Penny Adams crouched on the hill that overlooked London from the north. Her stomach growled—it was still on Central Daylight Time and demanding breakfast. She reached in the duffle bag she’d dropped on the grass next to her and unwrapped a granola bar and nibbled on it. There were three left and they’d have to hold her for four days.
Her watch said it was after four-thirty in the afternoon, but the setting sun made it seem later. She freed her long hair from the braid keeping the thick curls tamed and massaged her scalp.
Down the hill, a Saturday afternoon soccer match was being played by Icelton Football Club in a shabby stadium called Mortager Park. Concrete stands with rusted roofs lined three sides of the field and a cinder block clubhouse ran along the fourth. Lights around the perimeter attempted to illuminate the field but only half were working. An occasional blast from the referee’s whistle was followed by moans from the sparse crowd.
The gravel parking lot next to the stadium was half-empty, and even from this distance Penny could see it was badly rutted.
Penny yawned. She’d been traveling for over thirty-six hours and had only gotten fragmented sleep. Her stomach rumbled again but she ignored it and drew her sweatshirt around her, wishing she’d brought a warm coat. Who knew London in late October would be so cold? At home it was still warm, almost an Indian summer. The kids trick-or-treating wouldn’t need jackets.
Next to the stadium was a dilapidated foundry surrounded by a sagging chain-link fence. It enclosed several one-story brick buildings and a weed-filled scrap yard. The north sides of the brick buildings were moss covered, and several windows were broken and boarded up. Penny took note of the garbage strewn everywhere and was offended. A faded sign over the locked gate read: ‘Icelton Aeronautics Foundry & Casting Works, Ltd’.
She knew there was a stream lined with scrubby overgrowth beyond the foundry. You probably couldn’t see it unless you were on top of it, but aerial digital imagery saw it. The stream was called the Silk, and it had been much larger a long time ago. A very, very long time ago.
Behind Penny was the castle on the hill, silhouetted against dark clouds. The turrets were made of white marble, and banners even fluttered from the tops like a real fairy tale castle. When the sun managed to break through, the gold roundels at the top glistened.
It was exactly the way she said it would be.
Another burst of booing erupted from the soccer match below.
Icelton Aeronautics Foundry, Penny’s research had revealed, had been established in 1915 to service the Royal Air Force station just to the east, in Hendon. The foundry had prospered during the two wars and in between, at its peak running three shifts a day and employing over five hundred workers, many of whom probably lived in the rows of neat townhouses across the road. The British called them terraces. Penny had no idea why—they looked perfectly level to her.
The little village of Icelton had grown along with the foundry until it was now part of the urban sprawl that radiated out from London. The land the foundry sat on sloped down to the Welsh Harp Reservoir, which two thousand years ago had been swamp. The land had been drained in the Dark Ages by local Anglo-Saxons who had moved into the area abandoned by the Romans.
Remarkably, Penny had been able to travel there from the airport easily by train and subway, notwithstanding having to hunt for the Northern Line at Leicester Square Station. The network of underground trains that crisscrossed the huge city was marvelous, easily dwarfing the L in Chicago, which Penny had ridden once when her high school debate team had gone to the city for a competition. To be able to go so far so fast without having to drive your car was incredible.
Penny consulted the map she had drawn. It all fit—the stream to the left ran northeast to southwest, the ancient Roman road was a half-mile to the east, and the gap in the hills that everyone had ignored was five miles directly north.
The knoll she was sitting on was at the southern tip of the Edgware plain, and clearly matched the description in Tacitus of the wide, flat area where the last battle took place. It really wasn’t much of a plain, she decided, but Tacitus was relating the story second-hand, probably from his father-in-law Agricola who was present at the battle. The Romans had hidden in the gap between Barnet Gate hill and Highwood Hill, watering their horses in the pokey little Dollis Brook stream and waiting for her to return to London after burning St Albans to the ground.
Which, in Penny’s opinion, St Albans had coming.
Professor Jain, along with all the other First Century AD Romano-British scholars, had overlooked this area. Instead they were focusing on Mancetter as the site of the last battle, a hundred miles north-west and in Penny’s opinion obviously incorrect. The Corieltauvi tribe, who had occupied that area, didn’t have a good relationship with the Iceni tribe, who were from the Norfolk area. The Iceni, in turn, only had a tenuous relationship with the Romans who had moved onto their lands and were making pests of themselves. The Corieltauvi had welcomed the Romans in 44 AD and the 14th Gemina legion was garrisoned in Mancetter, for heaven’s sake. There was nothing for her and her people to the north. She was heading back to London when she encountered the Romans.
If the Rhea family had built that foundry only two hundred yards to the west in 1915 they would have found the burial site. Instead they had built the playing field and stadium, and sometime after World War II dumped several tons of gravel to make the parking lot.
She was close.
Penny checked her watch and rebraided her hair while she listened for the long whistle blast that signaled the end of the match. When it finally came she stood and brushed the grass off herself and swung the duffle bag over her shoulder, taking care to avoid the sharp end of the pick-axe wrapped inside. She headed down the hill, tucking her long braid into the hood of her sweatshirt and pulling it up around her face.
In the pocket of her jeans were four small stones, each painted with bright yellow nail polish.