Off the Island of Tenedos, the Aegean Sea, Present Day
The diver stared at the seabed in aston- ishment. He had never seen treasure like this before in his life. He reached down and touched it, closing his fingers around the hilt, drawing the blade out of the sand to its full length. It was a magnificent sword, a weapon fit for a king, perfectly preserved as if it had been dropped this day, not lost thousands of years ago in the time of legends. He lifted it up, dazzled by the studded jewels of the hilt, by the gleaming bronze blade inlaid with gold and with red niello, images of warriors, spear-girt with figure-of-eight shields, following a great lion lunging at the front. He raised it toward the sunlight that streamed down from the surface, for a moment imagining he was passing it back up to the great king himself, war-bent, eyes locked on Troy, his galley riding the waves above. But as the blade reflected the sunlight it blinded him, and when he looked again it had disintegrated into sand, showering down through his fingers on to the seabed below. His breathing quickened, and he began desperately digging for it again, reaching into the hole he had made, pushing hard with his fingers. How could he tell the others? How could he tell them he had found the treasure that had brought them all so far, and then lost it?
Jack Howard woke with a start as a Turkish air force F-16 shrieked low overhead, the roar dropping to a deep rumble when the jet hurtled over the coastline to the east. He shut his eyes, then rubbed them, trying to calm his breathing. The dream was always the same, and ended the same way. Maybe today reality would take over. He checked his dive watch, shading his eyes against the glare of the sun. In forty-five minutes he was due at the briefing, and twenty minutes after that he would be kitting up to dive on the shipwreck in the depths below them. He took a deep breath, sprang to his feet, then rolled up his sleeping mat and stashed it in its usual place beside the bow railing. It was his favorite spot to take a siesta, where he felt close to the elements—the intense Aegean sky, the noise and smell of the sea—yet within hailing distance of the bridge should he be needed.
He glanced back at the bridge windows, waving at the watch officer, and then looked down the sleek lines of the ship. Seaquest II had emerged from a refit only two weeks previously, and the white paint on her superstructure was still gleaming. Beyond the Lynx helicopter at the stern he could see the flag of the International Maritime University, bearing the anchor from his own family coat of arms, and above that a red flag with a white crescent moon and a star, their courtesy flag in Turkish waters. He shaded his eyes and scanned the horizon, picking out the lines of sight he had spotted before lying down, mentally triangulating their position. To the southwest lay the island of Bozcaada, ancient Tenedos, less than two nautical miles off the port bow. To the northeast he could just make out the low cliffs of Gallipoli, the long peninsula that jutted out from the European shore and flanked the Dardanelles, the narrow strait that divided Europe from Asia. He glanced at the GPS receiver he had left propped by the railing, confirming his fix. His pulse quickened. Captain Macalister was returning to the sonar contact they had made just before noon. The sea was rougher now, but the decision had clearly been made. He remembered the extraordinary shape he had seen on the seabed earlier that morning. The dive was still on.
He gripped the railing. The dream had left him jumpy, unable to relax. He remembered what he had come up here planning to do, when he had thought he would not sleep. He picked up the makeshift wooden target, three pieces of plank nailed into a crude triangle, and tossed it overboard, feeding out the line and tying it to the railing. He looked back to the bridge and put his hand up, and a moment later heard the triple warning blast on the tannoy indicating that a live firing exercise was about to take place. He put on the ear protectors and unholstered the heavy revolver he had put on the deck beside him. He slipped the lanyard over his neck, then pressed the thumb catch to break open the revolver and load six .455-caliber cartridges from the pouch on the belt. He snapped the gun shut and took aim, his right arm locked straight out, his left hand supporting the grip. He cocked the hammer with his left thumb and curled his right index finger around the trigger. The target was thirty, maybe thirty-five yards away, a challenge at the best of times, but compounded by the rise of the swell and the heave of the ship’s bow. He pulled the trigger and the revolver jumped back, its dull subsonic report almost lost in the noise of the wind. He fired again, and saw a stab of bubbles just short of the target. He pursed his lips. The powder load was right, but the bullets needed to be lighter. He fired off the remaining four chambers double-action, squeezing the trigger each time the revolver returned from the recoil, aiming high. The final bullet hit the target and sent it spinning crazily above the waves. He lowered the pistol, pressed the thumb catch, and broke the gun open, ejecting the spent cartridges into a bucket at his feet. He pulled off the ear protectors and hung them around his neck, raised his arm again, and listened for the tannoy blasts to signal the end of firing. As he waited, he stared at the horizon, at the line of open sea to the south between the island and the Turkish mainland.
He braced his tall frame against the roll and pitch of the ship, and swallowed hard. The sea swell was making him feel uncomfortable, though he hated to acknowledge it. Captain Macalister had deactivated Seaquest II’s stabilizer system as he reacquired their position over the site. The sea had been calm that morning, but the wind had picked up as usual in the early afternoon and the waves were now racing over the crests of the swell, sending occasional swirls of spindrift above the whitecaps like horses’ manes as the sea drove toward the shore. Jack concentrated on the low coastline where the F-16 had disappeared. For a moment he wished he were over there with the other team, on dry land, excavating the most fabled archaeological site in history, the ruins of an ancient citadel once thought to be no more than a figment in the imagination of a blind poet. Then he remembered what he had seen that morning, almost three hundred feet deep on the seabed, a shape barely discernible on the edge of the darkness. He still did not know if it was a hallucination or the fulfillment of a dream that had obsessed him, the dream that had drawn so many to this place and left them yearning for more. He thought of Heinrich Schliemann, almost a century and a half before. Schliemann had come here chasing a legend. And he had found Troy.
Jack stared at the gray sky that seemed to hang over the shoreline of Troy like a shroud, and then looked down into the darkness below the waves, straining to see deeper. He had excavated many fabulous wrecks in his years as an undersea explorer, but this one could be the most extraordinary ever. This time they could be stepping back into the world of myth, to the time when men had not yet learned to cast off the yoke that tied them to the fickle judgment of the gods. What they found today could reignite the passion that had driven Schliemann, the conviction that the Trojan War was historical reality. Jack whispered the words to himself. A shipwreck from the Age of Heroes. A shipwreck from the Trojan War.
“Jack! Don’t shoot! I surrender!” Jack turned and saw a stocky figure making his way up the foredeck, waving at him. Costas Kazantzakis swayed from side to side as he walked, a gait born of generations of Greek fishermen that seemed to allow him to barrel on in defiance of all the natural laws. Jack had even noticed it in their dives together, as Costas hurtled down to the seabed regardless of currents or any other obstacle. He stared in disbelief as Costas came closer. Costas was wearing sandals, some kind of pajama pants, a Hawaiian shirt, aviator sunglasses, and an extraordinary hat, a faded leather affair with earflaps. Jack bit his lip to stop himself from smiling. Costas stopped in front of him and saw Jack’s expression. “What?” he said defiantly.
“It’s the pants, isn’t it? Mustafa gave them to me.” Costas had a distinctive New York accent, picked up despite every effort of his wealthy parents to shield him from the reality outside his exclusive school. Jack had always loved it, and with Costas he never felt conscious of his own accent, a result of a peripatetic childhood in Canada and New Zealand as well as England. “They’re Ottoman Turkish. Just blending in with the local culture.”
Jack cleared his throat. “The Ottoman Empire crumbled a little while ago. About a century ago, to be exact. Anyway, no, it wasn’t those.”
“The hat? A present from your old digging buddy Maurice Hiebermeyer. You gave him those baggy British Empire shorts he loves wearing, and he gave you your beloved khaki bag. So he gave me the hat when I took the chopper out to Troy yesterday and saw him. He said it made me an honorary archaeologist. Only honorary, of course. He found it in the Egyptian desert while he was looking for mummies. It’s an Italian tank driver’s hat from the Second World War. He said Italian gear had real style. Said it suited me.”
Jack looked at Costas unswervingly. “He said that.”
“You bet.” Costas wiped his stubble with the back of his hand, and then thrust a cell phone at him. “Text message from your daughter.”
Jack looked at the screen. It was one word. Paydirt. He looked up, his eyes gleaming. “They must have found it,” he exclaimed. “The passageway under the citadel. Maurice knew it was there. I’ve got to get over there as soon as we finish the dive.”
Costas shook his head. “Mission creep.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, first your old professor James Dillen finds some clue on an ancient papyrus, something about a shipwreck from the Trojan War. You get all excited. Seaquest Two gets booked. A few weeks go by. Then Mustafa pulls all the strings and the authorities grant us a blanket permit to excavate the entire northwest corner of Turkey. Before you know it, Maurice Hiebermeyer arrives with Aysha and their team from Egypt. Rebecca somehow gets off school and flies here even before asking you. Even my buddy Jeremy leaves his beloved Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and is over there right now at Troy neck-deep in dust. What starts off as a long-shot recce ends up as a campaign to solve the entire mystery of the Trojan War. That’s what I call mission creep.”
Jack grinned. “Big questions deserve big resources.”
“Big questions? You mean big treasure.”
Jack laughed, slapping Costas on the back. “Treasure? Me, an archaeologist? Never.” He snapped shut the revolver, unclipped the lanyard from the metal ring on the butt, eased the cord over his head, and opened the holster.
Costas gestured at it. “Having fun? Not your usual Beretta.”
“It’s an old Webley service revolver, naval issue. Captain Macalister keeps it in his day cabin. The .455 slug was designed to knock down fanatical tribesmen, and Macalister reckons that’ll do for any modern-day pirate. You can see the 1914 date stamp when it was refurbished, at the beginning of the First World War. It could have been used in the Gallipoli campaign the following year. Macalister says holding this makes him feel close to that, to the horror and tragedy out here in 1915.”
“Sounds like you’ve infected him with your passion for artifacts.”
Jack holstered the revolver and shut the flap. “It’s what I always tell you. Artifacts sing the truth of the past. Have you ever noticed if you put your ear to an old gun barrel and open the breech, you can hear an echo of the past wars it’s fought in? It’s haunting. You should try it.”
“It’s called the wind, Jack. And I’m not in the habit of playing Russian roulette.”
“I thought we did that all the time.”
“You’re a father, remember. I have to keep you alive. It’s not like the old days.”
“You mean not like five months ago, searching for the celestial jewel in Afghanistan, pinned down on a mountainside by the world’s most lethal sniper?”
“When I saved your life. Again.”
“As I recall, it was my shot that took him out.”
“I mean before that. All those times diving. Stopping you from taking that extra plunge into the abyss.” Costas squinted over the bows and pointed. “Anyway, if saving my life’s your job, it looks like you got rusty. The target’s only wounded, Jack.”
“I had Ben make up some reloads. The bullet weight’s a little off.”
“It makes a nice change when our security chief has the time to do that.”
Jack gestured at the vapor trail dispersing above them. “It helps being in a restricted military zone. I don’t think anyone who might be shadowing us is going to mess with the Turkish armed forces.”
“That’s what I came up here to talk to you about. Our permit from the Turkish navy only allows us to maintain position on one spot for three hours continuously. We’ve just come back on site now. Macalister says that gives us time either for a sidescan survey or for a dive. A scan gave us that beautiful image of the Byzantine wreck yesterday, down to individual pots and blocks of stone. A great find, but we knew it wasn’t what we were after even before we got in the water this morning to check it out. The Byzantine wreck’s seventh century ad. We’re looking for something almost two thousand years older than that. Macalister says a scan might give us all we need this time, too. He’s worried about the wind picking up this afternoon. It’s your call.”
Jack squinted at Costas. “We’ll do it the old-fashioned way. See what’s down there with our own eyes. Whatever the sonar might show, I’d want to dive anyway. And that way we don’t have preconceptions. If you think you know what you’re going to be looking at, your mind sometimes only seeks confirmation. You miss vital clues.”
“You mean it’s more exciting, Jack. Plunging into the unknown. It keeps the adrenaline pumping. Which is when Jack Howard does his best thinking. Makes the connections. Joins the threads.”
Jack grinned and nodded. “Okay. You know me too well. But if the sea conditions allow a twenty-minute sonar run during the briefing, we’ll do that, too. It can work the other way around. The sonar data this morning meant we knew the wreck was Byzantine, so when we did the dive I was able to concentrate elsewhere, beyond the obvious. I might not have seen that shape.”
“If it was a shape.”
“I trust my instinct.”
Costas gestured over the channel toward the entrance to the Dardanelles. “There’s a lot of war debris down there, Jack. I knew about the carnage of the 1915 land campaign at Gallipoli, but not the scale of the naval losses. Macalister showed me the British Admiralty wreck map. The approaches to the Dardanelles are littered with them. Battleships, destroyers, submarines, gunboats; British, French, Turkish. Some of them were salvaged, but there’s plenty still down there.”
“And debris from a previous war,” Jack murmured. “A war more than three thousand years earlier.”
“I know.” Jack stared hard at Costas, his eyes intense, then his face creased into a smile. “You remember your first ever archaeological dig, fifteen years ago? Over there, on the plain of Troy?”
“I remember three weeks sweltering in a dust bowl, wondering what on earth I was doing there,” Costas replied. “Yeah, I remember. Like yesterday. I was a submersibles engineer with the U.S. Navy at the Izmir NATO base. You were some English guy fresh from a stint in your navy about to do an archaeology doctorate. You were a diver. A passionate diver. That’s where we clicked. You said there was a fabulous shipwreck waiting to be discovered, just up the coast. What you didn’t tell me was that it was on dry land.”
Jack smiled. “But we did find the ancient beach of Troy, and the remains of war galleys and an encampment. The first big leap forward since the days of Schliemann. Just the two of us, chasing a dream. It captured the imagination of the world. It got us the funding we needed and launched the International Maritime University. It got us where we are today.”
Costas grinned. “And if it hadn’t been for my guys doing the technology and the hard science, your dreams would never have gotten anywhere.”
Jack nodded. “A team effort. I mean it. Not just two of us now, but the entire IMU team.” He stared out at the horizon again. “You remember that evening at the end of the excavation, when we sat over there above the ancient harbor of Troy, having a few beers? I said I’d make it up to you for all the dust and heat. I said one day we’d be back, with a state-of-the-art research ship, all the submersibles and gadgets you ever wanted, searching the seabed here for a real shipwreck. An underwater shipwreck.”
Costas gripped Jack’s shoulder. “That’s why I’m still your dive buddy. Chasing that dream.”
“A pretty awesome dream,” Jack said.
“What are you thinking?” Costas asked.
“I was wondering whether we could do it again,” Jack murmured.
“Sweltering in a dust bowl? No thanks.”
Jack shook his head. “I mean, whether we could do what Schliemann did. Chase the really big dream. He came out here with huge personal wealth, and was able to do pretty well what he wanted. For the first time since then, a team is here again with fantastic resources. We’re not bogged down by bureaucracy. We don’t have to answer to skeptical academics. We can ask the really big questions. Search for the really big answers.”
“You mean find the really big gold.” Costas grinned.
“The priceless treasure. The truth.”
Costas paused, then nodded sagely and punched Jack on the shoulder, sending him reeling sideways. “Okay. I’ll go with that. To me, you’ve always been Lucky Jack. Nothing’s changed.” He turned to walk back. “See you in the briefing room in twenty minutes?”
Jack righted himself, feeling his shoulder. “Thank God you’re my friend, not my enemy.”
“See what I mean? I’ll look after you. At school in New York City, they called me Achilles.”
“Say that again.”
“Achilles. You know. The Trojan War. This place. Famous Greek hero.”
“I know who Achilles was.”
Costas pulled up his pantaloons and looked up at him defiantly. Jack reached over and gently pushed Costas’s aviator sunglasses back up where they had slipped down his nose, and then straightened the absurd hat. “There we go,” he said soothingly. “Achilles.”
“Right on.” Costas put his hand gingerly on Jack’s shoulder. “Twenty minutes?”
Jack watched Costas go and then turned back to reel in his wooden target. He would wait out here on deck until the ship had stabilized. He looked to Gallipoli, and then to the shoreline of Troy, and thought of the two wars. He had visited the Gallipoli beaches a few days before, a bleak, beautiful place where the eroded ravines were still full of bleached bones and the rusted detritus of battle, where life seemed only tentatively to have taken hold again after almost a century. The plain of Troy must once have been like that, too, and even after three thousand years it still seemed burdened by its place in history, as if the River Scamander still watered its shores with grief.
Jack had read the diaries and letters of young soldiers at Gallipoli in 1915, men who thrilled at being within sight of Troy, the plain where Hector and Achilles had fought before the fabled walls. Those young men had not been taught the truth of war, a truth that Homer surely knew but could barely bring himself to say, a truth those soldiers only learned in fleeting final moments as they rose above the parapet, bayonets fixed, on those shell-torn escarpments. Jack remembered the first lines he had ever learned of Homer, the ones Professor Dillen had insisted he memorize before all others. He whispered them into the wind now:
Heroes sink to rise no more
Tides of blood drench Scamander’s shore
No rest, no respite, till the shades descend;
Till darkness, or till death, cover all:
Let the war bleed, and let the mighty fall.
He braced himself as the bow of Seaquest II swung eastward, toward Troy. The swell heaved under the ship, and he felt as if he were riding the upwelling that had once pushed foam-flecked galleys toward those shores, toward fabled Ilion, bristling with spears and shields, rumbling with bellowing rage. For a moment he yearned again for that sword, the one in his dream, to raise it high, to lead war-bent men of Mycenae to their fate, to see what it was like to be their captain, to see what it was that drove the king of kings to trounce the rules of war and lead his warriors to do their worst. Jack thought of the present day, of those he knew and loved below the walls of Troy now, of his daughter, Rebecca, and he felt a strange foreboding, as if his imagination were leading him too close to a dark reality, a reality that had frightened even Homer.
He pushed back from the railing and shook the thought from his mind. He was an archaeologist, not a warrior. The ship was stable at last, the lateral thrusters engaged. He remembered Rebecca’s text message, that single tantalizing word: Paydirt. For years he had dreamed of taking up where Schliemann had left off, of revealing the truth of this place once and for all. And Costas had been right. It was a treasure hunt. He took a deep breath. Archaeology was a game of chance, but today, on this day, the odds might just be stacked in their favor. He slung the holster and walked determinedly across the foredeck toward the briefing room. He was coursing with excitement, remembering what Costas had called him, mouthing the words to himself as he always did. Lucky Jack.
Excerpted from The Mask of Troy by David Gibbins. Copyright © 2011 by David Gibbins. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.