Lord Maxwell's Quest - Prologue


Prologue

1815, Jerusalem


Shadows shifted within the chamber as Miss Rosemary Fairview quietly moved about, careful not to block what little light that filtered into the room from the setting moon. Her maid, Bess, slumbered on a pallet against the far wall. Her gentle snores the only sound filling the silence. Rosemary didn’t dare light a lamp for fear of waking Bess, as her maid would first try to stop Rosemary, and when that was unsuccessful, insist on accompanying her, along with the two guards her parents had hired for protection.

Rosemary didn’t want them about. Further, she didn’t need them. Time was of the essence, and they’d only slow her down.

She must beat Max.

Not that Rosemary knew for certain that he was in the city, but she had a feeling he was near. She could almost sense his presence.

Whenever she was on the trail of a discovered antiquity, Max usually was not far behind or ahead of her. It had become somewhat of a competition of who would reach the desired item first, with Max winning more times than not, and she was determined that he’d not best her this time.

After locating the light brown scarf, Rosemary paused only long enough to wrap it around her head and then retrieved her satchel and slung it over her shoulder so that it crossed her body before slipping out the window and onto the flat roof. It was brighter out here, for the moon was almost gone, and the sun had broken the horizon.

Her once yellow, now stained nankeen boots whispered against the stone as she rushed to the ledge. There she grasped her dark, linen skirts, bunching them as she climbed over and dropped down to the next roof. Landing solidly, her knees still bent, Rosemary paused to make certain that she’d not alerted anyone to her presence, even though her movements had been nearly silent.

Hurrying to the opposite ledge, she paused to glance down to the darkened, narrow street to make certain no one was about. Then she grasped the rough, wooden ladder, gathered her skirt again, and descended. Once her feet reached the cobbled streets, she shook out her clothing and made certain her scarf still covered her head. While keeping to the shadows, she rushed toward the market.

She knew the way by heart, having traveled it several times this past sennight, and as she drew close to the square, the cacophony of voices and wheels upon the streets grew louder as the merchants prepared for the day.

Rosemary stopped just at the corner to study the various carts, wagons, booths, and open storefronts, looking for Amasa.

She’d nearly begun to believe that the rumors of an ancient scroll had been false and almost given up looking when she’d finally located the family of the goat herder yesterday. His family sold cheese in the market, and she’d taken a chance and inquired. Amasa promised to bring the scroll after she’d agreed to his price. However, she’d not hand over any money until she’d inspected it to make certain it wasn’t a replica produced to fool collectors.

She’d not come to Jerusalem for the scroll, but simply to take in the ancient city, experience the cultures of different faiths within the walls, and absorb the history. It was on her second day in Jerusalem when Rosemary first heard the whispered rumors and set out to find the scroll.

After glancing about to make certain Max was not in the vicinity, Rosemary hurried forward to greet Amasa. He also looked about, as if he were suspicious, before he took her by the elbow and moved into a darkened shop. There, he lit a lamp and set it on the counter along with a clay pot from which he withdrew the scroll. Rosemary carefully unfurled the fragile papyrus and pulled the light closer so that she could better inspect the document, irritated with herself for having left her magnifier behind in her rush to leave.

If this were counterfeit, the forger was the best she’d ever come across because it was near impossible to replicate the fragile paper and faded ink, almost too difficult to read in sections. Not that she could translate what was written, but she did recognize it as either Aramaic or Hebrew.

“It is sufficient?” Amasa asked.

Rosemary nodded. It was more than sufficient, more than she dreamed when she’d first heard the rumors. “Are there more?”

“No, Miss.” He shook his head. “My brother found this by accident chasing a goat.”

“Was it just lying around?” If that was to be his claim, then Rosemary would walk away. It was impossible for documents that appeared to be centuries old to still be in this condition if it had simply been sitting somewhere waiting to be found.

“In this pot.” He rested his hand on the stained clay. “It was in a cave.”

Her heart skipped. If there was one, could there be more?

“It was lodged within the rocks.”

“Are you certain there are no others?”

“I’m certain,” he assured her. “I searched the cave and the area myself. This is all.”


***


When Lord Maxwell Trent learned that Rosemary had traveled to Jerusalem, his interest had been piqued. He’d not heard rumors of new antiquities being located, but he couldn’t fathom any other reason for her to visit the ancient city. Given the age and history alone, he was certain she’d made a discovery and Max was determined to find out exactly what Rosemary sought.

It took him three days to locate her, though he didn’t alert her to his presence, and he didn’t discover why she was there until he overheard a whispered discussion of an ancient scroll while he dined in a café. As Rosemary had had more time to gather information, Max decided to follow her instead of searching.

It wasn’t well done of him, but why should he retrace her steps if she’d gained nothing from the encounters? Besides, he knew well enough that any man would converse with a beautiful woman, share secrets even, before they’d ever trust an English gentleman. He’d seen it happen many times before and often witnessed Rosemary glean a fountain of information from unsuspecting men—the very men who were reluctant to give Max simple directions.

He also knew that she’d find the scroll before he would. She’d had days of gathering information, and she might obtain it before he caught up to learning what knowledge she’d already possessed, but he remained because he wanted to know for certain.

It appeared that Rosemary’s favorite place to stroll was through the marketplace, and she often spent more time than necessary speaking with the merchants. There were several, and he was certain she was making inquiries of each, as he would do, until she found someone with information she sought, or possibly even the scroll. All the while, Max had stayed in the shadows, waiting, and watching, letting her investigate, and he’d follow.

Max had begun to believe that the scroll didn’t exist, as in any other circumstance Rosemary would have located the item within a few days yet she’d been here at least a sennight. That all changed yesterday. He recognized the hint of success in her slight smile as she left the marketplace. Chin up, spine straight, and a gleam in her brown eyes. The only knowledge he lacked was which merchant had provided her with answers. The area was crowded, and he’d lost sight of her several times because her covered head looked no different from the other women similarly clothed and covered. He had no idea who she’d talked to by the time she had emerged from the crowd, her maid close on her heels followed by her guards.

The only proof Max had that she’d not yet obtained the scroll was because of the bag that was always worn across her body. Had it contained anything of value, Rosemary would have kept a protective hand over it until she was away from the crowds and secure in her chambers. He’d seen her do so often enough, and Max was certain that Rosemary didn’t even realize she gave so much away.

As she’d not yet obtained the scroll, he followed and kept an eye on her just in case she did return to the market or was directed somewhere else. That was also when he had spied Oswald Rylan and three of his henchmen scanning the market. Nothing was ever peaceful when Rylan and his men were about.

Max had encountered them in the past, and so had Rosemary. Rylan and his men worked for an Englishman, Mr. Otto Fernsby, who coveted antiquities for his ill-gotten collection and used any and every means necessary to obtain them, except offer actual payment. He was a recluse that never left his estate, and Max got the impression that he was unable to do so and pictured a feeble old man in his mind. Neither Max nor Rosemary had ever met Fernsby, nor did they care to. Besides, an introduction would require that they travel to England, and what little knowledge they had of Fernsby was enough. However, Rylan and his men were not to be trifled with, and Max had at least one scar reminding him of an earlier confrontation. So far, Rosemary had remained unscathed from her encounters, but that didn’t mean Max trusted Rylan not to hurt her if she had something his employer demanded.

Since spotting them, Max quietly followed Rosemary while also watching his back for Rylan or one of his men. After she entered an inn without incident, he returned to the market where he’d spent the remainder of the day and early evening watching Rylan and his men to make certain they didn’t find Rosemary. He knew that it was possible that she might leave her lodgings if she’d been given information on where the scroll was located and he’d not know, therefore, he might not have the chance to view it himself. However, it was far more important to know where Rylan and his men were, for her safety and his, than to follow Rosemary, and he hoped Rylan didn’t notice.

The next morning, Max rose early and returned to the market to wait, hoping that Rosemary returned. If she didn’t, he’d go to the inn where she was staying and ask what she had learned of the scroll and to also warn her of Rylan being in Jerusalem.

The sun had barely broken the horizon when she emerged from a narrow street and approached a vendor then disappeared into a shop. He also watched for Rylan because if Max had discovered her whereabouts, it was possible that Rylan had too.

It wasn’t long before Rosemary emerged and adjusted her scarf. Then while wearing a secretive smile, she placed a protective hand over her bag.

The scroll was real, and now in her possession.

Max pulled himself from the shadows and approached. At first her brown eyes widened with surprise, right before her smile burst.

“It is real?” he asked.

“Yes.” She patted her bag. It was a ridiculous bag, larger than anything that he’d ever seen a woman carry, or a man for that matter, and made up of pieces of linen, cotton, and leather sewn together haphazardly, with a long strap, and he suspected she’d sewn it herself from random materials that she’d found. She called it a satchel, to him it was a bag that she could carry across her body, anchored on one shoulder making it more difficult to take, and suited her purpose for carrying relics. “May I have the honor of inspecting it?”

She bit the bottom corner of her lip and glanced about, as if she were concerned. “Not here. In my set of rooms.”

This wasn’t unusual as they were always careful not to reveal antiquities in public venues where they might be noticed. The first time they’d met as such was in Rosemary’s chamber when they were in Baghdad. They’d originally been there for the Babylon excavation, but soon turned their attention to search of an antiquity reportedly stolen. It had started as a wager. Rosemary had insisted she could find it and thus earn the reward, and Max had asserted it would be him. She’d beaten him to the prize in Baghdad as well, and thus earned the financial reward offered by the owner. But before she returned it, she’d invited Max to inspect it with her. They’d both been so fixated on studying the golden chalice that they’d not even considered the impropriety of being alone in her chamber until Bess had walked in on them, then scolded and reminded Rosemary that had they been in London, Rosemary’s reputation would have been ruined beyond repair. As they were rarely in England, they were confident that nobody would ever learn of these meetings.

There had been many competitions since, whether verbalized or not, such as the discovered ancient scroll. When on the hunt, chasing an antiquity, the two were rivals and often bickered when encountering the other. Yet, once one of them had the item in their possession, the competition disappeared and they took time together, studying and admiring the find, before it needed to be returned to the rightful owner, such as they’d do once they reached her set of rooms.

It was the oddest of friendships if that is what one could call their relationship. Competitors one moment, then near colleagues when one achieved their shared goal and purpose: to honor history and not let it be damaged, destroyed, or stolen. And no matter how much she irritated Max, he did admire Rosemary and liked her very much.

At one time he’d considered that perhaps they might join forces and become partners instead of always competing, but usually dismissed the idea because she’d not take direction from him, nor he from her, and they’d probably argue more as partners than they did now. For one, she would not accept that she was far more vulnerable to danger than he was based on the simple fact that she was a woman. It didn’t matter that she usually had two burly guards following her, because they couldn’t always protect her. Such as this morning. They were nowhere to be found and had Rylan come across her, it was likely she’d have been overpowered, and possibly hurt as they relieved her of the scroll.

It would drive him to madness worrying about her safety, and that was an aggravation Max did not need in his life.

The two hurried through the narrow, crooked streets of Jerusalem while Max also kept a lookout for Rylan or one of his men until Rosemary rounded a corner and paused at a ladder. After she hiked the front of her skirts and tucked them into her waist, she began to climb. Max followed but stayed close enough so as not to see beneath her skirts, but far enough down so that he wasn’t looking at her bum. At the most, he glimpsed black stockinged legs as she lifted herself onto the roof.

He also wished he hadn’t seen her shapely legs because for five years, he’d fought his desire, even when arguing with her. They’d never suit and if he pursued her, he’d likely end up in Bedlam. She was far too headstrong, far too beautiful, far too independent, and far too desirable. A lethal combination for any gentleman who wished to retain his sanity.

She paused and shook out her skirts as she waited for Max to gain his footing beside her before she hurried across the roof and stopped when she came to a wall and reached up, her fingers barely reaching the edge.

“Blast,” she whispered.

“You didn’t think that it would be more difficult going back?” Max asked quietly with a chuckle.

“No,” she grumbled.

“It would have been easier to use the door. Most people do.”

“Most people don’t have Crius or Cronus sitting outside to protect from invaders.”

Max snickered at the nicknames Rosemary had given her large guards. At least he assumed they were nicknames, though he’d never heard them called anything else. Her father had hired the men for Rosemary’s protection, and she had reluctantly accepted. “What of your maid?”

“Bess didn’t like the idea of me meeting with Amasa at what she deemed was an unreasonable hour.”

“Why did you?” he asked out of curiosity.

“Amasa didn’t want his morning interrupted when he needed to sell cheese, and he wanted as few eyes on his activities as possible.”

Max nodded. The rarer the antiquity, the fewer people who knew the better.

“What is Bess going to say when you return because I assume that she doesn’t know you left?”

“She won’t be pleased, nor surprised, I can assure you.” Rosemary looked up. “But if I can’t get over this wall, it won’t matter, and we’ll have to go through the door.”

Max would rather they remained out of sight of where Rylan and his men might see, so he reached up, grabbed the ledge and lifted himself over, then turned to grin down at her.

Rosemary just frowned, hands on her hips.

“What are their real names?”

“Who?”

“Crius and Cronus. That can’t be their real names.”

"Are you going to help me up?” she demanded with irritation.

Max shrugged.

Rosemary rolled her eyes. “John Smythe and John Jones. Very unoriginal.”

“So, you named them after Titans?” He snorted.

“It certainly suits them. They’re both giants of men.”

Since either one could probably flatten him with one fist, Max was careful never to cross them.

Rosemary narrowed her eyes. “If you don’t help me up, I might just send them after you.”

Max bent and reached out to her. “Come on.”

She grasped his forearms and he hers before he lifted Rosemary until she was seated on the ledge of the roof.

“Where to?” He looked around. “Another roof?” Indicating the one that was even higher the next building over.

“Window.” She nodded to her left.

He followed silently behind and waited as she stuck her head inside.

“Where have you been, Miss Fairview?” her maid chastised. “I thought someone had snuck in and taken you, especially when John said that you’d not exited by way of the door.”

She pushed the curtain aside. “I went to the market for the scroll.”

“I thought you were going to wait.”

“No, you insisted I wait. I never agreed.” She slipped inside but Max did not follow, as he wasn’t certain as to the maid’s state of dress.

“Lord Maxwell is with me,” Rosemary announced.

“That scoundrel!” Bess grumbled then stuck her head out the window and frowned. “Why shouldn’t I be surprised?”

Max grinned. “It’s always a pleasure to see you too, Bess.” Thankfully, she was no longer in her bedclothes.

“Pleasure it is not, I assure you.” She turned away. “Now get in here before you draw attention to yourself.”

Bess may pretend that she didn’t like him, but she’d often made Max promise to watch out for Rosemary when she could not be nearby.

The door banged open as the doorway filled with the body of a giant of a man. “Cronus, so good to see you again,” Max called.

The guard frowned. “What are you doing here and how’d you get in?” Then he noticed the open window and rested a hand on the hilt of his blade.

“Really, violence is not necessary. I’m here at the invitation of Miss Fairview.”

The guard shifted his eyes to Rosemary.

Cronus had known Max for four years and should know that he’d never be a threat to Rosemary.

“He is,” she assured Cronus, and only then did the guard relax.

“I’ll fetch your breakfast, Miss Fairview, and please, don’t leave again without one of us,” the guard instructed.

“Light all the lamps and candles, Bess,” Rosemary instructed as she pulled a table to the center of the room and then retrieved a clay pot from inside her bag. Max joined her, leaning close to examine the ancient manuscript she withdrew and gently unrolled. His touch was delicate as he ran his fingers along the edges, fearful that they may crumble.

Rosemary then retrieved a magnifier from a case on the dresser. “I can’t believe I didn’t take this with me,” she chastised herself as she returned to the table. Bending close, she studied the parchments, then handed the glass to Max so that he could do the same.

It was real and it was ancient, and he was honored for the opportunity to view and touch ancient history. This wasn’t the first time that he’d wished he would have studied languages during his short time at Oxford because he longed to read what was written.

Max straightened. “The question remains, who has claim to it?” They never kept the antiquities they found or searched out on their own. The thrill was in the quest, discovery, and then study. After, the item was turned over to whichever church, family, or government that should be the rightful owner.

Rosemary frowned. “How can one know when we don’t know what is written on the papyrus.”

The three major religions were of prominence in Jerusalem, and the scroll could belong to any one of them, or all, depending on what had been written. There was also the possibility that the words had nothing to do with religion, in which case, it would be given to the government for safe keeping in their archives or a museum. However, as it was found near Jerusalem, Max assumed the words conveyed religious teachings.

“It’s not Arabic,” he answered, which meant they would not be turning the scroll over to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“Nor is it Greek, but I can’t tell if it’s written in Aramaic or Hebrew. The lettering is too faded, and I’ll be honest, they both look similar to me.”

Max leaned forward and tried to make out the faded lettering. “I’m not certain either.”

“If we can’t read it, then we don’t know who would place a higher value on it.”

Not that she’d sell the scroll but would gift it, as antiquities such as these weren’t something to be bartered or sold. He and Rosemary earned enough funds from being hired to locate lost or stolen items and did not need to sell something found that hadn’t been sought.

“It might not even be religious at all,” Max offered. “We’re simply making that assumption because of the location.”

She frowned. “True, but why hide it if it wasn’t political or religious?”

The most damaging or dangerous teachings were those that were kept in secret. Or, so he believed, though this could have just been a pot with a document simply left in a cave by accident. Unless they knew what information it contained, they could not even guess at a reason.

“I thought perhaps the Vatican might be the best choice.”

Max pulled back in surprise. “Rome?” They were in Palestine, not Italy. “If you wish them to go to a church, what of Church of the Holy Sepulcher, here, in Jerusalem. If you are not certain of the language, give it to the government.”

“I’m not certain that is the best choice either,” she mumbled.

“You can’t take them from the region either,” he argued.

“In this case, I don’t believe I have a choice.” She settled into a chair.

“No choice?” He nearly yelled. “Since when do you remove an antiquity from the region in which it was found?”

“Since I’m not certain what it is that I have,” she yelled back. “If I could read it, I’d know who this belonged to. As I cannot, I believe that it’s best that the Vatican make the decision.”

“They will keep the scroll for themselves and depending on what is written will decide if they even share the knowledge. They may hide it away if the words don’t agree with the teachings of the Catholic church,” Max argued.

“I cannot choose one over the other when we don’t know what it says,” she insisted.

“Perhaps we can find someone in the region who we trust to translate, then you will know,” Max suggested in a calmer tone. He could not let her take the scroll from here. Until now, it was something they’d always agreed upon. To keep antiquities in their home country since there were already too many British men taking antiquities to England, to be displayed in the British Museum, or to simply have. And while Max had enjoyed visiting the museum in his youth, he also considered it a great loss to the region from which the items had been taken.

She looked up at him and frowned, then nodded. “You are correct. Until I know what I have, I shouldn’t make a final decision.”

Max nearly breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that he’d finally learn what had been written and it might explain why the scroll was hidden away.

The door of her chamber burst open, banging against the wall. “You must go. Now!” Cronus ordered.

Max blinked. He knew the guard wasn’t fond of him, but he’d never been ordered away.

“There was talk in the market. Men searching for you.”

It had to be Rylan and his henchmen.

“A man was beaten for information.”

It most definitely was Rylan and Max knew that he had to get Rosemary out of here. “Did this Amasa, the man who sold you the scroll, know where you were staying?”

“Not exactly, but he knew the area where I’d taken these rooms,” Rosemary answered.

Max immediately set to rolling the ancient scroll as Bess hastily packed clothing into a worn valise.

“Take her and keep her safe. We will rendezvous tomorrow,” Cronus ordered Max. “They asked if you were with her and if you were in Jerusalem too, but nobody identified you, just Miss Fairview and us.”

“I can’t leave you behind,” Rosemary insisted.

“We will be safe, and we’ll keep Bess with us. It is you they seek.”

Max grabbed her over-sized bag and shoved the clay jar, now containing the scroll again, inside before he pulled Rosemary to the window. “I’m not leaving you here to be found by Rylan.”

Her brown eyes widened.

“I saw them in the market yesterday. It’s best that you hide, and the scroll too.”

“Go,” Cronus ordered as Max shoved Rosemary out the window. “We will draw them away from you. Bess can pass for Miss Fairview when her head is covered.”

Max had a feeling they’d used this ruse before, but he didn’t have time to ask when or where.

He trusted the two Titan guards to keep Bess safe, but it was best if nobody knew where Rosemary disappeared to. Rylan would follow the guards, and they were better suited to confront Rylan than Rosemary.

Together they snuck through the shadows, taking narrow passages, and wound their way around ancient buildings until they came to the rooms Max had rented. They slipped inside, bolted the door, and made certain the windows were locked.

“When and where are we to meet your Titans and Bess tomorrow?”

She told him that a contingency plan had already been put in place if Rosemary had gotten separated from her maid and bodyguards, and Max intended to escort her to the place tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, they examined the scroll again and argued about who they should ask to interpret the document without coming to an agreement. When Max woke in the morning, after having taken the floor so that she might sleep in the bed, Rosemary was gone, along with the scroll. The only thing left was a note. I’m off to the Vatican. It is not safe to stay in Jerusalem so long as Rylan and his men are about. Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to our next quest.

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