Part 3 The Ring of Brodgar
As dawn approaches, the group faces a parting of the ways: Gunnvor and Kimi seek to ferry Moira and the others away from Orkney and beyond the clutching talons of Morgause whilst Ross, Heraclief and Manzio journey across to the standing stones.
The group make their farewells before the trio head inland covering the ground quickly although also having to circumnavigate one or two small lochs on route. It is mid morning when they see the distinctive ring of stones in the distance, situated on a narrow strip of land nestled between two lochs.
Finding a depression in the earth not more than a mile from the stones, the tired three dismount and discuss a more detailed plan. They quickly agree that darkness once again offers the most likely opportunity for a ‘Sithe’ group and in keeping with their successful strategy to date, the three wait out the day. Ross takes the first watch and shortly after lunchtime, he wakes the other two. All three crawl to the lip of the shallow depression in which they have made camp and see two riders a little more than a mile away making for the Stones, having clearly journeyed from east to west from Kirkwall.
Ross remains vigilant but no further sightings are made during his watch. When Manzio takes over his watch passes uneventfully until shortly before he prepares to wake Heraclief in the late afternoon. Suddenly, he becomes aware of the footfall associated with horses. Cursing himself for having relaxed, he scrambles from his position on the rim looking toward the standing stones to the opposite side of the depression, quickly spying three burly looking men on horseback not more than 200 yards from their current position. The men are clearly of Scandinavian stock, their clothes in keeping with the Vikings encountered at Skara Brae. Fearing the worst, Ross readied his bow and Manzio his crossbow. However, they are not expecting to find their quarry so far from Skara Brae and the men pass not more than 20yards from the hideout of Manzio and Co.
After two close calls, the three remain awake and vigilant until the sun finally passes the far western horizon. As night falls, the three strike out toward the standing stones with Manzio given the task of exploring the outer perimeter before all three approach in earnest. Heraclief draws him close before setting out and warns:
‘Be careful Manzio. Seek to probe the outer circle but do not access the site itself until we have a better sense of what we face.’
Approaching the dark, sentinel silhouettes of Brodgar’s standing stones, Manzio strikes out alone, noting that on either side of the ring, one stone is larger than the rest. Fearing that these may be the rooks, he instead approaches the central stones first, hesitating 20ft away to observe any reaction. The site appears to be deserted, the banks of a loch illuminated by starlight in the background. Manzio gradually edges forward, slowly moving closer to the nearest stone. Stood barely 5ft from it he once again hesitates, listening for telltale sounds of crossbows being loaded or other potential threats. Once again he senses nothing and so slowly reaches out to touch the outer stone.
All at once, several things happen at once. Upon touching the stone, Manzio feels as though a bolt of lightening has jolted up his arm. His head jerks back whilst simultaneously the ground beneath his feet gives way. For a split second he has a disorientated feeling of brickwork forming around him at astonishing speed and towering above whilst also slipping…and then falling, hurtling down an earthen shoot at an acute angle before being thrown hither and thither his flailing arms attempting to slow his fall before finally slamming into a muddy, wet pile of refuse deep under the earth and in pitch darkness.
Getting unsteadily to his feet, Manzio slowly takes stock of his situation noting the stinging abrasions on his arms and legs. Thankfully his pack is still in one piece and his torch likewise. It takes him several minutes for his flint and tinder to catch before he is able to brandish any light. Finally he observes his surroundings having descended into some kind of refuse disposal room. Filthy and desiccated with age and disuse the room has only two exits. One via the ceiling shoot through which he entered and the other through an open, rotting doorway at the far side of the room.
Deciding to investigate the doorway he finds himself in a narrow passageway flanked by what appear to be tiny cells equipped with manacles hanging flaccid from the dank, rotting walls. Peering inside one cell, the assassin finds a skeleton, still chained to the wall, all trace of flesh long since gone and only the rotting remains of some filthy garment evident around the midriff. Seeing nothing else of interest Manzio turns to leave but freezes in his stride as he hears movement behind him. Turning his head slowly and fearfully he sees that the skeleton arm extends and points toward him. With a barely audible rattled whisper, it emits the barest warning. ‘You are doomed.’
Hastening from the room, Manzio returns to the refuse room, ignoring the overpowering stench upon entry. He sets his torch in a crumbling brazier, which just about holds the weight. Seeking out cracks in the wall, he seeks to climb up to the refuse shoot and quickly finds a comfortable rhythm ascending the stone wall and holding onto the edge of the shoot. Using two spare daggers he begins to make his way painfully back up the steep earthen shoot, digging his daggers in deep like mountain picks for leverage. Hand over hand he makes slow progress and quickly finds his arms aching with lactic acid. Finding the occasional root on which to balance and temporarily rest, Manzio gradually makes his way higher until reaching the foot of a spiral staircase set at an angle away from the refuse shoot. Finally gaining firm ground once again he is able to climb a disused rather crumbling staircase before reaching a wooden door. After testing the door for locks he feels around the damaged frame noting a metal lever poking out from the wood. Pushing it down the door begins to rotate. Quickly shuffling through the opening, Manzio finds that he has stepped through a trapdoor into a library in a relatively well furnished and preserved room.
Treading lightly for fear of further traps he notes that he has entered the room through a rotating bookcase. Seeing a window to his right he pulls back the heavy velvet curtains to reveal an astonishing view. It appears that he is standing in a room situated approximately half way up a tower. An identical tower with a distinctive pattern of 3 turrets stands opposite whilst below is the keep of a castle.