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Authors: Robert Appleton

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The Basingstoke Chronicles

BOOK: The Basingstoke Chronicles
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THE BASINGSTOKE CHRONICLES

 

By

Robert Appleton

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2009

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-077-9
ISBN 10: 1-60174-077-8

Copyright © 2009 by Robert Appleton

Cover design
Copyright © 2009 by Judith B. Glad

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in
whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or
hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

Prologue

My name was not always Patrick Walton. How the two rarest flowers on Earth came
to rest a mere few feet from where I sit every evening for dinner is a tale many years in the
telling. I have never been one to exaggerate--being a man of science, such is not my nature--nor
am I prone to lend weight to unlikely claims, especially when their basis is un-scientific.
Therefore, to the fantastical elements of this story I am forced to lend the more illustrative voice
of my good friend, Lord Basingstoke: a man whose daring propelled him a great distance to find
me; a man for whom the unlikely is, and always was, only ever a matter of time.

Throughout that winter's night on the shingle of Ten Gulls Beach in Devon,
southern England, I believed every word of my companion's absurd account. So too, now, do I
remember them. The flames from our campfire resisted the onshore breeze with zeal. We had
hoped to find a more sheltered spot in which to dry ourselves, but had happened upon only a
rudimentary cove. The frank moonlight distilled enough rocky shapes and creeping lines of surf
for my every thought to feel stolen or in harm's way.

"Strange, after all we've been through," I said.

"What's that?" replied Lord, rubbing his hands in the heat.

"How such a harmonious place can give me--what was that word--the
creeps?"

He laughed, recalling the last time he had heard that term used outside of its
original dialect. "Oh, just before the journey began--a long way from here, " he said.

I shook my head in mock disbelief. The year was nineteen hundred and one. Across
the beach, I spied the shape of our vessel bobbing like the neck of an empty bottle, inconsolable
in dark silhouette, an ocean messenger bereft of its long-held message.

"The fellow's name was Rodrigo Esteban Quintas, my diving partner from Cuba. We
had hired a research vessel for some serious underwater work," Lord continued. "And by work, I
mean spending a scorching summer in cool, turquoise seas, searching for sunken treasure. Hey,
we were the hardest workers of any rich people I knew."

I had to interrupt, "How rich were you, exactly?"

"Rich enough to make a difference and too rich to care. Let's just say if we were in
my own time, you wouldn't be sitting so close to me without a title of some kind--a Sir perhaps, or
a Duke. Seeing as you're a foreigner to these parts, an honorary Count might suffice."

My friend's manner was often so aloof it would veer between outright arrogance
and a tone that was utterly endearing without a second's warning.

"Hear, hear! An emissary from a distant land has arrived at this fair isle with a
priceless secret for us all and otherwise not a clue. Let us drink a toast to his brazen heroics and
sadly poor grasp of English colloquialisms."

With that, he produced his familiar, gilded-silver whisky flask. Alas, as he tipped it,
it was empty.

"Damn your hide, man. What did you fill it with?"

I replied, with a sheepish whimper, "I didn't."

Despite his insistence at my being out of place, Lord Henry Basingstoke will always
be the anachronism. But what great adventurer isn't? To say Columbus or Alexander were simply
products of their times is paradoxical, for history tells us the reverse is true. While events may
have aligned for conquest, their eras have become the products of their own legacies. The
discovery of the New World belongs to an Italian, not he to it; likewise the forging of an Eastern
Empire to a Macedonian King. Man creates history, and time--that most cold inevitability--can
be made to bow to these bold, aberrant figures.

Lord, as I liked to call him, is one such figure, though I thoroughly doubt he would
agree. An Englishman in every sense of the word--from what I have come to know of them, that is
a fine compliment--he relishes every challenge life has to offer as surely as every comfort. As he
sat opposite me on Ten Gulls Beach, orange firelight waving shadows across his animated face, I
knew it would probably be the last time I'd see him. The telling of his great adventure, of which I
had only been a small part, was his parting gift to me--the culmination of our friendship through
time.

And I miss him to this day.

Though written from memory, I could not have fashioned this account any closer to
Lord Basingstoke's own words without excluding myself from the latter chapters, for that was
how he told it to me. This I have remedied by telling it as he would to a stranger. As far as
possible, I have tried to assume his mannered dialect. This upper class way of speaking is, it
seems to me, both timeless and proper.

So it is here that I'll submit, as I did then, to his incredible tale: the adventures of a
fine gentleman as told to me, a humble listener, on December 16th, 1901.

Chapter 1

I daresay adventure has always been in my blood. Cold blood, some would tell you, and
on the odd occasion, quite the opposite. But there is a touch of the mercurial about every
adventurer, at least in my experience. You must therefore judge for yourself whether my part in
this tale amounts to wisdom or folly. It was certainly not what I expected. Let me first tell of how
it all began, one grey evening in 1979, a few miles outside Bucharest...

My good friends Lord and Lady Brooke were my companions that early summer's night.
Fine archaeologists both, they had kept me amused with anecdotes from their latest dig in
Thebes, where a cheeky Egyptian translator apparently must have confused the words
excavate
and
extort
. He had charged workers for their water by the litre, all the
while blaming it on the Brookes. I had no idea translation could be so profitable.

"Our profession says it all, I suppose," Sam Brooke mused, staring down at the night
lights of Bucharest as our limousine climbed a winding hillside road. "Digging up the past,
breathing life into this mediocre modern age we live in. There's no magic in the world any more,
right Ethel?"

Lady Brooke was in her mid-twenties, a good decade younger than her husband, and
despite bearing scars and bruises from her hands-on expeditions around the globe, was by far the
most beautiful archaeologist invited there that evening. Even in the dim orange light of the
limousine, she was, to my mind, a perfect English rose.

"Only what we can conjure, darling," she replied.

I had known Sam Brooke since our public school days in Edinburgh, where he had even
then followed his each and every whim. Those tended to involve impromptu, off-campus detours
between lessons or meeting a local girl. More often than not the two were one and the same. I had
tagged along on occasion...nervously. A perennial sophisticate, Brooke was more guileful than
anyone I have ever met, except, perhaps, for his wife.

The bumpy road smoothed as we passed the white gates of Dumitrescu's estate. Curious
stone renditions of were-cats, gargoyles and other unsightly creatures perched atop five-feet-high
columns that rose from an elliptical wall across the mansion grounds. All were painted
white.

The semi-annual Archaeological Society get-togethers entailed, in my opinion, the best
and worst of that particular profession: those with outlandish theories but the moxie to prove
them--or at least try--and those who would happily dig up an entire continent to find the missing
spout of a teapot. Eccentrics and fanatics all.

"Uh...do I have to?" I groaned.

"Yes," replied Ethel, "or else we'll make
you
host the next one. And that's the
Christmas soiree, need I remind you."

"To hell with that!" I said, scrambling for the door handle. They laughed and held me
in.

"Just remember to stay clear of MacDuff this time," added Sam. "I hear he's baying for
Basingstoke blood."

"Nicely put, dear," said Ethel.

I scoffed. "You just remember to keep
him
clear of
me.
I'm sick of
these Scots and their anti-English jibes. So they're an inferior nation. What do they want us to do
about it?"

Sam smirked. "
That's
why you won't be hosting the Christmas party."

As the limousine eased to a halt on compacted gravel, I felt a twinge of excitement. Say
what I might about the Archaeological Society, their meetings had always produced
something
unexpected. Being rich doesn't make one eccentric. It simply enables one's
quirks to be indulged and take centre stage.

The year before, Paul MacDuff had presented his 'Robert the Bruce' collection with a
thoroughly nauseating jingoism. He had continually harked back to ancient English defeats, and
seemed to relish the discomfort of those English in attendance. Later that evening, we had come
to blows, and my own reputation had taken a nose dive along with MacDuff, after his chin had
met my well-placed upper-cut. Suffice to say, if it weren't for Brooke and his wife, I would never
have been invited, that night, to Romania.

At first glance the home of Georghe Dumitrescu was much smaller than I imagined. A
wealthy industrialist of some note in eastern Europe, his particular passion was for antiquities and
artifacts pertaining to the earliest known civilizations: Mayan, Sumerian, Minoan. Though I had
never met him, Brooke was a colleague of his--the two had lectured together a few times--and he
assured me the Romanian was a fellow with impeccable taste.

Not so far,
I thought, observing the gothic stone decorations.
Dr Moreau
has more taste.
I soon relented. The mansion was only two stories high and around six
rooms across, but stretched back a long, long way. Not being much of an architect, I could not
identify its era. The filled-in moat and ornate portcullis, however, persuaded me that it had at one
time been an estate of geographical significance, easily defensible from its elevated position on
the hillside. Perhaps the summer retreat of a powerful warlord?

Distinguished alumni from around the world greeted us inside. All were gracious and
polite. The narrow stone vestibule opened up through heavy, double wooden doors into the main
interior; it was there I realized exactly why the building had appeared so disproportionate in
length. A vast hall with symmetrical Arthurian archways and stone tables on either side of its
thirty-foot width, monopolized the entire inner sanctum of the house. There was no higher level
between two parallel balconies to the left and right, and the resulting space created an awesome,
primal atmosphere. Imagine a chateau built around the shape of a giant broadsword, and now
imagine that space filling, by torchlight, with the elite of the world's archaeological community. I
took a swig from my hip flask.

"Lord Basingstoke?"

I swiveled toward the voice.

"Glad to finally be able to put a face to the name. Sam speaks very highly of you. I'm
Dumitrescu. Please call me Georghe."

I wiped away a dribble of whisky from my chin and quickly screwed the top back on my
flask. Brooke shook his head at my uncouth behavior. I felt all eyes in the room sentence me with
a drumhead efficiency. Somehow, I had to regroup.

"A pleasure, sir."

To everyone's surprise, Dumitrescu motioned toward my flask. "May I?"

As I offered it, judgment also seemed to pass to this suave, dark-haired gent. And with
him being the host, the mood in the room lightened; his brief swig at once dispelled my
embarrassment and pardoned my crime. The guests returned to their stations.

"Very magnanimous of you," I said softly as he returned the flask.

"Think nothing of it," he replied. "Here, the king makes the laws, not the court."

I smiled and savored the moment.

Perhaps the magic is not lost from Romania after all.

The main talking point of the evening was Dumitrescu's imminent presentation. An old
Peruvian lady effused at every opportunity on its possible ramifications, yet there were too few
details for me to discern exactly what his 'discovery' might be. Just a sonorous enthusiasm, a
rising choir of mystery.

BOOK: The Basingstoke Chronicles
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