Anja and the Druid

Chapter 6


When he had stopped moving Dav first checked himself for injury and was relieved to discover nothing more than bruises and grazes, he then remembered that Mad-e-lyn had fallen with him.

"Mad-e-lyn, Mad-e-lyn are you there?"

He heard a muffled moan but could not determine its whereabouts, as it was pitch black, their brands having been extinguished during the fall. He strained for further sound and tried calling again. This time Mad-e-lyn managed to gasp a reply and Dav realised that she was below him. Feeling his way carefully he moved toward her reassuring her as he went. He found he was on a ledge around what could well be a pit of some description in which Mad-e-lyn was currently resident.

"Are you okay down there?"

"No, my arm is broken" the girl replied.

"Hang on, I'll be down soon"

Moving carefully back toward the wall Dav started to feel for something he could secure a rope to and after a few moments discovered an iron ring set into the rock. Retrieving a length of rope from his haversack he secured one end to the ring and then worked his way back to the edge.

"I'm coming down now"

"Careful Dav"

He moved out over the edge and began to lower himself towards Mad-e-lyn. After about six metres he touched the floor and soon both he and the injured girl were on the upper ledge. Working by feel Dav manufactured a splint for the arm and then out it into a sling. The two adventurers decided that before they tried to find an exit they should rest.

After some searching Anja found the first rune of her name, then finding the others quickly moved her friends back before carefully gripping the first symbol. It seemed to be carved of the door but with a little pressure it moved to the left and was soon at 90║ to its companions. With consummate care the young woman followed the same procedure three more times. A creak of machinery starting up made her step back to her colleagues, then slowly the door swung open up into a recess in the ceiling.

Beyond was a room of indeterminate size, its walls seeming to pulse in the strange iridescent light that filled the air. They moved to the entrance and scanned the area for their ultimate goal, which was supposed to be somewhere here.

The walls of the room were irregular with many alcoves but were all carefully covered in friezes and blocks of runic text. The strange light emanated from a crystal dome over the centre of the room, at which point stood a dais, which they each felt must hold the blade known as Tolgarth. Around the dais the floor comprised hexagonal blocks of marble each with a carefully inlaid rune, and laid in a colour banded sequence.

It was approximately three metres from the edge to the dais across eight rings of blocks.

"I think I must use the blocks as a path to the dais," Anja stated. "Try to find an 'E'"

Keren found the rune, but Anja also found one a third of the way round from the first.

"Well," Rhodrii started, "I guess we look for an 'R' now."

"I have one, look on the third ring" Keren was getting a bit more involved now.

"I do too" said Anja, "in a similar position to yours. Do you think there is more than one route?"

"Could be" Rhodrii replied, "best look for an 'I'"

Several symbols translated as 'I' and each pathway contained a different one. The symbols beyond were not clear enough to read through the shifting light making passive exploring impossible.

"I must go across to check for a 'K'" Anja commented. Her two companions circled the floor to join her.

"Take care, leave your bag and sword here, you may need to move quickly."

Anja took heed of Rhodrii's advice and also left her heavy cloak with them. "Here we go." She stepped onto the first symbol in the sequence, which suddenly burst into a light that seemed to come from inside it. Anja stood a moment then stepped cautiously onto the 'R' being careful not to touch the adjoining blocks. Again the strange internal illumination sprang up. "So far so good" she called back.

Again taking a moment to steady herself, she placed one foot on the 'I', then as she took the weight off the previous block the 'I' block shot downward. Anja started to follow it involuntarily but at the last moment a firm hand grabbed her belt. Rhodrii, seeing what was about to occur, leaped across the lighted blocks just in time to haul Anja up out of danger. Moments later they were both back at the edge with Keren.

"Must have been the wrong 'I'" Rhodrii ventured to a still shaking Anja. "I shall go this time."

"No" Anja was emphatic. "I must do this whatever the consequences."

By now the block had returned to its previous position and the illuminated blocks now resembled their neighbours again. The trio moved back around the perimeter to Keren's route and Anja again prepared herself. Knowing the likely result of a misstep now, she stepped out with extreme caution. The 'E' lit as before and the 'R' in its turn, she took a moment longer to compose herself for the 'I', however she made the step and that block too became illuminated. She heaved a sigh of relief then started scanning the remaining blocks for a 'K'. The symbols were not as clear here but after a moment she found what she was looking for, a 'K'. She made the step and suddenly the light changed.

The blocks she had trodden remained lit, but the iridescent light filling the room disappeared as did all the other blocks leaving just the pathway and the dais.

Just as Dav decided they had better make an effort to escape their tomb the wall behind them moved away, startling both of them. After the initial shock they realised that a stiff breeze was flowing toward them and the greyness before their eyes was light from a distant opening.

Gathering up their belongings, Dav led Mad-e-lyn into the tunnel, their eyes gradually adjusting to the bright light. On the breeze they could smell the grass of the in on which the pyramids sat. After several minutes they reached the source of the light, a grill a metre square, through which they could see the surrounding grasslands.

Dav searched for a release mechanism, not finding one he started to remove the mortar holding it in place with his dagger. His companion joined in somewhat awkwardly but between them they soon had loosened it enough for Dav to be able to pull the grill from its setting. They crawled through and found themselves midway up one of the pyramids overlooking the plains.

"We shall wait for the others on the grasslands," Dav continued, "and I'll check that arm of yours too."

They descended the face of the pyramid and were soon encamped about fifty metres away from its base. The light was beginning to fade, casting a strange effect over the pyramids.

At the instant the wall slid back for Dav and Mad-e-lyn, Anja had stepped onto the central dais. She stood for a moment then with a gentle hum the dais rose up and as it did so revealed a crystal cabinet and inside was Tolgarth! The machinery stopped and Anja stepped around the cabinet taking in the detail of Tolgarth inside the cabinet. As she completed her circuit, she noticed a catch on the top of the crystal, which with some misgivings she tripped. The front of the cabinet slid from view back into the dais leaving Tolgarth accessible.

She reached in and lifted the blade and hefted it to inspect the craftsmanship of the legendary blade. Minutes passed then she broke her reverie at Rhodrii's call.

"Anja, are you alright?"

"Yes, I have Tolgarth"

She turned; the stepping-stones still glowed but beyond was in total darkness. Placing the blade securely in her belt she stepped from the dais back the way she had come. As she stepped from the fourth block the iridescent light returned, the floor reappeared and the crystal cabinet had disappeared. Sweat spotted her brow as she embraced Keren and Rhodrii.

"We should not linger here Anja"

Rhodrii was right, they had to make good their escape.

"But where is the exit?" Keren asked.

"The script said something about it remaining well lit"

They surveyed the room and indeed the walls threw strange shadows in the odd light.

"There" Rhodrii pointed to the centre of the opposite wall, "wherever you move that piece of wall is always lit brightly."

They crossed to the indicated wall, but could not perceive any variance in the surface to the surrounding areas. Anja reached out to touch the wall, but instead her hand passed through it.

"It is an illusion"

With Anja in the lead the small party passed through the curtain of light and into an anteroom that looked at first glance the same as that that they had entered through earlier that day into the corridor system. This room was however well lit from the other room and Rhodrii had soon located a lock mechanism for the door out. The well-oiled mechanism released, but instead of the sunlight they expected as the door opened they were greeted by blackness.

They stepped through to the fresh air and the door sealed behind them. As their eyes adjusted they realised that it was nighttime, a myriad of stars came into focus above and far in the distance lights from a caravan could just be discerned probably twenty kilometres away.

Rhodrii led them slowly down the steps carved into the pyramid's levels and soon they stood at its base, its huge slope blocking out the stars but otherwise unseen in the moonless night.

"We should camp nearby," Rhodrii instructed, "and hope that Dav has got Mad-e-lyn out alive and did not perish."

"Agreed" the women echoed.

"I think we should move a bit further off than here though, we shall camp between the two pyramids."

Rhodrii led them to the right and the corner of the stone where they could see the outline of the other pyramid and, what was that, a fire. The trio as one shrugged their shoulders and went towards the campfire. As they approached they all relaxed as the unmistakable shape of Dav could be seen asleep with Mad-e-lyn nearby.

Their approach roused first Dav then the girl, and soon they were all hugging each other. Dav prepared coffee and for several hours, they exchanged adventures since their separation, culminating in Anja displaying Tolgarth to them.

It was gone midnight when they posted guard and settled down for the rest of the night, all but the injured Mad-e-lyn taking a watch. With the arrival of another plains day they rose and prepared to make the journey on to the Grove. Anja strapped the faeri blade to her back, Rhodrii taking her own blade and they were soon heading north for the road that linked the Westland with those to the east.

As they progressed across the rolling grassland they passed antelope and flocks of the flightless Aroc, giant turkey like birds prized in some parts for their flesh. The sun rose unobscured and their shadows shortened as it reached its zenith. They stopped at each watercourse they cam across, thirst was the eternal enemy. By mid-afternoon the company could see the caravan route in the distance. Before long though they had reached the roadway and turned east for the Bridge of Sighs and the East.

After a brief halt to eat they pushed on until dark, the bridge still not visible. Following their usual camping pattern they had an undisturbed night and returned to the road next morning quite well rested. An hour's walk brought them their first sight of the Bridge of Sighs lifting gracefully over the Great Divide. Just before noon they reached the road to Lerion and soon after caught up with a large caravan heading east.

The master of the caravan invited the travellers to join him to the Stiehlberg Gate, they accepted as the offer included a half-day free of walking, on camel back. The Bridge of Sighs, said to have been built with druid magic rose majestically upward and over the two kilometres that represented the Great Divide here. The single span, so named because of the effect it had on people, seemed to shimmer in the midday heat and duly lived up to its name.

They exchanged tales with the master and his aids during the afternoon and early evening before they reached the village of Gate that serviced the garrison of Stiehlberg Gate. Bidding the group well, the master and his camels continued through the gate and went on east through the night.

Anja and her companions secured residence in 'The Tired Soldier' and were soon enjoying the village baths before indulging in a good meal with ale. Many of their fellows in the village were off duty soldiery and more swapping of tales and some boisterous singing finished their day off.

Having two days to get to the Grove they agreed to spend one of them resting at Gate. Rhodrii and Dav went off to the cobbler with five pairs of boots to repair whilst the women arranged for their laundry. The last few days had given them all, including the fair skinned Mad-e-lyn, a tan and had given all in the group a sense of purpose.

While they rested that afternoon in the shade of the acacia trees in the village square, Mad-e-lyn plaited and coiled both Anja and Keren's hair in imitation of her own and insisted that Rhodrii trim his beard. Tomorrow the eve of Solstice would be significant to all of them and the girl was determined that they approached the occasion in some sort of order. They dined well that evening and headed for bed early.

The woke next day with a sense of excitement and set about their preparations for the next stage of their trip, restocking their supplies as they knew not what lay ahead. It was nearly mid-morning as they passed through the Stiehlberg Gate and out onto the Great Causeway and the road to Anja's Grove. The Causeway stood above the Stiehl Marsh and was constructed of rubble with a dyke to either side. A paved roadway sat atop the structure some five metres wide and ancient as the march itself that protected this approach to the east.

Others travelled the Causeway, traders, and military men on horseback, locals out to fish the dykes, the way quite busy. The friends mostly kept their own counsel only exchanging pleasantries and by early evening were clear of the marsh. They then followed a track north that Mad-e-lyn selected, apparently at whim but after about half an hour they could make out Anja's Grove a short way ahead in the lightly wooded low hills.

Anja's Grove consisted of a stone henge of about twenty metres diameter, within which was an altar and surrounding the structure were beech trees on two thirds of the circumference, the other of oak. Their path led in from the south through the oak and as they approached the trees a low chant could be heard. As they reached the edge of the plantation, for it was not of natural origin, a grey robed figure appeared in the pathway in front of them.

"I am glad that you have arrived" It was their antagonist the Druid who spoke to them. "But Mad-e-lyn, you are injured"

"Yes master, it is broken from a fall, but it ails me not"

The grey figure moved to Mad-e-lyn and took the injured arm in his hands, closing his eyes he began chanting and shortly a light began to permeate Mad-e-lyn's arm. After several minutes he released the arm and to her fellow travellers' amazement the girl removed the strapping and flexed the repaired arm.

"Anja you have the blade that is named Tolgarth?"

"Yes," she replied, "here"

Anja withdrew the blade from its carrying place and held it out toward the Druid. The other took the blade in both hands.

"Thank you for assistance, all of you, it is much appreciated by the Circle"

Several other figures came forward and each made a low bow when they stopped several metres behind the Druid. The comrades answered in kind.

"Mad-e-lyn" the Druid spoke to the girl, "go with these to prepare for tonight"

He motioned towards the others, Mad-e-lyn went to them and they turned and departed toward the grove and were soon lost to sight.

"If you and your companions," he motioned toward Anja's friends, "would wait here till dawn." His tone ordered it and Anja in turn nodded their assent. With a brief smile, he turned on his heel and carrying Tolgarth in his hands went the way that Mad-e-lyn had previously taken.

"What more can he want?" Dav was the questioner.

"I don't know and I'm not sure I want to," replied Anja.

"Well I suppose we had better make camp, we shan't find out until morning" Keren spoke sense and they set about building a fire and a lean-to from fallen branches. They ate lightly and drank from the wine sack Rhodrii had thoughtfully brought from Gate. As they settled down for the night they could hear in the distance chanting and a strange light occasionally showed through the woods.

Anja woke in the pre-dawn chill to find their clearing containing a ground mist and several deer on the far side. As the woman started the fire anew the others awoke, and in the still damp air prepared and ate a simple breakfast. The deer moved and the brightening of the sky that signalled dawn came and went without the Druid appearing. They talked in low voices of his healing powers and made guesses as to what the next few days would bring, the lowlanders would need to return to their home soon, they had been away over a month now and needed to check on their stock as they relied on the family farm for their income. Whilst they discussed this the Druid and Mad-e-lyn entered the now clear glade.

"Ah good, you have waited" It was the Druid who spoke. "Mad-e-lyn wished to speak with you before you leave"

The girl seemed changed, more sure of herself, she now had the tattoos on her temples that marked her as a member of the Circle of Druids, that which she had been brought here for. She took in their gaze and returned a pleasant smile, then approaching Anja first gripped each in turn with a hug, giving Dav the last and longest, she spoke just one sentence. "Thank you, all of you for bringing me safely here" With that she turned and returned into the surrounding oak. They watched as she left then after she had gone turned their attention back to the patiently waiting Druid.

"You have done well, all of you, the Circle will be forever indebted and would make to you Anja this gift."

In one swift move he removed Tolgarth from his cloak and held it in front of him. The jewel hilt and engraved blade sparkled in the early morning light as the man slowly lowered the blade to the ground. The friends stared in disbelief, Anja especially.

"You are to be the custodian of Tolgarth in these troubled times, however I must give you some instructions. This blade may turn the Kelacker but it is also attracted by its use, so beware. It draws on he or she who wields it; prolonged use will drain your strength and make you dependent on it. Do not draw the blade unless you intend to use it as its power may cause accidents when drawn in such manner." Indicating a stone set near the base of the blade he continued, "If this pulses Mad-e-lyn is in need of your help, come to Pastron as soon as you can"

With that he handed the blade to Anja, who stood rooted in front of him. "Go now, return home, rest all of you, in the days ahead all of your services may be required."

He turned as was usual and returned the way he had come. Seizing control of the situation, Rhodrii organised the clearance of their camp while Dav took Anja to one side, still cradling the blade. Eventually though she sheathed Tolgarth and collected her bag from Rhodrii, and the friends set off toward the road east. They rejoined the road and soon overtook a caravan that they decided to join for the trip to Ostrode.

On its way to Ostrode the caravan stopped only briefly during the day and the overnight halts were of only a handful of hours, a longer stop was made at Ostsee, about a day from Ostrode, to replenish the animals' water levels. However they were soon on their way again and descending into the Os valley and the forest.

After three days they arrived at the Ostrode ferry where they bade leave of the caravan and pressed on into the town, high above the river. Dav led them up into the square and soon they were at the inn that they, Dav, Pieter and herself, had stayed in some weeks ago. She noted, as she had not before that it was named 'The Tattooed Woman'.

The friends were allocated two rooms, Keren sharing with Anja and the men sharing a nearby room. They bathed and, as they would dine at an eating-house away from the inn, the women decided to dress for the occasion. As their decorated bodies would not be quite so uncommon here they contrived to allow glimpses, Keren donning a saffron shift whilst Anja wore her blue shift. Both wore their hair loose, Anja braiding a few loose ends to keep them from her face.

They joined the others and went to the eating-house known as the 'Induz Kush'. As they would separate in the morning they had decided on a good meal and that was something that the Kush specialised in. Soup, small fowl, venison, a good selection of imported vegetables, followed by local tortÚ and cyder with imported cheese made an impressive meal and it was into the early hours when they returned to the Tattooed Woman.

They rose late, to the sound of market day activities in the nearby square. Whilst Keren, Anja and Dav breakfasted, Rhodrii set about securing passage for him and his sister down the Os to their home in distant Aachenvorn. It was late morning when he returned to find the others waiting in the tavern lounge. The lowlanders would ride a sailing barge downstream that evening.

Anja and Dav decided to start out north after lunch and so after two weeks of adventurous travel the friends departed. They had made the Mittenwald road by nightfall and they joined numerous other travellers at the inn for the night. The return journey to Rottal-am-See was uneventful, the weather seasonally dry and warm, the road busy with merchants and local workers.

They reached Anja's cottage in late afternoon, the sleepy hamlet much as she remembered a new fence there, woodpiles higher and garden plots in full bloom. The Sauriene consented to stay for a few days during which Anja's own woodpile was replenished, vegetables picked and stored and other minor repairs carried out. The villagers were friendly folk but did not ask too many questions, it was known that the sell sword woman was a private individual and they respected that. They did however offer her supplies of bread and milk as neighbours would throughout the mountains.

After six days Dav made good his leave and departed across the ford into the forest further north on his way to Sauria and his own kind. They would no doubt meet again soon, the Druid would no doubt see to that, especially as Anja was now custodian of Tolgarth and the Kelacker was again afoot.

The young woman continued with her household chores, but the following day decided to travel east towards the Elbst, she knew not why but the feeling was compelling and she knew better than to question such instinct. So it was she donned once again her travelling kit and shut the cottage up. The trip would take several days over the Rotwalde Pass and its many switchbacks. The way was well used, the inns of good quality, the weather fair.

On the third day she crossed the patchwork of forest and farmland toward the river Elbst and by mid-afternoon a light mist could be made out in the distance, the sails of galleys and barges rising out of the vapour and defining the rivers course. It was early evening when she left the ferry across the busy waterway and booked into the nearby inn.

Next morning she set off on the final leg to Zilcken with a spring in her step and soon passed the road to Aare rock far to the south. The roadway improved by degree, the traffic increasing and changing to include farm carts drawn by oxen. She located her sometime employer's premises in the town and had soon convinced the man to re-employ her in her post as bookkeeper. The deal also included lodgings, the work started as soon as her gear was stowed.

She retired late, her employer was not a great one for bookkeeping and they were in something of a state. The lodging was above the warehouse and the scratching of vermin kept her awake for a while but fatigue eventually got the better of her.

"Couldn't you sleep at home Anja?"

Anja jerked upright to find Susan taking her coat off on the other side of the desk over which she had been slumped.

"Good weekend eh!" Susan had a sparkle in her eyes.

"Uh, what's the time?" Anja mumbled.

"A little before eight, what time did you get here?"

"Dunno" Anja was a little confused about the last forty-eight hours, she recalled travelling to her parents in the Ha▀ but of Saturday and Sunday only a blur of mountains, people and travel came as in a dream. That must have been some dream!

The rest of the office staff arrived, Margrit, Dieter and Jurgen exchanged greetings with Anja, the morning and most of the rest of the day passing Anja in a blur of dream, recollection and puzzlement, that went as far as excusing herself to check for tattoos that she recalled seeing about her body, but could not now find evidence of.

By six that evening, the dream was fast fading and only occasional glimpses of blue pyramids and barren mountains persisted, soon even these disappeared into the recesses of her memory.

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