Part Five 3500 BC
In the flash of a moment Arthfael came alert. He chanted to himself a spell of strength he somehow remembered from the sheepskin scrolls and whipped his staff around in an arch so fast it was a blur. The staff hit the possessed Druid square on the side of his head so hard it shattered sending pieces of it flying throughout the cavern. The Druid slammed into the wall breaking clay urns and scattering old bones as he went down. The Black Druid spirit inside the man had made its move too soon and did not have enough control over the body. It raised the arm too late to protect itself. Arthfael then went to the table and pulled the stone knife from his sisters chest and went to the stunned body of the Druid struggling to regain his feet. With no hesitation he drove the flint blade into one of the flaming green eyes as they started to look up. The body of the Druid Priest screamed. Arthfael quickly pulled the knife from the skull and then drove it again into the chest over the heart all the way to the hilt. The body crumpled over and laid out on the ground, the fight was over.
Judoc and Drest came running into the cavern as the fight was ending followed by the Sergeant and several of his warriors. The two boys felt the disturbance in the black bond they shared with Arthfael and came as fast as they could. They had been up at the entrance watching the trails and roads leading to the barrow for any search parties that might wander their way. It took them a few minutes to run down to the tumulus once they felt Arthfael’s distress.
“Arthfael, art thou unhurt?” Judoc said as he looked at the body of the Druid Priest.
Arthfael’s back was to the entrance of the tumulus. He too watched the body of the Druid Priest. He was the only one who could see the black shadow oozing out of the body to form a puddle on the ground. Arthfael watched as it slithered slowly to a corner of the cavern to hide amongst other shadows made by the torches.
“I art fine mine brother,” Arthfael said in a quiet voice. “The Druid Priest wert stronger than methought. Hath thine men take’eth the altar table from this tumulus, tis time to be gone from this place.”
Arthfael stayed and observed the shadow in the corner to make sure it did not try to possess any of the warriors as they strained and groaned while moving the slab behind him. He was shaken by the experience and did not want his acolytes to see so he ordered them back up to continue the lookout. As Arthfael watched the shadow creep farther into the corner he vowed to himself never to be taken by surprise like that again. The shade who was the Black Druid Lugubelenus could not be destroyed, but the tunnel leading to this tomb could be brought down sealing it in for all time.
Judoc came back down after a bit to ensure the warriors removed all of the items important to them and found only one thing left. The stone cauldron which sat under the altar table to capture the blood of a sacrifice. When they went to carry it away Arthfael stopped them and ordered it smashed to pieces. The only purpose of the cauldron was to hold the life blood to feed the shade of Lugubelenus. It was of no use to the sacrifices they performed and he wanted nothing more to do with it. Three of the strongest warriors lifted the rune covered bowl high into the air and threw it onto the stone floor. As it shattered Arthfael could see the shadow of the Black Druid become more feeble and shrink in size. He felt the shade become weaker and less of a threat and knew he could now leave the cavern.
As Arthfael walked back up the tunnel he worried little about any tokens he or his friends left laying about the crypt. The collapsing of the passageway would hide any sign they were there, but as he walked out into the daylight he realized he should have been more concerned. All about the entrance men were moving about in a flurry of quiet yet earnest activity. Bands of warriors with Druid Priests were closing in on the ancient barrow.
Morcant and Haerviu had returned with the cart and were directing the compelled warriors to quickly get it loaded. Several search parties had been seen and it would not be long before it would be too late to escape unseen. Arthfael ordered the entrance of the ancient barrow swept down in the hopes it may be passed by, at least for a while. There would be no time now to collapse the tunnel as he had hoped.
“We must away Arthfael!” Morcant said as the last of the pieces of the altar table had been stowed in the cart.
The cart was a big two wheeled thing with plenty of room to carry the large petrified-oak slab and the stumps that held it up. Also stacked in the cart were weapons and personal items they had collected from their many victims. They kept most of the things thinking they may be useful later. The young Druids had no use for the ancient clay urns that lined the walls of the cavern so those were left behind with the bodies stacked around them.
Besides his shattered staff Arthfael had also left behind his bronze hunting knife. A knife that had been a gift from his father some turns ago. He had discarded the knife so he could use the sheath which fit the flint knife perfectly. It was the safest place he could think to put the artifact that was so vital in collecting the life force from the sacrifices they performed on the altar table. It was another thing in the barrow that could lead to him. His father and many others who knew him would surely recognize the fine hunting knife he had carried everywhere. It was too late to worry about it now. Judoc and Drest came running back, out of breath, saying they were out of time. If they did not go now they would be seen leaving.
Everyone mounted up on their horses to make ready to leave. With one of the warriors Morcant drove the cart being pulled by two oxen, their horses were tied to the back. The boys kept the warriors enthralled to them as they would come in handy if there was a fight and to move the altar table. The little group left taking a little used road running north between the emerald green grassy Hills of Tara. None of them gave any thought about leaving behind the homes where they had spent all of their young lives. The warriors that were with them had not a thought at all in their blank minds as they did as the boys compelled.
Later in that day the ancient barrow where so much death had taken place was discovered. The body of the Druid Priest Arthfael had fought and many of the missing were identified. Riders were sent to seek The High King and the High Druid Priest, the place of the evil terrorizing the land had been found.
When the High King and the High Druid arrived they were greeted by several Druid Priests who already spent time in the underground cavern examining the dead. They were in a solemn mood when they talked to the two High Lords telling them to brace themselves for what they were about to see. It was growing dark outside as one Druid led with a burning torch while the King’s guardsmen and two of the Druids followed. The High King and the High Druid walked in silence unsure of what they were going to find at the end of the tunnel as the smell of death wafted up towards them from somewhere up ahead. It was stronger than either of them had ever smelled on any battlefield.
Every sconce along the walls of the chamber held a torch so it would be fully illuminated when the two men arrived to view the bodies. As the lead Druid entered followed by the High King and the High Druid the guards and the other Druids filed in behind them lining the walls. The two men could not believe the carnage of death that they were looking at within the room. The presence of evil was a tangible thing they could feel as it hung heavy in the air.
The High Druid Matha was the first to break the silence as looked about the room. He saw the body of the Druid Priest and asked, “Where art my son?” Before anyone could answer he spied another body and said, “No! No! No!……It cannot be!”
He went to the wall where many bodies were laid on top of one another. On the very top was a small child laying on her stomach. She had been placed in such a way that she looked to be sleeping with her arms tucked up underneath her. The little girl seemed to be having a pleasant dream unlike the rest of the bodies that wore masks of terror. But it was obvious death had taken her because her skin was as white as freshly cleaned linen from the blood being drained out of her tiny body. Matha got down on his knees, weeping, and held his daughter’s hand as he silently prayed to the Gods and Goddesses of the Otherworld for Genovefa’s immortal soul.
The High King looked on at his friend’s grief and felt at a loss for what to do. So he started looking around the chamber at the dead that were placed all along the walls and see if he could find anything to identify who would do such a thing. That was when he saw the shattered staff laying in pieces about the body of the Druid Priest who rode with Sergeant Cadeyrn and his warriors. He also saw the bronze knife laying next to the body. Both items he knew belonged to Arthfael, his friend’s son, especially the staff as it had been a gift from him. He was puzzled as he continued looking about the cavern.
That’s when he spied a small shrunken hand sticking out from beneath a pile of bodies. He was curious as all of the dead he had seen were adult men and women except for the High Druid’s daughter. Despite the stench of death coming from the dead he got down on his knees to look at the small hand more closely. Immediately he was throwing bodies from the pile as fast as he could for he recognized the dirty sleeve of the tunic on the child’s arm. It was the tunic his son had been wearing the night he had disappeared. The High King went mad with grief when he got to the shrunken body of his son, he did not have the calm demeanor as that of his friend the High Druid.
The High King’s screams of rage and sorrow were so loud that Druid Priests up by the barrow entrance could hear them. With torches flaming they came running down to the chamber. One of them was an Elder Druid Priest and he directed his underlings with the help of the King’s guards to pull the King and the High Druid from the bodies of their children and lead them back up to the fresh air. They were immediately followed by men carrying the bodies of young Cynwrig and Genovefa. The men gently laid them on top of blankets away from the entrance. The two men were left alone for a time as they both wept over the bodies of their children. The highest ranking Elder Druid along with the General of the High King’s army started giving out orders to take control of the situation.
Riders were sent out to find all of the Clan Leaders and Tribal Chiefs and direct them to the ancient barrow. Druid Priests and warriors tied cloth wraps around their mouths and noses and started bringing up the bodies from the tumulus below after the Elder Druid had given the all clear to do so. The Elder Druid and the General stayed in the cavern to try and piece together what had happened as the dead were removed. Both men had known Arthfael and his four friends for all of their young lives, they had even taught them in matters of the Druid histories and warfare tactics to name a few and were at a loss as to explain what they were seeing in the cavern.
Men who were expert on tracking were brought down to the cavern before the bodies were removed to study the footprints in the dust. Most of the footprints had been walked over but in the corners and along the walls they could pick out the oldest tracks. They found five distinct sets of footprints smaller than those of a man and they could tell they were older than any of the man sized footprints they came across. So it was ruled out that Sergeant Cadeyrn and his men had been coming to the barrow although it was a mystery as to what had happened to them.
The only conclusions the Elder Druid and the General could make were that the five boys may somehow have played a part of what had happened down here. Based on the broken staff and the bronze knife that belonged to Arthfael, the fact that the five young Druids were inseparable ever since they were very young and the five sets of small footprints the two men could not help but make that assumption. The only thing they could not know if the five acted on their own or if some evil compelled them.
The Elder Druid could feel the ancient evil of the barrow and could decipher the general meaning of the runes that were carved into the walls so he was of a mind the boys were manipulated somehow. He knew the histories of the Black Druids and their followers and the battles of good and evil that had happened hundreds of turns ago. He told this to the General who had enough of the cavern and was on his way back to the tunnel.
The General was not so sure as the Elder Druid. He had seen berserkers on the battlefield and watched their taste for killing and blood. Nothing drove their murderous rants but themselves and the only thing that would stop them was putting them down. When he left the chamber and got back outside he gave orders for parties of warriors to ride out in the morning and hunt the boys down.
The Elder Druid stayed down in the cavern alone once the General had left and all the bodies had been removed. He walked along the walls studying the runes that were carved so long ago. The only things left in the barrow were the old dust covered bones and the clay urns that held the ashes of so many dead. These were the ancient remains that belonged in this crypt before the Black Druid had taken it over. The Eldar Druid was saddened that they would have to stay here with this black evil.
“Thou hath failed Lugubelenus,” the Elder Druid said to the empty cavern. He had gleaned the name from the walls. “After so much time, thine one chance at thy freedom is lost and of more import thine ancient scrolls. A shame Lugubelenus, tis no wonder that thy Black Druids lost thy war if’t thou cannot defeat a gaggle of boys!” He moved pieces of the broken cauldron about with his staff.
A shadow like a black puddle on the dusty floor slithered a bit from the corner of the cavern like an oily slick moved on water. It came out of the shadows that were made by the light of the torches only a little but enough to know it was there. The Elder Druid only glanced at it as he walked slowly to the tunnel clicking his staff on the floor while pulling a small clay container from his robes.
“Thou hath dwelt here as lord of this lonely chamber for much time. I hope thy crypt hath been kind to thee Lugubelenus for I fearest it wilt be thine abode for much longer. Mayhap’s till the breaking of time,” he said as he dumped the contents of the clay jar along the threshold of the tunnel to the cavern. The shadow moved as fast as a snake towards the opening. Smoke and sparks flared up when it hit the line the Elder Druid had poured on the dusty floor. “Behold, crushed salt my dear, ancient, Lugubelenus simple and yet effective at keeping thine dreadful evil from the world.” He stared down at the floor and whispered to himself, “there be enough of that about my brethren, I should know.”
“Thine entrance to this dark place shall be collapsed methinks. Goodbye Lugubelenus, thou should hast escaped thence when thoust had a chance,” the Elder Druid turned and walked back up the tunnel to the night air as the black puddle of shadow moved noiselessly from side to side on the floor behind him. The Druid’s eyes shown bright with a green fire as he walked in the darkness, able to see without a torch. The Eldar Druid was a student of the black arts.
When he reached the entrance of the barrow he gave orders to the warriors standing about to tie ropes to the rotting timber supports of the tunnel starting with the ones closest to the tumulus first and pull them down with their horses. He was very clear they were not to go back into the cavern. The warriors jumped at the chance to destroy the tunnel. Even they could feel the evil that came from the tunnel entrance of the barrow.
The Elder Druid along with the General walked over to console the High King and the High Druid as the bodies of their children were carefully loaded into a cart. The two High Lords would escort the cart home. They needed to be there for their wives and family when they told them of this tragedy. It would be up to the Elder Druid and the General to make the decisions and give the orders for the rest of the night.
Arthfael and his four companions rode through the countryside with the nine warriors from Meath around them. They were miserable as it had been raining for the last few days and nights. It had made crossing the many rivers they had come to more difficult than usual. The farther north they went the colder the rain was becoming. They still had many more days to go as they traveled the back ways through the country trying to keep from being seen by villagers and farmers. The only good thing about the steady rain Arthfael thought was it covered their tracks from any pursuit.
As far as Arthfael could tell from picking the minds of Sergeant Cadeyrn and his eight warriors they were passing through the shire of Aon Troim on their way to a small seaside village called Inbhear nOllarbha. Arthfael had remembered learning of the village from his studies of Eire as an Ovate. Limestone and volcanic caves ran throughout the cliffs along the seashore near the tiny village. The plan was to hide in those caves until they could acquire a boat to take them to Alba across the narrows of the Straights of Moyle in the North Channel. The only problem they might have in the sparsely lived in land were finding sacrifices, not many souls lived in the colder lands of northern Eire.
Arthfael rode along with only his dark thoughts keeping him company wondering how close the High King or his father were to finding them. He knew they would not give up the search. The tube made of bronze bounced on his back under his sodden robes. He checked it often to ensure the seals on each end were keeping out the wetness of the weather. The sheepskin scrolls inside were precious to him and he could not see them destroyed. The beautiful rain soaked countryside he rode through was lost on him as he sat on his saddle contemplating the future.
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