After an hour of painfully copying dashes and stripes on the image to Unicode characters in a text document, Jacob stretched himself out and let out a deep sigh. A quick glance at the clock let him know it was 8 o’clock. It was almost time for sunrise. Even though through the addition of the supermarket the big light show was greatly diminished, there was still a three-minute window where a remnant of the effect would be visible as the sun rose over the supermarket.
He saved his work and locked his computer. Taking his coffee mug and coat he made his way to the coffee machine and got himself a new cup of coffee. Whilst the coffee was being brewed by the machine he put his coat on. He checked his mobile for the time, three minutes past eight, the sun would rise in eleven minutes. Grabbing his coffee he made himself on the way to the stairs. He saw the elevator moving up in the glass shaft. Almost everyone wanted to see the fiery spectacle that happened once a year.
When he got in the glass lobby he saw that the sky was noticeably lighter than when he had arrived for work, dawn would quickly be here. He took a seat on one of the seating spots in the lobby to let the last minutes pass in warmth before he would go out there in the cold. No use going out in the cold to freeze there for ten minutes when you could let the time pass comfortably from the relative warmth of the lobby.
A lot of eager people were already streaming outside the lobby doors letting the cold outside air inside the lobby. Jacob could see the courtyard filling up already with university regulars and tourists that came to see the Solstice spectacle. A lot of the tourists that were there would afterward come in the university to have a guided tour of the Solstice event and the history of the university. Every year the same display would be put up and people could see the universities history, ties, and the mission.
Jacob had followed the tour last year when he started to work here. It outlined that the building was inspired by the solar cycle, that the building was modeled after Stonehenge. If you would squint your eyes really hard you could see the similarities. The buildings surrounding the courtyard had 5 thicker tower-like structures connected by inset lower buildings. There were big glass panes around three floors from the top of the buildings that would allow you to look through it from the opposite tower. An artistic license would allow it to be a Stonehenge inspired building, but if you would look at it from the top it would look more like a watch dial.
The university was dedicated to Archeology and related matters. It was an independent university, but many people still thought it would part of the larger university in the city. The university had been started twenty years ago by a couple of rich donors who felt the current university climate was too stifling for fresh ideas that would not fit the conventional generally accepted wisdom. Whether that’s true or not that was a matter of debate, but it was the perception of the founders at least. It had taken the founders several years to find the staff and getting all paperwork in order. Ten years ago the building had completed construction and the university had started to grow. Archeology was made the main focus and the study of the past cultures, most of the staff had been hired in those and related fields. They had their own particle accelerators in the basement to do carbon dating, several experts on cultures and religions and much more.
In the last ten years, the university had grown as a known name in the field of archeology and many people who wanted to study archeology or learn of the past would choose to study here because of the expertise of the professors here and the many chances to study in fields that would interest the student.
If a student had a fascination with a certain moor or field the university would do all it could do to accommodate the student to study it and explore all avenues. Even if nothing was found that was good too, it was still a learning experience for the student and it gave another plot of land that could be marked as explored but nothing of significance found helping future students and archeologists to look at the data gathered so they wouldn’t have to do the same work twice, or they could explore an avenue that hadn’t been looked for the first time around.
Alternative theories of how things might have been would not be instantly be dismissed but explored and then a paper was written why such a theory could hold merit or no merit at all. The main focus would be that something would be learned from it. They tried to steer away from the publish mentality and the more papers published the better it was to a focus on the learning and improving oneself, to not discard anything beforehand, but to study why something could not be or could be.
The university wasn’t rich, it lived mainly from donations from the main donors and what it could make by selling access to its trove of historical documents and papers and archeological databases.
Access to those items was free for faculty members, but other universities and institutions would have to pay for access to the trove of information held.
There had been debates initiated by students and other faculty members that access to information should be free and not hidden behind a paywall, but it came down to that the university didn’t have that many sources of income and the university would go bankrupt if it wouldn’t sell access. They didn’t publish in the big magazines like Elsevier to keep costs affordable for other universities, their papers were cheap compared to the fees Elsevier would charge for access. They didn’t have any fancy patents they could use to generate steady cash flow, and not a lot of people had graduated from the university, so donations from alumni were sparse too.
It did cost what extra in the management of the documents and making sure the peer review would happen by external experts, but that was a small fee to pay for making sure access to the gathered universities knowledge would stay affordable and accessible.
This all was of course also explained on the tour and was a source of pride of the university that they were independent and could decide their own course and explore interesting avenues without the pressure of having to find something that would be “publishable” material. Knowledge gathering first was the theme that would be shown throughout the tour. At the end of the tour, the suitably impressed people would end in the small museum where some archeological artifacts would be on display and of course offered to become a donor to the university. You would get a free t-shirt if you’d sign up to donate monthly or yearly to the university. Jacob had declined to become a donor, it would be strange in his mind to give back from the salary he received to the university. He would donate by doing his best at his job and helping the faculty staff out if they’d require his assistance.
Taking a sip from his coffee he looked outside and saw that the supermarket had a golden orange glow around it. It must almost be time. He got up and sauntered outside to join the throng of people gathered to watch the spectacle. As he reached the crowd a bright orange-gold sliver was visible over the supermarket.
He turned around and saw how the light struck the glass cube and started reflecting and refracting within the cube and as the sun rose higher it was as if the cube was filled with blazing golden fire radiating with primal power as if it were to melt the world around it so hot.
Many people would shield their eyes with their hands against the warm intense light, others had come prepared and put some sunglasses on.
If you’d put on the sunglasses the fire would seem to be alive. The architect had ordered a special type of glass that had microscopic artifacts embedded in it that would make it look as if the fire was moving as the sun rose into the sky, making it swirl and dance around the building as if the essence of creation was caught within the glass cube.
Jacob imagined what would happen if you could actually contain energy like that and shoot it out something. That would give a pretty explosion he imagined, the earthy scorched by primal energy. And like it started it was over, the sun had set too high to enable the full effect and now just reflected off the building showing only a faint shadow of the intensity it had shown before.
Some faculty members started herding the tourists, enticing them to join the tour and heating up with some complimentary hot tea. A lot of people started back to the glass cube to continue work, Jacob joined the masses lining up to enter through the glass doors.
He saw Briss a little further up in the mass of people and made his way to her side, apologizing to the people as he nudged past them.
“Hey Briss, that was a nice show, wasn’t it?”
Briss looked to Jacob in surprise.
“Oh hey, I didn’t think you’d come out for the show. You should have told me, I would have found you beforehand.”
“I didn’t know beforehand either. I just happened to have finished a translation at eight and noticed the time and thought why not watch the show. So don’t worry about it.”
“You finished a translation? What was it this time? A border marker?” Briss asked with interest.
Briss was studying ancient geography and was specializing in the historical geography of southwest England. Anything to do with borders and things that gave insight into the layout of ancient domains and regions held her interest.
“No, this time it was something kind of unique, it was a quite long text and it held some details about a curse. The curse was a strange one, but interesting nonetheless. I wonder what professor Balduin will think of it.”
The line of people moved forward slowly and Briss rubbed her hands and wrapped her arms around herself to warm herself a bit from the cold.
“What did the curse say? Did someone hex an old lover or something?”
“No, nothing like that. It was more like a retelling of the curse, to inform you could say. If you come with me I can let you read my translation of the curse”
Briss’s eyes lit up at that invitation and she nodded eagerly
“Sure thing, I’ll tag right along as soon as we finally get inside.”
Jacob nodded and looked at the throng of people slowly entering the building. They were nearly inside. Inside the glass cube, you could see how the people went to their respective buildings or queuing up for the elevator to go to their underground departments.
The university didn’t have much room available but underground a large complex was expanded of five underground floors.
On the courtyard, you could see a lot of large white opaque domes surrounded by shrubberies that would feed natural surface daylight to the underground rooms via a complex system of mirrors and fiber optic cables. His workplace didn’t have the luxury of surface daylight as to maintain a tightly regulated environment where no harmful radiation would deteriorate the manuscripts stored there.
Finally, Jacob and Briss entered the building and Briss slaked a sigh of relief.
“Finally out of the cold. I wish that people would enter a bit faster when it’s so cold out there.”
Jacob nodded sympathetically
“So, you’re still interested in reading the curse? I have a coffee machine near my workplace?”
Briss’s face perked up.
“Does it serve hot chocolate? I could really do with a hot steaming mug of chocolate right now.”
“Err, I’m not sure, we can check it out though” Jacob replied unsurely.
“Alright then, the quest for the Hot Chocolate Grail begins” Briss exclaimed enthusiastically.
Jacob really hoped that machine would serve some hot chocolate and not just coffee and hot water. Briss would probably become irritated without the hot chocolate and she wasn’t pleasant to be around when she was irritated.
Jacob and Briss descended the stairs together to the archives and checked out the coffee machine. Under the menu option other there was an option for hot chocolate milk. Whilst the coffee and hot chocolate was being prepared they hung up their coats in the garderobe around the corner. The mood saved and fresh coffee and hot chocolate in hand they entered the archives.
“It’s not oft that I get down here,” Briss said whilst looking at her surroundings. “But it’s really kinda boring here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s impressive, but all there is here are these really long rows of storage cabinets, some examining rooms, and your workplace. This place could really use some personality, some decoration”
Briss eyed the room around her critically.
“If you’d place a few posts of printouts of some old texts on the walls and some display cases with some old tomes or scroll on display it would look a lot more appetizing here. There would be at least some atmosphere instead of this cold clinical environment”
Jacob shrugged whilst logging onto his computer.
“I don’t really care about how it’s decorated here. I’m not going to invest my own money into spicing this place up, and the university won’t pay for it I’m sure, not to withstanding my nonexistent talent in decorating stuff.”
“I guess you’re right,” Briss said whilst nipping her hot chocolate.
“So, where is your ancient curse.”
Jacob called up an image of the original stone marker and his translation of the curse on the display.
“So, this stone marker was found in Ireland near an old worship place. These were the inscriptions that were on the stone. It’s an Ogham dialect that translates into Gaelic”.
᚛ ᚄᚓᚐᚅᚐᚑᚔᚅᚓ ᚐ ᚁᚆᚓᚔᚈᚆ ᚄᚓᚐᚂᚐᚔᚈᚆᚓ ᚔᚅ ᚐᚔᚈᚓᚐᚅᚅᚐ ᚓᚔᚂᚓ ᚈᚆᚐᚔᚅᚔᚌ ᚄᚐᚑᚂ ᚐᚄ ᚐᚅ ᚄᚐᚑᚂ ᚁᚓᚔᚇᚆ ᚇᚐᚑᚔᚅᚓ ᚄᚐᚑᚔᚂ ᚑ ᚈᚆᚒᚄ ᚔᚅ ᚐᚔᚉᚓ ᚂᚓ ᚆᚐᚔᚈ ᚓᚔᚂᚓ ᚔᚅ ᚐᚔᚉᚓ ᚂᚓ ᚄᚓᚐᚂᚐᚔᚈᚆᚓ ᚐᚌ ᚌᚓᚐᚈᚐ ᚉᚏᚔᚑᚄᚈᚐᚔᚂ ᚔᚅ ᚒᚐᚔᚋᚆ ᚉᚏᚔᚑᚄᚈᚐᚔᚂ ᚅᚐ ᚂᚔᚌ ᚐᚑᚅ ᚇᚒᚔᚅᚓ ᚁᚓᚑ ᚈᚓᚐᚌᚋᚆᚐᚔᚂ ᚂᚓᚔᚄ ᚐᚅ ᚌᚓᚐᚈᚐ ᚈᚑᚔᚄᚉ ᚌᚑ ᚅᚇᚓᚐᚅᚃᚐᚏ ᚐ ᚁᚆᚓᚑ ᚐ ᚃᚆᚑᚏᚌᚆᚓᚔᚂᚂᚓᚐᚇᚆ ᚈᚐ ᚄᚒᚔᚂ ᚐᚏ ᚐᚔᚄ᚜
“The hard part of translating these markers is turning the inscriptions on them into digital data. But once I’ve translated them into Unicode characters I can use some online transliteration tools to translate it into something we’re more comfortable with”
Jacob clicked on another file:
“This is what you get when you transliterate it with latin characters:”
Seanaoine a bheith séalaithe in áiteanna eile. Tháinig saol as an saol. Beidh daoine saoil ó thús in aice le háit eile in aice le séalaithe ag geata criostail in uaimh criostail. Ná lig aon duine beo teagmháil leis an geata toisc go ndéanfar a bheo a fhorghéilleadh. Tá súil ar ais.
“And this, this is what you get when you use google translate. I should really learn to read Irish” Jacob said when he clicked on a third file.
Old people to be sealed elsewhere. Life came from life. People from the beginning will be next to another near sealed at a crystal gate in a crystal cave. Do not let anyone live in touch with the gate because their living will be forfeited. Hope back.
Briss bent over to study the text on the screen.
“Hmm, google translate really isn’t too accurate is it, no sense for style or intention it seems.”
Briss pointed to a sentence on the screen.
“Life came from life, that’s not right. I think it would be more accurate to have something like…”
Briss tapped her lip as she weighed the options
“Life be gone from existence would be the best option I guess.”
Jacob quickly wrote up a corrected version of the text. He was happy for the help, he hardly new Irish and he knew Briss studied more Gaelic and Irish old texts in the line of her research projects.
“Thanks, do you see any more improvements for the text?” He asked her as her eyes scanned the texts on the screen.
“Yea, in that second sentence the part `will be next to another` would be better suited as `will be in elsewhere` I think.”
“May I?” Briss asked as she hovered her hands over the keyboard.
“By all means” Jacob replied and stood up and offered her his seat.
Briss sat down, copied the line from the text and started replacing words in the text, mumbling in herself whilst she deconstructed the text and tried to infer meaning to the text that was shown there.
Finally, she turned around to Jacob after having wrestled with the text for a few minutes.
“It’s hard to know what they meant and what the context of the writing is and who the intended audiences were to be, but I think the text is best represented as the following.” She said as she pointed to the new lines under the google translation.
Jacob bent forward and started reading the text on the display.
Old ones be sealed in elsewhere. Life begone from existence. Begone life folk will be in elsewhere near here sealed by crystal gate in crystal cave. Let no living man touch the gate lest his live be forfeit. Hope has returned.
“Hmm, this does seem a lot more sensical than the google translation, but it’s still not too clear is it?” Jacob asked, in case he missed some contextual meaning.
Briss pointed at the word life in the text.
“See this, I think it should be life, but it could mean something else. Life also returns somewhere else in the text at life folk, so it seems to be an attribute, but what attribute I couldn’t say.”
Jacobs brows drew to each other
“An attribute? Like being able to breathe? Not being buried six feet under?”
Briss thought about it for a moment
“Well, it could be something simple as that, but it seems to be some warning message. I would more think about it as an unknown extra attribute. Like people with blonde hair being fair hair and ginger-haired people having no souls”
“Okay, but you have no idea what this `life` would accurately portray in the current times?”
“Sadly no,” Briss replied whilst she got up from the chair.
“Without other related texts or contextual clues, it’s hard to give meaning to a single expression.”
Jacob took another look at the text.
“Do you think those old ones are the same as life folk?”
“It stands to reason Briss said, but it could also mean multiple groups of people or tribes. Again hard to tell without other clues. This text in itself does not provide many.”
Briss looked at her phone and then smiled at Jacob.
“I spent more than enough time here warming up. Thanks for the chocolate, but I have a pile of work waiting for me upstairs. Let me know when you find something related to borders and regions will you?”
Jacob nodded, he felt sad that she had to leave but he was happy that she had stood bend over and against him whilst she had worked on the translation. That had been really nice.
“It was nice having you over. I’ll be sure to let you know when I find something interesting for you.”
Jacob moved to the door and held it open for Briss who moved through it. As Jacob handed Briss her coat from the garderobe he wondered if he should ask her out for some after work coffee or something.
Briss took the coat and said
“Thanks for the invite and the hot chocolate. I’ll be seeing you”
With that said Briss turned around started moving towards the stairs with purposeful steps.
“See ya” Jacob replied sensing the opportunity gone. Maybe he would dare next time.
Jacob watched her ascend the stairs and stood there for a while mulling things over, he would definitely ask her next time if she wanted something to drink afterward.
Jacob returned to his computer and studied the translation Briss had made. It was much better quality than that he could do with google translate and his very rudimentary understanding of Irish.
He copied the texts in an email to the professor and checked out the next file to start translating. A photo of an animal hide inscribed with the Ogham dashes appeared on his monitor. Jacob sighed. A lot of the lines had faded or were barely visible. This would take a long while.
As he was busy interpreting the scratches on the image before him into Unicode characters in a fresh document his mind kept wandering to the text Briss had helped him with. It was now a double interesting text because Briss had helped him with it and it called up so much more questions.
Who were the old ones, who were the life folk and where was that crystal cave that was mentioned?
Jacob saved his progress and called up the file of the stone he had translated and opened the metadata file.
The stone was found in Ireland, near a site of worship, the Newgrange tumulus. It was estimated that the marker was placed there around 600 AD, an exact date couldn’t be given, only inferred from the materials used and materials found around it.
Jacob leaned back in his chair. He knew the Newgrange tumulus was suspected to be a place of worship, but that was not definitive. What would a stone marker with such a cryptic text do at such a place with unknown purpose?
It was an old mystery. He doubted he would ever find the answer to the mystery. There were more mysteries that intrigued him, like the pave stone that had a curse written on it to spoil all cabbages that would pass over it.
Jacob looked at the clock. Almost nine o’clock. Still early but so far a nice and eventful day. He wondered if he should get a new cup of coffee or not. He decided to pass on the coffee, he already had two so early and decided to take a short stroll over the courtyard to clear his head and get his focus back.
Support "When hell freezes over"
I decided to try my hand at writing the story I had rolling around in my head for twenty years. English isn't my native language so some obvious errors might occur in my story but I hope that the readers will be forgiving.
If not, nobody forces you to read my mangled English. I recommend you read the wandering inn instead if my English bothers you. :-)
Attribution: The cave picture in the book cover is made by Stanislav Sedov and is licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ This picture was modified from the original with an overlaid moon and sea picture to be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ssedov/26342569905 The photographer has no affiliation to Tschallacka nor can be held accountable for the use of this picture the way as it is here.