Roman Ice

His priceless discovery will make history… if someone doesn’t steal it first.

Darwin Lacroix needs to avenge his family’s disgrace. Archaeologists dismissed their claims of Roman treasure buried in the far north, laughing off an ancient scroll found under Mt. Vesuvius. Until now.

A recently uncovered diamond cache in Iceland proves the existence of Emperor Nero’s long-lost fortune. Darwin rushes to Reykjavik, but when a powerful cartel joins the hunt, his quest becomes a race to reveal the mother lode first.

With a volcanologist and an unsavory diamond expert on board, Darwin’s search for riches meets lethal obstacles at every turn. Deep underground, he’s faced with choices that could determine who gets out alive.

ROMAN ICE is a thrilling suspense novel for fans of Steve Berry, Clive Cussler, Daniel Silva, and Ernest Dempsey. If you like alternate history, archaeological adventures, and complex characters, then you’ll love Dave Bartell’s action-packed tale.


A Darwin Lacroix Adventure Novel
© 2018 Dave Bartell


Last Decade

London, UK

Darwin Lacroix unrolled the scroll on the table in the sunroom of his parent’s home in Pembridge Mews. He’d decided to stay with them in London for the summer before pursuing a PhD at the University of California Berkeley. At almost thirty years old, he’d realized moving back in with his parents was not optimal. But it was free rent and close to world-class research libraries at the British Museum and the Museum of London Archaeology.


Hair flopped over his eyes as he leaned over the scroll. He brushed it back and made a mental note to visit a barber. He looked every bit the graduate student with a perennial five-day beard and hair that looked windblown on the calmest of days. The scroll before him was a copy from a collection assembled by his forebears.

A couple of years earlier, his grandfather Emelio had begun to talk of a family quest. The Lacroix family hailed from Corsica and had run a shipping empire across the Mediterranean since the Middle Ages. They were of Genoese ancestry and now French when the island was sold off in the mid-1700s. Darwin had thought the Lacroix quest a tall tale until Emelio sent him part of a Roman scroll. Sunlight sliced through the London drizzle as he recalled that conversation.

“Where did this come from?” Darwin had asked.

“Your great-great-grandfather Pasquale found it in the late 1860s. Back then, the family’s shipping fleet ran between all the cities in southern France, North Africa, Italy, and Corsica. He was quite a character,” said Emelio. “Anyway, explorers had discovered Herculaneum under the rubble of Vesuvius about a hundred years earlier. It roused every wannabe treasure hunter in the Mediterranean.

“The story goes that Pasquale jumped ship in Naples and found a box of scrolls in a newly excavated part of Herculaneum. He was there digging for buried gold. After a couple of months, the family dragged him back into the business because they needed him to captain a vessel. But he kept the box close all his life, hoping he could unravel its secrets.”

“The Box,” as the Lacroix family had named it, was made of ebony and covered with thick hammered bronze. The intense heat of the pyroclastic surge that had annihilated Herculaneum and its more famous cousin, Pompeii, had discolored the metal, but the Box had saved the scrolls.

“I found it after World War Two when I looked for food stores in the basement. No one had touched it in decades, and when I asked my father about it, he remembered only what his father told him, which is what I told you,” said Emelio.

“When can I see the Box? This is great stuff,” said Darwin.

“You need to finish your PhD first.”

And that had been the end of the conversation.

Rain drummed on the glass roof of the sunroom, and Darwin switched on a lamp. In the two years since obtaining the scroll, Darwin had asked enough questions to figure out that Emelio had caught the treasure bug and, with no family like Pasquale’s reining him in, had become isolated. The situation had reached a breaking point with his family when Emelio had published in an archaeology journal the suggestion that Romans, Nero in particular, had stashed gold in secret tunnels across the Empire. In addition, he had presented this at a conference in Paris, where he had been ridiculed.

Emelio confessed his obsession with the treasure had fractured his family. Darwin’s father had stayed away after completing university for this reason. “Your grand-mère was heartbroken, and I promised her I would not bring up the quest with you,” Emelio had said in a phone conversation the previous summer when Darwin asked why he had not been told before. It had been three years since her passing, so Darwin figured Emelio was now changing his tune.

There were also some people who had read Emelio’s journal article with interest. Among the letters calling him a crackpot were two responses that had further fueled his misguided passion. The first arrived in the late 1970s from a woman in central France who claimed to have a notebook with evidence of potential old tunnels. The second letter came in a package Emelio had received out of the blue in 2004. It contained a Roman scroll an amateur archaeologist in London had found.

Darwin had begged Emelio to send him more clues to work on over the summer. Emelio had obliged and shipped a fat envelope that had arrived in yesterday’s post. Its contents included the amateur archaeologist’s letter and a partial copy of the scroll. Darwin arranged the contents on the table. Besides the letter and scroll was a yellowed copy of Emelio’s article from 1974, a handful of pottery shards, several coins, and a raw diamond the size of a strawberry.

The letter was signed by James Mason. In a shaky scrawl, he wrote about finding the contents during a London Underground project in 1933. He wrote that the scroll claimed the diamonds had been found near a “land of fire and ice.” James mentioned that someone might need the big diamond as evidence to link the scroll to the land of fire and ice should they ever find it. Darwin set it aside and looked at the other letter.

The woman in France, Amelie Giraud, claimed to have notes from her great-grandfather, who had researched volcanoes in the mid-1800s, saying he had “found something that might help.” She still lived in Clermont-Ferrand, France, the ancient Roman city of Augustonemetum. Emelio told Darwin she had always come up with an excuse not to meet.

At first, Darwin researched Emelio’s ideas alongside his dissertations. However, as much as he was interested until he landed his PhD, he did not have time to chase a fantasy. But with a free summer and a lead in London, he figured if nothing else, it would keep his skills sharp. Londinium had collapsed just after they pulled the legionnaires back to Rome, but five hundred years of Roman legacy lay just under the modern concrete jungle.

After making notes and plans for a couple of hours, Darwin grew restless. On impulse, he decided to visit the Liverpool Street Station of the London Underground, where James had found the scroll. He slipped on a light jacket and walked into the Circle Line station at Notting Hill just as a rain shower began.


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