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Mary Murray thought the archaeology class would be easy credits and a chance to see the world. Little did she know what treasure awaited her hidden from the light for over two thousand years.
I had to keep reminding myself that I’d volunteered to join this training dig. This was supposed to be what I was studying to do for the rest of my life, after all. I needed to stay focused and positive. I needed to smile and carefully brush away the surface one pebble at a time. I needed to-
“I need to get another major,” I mumbled as I bent over my hole.
My name is Mary Murray, and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to drop the brush in my hand, stand up, and cry out that I would stand for this tyranny no more. Unfortunately, it was neither the place nor the time for theatrics. I wasn’t a theater major, I was an archeology major, and right then I was on a practice dig to learn what it was like out in the field. So far the only thing I was liking about it was the exotic destination. We were in Hungary, a land of beautiful wilderness, lively festivals, and paprika, my favorite spice.
Our practice dig was nestled in a valley a hundred miles from our sister university. Around us towered mountains covered in trees and dotted with a few dirt roads. The nearest village was a five-mile hike or cart ride along one of those roads. At our feet lay a field of stone and loose dirt. It’d been used as a practice dig for a good decade and the most interesting thing anyone had ever found was a severe case of the common cold.
We ten students knelt inside a patch of dirt separated from one another by a flimsy bit of string that defined the borders that made up the square. Every day for the last two days we’d marched from our camp of white, pitched tents to our little squares through a narrow, winding, gently-sloped path to this picturesque meadow. Our plots of dirt awaited us, and we dusted the dirt until our fingers felt like they wanted to fall off.
“You think this ever gets interesting?” a voice whispered to me. It wasn’t the voices in my head talking to me, but the person in the next square. Her name was Stacy, an energetic, talkative girl who I was surprised hadn’t cracked under all the pressure of doing nothing inside these small squares.
I glanced at her out of the corner of my eyes and lowered my voice. We were supposed to be focusing on the dirt, so talking wasn’t encouraged. “Not in our lifetime, but maybe our children will be able to bask in the excitement,” I replied.
Stacy wrinkled her nose. “So we toil away while our kids can get all the glory?” she guessed.
“And riches and fame,” I added.
Stacy looked ready to throw down her brush. “But I wasn’t going to have kids,” she told me.
I grinned. “Then I guess you won’t mind if mine take some of your glory,” I teased.
“Maybe I’d like-he’s coming!” Stacy hissed, and quickly looked down at her piece of ground. I knew what that was so I whipped my head back to the dirt and furiously brushed the dirt from the pebbles.
A pair of boots stopped beside me, but I kept my eyes to the ground and hoped the middle-aged man above me would go away. No such luck. “Something the matter, Mary?” he asked me.
I looked up and smiled at him. “Just talking to myself, Professor Van Sloan,” I replied. Professor Jonathon Van Sloan was our chaperon and teacher on this expedition. He was a nice guy in the classroom, but a bit of a bore out in the field. Then again, maybe it was the endless, day-after-day toiling in the dirt with little hope in finding something worth digging for.
The professor knelt down and looked into my face with a cheerful smile. “I’ve seen that look a hundred times on other students. It’s telling me you’re hoping to find something that will shake the very foundations of archeology.” He picked up a dirt clog and crushed it in his hand. The dirt sprinkled through his fingers and onto the ground right where I’d just dusted. “Unfortunately, many archaeologists only find a lot of dirt, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to searching. Do you understand what I mean?” he asked me.
“It means I should keep brushing, doesn’t it?” I guessed.
“Precisely, and go a little slower. We wouldn’t want to harm any of that precious dust. You never know what you’ll find when you’re not looking for it,” he scolded. He stood and sauntered over to the next square plot of dirt to give depressing advice to another foolish student such as myself.
But my whining wasn’t what brought you to my story. Another person’s whining is what brought you here. That person was Ed Spelling, dork extraordinaire. He had it all; the thick glasses, the nasally voice, and the sheer dumb luck.
Ed straightened and raised his hand. “Professor Van Sloan, may I be moved to another square?” he asked our teacher.
The professor strode over and looked at Ed’s current square. “What’s wrong with the one you have?” he asked his student.
“I think someone’s been in this spot already,” Ed replied. As proof he held up between his fingers a small, white, crescent-moon shaped object.
Van Sloan took the item, studied it for a moment, and smiled. “I do believe you’re right, Edward, this is someone else’s fingernail. For being so observant and meticulous I’ll make sure you’re moved to virgin ground,” he promised.
I and my other fellow students watched enviously as Ed’s string was torn up, and the professor and he marched off to the far side of the field. They stopped at the point farthest from our camp and the rest of us, and staked the ground with the string barrier. Ed was made comfortable in his new little square, and I even saw a spade pass from the professor to Ed’s hand. Cheater. He’d actually get to dig rather than sweep aside the dirt.
Professor Van Sloan returned to our neck of the meadow and we hastily looked busy while casting jealous glances at Ed. The day wore on and our brushing was only interrupted by lunch. A half hour before sunset the professor checked his watch. “All right, put down your brushes!” he yelled to us. We dropped the brushes and massaged our aching hands. A long day with no reward. Maybe I needed to take up art or investing. “Ed, put down your spade!” the professor shouted at the figure across the field.
Ed looked up from his spade work. “What?” he shouted back.
The professor cupped his hands around his mouth. “I said put down your spade!” he repeated.
“All right,” Ed agreed, and dropped his spade.
That’s when Ed disappeared. He was there one moment, and gone the next. Unfortunately, his disappearance wasn’t because he had suddenly acquired some impressive magician skills, but because the earth had swallowed him. There was a small little yelp of fright before he disappeared, and that sent the professor running across the field. The rest of us abandoned our self-imposed squares and raced after him.
As I neared Ed’s disappearing spot I noticed there was a hole in the ground. That was how Ed’s trick was done. No mirrors for this boy. We reached the hole and huddled around the ragged, unstable edges. Ed had broken through a large slab of rock destabilized by countless years of rodent digging. Two feet from the top of the hole was a few stone steps and the walls were also made of stone. Atop the steps lay Ed. He lay on his back and was succeeding as well as a turtle in trying to right himself.
“Get me out of here!” he moaned.
“Just hold still and we’ll get a rope,” Professor Van Sloan replied. Said rope was procured and one end was dropped into Ed’s lap while we the other students took the remaining end. Our supervisor stood by our line and supervised. “On the count of three pull with all you’ve got! One. Two. Three!”
We yanked on the rope and dragged Ed from the pit. He let go of the rope a yard from the hole and kissed the ground. The professor walked past him and knelt beside the hole. Without Ed’s body in the way there was revealed another half dozen steps that led into the ground. Our supervisor rubbed his chin and his eyes sparkled with glee. “Could it be. . .?” he murmured to himself.
“What’s wrong, Professor?” Stacy asked him.
The professor turned to us with a wide, excited grin. “We may have just stumbled upon an extraordinary discovery!”
“That tried to kill me!” Ed reminded him.
“Nonsense. You hardly fell more than two feet,” the professor argued. “And fortunate for us the steps are made of stone and not wood, otherwise your body would have crushed the craftsmanship,” he mused. The enthusiasm in his voice was contagious and we whispered among ourselves suggestions of its origins.
“Perhaps it’s a Roman-era storage house,” someone spoke up.
“Too far northeastward from any of the known settlements. I would guess it’s indigenous and a tomb of sorts,” another suggested.
I knelt beside the hole and peered into the darkness. From what I could see at such a poor angle the steps led downward to stop ten feet below the surface. At that point there was a flat stoop and a stone wall, but there were markings etched into the stone. Even if I could have made out the symbols I doubt I would have been able to read ancient Hungarian.
“It looks like a mummy’s tomb,” I told them.
“What do you think it is, Professor?” Stacy persisted.
The grin on his face nearly cracked his lips. “We will need further research, but Mary may be the closest to being correct. I believe Ed has found the final resting place of one of the ancient princes of this area. He was rumored to have been buried deep in the ground to thwart his enemies from finding and desecrating his body,” Van Sloan explained. He looked to Ed. “And you are the one who discovered this wondrous tomb, Ed. Your name will be written in the history books as a very lucky young man.” I was somewhat disappointed at being so close to discovery and not being the discoverer, but being a part of the team was nearly as good.
“Thanks, I think,” Ed replied.
I asked the question that was on all of our minds and in our excited faces. “Do we get to dig the tomb out?” I wondered.
Van Sloan pursed his lips together and gave a determined nod. “We have no choice,” her replied.
“No choice? Why?” I questioned him.
The professor sighed and leaned back to sit on the ground beside the hole. “I never meant for any of you to know this, but this is the last training dig in this area. The university can’t afford to send any more students here.” He glanced at the hole and his eyes lit up again. His voice rose to a feverish pitch and he crawled to the edge to peer into the darkening abyss of the hole. “But this may change everything. With a discovery like this we may be able to come back and do more excavations. Maybe even convince some of the locals to help out if we pay a high enough price,” he mused.
I interrupted his plans before they involved taking over the world. “Um, Professor?” I spoke up.
He shook himself from his madness and turned to me. “Yes, Mary?” he returned.
I pointed at the darkening sky. “It’s getting dark,” I told him.
“Oh! You’re right quite, Mary. We should certainly be on our way, but first we must cover this entrance with a tarp.”
We securely covered the hole with tarp and marched our way back to camp.