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Authors: Andy McDermott

The Valhalla Prophecy (69 page)

BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
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“Forget the gold—we may have found something even more valuable.” He turned, ignoring his subordinate’s
look of confusion. “The old man, and his family. Bring them down here!”

Rasche shouted an order up the stairs. The surviving members of the Patras clan were quickly hustled into the hidden chamber, their dismay at their secret having been revealed mirrored by the amazement and raw greed on the faces of the Nazis. “Andreas,” Kroll said to the patriarch in Greek, indicating the statue. “He is who I think, isn’t he? Andreas the cook, from the
Alexander Romance
?”

The defeat and resignation in the old man’s voice told Kroll that he wouldn’t need to resort to threats to get the truth. “Yes, it is he.”

The commander’s pointing finger shifted to the pithos. “Then the jar—it really contains what Andreas found in the Land of the Blessed?”

Patras’s son gave his father a look of alarm. “How could he know?” he hissed. Zoller pushed down hard upon the man’s shoulder to warn him to be silent.

Kroll’s sneer turned upon the prisoner. “You think we Germans are all uneducated thugs? You need to remember that Greece is no longer the center of civilization. Yes, I know about Andreas, and what he discovered. But until now, I thought it was only a legend, another of the
Romance
’s chapters of fantasy.”

“Andreas
wrote
the
Alexander Romance
,” Patras replied, a certain pride entering his tone despite his fear. “He hid the truth inside the fantasy.” A flick of one hand toward an unimpressive wood and metal chest, considerably newer than the treasures around it. “A copy of his original is in there.”

The urge to open the chest and read the ancient text rose in the Nazi leader, but he restrained it. There were more important answers he needed first. “Why did he hide the truth?”

“So that only someone who believed they were a worthy successor to Alexander could find it.”

Rasche’s impatience at being shut out of the Greek exchange reached a bursting point. “Sir, what are you
both talking about? We’ve found their treasure—what else do we need from them?”

“Information,” Kroll told him. “That’s how wars are won, not with swords or bullets. I told you, you should learn from history.” He returned to the pithos, signaling for Jaekel to join him. “Open the jar.”

“Sir!” Jaekel snapped in reply. He raised his gun, flipping it around to smash the stock against the pithos’s spout—

Kroll’s yell of “No!” and the horrified cry of
“Óchi!”
from Patras were simultaneous. “Idiot!” the Nazi growled. “Use your knife, not your gun! Take out the stopper.”

The chastened storm trooper slung his weapon and unsheathed his combat knife. Kroll watched as he began to work the plug loose, then turned his attention back to the Greeks. The adults all seemed appalled at the prospect of the great jar’s opening—or was it apprehension? He looked back at the text upon the pithos. More mentions of Alexander, but from the perspective of history. Andreas may have known the great king, but these words had been written long after his death.

Which meant that if Andreas himself had been the author, then the pithos really might contain the stuff of legends.…

A crackle as Jaekel worked loose a chunk of pitch. He tossed it aside, then jimmied away at the stopper itself. More of the black resin crumbled. Then there came a sharp rasp of metal—and the stopper moved.

“Careful, now,” Kroll warned, but Jaekel had learned his lesson. He used the knife to lever the cap upward. It was indeed solid silver, as the Nazi leader had suspected, but he was now less interested in the value of the metal than what it contained. Waving Jaekel aside, he hopped up on to the statue’s plinth so he could look down into the container.

Water shimmered gently in the torchlight. The jar was almost full to brimming, holding hundreds of liters, maybe more. He leaned closer, briefly moving the torch away as he adjusted his balance.…

The shimmering remained, even without light.

For a moment he thought it was just an afterimage. But the same thing happened when he lowered the torch again to check.

“Jaekel, point your light at the floor,” he ordered. “Rasche, Gausmann, you too.”

The SS troopers obeyed. The chamber went almost fully dark as Kroll flicked off his own light. He closed his eyes for a few seconds to let them adjust, then opened them again.

The water in the pithos was
aglow
.

It was faint, like moonlight reflected from a pond on a misty night, but there was definitely light coming from inside the jar.

“What is it, Sturmbannführer?” asked Rasche.

“Wait,” said Kroll. He flicked his torch back on and cautiously reached out, dipping the tip of his little finger into the water.

The resulting sensation made him twitch. “Sturmbannführer!” Rasche said again, with more concern. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, yes,” Kroll replied, slipping his finger back into the pithos. This time, he was prepared, and did not flinch. His skin tingled, very slightly. The effect was not unlike a mild electric charge.

The Nazi withdrew his hand, thinking for a moment. Then he scooped up a small amount of water in his palm. He raised it toward his mouth—

“That is not for you,” said Patras. Kroll looked sharply toward him. Even surrounded by SS troopers, guns aimed at him and his family, the old man’s attitude was suddenly defiant, warning clear in his words.

“Who are you to decide?” Kroll demanded in Greek.

“We are the descendants of Andreas—once a humble cook, and later the guardian of the Spring of Life. We have protected his shrine for over two hundred centuries, and kept his secret from those who think themselves better than the great king. Is that what you believe, German? That you are a worthy successor to Alexander?”

Kroll bristled at the challenge. “I believe that the
Third Reich will become the greatest empire the world has ever seen, yes.”

“But you are not its leader.”

“I act in the name of its leader, Adolf Hitler. Therefore I
am
worthy, since Hitler is the greatest leader in all of history.” Kroll allowed himself a smug smile, pleased with his own irrefutable logic.

Patras was unimpressed, however. “You may believe what you wish to believe. But the water is not for you. Andreas thought to keep it for himself rather than share it with Alexander, and though he soon regretted that decision and tried to change it, by then it was too late.”

“Then the water
is
the same as in the
Alexander Romance
, yes?”

The old man nodded. “It is.”

Kroll felt almost breathless with excitement. He had been right; the gold and silver treasures were nothing compared to the value of the water. “And … you know how to find its source?”

A firm shake of the head. “No. This is a shrine to the memory and works of Andreas, marking his birthplace—but it is not his tomb. He is buried at the spring.” Another shift in Patras’s attitude; now he seemed almost condescending, like a schoolmaster looking down upon his pupils. “The path to the spring is hidden, but it begins here. If you truly think you are superior to Alexander, then perhaps you
deserve
to find it.”

“Of course I deserve it,” Kroll snapped. With that, he brought his hand to his mouth and sipped the water. The faint tingling was stronger upon his tongue. He gulped down the rest and swallowed. For a moment he felt nothing. Then …

“Are you all right, sir?” Rasche again, shining his torch into his commanding officer’s face.

Kroll blinked in annoyance. “Get that damn light off me. Yes, I’m fine. I’m …” He paused as an odd feeling rose through him—almost
elation
, the tingle swirling through his veins to every part of his body.

“The water—it could be stagnant, or polluted. Or even poisoned.”

“I’m fine,” Kroll repeated. The sensation passed, but somehow, he knew that something good had just happened to him. And his knowledge of the
Alexander Romance
, a Greek recension of which he had read as a student, suggested what it might be.

He made a decision. “Close the jar,” he ordered Jaekel. “Put the stopper back in and find something to seal it with. I don’t want to lose a single drop of what’s inside.”

“What
is
inside it, sir?” asked Schneider, who was holding Patras’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Even in the low light, Kroll noticed that he had wound his fingers into the woman’s long dark hair and was slowly stroking the strands.

“Something that will make us very rich. All of us. Now listen. Gausmann, bring down the other men outside—I want the whole unit to hear this.”

“What about the prisoners in the truck, sir?” Gausmann asked.

“Shoot them. I know you have wanted to since we arrested them, so now is your chance.”

Gausmann was surprised, but pleased, a cold grin crossing his face as he saluted.

“Yes, sir.” He hurried up the stairs.

“If I may ask, sir,” said Rasche, barely hiding his impatience, “what is this about?”

“It’s about a long and rewarding life, Rasche,” Kroll told him. He stepped down from the plinth and waited. Muffled gunshots soon came from above.

The prisoners flinched at the sound, the little girl beginning to cry. Schneider slid his fingers into her hair. “Hush, now, little one,” he said, giving her a snake-like smile. She buried her face into her mother’s neck, trembling.

Footsteps echoed down the tunnel as the other troopers clattered into the shrine, gazing at the treasures with awe. “Oster, come on,” said Kroll, waiting impatiently for the last straggler to enter. He stepped forward to address his men, letting them see the sternness in his expression. “Attention!” All those not holding the Patras family snapped upright. “I want everyone to listen
very closely. You’ve all seen what this room contains. It’s full of treasure … and we are going to take it.” Eyes widened in avaricious delight. “But the gold and silver and jewels are
not
the most valuable things here. The water in that jar”—he gestured toward it—“is worth the most of all. I will explain why this is later, but for now, I need to make it clear that no one must know about this outside our unit.
No one
. You are either with me, or you leave now.”

He regarded them silently. He did not expect any departures, and there were none. “Good. Here is what we are going to do. We will close up the cellar and secure this house until we can arrange for the treasure to be transported safely out of the country.”

Rasche gave Patras and his family a sidelong glance. “And what about them?”

Kroll stared hard at the old man—who looked back with equal intensity. “You know already. And so do they, I think.” He switched to Greek. “We are going to take everything we have found here.”

Patras nodded in resignation. “I had guessed. And what about my family? Please, they have done nothing. My granddaughter—she is only a child. She at least deserves to live.”

The SS commander gave the girl a look, then frowned at Schneider, who reluctantly withdrew his hand from her hair. “Very well. You have my word,” he told Patras, before speaking again in German: “Take them outside and dispose of them. All of them—including the child.”

The troops encircled the prisoners, pushing them back to the stairs. Patras spoke quietly to his family, trying to reassure them, but with a leaden fatefulness they quickly understood. All three hugged and kissed the little girl as they were led away.

Rasche watched them go, then went to Kroll. “Sturmbannführer, I agree that we should take the treasure, but I
have
to know: What is so important about the water? How can it possibly be more valuable than gold?”

Kroll smiled thinly. “Obersturmführer Rasche, which is more valuable to a person—gold, or their life?”

Rasche was puzzled by the question. “Unless they are a fool, their life, of course.”

“Of course. Now, answer this: How much gold would you give to live forever?”

“I don’t know—a lot, I suppose.…” He trailed off, staring at the pithos before snapping his gaze back to his commander. “Wait, you think—”

“I
know
,” Kroll interrupted. “The moment I drank it, I knew. A long time ago, someone found the secret of immortality.” His smile broadened. “And now … it belongs to
us
.”

BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
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