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Spartan Gold
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Clive Cussler - Spartan Gold
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The debut of a brand-new, action-packed series from the #1 New York Times bestselling master of 'pure entertainment'.Thousands of years ago, the Persian king Xerxes the Great was said to have raided the Treasury at Delphi, carrying away two solid gold pillars as tribute. In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte and his army stumble across the pillars in the Pennine Alps. Unable to transport them Napoleon creates a map on the labels of twelve bottles of rare wine. And when Napoleon dies, the bottles disappear.Treasure hunters Sam and Remi Fargo are exploring the Great Pocomoke Swamp in Delaware when they are shocked to discover a World War II German u-boat. Inside, they find a bottle taken from Napoleon's 'lost cellar.' Fascinated, the Fargos set out to find the rest of the collection. But another connoisseur of sorts has been looking for the bottle they've just found. He is Hadeon Bondaruk - a half- Russian, half-Persian millionaire. He claims to be a descendant of King Xerxes himself.And he wants his treasure back.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We would like to thank the following people for graciously offering their expertise:

Yvonne Rodoni Bergero, Stanford Society, Archaeological Institute of America; Martin Burke; Christie B. Cochrell, exhibits manager, Stanford University Press; K. Kris Hirst, Archaeology Section, About.com.

Dr. Patrick Hunt, director of the Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project 1994-2009 & National Geographic Society Hannibal Expedition 2007-2008, Stanford University; Tom Iliffe, professor of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University; D. P. Lyle, M.D.; Katie McMahon, reference librarian, Newberry Library, Chicago; Connell Monette, assistant professor, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco; Eric Ross, associate professor, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco; Jo Stoop; Stephen Toms; Tim Vandergrift, Wine Writer and Technical Services Manager, Winexpert Ltd.

And last, but far, far from least: Janet, for her hints and insights.


PROLOGUE

GRAND ST. BERNARD PASS, PENNINE ALPS MAY 1800

Agust of wind whipped snow around the legs of the horse known as Styrie and he snorted nervously, sidestepping on the trail before the rider clicked his tongue a few times, calming him. Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, pulled up the collar of his greatcoat and squinted his eyes against the sleet. To the east he could just make out the jagged sixteen-thousand-foot outline of Mont Blanc.

He leaned forward in his saddle and stroked Styrie’s neck. “You’ve seen worse, old friend.”

An Arabian Napoleon had captured during his Egyptian Campaign two years earlier, Styrie was a superb warhorse, but the cold and snow disagreed with his disposition. Born and bred in the desert, Styrie was accustomed to being peppered by sand, not ice.

Napoleon turned and signaled to his valet, Constant, who stood ten feet behind, holding a string of mules. And behind him, trailing for miles down the winding trail, were the forty thousand soldiers of Napoleon’s Reserve Army, along with their horses, mules, and caissons.

Constant untied the lead mule and hurried forward. Napoleon handed over Styrie’s reins, then dismounted and stretched his legs in the knee-deep snow.

“Let’s give him a rest,” Napoleon said. “I think that shoe is bothering him again.”

“I’ll see to it, General.” At home, Napoleon preferred the title of First Consul; while on campaign, General. He took in a lungful of air, settled his blue bicorne more firmly on his head, and gazed up the granite spires towering above them.

“Lovely day, isn’t it, Constant?”

“If you say so, General,” the valet grumbled.

Napoleon smiled to himself. Constant, who’d been with him for many years, was one of the few underlings he allowed a small measure of sarcasm. After all, he thought, Constant was an old man; the cold went right through his bones.

Napoleon Bonaparte was of medium height with a strong neck and broad shoulders. His aquiline nose sat above a firm mouth and a square chin, and his eyes were a piercing gray that seemed to dissect everything around him, human and otherwise.

“Any word from Laurent?” he asked Constant.

“No, General.”

Général de Division, or Major-General, Arnaud Laurent, one of Napoleon’s most trusted commanders and closest friends, had the day before led a squad of soldiers deeper into the pass on a scouting mission. However unlikely they were to encounter an enemy here, Napoleon had long ago learned to prepare for the impossible. Too many great men had been toppled by the mere act of assumption. Here, though, their worst enemies were the weather and terrain.

At eight thousand feet, the Grand St. Bernard Pass had for centuries been a crossroads for travelers. Straddling the borders of Swit zerland, Italy, and France, the pass’s home, the Pennine Alps, had seen its share of armies: the Gauls in 390 B.C., on their way to trample Rome; Hannibal’s famous elephant crossing in 217 B.C.; Charlemagne in A.D. 800, returning from his coronation in Rome as the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Laudable company, Napoleon thought to himself. Even one of his predecessors, Pepin the Short, king of France, had in 753 crossed the Pennines on his way to meet Pope Stephen II.

But where other kings have failed in greatness, I will not, Napoleon reminded himself. His empire would grow beyond the wildest dreams of those who’d come before him. Nothing would stand in his way. Not armies, not weather, not mountains—and certainly not some upstart Austrians.

A year earlier, while he and his army were conquering Egypt, the Austrians had brashly retaken the Italian territory annexed to France in the Campo Formio treaty. Their victory would be short-lived. They would neither expect an attack this early in the year, nor would they imagine any army attempting to cross the Pennines in winter. With good reason.

With its towering walls of rock and snaking gorges, the Pennines were a geographic nightmare for solitary travelers, let alone an army of forty thousand. Since September the pass had seen thirty feet of snow and temperatures that routinely dipped below zero. Drifts, standing as tall as ten men, loomed over them at every turn, threatening to bury them and their horses. Even on the sunniest of days fog cloaked the ground until midafternoon. Windstorms frequently arose without warning, turning a calm day into a howling nightmare of snow and ice that left them unable to see a yard in front of their feet. Most terrifying of all were the avalanches—cataracts of snow, sometimes a half mile wide, that roared down the mountainsides to entomb anyone unlucky enough to be in their way. So far God had seen fit to spare all but two hundred of Napoleon’s men.

He turned to Constant. “The quartermaster’s report?”

“Here, General.” The valet pulled a sheaf of papers from inside his coat and handed it to Napoleon, who scanned the figures. Truly, an army fought on its stomach. So far his men had consumed 19,817 bottles of wine, a ton of cheese, and 1,700 pounds of meat.

Ahead, down the pass, there came a shout from the outriders: “Laurent, Laurent . . . !”

“At last,” Napoleon murmured.

A group of twelve riders emerged from the blowing snow. They were strong soldiers, the best he had, just like their commander. Not a one rode hunched over, but all were erect, chins held high. Major-General Laurent trotted his horse to a stop before Napoleon, saluted, then dismounted. Napoleon embraced him, then stepped back and gestured to Constant, who hurried forward and handed Laurent a bottle of brandy. Laurent took a gulp, then another, then handed the bottle back.

Napoleon said, “Report, old friend.”

“We covered eight miles, sir. No sign of enemy forces. The weather improves at the lower elevations, as does the depth of the snow. It will only get easier from here.”

“Good . . . very good.”

“One note of interest,” Laurent said, placing his hand on Napoleon’s elbow and steering him a few feet away. “We found something, General.”

“And would you care to elaborate on the nature of this something?”

“It would be better if you saw it for yourself.”

Napoleon studied Laurent’s face; there was a glint of barely contained anticipation in his eyes. He’d known Laurent since they were both sixteen, serving as lieutenants in the La Fère Artillery. Laurent was prone to neither exaggeration nor excitability. Whatever he’d found, it was significant.

“How far?” Napoleon asked.

“Four hours’ ride.”

Napoleon scanned the sky. It was already midafternoon. Over the peaks he could see a line of dark clouds. A storm was coming. “Very well,” he said, clapping Laurent on the shoulder. “We’ll leave at first light.”


As was his custom, Napoleon slept five hours, rising at six A.M., well before dawn. He had breakfast, then read the overnight dispatches from his demi-brigade commanders over a pot of bitter black tea. Laurent arrived with his squad shortly before seven and they set out down the valley, following the trail Laurent had broken the day before.

The previous night’s storm had dumped little new snow but fierce winds had piled up fresh drifts—towering white walls that formed a canyon around Napoleon and his riders. The horses’ breath steamed in the air and with every step powder billowed high in the air. Napoleon gave Styrie his head, trusting the Arabian to navigate the path, while he stared, fascinated, at the drifts, their facades carved into swirls and spirals by the wind.

“A bit eerie, eh, General?” Laurent asked.

“It’s quiet,” Napoleon murmured. “I’ve never heard quiet like this before.”

“It is beautiful,” Laurent agreed. “And dangerous.”

Like a battlefield, Napoleon thought. Except for perhaps in his bed with Josephine, he felt more at home on a battlefield than anywhere else. The roar of the cannons, the crack of musket fire, the tang of black powder in the air . . . He loved all of it. And in a matter of days, he thought, once we’re out of these damned mountains . . . He smiled to himself.

Ahead, the lead rider raised a closed fist above his head, signaling a halt. Napoleon watched the man dismount and trudge forward through the thigh-deep snow, his head tilted backward as he scanned the drift walls. He disappeared around a curve in the trail.

“What’s he looking for?” Napoleon asked.

“Dawn is one of the worst times for avalanches,” Laurent replied. “Overnight the winds harden the top layer of snow into a shell, while the powder underneath remains soft. When the sun hits the shell, it starts to melt. Often the only warning we have is the sound—like God himself roaring from the heavens.”

After a few minutes the lead rider reappeared on the trail. He gave Laurent the all-clear signal, then mounted his horse and continued on.

They rode for two more hours, following the snaking course of the valley as it descended toward the foothills. Soon they entered a narrow canyon of jagged gray granite interlaced with ice. The lead rider signaled another halt and dismounted. Laurent did the same, followed by Napoleon.

Napoleon looked around. “Here?”

His major-general smiled mischievously. “Here, General.” Laurent unhooked a pair of oil lanterns from his saddle. “If you’ll follow me.”

They set off down the trail, passing the six horses ahead of them, the riders standing at attention for their general. Napoleon nodded solemnly at each soldier in turn until he reached the head of the column, where he and Laurent stopped. A few minutes passed and then a soldier—the lead rider—appeared around a rock outcropping to their left and plodded back through the snow toward them.

Laurent said, “General, you might remember Sergeant Pelletier.”

“Of course,” Napoleon replied. “I’m at your disposal, Pelletier. Lead on.”

Pelletier saluted, grabbed a coil of rope from his saddle, then stepped off the trail, following the path he’d just carved through the chest-high drifts. He led them up the slope to the base of a granite wall, where he turned parallel and walked another fifty yards before stopping at a right-angle niche in the rock.

“Lovely spot, Laurent. What am I looking at?” Napoleon asked.

Laurent nodded to Pelletier, who raised his musket high above his head and slammed the butt into the rock. Instead of the crack of wood on stone, Napoleon heard the shattering of ice. Pelletier struck four more times until a vertical gash appeared in the face. It measured two feet wide and almost six feet high.

Napoleon peered inside, but could see nothing but darkness.

“As far as we can tell,” Laurent said, “in the summer the entrance is choked with brush and vines; in the winter, snowdrifts cover it up. I suspect there’s a source of moisture somewhere inside, which accounts for the thin curtain of ice. It probably forms every night.”

“Interesting. And who found it?”

“I did, General,” replied Pelletier. “We’d stopped to rest the horses and I needed to . . . well, I had the urge to . . .”

“I understand, Sergeant, please go on.”

“Well, I suppose I wandered a bit too far, General. When I finished, I leaned against the rock to collect myself and the ice gave way behind me. I went a little ways inside and didn’t think much of it until I saw the . . . Well, I’ll let you see it for yourself, General.”

Napoleon turned to Laurent. “You’ve been inside?”

“Yes, General. Myself and Sergeant Pelletier. No one else.”

“Very well, Laurent, I will follow you.”


The cave’s entrance continued for another twenty feet, narrowing as it went until they were walking hunched over. Suddenly the tunnel opened up and Napoleon found himself standing in a cavern. Having entered ahead of him, Laurent and Pelletier stepped aside to let him through, then raised their lanterns, shining the flickering yellow light on the walls.

Measuring roughly fifty by sixty feet, the cavern was an ice palace, the walls and floor coated in it, several feet thick in some places; in others, so thin Napoleon could see a faint shadow of gray rock beneath. Glittering stalactites hung from the ceilings, so low they merged with the floor’s stalagmites to form hourglass-shaped ice sculptures. Unlike the walls and floor, the ice on the ceiling was roughened, reflecting the lantern light like a star-filled sky. From somewhere deeper in the cave came the sound of dripping water, and more distant still the faint whistling of wind.

“Magnificent,” Napoleon murmured.

“Here’s what Pelletier found just inside the entrance,” Laurent said, moving toward the wall. Napoleon walked over to where Laurent was shining his lantern on an object on the floor. It was a shield.

Roughly five feet tall, two feet wide, and shaped like a figure 8, it was made of wicker and covered in leather painted with faded red and black interlocking squares.

“It’s ancient,” Napoleon murmured.

“At least two thousand years is my guess,” Laurent said. “My history isn’t what it used to be, but I believe it’s called a gerron. It was used by Persian light infantry soldiers.”

“Mon dieu . . .”

“There’s more, General. This way.”

Winding his way through the forest of stalactite columns, Laurent led him to the rear of the cavern and another tunnel entrance, this one a rough oval four feet tall.

Behind them, Pelletier had dropped the coil of rope and was knotting one end around the base of a column under the glow of the lantern.

“Going down, are we?” Napoleon asked. “Into the pits of hell?”

“Not today, General,” Laurent answered. “Across.”

Laurent aimed his lantern into the tunnel. A few feet inside was an ice bridge, not quite two feet wide, stretching across a crevasse before disappearing into another tunnel.

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