* * *

Professor Poul Anderson, Director of Archeology, University of Cambridge, shook his salt-and-peppered head as he looked at the pitted sword, protected in the clear glass container sitting in the center of the table in the portacabin, and he hadn’t even taken his coat off. He’d come straight to the dig from the train station, driven a rental car from Norwich, and okay, his specialization was Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon England, although he was more than familiar with the Celtic and Romano-Celtic period, as well as the early Middle Ages, but this curved blade from the dig didn’t ring any bells. None at all, although the curve seemed familiar, but no, he couldn’t place it.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I still can’t place this. Run this by me again. Where the hell did this come from, exactly?”

“Down in the number four traverse trench,” Dr. Greta Kett said. “At the stern of the ship, laid out on a woman right beside the King, and we think the guy must be Thorstein himself. Thorstein’s Mound, well, the old tales are right now and then I guess, and we’re deciphering the runes on some stones now, but one of them was above his head, and it definitely says “Thorstein King, the Young Wolf.” He was laid out, armor, helm, sword, shield, gold and silver, jewelry, weapons, human and horse and cattle sacrifices, grave goods, all the usual stuff.

This is bigger and better than Sutton Hoo, you know that, but I think we all knew that when we found the ship intact, but it’s a little earlier, late-5th century from all the preliminary dates, tail end of the Saxon conquest. Way better than Sutton Hoo, better than any other Saxon or Viking ship burial we know of. The peat preserved the wood, and the ship’s almost intact, everything’s intact, including the bodies, the clothes, everything. Just, everything. It’s just amazing.”

She was almost jumping up and down now, bouncing on her toes. “This sword, it was in a woman’s hands, she was in armor, chain mail, shield, helm, bow and arrows, lying beside the King, except we’re absolutely sure she was buried a couple of decades before him. He was added later, she was lying there with this in her hands, laid out, and we’ve just got the test results back from the lab, you’re going to love this.”

“Tell me, for chrissakes, Greta. Doesn’t look like any Saxon or Germanic or Romano-British sword I’ve ever seen, not even Celtic.”

“It’s not. It’s a Japanese sword from the Kofun period, Yamoto made, we’ve done a metallurgical analysis, run every test we can come up with, and that’s absolutely one hundred percent. It’s from Yamoto, no uncertainty at all about that, and it’s an early curved blade, cutting style. We think it’s the earliest kotō period katana ever found, early 5th century. We’ve asked the Japanese to send someone who’s an expert in them to help.”

“Holy Jesus, you’re not joking, are you, Greta? A Japanese katana dated to the period, in a late 6th Century ship-burial mound? In Norfolk?”

“It gets better, Poul.” Greta was just about beside herself, and Poul had never seen her like this.

“How does it get better than this. This is already the biggest archeological find in England, since, well, Sutton Hoo. And throw a Japanese sword into the mix, and Jesus…”

“Add in a Eurasian steppe nomad composite bow, we think Xianbei from the initial analysis, and some Chinese-style armor, light cavalry chain mail. Bright brilliant armor, it’s called, and I know that doesn’t mean anything to you, but it was the best armor made in Northern Wei, which was the Empire that ruled Northern China in the 4th, 5th and early 6th Centuries. We’ve run samples through multiple lab tests as well, this isn’t something I want to be wrong on, and its Chinese origin, same period, definitely made in Northern Wei, and this set is just about the best quality of its type ever found, and it was made specifically for a woman, the woman that was wearing it, and the woman…” Greta smiled.

“The woman…”

“For Christ’s sake, just tell me, Greta.”

“She’s Chinese. She looks Chinese, and yes, she’s that well preserved by the peat. We’ve run a dozen test series through six different labs. She was born around 520, northern China, and we’ve done some searches against DNA samples taken from burials in Northern Wei from the period. She’s closely related to some of the samples the Chinese have on record.”

“Spell out closely related, Greta.”

“Royal Family of Northern Wei. The Chinese have excavated quite a number of Northern Wei royal burials. She’s related to the royal family of Northern Wei for sure, Tuoba Clan, we need to do some more tests to pinpoint more closely, but you don’t get much closer, we think she’s as close as a cousin to the ruling line, so she must have been someone important. She died approximately 590, which is when we’ve dated the ship and the mound to, plus or minus a couple of years, and we’re going to narrow that down, we’ve got a lot to work with. The King, he died thirty years later, and all the evidence says they buried her first, in the ship, built the barrow for her, and added him in after, and you know what’s even more interesting?”

“Jesus Christ, Greta. Just bloody well tell me.”

“He’s her son. DNA analysis says he’s half-chinese, half-Dane from southern Sweden.”

“Any more surprises?”

“Yes.” Greta stood there, smiling.

“Good God, woman. Just tell me!”

“We’ve found something written, a chest of bones, sheep and cow scapulas, and there’s writing carved on them, and each bone is numbered, sequentially. It’s all written in Chinese characters. The bones have been dated to 580 through 590, and they’re associated with the site. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve run every test we can think of to confirm these aren’t fakes, and they’re not. This is the genuine thing, Poul, and this is huge. We’re going to be studying this site for the rest of our lives, it’s that big.

We’ve contacted the Chinese Embassy, asked for assistance in translating, they arranged for a team from Beijing, they took one look at the images and analysis we sent and they dropped everything. Their A-team, their best people, they’re flying here now. It’s an old script, but the guy we brought in two days ago to take a first look, he says it’s definitely from the period. He won’t leave, he hasn’t slept since he arrived. He’s sitting there with them now, says it’s some kind of autobiography of a Chinese princess as far as he can tell, and he’s half out of his mind… we think it was written by the woman in the barrow.”

“Holy fuck!”

“Yeah, you got that right.”


* * *

“Vesheill!” The great cry rang out from thrice two hundred house-carls, the great wooden cups and the horns filled with the foaming Yuletide Ale raised high, then drained to the dregs in a roaring wave of voices and laughter, and I, I sat to the side and a little behind my son, Thorstein, the King, at the High Table, and his chief men and such of his younger brothers as were men, they too sat at the High Table. The servant girls moved with alacrity with their jugs, from which the cups and horns were refilled, and busy indeed was the refilling, for the ale was good indeed, so all said, and all called for more, so that the servant girls were kept running.