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Realms of Gold

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Realms of Gold

  The Realms of Gold

  A Romance

  Terry Stanfill




  Copyright © 2011 by Terry Stanfill. All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author.

  Story Merchant Books

  9601 Wilshire Boulevard #1202

  Beverly Hills CA 90210

  For my daughter,

  Michaela Sara Stanfill

  in memoriam

  Much have I traveled in the realms of gold, and many goodly states and kingdoms seen.

  John Keats "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"

  Book I

  That the man who first told the story, and boldly, as befitted a born teller of tales, wedded it to the Arthurian legend, was himself connected by descent with the ancient Faith, himself actually held the Secret of the Grail, and told, in purposely romantic form, that of which he knew.

  I am firmly convinced, nor do I think that the time is far distant when the missing links will be in our hand, and we shall be able to weld once more the golden chain which connects Ancient Ritual with Medieval Romance.

  ‑— Jessie L Weston, From Ritual to Romance, 1920


  The village of Vix. Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d'Or, Burgundy, 1953

  It is a sunless, bitterly cold day in January when archaeologist René Joffroy and his team begin to dig. They labor in a barren wheat field near Vix at the foot of a hill commanding a view of the Seine. Joffroy has long surmised that the bulging earth in the fields below Mont Lassois might conceal an ancient burial ground. Recently, Maurice Moisson, a local farmer and the team's foreman, turned up large fragments of limestone from a distant quarry. The archeologist knows the time has come time to begin excavations.

  From their hilltop fortress on Mont Lassois, the Celtic rix, or chieftains, controlled one of the great trade routes of the ancient world. From Cornwall, in Britain, to Mediterranean ports, tin and copper to be smelted into bronze was transported to Etruscans and Greeks, salt exchanged for amphorae of wine and oil, furs and Baltic amber traded for Mediterranean coral.

  So far the team has uncovered an area forty-two meters in diameter and about thirteen meters high. In its center they find evidence of a square chamber dug out some six meters below the surface. Wooden planks, like shutters, enclose what Joffroy suspects is a tomb. Its roof, once supported by wood beams and spread with layers of stones, has collapsed, perhaps centuries ago.

  As the team clears rubble and earth from the north corner of the tumulus, Joffroy’s expert eye catches the distinct gray-green patina of ancient bronze. His heart pounds and for a brief moment he cannot move. Then, his hands trembling, he painstakingly brushes earth from an elaborate volute handle shaped like the bust of a fierce, tongue-gaping gorgon. As the men continue to dig, they find that the handle is attached to what appears to be an immense bronze krater, a vessel used for the mixing of wine in ceremonial rituals. Centered on the lid of the krater is a small sculpture, a Kore, her head covered by a mantle. Joffroy knows that this great krater, the cauldron of plenty, was a symbol of immortality for the Hallstatt Celts who once inhabited this territory in the sixth century, B.C.

  Soon the team makes yet another startling find, the remains of a woman about thirty years old reposing in a bier, a charrette, a wooden cart. Four large bronze-fitted wheels have been removed from the cart and placed along the wall of the burial chamber.

  Although the skull is no longer attached to the skeleton, a golden diadem remains fixed on its brow. Scattered about are necklaces of amber and hardstone beads, shale and bronze bracelets, bronze anklets and several brooches, some studded with coral. Amidst the rubble, Joffroy also finds a silver and gold phial, two Attic bowls, one plain, glazed black with a lid. A Greek kylix, black-figured on a red background, is painted with scenes of a battle between Amazons and Greek hoplites, a motif Joffroy knows was popular in the Scythian colonies around the Black Sea. The Greek ceramics date the tomb to the end of the 6th century, around 500-510 B.C. He finds no indications that the tomb has ever been looted.

  The archaeologist recognizes the krater’s craftsmanship as Southern Italian, perhaps from Taranto, Puglia on the Adriatic, an ancient colony of Magna Graecia , MegáleēHellás, Greater Greece. This massive krater has made a long, probably difficult journey to the oppidum on Mont Lassois, at last ending its journey in the earth of Vix.

  The team is exuberant, but René Joffroy remains subdued, sensing that he is poised at the brink of an astonishing discovery, perhaps the culmination of his career, his own bid for` immortality. He stands in wonder as he ponders la Dame de Vix, obviously a woman of great importance. Who was she? Princess or priestess? Or was she queen?


  July 13. Venice. 2007

  The wedding in Venice has been planned more than a year in advance so there is no way Giovanni di Serlo can get out of going. Of course he has to be there. His conscience wouldn’t have it otherwise. His cousin, Allegra Bona Dea, a lawyer for an American firm in Rome, is to marry Jonathan Evans, an investment banker from New York.

  On the fifteenth of July, family and friends will gather in the ancient church of San Pietro di Castello on the city’s easternmost point, the “tail” of the dolphin-shaped island that is Venice. In Italy it’s often said that at weddings unmarried men--and probably women as well--hope to find the mates they have been destined for. As Giovanni scans the guest list, one name attracts him, but he chides himself for romanticizing. Still, he has to keep an open mind. What could be worse than meeting the very one and not recognizing her?

  It’s late Friday afternoon when he arrives in Venice from Puglia where he’s been working on a dig. After parking his car in the garage at Piazzale Roma, he takes the vaporetto to the San Marco pontile for his appointment at the Biblioteca Marciana. When he leaves the library, a storm is blowing over the Adriatic, warm summer rain beating down hard: the sea has become so rough that the traghetto has stopped ferrying passengers across to the Dorsoduro side of the Grand Canal where he lives. Rather than walk to the Accademia Bridge to cross, he decides to stop by the Hotel Desdemona for a drink. Walking into the bar, he notices a woman reading a newspaper at a corner table. By its size and distinct clotted-cream colored paper, he recognizes it as the English version of Il Giornale dell’Arte, The Art Newspaper.

  The woman turns the page then glances up, meets his eyes, and stares at him almost brazenly. She looks to be in her early thirties and has a face that he remembers from somewhere. Certainly not what one would call a pretty face, but, with a bit of imagination and the right makeup, she might be described as a belle laide.

  He moves to the bar and orders a vodka martini, then finds a place in the opposite corner of the room where he sits, with only his profile facing her. He can feel her eyes as he opens the newest issue of Epoca he’s pulled out from the pocket of his raincoat. As the bartender mixes his drink, Giovanni turns page after page mindlessly until he hears footsteps approaching his table.

  “Buona sera,” she murmurs in a pleasing, well accented Italian.

  He looks up and nods, mumbling a greeting sotto voce.

  “May I ask if she is English?” he asks in the most formal Italian.

  “I’m American. My name is Bianca. Bianca Evans Caldwell.”

  “So you are Bianca Caldwell!” he blurts out, trying to hide his disappointment. “I saw your name on
the wedding guest list and intended giving you a ring at the Danieli. My name is Giovanni de Serlo.” When he offers his hand, he is surprised that hers is soft as kidskin. “Please join me,” he mutters, pulling out a chair for her.

  “And I noticed your name on the guest list,” she responds, “and wondered if you might somehow be related to the Evans clan.”

  “No, I’m related to the bride, the Bona Dea side. Please--why don’t you join me for a drink," he says, hoping he doesn’t sound as reluctant as he feels.

  She sits down primly, her back straight against the cushion.

  “Are you staying here at the Hotel Desdemona?” he asks.

  “Yes, I always stay here when I come to Venice.”

  “I’d have thought you’d be staying at the Danieli with the rest of the out of town crowd.”

  “I prefer to stay closer to the Accademia. I spend a lot of time there looking at paintings. My work often takes me to Venice, but these past few months I’ve been spending much of my free time in France—in Burgundy, to be specific.” Her voice is softer, more feminine than he would have expected.

  He takes a good look. Her unruly dark hair falls below her shoulders. Her skin is pale as sun-bleached ivory, her nose slightly aquiline, her eyes without guile.

  Trying his best to converse, he goes on, “When I looked over the guest list I recognized your name immediately. Did you know that your great grandmother and mine were good friends? I have a photograph of the two of them in Venice. If you’d like to see it, please come by my apartment and I’ll show it to you.”

  She hesitates, but only briefly. “It would make me very happy to see the photo.”

  He tries not to stare at her scuffed, down-at-heel loafers, the shabby, overstuffed handbag on her lap.

  “I remember that the guest list said you were from Baltimore.”

  “Now New York, but my family is from Baltimore. I’ve lived in a lot of places but Baltimore was my home before I took a job at Occhi e Anima, the art journal. Mostly I cover auction sales, but sometimes my boss has me write vignettes about ancient objects and their use in ritual. My pen name is Bianca Fiore.”

  He feels dismay and shock. No wonder she looks so familiar! He’d seen her picture, obviously photo-shopped, in the magazine. “I’m a great fan of yours,” he says, not quite meaning it. Well, he thinks, at least we’ll have something to talk about. He pulls a business card out of his wallet and offers it to her.

  Giovanni de Serlo, Professor of Archaeology, University of Lecce.

  “Where are you working now?” she asks after reading the card. “Archaeology has become a passion of mine.”

  “At the moment I’m digging in Puglia—not far from Vieste, but I have a family place here in Venice so from time to time I come to stay for a few days. .I’m sure this isn’t your first trip to Venice.”

  “It was many years ago when I was a child. We spent two weeks here.”

  “'And what did you think of Venice when you saw it then?” he asks, expecting the usual raves.

  “I hated it. But I was only eleven. Of course I love it now.” She smiles broadly.

  Well, at least she’s honest, he thinks. Her smile is warm, genuine. Hers are American teeth, Hollywood teeth, white and straight.

  “I’m glad you’ve changed your mind about our city—but you’re not the first person to hate Venice, you know. D.H. Lawrence, for one. He called it a ‘green and slimy place.’ “

  For a moment, there is an awkward silence. “You’re a talented woman.” he finds himself saying “There aren’t many people who can write about symbols and objects the way you do. Imaginative intuition is a great gift—to see far beyond what meets the eye. You are indeed the ‘eyes and soul’ of your magazine.” He pauses, uncertain of what to say next. She looks as though she is disappointed so he hurries on. “In the May issue I particularly liked your article on the origins of the bucrania motif in art and architecture. The connection of the volcano with the origin of the gorgon was fascinating.” He hopes his fib sounds convincing.

  “I’m flattered. You obviously read my articles. And maybe even between the lines,” she murmurs cryptically.

  "Can you join me for a coffee at Florian's tomorrow morning?"

  “I intend to be on the Piazza promptly at 9:30—for reasons of my own,” she replies, her sloe eyes turning away from his.

  “If I come by at nine, we can at least walk there together.”

  “I’ll most likely be gone by then. But you can always try.” She shrugs her shoulders as though she doesn’t give a damn if she ever sets eyes on him again— all the while blushing furiously.

  She stands up to leave. Beneath the shapeless black tunic and baggy trousers, her body seems lithe, slender, her braless breasts high as a maiden’s. But her face has the gaunt look of a woman who spends too much time on introspection. And her hair! Thick hair that seems to leap out from her head like Medusa's snakes. Someone should give her advice on grooming, dressing, presenting herself to others.

  They shake hands and he leaves her standing there, but feels those eyes boring through his back as he walks away and turns into the calle towards Campo Santo Stefano. Then bounding up the Accademia Bridge two steps at a time, he crosses the Grand Canal to Dorsoduro and walks briskly to Palazzo Bona Dea.

  In the androne, he stops to admire his newly restored gondola just returned yesterday from the workshop at San Trovaso where it has been for the past six months. Now it is even blacker, sleek and slick, its forcula rubbed with wax, the seahorse brasses gleaming.

  He takes the lift-for-two up to the fourth floor and, after rustling through letters and magazines, reaches for his telefonino to cancel his dinner reservation. Guido was saving the best table for him, just in case. When he’d seen her name on the guest list, he’d thought about inviting Bianca Evans Caldwell to dinner—now, much to his disappointment, his plan is dashed by having met her.

  “The signorina isn’t feeling well tonight,” he explains, although explanation has never been his style. He admits that he is ashamed of himself for not wanting to take the poor girl to dinner, but spending an entire evening across from her is more than he could bear after the long, tiring drive from Puglia. Yes, he’d have to take Bianca Evans Caldwell aka Fiore one step at a time. And did he really want to be seen at the chic Monaco with a woman so badly, so shabbily dressed? Was he shallow like a lot of other Italian men, wanting always to make la bella figura—a good impression—walking in with a stunning woman on his arm? He picks up the photograph, one among many on the grand piano, to study the photo of his great grandmother Rose Alba with Nina Evans. No, Bianca is clearly not what he had in mind.

  He checks out the refrigerator for remnants of his last stay—a slab of bresaola, a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano, a box of stale breadsticks. He slices the dried beef thinly onto a plate ,then shaves parmesan curls over the top and dribbles it with the green, unfiltered extra virgine olive oil from Puglia.

  Perched on a stool at the black granite counter of his new high-tech stainless steel clad kitchen, he will eat his dinner alone. The room doesn’t comfort him. He picks up a forkful and puts it down. He thought he was hungry, but the food tastes like donkey straw. He is a cad. His reaction to Bianca has shocked him. He’d always believed that he valued intelligence, that compassion in a woman was more important than mere physical beauty.

  And not so long ago, he’d had a short but intense relationship with another American woman. When he first met her, he felt he’d come to the end of his search. He thought she was in love with him—and maybe she was— at least a little, but she went back home to California to her husband. He is still not quite over her, but after seeing Bianca’s name on the guest list, he had begun to think there might be some hope for him.

  Now that image of golden vagueness he’s been carrying around since childhood is giving way to feelings of shame and guilt. He snatches the pepper grinder, twists it with a vengeance, and then wolfs down everything on the plate.

>   He gets into bed, earlier than usual for him, and reaches for the new issue of The American Journal of Archaeology. Since his late father had helped in the discovery of the remains of the lost city of Sybaris, he is intrigued by a recent paper by Claude Rolley, the famous bronze expert, on the origins of the Vix Krater in Burgundy, which Rolley now claims to have been made in Sybaris. Then he remembers his conversation with Bianca about bucrania. He shuffles through the magazines on his bedside table until he finds Eyes and Soul and turns to the ritual page written by Bianca.


  Bucranium (plural bucrania) is the Greek word for the skull of an ox. It is also an architectural term used to describe a common form of carved decoration on Doric temples. It is generally considered to be a reference to the practice of garlanding sacrificial oxen, the heads of which were primitively displayed on the walls of the temples, a practice with a long history reaching back to the sophisticated Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in eastern Anatolia.

  A woman kneels before the altar facing the painting on the wall, head bowed in her hands.

  The bucrania, skulls and horns of oxen overlaid with white plaster, are placed as offerings on the altar and hang from the walls. Bucrania on the altar are draped with leopard skins. A stone statue of a woman with large breasts and ample vulva sits on the altar. Panthers, chained to rocks, guard her on either side.

  The kneeling woman prays to the creator and destroyer of life, imploring the mountain not to rage, spit fire and bellow smoke into the sky. Our people live in view of twin peaks called Fire Mountain. Once, when the Goddess was angry, smoke and ash clouded the sky.

  Glowing red milk, liquid fire like molten giant snakes, poured down her breasts and turned her people into stone. And when the sky turned night dark, the earth trembled and the mountain belched flames into the skies and caused the earth to part its thighs in fields where our people sowed wheat.

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