Operation Napoleon Online - Arnaldur Indridason Page 0,2

arrived at the brothers’ farm, almost ten days had elapsed since they had heard the plane, days in which it had snowed without respite. The soldiers set up their base at the farm and the brothers agreed to act as their guides on the ice cap. They spoke no English but with a combination of gestures and sign language were able to show Miller and his men the direction of the plane, warning that there was little chance of finding it on or near the glacier in the depths of winter.

‘Vatnajökull is the biggest glacier in Europe,’ they said, shaking their heads. ‘It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.’ It did not help that the snow would have obliterated all signs of a crash-landing.

Colonel Miller understood their gestures but ignored them. Despite the heavy going, there was a passable route to the glacier from the brothers’ farm and in the circumstances the operation went smoothly. During the short winter days, when the sun was up only from eleven in the morning until half past five, there was little time for searching. Colonel Miller kept his men well in order, though the brothers quickly discovered that most of them had never set foot on a glacier and had scant experience of winter expeditions. They guided the soldiers safely past crevasses and gullies, and the men set up camp in a depression at the edge of the glacier, about 1,100 metres above sea level.

Miller’s troops spent three weeks combing the slopes of the glacier and a five square kilometre area of the ice cap itself. For most of the time the soldiers were lucky with the weather and coordinated their searches well. They divided their efforts, one group searching in the foothills from a camp set up near the farm, while the other group camped on the glacier and scoured the ice for as long as daylight lasted. When darkness fell in the afternoon, the soldiers assembled back at the farm base camp where they ate, slept and sang songs familiar to the brothers from the radio. They slept in British-issue mountaineering tents, sewn from double layers of silk, and huddled for warmth around primuses and oil lamps. Their heavy leather coats reached below the knee and had fur-lined hoods. On their hands they wore thick, coarsely knitted gloves of Icelandic wool.

No sign of the aircraft was found on this first expedition apart from the rim of the nose wheel, of which Colonel Miller immediately took charge. It was the brothers who made the discovery, about two kilometres on to the ice cap. Beyond this fragment, the ice was smooth in every direction and there was no evidence that an aircraft had crashed or made a forced landing there. The brothers said that if the plane had gone down on that part of the ice cap, the snow had probably drifted over the wreckage already. The glacier had swallowed it up.

Colonel Miller was like a man possessed in his search for the plane. He appeared to feel no tiredness and won the admiration of the brothers, who treated him with a mixture of affection and respect and were eager to do anything for him. Miller consulted them a great deal for their local knowledge and they came to be on friendly terms. But eventually, after the expedition had twice been hampered by severe weather on the ice, the colonel was forced to abandon his search. In the second storm, tents and other equipment were buried in snow and lost for good.

There were two aspects of the expedition that puzzled the brothers.

One day they came upon Miller alone in the stable block, which adjoined the barn and cowshed, taking him by surprise as he stood by one of the horses in its stall, stroking its head. The colonel, whose courage and authority over his men was striking, had to all appearances taken himself quietly to one side to weep. He cradled the horse’s head and they saw how his shoulders shook. When one of them cleared his throat, Miller started and glanced their way. They saw the tracks of tears on his dirty cheeks, but the colonel was quick to recover, drying his face and pretending nothing had happened. The brothers had often discussed Miller. They never asked him how old he was but guessed he could be no more than twenty-five.

‘This is a handsome animal,’ Miller said in his own language. The brothers did not understand him. He’s probably homesick,