More Than Words
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“Excellent,” Dr. Moreau said. “Now, then, who would like to see the site where these documents were found? We can take a quick trip and then return to get started. Cela vous convient?”
“Oui,” Ben and I both said in unison, and then laughed.
“There’s coffee and to-go cups over there,” Dr. Moreau said, pointing to a counter against the far wall that held a large silver dispenser and various coffee-making accoutrements. “Grab a cup if you’d like, and we’ll get going.”
Coffee. Oh, thank goodness. I headed for the counter and poured myself a tall paper cup, adding cream and then a lid. The men followed suit, and we all left the room, following Dr. Moreau up the stairs and out the front door, where he had a car and driver waiting.
I knew the cave where the writings had been found was about fifteen miles away, and I sat back, sipping the hot, rich coffee appreciatively and watching the French countryside go by. I wondered if Callen was up yet or if he’d slept in, and decided he was still in bed. The sunrise bit he’d tried to sell was not true. I’d wager that if Callen did ever see the sunrise, it was because he’d never gone to bed the night before. We’d parted after lunch and kite-flying the day before without making any particular plans. I’d needed to study up on a few things for today and ordered room service for dinner, but I’d given Callen my cell number, and he’d said he’d call me.
Jess, stop. You’re on work time. I was bound and determined not to be distracted by him, especially not today.
We turned off the main road and drove through a little village before turning onto a dirt road that wound up a mountain in front of us. Our SUV bumped along for a short way, traveling uphill, before coming to a stop near a grove of trees where several other vehicles were parked.
“The caves are a short walk, but the path has been cleared,” Dr. Moreau said as we all stepped out of the vehicle. I glanced down, thankful I’d worn flats, even though I hadn’t known we were traveling to the dig site on the first day. I’d hemmed and hawed over what to wear that morning, finally deciding it wasn’t the kind of job where I needed to look overly professional, as I’d be in a basement conference room all day, sitting and translating text. Comfort was paramount, so I’d chosen a nice pair of capri khakis, a white blouse, and a navy blazer. I patted myself on the back for the addition of the sensible floral-patterned flats I’d paired with the outfit. Hiking up a dirt trail in heels would have sucked.
The morning was warm and clear, and the subtle fragrance of wildflowers sweetened the light breeze. I followed the men up the narrow path, the distant sound of voices and a faint, high-pitched hammering carried from somewhere beyond. I wondered vaguely if Joan of Arc had walked this same path once upon a time. Had she smelled the wildflowers, too? Had she turned her face to the sky to better catch their scent? To feel the breeze across her skin?
The tapping sound grew louder, and we turned at a bend in the path, stepping into an open area where we could see the mouth of a cave in the side of the mountain. Dr. Moreau signaled us to follow him, and it struck me again how fortunate I was to be here. This was like a dream come true, exploring the caves of heroes long gone, with the stale, dusty air closing in around me. Surreal.
The tapping sound paused as Dr. Moreau greeted the group in French, one of whom was using a tool to chip away at a piece of rock. Dr. Moreau indicated that we were just there to see where the documents had been found and to observe for a moment. They nodded to us in greeting and went back to work.
I looked around the space, the rock walls, the dirt-packed floor, stepping farther inside and noting the quiet sound of dripping water underneath the murmur of voices and light banging of what I could now see was a chisel. “There are no indications as of yet that anything more than the ancient writings will be unearthed, but it’s still essential that all due diligence be followed, so they’re collecting some of the rock and other natural elements to test for dating purposes.”
“Dr. Moreau, are there any theories about why the writings were found in this particular spot?” Ben asked.
“Not yet, though only a few of the pieces were roughly translated when we were first establishing what they were. I’d like you to go over those pieces again, as the original translators didn’t have any particular specialties. They may have missed things we will not. I’m hoping we’ll understand from the writings themselves how they came to be here.”
Ben nodded, and we all took a few minutes to wander around the cave, to get a feel for where the fragile documents we’d be working on had been hidden for hundreds of years. Why had they been left here? Were they hidden or just … lost somehow? I couldn’t wait to begin.
I ran my palm over the rough wall of the cave tentatively. The floor was clear where there were no workers, no equipment, just tightly packed dirt. The voices faded away, the knocks and bangs becoming background noise as I breathed in the smell: dust and earth and a distant mineral-type scent. Without the lights that had been brought in, it would be dark and cool in here. Those conditions were what had preserved so many of the writings.
As I wandered away from the rest of the workers and scientists, a strange feeling came over me, a shiver of awareness that there was something … happy about this place, as if something momentous had happened here that had created a lingering feeling of calm. I shook my head at myself. Silly. I was letting my imagination run away with me. But Callen had been right when he’d said I liked history because of my love of stories and real-life fairy tales, and I found it difficult to stop myself from pondering what might have happened in this small enclosed space hundreds of years ago.
We didn’t stay at the site much longer, as we’d only be in the way. We got back in the SUV, dropping Dr. Roskow off at the building that housed the lab and returning to the château.
Once we were back at the château, Dr. Moreau led us to a room next to the one we were using, where he pulled a large portrait away from the wall. It swung out on squeaky hinges, revealing a steel vault set into the wall. “Cool,” Ben said, adjusting his glasses. “Is that where the owners of this place kept their jewels?”
Dr. Moreau chuckled. “Among other things as well, I imagine. This château has a rich history. They’ve loaned us the use of this fireproof vault so we can store the documents here as we translate them. Plus, it’s nice and cool down here and the moisture in the air is low.”
Once we were back in the conference room, Dr. Moreau threw a box of gloves on the table and collected three laptops from a cabinet near the door. “As you’re aware, you’ll need to wear these if you take the documents out of the protected coverings. I had to do so a few times to get a better look at a word or paragraph, and you may have to as well.” Ben sat down across from me and Dr. Moreau handed us each a laptop and a document encased in a plastic sleeve, much like the one he’d shown me in his office the week before.
“I’ll want to check your translations, so e-mail me your file, titled with the number indicated on the sticker at the top of each plastic case, after you’ve finished.” We both nodded and got to work.
I was immediately immersed in the words of a young woman traveling with the French army and apparently disguised as a boy. The other soldiers called her Philippe, though as I’d told Dr. Moreau in his office during my interview, it was obvious from her phrasing that the author of the writings was female, even without her disclosing that fact. She’d settled into the tent of “Jehanne,” and the first few writings were descriptions of the camp and information about military strategy she’d overheard. It was all interesting, but I was particularly engaged by her personal observations and the fact that she was obviously having trouble living the life of a common soldier when she’d come from an aristocratic existence.