Today, April 12th 2016, is the publication day of The Age of Treachery by Gavin Scott. Published by Titan, The Age of Treachery is available in e-book and paperback from Amazon, Titan, Waterstones and all good bookshops. To celebrate publication day, I have an extract to whet your appetite for this first book in the Duncan Forrester Mysteries.
The Age of Treachery
It is the winter of 1946, and after years of war, ex-Special Operations Executive agent Duncan Forrester is back at his Oxford college as a junior Ancient History Fellow. But his peace is shattered when a hated colleague is found dead: stabbed and pushed from an upper window.
One of Forrester’s closest friends is arrested for the murder, but Forrester is not convinced of his guilt; the dead man had many enemies, and there are rumours that he was in possession of a mysterious Viking manuscript. A manuscript that may have been owned by a German spy…
Travelling from Oxford to bombed-out Berlin and to the fjords of Norway in his search for the truth, Forrester must use all his wartime skills to find the true killer.
“A wonderful book that opens so many intriguing doors into Britain’s recent past.”
TERRY JONES (Monty Python)
An extract from The Age of Treachery
By the time those who had agreed to attend the Icelandic reading crunched through the snow across the inner quadrangle to the Master’s Lodge, clouds were scudding across the moon. As well as Haraldson, Calthrop and Dorfmann there was a mix of Barnard Fellows, and wives and dons from other colleges. David Lyall, Forrester noted with relief, had decided to absent himself.
Inside the Lodge, a minstrels’ gallery ran around the upper part of the large drawing room and carved beams like those in the Hall ran across the high ceiling. There were gently worn Turkish rugs on the floor and a crackling fire in the grate. Lady Hilary, the Master’s wife, was supervising two tall young men as they shifted furniture for the new arrivals. Lady Hilary was a tall, slightly awkward woman who Forrester suspected was not quite comfortable in her skin. He liked her, but he was not sure she liked herself.
“I want you to meet Hakon and Oskar,” said Lady Hilary, introducing her two assistants. “The Master specially asked them to join us this evening because they’re from Iceland.”
“And children in Iceland learn the sagas at their mother’s knee,” said the Master genially. “In the absence of Professor Tolkien they will gently correct us if we get our Old Norse pronunciation wrong.”
Hakon and Oskar shook their heads. “No, no, we are engineers,” said Hakon. “It is many years since we read the sagas. But as this is our last night in England, we offer to do our best.” Haraldson said a few words to the boys in Norwegian and they laughed. With Lyall gone, he seemed to have regained his good humour.
“You understand it is because of the ancestors of these young men that the Eddas and the sagas exist,” he said to the rest of the company. “The stories and poems were first created in Norway and other parts of Scandinavia, but they were not written down. When Norwegians went in search of new land—”
“Rather like the settlers in the American west,” said the Master.
“Very much like that,” said Haraldson. “They took the sagas with them to their new home in Iceland. When they became literate, they wrote them down, which is how the sagas survived.”
“In short,” said the Master to the Icelanders, “your ancestors preserved Viking culture when it would otherwise have been lost.” He turned to his wife. “And everything is perfectly arranged, my dear. Thank you.” As the audience settled itself, he addressed the room. “The work we’re going to read tonight, the ‘Völuspá’, is one of the most important poems in the canon. Hakon, Oskar, Professor Haraldson and I will take it in turns to do the reading from the minstrels’ gallery. The acoustics are splendid and when I’ve turned the lights down to help you, imagine you’re listening to genuine Norse bards declaiming from the depths of time.”
Then he ushered the readers through a small door that led to the stairs. Moments later tiny reading lights came on up there and they heard his voice again, speaking from the shadows of the gallery above. As he had promised, the acoustics were perfect, and it sounded to Forrester, as it always did, as if the readers were right beside him.
“In the passage you’re about to hear,” said Winters, “Odin, chief of the gods, bids a certain wise-woman to rise from the grave. She then tells him of the creation of the world, the beginning of years, the origin of the dwarfs. She describes the final destruction of the gods in which fire and flood overwhelm heaven and earth, using a phrase ‘ragna rök’, meaning ‘the fate of the gods’, which has become synonymous with the German word ‘Götterdämmerung’.”
“A subject about which we Germans know all too much,” said Dorfmann wryly. Calthrop frowned, and the reading began.
“I saw there wading through rivers wild,” declaimed Haraldson, sounding like a Viking chief booming down a fjord.
Treacherous men and murderers too,
And workers of ill with the wives of men;
There Nithhogg sucked the blood of the slain, And the wolf tore men; would you know yet more?
“The phrase ‘Would you know yet more?’ is uttered by the wise-woman,” said the Master. “She is asking Odin if he really wants to hear what is about to befall.”
The giantess old in Ironwood sat,
In the east, and bore the brood of Fenrir;
Among these one in monster’s guise
Was soon to steal the sun from the sky.
There was a rustle of pages as Haraldson handed the book on to the next reader.
There feeds he full on the flesh of the dead,
And the home of the gods he reddens with gore;
Dark grows the sun, and in summer soon
Come mighty storms: would you know yet more?
On a hill there sat, and smote on his harp,
Eggther the joyous, the giants’ warder;
Above him the cock in the bird-wood crowed,
Fair and red did Fjalar stand.
Again the reader changed, but by then the audience was scarcely noticing: through the magic of the incantatory words, combined with the darkness and the firelight, they found themselves transported back to a world where gods roamed the earth and dwarves delved in its depths.
Involuntarily, Forrester’s thoughts went back to what Lyall had said about the Nazi obsession with Norse mythology, and the role the sinister, Nordic-obsessed Thule Society had played in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. But he knew all this was a perversion of the ancient beliefs: the product of warped minds, with no connection to reality. Except when you listened to a Viking saga being recited in the darkness.
Then to the gods crowed Gollinkambi,
He wakes the heroes in Othin’s hall;
And beneath the earth does another crow,
The rust-red bird at the bars of Hel.
Now Garm howls loud before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, and the wolf run free;
Much do I know, and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, the mighty in fight.
A new reader began: one of the young Icelanders.
Brothers shall fight and fell each other,
And sisters’ sons shall kinship stain;
Hard is it on earth, with mighty whoredom;
Axe-time, sword-time, shields are sundered,
Wind-time, wolf-time, ere the world falls;
Nor ever shall men each other spare.
He paused – and as he paused there was a sharp sound of glass breaking from somewhere outside the Lodge. Lady Hilary looked up, puzzled, then walked over to the window, pulled aside the curtain and peered out. Forrester heard her sharply indrawn breath.
“Michael,” Lady Hilary called up to the gallery. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but something strange has happened outside. I think you should come and look.” Her voice was oddly flat, as if she couldn’t quite put strong emotions into words. Moments later Forrester and the other guests were all crowded around the window, peering out into the quadrangle. The only light came from the moon, still partially obscured by clouds, but against the whiteness of the snow it was perfectly clear what Lady Hilary was looking at.
Below a broken window on the second floor a body lay spread-eagled in the snow.
About Gavin Scott
Gavin Scott is a British Hollywood screenwriter who spent twenty years as a radio and television reporter for BBC and ITN, and has worked in film and television with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. His films include Small Soldiers and The Borrowers; among his television series are The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and War and Peace: his next project is Dunkirk for Working Title. He lives in California.