The Spear of Lugh Part 4
After saying goodbye to the rest of the Fellowship and armed with a map copied by Storm to guide their way, Heraclief and Manzio make their way back to the standing stone through which they passed less than a day before. Bruised and battered from the battle, the two are heartened to find that the aqueduct is still flowing and are able to bathe in freezing cold but refreshing waters.
Time passes slowly in the underground setting and at times they are alerted to strange sounds and movements beyond the protection of their position. They camp just above the gushing waters below on a cold stone ledge with both falling into a deep sleep despite setting a watch. Heraclief wakes first and shakes Manzio to consciousness. After eating the remaining food shared by Sophia, both probe their newly acquired magical items. Manzio experiences a surge of strength through his body as though shared by the very stone itself as he connects with the vitality and raw energy hidden with the Elven daggers. He feels a new sense of affinity for the natural world around him and for the first time feels strangely troubled by the man-made surroundings. Meanwhile, Heraclief extends his own senses into the golden key and taps into the healing within. Golden energy, which appears like dust trapped within a shaft of sunlight spreads from the key to his arm and then throughout his entire body bringing a warmth and comfort to his tired and battered limbs.
Heraclief and Manzio are not sure how long they wait but are both able to use the healing one more time before the familiar blindingly white light begins to radiate from the standing stone. The two companions look away and await the soft blow of heat which has previously announced the emergence of the druid from within. As they look back toward the fading light of the stone, Myrddin emerges slowly, leaning heavily on his staff. As he reaches their position, Manzio is shocked to see the blackened, withered skin clearly visible on his neck. The druid’s eyes look dark and sunken into skin sagging and ashen. Heraclief reaches out to help Myrddin and the druid seems glad for the support, his eyes struggling to focus.
‘Myrddin, you are in need of the Druid sleep. You will be of no use to your allies in this state.’ says Heraclief, helping the elf into a sitting position despite the obvious discomfort reflected in his face.
‘But that I could Heraclief. The north is overrun and we have few allies to summon.’
Heraclief nods, catching the concerned eye of Manzio who looks on helplessly.
‘Then find your kin, my friend. Find your kin and wake them for you cannot stand alone.’
Myrddin throws his staff down onto the cold stone floor with a clatter, which echoes around the circular chamber.
‘Don’t you think I’ve tried! Time and knowledge is lost to me and all that is left is the here and now.’
There is a silence before Heraclief speaks quietly, barely audible above the white noise of the frothing aqueduct.
‘Will it suffice? Gainst the Badb?’
The response is equally understated.
‘It is all I have to offer…now let me sleep, I must regain my strength.’
Once again the two companions patiently wait as Myrddin sleeps for what seems like an eternity. Hungry but recovering from the magical healing offered by his elven blades, Manzio feels his strength return. Heraclief, concerned for Myrddin’s health uses the golden key healing on the druid. The golden dust seems to have the desired impact and the druid opens his eyes, a little rested from the restorative effects of both sleep and healing.
Thanking Heraclief for his support, Myrddin reaches into his robes and gives each some wafer thin slices of bread bound in a beautiful, lustrous golden leaf. ‘Take this. Elven bread to help sustain you. One wafer will maintain you for a day at a time, so you use it sparingly for it is precious.’
The three eat and then with his back resting comfortably against the wall behind him. Myrddin looks toward Heraclief and Manzio.
‘Now, tell me all that has transpired since we last met and then, if I am able, I will attempt to transport you back to the standing stones on Mull, as agreed with Tuan Mac Cairill.’
Heraclief begins the story of their battles against Lorcan and Mallaidh whilst Manzio finishes off with the narrative relating to the keys and the death of their adversaries. For the first time since his arrival, Myrddin smiles, optimism returning to his face.
‘Well done. Well done indeed to both of you and the Fellowship. Roarc joining our cause is an unlooked for boon. But the death of Mallaidh and Lorcan is a huge blow to the Badb and invaluable to our cause. At last the tide turns for I too bring good news from the north. Durham has held and even now wards are being set against any future attempts on the wall. For now, the city is safe, although if we cannot do something to end the winter, it will all be in vain.’
Later in the day, or night, Manzio is unsure having lost all sense of time in the catacombs, Myrddin once again feels ready to summon the power required for teleportation via the standing stones. ‘Stay close…I will attempt to keep the gate open so that I can return immediately. I do not have the strength to open the portal twice.’
Myrddin is preparing himself for the power required to summon the powers of the stones when he frowns looking at the quaich tucked into Manzio’s belt. ‘What is that?’
Manzio, having almost forgotten the gift, reaches into his belt and looks at the healing device. He quickly explains the circumstances of the gift and the emerald bottle given to Heraclief. Reaching into his robes, Myrddin responds by opening a large velvet bag. ‘Give it up Manzio. You must sever the connection with the White Queen entirely if you wish to be truly free.’
Manzio nods, dropping the quaich into the bag as requested but at the last second, his fingers twitch and he nearly snatches it back but the item has already slipped into Myrddin’s bag.
Heraclief also reaches into his own robes, retrieving the emerald bottle before dropping it into the bag too.
For a second, a strange look crosses the face of Myrddin. He looks at Manzio, back at Heraclief and the tall sorcerer shakes his head, with a barely perceptible movement.
‘Let us hasten. Time is of the essence. Good luck to you both upon your quest.’
Later that day, in the inky half-light of morning set against the ferocity of the winter winds, Heraclief and Manzio stand on the shores of Mull, looking across the narrow strait of water separating the isle from Iona. The silhouette of the abbey can be seen in the far distance. Behind them, the final glint of light fades from the Lochbuie Standing Stones, Myrddin already gone and transported back safely to the York catacombs.
Viewing the distance between the two islands, a rather obvious problem suddenly becomes apparent to Manzio. ‘So how will we get back to Iona?’
Heraclief looks out of the side of his eye, a knowing look and the faintest smile on his lips. ‘It is time for you to make your first shadow walk, my young friend.’
Heraclief places an arm around the shoulders of Manzio. ‘Your training in the League of Shadows starts in earnest today. Hold my hand and do not let go. We are about to enter an inter dimensional space much like the plane of existence inhabited by the Black Queen but dominated instead by shadow. It touches upon the world as we know it but only just. Within the shadows all will seem insubstantial just as shadow does within our own world. In time, you will learn to access this space independently but for now, you will need my guidance.’
Heraclief takes some considerable time, as though probing the half lit shadows cast by rocks and even the tall megalithic standing stones. Finally, in the watery half light of the morning he finds what he is looking for and grasping Manzio’s hand, begins to vanish into the shadow. Manzio, disbelieving at first follows suit and feels himself submerge into the shadows. Almost immediately he finds himself within a world of darkness, as though dusk has settled. Instead of sea he sees rolling hills and a shifting landscape that seems to lack permanence as though insubstantial. At first Manzio feels a sense of panic but the physicality of Heraclief steadies his nerves and slowly but surely the assassin follows the sorcerer across the fragmented, shadowy landscape.
After what seems only a relatively short period of time, Manzio senses Heraclief once again testing the shadows. He does so several times before satisfied and slowly a shaft of light grows from what appears to be nothing more than a stunted tree, the first Manzio has seen since entering the realm of shadow. As Heraclief pulls him through the shaft of light he has to avert his eyes from what at first seems like blinding light but quickly fades as he finds himself back on solid ground, part way up the very same dun where Sioc fled during the battle at Iona Abbey. Indeed, as his vision begins to return, Manzio spots the Abbey itself close at hand and not far below his current position.
‘Your first lesson is at an end. We will speak of it no further for now.’
Manzio nods, something in the sorcerer’s tone which suggests that he will not broker dispute. The two are forced to trek cross country through the snow as no visible path is evident in the deep drifts between the dun and Abbey. However, thankfully the distance is not far and whilst tiring they quickly emerge on the pathway leading to the crumbling domed archway, which marks the entrance to the abbey. They have barely set foot within than Blayne, followed closely by Nessa and then Broccan appear from the interior. The two female Danagrim embrace Manzio and Heraclief in turn whilst Broccan greets the two with a more distant response. ‘Glad to see you made it back in time. The knight would not have been best pleased with a no show.’
Manzio, sensing the awkward distance created by his own misdemeanors approaches Broccan. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you, not just Broccan. My only excuse was that I was not in my right mind but rather, influenced by the enchantments of the white Queen.’
Broccan, nonchalantly picking the meat from his teeth with grubby fingers merely glances at the taller Vesuvian. ‘Go on.’
Manzio, looking at all three remaining members of the Storm Clan considers his next words carefully.
‘Look, I know what it is like to lose family and friends. When Heraclief and I were captured by the White Queen, we thought our friend Ross had been killed. Mogause is a powerful enchanter and she ensnared us in her power bidding that we serve her against the black queen. This we would gladly have done anyway but not in the name of the white queen.’
Broccan unaffected by Manzio’s tale, interjects with a ferocious retort. ‘I would have died rather than serve that Bitch.’
Manzio nods, holding his nerve despite the threat of violence clearly evident in the bulky Danagrim’s body language. “Even when enchanted? The sgian dubh has been taken from me and at last I am free of the taint cast by Morgause.’
‘We shall see?’ is the only response from Broccan before the Danagrim turns away with a dismissive wave of his hand , before the warrior busies himself with preparations for a morning fire. ‘Maybe you can catch some breakfast for us boy?’
Pleased to have been given a responsibility on behalf of the group, Manzio applies himself to the challenge throughout what remains of the morning. However, the task is harder than expected, his hands freezing from the cold but he perseveres and is determined not to return empty handed. At last, when he is unable to go on any longer and is thinking of turning back, he is successful, making not only one but two catches in quick succession to return to the fire.
Heraclief’s familiar emerald flame is a welcome, blazing furnace in the alcove space approaching the Abbey when he returns to the group. The catch pleases the Danagrim and even Broccan grumbles a word of thanks having completed the feast.
Just then, two figures emerge from the stairway leading to the Abbey. The first is unmistakably the giant knight, Tuan whilst the second is a figure simply dressed in black robes. There is something vaguely familiar in the gait of the stranger accompanying Tuan but Manzio is unable to place him until he is introduced by the knight.
‘May I introduce Adomnan, chronicler of the revered Saint Columbus.’
As the figure reveals his face, the same Pictish tattoos first seen when Manzio fought with the priest in the Otter’s Cave are revealed and Manzio immediately reaches for his weapons, backing off. He gasps in astonishment, particularly as the eyes of the priest bore directly into him but is surprised to see the priest open his hands in a gesture of friendship.’
‘Do not fear. Tuan Mac Cairill has vouched for you assassin. Well met. I trust this time we meet on better terms than last?’
Still shocked, Manzio only has time to nod his head, more than a little confused by this transformation before Tuan interrupts his thoughts.
‘This Abbey is an illusion designed to protect the true resting place of St. Columbus. The Spear of Lugh lays at his hand. Even now, my power as wielder of one of the four great Tuatha de Dannan artifacts disturbs his sleep. I must urge Columbus to join us in driving the Badb from Hibernia but first the illusion must be dispelled. Adomnan is the means by which the illusion can be be dispelled.’
The companions have little time to digest this information before Tuan turns to them.
‘Will you enter with me?’
Manzo and Heraclief immediately agree. However, the Danagrim seem less willing to acquiesce. Broccan is the first to answer.
‘We are not of the faith. I think perhaps it would be best for us to remain outside.’
‘As you wish. Adomnan, only three of us will enter.’
Adomnan walks to the domed archway leading into Iona Abbey and holds his holy symbol together with the leather bound bible, chanting in his deep, Gaelic voice. This chant is repeated many times and initially nothing happens. However, as Manzio looks up at the Abbey he at first feels that his eyes are playing tricks on him as the Monastery walls begin to reappear as though until now they were merely invisible. he is reminded of the solid but invisible wall he came up against whilst vaulting onto the roof during the battle against Hakan and Henry the Young King. As the ceiling and walls reform, golden light etched from wall to wall, the assassin suddenly finds himself inside the sizable abbey, beautiful artwork covering both the ceiling and walls.
The nave is about 80m in length and within this sacred house of God, all is pristine, quiet, as though a spell of silence had been cast over the hushed interior. The space is empty accept for 12 matching sarcophagi, 2 sets of six with a large circular space marked out with candles dividing the dozen into two halves.
These are positioned behind a humble wooden lectern. Behind the sarcophagi is a magnificent painting depicting a scene in which a group of robed men push a simple boat onto the shores of an island, one powerfully built half-elf leading the others illuminated by a shaft of light. Adomnan approaches the painting and turns to the other three.
‘The clue to unlocking the resting place of the Saint is in the painting.’
Once again, one hand clutching his crucifix and the other with his bible opened, the priest begins to chant. A shaft of light emits from the painting illuminating the wooden floor upon which the candles are set. As the light touches the circular space it rotates and up from the vaults a final (open) sarcophagi emerges, resting upright at 45 degrees and within is a figure illuminated by a bright, white light.
At rest in the open sarcophagus is a tall, striking half-Caeltir figure, wearing a multi layered robe of shamrock green. On a plinth next to his body, rests a remarkable tri-pronged spear. The item resonates with a powerful golden light within which a winged-spear design, much like a trident can be seen. The figure also wears a simple white glove on his right hand.
As Manzio studied the face of the half elven figure at rest in the open tomb, a golden energy began to pulsate in the room. Like a ripple effect emanating from the figure a profound sense of relief swept through him and for a brief period, the cares and ills of the world were washed from his shoulders.
He didn’t know when exactly that he bowed down onto the floor but either side he noted that Heraclief and even Tuan had done likewise. Looking up, a figure bathed in golden light stood before them, his chronicler, Adomnan positioned behind.
‘Behold, Saint Columba. Let us rejoice for the warmth of the lord embraces each of us in turn. Amen.’
Carrying the staff in his gloved right hand the spear or trident, Manzio could not be sure which, pulsed with a crackling white energy as though great power lay trapped within. Columba looked upon each of the three in turn his radiant eyes seemingly full of care and wisdom.
‘Tuan Mac Cairill…your arrival here on Iona has troubled my sleep. As has the death of my bishop,’ he glances at Manzio. ‘Though I do not doubt that the hand of the Badb guided the blade of his assailant. Nevertheless, I welcome you all to sacred ground and would hear your plea.’
With that, Tuan rises from one knee, his great bulk and size an incongruous contrast to the delicate frame of the Saint.
‘We petition your aid in driving the Black Queen from Hibernia. Two of the great Tuatha de Dannan artifacts have been reclaimed and the third is carried in your hand. We would that you join with us in reuniting the four ancient jewels of old.’
The Saint nods his comprehension lifting the spear for all to see.
‘The spear of Lugh is a holy artifact of the church and as such it will remain with me.’ Columba’s eyes narrow as though in concentration and perhaps sensing the disappointment of those before him. ‘But your cause is just for the Black Queen is the most wild and callous of the three.’
The Saint stands to his full height, beautiful, radiant white wings extending behind his back and surrounded by an aura of pure light.
‘The spear will be with you Tuan Mac Cairill when you attempt to free the Fir Bolg sorcerer from his prison though be careful for you may well replace one tyrant with another or so the legends suggest of the archmage, Cesar.’
At this response, Tuan shrugs his bulky shoulders. ‘That is a risk I am willing to take.’
Columba nods as though expecting this response. ‘One further condition I would add to my support. You will fail should either of Morrigan’s sisters arrive to aid her. You must make sure that she is alone and isolated against the power of the four jewels. Should you fail in this, I withdraw my aid for the spear must not fall into enemy hands.’
Tuan does not respond at first but then his deep gravelly timbre seems to speak from beyond the grave. ‘Then we had best gather some powerful allies.’
Having satisfied Tuan, Columba turns his attention to Manzio and Heraclief. ‘The east and west forged together as one.’ Columba looks directly at Heraclief. ‘You must tell him of your true quest. This is the house of God and he has the right to know before I deliver atonement.’
Heraclief nods as though unsurprised by this request and turns to Manzio. ‘The League of Shadows is split into two factions. One half is led by the sorcerer, Nero. The other by the separatist Malerus. Nero believes that there is only one true God…one source of magic and that war between Islam and Christianity is a sham that has the potential to rip our world apart. Our holy quest is to reconcile the differences between the two religions and avoid the adversaries from destroying one another. We seek peace. Malerus and his agents seek a continuation of hostilities.’
The Saint once again intercedes as Manzio considers these revelations.
‘I am in agreement with your friend, as was your father, for I have seen his acts of bravery in my dreams. He died for his beliefs as did your family. My atonement is thus. Dedicate your life to preventing further crusades. Dedicate your life to peace. but the choice is yours to make. This is not Orkney and no enchantments will be used on you to sway your decision.’
Manzio considers the request for only the passing of a heartbeat. ‘I believe this is the right thing to do. I will try to make my father proud.’
‘Of that I have no doubts young Vesuvian. None at all.’
Columba once again pauses and the three wait patiently and expectantly for his sermon.
‘Two final things I can tell you for the gift of knowledge is all that I have to give, as my time is limited. First, you should know something of the Badb. All three are ancient Tuatha de Dannan. Most now have forgotten that the Tuatha defeated the Fir-Bolg because of one key reason. The Tuatha possessed the power of shape changing. Changeling’s they were known as and subsequently could infiltrate enemy lines. It is also not commonly known that Morgause possesses her beauty because she stole the body of the High Elven Queen, most beautiful of all the elves…Queen Guinevere herself.
Morrigan’s guise is no less blasphemous in the eyes of the Lord for she also possesses the body of a great Queen. No less than Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe.
I tell you this because whilst Morgause may offer the best chance of dividing the triumvirate she must not be trusted. All three are thoroughly wicked to the heart. Morgause in offering the face of diplomacy will seek to enchant her enemy so that one day, should her sisters fall, she will remain the lone power, served by those unsuspecting of their servitude, nay slavery to the White Queen.’
Heraclief, Manzio and even Tuan exchange glances, as the repercussions of Columba’s words begin to sink in.
‘Thus, the Tuatha de Dannan still walk the earth though in various guises and few are now left.’ finishes the Saint.
Tuan once again steps forward.
‘We thank you for your advice Saint Columba. Yet I sense that my final question is perhaps the most important for us now in the short-term. I do not know where the final Tuatha jewel can be found. Do you have any knowledge of the cauldron?’ Tuan’s question reminds Manzio that as one quest is coming to an end, the next is just beginning.
‘The Dagda’s Cauldron has yet to feature in my dreams so I cannot say for sure. However, legends say that last it was seen in faraway Iceland.’
“Iceland?’ retorts Tuan. ‘That is fell news for what hope have we of reaching such foreign shores without much time passing?’
The Saint’s right eyebrow arches, a look of rye amusement on his face. Then he turns and begins to walk away from the trio as though having lost interest, moving back toward the plinth. Over his shoulder, his final words are:
‘Are there not standing stones on Iceland? Fare ye well.’
Moments later as Manzio once again stands outside the now fading golden light of the Abbey’s arched doorway, he feels the sense of peace within himself gradually slip away to be replaced by a familiar and overwhelming weight of responsibility. Distracted by his thoughts for a moment it takes some time before he notes that Tuan and Heraclief are parting ways with the Danagrim. Shocked, he catches the end of a conversation between Tuan and Broccan.
‘If your mind is set then there is little I can do to dissuade you though I would say that you have a far better chance of defeating the Scarack with me than without. However, I can open a gateway to Orkney via the standing stones of Brodgar to help you on your way.’
‘Don’t do that’ blurts out Manzio. ‘They are trapped and Broccan will walk into the White Queen’s clutches.’
Manzio and Heraclief provide a quick overview of their approach and capture during their one and only foray within the Brodgar stones.
Once they have finished, Tuan nods. ‘Then perhaps the Steness Stones will suffice?’