Anja and the Druid

Chapter 5


Anja embraced Pieter; Dav followed suit in turn.

'Till next time' Pieter waved cheerfully as he strode off toward the Great Glacier.

The two friends stood and watched him depart until he moved from view, and then they turned and re-crossed the Klosters to re-enter the village of the same name.

'Home for you too?' Dav ventured

'Yes' Anja replied 'what about you?'

'I suppose it would be nice to see the Saure again, it has been so long.'

'You are welcome to stop off with me'

'We'll see'

They stepped back into 'The Glacier' and ordered breakfast.

'I think I shall stay here for a couple of days before going home' Anja stated

'Yes that seems a good idea' Dav got out in between mouthfuls of bread and cheese.

It was midday on the day after Pieter left that the shade that was the Druid materialised in Klosters. Anja and Dav returning from collecting supplies for their journey north, were somewhat surprised by his presence and both had a sense of foreboding as they approached to greet the grey figure.

' I trust I find you both well'

They both agreed in kind.

'I can see you are concerned by my appearance so I will not beat around the bush. I need your assistance once more. There is an outhouse just beyond the village, a girl, her name is Mad-e-Lyn, she has been entrusted to me by the Council of Druids, however evil stalks the land and she is no longer safe with me. I would entrust her to you, but also ask that you recover something for me, something that can combat this evil, the Tollgarth' he paused for their comments

'What of the girl?' Venture Dav

'You must take her with you on this venture, I have also summoned some assistance for you, I believe you are up acquainted with Keren and Rhodrii.'

'Yes, they are good friends' replied anja, 'the whole story now'

They ordered ale and settled into a corner booth for the Druids story.

' And so you see both sword and Mad-e-lyn must both be delivered to Ayla's Grove on the eve of the Solstice.'

The Druid concluded his tale as the bar began to feel with its evening clientele.

'How do we get the blade' asked anja

'As I mentioned it is held within the Blue Pyramids on the Great Plain, the only assistance I can offer is the script which tells of the dangers you will encounter and how to gain the Tollgarth.

He withdrew a roll of parchment from his sleeve and gave it to Anja. Directing his comments to Anja he continued 'you must follow these instructions and take the blade from its home.'

Anja took the offered script and unfurled the text

"Two blue on green, a beauty to be seen,
North not south is found the mouth,
A step below will see you in, so begin,
Four left, four right will prevent a fright,
The pyramids from the South, you must survey

To the West then it is the way,
Past the kings of the West you descend,
If first the Stone does not you bend,
A room of blue on the route for you,
The way ahead of similar hue,
Straight and long the way goes on,
To a choice of two, up or down is up to you,
Your name is the key to the door but not of floor

Instead a king of three daughters is the clue,
Only one way in and one way out, but not the same no doubt,
For the exit remains well lit within but not out."

'A long riddle' Anja commented

'A riddle you would do well to heed' the Druid concluded

' Where are Keren and Rhodrii?' Dav showed no emotion

'I instructed them to meet you at the East end of the Klockner Pass where the Kloster road joins it. They are already in the shadow of the Klosterhorn.'

'Do they know the reason for this trip?' Anja only needed the Druids confirmation of what she knew in her heart.

The Druid replied flatly 'no, you may tell them if you wish, but I have led the lowlanders to understand it is one of your you want of your 'usual' trips. Seeing Anja's expression he continued 'you still have the seeing stone?' 'Yes' the woman replied 'it is always with me'

'Before you use it on this errand, remember that its use will attract the attention of our enemies'

The Druid sat back from the table.

'I will collect you and take you to Mad-e-lyn in one hour.' With that he rose and without a backward glance, departed their company.

'Did we agreed to this?' Dav asked his companion Anja replied

'I think I missed the part where he asked. I just came in where we asked pertinent questions to help us.'

'I thought as much' Dav gave a resigned shrug 'he's done us again, volunteered, press-ganged and instructed in one move. You just have to admire his style, we fall for it every time.'

'I suppose we can't duck out now?'

'Do you think he would let us, honestly, no I think we are in it up to our necks once again'

Dav finished his ale,' let's get our gear together.'

Almost to the second the Druid reappeared at the inn. Anja and Dav hoisted their bags onto shoulders and set off in his footsteps on the road north out of the settlement. The half-timbered houses quickly fell behind to be replaced with small fields and the occasional barn. After about 15 minutes the grey figure left the main roadway and turned on to a track that led into the forest. However after a few metres they broke into a clearing where a dilapidated barns stood. Their guide a motion for them to remain outside whilst he entered. Shortly he returned to the door and motioned them in.

A bright lamp suspended from an overhead beam replaced the gathering gloom outside. Sitting to one side was a young girl of probably 15 or 16 and nearer, in the centre of the room a small fire crackled. The girl was eating and did not seem aware of their arrival; at least she made no movement that would indicate this.

The newcomers shrugged off their bags and waited for the introductions to begin. The Druid approached the girl

'Mad-e-lyn, these are your guardians for the journey to the Grove, the Saurienne Davril and Anja, both are trusted by me and should be by you also.'

Dav and Anja both managed a hi! But it was a moment more before the girl indicated she had heard. Mad-e-lyn raised her face from the half-eaten meal on her knees. Her new escorts were mesmerised by the gaze that she cast towards them.

The girl's long dark hair was carefully coiled around her head; black eyes drew the other's gaze in. Although at first frail in appearance, she was obviously of robust nature, the ring through her nose glinting as she surveyed the pair.

'Thank you both for coming on this venture.'

The girl placed the plate to one side.

'I can guess that the old man has used his usual tricks to bring you here on this journey, but still I thank you.'

Anja and Dav exchanged quick glances and anja spoke for them both

'It is true that the Druid did use his guile to bring us, but if put plainly to choice I speak for both of us when I say that we would have come along out of curiosity any way. I hope we can all be friends, it may be a difficult trip'.

'That is so, and yes I would like for us all to be friends too. Come sit, there is food on the fireside, stew the old man calls it, and is just barely eatable.'

The Druid still standing to one side held his own counsel but joined the others in a plate of his stew. After they had eaten, he signalled that he wished to speak to them.

'I must leave tonight and return to Pastron. I will meet you at the Grove at the solstice.' he paused, 'stay here tonight, meet the others tomorrow and make haste, the Kelacker will no doubt search this way, it does not yet know off Mad-e-lyn's presence but it is only a matter of time. Rest now and be careful in all parts of your trip.'

With that he collected his stave and as was his habit disappeared out into the night with nary a backward plants.

'The old man is right,' Dav started,' we should rest. I will take first watch.'

Rather than argue the toss Anja consented, rose to extinguish in the light then selected a suitable pile of hay to make a bed on. Their charge followed suit and soon both women were settled. Dav drew his broad sword from its sheath and placed it between his legs in easy reach and leant back against the wall to watch the door.

The pre dawn light found Anja and Dav's positions reversed. Dav woke up to the smell of coffee and rousing Mad-e-lyn on the way proceeded to join his blonde companion by the small fire. After a brief breakfast they collected their possessions, extinguished the fire and departed the barn. They retraced to the North Road and turned away from Klosters.

They exchange small talk as they climbed through the pre-dawn chill and mists of the forest. The sky overhead showed no signs of clearing and after an hour's travel proceeded to weep on them as steady drizzle. The three travellers pulled up their hoods and the conversation dropped to warnings of treacherous footing and comments on the way ahead.

The track joined a tumbling stream, and rose and fell sharply as it wound its way inevitably it up wards. When they cleared the trees shortly before midday, the weather seemed to take a turn for the worse, surrounding the Klosters Hutte in cloud and the more distant Klockner completely hidden from sight. After fording the brook they ate quickly in the lee of an outcrop of rock and rested only shortly.

They route tracked the waterway for most of the afternoon, the weather getting worse as they climbed forever up. By the time the well-worn track left the brook it was late afternoon and the path now doing a fair impersonation of a river itself. They rested again before continuing up on to the small plain at the base of the Klockner, the going getting easier on this stretch although the way had its fair share of floods and mud.

It was in a fast closing murk that they reached the Klockner Pass and the cairn that acted as route marker. There was no sign of Rhodrii or Keren, so using the cairn for shelter the trio settled in for them to arrive.

Rhodrii was a little surprised at first to receive a message from Anja. He and his sister Keren had been with friends in the Seewald and the last he had heard from their friend had been several months back when their paths had crossed up country. How Anja had located them was a mystery, but still, Anja's trips were usually the stuff of legend and no one refused an invitation to join her. His immediate problem was securing passage for them on a boat going to Blauehafen near Funfbrucke, two days by ship but at least four by road.

Keren meanwhile was packing for their trip; they were to meet Anja at the Klockner Pass so that most likely meant a trip west. In turn this meant that they could travel quite light with a minimum of extra clothing but they would need to carry ample rations. By the time Rhodrii returned she had assembled supplies to see them to Funfbrucke where they would restock, and also now wore her travelling garb.

A trading vessel was leaving in a couple of hours and the lowlanders would berth with the 'Trollgitter' on its northbound trip. The young man soon change into clothing similar to his sister, leather breeches, long boots, thick shirt and tunic with a warm travel cloak fixed about the shoulders. The only real difference was that Keren favoured light tan and her brother wore more flamboyant red. The each hefted their gear and collected their quivers and long bows as they left the inn.

Before leaving Seewald, they located their friends; Ingrid and Eric Borgsen, the fish merchant and his wife were busy in the smokehouse preparing herring for smoking. They made their farewells and left promising to return in the autumn. The siblings made their way through the village, savouring the smell of the wood chips used in the many smokehouses that serviced the local fish trade. Passing out of the main settlement, boathouses, Chandler's and one or two small warehouses sat above the pebble beach.

Resting at anchor just offshore were a number of long boats, merchantmen for the most part, although two carried the colours of King Haraldun, whose realm lay amongst the islands, two day's sail across the Vossen Straits. Sitting on its own just beyond the warships, the Trollgitter was almost ready to sail, Rhodrii greeted the master as they approached, he indicated a gang plank running up to the stern from the nearby shore.

The ship was pretty much in the mould of most of the shipping, a long boat of about 18 metres, shallow of draught and only a little over four metres wide. At the bow a high curved prow was adorned by a stylised carved head in the form of a dragon whilst the stern sported an unadorned version. The crew of 40 oarsmen readied themselves, as they would be fighting the current all the way to Blauehafen.

The master led them down the centre deck, under which the cargo was stored, past the stepped mast and indicated a tent like structure in the bow, which would be home for the next two days. By the time they had stowed their gear, the crew were gently sculling the Trollgitter away from the shore. Once clear of the moorings the master issued an order and the men picked up the pace, they were soon being propelled over the calm waters of the Seewald fjord at a steady 10 knots.

They passed into the mouth of the Gross Donau River and within minutes were passing beneath the road bridge that led to Oden Bay. The weather was dry but overcast with little wind and indications were that their journey would be uneventful. Keren settled in a corner with her quiver and set about repairing and replacing fletches, Rhodrii meanwhile went to talk to the master.

At nightfall the crew weight oar and the Trollgitter was anchored in mid Channel - bandits were not unknown in this area. The rowers quickly raised their shelter and all on board gathered there to eat the fish stew that had been bubbling away all day. The ship's crew failed to story telling but the travellers retired to their quarters.

Dawn found the Trollgitter sculling smoothly towards the mouth of the Blaugau, which would take them to their destination. The day passed uneventfully, apart from a brief stop at Kaltenbach to unload some cargo. By the time the ship tied up below Blauehafen-it was late evening. Thanking the master, Rhodrii and Keren alighted on to the dock and made their way through the port and into the town of Funfbrucke.

They made their way to ease their usual stock off The Ogres Head, in the middle of the town. Taking their usual rooms they dined and sat a while listening to the singing and selling of tales that was a part of being in the Ogre. The old clock over the hearth showed a little after 11 when they departed to sleep and a little before seven when they return to eat next morning.

The rendezvous was three days walk away, so after breaking fast and restocking with supplies of goat's milk, bread, meat and cheese they set out for the Gau Gorge. The weather remained dry but overcast and they made good progress, by midday they were descending into the gorge above the rapids. The way was now fairly flat for the remainder of the day's journey across water meadows and through stands of birch and pine. By the time night began to approach they were just about clear of the gorge, the path crossed the river by a pack bridge and nearby was a bothy which the pair intended to use for the night.

The small stone shelter was uninhibited by other than rodents and insects. They ate and bedded down for the night, only the surrounding wildlife disturbing the silence of the night. Next morning they again woke early to find an early morning mist clinging to the land. Collecting their belongings, they were soon picking their way through the mist, the weather clinging to their clothing and chilling the early morning air.

By mid morning the moisture gave way by degree to low cloud, shrouding the Monck from sight, however the meadows were now clear and they could now pickup the pace slightly. They reached the road to Klosters without seeing more than the occasional shepherd or goatherd high above them. After resting awhile they moved onto the new road and were soon climbing steadily through the pines; the way was quite wide and well traversed, being on one of the main overland trade routes. As a result the gradients were never too severe and after they cleared the trees, caravan campsites dotted the roadside every couple of kilometres.

They passed little traffic even on this road, a shepherd and his flock, a group of transient walkers and shortly before stopping for the night, a grey shrouded man swept past. In The closing dark they could see the Klosterhutte outlined briefly by the setting sun and then it was gone. During the day Keren felled a Ptarmigan which they now cooked, hidden from view 20 metres or so from the road. Taking turns to keep watch, the night passed without the event.

The light of dawn revealed clouds scudding eastward overhead but a light drizzle had replaced the previous dry conditions. The going from here to the Klockner Pass was, although rising steadily, quite easy-going and after eating they were soon setting a good pace.

A few more travellers were about today and mid morning they passed a caravan of about 100 camels heading east. They exchanged greetings with their fellow travellers and by noon the Klosterhutte and Klockner dominated the view ahead, the roadway taking in a minor pass between their flanks before the pass proper was entered. The rested in the shelter of a large rock, the drizzle has steadily turned to rain, the rock offering some small respite.

Heather and gorse of the surrounding mountains sides was becoming as great as the sky by the time they set off once again. The mountains disappeared as the roadway began to flood and puddle; the pair drew their cloaks more closely about them to keep out the chill weather. It was from out of this murk that they found themselves confronted by several men all armed and intent on mischief.

Instinctively Keren turned to stand back to back with her brother; two more ruffians stood a short way behind them. The travellers stood still and watched as their assailants manoeuvred themselves around them, both releasing hidden knives in preparation for the forthcoming fight. Outnumbered three to one things were not looking good!

Rhodrii pulled his bow free and prepared to use it as a stave, Keren dropped the knife into her hand and as if that were the signal, the bandits attacked. The pair fought back to back and well, a co-ordinated attack would have cut them down in seconds but their opponents acted individually, Rhodrii drew the attention of four and Keren at a disadvantage due to stature, fought a holding action with the others.

They fought for over fifteen minutes with first the attackers then the attacked gaining the advantage, Rhodrii laying one man out with a blow to the temple and removing a another with a well-placed kick below the belt. Keren became separated and was now with her back against a boulder, just about keeping her assailants at bay.

It was a lucky blow to Rhodrii's shoulder, which turned events, throwing him off balance, the bandits, was soon on to him and with a swift chop to the neck he was out of contention. With four of them against her, Keren decided that continued fighting would not improve the situation, so she dropped her blade and waited for what they would do next.

Throughout the battle the ruffians barely spoke and this did not change now. One carefully retrieved her knife and motioned for her bow and other belongings. The result of such encounters varied, tales in the Inns recounted robbery, rape and murder for the victims, Keren vowed to take whatever fate handed out stoically.

Another of the bandits was instructed to tie her up and soon she found herself bound and gagged next to her brother in a depression out of sight of the roadway. Rhodrii was still unconscious but those he had felled were now back on their feet, bruises on her brother's face were testament to their revenge. Although uninjured, the girl was tired from the fight and soon fell asleep.

She was woken soon after by one of her captors who hauled her to her feet and directed her with the point of his sword to precede him, the cord securing her ankles to each other had been retied into a hobble which prevented any rapid movement. After a short distance, the others hove into view in a small clearing amongst the gorse that offered some protection from the elements. The individual who appear to be nominally in charge motioned his cohorts to release her arms, but she remained hobbled and gagged.

Fear started to grab her but she managed to control herself as she was inspected by the one of the others addressed as Ganf, they spoke very little, she realised that mostly it was grunts with a lot of arm waving and only the occasional word punctuated their communication. It was fast becoming evident that rape was the best she could expect of this motley crew and this was confirmed when Ganf indicated that she should start undressing. She removed her tunic but before she could proceed any further she was pitched to the floor, however she was relieved to realise that this had been done to remove the hobble and her boots.

All back to her feet, Ganf motioned for her to continue, it was evident that he would have her first, the others voyeurs. Thoroughly wet, she shivered as she removed her breeches and shirt then with more prompting her underclothes. Standing in the grove naked, her captors again started to inspect her, Ganf playing with her nipple rings then bringing his companions in to show them her tattooed body. Keren stood shivering trying to shut out all emotions as the inspection continued without a word only Ganf was there shedding his trousers. Two of the others then grabbed her arms and forced her to the ground. Kneeling in front of her assailant the lights suddenly went out.

Keren awoke with a ringing in her head and the smell of urine in her nostrils, trying to move she found herself restrained. Over the ringing she could hear the bandits nearby but as far as she could tell, They had stopped short of rape. Moving her head she ascertained that her arms were staked out above her head and her spread legs similarly treated. More uncomfortable was the fact that her nipples were also attached by cord through the rings to the stakes restraining her wrists. It was also apparent that the pool of yellow liquid in the hollow of her stomach was of the source of the urine smell.

The she realised that she was no longer gagged but all she could manage was a croak. Naked in the cold and wet she suddenly gave a shudder then wished she hadn't has her breasts erupted in pain. The rain became heavier, the voices of her captors became heated, she heard several sets of foot steps depart then others move her direction.

Movie in her head carefully to the side she could see Ganf approaching with just one of his colleagues. Gripped again with fear, she lay to await her fate. Ganf again removed his trousers and came to her, his friend seated a short way off, 'here it comes' thought Keren but just as it seemed inevitable a voice, clear and hard shouted.

'Stop where you are'

Ganf pulled up short and turned to the newcomer who had already disposed of the watcher.

'Turn the girl free';

Ganf hesitated as the other levelled his sword at his chest


The half-dressed man did as instructed freeing her ankles first, then arms leaving her nipples painfully to last.

'Now over there'

the swordsman indicated the downed man, Ganf started to move but as he drew level with the other, Keren's rescuers struck him on the neck putting him out next to his friend.

'Come girl, quickly'

Keren sat up and tried to get some life into her deadened arms and legs, seeing her plight the other helped her to her feet.

'Your gear is over here, were you alone?'

Finding her voice she replied, 'no my brother, he was in a hollow by the road.'

'I thought it looked a bit of a struggle for only one girl, come dress quickly before their friends return.'

Keren found all her clothes and set about replacing them, shivering all the while and wincing as the garments fell on her sore breasts. She was soon fully clothed; the other was keeping watch for her assailants.

'Come bring your gear, I think your brother is nearby'

Moments later they were reunited and their saviour was cutting Rhodrii free. No sooner was he up and the stranger started toward the road.

'Quickly, we must leave here fast, if they recapture you, they will not spare you any indignity.'

The turned West and only stopped after an hour, the rain continued to fall making the path treacherous in places. The Trio had travelled in silence thus far and only when they had settled under an overhang did conversation restart.

'I am Pegar and you?'

Rhodrii replied ' I am Rhodrii, this is my sister Keren'

'Pleased to make your acquaintance.'

'How can I thank you?' Keren asked

'The pleasure was mine of fair lady, and your company here is enough for me.'

'But how did you know we were there?' Rhodrii asked what was on Keren's mind.

'Ah that was the simple bit. I could see by the churning of the road that a fight had taken place and you could hear those ruffians' miles away arguing. I approached their hideaway and observed four of them heading towards the road. It was obvious from the actions of the other two that some woman would soon have a visit, and not voluntarily. I decided the even the score a trifle then. So I followed, caught one on the hop and the rest you know.'

'I still cannot thank you enough ' Keren stated

'Nor I, for I was lacking in my protection to my sister' Rhodrii continued.

'Not so, from what I can tell you to put up a fair fight to save her honour.'

Pegar started a fire and soon they were eating stew that he carried in his bag.

'Is there a danger from a pursuit now do you think?' asked Rhodrii

'I think not although we should post a guard, these bandits use the peak to quite a smaller area, but I think that group were heading up country from what I caught of their conversation.'

'Do you know what they are, they spoke mostly in grunts' Keren asked

'They come from beyond the high plain, they are known as Thiffrey and all of their kind are rogues', Pegar paused 'and what are too lowlanders doing here anyway?'

'How did you know' Keren started 'that we are from the lowland?'

'Your decorations of course' and Pegar winked at her, Rhodrii still did not know the extent of his sisters degradation.

'Yes' replied Keren 'why? Oh yes we are meeting, or should I say, should have met some friends for a trip into the West today. They will wait I am sure.'

'Where were you to meet?' Pegar watched his companions closely.

'At the start of the Klockner Pass' Rhodrii replied

'Ah good, I will see you safely there at first light then I must go down to Klosters.'

They then fell into discussing the road conditions and weather, Keren massaged her bruised chest beneath her cloak, only on a toilet visit was she able to apply some salve to her battered teats. They grabbed sleep as they could but none were fully rested when dawn came. The drizzle of the past day was gone but a strong wind now blew down from the surrounding peaks, the Groß Klockner could now be seen a day's travel away to the West, and nearer the Klockner and Klocknerhutt.

After a simple breakfast they returned to the road and an hour later could see the Klockner Pass and the Klosters road. They could see a figure coming towards them along the road, some 15 minutes later and they recognise it as Davril. Soon they met and after introductions they started heading down to the base of the pass where Anja and Mad-e-lyn waited by the cairn. When they arrived Mad-e-lyn had prepared coffee and the newcomers told their story. It was mid-morning when Pegar bade farewell and headed down the Klosters Road.

Anja's party hoisted bags soon after and started on the four day crossing of the Klockner. The wind blew hard in their faces all day and by sunset they were north of the Groß Klockner. Even in summer snow fell at this altitude and that night it started to do just that. They built a lean too from brush and settled in. They talked that night of adventures past and of what they had each done since last they had been together. Mad-e-lyn ventured little and seemed to withdraw into herself.

They awoke to find the land blanketed in snow, not deep, but it would make the going hard. After packing they set off, the line of the road clear as it wound up and over the high moors, the wind again gave little relief but the sky was clear and blue overhead, the Sun however had little strength to it.

Rhodrii supplied a brace of hare for dinner and by the time sunset came; the Crystal Mountains were in sight. Mad-e-lyn contributed a bit more to the conversation that evening although Dav continued to run the topics. The following morning they were greeted by a grey sky and what snow remained was being eaten into by a steady drizzle.

The road by now was in a sorry state, the camel train they passed did not help matters and soon all five were well splattered with ochre coloured mud. The wind was again ever present but by midday the snow and rain had gone leaving the Crystal Mountains shrouded in grey clouds. At midday they ate in the shadow of the Orb Spire. Soon afterwards they left the main road and took the road known as the Crystal Pass.

That evening they left the road and camped in the caves below the Tebeukhorn, which offered somewhat better shelter than the surrounding country. Various wild life obviously thought the same and they had to flush a giant ground shrew out before they could make camp. Again they had hunted en route to provide meat to supplement their dwindling supplies and Mad-e-lyn was showing a surprising talent for preparing their fare.

Their last day in the mountains dawned clear and bright but today without the stiff wind, just a gentle breeze bringing the fragrance of the high meadows to their nostrils. Apart from a few sheep they encountered no others travelling the Crystal Pass, and by mid morning they started to drop toward the settlement of Erdbeer Feld. To their left the Pferdkopf stood looking out over the High Plain which they could see in the distance.

It was early evening when they reached the settlement of Erdbeer Feld, sheep farming community of low stone houses with shallow roofs and small windows. However it was not all austere, window boxes adorned every home and some walls carried large murals of various subjects. They found the inn and secured rooms then food. Over the evening meal Anja suggested they stop over for a day to rest as it could be well over a week before they again had the chance. All agreed, they should have ample time to make their rendezvous in the nine days at Ayla's Grove.

Anja had briefed Rhodrii and Keren as she thought it prudent that they were aware of what lay ahead. The rest day proved to be invaluable as it gave an opportunity to check and repair equipment and wash their mud stained clothing. Rhodrii's bruises had now gone and Keren was no longer sore about the chest, all were however sore about the feet and most of the day was spent sat at the inn.

Few travelled this way and apart from the children, the villagers seemed oblivious to the strangers from the East. Only Anja ranked more than a second look, her blonde hair seldom seen here, even the Saurienne was ignored. Hot springs just outside of the enclosure gave the opportunity for a hot bath first Rhodrii and Dav, then the girls. Her companion's body art, Anja's string of exotic blooms and Karen's birds and flowers entranced Mad-e-lyn. Only lowland women normally wore such designs, Anja although not a lowlander had adopted the country and had been tattooed as a sign of oneness with her lowland friends. As a woman Anja was an anomaly, blonde when almost the entire population were dark, an adventurer and universally liked by those who knew her. A sometime sell sword and occasional haus Frau she provided inspiration for many of her sex.

The next morning they restocked with provisions and departed for the High Plain. About an hour later they arrived at the lift which held the cliffs that ran the length of the Crystal Mountains. They waited whilst a load of timber was raised up the cliff, then descended in the cage down to the base of the outcrop some 200 metres below. The wooden cage creaked and shook as it fell and landed with a jolt at the base.

They decanted onto the scree and were quickly on their way towards the edge of the Stiehlwald. Passing into the dense forests the sky disappeared behind the canopy above them and for most of the day they remained in the half light of the old forest, only breaking out on to grassland late in the afternoon. Shortly the Great Divide hove into view and by early evening they reached the rope and plank affair that answers as a bridge here.

At Dav's suggestion they camped there by the bridge. They were woken next morning by pack animals crossing the bridge towards them; four small mulas were about halfway across the two-kilometre stretch so they ate breakfast while they waited for the animals to finish their transit. The pack master exchanged greetings as he passed; the friends were soon crossing the rickety construction. The each gazed at the depths below and into the deep shadow as they crossed this break in the Earth's crust that stretched for 200 kilometres across the Continent.

They were soon across but now instead of following the trail West their route was to the north. With Dav and Rhodrii in the lead they headed along the rim of the Great Divide across the rolling grass of the High Plain. The going was easy and they made excellent progress despite having to detour around several side chasms. The day was warm and from time to time swarms of gnats descended on them although this was the only unpleasantness.

The first night on the plain was spent by the Great Divide, undisturbed by man or beast but as was their practice they posted watch as usual. Next day dawned much as the previous one, the Sun soon beating warmly down on them, such that capes and tunics were removed. Their route veered away from the Divide towards where on the horizon stood the blue pyramids. The grasslands stretched unbroken as far as the eye could see only the occasional stunted birch breaking the monotony.

The day bore on, a stiff breeze rising, whipping their hair about faces, at their lunch stop both Anja and Keren plaited theirs for comfort, Mad-e-lyn's coiled style was beyond either of their skills! The wind abated a little late in the afternoon and by last light they were but a few kilometres from their goal. They camped as usual, finding a depression that offered some shelter from the persistent wind that raked the grasslands. A herd of antelope passed nearby but otherwise they were again undisturbed.

They awoke under a heavy dew which was soon burnt off under the rising Sun of the plains. The friends are prepared for the day ahead in which they would enter the Pyramids, by taking a good breakfast before heading off to their destination. Anja re-read the script that the Druid has given her, it was evident that the further structure was the first stop.

By mid-morning they were at the base of the northern Pyramid, the sun casting stark relief on the surfaces of the structure. In the west face rose a stairway that they cautiously started to ascend, with anja now leading they rose steadily above the green of the plane. The way was steep, the steps high and it took most of an hour to reach the top of the stairway.

They took the opportunity to rest and to survey the surrounding country, on three sides all they could see was grasslands whilst to the East, the Stiehl and the crystal mountains could be seen through the haze.

Anja read from the script

'A step below will see you in, so begin
Four left, four right will prevent a fright'

'What can that possibly mean?'

Dav had already been pondering on this and thought he had at least part of the answer.

' I think perhaps if we check that first step down we might see what the rest refers to.'

'Seems good to me' anja replied

They all descended to the step in question and began to search for any possible marking.

It was Mad-e-lyn who discovered the steps cut several metres to the side of the main stairway. Sure enough there were four to the right and Dav crossed and confirmed those on the left.

'I suppose we must get to them to avoid the fright' Keren ventured

'I think so' Anja replied 'any ideas?'

'Yes I have a way.' It was Dav who spoke, 'if I can reach across, I think that I can, you can each use me to bridge the gap.'

'Sounds risky' Rhodrii stated 'but worth a go'

'OK' said Anja 'lets try.'

The Saurienne stood by the edge of the main stairway and flattened himself against the smooth surface of the pyramid face. Edging out slowly and slipping more than once he managed to get his leg on to the flat of the top side step.

'All right then, Keren you first.'

Keren moved out and was quickly across followed in turn by her brother and Mad-e-lyn. Dav then regained the main stair and repeated his crawl to the other side, anja climbed across and Dav pulled himself to join her on the right hand steps.

With a single movement the main steps disappeared and at the summit above them a doorway opened and then a door slid open.

'All right' Rhodrii climbed up on to the newly revealed terrace closely followed by his companions.

'I guess we're in now' anja stated matter of factly,' are we all ready for this?'

Each confirmed that they were in turn

'Well I suppose we had better go in then.'

And with that the young woman led her companions through the portal.

Darkness greeted them but they could discern a smallish room and some more doorways. Dav hesitated with a feeling of foreboding but shook it off and followed the others through into the interior of the pyramid, to whatever fate dealt them.

As the friends cleared the entrance, the huge block concealing it slid back into place behind them. Dav quickly located a brand that he then proceeded to ignite; its light as it crackled into life casting long shadows on the walls and ceiling. Rhodrii located another that he lit from the first and the small company surveyed their surroundings. They stood in a small anteroom perhaps three metre square with a vaulted ceiling, behind them stood the now resealed entrance, the walls to either side were decorated with murals, one wall mirroring the other, showing the construction of the pyramids. The last wall, in front of them had as its main feature two open doorways of distinctly dark demeanour.

Dav walked over and shoved his torch into each opening in turn, but nothing separated their bleakness, they, like the walls, mirrored each other. Anja withdrew from her tunic the parchment containing their only clues to the correct route, Rhodrii moved closer to give her better illumination from which to read.

'The pyramids from the south, you must survey, to the west is the way'

'Over here quick' Keren pointed to the wall to the left of the entrance, 'the mural shows the pyramids'

'How do we know which is the south view?' Mad-a-lyn asked no one in particular as they surveyed the murals.

'Look here' it was anja who spoke, 'the Bridge of Sighs is shown in this last panel,'

the others gathered around her shoulders.

'When we left the bridge we were headed mostly north west to the pyramids, the bridge when seen from the pyramids would be to the right, this shows it to the left.'

'That means the other wall must be the south view of the pyramids if it reflects this one'

They all five crossed the chamber to check the theory with fact.

'We've solved the first part at least,' Keren chirped, 'it is the right hand way which is west of the pyramids.'

'Are we ready then to continue?' asked Dav

All signalled that they were so with Dav in the lead, anja then Mad-a-lyn and Keren following with Rhodrii bringing up the rear, they entered the chosen passage. Although dry it smelt musty and a small cloud of dust at their feet marked their passage. It was wide enough to walk two abreast although the company preferred to remain in single file, and the vaulted ceiling was high enough for them to walk unbent.

After only a few metres they turned to the right and the floor began to angle downwards. As the light left the first turn, another, this time to the left came into view ahead. A gentle breeze followed them, causing the brands to flicker from time to time causing bizarre shadows to appear on the walls and ceiling. The group made the corner and the floor tilted into a greater gradient such that they needed to use the walls to steady themselves. At regular intervals, alcoves were let into the walls, alternately to either side. About half a metre from floor level but otherwise of doorway proportions, each contained a carefully carved image of a Westland King.

They proceeded cautiously on, occasionally studying an unseeing bust. After passing about a dozen such alcoves, their way again turned to the right, the breeze whistled lightly as it made the corner. The friends continued on and down with just the scuffling of their boots breaking the silence, the gradient remained constant and the alcoves regular to each side. The corridor continued to stretch blackly away in front, the light from their torches hungrily consumed by the blackness as they descended.

After passing about a further twenty alcoves of kings centuries dead, the paving started to camber making their progress slower as they continued. The floor soon resembled a shallow trough with no apparent purpose; they had been descending now for nearly fifteen minutes when a new sound made itself present in the corridor. Starting as a low rumble above them, it was gradually building to a roar as it descended toward them.

'Quick, the alcoves'

It was Rhodrii who issued the instruction as he pushed Keren into the nearest depression, beside the statuary. The others didn't need further words, as they ran down the corridor to each in turn gain safety with the kings, the roar building quickly into a crescendo behind them. Dav was the last to attain shelter, his large form causing some problems in squeezing into the narrow gap, the brand dropped to the floor in the confusion. Moments later the source of the deafening roar became evident as it hurtled down the path at great speed.

The whole atmosphere shook with a huge pressure wave as the rock that almost filled the tunnel, banged and crashed, unstoppable on its downward course. They each felt the air sucked from them as the leviathan reached their hiding places, then they were almost ripped out into the corridor by the following draft. Then as suddenly as it started, the noise and vibration ceased.

'Stay still' Rhodrii's tone was instruction ' there may be a follow up device'

Before he finished speaking a new roar could be heard far above. They each waited in their retreats, this time knowing what to expect. The second boulder bounced its way past and on into the depths below. The first device had extinguished Rhodrii's brand and Dav's was lost too. Rhodrii found flint and when he had re-lit the brand they gathered to survey the scene.

Above and below, the remains of the displaced busts of kings lay on the floor where they had been pulled from their niches, the remained of Dav's brand was reduced to splinters spread away from them. They surveyed the scene silently for a moment whilst dusting themselves down.

'How did you know?' asked Mad-e-lyn

'The next line of the script 'Past the Kings of the West you descend, if first the stone does not you bend''

'I'm glad someone's sharp' Dav enjoined, 'I think we should check the script again before we proceed any further.'

'Agreed' Keren and Mad-e-lyn echoed.

Anja retrieved the document from her tunic and traced the lines as she confirmed Rhodrii's rendition of the text.

'A room of blue on the route for you, the way ahead is of similar hue'

'Sounds like an interesting one anja' Dav opined

'Well at least we know a bit more in advance to expect trouble' Keren continued, 'lets get on with it'

Anja re stowed the document and this time with Rhodrii leading with their solitary light, they set off in the wake of the boulders that so nearly succeeded in their purpose. The slope of the floor revealed another purpose as they descended, the debris mostly gathered down the centre, a newly evident stream of water washed it slowly downward into the darkness ahead.

They descended for at least as long again, the flow of water increasing, then suddenly a solid wall barring their way confronted them. Of the boulders there was no sign, the stream disappeared along its lower edge, their way forward temporarily unknown. The floor here had levelled and there was no clue to how they could progress further.

Dav and anja both drew daggers and began probing the edges of the stonework of the barrier, hoping to locate a hidden catch or mechanism. The others searched the tunnel walls that here appeared to be of solid rock, only Keren didn't search as she held the torch to light their search. It was Mad-e-lyn who found what they sought, literally tripping over it, sat in the floor close to the wall and covered by dust was a short lever.

Dav and Rhodrii carefully cleared the dirt of aeons away before Dav braced himself against the wall before attempting to move the device. After much grunting, and the timely intervention of Rhodrii's muscle power, Dav moved the iron to the left enough for the hidden mechanisms to engage. Expecting the wall under which the stream flowed to move they were all a little taken aback when the wall to its right slid back revealing another short passage.

With the Saurienne taking the brand and the lead, they cautiously passed into the newly revealed route and in only a few more moments found themselves at the entrance to what seemed like a large room. Dav lit brands that hung to either side of the doorway, the spitting flames revealed what was obviously the blue room of the script. About ten metres across and stretching away into the darkness, they could make out columns standing parallel to the sidewalls. They were actually stood in a small reception area; Dav lit more of the bracketed brands, which crackled noisily into life in the musty air. Soon they could see that the walls were covered in more murals and a complex mosaic covered the floor. Just visible at the far end, perhaps fifty metres away, was a doorway of impressive proportions, through which it looked like their exit lay.

'What was the second part of that line again?' asked anja

'The way ahead is of similar hue' quoth Keren

'Well this is certainly the blue room' the walls and columns were predominantly a pale blue which complemented the vaulted ceiling.

'I guess it means our route is indicated in blue' anja concluded.

'Look, the floor' Rhodrii indicated the mosaic, 'a path across perhaps?'

'But why?' Mad-e-lyn enquired.

'Well there certainly is a path of blue tiles leading out, I suppose there is only one way to find out' Dav drew his long sword and proceeded to the edge of the mosaic.

'Follow me carefully'

The others fell in behind as, testing each of the blocks with his sword, he moved cautiously along the blue route traced through the mosaic. The going was slow, their way winding back and forth across the room. As they approached the far end it became obvious that the blue path did not in fact approach the large door as they had presumed it would but seemed to terminate at the right hand wall. They followed Dav wordlessly toward the wall.

'Where now?' the words were barely out of Keren's lips before a rumble warned of impending movement somewhere nearby. However in this case it was benign and a hidden door appeared where the path terminated. With Rhodrii now holding the brand, they moved into the new corridor. Dav armed everyone with a brand from a supply stacked inside the doorway and soon each was holding a lighted brand.

They moved carefully into the enclosed space, the door closing of its own accord behind them as they moved away. The tunnel was narrow and musty with much spider evidence hanging in dusty skein's in the murk, hissing as the passing torches ignited it. The way although level wound back and forth, occasionally side tunnels left the main way, however instinct led them to follow the straighter route and this proved correct when they reached another door. A lever was this time in clear view but as a precaution Dav used his sword to trip the mechanism.

Light flooded in to meet them and when they emerged, sighs of dismay were the order of the day, they were back in the blue room. However after taking the view in, it was clear that they had emerged to the left of the room, just a few metres from the huge door and from where they stood the blue path crossed to the huge portal.

Again Dav proceeded cautiously along the blue mosaic and shortly they all stood in front of the portal. Rhodrii tried the handle and to their surprise the door swung silently open to reveal a short stairway.

'Should we check the script again before we proceed' Mad-e-lyn enquired

'Yes I think we should' Dav turned to Anja who was already removing the parchment from its travelling place.

'Straight and long the way goes on to a choice of two
Up or down the way forward is up to you'

'Well that's as clear as mud' Dav intoned as Anja concluded. 'I suppose it will make itself evident in time'

'Lets eat before we continue' Keren opined ' we're all tired and we shall likely need our wits later'


They propped their torches against the walls and sitting on the steps, broke open the rations they all carried. The conversation was muted as they ate, concerned mostly with the way they had come and the way ahead, trying to discover the meaning of the next line. Shortly they retrieved their brands and cautiously started the descent of the stairway. Their route now followed a corridor that stretched for an indeterminate distance straight away in front of them.

With Rhodrii leading they moved on as cautious as ever, the light from the blue room gradually diminishing as they moved further toward their destination. After an hour of walking, the corridor angled upward and they each felt a prickle of fear, remembering their earlier encounter with the boulders, this time there were no alcoves. However this time their fears were unfounded as the corridor ended in a junction.

To the right a further corridor sloped down into the gloom, that to the left rose gently out of sight.

'Which way now?' Keren was the questioner

'Well we've done the straight and long way, and this is obviously the up or down' Anja intoned, 'it says the way forward is up to you.'

'There you just said it' chirped Mad-e-Lyn; 'the way forward is up!'

'What do you think Dav' asked Anja.

'She could be right, the other clues have been straight forward, we should not read too much into it and question it.'

'What about you two?' Anja addressed her friends

'Dav is right, we will likely make trouble for ourselves if we question too much'

'Ok by me' Keren added.

'Right, up it is then' declared Anja taking the lead from Rhodrii. The others followed on behind with Dav bringing up the rear.

The gradient was easy; the tunnel of carefully cut blocks, a light breeze was just evident on their faces. The way turned to the right and continued upward, after fifteen minutes they turned right again, this was repeated four more times before the turns came quicker. Anja tried to mentally picture their route and place their position but the constantly changing direction threw her. The stretches of corridor between turns were short enough now to be seen in their entirety.

Then without warning the floor below Mad-e-lyn and Dav opened, to swallow the screaming pair into a void. The remaining trio stared aghast as the floor returned to its previous position. For a moment they stood transfixed then Rhodrii broke the silence.

'If they are still alive Dav will find a way out'

The two women remained silent, Keren appeared to be going into shock, Rhodrii put his arms about her in comfort and Anja joined them in a long, silent hug while Keren regained her composure.

'We must go on' Anja said at last, 'they would both want that'

'Yes' agreed Rhodrii.

Keren remained wordless but nodded her assent. They moved on and after a further two hours they arrived at a heavy door carved deeply with runes.

'What does the script say of this' asked the young man.

Anja produced the script again and read on from the previous clue

'Your name is the key to the door but not of floor
Instead a king of three daughters is the clue
Only one way in, one out, but not the same, no doubt
For the exit remains well lit'

'What do you make of that then?' Anja enquired

Keren broke out of her silence ' the script was given to you Anja, it must be your name it means for the door, but which king?'

'Three daughters, the mountains!' Rhodrii exclaimed 'it must mean Eric'

'Lets try that then' suggested Anja, 'hold the brands so I can read the door'

Rhodrii too Anja's torch and with Keren to her left and Rhodrii to the right, Anja began deciphering the runes carved on the surface of the door.

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