By-Tor Brigade Legacy
Book 4 – Part 6 – Search for Penarddyn
- Contents (1)
- Chapter 15: Search for Penarddyn
- Chapter 16: Ork Solution
- Chapter 17: Tale of Fyngailig
See also: Adventure Log > Session 20, 2016-12-30
Chapter 15: Search for Penarddyn
Return to the Well
After Glenlivet and Lee climbed out of the well, they were flooded with questions from their friends, who were very glad to see them returned safely. As the two removed their boots to dry their feet, they described everything they had seen below. Soon the group were discussing a plan for returning down into the well to search for Penarddyn. First, they had to agree upon what to do with their ork prisoners. The orks were all tied up securely, so they decided that Yriadel, Leka and Guto would stay above ground with Shadowmist and guard the orks, while Glenlivet, Lee, Dodge, Kyran, Magna and Aiden would go below to expand the search for Penarrdyn. Before they descended, the six gathered around Yriadel as she shared a prayer to her goddess Freyja and channeled her energy to strengthen them all.
Once again Glenlivet went first down the well. The plunking of pebbles into the water below accompanied his descent as he was lowered himself into the shaft by a rope. Below his dangling feet lay a low semicircle of small, cut stones (the top of the old, underground well) barely visible in the slimy water. To avoid that trap, he swung about, to and fro, then landed safely beside the old well with a mild splash. He reviewed his immediate surroundings: several small mounds of dirt and rubble covered with large red mushrooms and white flowering vines; and four large columns that stretched up to the ceiling.
Soon he was joined by his companions and they moved about the chamber carefully. The mire was steamy and reeked of stagnation. Slimy tendrils stuck to their legs and clothing as they sloshed through the shallow, thick water, which was about one to two feet deep. The bricked and plastered walls delimited a chamber about 70 feet by 70 feet.
First they investigated a broad, vaulted opening in the west wall. Through the opening was a wide hallway with a cracked and crumbling ceiling that slanted down, dropping closer and closer to the water level. Several strides beyond the entry, they saw what appeared to be the top of a latticed iron grille, set into the walls and ceiling, barring any further progress. They assumed the grille contained a gate, invisible beneath the murky water. At the grille there was about a foot of breathing space between the water and the ceiling. Glenlivet wondered if the ceiling was designed in this manner, or if it was slanted due to settling and about to cave in. He surveyed it from different angles and concluded it was intentionally constructed with the slant and therefore probably safe to travel through.
However, they decided to bypass this uninviting passageway until later, and instead investigated the three narrow openings in the eastern wall. As they passed the stone columns, and the massive, rough-hewn stone staircase which the columns framed, the group estimated that the staircase might have once connected to the ground floor of the keep above, though it had collapsed long ago.
The six of them split into three groups, each pair venturing only a short distance down each narrow passage. The ground gradually sloped up and rose out of the water. Lee and Glenlivet moved up the center passage, which widened from five to ten feet, where a grisly site awated them. A large ghoulish skeleton was propped up against a half collapsed wall. It was easily seven feet in length with the tattered remnants of thick leather cloaks still clinging tenaciously to its skeletal torso and arms. Upon the grinning and fleshless face was a tuft of gray and withered hair. A massive hand still grasped a gigantic club, the top of which was driven through with daggers and a short sword to form a series of spikes.
Lee was suspicious, so he checked for traps in the vicinity, but found none. The room was very steamy, thus reducing visibility. He called for Kyran to join him and try to sense magic. Kyran complied, but found none.
Kyran redirected his attention to the entire room. It was a large, misty, octagonal room with a conical ceiling and a recessed floor. In the steamy midair a vast assortment of bones floated listlessly: femurs, ribs, skulls, whole spines, hands and other parts both large and small. The large round beams crisscrossing the ceiling had long since ceased to do their job, as the roof was collapsing and large mounds of dirt and debris had fallen in the room. The lower portion of the floor was submerged in steamy water.
Kyran was quite curious, but once again could detect nothing magical in the air. He picked up some loose debris and tossed it into the pool. It splashed and sunk beyond view. But his activity disturbed the mist and from then he could see that the bones hanging in the air were strung from the rafters with spider webbing woven as rope, a fact initially invisible in the torchlight and the steamy air. He looked closer and surmised that the bones were bits and pieces of animals and humanoids. Wisely, he did not try to pull down any of the bones, for surely it would have caused the ceiling to collapse upon him.
Kyran picked up another rock and tossed it all the way across the water and down the hall. He heard it bounce and skitter down across stone, but it triggered no traps.
He returned to the skeleton for a closer look. His examination revealed several shattered ribs and a broken leg. Much of what was on its person had long since rotted away. He could not tell exactly what race of creature it might have been. The only objects of value on the skeleton were a gold medallion and a silver armband. Kyran used the tip of his sword and lifted the gold medallion off of skeleton’s head. There was nothing inscribed upon it. Then he twisted the silver armband off of skeleton’s arm.
“How old is this skeleton?” asked Glenlivet.
“Though this skeleton is very old, it is nowhere near as ancient as these underground ruins,” Kyran answered. “Whatever or whomever it was, I believe he entered this domain long after it was abandoned – much like us today.”
“Do you know what creature is this skeleton?”
“No, I do not,” Kyran answered, unsure exactly what race of giant it might have been.
But Lee knew. He had been thinking about it since he first happened upon the sad relic when he first entered this room. “That, my friends, is the skeleton of an Ogre.”
Aiden led the group through the steamy mist, eastward along the south end of the room, where he came to an archway cut into the south wall. Beyond the archway lay a narrow rectangular room. Aiden peered within and saw a narrow slit inset into the middle of the floor. From each end of the slit protruded bent and twisted metal bars. At one end of the room were three small, cone-shaped, clay ovens. Three narrow, dark, wooden doors stared back at Aiden from across the room. He looked up and saw thick and loose silvery webs dangling in long strands from the ceiling’s bowed rafters. Near and around the rafters the webbing was bundled into knots and tight wads. Suspecting spider nests, or something similar, Aiden took a torch and bravely entered the room. He tried to burn some of the webs, but they were too moist from the humid air and would not ignite.
Upon disturbing the webs, about a dozen of the balls of webbing began to glow with a silvery light, illuminating the entire room with their bright beams. Then, as suddenly as they had begun to glow, bright little balls of light fell out of the webbing, gliding through the air, then they flew quickly through the door.
The little objects seemed vaguely familiar, then Aiden recognized them as the same silvery lights he had seen in the sacred grove of the Tylwyth Teg. “Penarddyn!” he shouted toward the lights, thinking there might be some connection, hoping for a response, but he received only silence. “We are looking for Penarddyn!” he tried again, but the silvery lights just fled down the hall from where the group has just come, and disappeared in the distance.
The group decided it would be useless to pursue the little creatures through the gloom, so Aiden returned his attention to the room. He deduced this room was once a kitchen, for the narrow slit in the floor resembled a cooking grill, most of which was bent and twisted. There was nothing in the grill except ash and bone, and the ovens contained nothing but ash, coal and a few beetles.
Then Aiden investigated the three doors. The first was a solid black, wood–slab door with a crooked handle in its middle. He swung the door open to see a long, narrow room with a low ceiling studded with small metal loops and hooks. A short length of chain dangled from one of the loops and upon the floor were the remains of boxes, crates and barrels. He searched the room to find that the containers held foodstuffs, but everything had long since been eaten or rotted away.
The second door was a small planked door resting slightly ajar, with no apparent handle. Beyond was a low ceilinged, long and narrow room bearing numerous large, shattered ceramic vessels lying in a brown sludge. Both walls were lined with shelves, most of which were broken. There were, however, three whole jugs still sitting on the shelves.
As Aiden described the contents to the others waiting tensely outside, Lee shouted “Drink ‘em!” and everyone laughed.
“Yes. It’s been a good while since we’ve had a drink,” added Glenlivet.
Aiden ignored the joke and walked into the room with all seriousness to collect the jugs. As he did so the brown sludge stuck to his feet. Though he was initially alarmed, he quickly determined the sludge was just the harmless inedible remnants of ancient Pretton food. He gathered the three unbroken jugs and carried them out, setting them down gently.
Next, Aiden went to the third door. It was a solid wooden door with a round metal handle in the middle. Strangely, there were various scraps of metal and a large dagger around the edges, jamming the door shut. There must either be something terrible or something great beyond this door, Aiden thought. He pried away the dagger and metal scraps, until he could get the door opened, revealing a narrow room jumbled with skeletons wrapped in the tattered remains of clothing and armor. On the ceiling were hooks and rings bearing frayed rope. The room looked like prisoners had been left in here until they languished to death. Cautiously, Aiden walked inside to examine the skeletons, which revealed all types of skulls and assorted limbs, though most were Pretton skulls. There were pieces of armor, bits of leather and some personal items, but nothing of value.
He exited the dismal little prison to see his friends inspecting the three jugs.
“What’s in the jugs?” asked Dodge.
“Drink it Dodge, you’ll find out,” suggested Lee, still in his festive mood.
“Yes, give ‘em to Dodge, he’ll drink anything,” said Glenlivet, once again tacking on to Lee’s jokes.
Still ignoring their jokes, Aiden kneeled with determination next to one of the jugs. It was sealed airtight. He opened it and a wretched stench filled the room, bringing tears to everyone’s eyes. Within was a solid mass of a black tarry substance, but the horrible smell kept anyone from investigating the contents further. Aiden opened another jug and it contained a congealed glob of yellowish goo, but had no odor. Then Aiden uncorked the third jug and inside was a bitter Pretton wine turned to vinegar.
Next, Kyran led the group as they continued down the hallway, where he beheld a door bulging outward. It was a simple wooden door, but the nails in its metal bands were squeezing out, and the wood was splintered and cracked as if something was pushing it from the other side, perhaps a cave-in. Regardless, it was clear that the only manner of opening the door would be to break it apart.
“I think we should leave this door alone,” advised Kyran, presuming there would be no sign of a lost peerie fae beyond that door.
“Yes,” agreed Lee, “there is probably nothing here. It is probably all caved in.”
“I will try to open it,” declared Aiden, resolved to leave no stone unturned in their search. Silenced, Kyran and Lee stepped aside. Aiden took his axe and bashed and splintered the door until it finally split open. Mud, dirt and debris tumbled into the hallway, but Aiden ably jumped aside to avoid the small avalanch. Before him was a passage nearly filled with a jumble of mud and rock. Just visible at the top of the pile of dirt was a space barely large enough for a small man to crawl through. Aiden climbed over the debris and entered a small chamber, confirming that the central area of the ceiling had collapsed long ago. There was a large pile of broken beams, dirt and debris spread across the room. The walls had not yet collapsed, and those portions that were visible had large wooden pegs and metal hooks placed in it at regular intervals. But otherwise, there was nothing of interest in the room.
Now Glenlivet led the group. At the corner of the hallway was a tall and narrow entryway. Beyond was a long room covered in decades of dust, dirt and mold. In the center of the room was an overturned, metal wagon. Along the north wall was a large pile of flat stones, and along the south wall was a pile of wooden beams. In the farthest corner of the room was a roughed out portal leading into the blackness beyond. It was evident this was once a mining operation.
Glenlivet entered the room alone and headed across towards the opening on other side, inspecting the contents as he walked through. The wagon was simply a small metal box set on metal wheels. The wheels were rusted, probably rendering the wagon useless. The stone pile was of hundreds of thin sandstone slabs, obviously for floors. The wood pile stood about three feet high and consisted of several dozen large, rotted and molded planks.
At the far end of the room, the portal opened onto a passage, but it was only a few strides deep. The crumbling roof was supported by precariously balanced, bulging wooden beams. Scattered about the floor of the tunnel were several picks, a hammer, and a few spikes. A length of chain dangled from the ceiling. Glenlivet didn’t need to see any more and left the room.
“Does it look like they just quit digging here, for some unknown reason?” asked Magna.
“Yes, end of time came up and they just ceased operations,” answered Glenlivet pensively.
Dodge led the group as the hallway turned north. There was one opening midway along the western wall, while the eastern wall contained three portals, each with some sort of gate in varying states of disrepair. Dodge approached the southernmost aperture. It was broad and opened onto a small room, about fifteen feet deep and ten feet wide. A gate, constructed of a metal lattice grille, had been ripped from its hinges and lay on the floor, half in and half out of the room.
Large metal bars, imbedded into the walls, crisscrossed the room at varying heights, draped with fragments of cobwebs. Dodge had no clue what this construction implied, so he asked Lee to investigate.
Lee looked through the opening, eyed the deteriorated cobwebs with disdain, and said, “There is no point to going in. I see nothing of interest.”
Aiden insisted on a closer inspection, so he entered the room, but as Lee had predicted, Aiden found nothing of value or interest. No one in the group could surmise the purpose of the crisscrossing metal bars.
Dodge inspected the next gate. The metal lattice here was very tightly woven, making it difficult for even a small human hand to fit through its openings. In the center of the grille was a large metal door that covered fully three–quarters of the grille, and set within that door was another small door. He looked through an opening in the grille and identified another chamber of the same size, covered in dust and pebbles. In a far corner of the chamber lay a cluster of moldy spheres. Although old and rusty, with only a little effort, Dodge opened the large door. He entered the room to observe the spheres more closely. There were six, each with a small layer of mold growing on them, and they were all attached to one another. They were colored a dull reddish brown with faded yellow swirls. Dodge took his axe and moved the spheres around a little. He could tell they were very light in weight and probably fragile. He pushed a little harder and one cracked open, releasing a light dust. He knew immediately he had made a mistake – the dust was poisonous! – but he fled the room quickly enough to avoid its effects.
Dodge waited until the dust settled then went back in for a closer inspection. He tried to look inside the sphere that had cracked open, but there was nothing inside. He assumed they were all empty except for poison dust, so he left them behind and went to the third gate.
The northernmost gate, like the previous one, was a metal lattice grille, thick with rust. It had small sections snapped out of it and the upper rivets had nearly come out of the ceiling, causing it to lean awkwardly into the hallway. The metal door in the center, which took up nearly three quarters of its size, hung slightly ajar. Looking carefully through the grille Dodge saw a square chamber several strides across and deep. Midway between the floor and the ceiling, stretched from one wall to the other, were five metal rods. The floor was thick with rubbish and clumps of moss and mold.
Before opening the door further, Dodge supposed the whole section might fall and smash him if he wasn’t careful. So, to avoid the potential danger, he gave the grille a couple good tugs and tore the whole section out of the wall and onto the ground. Then he entered the room and searched, but found nothing of interest. The metal rods were useless to anyone and still no one had any clue what the purpose of these three rooms might have been or what creature they might have contained.
Dodge and Glenlivet passed through the low, broad opening in the west side of the hallway and entered into a long room. Barely a stone-toss across the room was another identical opening which showed the octagonal room they had passed through earlier. Four stone benches, hardly coming to the height of a human knee, stretched across the room. The floor was littered with debris fallen from the ceiling and the detritus of the previous inhabitant’s lives. Nearly an inch of water was pooled in the center of the room.
The group searched the debris and found several metal spoons, a wooden bowl, splintered scraps of wood, and similar odds and ends. They deduced that the stone benches were just that, benches, supposing the tables had long since disappeared, and that this was once a mess hall.
As they inspected the pool of water in the center of the room, first noticing how warm the water’s temperature was, they became alarmed when they recognized the pooling was caused by seepage from underneath. An underground waterway had eroded most of the ground underneath the floor and it was probably about to collapse. They wisely abandoned the room and continued northward.
Beyond a narrow stone opening lay a fairly long and narrow chamber with a peaked ceiling. Glenlivet, Kyran and Aiden entered the room, while Dodge, Lee and Magna stayed on guard out in the hall.
The ceiling and walls of the chamber were black with soot. The floor was piled with jumbles and heaps of rotted debris and furs. Dominating the center of the room was a large makeshift table cluttered with junk, including a large sack with a small sword pinioning it to the table. Against the west wall was a drying rack, and the tattered remains of a skin was still attached to it. Along the east wall were two massive twisting tusks spreading nearly the entire length of the wall. Several planks of wood and some large spears stood in the far corner of the room.
Glenlivet approached the table. First he inspected the sword, but it was rusty and he could see nothing special about it. The table was cluttered with several bowls, gourds, spoons, small pieces of bone, and the pinioned sack. The sack was large and clumpy. He poked the sack with his scimitar and sensed that there might be clunky bits of metal inside. So he cut the sack with his scimitar and, as he had hoped, various articles of loot tumbled out. There was a large gold candelabra, a silver platter, some silver flatware, an ornately carved ivory box, and around 400 coins of gold, silver and copper. Kyran perused the objects with his arcane site but did not detect anything of magic. Aiden saw the ivory box and recognized religious symbols devoted to an ancient Prettonic goddess.
“Aerten was a goddess of Fate,” Aiden explained. “She presided over the outcome of war between several Kambrian clans. Legend says that three human sacrifices had to be made every three years to ensure success in future battles. If we could return this box to a Temple of the Fates, we might gain a nice reward, perhaps even a blessing that would improve our chance of success in future endeavors.”
Dodge entered the room and gently placed all the newly discovered items into his Bag of Holding, while Glenlivet proceeded to inspect the objects in the far corner. Along with the pile of lumber there were three very large spears and a large war hammer of exceptionally fine dwarven make. Clearly, the spears were of little use due to their age and the brittleness of the metal, but he found the hammer to be interesting and called Dodge over to inspect it. It was a Warhammer, with a long wooden haft and a heavy, metal head, weighing about five pounds. Dodge declared that the hammer was virtually useless in its present condition, for although the head was still good, the rotted haft no longer sat tightly in its slot. However, reset with a new haft, the Warhammer would likely be considered a masterwork weapon and would be worth a few hundred shillings to the right buyer once it was repaired. Into the Bag of Holding it went.
There were five distinct piles of debris and furs on the floor, which they began to inspect next. Apparently, each pile of furs was once a bed, but as they moved them, beetles, mice and vermin scurried about, having nested in them over the years. One of the heaps was still piled into a sleeping arrangement, and in the heap was a skeleton. It was small, about dwarf–size, and curled up in a fetal position. Dodge was curious, and searched the skeleton, but could find nothing of interest, except the odd race of the creature. A few seconds later he heard shouts of warning from his comrades out in the hall. Something was approaching!
Magna and Lee were guarding the entry to the room when they alertly spotted a large creature shambling towards them. They recognized it as the orge skeleton they had observed earlier in the octagonal room, now somehow animated and coming after them menacingly. They fearlessly fought against the giant skeleton, but it had some sort of magical protection which reduced the damage from their bladed weapons, while it clawed at them effectively. Aiden and Dodge quickly joined the battle, while Glenlivet and Kyran now became rearguard. Finally, Dodge was able to fell the creature as he lopped off its head with his battleaxe.
They returned to the room, with Lee joining them, for he wanted to see the other, smaller skeleton. Upon viewing, his suspicion was confirmed. “This is a baby ogre skeleton,” he stated somberly. “I wonder if these two were related? Perhaps they were father and son, and when you bothered the baby skeleton, the father’s soul animated its skeleton and it came to attack us.”
“That is interesting,” Kyran said. “And to think, we could have walked by that ogre skeleton and done nothing, or we could have shattered its bones to pieces, thus eliminating this threat. Well, at least we went half way and got rid of its club, although for no particular reason other than to see how deep that water was. I have a feeling that would have been a much tougher battle had the skeleton still wielded that dangerous club.”
“Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good,” Glenlivet suggested.
Dodge took a look at the two massive, twisting tusks along the east wall. They were about fifteen feet long and he estimated they weighed about 120 pounds each. “Mammoth tusks,” he grumbled, “and probably worth about 200 shillings each.” But there was no way to get them out.
So Dodge moved over to the west wall. Beside the tanning rack was a piece of wool covering a cube shaped object, about three feet per side. He removed the wool and revealed a metal cage, barely large enough to hold a good–sized dog. Inside was a creature, but it was certainly no dog. There was a blue humanoid creature curled up in a ball, its ribs nearly poking through its skin. Shallow breaths moved its chest. The light from Dodge’s torch apparently roused it, and its head poked up from between its arms. It had a long face with razor sharp fangs protruding from a yellowish mouth. Its great bulbous eyes began to open.
“That’s a Cave Troll,” Lee shouted in warning. “It must have been in hibernation and now we have roused it.” He eyed the cage door and saw a sturdy padlock that had long since rusted shut. “It’s probably been here for decades, with nothing to eat but bugs and rats.” The troll gradually became more and more alert until fully awakened, then proceeded to go completely berserk, screeching at the top of its lungs through the cage, lashing out, grabbing and banging on the bars trying to get out.
They were troubled by the loud noise, but felt safe that the creature could not get out of the cage to attack them. Glenlivet picked up the wool covering and placed it back over the cage, but it only slightly muffled the horrific screams. “Should we kill this sad thing?” Glenlivet asked.
“Trolls regenerate.” Lee advised. “The only way to kill it is to burn it to cinders.”
“Let’s just leave it then,” said Glenlivet, not wanting to fill the lair with smoke, and they all exited the room.
Down the hall, Dodge found a cramped portal and peered around its corner to see a small dark room mostly filled with foul black water. He entered to see metal rods protruded from midway up the walls and then again near the ceiling. Sconces were located at either side of the room. A small dented and shorn metal shield lay partially in the water, and in the corner of the room by the door was a splintered and molded wooden barrel held together by rusted metal bands. Dodge looked into the barrel to see that it contained the rusted heaps of arrow tips. They were useless, rusted together into clumps.
Aiden strode over to the shield. It was just a small, dented, metal shield. The water was only a few inches deep, maybe a foot at its deepest, and not as warm here as in other portions of the dungeon, and it was more stagnant and old than elsewhere. It was probably residue from a previous flood, whereas the other areas must have experienced a more recent flooding from the thermal underground pools.
Aiden and Dodge speculated this room was once an armory. The pegs probably held shields or weapons long ago. Unfortunately they had searched this whole section and found no peerie fae, so they returned to the main entry chamber.
The group had searched the whole eastern section and found no peerie fae, so they returned to the main entry chamber. They waded through the water to the north edge of the room where a small wooden door stood half open.
“This is where Lee and I had gone before,” Glenlivet informed the others.
Beyond the north door was a narrow, corbeled passage with crumbling plaster walls that stretched into darkness. The water shallowed as they moved forward, and they began to discern a flagstoned floor. Ahead, the shadows danced and moved against the invading light of their torches.
The corridor emptied into a chamber with a high ceiling, dominated by a marble statue of a gnarled and knuckled winged beast, what many would call a gargoyle. It was perched upon a red pedestal sitting in a small, rectangular pool of shimmering, crystalline water, which was surrounded by a red–tiled lip.
When the company entered the room, several emaciated rats scurried about, then disappeared beneath two doors along the north wall of the room. The water in the pool was clear and clean, and as they peered into it they saw glimmering jewels resting on a bed of coins – shiny gold and platinum coins. Understandably, they were all suspicious. Kyran used his mystic vision to survey the area. As they waited for Kyran, the others saw shadowy fluttering in the corners of the room, and the torchlight danced in bizarre ways.
“I detect a powerful presence of magic in this room,” Kyran stated, “but I cannot tell from where it emanates – though it is not from the statue – and I am not sure exactly what type of magic it is. I feel it may be some sort of Protection spell.” He pointed to an object within the pool of water, nestled among the jewels and coins. “However, that is definitely magic,” he said. It was a small wooden wand with a gold star attached to its end.
Lee immediately began rolling up his sleeves to reach in to the water. “Tell me when it is all clear, Kyran.”
“But there is some type of protection in this room somewhere…” Kyran warned.
“I’m ready to take a risk,” Lee answered, almost drooling at the prospect of possessing all that shiny treasure.
“I’ve got my axe ready,” Dodge added encouragingly.
“All right,” said Lee, appreciating Dodge’s support. “I shall reach in, but you keep your hand on my back and pull me away if you must.” Lee reached toward the wand, but just as his hand touched the surface of the water, the gargoyle animated and leaped at him.
The gargoyle landed upon Lee in a savage fury of claws, teeth and a spike on the top of its head. One claw opened a wound on Lee’s neck and the spike gored him on the side of his head. The combined force of the attacks knocked Lee backward into Aiden, forcing them both off balance. But the others were quick to react. Dodge and Glenlivet both sliced at the creature with their weapons, clearly damaging the beast. Kyran drew from his pool of arcane power and transformed his sword into the shape of a Dwarven Waraxe, magically increasing its deadliness. Then he landed a solid blow that almost felled the creature. Magna moved into a flanking position, then used the advantage to deliver a knockout blow to the creature with his longsword. The creature fell into the water with a great splash.
Before anyone could even think about what to do next, the gargoyle miraculously levitated out of the water, landed on its perch upon the red pedestal, then completely reformed into its prior shape and stone material.
The group stood about, discussing what had just happened and what to do next. Most assumed that the gargoyle would repeatedly animate and attack if they disturbed the water again, so they began to suggest ideas for a way to take the gargoyle out of the room. But Lee was too impatient, and before anyone could stop him he reached into the water, grabbed the wand and pulled it out. They eyed the gargoyle with their weapons at the ready, but there was no reaction. With a confident grin on his face Lee handed the dripping wand to Kyran.
Lee turned to reach into the water a second time, and his confidence immediately disappeared as the gargoyle once again animated, then leaped to attack him. Dodge, Glenlivet, Magna and Lee all slashed successfully at the gargoyle with their weapons, but this time the creature seemed stronger than before. Kyran, his sword still glowing in the shape of a Dwarven Waraxe, delivered a crushing blow upon the gargoyle, which dropped lifeless into the water.
Sensing a pattern, Aiden ceased the opportunity and quickly reached into the water, grabbing as many jewels and coins as he could. Within seconds, just like before, the gargoyle levitated out of the water, landed upon the pedestal, then reformed into its original stone shape.
They all looked at each other, then the gargoyle, then the tempting treasure that remained within the pool. Aiden stood there holding a silver pin, a gold idol, and some coins, all dripping with water.
“Do we want to do this again?” Glenlivet asked.
“No,” answered Lee, his enthusiasm for the treasure now assuaged by its protective magic.
“Wait,” Dodge interjected. “Maybe we can take the gargoyle off its pedestal and move it away from here. Or destroy it somehow?”
“You really think you can lift it and move it without disturbing the water?” asked Kyran.
“Yes, I will stand on the ledge of the pool,” Dodge answered. He climbed up, trying his best not to touch the water, but discovered he could not get in a position with enough leverage to lift the heavy stone object.
So he invited Aiden to join him on the ledge, and together they pushed against the gargoyle. It slid off the pedestal and hit the ground with a rumbling thud. Feeling victorious, they stepped down, careful to avoid disturbing the water. But their efforts were for naught. By the time they stood on solid ground, the gargoyle had animated once again and began to attack everyone in the room.
Well, everyone in the room fought back. The gargoyle succeeded only in scratching a gouge into Dodge’s arm with one of its claws, while skillful attacks from Aiden, Dodge and Magna soon overwhelmed the creature. Aiden delivered the killing punch with his Flurry of Blows.
Thinking quickly, Kyran uncoiled a rope and tied it around the still form of the gargoyle, hoping to complete the knots before it could return to its pedestal. Dodge grabbed the rope from Kyran and began dragging the gargoyle southward out of the room. Aiden helped by pushing. In the meantime, Magna, Glenlivet and Lee started scooping treasure out of the pool.
Not surprisingly, before they got far out of the room, the gargoyle reanimated. At first it attempted to levitate and return to its room, but when it discovered it could not break free from the rope held by Dodge and Aiden, it turned to attack them. It charged at Dodge, clawing and biting him.
Back in the room with the pool, the others heard yelling and splashing in the direction of Dodge and Aiden. Glenlivet, Kyran and Magna dropped the treasure they had fished out, and ran to assist their friends, while Lee stayed behind to finish clearing out the pool.
The three rushed in to the large chamber and witnessed Dodge and Aiden battling against the gargoyle in the knee-deep muck. Despite powerful punches from Aiden and deadly slashes from Dodge’s battleaxe, the two were barely holding their own, as the gargoyle had grown more and more powerful each time it had been reanimated. It had turned its attention from Dodge to Aiden and was goring Aiden’s arm with the spike on its head, when Glenlivet, Lee and Kyran joined the fray. There was no way the strange creature could last against all five, and soon enough Dodge landed a killing blow with his axe.
“What should we do now?” Dodge asked, his chest heaving with the exertion of the battle.
“Untie the rope,” Kyran commanded. “Just let it go back to its perch. We got everything we want from the pool, so there is no need to trouble it anymore.”
“If we got everything out of there, then well done,” Dodge agreed, and he slashed the rope with his axe.
Within seconds, as they predicted, the gargoyle levitated out of the mire and floated swiftly through the air, into the corbeled passage and towards the pool it was guarding.
Lee was alone, next to the pool, silently organizing the wet treasure and counting out the coins, when the gargoyle came flying into the room. It zipped right past Lee and settled calmly on the pedestal. Lee stood still, staring at the gargoyle with wary eyes, preparing to flee if necessary, when his friends cheerfully rejoined him and explained the situation, much to Lee’s relief.
As they loaded the newly acquired treasure into the Bag of Holding, they accounted a total of 50 gold coins, 15 platinum coins, a magic Wand of Daylight, and 11 pieces of jewelry, including: a silver pin; a gold idol; one gold and one silver medallion; 2 gold buckles; a gold torc; a necklace of Chrysoprase beads; a silver earring with an embedded Azurite gem; a gold necklace with a Chrysoberyl gem; and a gold bracelet.
Temple of Aerten
The six men left the room via the door on the right. The hallway curved and opened into a large, round, reddish colored room with a conical ceiling. The floor was half submerged in brownish water, and the visible portion of the floor had an engraving etched into it. The engraving was a semi-circle within a semi-circle, and the parallel space between was engraved with bright red, contorted glyphs. They assumed that the engraving was actually a circle within a circle, and that they were only seeing half the picture due to the brownish water. Along the wall, in concentric circles, were many hundreds of small hand–sized niches, many of which contained eerie, ceramic figurines. Directly across the room was a broad copper door braced by thick iron bands.
Glenlivet entered the room for a closer look, and determined that although the etchings in the floor appeared to glow red, there was actually nothing in the grooves. The others joined him, and Aiden recognized some of the symbols, announcing that they were associated with Aerten, a Pretton goddess of the Fates – the same as the ivory box they had discovered earlier. Kyran activated his mystic gaze and sensed a slight aura of protection emanating from the glyphs. So they all wisely treated the engraving with respect and were careful not to scratch or deface any of them.
They inspected some of the niches in the wall. Most were empty, but a few contained figurines, all of which were crudely made, ceramic, and virtually featureless. Notably, in the belly of each eerie figurine was some type of small item: a copper coin; a tuft of hair; a copper ring; a tooth; etc. The items appeared to be worthless to the observer, but perhaps they were of some importance to whomever possessed them long ago. Aiden conjectured that this was some sort of temple to Aerten, and that perhaps people would leave a small part of themselves in this shrine to divine or protect their fate.
They wanted to cross the room and go through the opposite door, but were wary. Aiden advised that as long as they did not defile or desecrate the glyphs, they should be in no danger from the aura of protection, so Dodge and Lee waded across the room. They pushed on the copper door until it swung away, groaning against rusted hinges and the soupy water behind it. The light from their torch spilled into a round chamber about 30 feet in diameter. It was nearly submerged in brownish water and had aged and musty ochre–colored walls. The light reflected off of the walls, making the water appear as congealed blood. Flotsam floated atop the water, and brown vines grew along the walls, massing on the sconces at either end of the room. In the north end of the room, a large, cone shaped, brick structure jutted from the water like the tooth of an ancient dragon.
Glenlivet entered the room alone. The water was about three feet deep and very warm. Upon closer viewing, he determined that the cone shaped object was the top of a kiln. The wall of the room was constructed of brick, overlaid with a dark crimson plaster. Most of the plaster had cracked off and fallen into the water long ago. Those sections of plaster still remaining on the wall were covered with a series of pictographs, glyphs, and symbols of all types.
Aiden waded in to join Glenlivet. He viewed the symbols, recognizing that most were references to Pretton mythology. Next, he waded over to the kiln and felt around the object. He found a small opening just beneath the surface of the water and a larger one near the floor. He speculated that here was where a shaman might have baked the ceramic figurines for the shrine next door.
While wading around, they found various useless items scattered about the floor: the legs and bowl of a brass brazier; a shallow metal trunk – empty; and the rotted remains of various pieces of furniture.
As they exited the chamber, and were about to leave the shrine, Dodge asked, “We’re not going to fuck with any of these figurines, right?”
The others almost jumped on him, shouting, “No! No! No!”
“Yea, we don’t need any wrath of a goddess…” mumbled Kyran.
They went back through the room which contained the pool and the gargoyle, then they turned northward through the door on the left. Beyond the door was a small, musty chamber. Opposite the door lay an upturned table, missing two legs, with its underside facing the door. The floor to the right was littered with refuse: insect husks; rat scat; and small pieces of rotted wood. To the west was a small, wooden door, slightly ajar (Lee and Glenlivet had left it open during their previous visit). The door was loosely banded with metal straps and its handle was a rough shaped metal ring mounted in its center. The bottom of the door was ragged, with a few inches of space between it and the floor, evidence of rats chewing upon it. The group walked into the room, and several large rats scurried from behind the table and ran through the door to the area beyond.
“Let’s go see where those rats ran off to,” Dodge whispered, and he entered the next room. It was small, with a low ceiling. At the far end was the shattered and rotted remnants of a bed, and a dilapidated wardrobe filled the wall to its side. The old wardrobe sat askew from the wall, leaning precariously forward, and its doors were ajar.
Aiden followed Dodge into the room and inspected the wardrobe. It reeked from within with the acrid smell of urine and feces. Curious whether it was leaning forward because it was falling down, or because there was something behind it, Aiden looked behind it, and there he spotted an opening in the wall.
“Here. A passage,” Aiden whispered to Dodge.
Dodge thought to move the wardrobe out of the way, but when he touched it the rotted doors fell off. They both looked inside the wardrobe to see a small hole chewed through its back. They inspected the hole more closely then saw a rough cut tunnel with an earthen floor going into the wall behind it. They pushed the old wardrobe out of the way and then beheld the full scope of the opening, about four feet wide and five feet tall, and a tunnel continuing on.
The tunnel dripped mud and slime and was braced by moldy, wooden beams. It proceeded straight back a few lengths before turning to the right beyond their sight.
Dodge bravely entered the tunnel first, slumped over to avoid bumping his head on the low ceiling. He led with his dagger, reckoning the tunnel was too cramped to wield his axe effectively were he to encounter danger within. The floor was damp and puddled, and from within, the rank odor of rot, urine and fecal matter caused him and Aiden to gasp and heave for fresh air. The tunnel zigzagged back and forth, and with each bend the air became more difficult to breathe until the acidic air caused their breathing to come in ragged heaves, while their eyes began to water.
As they moved down the tunnel, an occasional rat emerged from the darkness ahead and scurried around their feet before it fled out the tunnel, and a noise like the chittering of grasshoppers and the crackling of leaves increased with each step. Suddenly, as Dodge turned another tight bend, dozens of foul rats poured around the corner. They scurried wildly down the tunnel around him and Aiden, making a tremendous amount of noise as they went. They began to crawl over and on the two warriors as they passed, attempting to bite and scratch any exposed flesh.
There was little they could do to defend against the swarm, but after several seconds of enduring the biting and scratching, the surge of rats finally passed them. They inspected their wounds by torchlight to confirm they had suffered no serious damage. Then they noticed they were in a tight room, barely larger than the corridor behind. Wooden beams leaned into the room, somewhat teetering on their ends and barely holding up the roof. The cracked and rotted wooden beams of the floor were covered with heaps of filth, the accumulated debris of years of rat habitation. The walls of the room were covered with small holes and nests out of which peered the tiny glowing eyes of rats. And more rats.
Though they could barely endure the caustic stench, they spotted three metal trunks and decided to stay one more minute so they could search the room. Disappointedly, each of the large trunks were empty, but during the search Aiden discovered one small metal trunk, closed with a rusted padlock. He picked it up and they made a hasty retreat with it.
They were quite happy to finally exit the disgusting little tunnel, and it would take some time afterwards before either could take a deep breath into their lungs without remembering the stench. The others had been guardedly waiting for them, stabbing and stomping various rats throughout the next two rooms. Now reunited, the whole group walked back to the gargoyle room for a brief rest. Lee busted open the rusted padlock on the small metal trunk. Inside were 8 small rubies, each worth around 40 shillings each.
After their rest, the group conceded there was no other choice: they would have to venture through that hallway to the west, the one that sunk uninvitingly down into the water. So they waded back through the main chamber and toward the west wall where the broad, vaulted opening waited for them.
Dodge and Aiden shuffled carefully down the sunken hallway. Their footing became insecure as they wobbled over cobbles, stones and other debris. The corridor descended a few strides, then the floor seemed to drop beneath their feet, slanting sharply downward to a grille of latticed iron. Aiden slipped and fell into the water. He quickly regained his footing, unharmed, but was now completely soaked from head to toe, and his torch was extinguished. They stopped when they reached the iron grille, its bars were cracked with rust and wrapped with small creeping vines. Their chins still remained above the water, but their heads were scraping the ceiling. With light from Dodge’s torch, they looked through the bars and could see that the ceiling slanted upward on the other side, and the floor gradually creeped out of the sludge. Wide openings lurked on both sides of the far corridor.
Dodge felt around under the water and discovered a gate set within the grille. He attempted to open it, but it had long ago been rusted shut. With moderate effort, he pulled on the gate until its hinges broke and he detached it from the grille. The two swam through the opening and ascended the water on the other side, soon joined by the others, then they retrieved some new torches and lit them, so they could survey their surroundings.
To their north, a broad opening led into a large room with a gigantic, centrally located fire pit. To their south, a wide archway opened to a chamber nearly immersed in murky water. Straight ahead to their west, the hallway continued about 60 feet, ending with a low doorway to the left and a closed door to the right. About halfway down the hallway was a square pool of water, about 5 feet per side.
First, the company entered the large room to their north. In its northwest corner was another broad arch leading into darkness. The fire pit itself was circular and dug into the floor. A low stone wall ran its circumference. The inside of the pit appeared to contain a simple pile of ash with a few large chunks of coal.
Above the fire pit was a massive venting tube, shaped like a cone, dangling precariously from the ceiling. Its copper substance was green with age. It was once held up by four large metal rods suspended from the ceiling, but was now only grudgingly held up by two of the rods on the near side. The rods on the far side of the vent had broken long ago, causing that end to fall, nearly scraping the floor. The two broken rods lay useless on the floor below it. The group wisely avoided disrupting the vent, confident it would fall to the ground if they did so and probably bring the ceiling down with it.
Dodge surveyed the room with admiration, appreciating the layout of the ancient smithy and the completeness of its collection of tools. Scattered about were several anvils on stumps, a bellows, slag piles, coal piles, some boxes and sacks piled against a wall, and all manner of tools. The west wall was covered by a metal rack with shelves, hooks, holes, and slots. Many tools still hung from their pegs, several lengths of chain dangled silently in the gloom, and a coil of frayed rope rotted at the bottom of the rack. Hanging from the wall were many small hammers, tongs, clamps, clippers, straps of leather, fraying lengths of rope, pliers, and varying lengths of chain. Along the east wall there were four long and low wooden crates lined up next to one another, and in the northest corner there were four rotten burlap sacks.
Glenlivet went to inspect the sacks. He poked one with his scimitar and heard the distinctive sound of metal, so he cut open the sack. Inside were several silvery metal ingots about the size of a walnut.
“Dodge, come and look at these,” he suggested.
Dodge obliged, and was rightly impressed. “These ingots are a rare and precious metal, known as silver-steel, which I have never had the pleasure of working before. It is used in making the finest of weapons and metal implements. In the elven tongue it is known as mithril, right Magna?”
Excited at that information, Glenlivet eagerly opened the remaining sacks. Two of the sacks contained ten of the walnut-sized ingots, weighing a half pound each, while the other two sacks contained five fist-sized ingots, weighing two pounds each. Dodge estimated the smaller ingots were worth about 125 shillings each and the larger ingots were worth about 500 shillings each, for a total of 7,500 shillings! They joyfully loaded the 30 pounds of precious metal into their Bag of Holding.
Hoping for more of the same, they burst open the four wooden crates. But inside they found only sand casts for various weapons: short sword, dagger, spear and a polearm.
They walked through the arch in the northwest corner of the smithy room and entered a broad chamber dominated by a single object, a ballista. Smaller than most, it had a bow nearly twice as long as the base but it had slots for four bolts.
Kyran actually laughed out loud when he saw the object. “Why would anyone build something like this in here?” he asked, rhetorically. “How would they ever get it out?” But he knew none of his comrades had an answer to the mystery. Instead he used his dark vision to survey the room, but found nothing that contained magic.
The ballista was in a horrible state of disrepair, much of it having rotted away over the years. Many portions dangled by threads of rope and metal brackets. The bow itself had a large crack down its center.
Around the room was a workbench cluttered with tools, a large wooden chest, several coils of rope and four large ballista bolts leaning against the wall. Glenlivet took a closer look: the chest contained fine woodworking tools such as tiny drills, brackets, and lathes, but they were no longer useful; the coils of rope contained rat nests, and were rotted and useless.
The group left the smithy and went south to where a wide archway stretched across the hall. The chamber beyond was nearly immersed in murky water that lapped only a hands breadth away from the ceiling in the farthest corners of the room. Large chunks of the ceiling and wall had collapsed and fallen into the water. Piled up haphazardly, at the waters edge, were several clusters of half rotted bones, bits and pieces of metal, and shreds of rusted chainmail. The six men deliberated on what the evidence implied, but could not arrive at a conclusion, so they decided to bypass this water-filled room and continue west down the hallway.
Cautiously, they approached the square pool of water halfway down the hall. “This looks like a pit trap that was sprung, and has since filled with water,” Magna suggested.
Lee took a good look at the area, using his experience for detecting traps, and concurred with Magna. “Quite an astute observation, Magna,” he said cheerfully. “This is a pit trap that has long ago ceased to work. It is stuck open and the pit has filled with water. But there is one other thing which my expert eyes detect. There is a secret door built into the wall here, just above the pit.” He continued to study the area intently, then declared his finding. “The secret door can be opened by pulling down the sconce at the end of the hall.”
“I’ll get this,” Glenlivet volunteered. He carefully picked his way down the hall, wary of additional traps. When he reached the end, he grabbed the sconce gently, then pulled it down. Then, just as Lee had predicted, a section of the wall, immediately beyond the small pool of water, grinded and jerked inward, dropping plaster and stone as it moved.
Lee looked into the new opening and saw a narrow bricked passage. The first few strides of the passage were eroded and collapsed into the pit, and were therefore sunk beneath the water. Past that, the passage appeared to open up and continue to the right, around a corner. Yet clearly visible before the turn was a small wooden bed, covered with the dust and grime of the years, though still intact. A faded red blanket and pillow rested silently upon it.
Glenlivet walked back up the hall to rejoin the group, while Lee probed the water. The pit was up to eight feet deep in most places, and the water was hot, like a few of the other areas before, fed by an underground thermal spring. Lee volunteered to enter the secret room first, and he easily leaped the distance into the short, narrow hallway where he found himself standing on a cracked flagstone floor next to a bed. Around the corner was a cramped room, only a few paces across and several paces long, with a low slung ceiling barely the height of a man. In the center of the room was a dusty, web strewn table. It was scattered with a jumble of feathers, small ceramic vials, a pile of parchment, and various curious small metal contraptions crusted in rust. Along the north wall was a low slung wooden shelf with nine separate racks. Clustered on the shelves were several scrolls, a few scroll cases and piles of parchment. At the far end of the room was a desk, much like any clerk’s desk, very high, with a stool slid up underneath it.
All the walls were plastered, but several cracked sections revealed the brick beneath. Then Lee’s attention was drawn to the south wall for, though cracked, faded and grimy, a large map was painted upon it. The map covered the wall from one end of the room to the other. Lee took a few more steps into the room, then, after spotting some items of interest on the shelves, he called for Kyran.
“Yes sir?” Kyran answered politely, upon entering the room.
“There are some scrolls and things on these shelves for you to investigate,” he proposed. “But first, take a look at this,” and he waved his torch toward the wall map.
Kyran stood with his arms crossed, studying the map. “This is probably very ancient… many names have changed,” he said.
“I think I see Dolnogg, though,” Lee said, pointing to the center of the map.
Indeed, it appeared to be a simple local map showing the tower and the surrounding countryside, and Kyran began to recognize several landmarks. Dolnogg was in the very center, located within mountains and hills. To the northwest was a marker for a town labeled “Crug Bydew.” They reckoned this was the place now called Dhakhegakh Mol by the orks of Tuq Ash’lur. Far to the southeast was a town labeled “Dwyntia,” now known as Juyntia, which they had passed through on their way into Groes Bryniau. They also estimated that “Gloyw” was now Gouchester, the last Angarian settlement they had visited before entering the Kambrian Kingdoms.
Next, Lee and Kyran proceeded to the shelf along the north wall. There were nine separate units on the shelf, though most were empty. The upper shelf bore rolled up parchment, the middle shelf contained two wooden scroll cases, and third shelf contained a pile of sheaf parchment, two round, hand-sized wads of a dirty material, and a wooden bowl. They proceeded to carefully check out all the materials.
There were twelve rolled up pieces of parchment on the upper shelf, each of which was tied with a cloth strip. Upon picking one up, Kyran noticed that the parchment was covered in a thick waxy substance, as if it had been dipped in wax to preserve it, and as he unrolled the parchment the wax coating cracked off. When he had the parchment fully opened, he saw that drawn on it was a map of the local area, similar to the one on the wall. He unrolled a second piece of parchment and saw that it contained the same drawing. He compared the two and noticed that the maps were strangely identical, down to the last scratch.
Next, Kyran checked the two wooden scroll cases. The first one was empty, so he rolled up three of the maps together and pushed them into the case for later use. The other case contained several sheets of parchment full of lines, arrows, numbers, and a drawing of a ballista. It was a blueprint of a Garoman Ballista, similar to the one they saw near the smithy. The design was definitely unique and Kyran estimated it created a more accurate and better ranged weapon than those currently in use today. He returned the parchment to the case and kept it with the other.
Glenlivet joined Lee and Kyran in the room, and the three began inspecting the objects on the table. By now it was obvious to them that they had discovered the secret lair of some ancient cartographer. Sitting on the table were a variety of mapmaker and surveyor tools: five small clay vials; a metal cap with small arms that held glass lenses; an hourglass with three vertical containers; a small rusted metal contraption; a pile of parchment; a wooden basin with a piece of cork in it and a sliver of metal poking through the cork; three metal candle holders, each with half burnt candles in them; a wooden cup; and several quills.
Kyran picked up one of the clay vials, it was about the size of a child’s fist. “These vials are probably ink,” he said as he uncorked it. But there was nothing inside but the residue of dried ink.
Lee and Glenlivet paid no attention. They were busy looking at the metal cap. “Hey, this is a Tinker’s Cap,” exclaimed Lee. “If this still works, we can definitely put it to good use!” It was an expertly crafted helmet, its small arms designed to hold magnifying lenses near the wearer’s face. The lenses were kept in place by locking hinges and crude gyroscopes that were meant to compensate for normal head movements. When properly aligned, the lenses would boost the wearer’s skill at appraising and crafting small items.
Kyran inspected the hourglass next. It had three different glass tubes. He figured out that by holding it one way it would measure out ten minutes, and the other way thirty minutes. “We’ll take that too,” he stated to no one in particular.
Both Lee and Glenlivet recognized the rusted metal contraption as an astrolabe. Normally this object would be quite valuable, but unfortunately this one was rusted, though it could still have some value.
Kyran sifted carefully through the pile of parchment. The sheets were brittle to the touch, but contained no writing.
Lastly, they inspected the cork and the metal sliver sitting in the wood basin. “This was probably a compass,” Kyran submitted. “If this sliver was still magnetized, and its cork floated in water, the combination would be used to indicate north and south.”
“Right,” Glenlivet agreed. “It was in this bowl, and the water probably evaporated ages ago.”
Lee moved over to the clerk’s desk, the top of which nearly reached the ceiling. Underneath it was a tall stool with rungs, like a ladder, that led up to its seat. Lee checked but saw nothing of interest on the desk. However, he did notice a small square patch of ceiling that did not quite match the color of the surrounding ceiling.
“This looks like a hidden compartment,” he declared quietly, as he climbed up on the stool to get a closer look at the ceiling. The small square piece was easily moved aside to reveal a secret compartment. He looked inside and saw a small metal box, which he carefully removed. The box bore an ancient emblem labeled AEGERIA. “Strange,” Lee mused out loud, “this is neither Pretton nor Angarian. I think this is Garoman, the people who once conquered the Prettons long ago.”
He climbed down, inspecting the box closer, and discovered it was locked. So he took out his tools and deftly picked the lock. Within the metal box Lee discovered a pair of crystal lenses attached via a leather band.
Kyran and Glenlivet came to look at the lenses, and Kyran’s eyes turned black on black as he magically concentrated on the lenses. “Hmm, I know what this is,” Kyran offered. “I suspect you are going to really appreciate this item, Lee.” Lee raised his eyebrows in anticipation. “This item is known as the Goggles of Minute Seeing,” Kyran continued instructively. “See these lenses? They are made of special crystal. And look at its fine leather band, woven with these tiny patterns of metallic thread, almost invisible to the naked eye. When placed over your eyes, the lenses should enable you to see much better than normal at close distances, magically improving your ability to pick locks and disable traps.”
“Thanks, Kyran!” answered Lee “I will take good care of this!”
The final feature to be examined was the small wooden bed. Lee looked underneath it where he saw a small wooden trunk locked by a small padlock. He slid the trunk out into the open and used his newly acquired goggles to easily pick the lock. Inside the trunk was a wool blanket, a leather jerkin and a small box. The small box opened easily and inside it was a cluster of small steel shafts that clung together when lifted out. They were magnetized. Lee handed the small box to Kyran for safe keeping.
Next, Lee pulled back the faded red blanket, sending ages of dust billowing into the air, to reveal a mattress made of straw with a rat’s nest situated in the middle of it. He moved the pillow aside and discovered a small gold key. Judging that this key would probably fit the Aegeria box, he tested the match and confirmed it was a fit.
They gathered all the great items they discovered in this secret cartographer’s chamber, then returned to the hall.
The group advanced down to the end of the corridor, and stopped at the low doorway to the left. Beyond lay a small square room with a sagging ceiling and crumbling walls. The room was empty except for a single, small, disintegrating wooden crate. Glenlivet entered the room. Alertly, he tensed as he sensed movement behind the crate, then relaxed with relief as he saw a tiny little face peering out from behind it. The face of a gentle little peerie fae.
Glenlivet almost shouted with surprise, delighted he had finally discovered the lost fairy the company had been seeking, but he wisely suppressed his excitement, trying not to frighten the timid little creature. “Penarddyn! We are here to help you get home.” He spoke in a soothing manner, trying to assure the creature, but she stayed behind her shelter with a scared expression on her face. “We are friends of Lhiannyn and Creirwy, who sent us to search for you,” he added, hoping that the names of her sisters might help to gain her trust.
Indeed, after hearing the names, her sad, gentle eyes appeared to gleam with recognition. She slowly creeped around the corner of the box.
Magna calmly eased into the room, stopping beside Glenlivet. It had been prearranged that the two elf-bloods would approach Penarddyn when they found her, and that Kyran would keep his distance.
“Who… Who are you?” she asked meekly, rising slowly into the air as her wings started fluttering.
“I am Glenlivet Lesgoth,” he answered with a distinguished air, “son of Dargoth, son of Dartron. White Friend and White Dragon of Angaria.”
Magna presented himself with a formal bow. “I am Magna Morko, son of Telhedron. Ranger of Blackwood. Descended from the fabled Neldër. Nephew of Geldron, great leader of the Gryflet Guerillas and once member of the By-Tor Brigade.”
“H… How do you know my name? And my sister Lhiannyn?” she asked nervously.
Glenlivet judged that he was gradually gaining her confidence, for she began to emit a feint glow of white light as she hovered just a few feet in front of him. “We were on our journey here, to rescue the Lady Leka, when we came upon your sisters along the trail,” he answered her.
“They told us that you had been captured by orks and taken to Dolnogg,” Magna added, “and they asked us to search for you.”
There was a pause as she seemed to measure their words for truth. The only sound was the feint buzzing of her wings as she hovered.
“I give you my word,” Glenlivet pledged, “the orks are no longer a threat to you, and we will see you home safely, to the grove of the Tylwyth Teg.”
That seemed to be the phrase that convinced her, for she suddenly relaxed her guard. “Thank you.” She sighed with relief.
Then she pleaded, “can you spare some food?” The poor fairy was so tired and hungry, she practically fell to the ground with weakness. Magna hurriedly extracted some rations from his pack and brought them to her, and she eagerly munched them down.
Aiden joined the scene and asked Penarddyn about the Peerie Wisps he had mistakenly disturbed earlier. He had assumed they just fled, probably flying out through the well, but wondered why she did not seek their aid.
“I did not know there were any Peerie Wisps down here. They might have helped me if I had known,” she said sadly.
While Magna took care of Penarddyn, Glenlivet looked at the small crate. It was very sturdily constructed, but it had rotted with the ages. He pried it open. Inside were four metal hooded lanterns.
Glenlivet returned to Magna and Penarddyn. “Penarddyn, we want to check this last door, to see what is in there, then we will take you to the surface.”
She nodded her approval, her tiny mouth busily crunching on rations.
“So, you have just been hiding down here? This whole time?” Dodge asked.
“Yes, hiding,” she answered between hasty bites. “I was so afraid those cruel orks would recapture me, so I never returned to the surface. I had to hide from rats, too. And I found no food except for an occasional mushroom.”
“Come, little lady, it is time to go,” said Magna, holding out his arm to her. She tiredly climbed up his arm, around his shoulder, then nestled in the crook of his cloak’s hood.
Lee checked the door to the right. It was a thick door, clasped with broad metal bands and a rusted lock. Amazingly the lock still worked, but Lee picked it open without delay. The door itself, however, was swollen and stuck closed. Lee stepped aside and allowed Dodge to do what he did best. With a few mighty pulls, Dodge had the door pulled loose. The door grinded open, revealing a cramped room, wide with a partial earthen floor. Around the room were small wooden partitions reaching halfway to the low ceiling. In each partition were boxes, crates, barrels, sacks, tools, mining equipment and other items.
The first partition contained six wooden crates and several burlap bags. They all had once contained foodstuffs, which long ago rotted away or had been eaten by rats. The second partition contained several shovels, picks, metal rods, a crate of spikes, hammers, rope and chain. All the equipment was old and rusted. The spikes and metal bars were weak, and the handles to all the tools were virtually useless. The third partition contained several barrels, neatly stacked against the wall. Dodge cracked one open. From the scent, he could tell it had once held ale, but was now empty.
Hanging from the wall of the fourth partition were numerous pulleys of different shapes and sizes, hooks, metal loops, and coils of rope. All the instruments were decayed and would certainly break if used. The fifth partition contained several axes, adzes, froes and other forestry tools. These items wre also decayed and useless. The sixth and final partition contained numerous crates and barrels. They once contained foodstuffs that had long since rotted away or been eaten. So the room was full of nothing more than mining supplies, and nearly all the material was useless due to age and decay.
Their search was complete and the company began their return to the well. They all got soaked again as they swam through the submerged gate in the slanted hallway. Only Penarddyn remained dry. She was able to fly to the metal grille, climb through a gap in the bars, then fly on to the main chamber. The men took turns climbing the rope out of the well shaft, where they were relieved to discover that Yriadel and the others were still in control of the orks.
Chapter 16: Ork Solution
After the six warriors and their little peerie fae ascended from the well, they all gathered within the keep, joining Yriadel, Leka and Guto. They were thankful that Yriadel had rebuilt the fire and had some warm food waiting for them. The blind old man was wandering aimlessly within the grounds. The ork prisoners were tied up along the outer wall of the crumbling keep.
“Let’s get dried out and get a little rest before we hit the road,” Dodge suggested.
“But let’s not take too long, we do need to get out of here,” added Kyran, mindful they were still in hostile ork territory.
The men stripped off their armor and most of their clothing to dry the articles by the fire, as well as themselves. After a bit, Aiden noticed that Penarddyn seemed to have shifted her attention away from Magna and was now taking an interest in him. He stood by the fire in only his breeches, and Penarddyn was staring at the emblems painted on his face, arms and chest: the ethnic markings of the Kricts of northern Prettonia. But Aiden had no time to consider his observation, for the debate about the ork solution began to heat up.
“Are we just going to leave the orks tied up when we leave?” Dodge asked his friends, expertly wiping moisture from his metal breastplate near the fire.
“There is no real reason to leave them tied up,” Aiden weighed in.
“They don’t like us and we don’t like them,” Glenlivet countered. “Well, I know they don’t like me!” he added with a wink at Guto. He thought he was being clever, insinuating not only that the orks feared his prowess as a fighter, but that they also hated his race as a half-elf. But Guto noticed only Glenlivet’s stark white, albino skin, glaringly conspicuous while Glenlivet stood nearly naked by the glowing fire, wringing droplets of water from his linen shirt.
“Consider this,” Dodge reasoned, “they surrendered to us, and we took away their weapons. I think we would be safe to untie them, then just get the hell out of here. They can have their fort.”
Glenlivet proposed an alteration to Dodge’s plan. “I say we untie one of them and take him with us. Down the road we will release him and he can return here to untie the rest.”
“I can agree to that idea,” Kyran mumbled absently, scraping mud off his boots with an old stick.
Yriadel noticed that Magna, the only one among them specifically trained to combat orks, was unusually silent. “Magna, are you in accord with this plan?”
Magna had been pacing about impatiently, but he stopped and faced Yriadel. He hesitated, then replied. “I am… for the group.” His companions suddenly realized that Magna was deeply troubled by their debate, and that the Ranger of Blackwood would certainly detest any plan that included freedom for the orks. Yet he seemed willing to comply with the majority decision, despite his convictions. Magna continued his pacing.
Yriadel empathized with Magna and presented her argument, almost as if speaking for her elven friend. “Even though these orks surrendered to us, and personally we would prefer to show them mercy, we must assume that if they had their weapons they would come after us… to kill us. We should bear no shame to kill these prisoners.”
“I agree. Get rid of them,” Lee blurted out. “The lady has spoken.”
“But we must show honor,” Aiden argued, rising to his feet with aggravation. “They are warriors. We are warriors. They surrendered to us. I will have no part in their… murder.”
“I suggest then,” Lee responded flatly, “that you take your leave. We will join you later. You do not have to witness the dirty work that must be done.”
Yriadel saw that Aiden was irritated by Lee’s comment. She hoped to allay his anger by convincing him of the need to exterminate the orks. “If these were honorable opponents – like perhaps Angarians, or even Nordheimrs – of course we would give them death with honor. If they shared our religion, we would respectfully allow them to grip a weapon as they died. We might even allow them to fight to the death. But Aiden, you presume too much of these orks… to offer them that same measure of honor.”
“I should add,” Kyran interceded, while pulling on his leather boots, “the idea of killing these orks in cold blood does not appeal to me, but when I think about what they do to sacrifice and torture helpless people… When I think about that… I don’t have a problem slaying them in cold blood.” Kyran was deadly serious, choking a little on his words, as he thought about the cruel death that Mordo and Digby must have suffered by now.
“And we know their sadistic methods,” Lee added. “I told you about the vision I received. They way that Tuq Ash’lur shaman and his executioners tortured that poor young girl to death, as a sacrifice to Gruumsh, by slowly impaling her. They skewered her like an ox on a spit.”
“They would have no problem doing the same to us,” Kyran agreed somberly.
“Where I am from,” Lee stood up sharply, emphasizing his point, “when there is a need to dispense justice, it must be done. You have known me to kill before, yet whenever I have killed, the victim deserved it.”
“I hear your words,” Glenlivet said, draping on his cloak, “and you present a strong case. But I don’t really want to kill them, and I think we should rise above their level of cruelty. I still suggest we take one down the road and leave the rest tied up. Even if they do decide to come after us, they will have no weapons.”
“Yes!” Aiden concurred. “And we have already beaten them once, when there were more of them than there are now. Why would they come after us? Surely they know they will just get slaughtered again.”
“And we don’t know, maybe we will be shown mercy the next time we encounter orks,” said Glenlivet.
“But we do know!” Magna stopped pacing again, and spoke with conviction. “We will never be shown mercy. Not from orks. I will admit these Tuq Ash’lur are a different tribe than I was trained to battle, but all orks are the same merciless monsters.”
Everyone was a little unnerved by Magna’s vehemence. Glenlivet tried to lighten the mood with some levity. “They’ve seen the White Dragon in action, they will not want to mess with us again…”
Surprised by Magna’s display of bigotry, Lee actually found himself reconsidering the points made by Aiden and Glenlivet. “Hmm. This tribe does seem somewhat civilized. Were we not able to pass through their lands without any problem before? They never attacked us without reason during our journey here.” He was referring to the ork patrol they had encountered out on the trail.
That’s right,” Glenlivet agreed, appreciating Lee’s input. “We attacked these orks, they didn’t attack us. They were just defending their ground.”
“I am acceptable with either plan, then,” said Lee, “but I also don’t have any problem killing them, because I think they deserve it.”
“The only good ork is a dead ork,” Magna declared intensely. Killing orks was a way of life for him, and he wanted his companions to consent to the same.
“Enough banter,” Lee barked, having lost his patience. “Let us put this to a vote: kill them or free them. Thumbs down means kill them. Thumbs up means let them live. Yriadel may break a tie, if necessary.” They all nodded in agreement, then went around the circle, starting to Lee’s left.
Kyran held out his fist and paused, perhaps silently remembering their friends Digby and Mordo. Then he turned his thumb down. Death!
Aiden was next: thumb up. Mercy.
Then Magna: without hesitation, thumb down. No mercy.
Glenlivet: thumb up. Life.
Dodge: thumb up. Honor.
Finally, Lee: thumb down. Justice.
The vote was tied at three to three, so they turned to Yriadel. She extended her slender arm, her hand clenched in a sideways fist. She paused, knowing that the fate of the orks now rested solely upon her. In her mind she deliberated on all they had just discussed. Then she eased out her thumb… and turned it downward. The vote was cast: Death to the orks!
“I’m leaving,” Aiden grunted with disappointment.
“I’m leaving with you,” Glenlivet said.
“How hard is it to stab somebody in the head?” Aiden asked rhetorically. “Good job, warriors,” he added facetiously. “We could have killed them before we went down the well. Don’t know why we waited.”
“Please taik me wi’ you,” Guto pleaded to Aiden and Glenlivet. “Oi don’ fancy t’ be left out ‘ere aloon. You see?” He and Leka had stood silently nearby during the whole debate and he obviously had no nerve to witness the results of the verdict.
“He was working with the orks, why don’t you kill him too?” Aiden blurted out bitterly, waving indifferently toward Guto. “Seems that would make better sense,” he grumbled.
“Aye,” Lee volunteered with a devious smile, playing along with Aiden’s torment of the young man.
“No! It would be good to have him with us,” Leka advised. “He is a Kambrian, a local, he knows these lands and their language.”
“Oi was nah’ workin’ wi’ th’ orks!” Guto stammered nervously. “Oi was ‘ired boy th’ ootlaws as jus’ a translat’r. Th’ ootlaws took Laidy Leka to this place an’ paid th’ orks what to ‘old ‘er, as a nootral party ‘tween th’ ootlaws and the reavers, sort o’ because they wuz arguin’ on and on aboot the ransom, an’ ‘oo would arrange the ransom, so they found a nootral party, these orks, so th’ orks agreed to it. Boot when th’ ootlaws left,” he went on with his defense, “oi stayed wi’ Laidy Leka, because oi wanted to ‘elp ‘er and watch o’er the young laidy.”
“This is true,” Leka said. “I can confirm his story.”
“I think we ought to kill him,” Aiden persisted.
Guto was fearfully backing away from Aiden, sliding behind Leka, seeking her protection.
“All right, my friend,” Lee said placatingly to Aiden. “You have made your point, let’s stop toying with this poor man.”
Guto stood behind Leka, shaking with fear, keeping his distance from Aiden.
“What about that crazy old man?” Dodge asked, making an assumption that Leka and Guto were acquainted with him.
“We have nothing to do with him,” Leka answered bluntly. “The outlaws brought him here and tortured him.”
“So what do we do with him?” Dodge repeated, frustrated with her answer.
“Whatever you want,” she answered curtly. “He is blind and crazy,” she added, shrugging off any responsibility.
“Aye, just leave him,” Lee concurred with Leka.
“Leave him here with some food, perhaps,” Aiden suggested.
“Or put him out of his misery,” Leka offered without compassion.
“Or we could take him with us,” Kyran countered, “and the next town we get to -”
“No, just leave him,” Lee interrupted impatiently, siding with Leka.
“But what do we know about him?” Magna asked.
“We know that he is an enemy of the March Outlaws,” Yriadel answered.
“Because of those tattoos on his neck?”
“That, and the fact that they were the ones who tortured him,” Yriadel answered Magna.
“But he is bat-shit crazy!” Dodge said bluntly. “We don’t know anything else about him.”
“We only gleaned two words from his disfigured mouth: Merchold, which is the headquarters of the March Outlaws; and Cwellenath, which we have not yet resolved,” Yriadel reminded them.
“He may actually be of some use to us down the road, he may not be as crazy as we think,” Magna conjectured.
“I say we bring him with us,” volunteered Kyran.
“Agreed, we can take him with us,” said Dodge. “Like you said, Kyran, when we get to the next town, maybe we can find someone to take care of him.”
“All right,” said Lee, once again putting a stop to any more lengthy debate. He knew they needed to get moving, and they still had a distasteful task to complete before they could all finally get on the road. “Well, let’s get this done.” He turned toward Aiden and Glenlivet. “You guys need to leave. Ride on out and we will join you later.”
Everyone was fully dressed in their armor by now, and they had all donned their coats and cloaks. Shadowmist was fully laden, too. Aiden took the reins of the great, black stallion and led him out of the fort, while Penarddyn accompanied him, floating lightly through the air in little circles around their heads. Leka, Guto and Glenlivet were close behind, while Glenlivet led Gorteyrn by a rope tied about the crazy, old man’s waist.
Though Dodge had voted to release the prisoners, he abided by the vote of the group and remained to help with the killings. Of the 11 captives, 2 were still unconscious, and 5 were wounded, including Warchief Qurgh. They were all promptly executed by Magna, Lee, Kyran, Dodge and Yriadel.
The five caught up with the others not long afterward. They journeyed until nightfall, then set up camp. No one spoke of the incident.
Chapter 17: Tale of Fyngailig
In the morning, the group quietly broke camp and journeyed east through Groes Bryniau, towards the sacred grove of the Tylwyth Teg. They planned to return Penarddyn to her sisters, then continue onward to an exit from the dismal, swampy grasslands. Everyone was tired and depressed except for Penarddyn, who had wholly recovered from her ordeal. She alternately flew about in a carefree manner or rode on the broad, black-furred shoulders of Shadowmist. She conversed freely with whomever addressed her, answering any of their questions, though she knew nothing of the outside world.
Occasionally, Penarddyn would initiate conversation with Aiden, either hovering near his head as they walked, or perched on Shadowmist as Aiden led the great beast along the trail. Penarddyn asked Aiden about his heritage and the gods he worshipped. They discussed The Dagda, as well as a few other Pretton gods, and many things Krictish. She asked about the markings on his skin. She was most curious about one in particular which she thought resembled the sign of the Fergusmor, to which Aiden proudly confirmed he was once a disciple. “Why are you with this band of Angarians?” she wondered, and he explained his long quest for vengeance against the mad druid who had murdered Galam, his mentor, and how he had been captured by goblins and rescued by these new friends. She seemed thoroughly entertained and impressed by the tale. Though Aiden freely shared his answers, eventually he grew a little skeptical. He wondered why the lovely fae paid so much attention to him alone? Why was she so interested in his heritage and beliefs? She did not seem smitten with him. And it almost seemed like she already knew the answers and was merely testing him for the truth.
Around midday, Penarddyn led them off the trail to a small grove of firs and junipers, then she disappeared within it. The group followed her into the grove of the Tylwyth Teg and witnessed a happy reunion of little fairies. Lhiannyn and Creirwy were flying about in dizzying patterns, singing with delight in their musical bird-like language, while Penarddyn hovered patiently, waiting for her two sisters to calm down, but enjoying the reception nonetheless. All three were luminous, and their colors changed in shade and intensity during their spectacle of joy. Several tiny floating lights began to appear in the upper branches of the trees, accompanied by a faint buzzing sound which gradually increased in volume to a pleasant harmonious hum.
Finally, Lhiannyn slowed to a hover and addressed the group in her high-pitched voice. “We of the Tylwyth Teg thank you for rescuing our sister from the very bad mean nasty orks.” She accentuated her pleasure by hugging Penarddyn affectionately. “We sense that you are eager to continue your journey. But before you go, as we promised, we would like to reward you with some gifts. We hope you will appreciate their rare value.”
The three fae had a very brief discussion with each other in their musical tongue, then suddenly flew away, each in seemingly random directions, and disappeared into thickets nearby. The company waited within the grove for a while, then noticed that in the tree tops above, the sound and activity of the Peerie Wisps was gradually dissipating, returning to dormancy. The group started to lose patience and began wondering if perhaps these capricious fae had completely forgotten them and were never going to return with any reward.
Finally, after a few more moments, the three fae returned simultaneously, each bearing a small vial of clear glass in their tiny arms. Together they set the vials down reverently upon a leafy cushion on the ground. The vials were about three inches tall and two inches in diameter, with stoppers of soft wood. Each vial was filled with what appeared to be metallic dust that sparkled abnormally bright even in the faded light that filtered into the grove through the trees. One was gold, one was cyan, and one was purple.
“We entrust our magic dust only to heroes that are truly worthy,” Lhiannyn announced. “The gold will allow you to fly, the cyan will allow you to walk on water, and the purple will grant you great speed. Use it wisely and only for heroic deeds and our magic shall serve you well.”
As Kyran and Yriadel picked up the vials of magic dust, inspecting them with curiosity and reverence, Penarddyn gathered the other two fae together and they began a discussion in hushed tones that gradually increased in loudness and intensity. Penarddyn appeared to be describing something to Lhiannyn and Creirwy. She pointed her little finger directly at Aiden, whereupon the other two suddenly ceased their chattering and looked upon Aiden appraisingly. Then their prattling debate continued again as abruptly as it had stopped.
It looked like Penarddyn was trying to persuade her sisters into some sort of agreement, to which they seemed reluctant to comply. Though most of the discussion was in their mysterious, melodious language, Aiden’s ears detected a couple words in the ancient, human tongue of the Prettons that were repeated a few times each: Scáthach ac Uathach and Gorthbychan . Finally the three Peerie Fae seemed to reach an accord and they turned towards Aiden.
Lhiannyn composed herself by exhaling a short breath, then addressed Aiden directly. “You who are called Aiden. Penarddyn attests that you come from the land of the Kricts. We of the Tylwyth Teg regard your people in high esteem for they were among the few clans of the ancient Prettons who refused to be conquered or assimilated by the Garomans who invaded our lands. Tell me Aiden: do you still pay homage to the old gods?”
“Yes,” answered Aiden proudly.
Lhiannyn seemed unsurprised by the answer, as if she merely heard what she expected to hear, and continued. “Aiden: Hear my tale. Long ago, a warrior from Yr Hen Ogledd entered these lands of Groes Bryniau. His name was Fyngailig ap Hafgyn . He was oathbound to protect Yr Corn Brân Galed o’r Gogledd, the Horn of Brân Galed from the North. To aid Fyngailig in this task, Brân Galed presented him with magical armguards which increased his skills in combat. The armguards were crafted by Govannon the weaponsmith, and one each was enchanted by Scathach and Uathach. Fyngailig resided in Gorthbychan, a secret tower within a hidden valley, and there he dwelt for years, protecting the Horn of Brân Galed from the North.
“But one day Fyngailig was defeated . . . and the Horn was stolen. From that day on, Fyngailig suffered a curse and was forced to remain in the tower as Cyhyraeth .
“Many years have since passed. Throughout those years, a few have attempted to retrieve the fabled armguards of Scáthach ac Uathach, but none have been found worthy and all were destroyed by the Cyhyraeth of Fyngailig.
“It is foretold that only a Krict Fergusmor, and a true follower of the old gods, may inherit the pair, and men of that ilk are rare in these parts and these times. If you believe that you are worthy of such a gift, we will take you to Gorthbychan. Do you, Aiden, believe that you are such a one?”
“Yes,” answered Aiden.
Penarddyn could contain her enthusiasm no longer and flew excitedly past Lhiannyn to Aiden. “Hooray, Aiden! And I will help you! But only our sister Kigua knows the way to Gorthbychan,” she said, almost shouting in her squeaky little voice. “We shall summon her and request that she lead us there.” Lhiannyn rolled her eyes in exasperation, but she couldn’t help but smile in amusement.
The three fairies clustered together again, then began to sing in their little bird-like voices. Aiden noticed three Winter Wrens appear within the grove and alight upon the limb of a tree. The wrens tilted their heads attentively and whimsically as they listened to the song of the fairies, then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they flew away.
The song ended, then Penarddyn returned to Aiden. “We have sent for Kigua to meet with us,” she explained. “Come, I will lead you part of the way until we find her.” And with that, the group waved farewell to Lhiannyn and Creirwy, then followed Penarddyn out of the grove and back to the trail.
Scathach and Uathach
After about an hour of marching along a rough trail, the group took a short break. They had found a flat space that was dry and offered some cover from the wind, and sat upon the rocky ground to rest their feet and legs.
“Penarddyn,” Yriadel addressed the little fae, “would you be so kind as to answer some questions for me? I am curious about the tale we heard from Lhiannyn.”
“But of course, pretty one,” Penarrdyn answered liltingly. She flittered over to Yriadel and landed casually upon her knee. “What would you like to know?” she offered with a pleasing smile.
“To begin, Lhiannyn mentioned a warrior from Yr Hen Ogledd. Where is that place?” Yriadel inquired.
“Yr Hen Ogledd means ‘The Old North’ in the common language. It refers to the lands in the northern part of Prettonia.”
“I see,” said Yriadel thoughtfully. “And the item this warrior was oathbound to protect, the Horn, what was that?”
“The Horn of Brân Galed from the North,” Penarddyn answered, “which in our language we call Yr Corn Brân Galed o’r Gogledd, was one of the Thirteen Treasures of Prettonia.” Her brows lifted and her eyes rounded with awe as she went on about the item. “It was a magical oxen horn with tin-rimmed edges, and whatever drink might be wished for was always found in it.”
“Fascinating. I am concerned about the part of the tale which warned that after Fyngailig was defeated and the Horn was stolen, he was cursed to remain in the tower as Cyhyraeth. What can you tell us about this curse?”
“A Cyhyraeth is a death spirit,” Penarddyn explained. “You might think of it as a wraith or spectre. It would be very dangerous to anyone inside Gorthbychan, the Little Keep, who is not welcomed by the spirit.”
“Lhiannyn also mentioned magical armguards that were crafted by Govannon the weaponsmith, and enchanted by Scathach and Uathach. Can you tell me about these people?”
“People?” Penarddyn giggled. “Oh my, they are not people. They are gods! The ancient people worshipped Govannon, the great metalworker and weaponsmith. When the Garomans invaded our lands long ago, they insisted that Govannon was actually a reflection of one of their gods, whom they called Vulcan, but of course this is not true.
“Scathach, whose name means ‘The Shadowy One’, is also known as ‘She Who Strikes Fear.’ She is the goddess of martial arts and has a school on Eilean Scáth, the Isle of Shadow, where she trains warriors. She is famous for invincible battle methods such as the magickal leap and the battle yell.
“Uathach, whose name means ‘Spectre’, is the daughter of Scathach and a warrior goddess in her own right. She is Scathach’s assistant and also teaches warriors magickal battle skills.
“Oh, and Scathach is no palace tutor of rich younglings. To get to her school on the Isle of Shadow, prospective students must pass through a field of grass that will try to trap their feet, and a valley of monsters that will devour them. If any get that far, the only way onto her island is a bridge that humps high and narrow and can barely be crossed. Most fall to their deaths trying. In order to get across safely, one must make a heroic ‘salmon’s leap’, crossing the narrows and landing safely on the shore.
“Also, Scathach likes those who are daring and foolhardy. She has little time for the shy or restrained. In the tale of Cúchulainn, for instance, the famous hero once came to Scathach, and threatened her with a terrible death if she did not agree to train him. She laughed in delight at his audacity and agreed to turn him into the greatest warrior in the land.”
Yriadel noticed that everyone, like her, was thoroughly enjoying Penarddyn’s tale, listening attentively to the charming little fae. She grinned involuntarily as she thought how Aiden, who often displayed daring and audacity himself, shared the same traits as the famous Cúchulainn, traits which Scathach admired, and she wondered if Aiden recognized the same.
Penarddyn continued, becoming more animated at the next part of her essay, noticeably titillated by its scandalous nature. “Soon after joining the school, Cúchulainn began an affair with Uathach. One day he accidentally broke her fingers during a carnal embrace, and she screamed, which called her lover Cochar to the room. Despite Uathach’s protests, Cochar challenged Cúchulainn to a duel, and Cúchulainn defeated him. Since Cochar had been the protector of the isle, Cúchulainn assumed those duties for his teachers, and he also became Uathach’s lover. Interestingly, Scáthach approved of his daring and she promised her daughter to him, without even requiring the traditional bride price.
“Cúchulainn, for the training he received, repaid his teachers by dauntlessly protecting their borders. In one instance, a rival of Scáthach, the warrior woman Aífe, threatened their territory. But Cúchulainn defeated Aífe in battle. Always foolhardy, while he stood with his sword at her throat, he lusted for her. So he decided to spare her life, but only under the condition that she would lie with him and bear him a son. So he coupled with her, then let her go. Though his rape left Aífe pregnant, he was destined never to be rewarded for his conquest. Years later, when her son, whom she named Connla, went in search of his father, he refused to identify himself. So Cúchulainn took him as an intruder and killed him, not realizing who Connla was until after he had slain him.”
Though Aiden was enjoying Penarddyn’s seemingly endless string of tales, and even envisioning Cúchulainn as a potential new role model, he was impatient to reach Gorthbychan and get on with his ordeal. It was time to end their rest period anyway. “Let us get back on the trail,” he insisted.
To be continued…
1. Adapted from: Davis Chenault, Under Dark and Misty Ground, (Little Rock: Troll Lord Games, 2007).