Days away from any moonlight, Jones and Webber started off cross country on the second night of their French adventure. The low light and rough terrain slowed them considerably. Trips and stumbles abounded. After midnight, they felt safe enough to use the roads.
“We will make much better time Mr. Jones, on ze roads.”
“And trip far less often,” Jones complained as he stumbled into the roadside ditch.
They picked up D 924 east of Saint-Jean-des-Champs. The long, straight road gave them plenty of warning of oncoming traffic. Only twice in 3 hours on the road did they have make a hurried entrance into the nearest hedgerow or field. They skirted Beauchamps to the north, running into pavement again and following it all the way to Villedieu-les-Poeles. Each time they had to go around a town, they had to avoid farms. Farms had dogs. Even in war time. As dawn approached they had to avoid farmers, as well. Early risers bringing in milk cows or horses to ready the journey into town. The pushed hard, arriving at the Forét domaniale de Saint-Sever as dawn was breaking. The forest allowed them to continue traveling for a time, the heavy cover and lack of traffic providing a safe area, at least for a time.
Weary from their forced march, they finally found a thick area off the road to rest in. Both ate in silence, and quickly fell asleep. Jones woke in early afternoon. He sat up, and listened for a long time. The forest was quiet, the sounds of life too distant to hear. He leaned back against a fallen tree trunk, and pulled his Fedora low.
He was awake again when Webber sat up, looked around, and then stood up.
“What time is it?” she whispered.
“Just before 1.”
“We should go. I need to make contact.”
“Now? Not after dark?”
“No. Now. We are an hour or so from the edge of the forest. Raymond Farm is just beyond.”
“From there to Vire?”
“Two hours on foot. Less if we can go by car or bicycle.”
“Five hours or more? I don’t like it.”
“It is ze only way. I can blend in.”
“Your sister is in Vire?”
“Or someplace close.”
“Hopefully she has information we can use.”
“Oui. What should I ask her?”
“About extra workers in the area. Diggers. Maybe an earthmover. People who don’t belong here.”
“I was thinking, maybe, local legends?”
“You didn’t grow up here?”
“No. But Bernadette has been here for over a year now.”
“Yes, ask her about any legends or burial myths. I have been thinking about possible hiding places for something like this. It didn’t originate here, so it must have come well after. Why? Maybe with a returning crusader? It could be buried with them or a descendant. Or, hidden in or near a church.”
“So many possibilities. How will we ever find it?”
“Yes. They are many places. But, I feel confident it is probably a burial item.”
“No one would know.”
“Exactly. No one knows what is in a casket.”
“Then how did ze Germans find out it was nearby?”
“A diary. Or a letter. Something left somewhere else telling what was planned, or what occurred. Maybe it was just a phrase in some other work. Something like ‘René or Vire carried the blade of legend home. It rests with him still.’ It doesn’t mean much, unless you are looking for something in particular.”
“That phrase makes no reference to Durandal.”
“It isn’t supposed to. It is cryptic to keep treasure seekers looking.”
“So, you are a treasure seeker?”
Jones was silent for a long time. Webber was about to ask again when he finally spoke.
“In some ways, yes. I recover lost treasure sop the world can see and enjoy them. To protect them. To keep them from disappearing into private collections.”
“Hmm. I see.” Her tone said she did not.
“The wealthy and powerful like to horde things of antiquity, and of beauty. I try and beat the other treasure hunters. We will need to look at parish records.”
“Look at what?”
“Ah, church records. Why?”
“Death and burial records.”
“That could take weeks!” Webber looked over with a startled expression.
“No. We only have to search a few hundred years. In that time many burials were not in church yards. Any reference to a knight or crusader, or nobleman should be easy to pick out. With any luck the parish register may know what we are looking for.”
“Would a genealogist or heraldry expert be of assistance?”
“Is Vire big enough to have either?”
“I do not know, but I will ask if it will help.”
“Possibly. Ask. They might know something that could help.”
“Are you hopeful we will beat the Nazis, Mr. Jones?”
“Please, Mr. Jones is my father. Call me Indiana.”
“Indiana, do you really believe you can find the sword and escape ze Germans? And you may call me Elle.”
“Of course. I’m not insane. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t feel confident we can pull this off.”
“Such optimism. All you Americans are the optimists.”
“We win a lot. And you Europeans keep asking for help when the Jerries come.”
Laughing, Webber stood. “Well then, we should get to Monsieur Raymond’s farm Mr. Optimism.”
“You’re the boss, doll. Er, Elle.”
Webber shook her head, always with the ‘doll’. Who was this Indiana Jones?
Jones sighed. Absentmindedly carving on a small branch, he tossed the crude carving aside and stood again to peer out of the brush. There wasn’t much activity on the farm closest to the forest. There were enough trees and hedges, though, to block much of his view. He could see her enter the farmhouse, but never saw her leave. He watched the two farms for a few minutes, then went and flopped down again. He picked up another branch and attacked it with his knife, shaving the bark off. Several minutes later he rose, and repeated his stand and scan, before sitting in the leaf litter and undergrowth.
He repeated the steps over and over, his patience stretching as time passed. One hour became two. Two became four. Even though he knew that was the minimum time to travel to and from Vire, he still was agitated and restless. Five hours passed, and still no Webber. He ate his supper and tried to nap. He paced. He sat. Nothing. No Webber. No trucks full of Germans either, he had to admit.
Another hour passed and Jones jerked awake. He looked around slowly, listening to the quiet forest. A quick glance at his watch told him he had only been asleep twenty minutes. Satisfied nothing had changed, he stood and stretched. Moving to the edge of the forest, he looked beyond for the hundredth time this evening. The fading light limited what he could see. Few lights burned in the farms.
Settling back down for another night in the open, he nibbled a D ration bar and sipped from his canteen. Bored. Frustrated.
Thirty minutes passed and he heard a rustle, or disturbed brush, from the direction they had arrived from. It was close. Crouching behind the log he had been leaning against, Jones slipped his revolver free of its holster. He slowly cocked the hammer, willing the metal on metal sound to be as quiet as possible. His other hand loosened the cord holding his bullwhip, a slight nudge and the coiled leather fell free, handle gripped loosely.
Another rustle. Then the sound of a branch breaking. Probably stepped on.
Someone was approaching. Slowly. Jones had moved from the spot where Webber left from earlier. One more precaution to ensure his safety. He was close enough to observe that area, but concealed from immediate view. If someone was looking for him, he held the upper hand.
The sounds of movement became louder as the person or persons moved closer. Most likely one person. Moving carefully, but not an expert at field craft and stealthy movement. He caught a flash of movement. A flash of dark in the dim forest. Brown cloth? Too quick to identify. Jones shifted to settle lower behind the fallen tree, his legs under his body, ready to spring out or stand quickly. Closer. Another flash of brown. A red brown. Webber was wearing a leather flight jacket. Moments later, a brunette stepped into the clearing he had been in early, looking around in the dark.
“Jones?” she called in a hushed voice. “Indiana? Where are you?”
Releasing the hammer, Jones stood and called out.
“Webber. I’m here.”
Elle Webber jumped when he spoke. Turning towards the sound of his voice, relief was evident on her pretty features.
“You didn’t come from the farm.”
“Touché. I did not want to draw attention coming and going to the same place.”
“In the dark?”
“Perhaps. But how do you say it? Better safe than unhappy. And, I brought bicycles. They are hidden near the road north of here.”
“Why are you sorry?” Webber looked confused.
“The phrase is ‘better safe than sorry.’”
“The bicycles were a good idea. That will shorten our trip into Vire.”
Approaching Webber, Jones holstered his pistol.
“Shoot, or whip?” she asked.
“Do I want to kill you? Or catch you?”
“I am glad it was neither.”
“Me too. Your contact?”
“Oh. Yes. I am sorry it took so long. Travel is so hard with ze Germans everywhere. But they are not out at night so much. There have been attacks, I was told. We are safe to travel all the way to Vire.”
“Oui. Someone, or some thing has killed Germans in the night. It is not the Maquis. But the Germans are scared, which is good.”
“And your contact?”
“Yes. Sorry. It took me some time to get to Vire. And more time for them to find Bernadette. Then she took me to the college. We are in luck Mr. Jones.”
“Luck? How so?”
“The college has a department of medieval literature. I met with the department head.”
“He has been questioned extensively by the Germans about the sword.”
“They are here already. I had hoped we would beat them here. That changes things. Did he tell them anything?”
“Yes. He told them that his research has lead him to believe the Vire spoken of in the sword legend is actually Vire-Su-Mont, not the modern town of Vire.”
“Where is that?
“300 kilometers south of here.”
Jones whistled and pulled his Fedora off. “300 kilometers in occupied France.”
“Then it is good that we do not need to go so far.”
“Why not?” Jones looked up.
“He lied.” They spoke simultaneously. Jones smiled and Webber laughed.
“They’re looking in the wrong place.” Jones’ smile broadened.
“Yes. He told them it was not here.”
“Did they buy it?”
“Buy it? Buy what?”
“Did they believe him?”
Beaming, Webber nodded. “The whole team left the next day. They have been in Vire-Su-Mont ever since.”
“The professor knows something.”
“Yes, he does. The history of the sword has been a hobby of his for many years. He believes he knows where it is located.”
“Will he tell us?”
“Better. He will take us to it. Tonight.”
“Do you trust him?”
“No. But he has no love for ze Nazis. And he did lie to them once already.”
“Did you happen to mention that if we find the sword we are taking it out of France?”
“I did. For safe keeping. It will be returned once the Germans are gone. It will be, yes? I told him it would be returned.”
“It is a piece of French history. I would assume so.”
“Look, I don’t get to decide what happens after I find an artifact. I just find them.”
“If he asks…”
“I will tell him is to be returned.”
Nodding, then smiling, Webber unbuttoned her jacket and slipped it off.
“It will be a very long night.”
“Then we should get some rest.”
“Oui. We meet our guide at ten. At a house just outside Vire.”
“A guide? Not the professor?”
“No Mr. Jones, a 69 year-old man is not up for late night strolls.”
“I suppose not.”
“Oh. I have something,” Webber said as she unslung a satchel. “Bread and cheese. And a sausage. Freshly made. Much better than stale chocolate or cans of, what do you call it?”
“Yes, much better than that.” She broke a hunk of bred off and handed it to Jones. “Do you have a knife?”
“Do Boy Scouts tie knots?”
Nothing. A joke. Yes, I have a knife.” Jones slipped his folding knife out and opened a blade, handing it to Webber.
She sliced a piece of cheese from the small block and handed it to Jones. “Good French bread. And rich French cheese. Better than what the British have. Mmm, merveilleux!” she sighed as she took a bite.
Jones looked at the pale yellow cheese before taking a bite. Savoring the rich, soft cheese he closed his eyes and sighed also.
“Wow. This is fantastic,” he mouthed between bites. “What is this?” he asked before finishing the piece.
“It is. This is one of my favorites.” Webber sliced two more pieces, one for each of them.
“Any chance you brought a bottle of wine?” Jones joked.
“We are in France, Mr. Jones!” Webber smiled as she produced a wicker wrapped bottle. “I even brought cups,” she added before producing two small glass cups.
They ate in silence. Soft clinking of glass on glass as Webber refilled their glasses. Birds and scurrying animals the only other sounds. When they finished Jones rolled his jacket into a pillow and lay back, setting his fedora on his face.
“Remind me to visit France more often” he said, contentment in his voice. In minutes his breathing was deep and regular, and he was asleep. Webber lay awake a few minutes longer, the excitement of the day buzzing in her mind. Finally she closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.
Knowing that the night would be full of danger and possibilities.