The Artifact (Book 2, Time Series)

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Chapter Twenty-Six: A Field Trip and First Kiss

July 2023
James and Samantha’s Home
Richmond City, Virginia

}}}-----> MORGAN <-----{{{

Morgan waves to James and Melia as they pull out of the driveway with Samantha riding shotgun and Wahya comfortably in the back of her Jeep Renegade. Once cruising down the highway, Morgan suddenly exclaims, “Hey! I almost forgot!”

Her two passengers look at her in anticipation, and with a broad smile, Morgan pridefully proclaims, “I figured out what time period Wahya’s from!”

Samantha replies with a bit of speculation, “And that would be?”

“Middle Woodland! 500 BC to 900 AD!”

“Okay. Give us your reasoning,” Samantha returns in full professor mode now.

Morgan clears her throat, still smiling as she adjusts herself in the driver’s seat, “Okay, so I was showing Wahya some of the Native American artifacts in the study collection this morning. You know, before his stomach thing? Well, we started with projectile points, and he was interested in the Archaic and Early Woodland points, but not nearly as much as the Middle Woodland ones!”

“Oh?” Samantha prods, her interest further piqued.

“Yeah! You should have seen him talking all about the Rossville and Potts points! He knew all about them!”

Samantha twitches her lips in a tiny smile, “And this was all done in hand gestures?”

“Nooo...” Rolling her eyes jokingly, Morgan says with mock haughtiness, “It was all in Cherokee, also known as Tsalagi, thank you very much!” Reverting back to her usual excited self she continues, “But boy can he talk when it comes to projectile points!”

Having fun teasing Morgan, Samantha presses on, “I don’t think I’ve heard him say more words than I can count on one hand. And you got a whole tutorial about Middle Woodland projectile points?! And in Tsalagi to boot!”

“You don’t believe me?!” Morgan looks over at her mentor in the passenger seat surprised.

A tiny bit more seriously, Samantha replies, “I didn’t say that. I just think he enjoys opening up to you a little bit more than anyone else. And it’s a little more obvious today than it was last night.”

Morgan turns red, remembering how he’d put his arm around her. And now she wants to know what exactly Samantha means by it being more obvious today, wondering if she should confide in her mentor about their hand-holding earlier. She casts a glance in the rear view mirror and instantly locks eyes with the tall, dark man in the back seat.

Wahya smiles at seeing her looking at him in the mirror, and she sees exactly what Samantha’s talking about. If there were a connection between them yesterday, it’s definitely grown today, and for the life of her she doesn’t know why. She decides that now isn’t the time to confide in Samantha. Not in front of Wahya, even if he doesn’t know what she’s saying. It just feels as though he can read her mind from there in the back seat, and she isn’t ready to voice those feelings just yet.

Getting back to her original topic, Morgan continues, “Well... Regardless, he definitely knew something about those Middle Woodland projectile points in particular, and was very interested in the Late Woodland point I showed him. He studied it differently than the rest, like he was
trying to figure out how it was made.”

More serious now, Samantha asks, “Like he was seeing something new?”

“Yeah! Exactly! Like he was trying to memorize the flaking marks so he could try it himself. Then, I took him to the pottery cabinet.” Morgan looks in her rear view mirror again, wishing she really knew what Wahya had said in the lab.

He’s still watching her, but instead seems to be trying to figure out what the two women are talking about at his expense. Feeling the need to include him in the conversation about himself, she says, “I could tell he thought I was crazy for keeping all those little broken pieces of pottery. Isn’t that right, Wahya?”

Samantha angles herself so she can see him in the middle of the back seat and laughs, “Yeah, I’m sure anyone from the past would think archaeologists are nuts, keeping other people’s trash like it’s treasure.” With a twinkle of humor in her eye, she looks at Morgan, “So, what exactly did he say about the pottery?”

Catching Samantha’s jab about Wahya talking to her, Morgan shakes her head in mock consternation, “Well, he seemed to recognized the Middle Woodland pottery, but when I
went to show him the older stuff, the whole stomach electrical thing happened, so that’s as far as we got.”

“Hmmm. You’re probably right about the projectile points. At least your conclusion seems plausible. That was a good idea - showing him definitive, dateable artifacts!”

Morgan smiles at the compliment, looking at her GPS as they near the turn-off for Ned Billings’ farm, “He said to take the road on the left around the field and that he’d be working in the far field so he would be able to see us drive in. We’re supposed to park near the beginning of the treeline.”

As they turn into the yard, Samantha whistles, “That’s not a little old farmhouse by any means!”

“Wow, that’s huge!” Morgan exclaims in agreement and both women are silent for a moment, taking in the giant, grey brick facade on the mansion that seems very out of place on a farm in the middle of Virginia.

“Good God, I wonder what kind of crops he’s raising to afford a place like that?!” Morgan finally says.

“No kidding! Probably something illegal that we shouldn’t ask about!”

Morgan snorts in return, “Probably!”

They spot a red tractor making its way across a field of what looks like the green, leafy stalks of soy beans, heading for the treeline at the end. Arriving to the designated meeting place just ahead of the tractor, the trio get out of the car, and wait for Mr. Billings to arrive. The tractor, older, but still modern, stops at the edge of the field and a sun-worn man with an old tan cap and a greying mustache hops down from the tractor steps. The man, in his late 50′s, is all smiles, “Howdy folks!”

“Hi, Mr. Billings?” Samantha starts.

He walks over to the group, wiping his hands on his dusty jeans and extends his hand to Samantha who had addressed him first, “Ned. Please, just call me Ned. Mr. Billings was my father.” Then he laughs a little, “I feel kinda special with a whole group of university folks coming out for one little rock!”

Samantha and Morgan smile warmly in return, “I’m Dr. Samantha Warner, one of the Archaeology Department leads at the University, and this is Morgan Walters, whom you spoke with on the phone. Ned turns to Morgan, and she shakes the personable farmer’s hand, explaining that she’s the Collections Manager for the university, but not as knowledgeable about archaeology as Samantha is.

He looks to Wahya next, extending his hand to the muscular brave standing taller than himself, obviously expecting an introduction. Morgan panics internally, not having prepared an explanation for their non-English-speaking ‘colleague.’

But Wahya nods politely, shaking Ned’s hand in the customary greeting of the 21st Century, following the ladies’ example. Morgan quickly interjects, “This is Wahya... uh, Tsalagi. He’s an exchange student working with me this summer as an intern, but his English is extremely rusty.”

“Ah. Well, that’s okay,” Ned replies, smiling again at the younger man, “Good to meet you Wahya!”

Morgan breathes easier now - Ned bought the story - then she thinks to herself, “Why wouldn’t he?! It’s not like he’d be expecting a time traveler to come along!” Aloud she continues, “So, I guess we should first explain what exactly it was that you found. We just wanted to come out and see if we could get a better idea of the story behind the gorget and maybe get a lay of the land to tell us more.”

Morgan turns to Wahya and asks for the gorget, and to her relief, he hands it over, no longer afraid that he would get sick again without it. She, in turn, hands it to Ned, explaining its nature as a Native American artifact and that the type of sandstone it’s made from isn’t typical to this part of the country. Ned listens with immense interest, turning the gorget over in his hands, studying it as Morgan talks.

When she finishes, Samantha picks up, “So, we were hoping to be able to see exactly where you found the gorget. It’s a very unusual find for this region.”

“Wow, that is something!” Ned, looks surprised, having taken in all the information the women presented. “Yeah, the location is just up a ways into the trees a bit.”

The group makes their way into the large copse of giant, shady trees, going up a slope that steepens the further in they go. About 20 feet in, the slope runs into a severe rock face leading directly upward about five feet above the treetops.

Ned explains at they go along, “So the ultimate plan is to expand the land. Several acres of the woods at the top of the cliff just up ahead there, will be taken out, and the land readied for crops. I can’t do much about the rock wall itself, but further down to the west, it tapers off and there’s a road leading to the top, so at least there’s an easy route to the top.”

He pauses to get his bearings, looking for the right spot, then continues in both walking and talk, “This has been in works for a while on paper, but now I’m closer to getting the ball rolling on the project. So, I was just out here doing some preliminary scoping out of the lay of the land one more time, to see what was what since last year when I had my contractors out here.”

Continuing his search for the spot he’s looking for, Ned continues his story, “I wasn’t digging, but just happened to have my shovel with me from the field, and had stuck it in the ground, just to prop it up right over here.”

He points to an area about halfway up the steep slope, where the shade is deeper. The area doesn’t seem any different than the rest of the surrounding space, with the exception of a red handkerchief tied to a small sapling where Ned points, “When I pulled the shovel out again, the rock just popped out of the ground along with a large clump of dirt. At first, I just thought it was an ordinary rock, but saw the two little holes and thought they looked mighty perfect to be
natural-like. After I got to thinking it might be important, I decided to mark the spot and
took the rock into you all’s lab to see what it was.”

“Interesting!” Samantha comments, ” I’m really glad you marked the spot. It makes it a lot easier to investigate.”

“So, do you think I might have some old Indian settlement or something here? As far as I’ve owned the land, there’s been no plowing or anything past the trees because the slope is so steep and rocky, and it’s too close to the cliff face, but I’ve found a few arrowheads over the years in the fields.”

Samantha doesn’t want to say anything definitive, “Perhaps. At least we know the Indians lived out here, but I can’t say for sure there was a settlement until we do some testing.”

“So what exactly would testing entail?” Ned asks seriously.

Samantha explains that a Phase I survey would be the first step, in which small holes would be dug down to the subsoil every 25 feet. If an artifact is found in a hole, then the surrounding area would be tested in the same way, and if there were more artifacts, they may decide to investigate the area further.

“At that point we’d study each layer of earth more slowly. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but if you choose to go that route, then we’d draw up a contract between the university and yourself, with all the associated costs. In the end, all the artifacts would be yours to keep with the exception of items that fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, like Native American remains and funerary objects. Any grave found inadvertently would have to be handled in accordance with state law, and you couldn’t keep anything regarding something like that. But anything else is yours free and clear.”

Ned nods his head in understanding, “Hmm. That could be interesting! And if there’s more stuff like the - what’d you call it - well, we might have something really exciting then, right?!”

“The gorget does make it compelling, ” Samantha answers. “But it could have been something
someone just dropped passing through. I did a little research regarding the land, and there’s a river not far from here, so the possibility of finding signs of settlement, Native American or early Colonists is possible.”

“Okay. And what happens if you do find something major? Can my land be taken by the government or university?” Ned looks a bit concerned now.

Samantha and Morgan smile at the common misconception, “No, not at all! Your land is your land. But, if it is something significant, the portion of land which includes the archaeological site could be entered into the National Register of Historic Places.”

Ned perks up, “Oh yeah! Those are the places you see with the white signs along the highway or in the city, talkin’ about the history of the place, right? I always like to stop and read those.”

Samantha nods in confirmation, and after a moment of consideration Ned states matter-of-factly, “Being historic can enhance property value! So, how do we start?!”

“Well, at this point I was hoping you’d let us come back later this week to see if we can investigate the immediate area where you found the gorget. On the university’s dime,” Samantha notes. “And depending on our finds, we can discuss in more detail what could be
done further.”

Ned looks hopeful, “Sure, that’d be great! It’s supposed to rain off and on tomorrow, but
Thursday is all sun. Is that okay for you?”

Samantha looks at Morgan to be sure she doesn’t have anything pending that day. Morgan glances over to Wahya, who’s no longer with them, but examining the landscape just ahead, then replies, “That’s good for me and Wahya.”

“Alright! That’s good for me, too,” Samantha agrees. “Shall we say around 9:00am that day?”

Ned smiles, “Great!”

Wahya must sense the end of the conversation as he strolls back to the group, joining them silently as Ned continues, “Oh, if you want a good view of the entire area, that road leading up to the top of the cliff is easy enough to get to. Just follow the dirt road you took to get here, further down that way for about two miles and you’ll see the turnoff going up. If you keep following the road, it’ll take you all the way to the highway.”

“That’d be awesome. Thanks!” Morgan nods. Shaking his hand again in farewell, she asks, “Oh! Would it be alright if we keep the gorget for now? I’d like to study it some more. If we end up doing an archaeological survey, we’ll catalog it with the rest of the artifacts we find and hand it all over to you in the end.”

Ned readily gives it back to her, before telling the trio, “Sure, keep it as long as you need to! But hey, I’ve gotta get this field done today, so I’ll let you do what you need to. See y’all in a couple days!” He climbs back up into the tractor, starting the loud engine, pulling the giant machine around as he waves to the group.

Immediately, the two archaeologists begin a visual reconnaissance of the specific area where
Ned found the gorget. Not finding anything laying on top of the ground besides sparse undergrowth, Samantha starts towards the rock wall where the trees are the most dense. Over her shoulder she says, “You make a quick walk-thru of the rest of this area, and I’ll go along the
rock wall to see if there’s any earthworks or anything.”

“Sounds like a plan!” Morgan meanders through the trees and around bushes, her eyes trained on the ground looking for anything unusual. It’s been a while since she’d been in the field, and she puts all her concentration on the tasks at hand, not realizing that Wahya is watching her with curiosity.

After a while, not seeing anything besides random modern trash here and there, she stops, her eyes scanning the tree-covered slope for any odd mounds or cuts in the earth. She mutters under her breath, “Nothing.”

Suddenly her eyes light upon Wahya, now sitting low on his heels, elbows resting on his knees and his back against the trunk of a large tree. He seems to be lost in thought, as he twirls a twig between his fingers and Morgan sees him take a deep breath, letting it out through his nose as though something weighs heavily on his mind.

As she steps closer, he doesn’t seem to notice her. So, in an attempt to lighten his contemplative mood, she picks up a small pine cone, lobbing it at him softly. She was aiming for just in front of him, but being a terrible shot, it hits him in the side of the head!

Morgan’s playful smile instantly changes to an expression of shocked surprise and she let’s out a tiny gasp. Wahya, awoken from his deep thoughts, carefully picks up the cone and then looks at her with a shocked frown, obviously not happy with objects being thrown at him. Rising slowly from his haunches, he looks like he might just get angry and Morgan suddenly feels bad.

But the image of the cone flying off course plays over in her mind and Morgan can’t help it. At first she lets out a single choked laugh, trying hard to stifle it. But soon she’s laughing so hard that she can’t help but double over at the hilarity of his upset - his serious composure adding to the comedy of it all. With her hands on her knees, she tries to catch her breath, quickly as she sees his feet, covered in his new sports shoes, moving in her direction. As he reaches her, she stands again, “I’m... ...{gulping air}... ...so sorry!”

Taking in more air, Morgan finally quiets, looking up at the imposing man glaring down at her. When he holds up the incriminating pine cone in front of her face, as if to ask why she’d do such as thing, she breaks out in giggles again. Not seconds later, Morgan’s laughter is cut off as Wahya moves closer still, his face only inches away. But, his serious atmosphere has transformed, and has gone from admonishment to something else, and she suddenly feels heated inside.

Taking quick, deep breaths Morgan feels her face flushing red as Wahya’s lips twitch with the tiniest flicker of a smile. He’s teasing her she realizes. Then, his eyes flicker as well. Not with humor, but intense desire, and she returns it with a gaze of her own as she no longer laughs, but continues to breathe heavily, now her heartbeat rising to match her breath.

Morgan’s instincts take over, and without thinking she grabs the front of Wahya’s shirt, pulling him closer. Bringing her lips crushingly to his, she feels his surprise for the slightest moment before he relaxes into her grasp, and quickly opens up to deepen the kiss she had initiated.

Dropping the pine cone, Wahya wraps his large hands around each of her shoulders, pulling her in closer, and she, in turn, releases his shirt, running the palms of her hands up his chest as she inhales his masculine scent, hungrily taking his mouth as she draws in his lips. Morgan’s heart beats so hard that she can hear it pushing the blood through her body, and she loses herself in the warmth of his skin and lips. She’s never felt so in tune with someone like she feels right here and right now with Wahya. She can’t remember ever being kissed in return with such resolve and intensity, the taste and feel of Wahya’s mouth overwhelms her with fervor. The chemistry with Wahya is undeniably different, electric, and absolutely amazing.

But just as sudden as the kiss happened, it’s interrupted by the sound of a twig snapping in the distance and Samantha’s voice calling out, “Hey, where’d you guys go?!”

Stepping apart quickly, Morgan and Wahya, both flushed and breathing shallow, look away from each other guiltily as Samantha comes into view. Feeling as though the professor wouldn’t approve, Morgan, still trembling inside, tries to pretend nothing happened and calls out, “Over here!”

Her lips are still tingling and wanting more, as Samantha comes into view and Morgan continues, “I couldn’t find anything... You?”

Not seeming to have noticed anything between the two, Samantha shakes her head, “No, me neither. Let’s drive up the top of the hill like Ned suggested and check out the lay of the land on our way outta here!”

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