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Autore: Marcella Nardi
Titolo: The Mystery of Queen Theodelinda
Genere Giallo
Lettori 1288 5 1
The Mystery of Queen Theodelinda
The Adventures of Valentin and Lucrezia.

Prologue.

An Inestimable Gift
Rome, 592 AD

The legend tells that in 592 AD, the most famous queen of the Lombards, Theodelinda, embarked on a long journey from Monza to Rome to meet Pope Gregory I in order to mend relations with the Church of Rome, following disagreements stemming from her adherence to the Three-Chapter Schism.
Perhaps this journey never took place.
I like to think it did.
According to this legend the queen was accompanied by a chest of incomparable beauty containing ten large brooches crafted by the most skilled Lombard goldsmiths. The chest, and its treasure of great value, was intended to be a gift to Pope Gregory I as a sign of the Lombard people's devotion to the Church of Rome.
Unfortunately, it seems that the chest never reached the Caput Mundi.
Was it stolen? Did the queen change her mind?
We will never know...
In my novel, I speculate that the chest existed but never made it to Rome.
Being a legend, however, I wanted to imagine the scene between the Pope and Theodelinda as she presents the chest to him.
I hope you enjoy this dialogue.

Theodelinda: Holy Father, with profound humility, I offer these ten brooches to you, crafted with love and dedication by the skilled hands of our finest artisans. May their shine reflect the faith I hold in my heart and the loyalty of my people.
Pope Gregory I: Your Majesty, in these jewels, I see the reflection of the skill and beauty of your realm. Their radiance signifies your generosity and your quest for divine light. May they be bearers of harmony and peace.
Theodelinda: Holy Father, in this humble offering, I see an opportunity for a closer bond between my kingdom and the Church, reflecting the kingdom of God on Earth. I trust that these brooches, as well as the people who created them, will be received favorably in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Pope Gregory I: Your Majesty, your faith and dedication shine as brightly as the sun above us. May these brooches be a tangible symbol of your alliance with the Church, and may their radiance illuminate even the darkest moments.
Theodelinda: Holy Father, I beseech your blessing not only for myself, but also for my husband, the King, and for all our people. May your prayers be a beacon of hope and may our kingdom flourish under divine protection.
Pope Gregory I: Your Majesty, with joy and solemnity, I accept your gift. May these brooches be a symbol of unity and prosperity, and may your reign be a guiding light for your people through life's challenges. Now, let us join in prayer to implore God's grace upon us and upon your kingdom.

Chapter 1

I Love Puzzles
Summer 2018

“Good Heavens! What happened?” exclaimed the young man, his eyes suddenly wide open, his hands tightly gripping the armrests of the seat.
“Hey, calm down, Mr. Holmes! You were dozing off and didn't realize the plane is descending,” reassured the girl with a smile. “Put the tray table back and fasten your seatbelt. Given the time, I'd say we're preparing for landing.”
Indeed... ‘We have begun our descent towards Leonardo da Vinci Airport, Rome Fiumicino,” announced the pilot. “In the capital, the temperature is thirty-seven degrees Celsius, and the sky is clear. Welcome to Italy.”
“OMG! After that lovely Parisian breeze, we're destined to plunge into the suffocating Roman heatwave,” commented an elderly lady seated to the right of the young man, with concern.
It was afternoon when Valentin Dupont and Lucrezia Sala, happy and hand in hand, disembarked from the plane and headed towards the conveyor belt to retrieve their luggage.
“What a marvel Paris is! I had been there as a child, but I didn't remember it being so extraordinary,” exclaimed Valentin, his eyes sparkled at the memories.
“I'm not sure if I ever told you, but my maternal grandparents were from Versailles. I spent almost all my summer vacations there with my brother, from when I was a child until the end of middle school. There was a swimming pool and a ping pong table in the villa's garden,” added the girl.
“Interesting. That explains why you've been such a perfect guide. Oh, here are our suitcases. How fast!”
Outside the arrivals area, they saw Mrs. Sala with a bright smile on her face.
“Hi, mom.” Lucrezia hugged her mother, a beautiful woman taller than her, with long black hair and lively green eyes.
“Welcome back, kids. I'm glad the trip went well. But I'll warn you, after the Parisian breeze Lucrezia told me about, get ready for a plunge into the heat. Outdoors, and in all the places without air conditioning, it's stifling. Valentin, can we drive you home?”
“You are very kind as always, ma'am. Thank you,” replied the young man, “but I left my car here before leaving.” Then, turning to Lucrezia, he said, “I'll call you as soon as I get home,” and kissed her.
As he walked towards the parking lot, following the signs inside the airport, Valentin saw a man in a blue linen suit, paired with an elegant white shirt, and with a youthful appearance, signaling him to stop.
Who could he be? What does he want from me?
The stranger, advancing with hurried steps, gave him the impression that something was amiss.
“Are you Mr. Valentin Dupont?” he asked breathlessly as soon as he caught up with him.
“Yes, but who are you?”
“My name is Giorgio Lanzo. I teach Archaeology and Medieval History here in Rome, at La Sapienza University. It may seem strange to you that I chose this place to meet you, but as soon as I learned about your extraordinary ability to solve very complex cases, I rushed to find you. You know... in universities, rumors spread as fast as lightning. It seems that, despite the studies you are pursuing, you will become an excellent detective.”
“Flattering, thank you. My passion is hereditary. I suppose they told you that my dad was in the Homicide Squad,” Valentin admitted with an embarrassed smile. “But how did you know I had just arrived from Paris?”
“On your blog, which is very well-designed and full of interesting sections, I saw the photos you posted and read that you would be returning today with the French national airline. There are only two flights a day, so I've been here at the airport since this morning. My car is in for repairs, so I came by taxi. Just a while ago, I saw you coming out of the arrivals area. I noticed someone was waving to you, so I preferred to wait before approaching. I didn't want to be intrusive. Then you said goodbye to your girlfriend, and here I am. I was told that Miss Sala is also a clever detective.”
“Neither do you, Professor Lanzo. You know everything about me!”
“It's true,” he said pleased, “and I also discovered, as you just confirmed, that you inherited this talent from your father, a retired commissioner from the Mobile Squad in Rome, then Detective Unit.”
“Since I was a child, his work has always fascinated me. I grew up on a diet of jam, bread, and detective novels, in addition to the few details he could reveal at home during investigations. But tell me, what worries you?”
“Nothing escapes you! I did well to contact you. Yes, I'm worried about a dear friend,” said the professor, a charming young man, tall, blonde, with expressive blue eyes.
“Let's see what I can do. You must tell me exactly what happened to your friend,” promised Valentin.
“Of course. In fact, if you give me a ride in your car, we can talk on the way,” Giorgio Lanzo proposed, taking the boy's suitcase.
Valentin hesitated for a moment. The man appeared honest, but he had learned long ago to be wary of strangers. He pondered for a few more moments, then suggested, “Given that I wouldn't be able to concentrate while driving in Rome's chaotic traffic, I think it's best if we sit down. We'll stay out of the way, and you can tell me your story. But first, let me put the trolley in the trunk of my car.”
“Agreed, Mr. Dupont, let's go.”
After stowing the suitcase in the car, they made their way to a relaxation area and sat down.
Lanzo took off his jacket and draped it over his knees, ready to lay out the facts.
“It's a complex story, involving three cities and a small town: Rome, where it all began, Cividale of Friuli, Aquileia, and Calcata.” His voice was subdued, but there was a hint of anxious excitement.
The two Friulian cities intrigued Valentin, who interrupted him, “Excuse me, Professor, do the Lombards have anything to do with this? The names of these places reminded me of their dominion, even though their actual presence in Rome is still much debated. Calcata, moreover, is famous for being considered a legendary haunted village.”
“I see you're very knowledgeable, in addition to being a good detective.”
“I also love medieval history, although I'm studying bioengineering. But I interrupted you, I apologize. Please continue.”
“Lombards. Yes, it's them.”
“I'm a bit confused, then. What does Calcata have to do with it? I believe it is mentioned more in legends dating back to the late Middle Ages.”
“Let me explain, Valentin. May I call you by name?”
“Sure.”
“Last summer, a group of professors and I embarked on a study of some exquisitely crafted Lombard sacred choir screens present in various Roman churches. We aimed to prove that the Lombards also settled in Rome and its surroundings, although not as massively as in other areas of Italy. Well, we came across three Lombard brooches and ancient documents that, when connected, could indicate to us, in the form of an encrypted code, the location where a famous and legendary treasure had been hidden.”
“Wow! It sounds like an Indiana Jones story,” exclaimed Valentin, starting to pay closer attention to the tale.
“You're right! So, you'll understand how diligently we began our research. Along with me, there were Professor Alessandro Fabiani, Professor Amedeo Colombo, and Professor Luigi Rovere. At La Sapienza, we are among the leading experts in Lombard history and art.”
“But do you even know what it could be?” asked Valentin with some impatience.
Giorgio Lanzo shook his head. “Yes and no. For weeks, we read ancient manuscripts and analyzed all the sacred choir screens present in Rome. We began to study the brooches down to the smallest detail. For the Lombards, the brooch had a symbolic meaning, in addition to being merely ornamental. It represented the closing and opening of something. In fact, it was used to fasten cloaks or belts. The brooches we found had the same color sequence but different sizes. This intrigued us and led us to think they could function as keys to open the container protecting the mysterious treasure. After several days engaged in the study of those manuscripts, we believed we had managed to decipher them, also identifying a site outside the city: Calcata. The treasure could be the mysterious chest with...”
And while the professor was mentioning the possible contents of the treasure, with Valentin watching him with eyes wide with excitement, an announcement interrupted the story.

Chapter 2

The Treasure of Queen Theodelinda

“Double wow!” was Valentin's reaction. His keen eyes, contrasting against his fair complexion and brown hair, sparkled with amazement. “So that's why you mentioned that delightful hilltop village. Please, professor, continue.”
“As I was saying, we believe it concerns the Ten Great Fibulae of Queen Theodelinda. Many of my colleagues consider it merely a legend. If it were to exist, however, it would hold immense value. The refinement of Lombard goldsmithing is renowned in academic circles. I and the colleagues I just mentioned believe, instead, that the chest truly existed.”
“The village has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The name Calcata appears for the first time in some official documents from the 8th century, during the Lombard period. In 1935, the rock on which the old part of the town stands was deemed unsafe, and the inhabitants were forced to move to the nearby new Calcata, built a few kilometers away, where cars and tourist buses still park, as the only access road to the town is on foot. However, in the 1960s, some surveys confirmed the solidity of the cliff, and since then Calcata has started to repopulate with unconventional artists: painters, hippies, musicians, and actors. You mentioned witches earlier? No, they remained confined to ancient legends. We started the excavations in a very specific point, at least what we thought was such. In the end, Professor Amedeo Colombo and I found a stone tablet, Lombard in craftsmanship. Initially disappointed, as we hoped to find the coveted treasure, the discovery thrilled us because we were sure that, with that, we would finally be able to locate the Lombard treasure here in Rome. Unfortunately, the only thing written clearly was the Latin name of Calcata. So, perhaps the treasure is hidden there, not in Rome. But where? It felt like we were following some sort of treasure hunt. The clues found in Rome had led us to Calcata. And in Calcata, they seemed to stop."
Lanzo leaned forward, visibly tense and agitated.
“What we had left to do was decipher the message engraved on the tablet, and then there would have been no more secrets for us. But then something terrible happened.”
“Mon Dieu! What?”
“During the night of that same day, Professor Amedeo Colombo, two of the three brooches, and the tablet disappeared! Vanished...”
“Do you think he stole them? And that he ran away to continue the research on his own?” Etienne asked, surprised.
Lanzo's expression darkened. “What can I say? I don't know. Amedeo Colombo has always been very reserved and spoke little about his work, but overall, he seems like an honest and sincere person.”
“And if he was the victim of a scam?” Valentin suggested. “Has the police been notified?”
“Of course, but so far the investigations have been unsuccessful. I am convinced that Amedeo Colombo is alive and in danger. The police are washing their hands, justifying his absence as the normal gesture of an adult who wants to keep to himself for a while. Especially because they don't know about brooches and tablets. But we, who know him, know that he would have notified us.”
“They could have kidnapped him,” Valentin ventured.
“Whatever has happened to him, I intend to find out. I want to find him. Moreover, I will never allow any impostor to claim credit that belongs only to us professors!”
His eyes sparkled.
“It is more than understandable,” admitted Valentin. “Do you have any useful clues to start investigating and solving this puzzle?”
“I would say so. After Colombo's disappearance, I found some important documents among his belongings. And fortunately, I had obtained permission from my colleagues to keep one of the three brooches with me, which I still have. Unfortunately, the other two, which were kept in a safe, disappeared with him.” He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket with his right hand and pulled out something wrapped in brown paper: it was an ancient brooch, adorned with finely colored gemstones. “Of these brooches, all made of gold and adorned with precious gems, in clear Lombard craftsmanship, we initially had three.”
“It is truly beautiful, and the gemstones have been chosen with great care. I imagine you've verified that they're not fakes, right?” remarked Valentin as he examined it.
“Yes, they date back to that period, and the style is typical of Lombard goldsmithing,” Giorgio Lanzo replied firmly. “The other two, along with the tablet and Professor Colombo, disappeared that night.”
“Don't you think that instead of Lombard art, they could have been made by a local goldsmith, descended from ancient Rome?”
“No. Even before their descent into Italy in 568 AD, the main artistic expression of the Lombards was linked to goldsmithing, which blended Germanic traditions with late Roman influences from the province of Pannonia. That's why they cannot be confused with the fibulae of ancient Rome. The most common types of fibulae were the bow fibulae and the crossbow fibulae.”
He had Valentin examine the brooch, then wrapped it back in the paper and put it back in his pocket. “It's likely that near the place where we found the brooches, there's something else that eluded us at that moment. However, we should ask for permission to dig again,” he stated. “But the most important thing now is to find a certain Raffaele Sanzione.”
“Who is he? And why do you need to track him down?” inquired Valentin.
“That man and his wife pretended to dig not far from us, until the moment we found the tablet. They are two swindlers. They posed as scientists, but they were certainly fraudsters, so much so that they haven't been seen since the day Amedeo Colombo disappeared along with the brooches and the tablet.”
“Was it an archaeological site?”
“Why do you ask me that? Wait, maybe I understand. No, it was public land. Anyway, we had a valid permit. I don't know about Sanzione, nor could I go ask him.”
“And what if Professor Colombo went away with them?” observed Valentin.
“With them? Anything is possible. Or he's traced their steps. Whatever the truth is, if we manage to track down Sanzione and his wife, I believe we'll find both my colleague and the solution to the ancient mystery.”
“Let's hope so, then,” said Valentin. “Wasn't a copy made of the message engraved on the tablet?”
The young professor shook his head sadly. “No. How could we have foreseen what would happen? We found that tablet at the end of a long day's work, and we all went to rest, exhausted.”
Lanzo glanced at his watch. “Goodness, how forgetful!” he exclaimed. “I promised Professor Alessandro Fabiani I'd call him, and he's not one to tolerate delays. Please excuse me for a moment.”
He retrieved his cellphone from an outer jacket pocket, hastily placing it on the seat, and hurried away. In his rush to find a quiet spot to make the call, he failed to notice his long coat slipping, partially draping over the nearby trash bin.
Valentin remained, waiting, pondering the strange events the young professor had recounted to him.
As he was lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice that a man with dark skin and black hair, who had been observing him for a while, had moved towards him to occupy the seat vacated by Lanzo, without Valentin paying him any attention. When the individual began to rummage through the professor's jacket pockets, the young man noticed the strange maneuver and abruptly snatched the garment from the stranger's hands, shouting, “What are you doing? That's not yours! Who are you?”
The man sprang to his feet and dashed toward a side exit just as Lanzo returned to his seat.
“What happened?” he asked, immediately noting Valentin's concerned expression.
“He sat here, a man who seemed to want to steal your jacket or rummage through the pockets,” Valentin explained quickly.
“Can you describe him?” the professor asked, his expression alarmed.
“Black hair, short, dark complexion,” Valentin promptly replied. “He had a twitch in his eye, or at least that's what it seemed like to me. I didn't have much time to get a good look at him.”
“Oh no! That was Raffaele Sanzione, the man I mentioned earlier!” Lanzo exclaimed, seizing the jacket, and thrusting a hand into the inner pocket. “It's gone!” he gasped, visibly agitated. “Sanzione stole the fibula from me!”
“Then we have to catch him!” affirmed Valentin, jumping to his feet, and heading towards the door through which the man had exited. Lanzo followed him, albeit more slowly. He realized he didn't possess the agility of the young detective, whose tall, athletic physique was evident.
Outside, the young man spotted a police officer not far away and immediately signaled for him to wait.
“Officer, good morning, I'm Commissioner Dupont's son from the Mobile Squad. Did you see a short, dark-haired man leaving the relaxation area in a hurry?” Valentin asked, omitting the fact that his father was already retired.
“Dupont, who doesn't know him in Rome? Yes, I saw him. He just got into that red sedan with another man,” the officer replied, pointing to a car that was driving away.
“He's a thief! We must stop him,” Valentin exclaimed. “Please, help us. By the time I go get my car, too much time will have passed, and we'll never know which way he went.”
Meanwhile, Lanzo caught up with him. The officer sized them up and then invited them to get into his nearby parked car. “I can use the siren if necessary.”
Valentin sat in the front, Lanzo in the back, and after fastening their seatbelts, they immediately set off in pursuit.
The officer chased after them, and in no time, he managed to catch up with the red sedan.
“No! Damn traffic light,” cursed Valentin. “I don't see them anymore. We lost them!”
“They're entering the town of Fiumicino, keep going straight,” Valentin advised as soon as the light turned green.
After a couple of minutes, the archaeologist reached out, pointing excitedly, and shouted, “There they are, officer! They passed us in the opposite direction. They're heading towards the airport.”
“It has no sense,” wondered Valentin as the officer quickly turned around to resume the chase.
Just a few hundred meters more, and they would reach Raffaele Sanzione.
The road ran alongside the outer edge of one of the airport runways. Suddenly, the red sedan swerved wildly onto the rough terrain, as if it aimed to reach the barrier preventing access to the airport area.
“They're crazy! What do they think they're doing?” screamed Valentin in terror as the car screeched to a halt with a deafening brake squeal.
Marcella Nardi
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