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strange women lying about in ponds distributing swords (is no basis for a system of government)

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              "No, seriously, Morris," Liz said, from behind a pile of recently forged swords, "where do you want me to put these?"

 

              "Well, I'll tell you where in a minute," Morris said, walking through the archaeological store with unerring confidence despite the fact that it mostly consisted of endless dubiously labelled metal shelves lined with apparently identical cardboard boxes. "Just keep walking."

 

              "Are we nearly there yet?" Liz sang out, and tripped on an unevenness on the concrete floor. There was a clatter and a swearword as the swords shifted in her arms, but she recovered herself without dropping more than one sword. Claudia retrieved it for her.

 

              "Obviously not," she said. "Just follow the nice archaeologist lady, Liz."

 

              "How do you know where we are?" Liz demanded.

 

              "I just do," Morris said. "This is pots. Boring."

 

              Claudia murmured deprecatingly, and Morris turned to look at her, juggling several cardboard boxes and the labels for her replicas, most of which had been made only hours ago. "I didn't know you were interested in historic weaponry, Claudia. I wouldn't have thought historical re-enactment would be your thing."

 

              Claudia made a non-committal noise. "The fair was interesting," she said. "And this is more interesting than listening to the pissing contest outside."

 

              Morris shrugged; Liz could just about see it around the pile in her arms. Liz was pretty sure Morris had clocked that Claudia's actual reason for following her into the archaeological store had been to size her up. It had become clear that Becker's best friend was close to his career, and had cultivated extensive networks of friends and informers in Becker's former postings, and Claudia was very obviously wondering how much Morris knew, or intended to find out, about the anomaly project - which was why she'd bothered joining the group visiting Morris's university's day-long 'real mediaeval fair', which Becker had committed himself to because it was Morris's and everyone else had decided to join because they were bored and wanted to to make mischief. Liz would eat her beanie if Lyle wasn't cheating someone at dice right now, and Ditzy had had to be prevented from taking on the 'village strongman' in a Contest of Strength earlier.

 

              Becker would probably not react well to Claudia testing Morris out, Liz thought, so when Morris had peeled off her smith's kit at the end of the day and enlisted Liz to help her return her replicas to their proper places... Claudia had taken the opportunity to get Morris on her own. Sort of.

 

              "Here," Morris pronounced, coming to a halt by a metal shelf that looked no different to any of the others, except that it was currently empty, and it was marked 'A. Morris replicas'.

 

              Liz hefted the swords in her arms. "Can I put these down now?"

 

              "Patience is a virtue," Morris said, scribbling labels.

 

              Liz stood around and complained solidly for the next five minutes as Morris took the swords from her, one after another, and slid them into painstakingly labelled cardboard boxes. Morris ignored her, and Claudia looked fidgety.

 

              "There," Morris said finally. "Last one. You can shut up now."

 

              Liz let her aching arms drop and grinned at her. "Those are heavy. How do you manage forging them?"

 

              Morris shrugged broad shoulders. "Some of it's technique. Some of it's a lot of time spent in the gym. I don't know, I've been doing it for years - you build muscle." She pushed her glasses up her nose. "The worst thing is my glasses."

 

              "I bet," Claudia said, smiling in a friendly fashion. Liz thought that if she was trying to charm Morris into talking freely, she was going to have to try harder.

 

              "Is there anything you want to see while we're down here?" Morris asked, rubbing her hands on her jeans. "I mean, we've got a lot of Roman stuff, Claudia, I could probably find you something that belonged to a Claudia. If you liked."

 

              "That would be nice," Claudia said politely.

 

              Liz, ignoring this mannerly byplay - for if Claudia was keen to sound out Morris, Morris was equally keen to sound out Claudia - spotted a box on a shelf marked 'unknown provenance' which was longer than the others, and pulled it down. "What's this?"

 

              "Careful with that!" Morris grabbed the other end of the box before it could fall. "Everything in here is fragile! And irreplaceable."

 

              "Sorry," Liz said unrepentantly. "It's heavier than I thought."

 

              Morris hummed disapprovingly. "It's interesting, actually. It's a sword." She knelt down to put the box on the floor, and Liz knelt with her. Claudia looked down at them.

 

              "What kind of a sword?" Liz asked.

 

              "This kind of a sword," Morris said mysteriously, and pulled off the cardboard lid and layers of tissue paper.

 

              "It's in bits," Liz said, unimpressed by the sight of a weapon that wouldn't make much of a weapon, but Claudia's breath caught and she crouched down to join them.

 

              "Liz!" Morris exclaimed, and sighed. "It's - look. The provenance thing is rubbish. We know exactly where it came from; it just doesn't make sense there. The lead excavator thought it was some kind of practical joke, though how... It was almost as if it had been left there on purpose, to confuse us - but it was on a sort of altar - but - there's something about it."

 

              "Yes," Claudia said, in a very faraway voice. Liz wondered what had got into her.

 

              Morris nodded, and picked up the haft of the sword, which had several inches of broken blade still attached, mirror-bright despite long years of burial, and a darkly wrapped handle. It was much too big in Morris's hand; Liz thought fleetingly that Blade, or one of the other taller men, could hold the full sword without looking like a child playing dress-up in their mother's shoes, but anyone else would be weighted off-balance by it. It was simply too big.

 

              "It was a longsword," Morris was saying to Claudia. "Designed for two-handed use, and, based on my reconstructions, for someone extraordinarily tall. There's an inscription on it, but we've asked around and nobody at all recognises the script. It's like nothing we know. They tried it up against Linear A, even. But it doesn't look anything like that, either. There's no blood on the blade, though it's seen use; it was so carefully cared for, positioned like a relic..."

 

              The fragments shone in the box. Struck by something she couldn't name, Liz reached out and touched one - and then blood bloomed across her fingertips and she yelped. "Fuck!"

 

              "Liz!" Morris said, more in sorrow than in anger, and Claudia groaned and dropped her head into her hands. "I was told you knew how to handle a knife."

 

              "It's still sharp," Liz said, around a mouthful of bleeding fingers.

             

              "Yes," Morris said, giving Liz her most owlish look through her glasses. "Well spotted, genius. You can explain that one to your stepdad, I'm not volunteering. I think we'd better get back. Claudia, there's a lovely haul of jewellery in the Roman section that was found nearby and belonged to a woman called Gaia Claudia Camilla. I'll show you on our way out. Beautiful things, she must have been a complete peacock when she was alive..."

 

              Liz waited until they were outside in the fresh air to say that it had been a beautiful sword, and why didn't Morris make a replica. Morris gave her an extremely fishy look, and forked her sandy-blonde fringe out of her eyes in a way that meant, Liz was learning, that she didn't want to say what she had to say.

 

              "I've thought about it," Morris said eventually. "But there's something funny about that sword."

 

              "Like what?"

 

              Morris cast a look over her shoulder. "I always wonder if somebody might come back for it, for some reason." She frowned. "I don't know why. But it feels like..." She looked back at Liz, and shook her head. "I just haven't. Tried a replica, I mean."

 

              There was a long pause, and then, under her breath, Morris said: "But who would come back for it...?"

 

              Liz didn't know Morris very well. She couldn't tell if the look on the other woman's face was anxious, or excited.

 

              She wasn't sure there was much difference between the two.