Richard and I moved between the trees as the sun peeked through the gaps between the branches. The trees themselves were just coming into bloom; the beginnings of impossibly green leaves could be seen poking their way out of their bud prisons. The air was charged with the promise of spring and seemed electrified, expectant somehow. I shivered pleasurably as my boots crunched through the last of the freakishly late snow we'd experienced a couple of days before; a snowstorm had blanketed the south of England in a drapery of white throughout the storm's three-day tenure. Already that snow had started to melt and the ground showed in muddy stripes beneath the rapidly slushy thaw.
Richard and I had decided to take an excursion to Loughton Camp which was quite near to where we lived in Epping Forest. We'd heard that an old Iron Age camp and fort thought to have once belonged to Queen Boudicca had been situated there and the remnants of it could still be seen. Boudicca's army could also be heard occasionally as a series of tramping boots and horses' hooves moving between the trees.
Although neither of us expected to hear anything that day, Richard and I still had decided to take a trip there, just to see what the camp was like. We'd never yet been and both of us were aching to take a trip outside after so long spent either performing in venues and staying in hotels with our band or travelling through the day and night on tour buses. Sometimes it was nice to get lost in the trappings of nature and just forget the boredom and stress of touring life every now and again.
I stopped every now and again to take a few photos, of random flowers that were just beginning to bloom, of daffodils nodding in the breezes, their yellow heads bright against the duller backdrop. I took photos of the trees, stately and patient, their green leaves barely furled from the buds. Richard was amused as he always was whenever I indulged in my hobby, yet he stood by patiently until my impromptu photo session was over.
Then we moved on to the actual camp itself.
As we'd expected, the fort that once was there was no longer; all that remained was a raised ridge, formed into a ring around a large grassy patch. More snowdrifts had started to melt in and around the ring, causing the place to look quite attractive. I began taking photos of the scene and as I was doing so, we began to hear the sounds of horses tramping nearby. I lowered my camera and looked over at my husband; Richard was standing on the other side of the raised ring and he stared back at me in equal confusion.
"What the hell's that, Reesh?" I asked before he could. "There weren't any horse riders around, were there?"
"Not that I saw earlier," Richard said with a shrug. "Or heard."
I nodded at that; the sounds had seemingly sprung up from one second to the next without warning. We listened, bodies tense and expectant before we heard the sound of tramping feet and the occasional shout of a rough voice speaking in a language neither of us could understand. The noises grew closer and seemed to enter the camp itself. We couldn't see anything yet the noises were so distinct and clearly defined, it was as though we were surrounded by an invisible army. I could even hear the creak of leather harnesses and the whuffles of horse-breath on the air - yet still there remained nothing to be seen.
I turned around on the spot, felt a brief horse breath blow hotly against the back of my neck and even felt the vibrations of the passing horses and people as each noise thudded beneath my feet. I heard the clank of armour and weapons, more rough shouting and the world became a confusing place suddenly. Then the noises stopped as abruptly as they had started and I turned back to look at Richard. My husband had moved closer to where I stood and he looked as freaked out as I felt right then.
"What the hell was that?" I asked again.
"It wasn't the ghosts of Boudicca's army, was it?" Richard asked with an alarmed expression on his face. "You know they're supposed to haunt here, Paulchen."
I nodded at that; in the confusion of the weird noises that had surrounded us, I'd temporarily forgotten the old tales. It was as I was facing Richard, uncertain of what else to say, that the sun scudded briefly behind a cloud, which threw the camp into temporary dimness. It broke through again to shine down upon us and a sudden glint in a nearby partially melted snowbank caught my eye.
"What's that?" I asked as I pointed in the direction of the shiny object with my free hand.
"What's what, squidge?" Richard asked as he turned to follow the direction of my pointing finger.
He made a rough huff of a noise when he caught sight of the same thing as I had.
"I don't know. Let's have a look," Richard said and he seemed like the excited little boy he'd once been.
I chuckled at his exuberance even as we strode forward to stare down at the snow-encased object.
"Looks like something made out of metal," I said as I knelt down. "Should we dig it out?"
"We can try. I want to see what it is," Richard said as he gave me one of his beautiful grins. "You never know; it might be a UFO."
I chuckled briefly before I stood again with a wearied groan; we then searched around for suitable digging implements. We soon found a couple of sturdy branches before we began to scrape away the snow around the metal glint. The snow was soft enough by then to be dug away without too much trouble yet it still took the pair of us a sizeable amount of time to remove the metal object from its icy prison. We were both stunned into a surprised yet awed silence when we finally saw that we'd dug out what looked like an old, very rusty sword. Patches of brightness still shone in odd glints through the rust. Richard and I exchanged glances.
"Who the hell put that here?" I asked with a sudden laugh. "Kids, d'you think?"
"No, I don't think so," Richard said slowly despite his smile. "Why would they do that? Surely any kid would take something like this home. Wouldn't you?"
"I would even now," I said with a laugh. "And I'm 55."
Richard laughed at that but he didn't disagree. Instead, he stared at the sword and shrugged
"What do you think we should do with it, squidge?" he asked.
"Take it home," I said without hesitation. "Tell the local council what we've found. It's what we have to do in these cases, isn't it?"
"I suppose," Richard said before he broke into a grin again. "Y'know, squidge, it might be worth a lot of money."
"Probably but will we actually see any of it if the council decides to take it away?" I asked wryly. "You know they're legally bound to do that when antiques or historical stuff's found."
Richard's face fell then.
"Perhaps no money for us then. Unless we held it to ransom," he said and his grin returned.
He gestured towards the sword again. I laughed and shook my head in affectionate amusement at Richard.
"We've got enough money. I think we should just hand it in. We might be committing a criminal offence or something if we kept hold of it," I said and arched an eyebrow at my husband.
Richard just grunted yet offered no further discourse on the subject. I just nodded and carefully set the sword aside. I took photos of the weapon, however, just to have some kind of a record of what we'd found. Once I'd finished, both Richard and I decided to call time on our impromptu visit to the camp. Richard then carefully picked the sword up as I shouldered my camera case and so, we began the walk back to our car through the trees.
We gave the sword to the local council, who promised us they'd look into the matter as soon as possible. We were only reminded about the discovery when we received a letter in the post addressed to both Paul and Richard Schaeffer.
"Look, Paulchen, it's from the council," Richard said as he padded into the kitchen with the envelope in hand.
"Uh-oh," I said grimly. "What have we forgotten to pay?"
Richard looked alarmed at that yet he didn't immediately answer. Instead, he slit the envelope open and quicky scanned the letter he pulled out. His expression cleared and he gave me an excited grin.
"You remember that sword we found in Loughton Camp, squidgy-face? Looks like it dated from Boudicca's time," he said with an excited grin.
"Wow," I said, genuinely impressed. "But why did we find it, though? Surely it should have been buried more deeply in the ground than that?"
"I would have thought so, yet who knows? Perhaps Boudicca herself took a fancy to us and gifted it to us," Richard said and laughed. "We did hear the army, don't forget and who knows the workings of a ghost's mind?"
I nodded at that and while I had to admit the explanation was a tenuous one at best, it was better than no explanation at all.
"I suppose we never will know, will we?" I asked ruefully. "Not really."
"I suppose not," Richard agreed with a brief shrug. "Still, we found it. It was an adventure all on its own."
"I suppose," I said before I stared at the letter with a certain distracted air.
Then I grinned and gestured at the paper that Richard still held.
"Perhaps we should frame that letter, Reesh. I'll print out one of the photos I took of the sword, just as a reminder of what happened," I said.
"Good idea," Richard said with a firm nod. "I'll pick up a frame next time I go into Epping proper."
I nodded and remained silent.
A few days later, the letter from the council was hung in a prominent position on our office wall; an accompanying shot of the sword in question was also placed in the same frame. Although the sword itself would have been far better to look at, the photographic evidence was better than nothing at all.