The stacks in the book repository of the Royal Museum of Hanover seemed to fill every square inch of the building.  Thousands of dusty old books on numerous heavy wooden shelves that reached the ceiling filled the chamber, causing any first time visitor to feel that their search was likely in vain before it ever began.  Many of the books were cataloged, but several dozen shelves held books from private collections which had not yet been added to the museum’s database.  Some of these texts had been part of the  collection for over a century, with many of those older books having not been opened in almost that long.

The collection had begun a few centuries earlier as the personal library of the Elector, under the direction of the man who would later become King George I of England.  He had inherited the title of Elector of Hanover, but his Protestant background paved the way for him to take the throne in London.  It had been a desperate move by some of the royals to keep a member of the Roman Catholic church off of the throne.  There had been several other candidates who were more closely related to the recently passed monarch.

George had known it was a highly political move and had therefore been reluctant to leave his homeland behind.  He loved the city of Hanover more than anything else, including the crown he wore in London and even his own family.  After taking the throne he made a point of visiting his home city as often as possible, always making sure to use his power and wealth to build the prominence of Hanover in northern Europe.  Although George Lewis never really cared for England, but was not the type to turn down the offer to be its king.

Many years after the reign of King George I, graduate student and researcher Bryan Michaels was fulfilling a dream as he drudged through the seemingly endless rows of books in the repository.  He had worked very hard over the previous few years and had finally been awarded a grant to study the history of the kingdom of Hanover.  Bryan had combed through every book he could find on this topic from the University of Michigan along with countless hours reviewing book he had ordered through interlibrary loan.  He had even been lucky enough to obtain digital copies of some of the more popular books from the Royal Museum’s collection prior to his trip to Germany.  He had given dozens of lectures on this subject to some less than interested undergraduate students, always pining for the day he could set foot in Hanover, Germany.

January 17th had been a magnificent day for Bryan, as that was the day he received the letter containing the details of his grant.  The funding was only good for six months, but had the option of being extended should the review board feel he was being productive.  The rest of the spring semester had crept by so slowly, but finally May brought the end of the term and his departure for his dream assignment.

After so much waiting, he could hardly believe the whirlwind that followed.  The packing, the flight, and finally moving in to his new apartment near the Royal Museum all seemed to rush by.  He had sworn to himself that he would not let his time in this great city fly by also.

The time after his arrival was exciting, but quickly grew to be nerve wracking.  He had wasted no time in starting his research, but was soon met with the fact that many of the books he would need were likely among those which were stored in the book repository in no particular order.  He had reached this disappointing conclusion once it had become clear that none of the cataloged books seemed to contain the specific information he sought.  His emotions had gotten the best of him more than once as he sat in his apartment trying to grasp the enormity of the project he was attempting to conquer.  Bryan had decided that if the repository had a kitchenette and shower, he would have been better off to move out of his apartment since he was hardly their anyway.

Five months had flown by and the deadline, which he tried to ignore, loomed large on the horizon.  Over these last few months, he had paged through some three thousand books, keeping notes on each one along the way.  Many had no title on the binding and most were barely distinguishable from the next volume.  Various shades of grays, blues, and browns covered most of the books.  Sometimes he wondered if his search was almost like wandering through a forest with no map and seeing the same landmark every day.

His hopes of discovering something new had faded over the last month as the time ran out on his grant.  His focus grew harder and harder to maintain as he knew there were only a few weeks to go before they would review his work and decide whether his dream would be extinguished.  However, Bryan knew he did not want to go back to the monotonous lecture halls and this drove him to continue his research until he was nearly delirious.  The days and nights in the windowless building blurred as he looked through each book meticulously.  He only hoped for a lead or clue to anything that would help him keep his funding.

This day was not like the others though.  As he placed yet another nondescript grayish colored book on the pile of “finished” books, he yawned.  Staring at the handful of untouched books on his table, he debated whether he should attempt one more before calling it a night.  Then the thought of losing his grant passed through his mind again, so he decided to do just one more book.

A faded, red book was next on the stack.  Very few books had any color to them, but he did not really think anything of it as it was simply another book with no title on the cover and the typical yellowed pages.  As he lifted the book from the pile, he noticed that it was surprisingly heavy.  Its size was not too different than most the others, so his curiosity was immediately piqued.  The binding crackled a little as he opened the book, revealing a title page rich with color.  Only a handful of the books had any color at all on their pages, so this book seemed extraordinary already.

Bryan felt his adrenaline begin to flow as he quickly flipped through the pages, searching out the source of the added weight.  Minutes later, he realized that the weight was in the cover of the book and not simply something stuck between some pages.  He tapped lightly on the cover and realized that there were metal plates under the red cloth.  Excitedly, he ran his fingers over the book and felt a raised design on the front cover that was hidden by the thin cloth.

He stared at the book for a moment, trying to comprehend the fact that he may have found the key to a new grant.  Maybe it was the fatigue or the stress, but Bryan went against every ounce of his training as a researcher when he took his pocket knife from his jacket.  He looked down aisle, seeing no one of course, and gently pulled on the cloth so he could slice a small hole.  He slid his finger in, hoping that he had not been seen by the clerk or security guard.  Just as he had thought, his fingers ran along the edge of a design that seemed to be set about one quarter of an inch above the rest of the plate.

Bryan looked up from the book and scanned his aisle once again, this time listening for any sounds of someone coming his way.  The tall stacks made it impossible for people to see across the room.  The table he occupied that night was near the far end of one of the rows at the back of the building, so he was barely visible from the other end of the aisle.  The repository did not have very many visitors, especially late at night, so it was not unusual that he could go hours without seeing another person in his row.  Once Bryan was confident he was not being watched, he began cutting the red cloth away from the book.  The old fabric proved to be quite strong even though it seemed thin and had probably been wasting away on the shelf for many years.  He cut the cloth only enough to remove it from the book and was careful not to damage the book itself.  Moments later the old red cloth lay on the table to his left, leaving an amazing metal clad book on the desk before him.

The emblem on the front looked familiar, but not exactly like anything he had seen before.  It bore some similarities to the coat of arms of the House of Hanover, however it was definitely not the same design.  Grabbing his notebook, he flipped to the section where he had sketched out the coat of arms.  It was a typical shield shape, with lions in the four panels.  The lion on the book wore a crown, much like the ones on the coat of arms.  However, that was the end of the similarities, as the one on the book held a scepter, with a church to its left and a castle to its right.  Also, a cross was over the head of the lion, while what appeared to be coins were at the foot of the lion.  Finally, the book’s emblem had a pair of crossed keys in front of the lion, almost as if they were guarding the lion.

Just then, Bryan heard the main door of the building crash shut, which echoed through the building.  He quickly stashed the cloth in his backpack, grabbed the book and stared for a few seconds.  The cavernous room  served him well as he could easily hear the footsteps approaching.  He knew he could not risk having someone else see his discovery, so he reluctantly slid it into his bag as he listened to the sound of high heels clicking on the concrete floor.  He grabbed one of the books off the “finished” pile and pretended to read it as he waited to see if he was about to have a visitor.  His mind raced as he wondered if he had missed a security camera and they were coming for him.

He waited anxiously, assuming the worst.  It seemed like an eternity had passed before the woman, probably in her late twenties, rounded the corner.  She wore a gray skirt and jacket, clearly an employee of the Royal Museum.  Her black hair was up in a tight formation and her glasses gave her an air of importance.  She paused only briefly as she focused on him.  Proceeding down the aisle toward him, her walk was one of purpose but not one of someone in a rush.  Her heels clicked loudly as he watched her come closer.  He simply stared, becoming aware that she was quite attractive, but still carrying a wave of power with her that hit him like a punch to the gut.  He couldn’t even speak as she stopped a few feet from him.

“Bryan Michaels?” she asked with a bit of a German accent.

“Yes,” he replied, not sure how this woman knew his name.

“Mr. Sonntag has requested you meet him at his office in the museum.”

“Mr. Sonntag… wants to see me?” answered Bryan as he glanced at his watch, which read 9 p.m.

“Yes.  He would like to meet with you immediately, if you are available.”

“Oh, yes, certainly,” he said, knowing that refusing this request would be a horrible decision.

She stood patiently and watched Bryan as he collected his things.  He tried not to act to eager or show how nervous he was, however he was quite glad he had already stashed the metal book in his bag.  He had only met Mr. Albrecht Sonntag two other times.  Once when he arrived in Hanover and was welcomed by some of the museum staff.  Then the second time at a dinner to benefit the museum, which he was invited to as a guest, not a patron.  Mr. Sonntag was the chief executive and the head curator of the Royal Museum.

“Mr. Sonntag is working late tonight,” commented Bryan as he put his bag on his shoulder.  “What is your name?”

She turned and started for the door as she answered him.  “Yes, he is.  However, he told me this is a very important matter.  My name is Michelle.”

“Nice to meet you, Michelle.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at the museum.  Do you work for Mr. Sonntag?”

She smiled over her shoulder as she answered, “I suppose you could say that.  He is my father.”

Bryan just smiled as they reached the front door, where the clerk was reading a sports magazine of some sort.

“Checking out anything this evening, Bryan?” he asked as he turned his attention to Michelle.  She was simply looking around the lobby area of the repository, almost as if the clerk wasn’t there.

“Not tonight Paul,” replied Bryan, knowing that the book in his bag may be one that no one really knew about anyway.  Bryan had come to know Paul quite well over the past few months and sincerely hoped his nervousness was too obvious.  He quickly realized there was no chance of Paul noticing, as the clerk’s eyes were glued to Michelle.

Bryan and Michelle left the repository and headed off towards the museum.  The evening was peaceful and only a light breeze broke the silence.

“So, I guess it must be wonderful getting to work at the Royal Museum,” Bryan speculated as they strolled along the street leading to the museum.

“It isn’t bad.  However, you must realize that I have basically grown up in the museum.  Perhaps I take this city for granted, but it is all I have ever known.”

The pair continued to chat as they passed homes and shops of the Market District.  Many of these buildings were older than anything in Bryan’s hometown, probably older than his home country even.  Most of the structures were already dark, other than a handful of pubs and apartments.  Even the museum seemed unusually dark.  However, the accent lighting that flooded the outside of the large structure made it unusually ominous on that moonless night.  This massive stone building in the Market District was one of the few large buildings that had survived World War 2 and it now held a prominent position in the city of Hanover as the Royal Museum.

Bryan was usually awestruck with this building, since it was something like a Mecca to him.  Sometimes he would catch himself simply staring and thinking about what it represented, but tonight was different.  Although he had been mildly taken in by the magnificence of the building, his brain was brought back to reality when he heard Michelle slide a keycard through a reader.  She pulled open the door for him and gestured for him to enter.  Bryan felt like a schoolboy as they proceeded into the overwhelmingly dark main display room.  The dimly lit room threatened to steal his breath from him as it closed in around him, but he could not keep from trying to look at his surroundings.  The high ceilings were not visible in the darkness and a narrow row of lights along either side of the main path showed the way they needed to take.  Bryan gazed into the darkness as they walked along silently, feeling as though he had never been in this building before.  A strange feeling, considering he had been there dozens of times over the last few months.  Their footsteps on the marble floor echoed through the room as they made their way along the path.

He knew the way to the museum offices well and was about to strike up a conversation when Michelle abruptly turned to her right.  Bryan just watched as she walked around a display and slid a keycard through another reader.  A windowless, metal door in front of her popped as the locks released.

“This way,” she stated as she opened the door.  She walked on through and started up the stairs.  He took a few quick steps forward, grabbing the slowly closing door.  He wasted no time in catching up to her as it appeared she had no intentions of waiting on him.

Bryan followed along quietly, contemplating the fact he was sure he had never been to Sonntag’s office via this passage.  He was also thinking that he had never even noticed that door before. Being a researcher and the overly curious type, he tried to keep track of where he was in relation to the parts of the museum he knew well.

The stairwell was well lit, although not one sliver of that light had been escaping into the public area of the museum.  Bryan followed Michelle up the stairs and around a couple corners.  Eventually Bryan lost his bearings.  Finally, they left the stairwell and stepped into another large dark room which became darker once the door closed behind them.

“What room is this?  I can’t see a thing.”

Michelle just gave him a soft laugh as she walked on through the room.  Bryan followed close behind, but attempted to make out the displays around him.  He felt a little disappointed in himself that he was more interested in his surroundings than the woman a few paces ahead of him.  Some of the displays in this room were hidden by great sheets, further confusing him as to what part of the museum they were in.  He was able to make out a few statues before they rounded another corner.  There was absolute darkness here, but Michelle pressed on, obviously knowing where she was going.  Then, as Bryan’s eyes were beginning to adjust, they passed through a doorway.

The bright lights blinded him for a moment, but then he recognized where they were.  It was the waiting area outside the museum offices.  As the door closed behind them, Bryan turned to look at it.  It was a plain metal door, much like the one they had passed through downstairs.  This one bore no markings and no door knob or handle of any sort.  He thought it was a little odd he had never noticed that door, but the few times he had been here he was fully concentrating on an impending meeting with one of the executives.  These meeting that usually stressed him to his limit and always made him wonder if this was something he really wanted to do as a career.  Speaking publicly was never a problem for Bryan, but dealing with someone face to face always seemed to be a challenge for him.

Michelle led him straight into her father’s office, where Sonntag was focused on some paperwork in front of him.  He did not look up from his papers when they entered, but instead finished what he was doing.  After a few moments had passed, he looked up.

“Michelle, my dear,” he said with a smile as he leaned back in his chair.  He spoke in English to his daughter for Bryan’s benefit alone.  “Thank you for tracking down Mr. Michaels for me.”

“Not a problem, Father.  I checked his apartment and then the repository.  I was sure he would be in one of the two places.”

“A very good assumption,” added Bryan with a light chuckle.

Sonntag smiled politely and leaned forward to rest his arms on the desk.

“Mr. Michaels, please take a seat.  I am afraid I have some bad news to share,” Sonntag said as he motioned to one of the large leather chairs.  “I received a phone call from the University of Michigan a little while ago, informing me that your grant will expire in 3 weeks.”

“I know,” Bryan quickly replied with a hint of disappointment in his voice as he sank into a chair.  “However, I am hoping to find something that will lead them to extend my grant by six more months.”

“I see,” answered Sonntag as he once again reclined in his chair.  “And have you located anything that would give them reason to extend the grant?”

Bryan wanted to mention the book but decided against for the time being.

“Nothing solid yet, but I am hoping to put together something new on the lineage of Hanover rulers,” he lied.

“Ah, yes, the royal lineage is indeed an interesting part of our history indeed.”

“I am particularly interested in the fact that King George the First of Britain was originally from Hanover.  I can only imagine what the British parliament thought of someone from here taking over their throne!  Who knows, maybe George took care of his friends back here from his throne in London.”

Sonntag listened patiently as Bryan rattled through some of the elementary history of Hanover.  Michelle stood idly by as the two men conversed.

“So, I hope to find something earth shattering in the next few weeks.  I believe that is the only way I’ll be staying in Germany for much longer.”

“Well, good luck to you then Mr. Michaels.  Please keep me informed of any discoveries you make or if I can assist you in any way.  Have a good evening.  Michelle, please show Mr. Michaels out.”

Michelle just nodded to her father and headed for the door.  Bryan shook Sonntag’s hand and followed Michelle out.  They walked back through the waiting area to the door with no handle.  Michelle reached up to a small black panel just about eye level and placed her index finger on it.  A green light flashed inside the panel and a small door below the panel popped open, revealing a black button.  She pressed the button and snapped the panel back in place.  Seconds later a familiar thud could be heard as the locks in the door released.  Bryan was impressed by this discovery and began wondering what other secrets this building held.  Obviously the items in this private section of the museum were important enough to require high end security for them.

“So, Michelle, I guess you probably know this entire building pretty well?”

“Yes, my father has been in charge here since I was six years old.  I spent many nights wandering around, exploring the building.”

“All kinds of secrets here I bet.”

“What do you mean?” she asked as he continued walking.

“Oh, I just figured that this building must have secret rooms or passages.  Maybe not, but it just seems like it would fit the bill for a building that is this old.”

“Well, some of the things you consider secret, are probably just spaces not open to the public.”

“Could be,” he said as they passed through the room he hadn’t seen before tonight.  He noticed a few small skylights overhead and tried in vain to make out any of the items on display here.  All he could tell is that it was likely a storage area of some sort.  Moments later they reached the staircase they had used earlier.  A quick swipe of her keycard and they descended the winding staircase to the first floor once again.

They crossed the cavernous main display room without a single word and stopped at the main entrance.  Bryan once again looked around, amazed at the sheer size of the room at night.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Michaels,” Michelle said as she opened the door.

“Always my pleasure, but please call me Bryan.”

“Very well, Bryan,” she said with a polite smile.  “Perhaps we will meet again one day.  Have a good evening.”

“Good night,” he replied as he stepped into the cool night air.

He had only taken a few steps when he heard the door click shut behind him.  He would normally have been thinking about his soon to expire grant, but he was now somewhat preoccupied with his new acquaintance.  He found himself thinking that he certainly hoped their paths would cross again sooner than later.  Michelle seemed nice enough, although quite task minded.  This seemed to be fairly common among the few Germans he had met since his arrival.  Although he had only a few people to base that observation on since arriving, the foremost one of those was Paul at the repository.  Now alone on the street, the city felt even more quiet as he made his way back to his loft.  His mind shifted back to the book in his pack and he picked up the pace a little.

He had been lucky to find an apartment so close to the museum.  The two-story brick building stood among a row of many other similar buildings, which had caused him some strife during his first few days.  Now, it was second nature to stroll through the heavy black door at the front of the building and up the stairs.  Tonight, though, he skipped every other step on the way up the stairs to the landing outside his apartment.  He was not doing a very good job of containing his excitement, but remembered to say a quick hello to his landlord, Frederik.  The little old man liked to sit in the upstairs hallway and read magazines, while puffing away on a hand carved wooden pipe.  Bryan had grown accustomed to the sweet smell of the tobacco that hung in the hall.

Before the door had even closed, he made his way to the kitchen table.  He slid a few of the other book to one side and opened his bag.  Taking a deep breath, he pulled out the metal book.  He marveled again at the emblem on the front for a moment and then he dropped himself into one of the chairs to begin reading.

The first half of the book was based on King George the First.  Much of the information was the basic history he had found early on in his research back home.  The book explained how George Lewis, his name before becoming king of England, had been very proud of Hanover and accepted the throne in London only after giving the nobles there a stern warning that he would not turn his back on his homeland.  George never learned to speak English, even after he was king.  He simply addressed Parliament in French, which did nothing to bridge the gap between himself and the British politicians.  The rift would continue to grow over the years and eventually the crown prince, also named George, would became close with those nobles whom his father had battled with from the beginning.  The prince showed absolutely no interest in Hanover, which greatly disappointed his father.

The second half focused on the existence of a secret treasury that was sequestered somewhere in Hanover by King George the First.  Apparently he had done this after he was convinced that his son did not have respect for his native throne.  The funds were supposedly hidden away by King George to help the next man to solely hold the crown of Hanover.  It was widely known at that time that no woman was allowed to be the monarch of Hanover.  So once a woman became Queen of England, the union between the two thrones would end.  King George must have had his regrets on creating the union and was perfectly willing to make plans for its demise, short of abdicating his own crown.

The final few pages of the book gave vague clues as the location of the previously mentioned treasury, along with some mention of something called the Order of George Lewis.

Bryan was terribly interested in this “Order”, but soon found himself losing the battle with fatigue and began dozing off.  Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was already four in the morning.  He gave in to the sleep as his head collapsed to the table.


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