Col de la Traversette
Donald Ellyson tried to scream, but nothing happened. He had done a lot of reprehensible things in his fifty-five years, but this was not how he had expected to die—his throat sliced and hot blood running down the front of his parka. This was supposed to be the discovery of his life, the one that would legitimize him and land him at the top of the academic heap. But the moment of his greatest triumph had suddenly become the last moment he would ever know. And for what? Did his benefactors actually think he was going to stiff them?
Sure, he was known to gamble, and yes, he often stole artifacts from archeological digs to sell on the black market, but so did a lot of other people. It was just the way the world worked. Certainly, the punishment shouldn’t be death.
It was only three years ago that Ellyson had joined a group of archeologists excavating a site southwest of Istanbul. During the dig, a hidden room with a vast trove of parchments had been discovered. Upon closer inspection, the documents appeared to be remnants of the famous Library of Alexandria, which was considered to be the greatest collection of books in the ancient world.
The great library had been almost completely destroyed by the Romans who sacked and burned it in both the third and fourth centuries. It was widely assumed that the balance of the library’s contents were destroyed when the Muslims, under the Caliph Umar I, laid siege in 640, but as Ellyson and his colleagues pored over the documents, they realized how wrong that supposition was. Someone at some point in history had apparently managed to preserve a large portion of what remained.
Ellyson was fascinated by what the parchments contained. One in particular was absolutely astounding. It was written in Greek and detailed a firsthand account of one of the most brilliant and most deadly undertakings in ancient history. He never catalogued that manuscript with the rest of the find and went to great pains to make sure no one else on the dig even knew of its existence.
It was a treasure map of sorts, and though it did not have a great big X marking the spot, it promised unfathomable rewards. Once out of Istanbul, Ellyson went straight to the most likely source of funding for an expedition like this. He had been in the game long enough to know players who would jump at the chance to get their hands on what the manuscript suggested was waiting out there. And, indeed, the promise contained within, the manuscript proved irresistible to his erstwhile partners.
Like Ellyson, those same partners had read the classical accounts of Livy and Polybius, as well as works by renowned historians such as Gibbon, Zanelli, Vanoyeke and a host of others too numerous to list. The more the partners read the more they learned, and the more they learned the more they became intrigued with the potential power of Ellyson’s discovery.
Based on the archeologist’s request, the partners spent millions on aerial surveys by planes, helicopters, and even satellites, combing many of the Alpine passes between southern France and Italy in hopes of locating a particularly valuable item referred to in the parchment.
Continue reading the Blowback excerpt.