

“I’d prefer to strangle the bloody bastard,” James said.

“You might get your chance, just not at the moment. I’ll be back in touch.”

He ended the call and glanced at Professor Goulding. Mathews was still outside on the phone. “You really believe Arthur is buried in Iceland.”

“With what we already know, combined with what Yourstone uncovered, I think he is.”

“Can the grave be found?”

Goulding nodded.

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