Iona, Part Three - Fellowship Reformed
The dragonborn stopped in his tracks, hesitant, like a startled deer not sure which way to run.
“I am not going to hurt you. My name is Storm.”
The dragonborn nodded in acknowledgement. “I am Sioc”.
“Why are you running?” asked Storm.
“I want no part of this,” replied Sioc. “I want to get away. Away from all the killing, away from all the pain. Your friend released me, and now I have the chance to be free.”
“Why? What do you mean?” asked Storm.
“I was raised by Morrigan, as one of her sorcerers, and lived to serve her. She sent me on many missions, some against her sister, Morgause. The enchantress captured me, and through the power of her charms I was forced to obey and serve her. Later, I was recaptured by Morrigan.” Sioc paused, shuddering. “She does not take kindly to betrayal. She tortured me, placed terrible magical fire within me. Fire that burned all the time, to remind me of the price of betrayal, and that became utter agony if I even thought of disloyalty. In this way, she enslaved me. Now you have set me free, and I thank you.”
“You don’t have to run,” said Storm. “We are so alike. Why not join us, we can protect you.”
Sioc shook his head, his pained expression returning. “No one can protect me from her. Her servants, who your friends are fighting as we speak, are powerful. One of them is Henry, the Young King, son of Henry II of England. I do not think you will prevail.”
“We have powerful allies,” replied Storm. “We serve the Archbishop of York, and the Church.”
Sioc suddenly looked frightened again, shaking his head almost involuntarily. “No . . . no, I will be safer on my own. You saved my life, for which I thank you, but I’ll take my chances.”
“Very well,” said Storm. “I will not stand in your way. Good luck, and fare well.”
With that, Sioc continued down the path to the beach far below, and Storm took to the skies once more, flying quickly back to the ruins of the abbey.
He arrived back to a desolate scene. His eyes were immediately drawn to the bloody corpse of Christian of Whithorn, inside the threshold of the ruined abbey. Sophia sat on a chunk of crumbling wall outside, her face streaked with tears, not far from a pulsing gem the size of a dragon’s egg. Nearby, Manzio sat slumped in the snow, his eyes vacant. Tector stood over him.
“Manzio, look at me,” the big warrior said insistently. “What happened to Christian?” Manzio ignored him, staring off into space.
Tector noticed Storm’s arrival and looked round. “What happened to the dragonborn?” he asked.
“He left,” replied Storm. “I don’t know where he is going. What happened here?”
Tector and Sophia glanced uneasily at Manzio. The Vesuvian was still staring blankly ahead, the snow beginning to settle on his cowl. Before Storm could press the point, the companions were distracted by a glow that began to emit from each of their Solstice Stones. Sophia’s amulet, Tector’s armour, Manzio’s boots, the gem embedded in Storm’s chest, and the strange egg-shaped gem in the snow nearby, all pulsed with light. They looked around, unsure what was happening, as the light intensified, ultimately forcing them to shield their eyes. Then, just as suddenly as the glow began, it faded. They looked around, and saw the familiar figure of Myrddin standing in the snow, close to the dragon egg gem. The Solstice Stone atop his staff was also fading from a bright glow.
The druid looked at the companions, his eyes narrowing. “What has happened here?” he demanded. “Sophia, Storm, Tector, how did you come to be here on Iona?!”
The companions looked at each other awkwardly, and after a few moments of silence they began to recount their recent exploits, from the point they left Uaine Dachaig in the company of the mysterious green-eyed elf maid.
Myrddin shook his head as they spoke, interrupting their tale and rebuking them. “What on earth possessed you to leave Uaine Dachaig in the dead of night, in the company of a stranger, whose name you did not even know, nor think to ask! You have been used as pawns by Morgause, and I can only conclude that her enchantments led you astray.” He paused, shaking his head again. “But I cannot fault your loyalty to Manzio.”
The druid looked at each of the companions in turn. “The six Solstice Stones are gathered together again, for the first time since Ben Nevis. And I begin to sense that this one,” he gestured to the Stone atop his staff, “is the Summoning Stone, that calls to them all.”
“Yet I do not see Hakan here,” he went on, “though his Solstice Stone lies here in the snow, untended. I sense this is no coincidence.”
With tears beginning to flow once again, Sophia continued their tale, recalling their encounter with Hakan, including her heart-wrenching exchange with the danagrim during his final moments.
Sadness descended on the group for a moment, and they mourned the loss of their ally and friend. “So passes Hakan, son of Loric,” murmured the druid.
Blinking back a tear of his own, he looked at Storm. “Continue with your tale,” he said. “What happened with this dragonborn you spoke of?”
Storm completed their story, and Myrddin looked thoughtful once again. “I shall have to find this dragonborn. It is unlikely he could have found a way off the island, and he may know much that would be of use to us.”
He turned to Manzio. “And what of Heraclief?” he asked.
The Vesuvian quickly recounted his final moments at The Clisham and the disappearance of the sorcerer. He described his danagrim travelling companions, and the mysterious knight who accompanied them, as well as the quest for the Spear of Lugh.
The druid looked surprised by Manzio’s news, and for the first time since his arrival, a look of optimism returned to his troubled features.
“This is an unexpected turn of events, a boon unlooked for. The return of a great warrior of Hibernia, opposed to Morrigan of old, must surely aid our cause. I must find this knight. And Heraclief, for that matter, for the Solstice Stone of Hakan should now pass to him. We shall form a Hand of our own, the Fellowship, to combat the many Hands already in the field at the command of the enemy.”
Myrddin glanced at the spear, sword and shield strapped to Tector’s back, seeming to notice them for the first time. A frown once again crossed the druid’s face. “Tector, where did you get those weapons?” he asked.
He listened as the companions told him of their meeting with the tall elven warrior and the twisted spider abomination that Jean de Carcassone had become. Having established that the dark elf was taken prisoner, Myrddin asked to be taken to the derelict building in which the group left him.
After a walk through the thickening snow, the group reached the empty dwelling, finding that the prisoner remained bound and gagged within.
“This is Prince Connal of Connaught,” said Myrddin to the companions. “A sithe prince of long ago, returned to life by the winds of fate.”
The druid turned to Tector. “Release him,” he commanded in a soft voice. “Prince Connal, surely now you see that this is not the path?”
The prince nodded his head, slowly. “Aye,” he replied, in a soft Hibernian brogue. “I had no wish to serve the Black Queen, but she is the only one who can return my lost love to me. She has promised to prevail upon her sister, Morgana, who wields power over life and death itself.”
Myddin shook his head. “The Witches are treacherous, my friend. They cannot be trusted. Ask yourself this: even if this promise is fulfilled, would Nivaughn be returned to you as she was in the fullness of life, or as a shadow of her former self? Look at those you came here with, and you will have your answer.” The Prince nodded, thoughtfully.
“We are at war, my friend,” continued the druid. “We are hard-pressed, and I have not the means to grant your desire now, but I promise you that I will find a way to return her to you, in the fullness of time. Join with us, come back to the light.”“Aye,” replied the tall dark elf. “I know you are true to your word, druid. And I have seen the evil in the servants of Morrigan.”
Turning to Tector, the druid asked that the spear, sword and shield be returned to the Prince. “My thanks,” said the elf. “What of that damned priest, Christian of Whithorn. Did the Young King slay him?” he asked, a faint note of hope in his voice.
Myrddin’s eyes widened. “The bishop of Whithorn is here?!” he exclaimed. Looking around the companions, he went on. “Where is he?”
At this, Manzio crouched low, in a defensive position, a sudden change robbing his features of their usual cool demeanour, replacing it with an unfamiliar look of savage aggression.
“It is mine!” he rasped. “He tried to take it from me . . . and I was forced to protect myself!”
The companions glanced uneasily at Myrddin, then at Manzio, backing away from their friend slightly. The druid’s gaze seemed to focus suddenly on Manzio’s sgian dubh.
“Manzio, that blade has bewitched you,” he said urgently. “You must fight its influence…”
Before Myrddin could finish his warning, Manzio suddenly bolted for the door, narrowly escaping the lunging grasp of Tector and hurtling outside. As the companions rushed out after him, the Vesuvian sprinted along the path away from them at blinding speed. Tector gave chase, but knew immediately that it was hopeless, as Manzio’s boots gave him the speed of a horse at full gallop.
Storm walked calmly behind, lifting his scaled hands and calling up a whirlwind around Manzio. The Vesuvian was thrown up into the air, spinning wildly within the vortex. Then, at the command of Myrddin, a dense tangle of foliage broke through the frozen soil, slowly writhing in the area beneath the spinning assassin.
Storm waited for the group to position themselves around the circle of vegetation, before releasing his spell. Manzio immediately dropped to the ground, into the writhing plants that grasped him tightly as he tried to run. The assassin grabbed his sgian dubh, unsheathing it. Unsure of his intent, Tector grabbed the Vesuvian by the arms, his great strength easily overpowering the smaller man and holding him down, not allowing him to move the blade another inch.
“Make him drop the dagger!” Myrddin commanded.
Prince Connal stepped forward, kneeling down beside the assassin, still struggling in the vicelike grip of the Dragonknight. The sithe Prince drew his gleaming longsword and bent down, his face close to Manzio’s.
“Drop the blade, boy, or I will cut off your hand,” he said in a threatening whisper.
Left with no choice, Manzio dropped the sgian dubh into the snow. While Tector continued to hold the Vesuvian in a firm grip, Myrddin allowed the vegetation to relax and go still, before wrapping the dagger in fine emerald cloth and placing the deadly weapon within his robes.
This done, he walked calmly across to Manzio, gesturing for Tector to release him. Myrddin offered some words of encouragement to the young man, before salving his wounds with druidic healing. Still shaking, Manzio closed his eyes in relief.
“Look after him,” instructed the druid. “Connal, you look as though you could do with some exercise. Come with me. We must retrieve the body of Christian, and find this mysterious dragonborn mentioned by Storm.”
Silence fell upon the group as the druid and the prince departed. Tector glanced from time to time in the direction of the bearded Manzio, noticing the enormous changes in his young friend. Despite the Vesuvian’s youthful age, Tector could not help but feel that the assassin looked as though he was in his late twenties. Clearly the ordeals of the last year had aged his friend.
Several hours passed, and the snows outside had worsened, before Myrddin returned, accompanied by both Connal and the dragonborn.
“Allow me to introduce Sioc,” the druid announced with a smile.
The companions nodded in response as Myrddin introduced each of them in turn. Sioc, however, hardly seemed to notice, staring at Storm throughout.
Myrddin looked around again, and addressed the group. “I must go. It is imperative that I find Heraclief, and the knight you mentioned earlier Manzio. Sioc here, and Connal, have both agreed to aid me. You should stay here, and recover from your ordeal. I will return as soon as I am able.”
Calling once more upon the power of the Solstice Stones, Myrddin drew Sioc and Connal close. The faint glow of the Stones grew to a blinding intensity before quickly fading, leaving the four companions alone once more.
For several days, the four friends were able to convalesce, recovering from their enormous efforts throughout 1180. Tector and Sophia brought a regular supply of fish and game for supper, while Manzio found a local community, huddled in a small bay to the south of the island. He was able to buy some mutton and vegetables, although the islanders had little to spare given the harsh weather conditions.
Sophia and Tector bestowed the blessing of their healing on themselves and their companions, restoring the health and vigour of each, and for a while, despite the storms and snow, the war was briefly forgotten.
On the afternoon of the fifth day, Myrddin returned. The group had just finished a frugal lunch when Manzio spotted a group of five approaching from the southern road. He called his friends together, before walking ahead to embrace Heraclief.
As the newcomers and the Fellowship converged, Myrddin gathered them together, leaning heavily on his staff. His face was pale and his features looked drawn with exhaustion.
“Allow me to introduce Tuan Mac Cairill,” he said, gesturing to the tall knight. “Broccan, Blayne and Nessa,” he went on, indicating the three danagrim, “and Heraclief,” he finished, nodding to the emerald-robed sorcerer.
Storm, Tector and Sophia looked in awe at the knight, sensing ancient power emanating, as if in waves, both from him and the archaic sword at his belt.
“We have little time,” said Myrddin. “Events move at pace in the north. Morgana has given siege to Durham once again and moves to the attack. Meanwhile, York Minster has been penetrated by a powerful Hand, and they have stolen the keys that were secured there. While de Glanvill is occupied with the defence of Durham, I believe this Hand has been sent to gather all five of the Keys of Binding, the enchanted keys that are required to enter the tomb of Septimus Severus, the Roman Emperor who died in York nearly a thousand years ago.”
“I sense that Morgana seeks to awaken Severus, using her fell necromancy, and unleash him on the north. This would lead to the fall of York, and almost certain defeat. We must not allow it to happen.”
“I cannot join you, as I must fulfil my oath to de Glanvill and aid in the defence of Durham. However, I have negotiated with Tuan, and he has agreed to allow me the services of Heraclief and Manzio for two days. The Fellowship must be united to face this Hand and recover the Keys of Binding. They are a formidable force, led by Mallaidh, a fell necromancer who is one of Morgana’s foremost apprentices.”
He turned to Manzio. “I know the loss of your sgian dubh was a great sacrifice. I have brought you a gift to replace it. Two gifts, to be precise.”
With that, the druid reached into his robes, withdrawing a bundle of fine cloth. Placing it in Manzio’s outstretched hands, he unwrapped the cloth, revealing a beautifully wrought belt made from tan leather, with tones of rustic earth and dyed greenish hues, and inlaid with subtle tree icons. Attached to the belt were two leather scabbards containing matching elven long daggers. The pommels of both were forged from matching emerald with the grips carved into the precious stone. Each blade contained a narrow central channel with a subtle tinge of emerald, whilst the rustic faun cross guards elegantly and seamlessly clasped the metal.
“Twin blades, unused for many years. Now would appear to be an apt time for their return. The emerald pommels reminded me of your friend,” smiled Myrddin. “May good fortune guide these blades in your capable hands, and may they serve you well, as they did the caeltir princes of old.”
“Thank you,” said Manzio, struggling to draw his eyes away from his fine new weapons.
Stepping back, Myrddin addressed the group. “We have no time to waste and must leave at once.”
The group gathered their possessions, Manzio and Broccan pointedly ignoring one another. With Manzio still admiring his new blades, Nessa quickly intercepted the Vesuvian, “Your blades are paired like lovers. You should name them after Conall and his love.”
Manzio was unsure if Nessa was teasing him, but the danagrim seer had turned away, watching Broccan, the stocky Storm Clan leader, leaving Manzio increasingly aware of the separation he had caused.
Nessa’s gaze returned to Manzio. “Give him time…remember that we have lost our entire family. He will forgive you in the fullness of time.”
While Manzio pondered Nessa’s words, she moved over to Sophia, drawing the young lady to one side. With her empty eye-socket close to the young Lady, she offered further words of advice.
“Aren’t you a beauty?’ she beamed. “Beautiful and an emerging player on the board.”
While she looked silently into Sophia’s eyes, Nessa’s voice sounded in the young lady’s mind. “I sense your skill; power to match the White Queen herself one day, I fancy, if nurtured properly. You need a teacher. Seek me out, when the time is right, and there is much I can show you. I sense that the Fellowship of Fate is strong, but many will try to divide you, and turn you against yourselves. That must not happen, or all will be lost.”
Finally, a visibly tired Myddin brought the group together, all five Solstice Stones in a circle, with the druid and his Summoning Stone in the centre. As Myrddin began the sorcery to activate the Stones, Tuan Mac Cairill spoke, his voice emerging as though from a chasm. “Remember, druid, I am not de Glanville, and your late return will not be tolerated. Two days only.”
Myrddin looked at the knight and nodded in acknowledgement. With that, the stones flashed, brilliant light blinding the companions, and the Fellowship was thrown once more into the spinning, tumbling vortex between space and time.