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Authors: Dan Abnett,Nik Vincent

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BOOK: Tomb Raider: The Ten Thousand Immortals
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“You don’t believe in the healing properties of the Golden Fleece?” asked Lara.

“That’s another question entirely,” said Babbington. “Various forms of the legend claim that the Golden Fleece had a number of properties. The fleece was said to confer kingship on its owner, and was even thought to bring prosperity to the land.”

“I know that King Pelias sent Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece in the belief that he was a pretender to the throne, and that recovering the artifact was an impossible undertaking.”

“Pelias believed that Jason, the man with one sandal, would perish in his attempt to retrieve the Golden Fleece,” said Babbington, warming to his subject. “Jason’s death would rid Pelias of the threat of being ousted from his throne.”

“There are lots of versions of the story though,” said Lara.

“Time,” said Babbington. “You must have played at Chinese whispers as a child.”

“So, we might never know what was important or what was true. The Golden Fleece might have conferred kinship, or protection or prosperity. It might not have been about healing at all?”

“The legends tell us as much about the culture of the times as the artifacts I study,” said Professor Babbington.

“Nevertheless, the fleeces existed,” said Lara, “and the gold collected in them.”

“Now you’re thinking,” said Babbington. “There are always avenues to explore in this field, Miss Croft. Antiquities and artifacts are never simply objects. Their stories tell us about the people that made them and the times they lived in. They also tell us something about all the hands they passed through, and they tell us about ourselves.”

“Perhaps you’re not quite the pragmatist you pretend to be, Professor,” said Lara.

“When did I pretend to be a pragmatist?” asked Babbington. “Will you stay for my lecture later this afternoon? It’s part of a series, with two more over the next few days. I could arrange for a guest room in college if you’d like.”

Lara hadn’t planned to stay in Oxford, but with one door apparently closing, she was keen to find a way to open another.

“A couple of my post-grads are very good, and one of them is concentrating his studies on Colchis. You’ll find we have a lively debate,” said Babbington.

“In that case, I think I will stay. Thank you,” said Lara.

“Good,” said Babbington. “Let’s get you set up.”

Chapter 8

he second lecture was scheduled for Thursday morning.

Lara had sat in on the first, and Babbington had been right; it
interesting. The group was a small one, and the lecture was intimate and clearly tailored to the needs of the graduate students present. There was a discussion of archaeology, and also of search and recovery where archaeological sites had been historically pillaged. There was reference to dating and identification of objects, but also to myths and legends surrounding particular artifacts.

No one interrupted the lecture, but at the end, two students asked questions and others joined in with opinions, and subsidiary questions were raised. Some of the questions were of a practical nature, others more esoteric or idealogical… “Romantic,” as Babbington might put it.

At the end of Thursday’s lecture, Lara decided to ask a question of her own.

“In what general context can we place artifacts of a perishable nature?” she asked.

“Ah...” said Babbington. “Has everyone met Lara Croft? Miss Croft is interested in the Golden Fleece, but do we believe that she wants to discuss the properties of wool and the likelihood of it surviving for two millennia?”

The students laughed.

“Thank you, everybody,” said Babbington, “That’s it for today. I’ll see you all for the final lecture in this series tomorrow, and you can have a lie-in and a good lunch. We start at two.”

As Lara reached the aisle from her seat in the second row of the lecture theatre, a tall, well-built man in his mid-twenties was waiting for her, a broad smile on his face. She’d noticed him at Babbington’s previous lecture, not least because he looked less like an archaeology student than anyone she had ever met.

“You must be Lara Croft,” he said as she approached.

“I guess I must,” she said.

“Kennard Montez,” he said, stepping aside so that they were standing next to each other in the aisle. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

“That rather depends,” said Lara, returning the smile that had never wavered from his face.

“We have a shared interest,” he said. “I’m doing some work on Colchis, and I know a bit about the Golden Fleece. I thought we could swap stories.”

“I should warn you that I know next to nothing about it,” said Lara.

“Then, who knows?” said Kennard. “Perhaps I can help you out with your research.”

“In that case, I’d love a cup of coffee,” said Lara. “The Randolph is just across the street?”

“Why don’t we save ourselves the trouble and go next door to the Ashmolean?” said Kennard. “We can take a walk around room sixteen while we’re there.”

“What’s room sixteen?” asked Lara.

“Ancient Greece,” said Kennard as they left the lecture theatre. “No Golden Fleece, I’m afraid, but they’ve got some wonderful pieces. You’ll love it.”

Kennard Montez had a soft, middle-American accent and a hard, athletic American body, and Lara felt a little wary of him. She reminded herself that she was in public, and perfectly safe. They walked the few hundred feet to the best museum in Oxford. It was also one of the oldest in the country and the first university museum in the world.

“Take no notice of Babbington,” said Kennard as they sat down in the coffee shop with their tray of drinks. “He’s an arrogant bastard.”

“He seems to know his stuff, and he owns some beautiful objects,” said Lara.

“True and true,” said Kennard. “He shouldn’t have made you the butt of his joke, though. The question was valid.”

“Only up to a point,” said Lara. “Stuff still rots. That’s why I’ve spent time digging post holes at archaeological sites where no posts remain, because they’ve rotted away. And that’s wood. I’m talking about wool.”

“Things also miraculously survive,” said Kennard. “There are thousands of examples of Roman leather shoes. Egyptian mummies dating back two and a half millennia still have cloth remains. Not everything is lost.”

“An Egyptian mummy is very particular, though, isn’t it?” said Lara. “It’s special. Great lengths were taken to preserve the remains of the dead because of the religious beliefs held by the people in that time and place. The cloth survives because of those other factors.”

“Lots of things are special,” said Kennard.

“Do you agree with Professor Babbington about the gold mining methods in Colchis?” asked Lara. “That there is no such thing as the Golden Fleece?”

“There’s a good argument for that,” said Kennard. “But a pragmatist can make a good argument for anything. How many people do you know who believe in God? Some things only require an act of faith.”

Lara laughed.

“Does Professor Babbington know you’re one of his despised romantics?” she asked.

“Should that worry me?” asked Kennard.

They sat for a few moments. Lara toyed with her mug.

“So even if we concur with the professor’s pragmatic view, you believe that one of the mining fleeces might still have been special in some particular way?”

“I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible,” said Kennard. “Sometimes stories grow up around otherwise unremarkable objects. When some event goes unexplained, it becomes a miracle, perhaps not so much now, but certainly in ancient times.”

“And if such an artifact did exist for some reason,” said Lara, “you also believe that it might have survived?”

“When an object, any object, whatever its intrinsic value, is considered special or has some other value attached to it, people do their best to preserve it, and they pass it on or acquire it.”

“Give me an example,” said Lara.

“Take a piece of paper… This, for example,” said Kennard, holding up a paper napkin. “It’s totally disposable. It’s meaningless, valueless. Thousands of these are used and thrown away in this coffee shop every year. But imagine, I don’t know, this was 1970 and J.R.R. Tolkein was sitting at the next table.”

“Why Tolkein?” asked Lara.

“Merton alum,” said Kennard. “Imagine he graciously gave me his autograph on this napkin before he died. Suppose he also wrote some profound statement in Elvish. My napkin would have meaning and value. Agreed?”

“Of course it would,” said Lara.

“And, unlike all the other napkins, it might survive a thousand years.”

“You make a very good point,” said Lara.

“You haven’t told me why the Golden Fleece and not something else,” said Kennard.

“I’m interested in artifacts with healing properties,” said Lara, not wanting to give too much away, “and the fleece seemed like the obvious place to start.”

“It is,” said Kennard. “Its whereabouts has also been shrouded in mystery for a very long time.”

“You’re not giving me a lot of hope of finding it,” said Lara, smiling.

“Then let me give you some inspiration instead,” said Kennard, rising from the table. “Let’s see what room sixteen has to offer.”

They took the main staircase up to the first floor and walked through room twenty, the Aegean, to room sixteen.

“Wait a minute,” said Lara as they stood before a cabinet full of painted Greek pottery. “Colchis isn’t in Greece… It’s in the Caucasus.”

“It’s about two and a half thousand kilometres away in Georgia, on the Black Sea coast,” said Kennard. “The Ancient Greek civilisation isn’t your area of study, is it?”

“I know the basic, undergrad stuff, but not recently, no,” said Lara.

“The Greeks extended their empire just as the Romans did. Remember Alexander the Great?”

“Of course,” said Lara. “Foolish of me. He conquered chunks of Africa and Asia, and didn’t he get as far as Pakistan?”

“Precisely,” said Kennard. “The Black Sea was a stone’s throw away by comparison. A lot of my studies on Colchis relate in some way to Ancient Greece.”

“Thanks for the coffee, and this,” said Lara, gesturing at the room around them. “It’s been useful.”

“We’ve hardly started,” said Kennard as they found their way back to the main staircase. “I’ve got quite a lot of notes back in my rooms. Some of them might prove useful to you. I’ve got plenty of time, and it’d be a pleasure.”

Lara checked her watch and smiled.

“Sadly, I’ve got to be somewhere,” she said.

“Later, then?” asked Kennard.

Lara was aware that she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn more about the Golden Fleece. She was also aware that Kennard Montez was flirting with her.

“Can you meet me in the college bar around nine o’clock?” she asked. “I’ve got a dinner, but I’d appreciate the chance to take a look at your work.”

“Only if you let me buy the first round,” said Kennard.

“Nine o’clock, then,” said Lara as they left the Ashmolean.

“It’s a date,” said Kennard in his soft American accent. Lara stalled for a moment, and Kennard turned right to walk back to the School of Archaeology, just as she hoped he would. She turned left to cross the road and walk down Broad Street. If he turned around, she wanted him to see her walking away with a purpose.

Chapter 9

t wasn’t hard to track down Willow at St. Edmund Hall. Lara needed a break. She needed to relax, and Willow and her friends on the train had made her smile, had made her remember what it was like to feel like a student again, to feel normal. In their company, Lara had almost forgotten what had happened to her and Sam on Yamatai and in the last couple of weeks. She could almost put aside her worries about Sam and what she was going through.

The college was open to visitors, and Lara walked into the pretty, lawned quad as a flutter of students poured through from the JCR beyond. One of them was Elliot, who had been sitting on the train to Oxford with Willow.

“Excuse me,” said Lara, “Elliot, isn’t it?”

“Hello,” said Elliot. “You decided to visit after all.”

“It’s very pretty,” said Lara, looking around at the buildings surrounding the quad.

“Just don’t walk on the grass,” said Elliot, smiling. “I’d give you the tour, but I’ve got a lecture.”

“No, that’s OK,” said Lara. “I just stopped to say hello.”

“Wait there a minute,” said Elliot. He ducked back through the archway at the far end of the quad, and returned two minutes later with Willow in tow. The girl trotted gleefully up to Lara and threw her arms around her.

“You stayed,” she said.

“Just for a couple of days,” said Lara. “I’ve been at Merton, sitting in on some lectures.”

“You could have stayed with us,” said Willow. “Promise you’ll have dinner with us tonight.”

“I was hoping I might,” said Lara. “But I’ve got to be back by nine.”

“Stay now, then,” said Willow. “I’m supposed to be writing an essay, but it can wait. Say you’ll stay.”

“I’d love to,” said Lara.

Lara was sorry to leave at nine o’clock. She felt more relaxed after a few hours with Willow than she had since she’d visited Sam in hospital. She felt safe in the big airy dining room at Teddy Hall, among the undergraduates with all their enthusiasm and lively conversation. She couldn’t believe that she’d been just like them so recently. Yamatai had ended all that.

At nine, as promised, Lara walked the short distance to Merton and was in the bar a few minutes later. Kennard was already there with a couple of notebooks and a pint on the table in front of him. He stood when she entered.

“You promised I could buy you a drink,” he said.

“A tomato juice, if they have one,” said Lara. “Thank you.”

“Nothing stronger?” asked Kennard.

“Just the juice, thanks,” said Lara, standing at the bar next to him, just to make sure that really was all she got.

“Good dinner?” asked Kennard.

“Very,” said Lara. “Good company, too.”

“Not too good, I hope,” said Kennard. “I’d like the chance to compete.” He smiled. Lara thought he was trying just a little too hard.

“Tell me more about Colchis,” said Lara when they were seated.

Kennard began to flick through his notebooks.

“I can be more specific than that,” he said. “I can talk about the Golden Fleece.”

“Great,” said Lara. “The more I can learn, the better.”

“Everyone knows how Jason voyaged to Colchis on a quest for the Golden Fleece,” said Kennard. “Everyone knows the labours he had to perform to secure it.”

“Ploughing the field with fire-breathing oxen and getting past the ever-wakeful dragon,” said Lara.

“Don’t forget the army of warriors that grew out of the dragon’s teeth he sowed.”

“How could I possibly forget that?” asked Lara. “Although they were pretty stupid warriors if they were prepared to turn on each other over the throwing of a rock.”

“You make a fair point,” said Kennard. “Anyway, with the help of the sorceress, Medea, Jason won the Golden Fleece.”

“And...?” asked Lara when it became clear that Kennard wasn’t going to say any more without prompting.

“That’s where it ends for most people,” said Kennard. “Everyone assumes that Jason and Medea returned to Iolcus with the fleece. There are legends about the return journey, and there are other stories about Jason, but, for the most part, the Fleece is forgotten.”

BOOK: Tomb Raider: The Ten Thousand Immortals
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