Orkney Part 1
As the three companions emerge from the soothing waters of the pool, they find themselves situated in a nestled alcove space, hidden and almost camouflaged by the thick vegetation growing on the lip of the hill. Remarkably, their horses and supplies have also made the transition from northern England. The night is warm…a marked change from the chill of Hadrian’s Wall.
Suddenly, the heightened senses of Ross pick up sounds on the edge of the pool, just out of sight as part of a hidden dog leg. Heraclief silently motions for Ross to go right, Manzio via the centre whilst he takes the left flank. The three approach slowly through the serene waters before Manzio emerges first, keeping to the shadows thrown by trees bordering the tiny loch. Looking across the waters he sees two diminutive figures that at first look like children but upon closer inspection are clearly of adult age but of tiny height and frame. The first is dressed in a bedraggled vest and shorts with thick almost wooly hair and a rather messy beard. The second wears much finer clothing although even in the moonlight Manzio notes the flamboyant almost garish colour scheme worn by this individual. He also wears goggles made of pine cones, which emit an azure blue energy. In his left hand he carries an unadorned staff. Both individuals are filling water skins and at first seem blissfully unaware that they are being watched until the smaller, more bedraggled of the two suddenly stops and looks up, gazing directly at Manzio.
The taller of the two also looks up and peering into the gloom, seems quite surprised to have company:
‘Well I never, Kimi. I never thought anyone else would find our little pool.’
Speaking using a thick Caithness accent, he waves Manzio over.
‘Well don’t stand staring loonie, o’er hear so we can get a proper gander at Y’ez. I’m Gunnvor by the way and this is my pal, Kimi. We actually work in Kirkwall you know but we sometimes come up to the pool but we al’ays thought we woz the ones what knew about it and nayone else. Just goes to show eh Kimi? Kimi doesnee say much by the way.’
Wading across the waters Manzio is rather taken aback by the fast talking individual staring up at him.
‘Thank you for your welcome Gunnvor and Kimi. I come in peace. May I also introduce my two companions.’
Emerging from the shadows, first Ross and then Heraclief make their way across the still, mirror like waters to make their introductions. Gunnvor claps his hands in excitement:
‘Look Kimi, an elf…and, and…an exotic stranger. Now wait a minute, you three’s isnae from these parts.’
Heraclief, acknowledging the point is quick to respond. ‘That is true. We have journeyed from England and seek potential trading ties with the fishermen of Orkney.’
Nodding enthusiastically, Gunnvor is quick to agree. ‘Aye, you’ll hae nae shortage on that count, I can tell you. We work doon the Bishop’s Palace for the WHITE QUEEN and we have mare fish n we know wit te de with it.’
The conversation continues for quite some time with the three companions finding Gunnvor remarkably open about his work. He outlines the varied roles in which his people are employed by the WHITE QUEEN although corrects himself when it occurs to him that he is not actually employed but rather, offers a free service. Slightly surprised by his own admission he tells them, in a conspiratorial voice, that his people make ‘Constructs’ for the Queen, sometimes white and sometimes black, in the guise of chess pieces. In fact, Kimi and Gunnvor are heading to Skara Brae, as their friend Moira was taken by some Viking barbarians and they have heard some horrible rumors of what happens over at the old elven burial grounds that they want to dispel as nonsense. In short, they want to make sure ‘wee Moira’ is OK.
Surprisingly, Ross immediately agrees to accompany Kimi and Gunnvor as he’d like to see the ancient burial grounds for himself. Heraclief and Manzio acquiesce and make plans to leave although before they depart, Gunnvor advises the group to fill their water skins from the loch for it contains special healing properties. Secondly, for the first time since their arrival Kimi speaks as Heraclief helps the ‘gnome’ onto his horse. Turning to view the tall sorcerer he says simply ‘Jeannie.’ Gunnvor laughs from behind Manzio…‘Kimi is already setting your friend up on a date.’
Departing for Skara Brae, none of the group feel tired and under a full moon make good time descending the highlands down toward the old burial grounds. Gunnvor is quick to correct any assumption that he and Kimi are ‘gnomes’ instead explaining the clan routes of his people who appear to herald from a faraway realm north of even the vikings known as ‘Lapland.’
Taking the coastal roads, they reach the perimeter of Skara Brae in the dead of night but not before Gunnvor casually drops into conversation a dire warning.
’We’d best be on the lookout for yon tee Knights. You cannae be tee sure you Kane?’
Heraclief calls a halt and quizzes Gunnvor further for information and whilst the ‘gnome’ is easily distracted it is eventually clear that the mechanical, enchanted Knights are deadly fast, breathe fire and attempt to leap on opponents with a vicious use of hooves and bite. Gunnvor suggests that powerful constructs guard all of the WHITE QUEEN’S key strategic assets including the bishops situated (appropriately) at the Bishop’s Palace as well as rooks at the Ring of Brodgar.
As the group prepare to eat, Heraclief surreptitiously discusses their current situation with Ross and Manzio whilst Gunnvor engages in a rather one sided conversation with Kimi. Heraclief suggests that it is clear that Morgause has used enchantments to enlist the support of her Lapland engineers but perhaps the enchantments are weakening. He also proposes that the mission enables the group to use the Sithe cloak for the first time, thereby suggesting an incursion by Sithe assassins, whilst simultaneously discovering the whereabouts and predicament of Moira. The group agrees that Manzio will reconnaissance the burial grounds with cover provided by Heraclief and Ross from the flanks.
Returning to Gunnvor and Kimi and outlining the plan, Gunnvor in particular insists that he and Kimi accompany Manzio as it is their ‘friend’ at risk. Heraclief agrees and under cover of darkness Manzio, using the added iridescence of the cloak, sets out toward the burial grounds. The terrain soon changes with rolling hillocks and domed mounds looming in the distance. Before long, Manzio begins to feel an uneasiness about the environment he is passing through as though the land is tainted by an unspeakable evil. Clearly Gunnvor feels this change too as his now customary chat fades and falls silent. Suddenly, Manzio becomes aware that he has reached some kind of invisible barrier like a pressure holding him back. Probing the barrier he is nevertheless able to penetrate through and continues on his way. However, he has barely continued when in the distance he hears the unnerving sound of hooves. Getting closer….getting closer! Through the gloom of the cloak, he sees an enormous 10ft tall mechanical horse moving towards him in great bounding leaps, huge chunks of earth thrown up in its wake. Feeling a sense of terror, all three companions run but unsurprisingly Manzio quickly outdistances his two diminutive companions. Breaking back through the invisible barrier, he turns to go back for Kimi and Gunnvor, once again penetrating the clearly enchanted cordon fencing Skara Brae. Simultaneously the knight reaches Kimi, leaping high before descending in a potentially fatal arc onto the tiny figure. However, before landing Kimi blinks in and out of existence appearing 20 yards behind the knight. It’s mechanical cogs grating as the knight turns direction and bolts forward once more, the image of Kimi flickers, illusory before snuffing out much like a candle. He reappears less than a yard or two from his original position.
Manzio both aghast and confused by what he has witnessed encompasses the two within the 15ft globe of darkness emitted by his cloak and urges them to run. Crisscrossing the threshold, the three run, stumbling on the uneven ground. However, upon reaching the perimeter of Skara Brae, the knight seems to hold its position as though stood sentry.
Still shaken and certainly out of breath, the three return to their starting place with first Heraclief and then Ross joining them. Manzio quickly recounts his engagement with the knight and suggests that they need to find another way. Having thought about the events described by Manzio, Heraclief suggests that they approach from another angle, seeking any weaknesses in the defensive perimeter.
Making full use of the night to make good their reconnaissance, Ross leads the group to his former position approaching Skara Brae from the coastal path rather than cross country. The group proceeds to probe the invisible pressure barrier. This continues for over an hour leading the five in an anti clockwise direction to the southern tip of the perimeter. At this point Heraclief senses a narrow corridor of 5ft or less in which the barrier does not quite meet. Taking a risk, the group stay close together within the 15ft of darkness offered by the Sithe cloak. Slowly entering the village they hesitate after a few strides listening for the sound of thunderous hooves but are relieved to hear only the reassuring sound of waves breaking on the sands below the cliff top to their west.
Proceeding carefully, picking their path via hillocks and cairns it is clear that the deserted village has a large domed mount at its heart. Approaching slowly and quietly the group circumnavigates the mound searching for an entrance. Suddenly, they see a knight stood guarding an open, arched entranceway. The group freezes. Huddling together within the confines of the globe, Heraclief whispers in Manzio’s ear. ‘Use the ring. Give me the cloak.’
Manzio quickly swaps his cloak for the ring, approaching the knight as quietly as possible. However, at the last moment and not more than 5ft from the huge metallic sentry, the internal mechanisms crack into movement, the creature leaping forward blocking the assassins path. Fleeing back to the globe and with his invisibility now compromised, Manzio gains the comfort of the globe before the group begins to back away. The knight is lighting fast, leaping into the globe, catching Manzio a vicious blow to the shoulder with a powerful metal hoof. Flattened by the force of the blow, Manzio remains statuesque whilst the knight pursues the other four, fire blazing in the darkness like a flame thrower. Biding his moment as the globe of darkness moves beyond him, Manzio rolls painfully to his feet, hugging the darkness of the mound and shuffling silently back toward the entranceway.
Manzio finds a stairway cut into the earth itself leading down into the mound’s interior. Braziers are set on the wall intermittently on Manzio’s left and right. Slowly descending the stairs he proceeds to a flattened corridor space leading to an open, arched doorway. Creeping to the doorway, he risks a quick glance within and sees two huge barbarian guards. One is asleep, his head on the table snoring loudly. The other is sipping from a horn of mead, his head jerking from time to time as though on the verge of sleep. At least two other figures are outlined against the blazing torches at the far side of the room on straw mattresses. A wooden cage is set into the back wall, caging four filthy girls in their Tweens. They lay sleeping like animals within a cage strewn with disused bones. Leveling his crossbow, Manzio aims and fires at the tall guard on the verge of sleep. The quarrel narrowly misses its target but the sound wakes both guards with a shout. Not waiting to see the implications of his missed shot, Manzio uses his boots of speed to quickly climb the staircase and exit the mound. Outdistancing his pursuers he makes for the perimeter, once again penetrating the protective cordon before doubling back on the exterior to find his friends. He doesn’t have to wait long and quickly finds that both Ross and especially Heraclief have received nasty wounds. Ross is singed from the knight’s flame attack whilst Heraclief is carrying his arm as though badly bruised.