I – CASTLE FERGUS
Medigas of Florence led the way up the hill from Kirkcudbright toward Castle Fergus. The three grogs, Corwynn mac Murchan, Ugo, and Guillaume de Rouen folowed closely behind. Corwynn was very excited at the prospect of meeting Uchtred mac Fergusa or his knights and spoke almost incessantly all the way up the hill. He described how, in his grandfather’s day, King Fergus, father to Uchtred and Gille Brigte mac Fergusa, had constructed his castle on several islands in the small loch – it had taken the labour of many men many months to move the earth, to cut the peles for the pallisade and shape the timber for the hall and stables. He had heard many stories, but had never actually been there himself.
As they passed the old church dedicated to St. Cuthbert, for which the town below was named, Ugo egged the young Corwynn on. Corwynn, you see, was gullible; the other grogs liked to bait him, telling him that one day he too could become a knight, despite his low station. Corwynn fell for it every time.
Medigas plodded on in silence several steps ahead of the others. He was lost in thought, considering how best to handle the king when they should meet.
When they crested the top of the hill Castle Fergus came into view, rising from the waters of the loch. Its hall and tower dominated the cluster of buildings and were easily visible above the low pallisade. Smoke from several fires rose lazily into the air, and the faint sound of hammering could be heard, perhaps coming from the castle smithy. The grey hill, Cnoc-odhair, (Knockower as the Ingles called it) brooded to the east.
CASTLE FERGUS AS IT APPEARS TODAY WITH KNOCKOWER IN THE BACKGROUND
They rounded the north end of the loch and made their way through the small village that had sprung up near the castle causeway. Two of Uchtred’s men stood watch over the near end this; Medigas approached with Guillaume and the other grogs at his side and introduced himself. The two guards looked uncomfortable.
GUARD: ‘Keep back, you lot. We’ve been told to keep the causeway clear.’
MEDIGAS: (removing his eyepieces and rubbing the lens clean with part of his robe) ‘Are you some sort of guard? I am the magus Medigas from Ken Muir. Lord Uchtred has summoned me.’
GUARD: (stammering an answer after exchanging a surprised look with the other guard) ‘Uh….yes….we were told to expect you only, that is… beg your pardon your honour, but we didne think ye were real! I’ll run and fetch Maccus…. er, the greve, that is. Please wait here.’
The guard returned soon enough with a thin, middle-aged man with a square head. The man had a slight limp, but walked very quickly in spite of this. He face was creased with what looked like concern, and he rubbed his hands together anxiously. This was Maccus Greve. He introduced himself as the steward and commented on the lateness of their arrival. Maccus then turned and led the way across the causeway and into the bailey of the castle.
There were several stone and timber buildings inside, including what were obviously workshops and a smithy. A pair of men worked nearby on shoeing a horse. A large building across the parade ground, obviously the hall, loomed over the others and dominated the space. A crowd of people in bright clothes could be seen standing about in front of it. Maccus looked nervously about as if deciding where to go, and then led Medigas and the others to the left behind one of the smaller buildings and away from the hall. They stopped at an empty hut on the south side of the bailey and Maccus ushered them inside. He seemed intent on not letting the small group be seen. Maccus then closed the door partially behind them.
MACCUS: ‘Lord Uchtred is not happy. You have taken a very long time to come!’ The summons was issued two weeks ago!’
MEDIGAS: ‘Yet we only received it yesterday. I came as quickly as I could. It seems your messenger was unable to find our settlement and left the message instead with someone in Trevercarcou. That man took ill and did not bring it to us until yesterday. But we are here now. Do you know why we are summoned?’
MACCUS: ’Yes, but…oh, it is best if you hear it from Lord Uchtred himself. But you have to wait!
Maccus peered out into the courtyard, then turned his attention back to Medigas.
MEDIGAS: ‘Is there some problem in the courtyard?’
MACCUS: ‘Problem? No… no. Just… I’ll be back in a moment.’
Maccus rushed out them, pushing the door closed behind him. Medigas peered through the crack and could see Maccus scuttle off to the right. A few moments later, they could seem him scurry toward the crowd of people in front of the hall from another direction.
UGO: ‘Master, what is the problem?’
MEDIGAS: ‘I don’t think there is any problem, Ugo. I simply think that we are not meant to be seen by somebody – or they are not meant to be seen by us. It is much like Firenze in that regard.’
UGO: ‘I be ready for trouble, master.’
MEDIGAS: ‘Be ready, but worry not.’
Soon a younger man separated from the group and came striding confidently in their direction. With no pretence of stealth, he walked right up to hut they stood in and entered. He introduced himself as Nicol Dorward and claimed to be the kings door keeper, which Medigas took to mean ‘bodyguard’. He explained that he would escort the mage and his men during their stay at the castle, which Medigas took to mean ‘ensure the people from Ken Muir kept out of trouble’. He also explained that the King would see them soon but was currently occupied with seeing off his devout wife, Gunhulda of Allerdale, and chancellor, Brother Fearchar, who were going to ride down to the priory, which Medigas took to mean ‘the King will not see the mage until his busybody wife and confessor are good and gone from the castle grounds.’
Soon enough an elegantly dressed woman and a black-robed priest mounted up on a pair of stout nags and rode out across the causeway. The crowd of nobles and courtiers watched anxiously until they were out of site and then visibly relaxed. Nicol took this as his cue and led the mage and his companions out to meet Lord Uchtred. As they walked, Nicol pointed out the people in the crowd:
NICOL DORWARD: ‘That, of course, is Lord Uchtred in the centre. The tall, grey-haired man to his right is Sir Gospatrick fitz Orm of Workington, Lord of Culwen and an old friend of the kings. The blond-haired man beside him with the strong arms is his son, Gilbert fitz Gospatrick. Next to Gilbert stands Lochlann filius Uchtred, Uchtred’s son and heir. The grey-beard to the left of the king is Gillemore Albanach, the warden of Galloway and, dare I say it, spy for King William Garbh of Scotland. To the right of him are Uchtred mac Douall, Lord of Twignam, and his son Fergus mac Uchtred. Behind those two stands Gilbothyn mac Gillespoc of Botel and Gillecatfar, Uchtred’s foster brother and chamberlain. The tall thin man with the long nose standing behind Lochlann is Alexander Crokeshank, the keeper of the king’s hounds. And of course, you met Maccus Greve, the steward of Castle Fergus, already. Here, now… let me introduce you.’
As they approached within a few yards of the king Nicol strode forward, bowed informally to Uchtred, and gestured toward Medigas. The King stood with his arms crossed, a steely expression in his eyes.
NICOL: ‘My Lord, these are the representatives from Ken Muir. This man here is Magister Medigas.’
MEDIGAS: (bowing) ‘Medigas of Florence, at your service.’
UCHTRED: (scowling) ‘Ach – yes, I remember you. You’re late! I sent a summons two weeks ago! I’m not accustomed to being held up by the very men who are meant to serve me.’
MEDIGAS: (unflustered) ‘Sadly, the summons reached us only yesterday. It seems your messenger went astray.’
UCHTRED: (turning to Maccus) ‘What? How did this happen? That boy should be flogged!’
MEDIGAS: ‘My pardon, but the dense woods around Ken Muir are very wild and often lead travellers astray. No doubt it is not the lad’s fault.’
UCHTRED: ‘Dense Woods? Well cut them down! I’ll not have my servants getting lost everytime I need something!’
MEDIGAS: (taken by surprise at the suggestion) ‘Ahh….we have not the manpower for that…
UCHTRED: ’I’ll arrange something, then. MACCUS?! Where are you?’
MEDIGAS: ‘…but perhaps I might suggest a quicker method?’
UCHTRED: ‘Quicker? What is it?’
MEDIGAS: ‘Perhaps an agent of ours could be left here who could reach us quickly. Then, when you have need of one of us that person, that messenger could reach us quickly, efficiently, and most important,…’ (Medigas glanced after the departing Queen for effect) ‘…discretely.’
UCHTRED: ‘Hmmm. An exchange of servants, then. This idea does have merit. I rather think the forest could provide some much needed wood for ships, but it will take time to arrange and remove, and an exchange of servants would be most expedient. I will consider it.’
MEDIGAS: ‘It could be done that way, or…’
Medigas paused, then, and uttered a few strange words under his breath, flicking his wrist as he did so. [GM Note: In effect, he cast a simple spontaneous Creo Mentem spell to place his last few words directly into them mind of Uchtred.]
MEDIGAS: ‘…we could do it this way!’
At the first sign of witchcraft, however, Nicol Dorward sprang forth and grabbed a hold of Medigas’ arm, twisting it behind the mage!
Ugo, ready for trouble, sprang forward himself and tried to grab Nicol, but Nicol was able to block the grab with his other arm. Gospatrick and the rest of Uchtred’s lords and servants drew their swords and stepped forward to point them at the four men from Ken Muir. The two grogs, Corwynn and Guillaume, both caught by surprise at the sudden turn of events, stood stock still. The tension was interrupted by Uchtred himself.
UCHTRED: (shouting) ‘HOLD!!’ (then to Medigas, growling) ’There’s no need for market pranks here. If you’re going to serve me, serve me openly.
Silence followed, until it was broken by Ugo of all people.
UGO: (to Nicol) ‘Take your hands off the magister, ser.’
NICOL: ‘(scowling at the Ken Muir crew) ’And you lot watch whose house you’re in. I’ll not have this kind of behaviour again.’
GUILLAUME: (to Ugo) ‘The monsieur has a point. We should not forget that we are here so serve the King. Please let go of the Door Ward, Ugo.’
Ugo let go of Nicol, who in turn let go of Medigas Magus. All stood for a moment, looking uncomfortably at one another, until the silence was broken by a new voice.
GOSPATRICK: (impatiently) ‘My lord, please! Can we get on with the important matters.’
UCHTRED: (reminded of his business) ‘Yes, devil take you Gospatrick, I’m getting to it! Look here Medigas, this is all very well and fine but we have a pressing issue that must needs be taken care of immediately. Let us retire into the hall and some semblance of privacy.’
Uchtred turned and led the way into the laigh hall, followed by Nicol, Medigas, the grogs, and Uchtred’s servants and courtiers. Uchtred made his way to the head of the hall where a large chair sat behind wide table. Uchtred sat in this chair, flanked on one side by Gillemore Albanach, the Scottish King’s warden, and Uchtred’s son Lachlan. On the other side sat Sir Gospatrick fitz Orm and his son Gilbert. The rest of the men, including those from Ken Muir, arranged themselves at several long tables placed perpendicular to the main table, and waited for Uchtred to speak.
II – THE TALE OF SIR GOSPATRICK FITZ ORM
UCHTRED: (speaking to the hall) ‘This here is my old and good friend Sir Gospatrick fitz Orm.’
GOSPATRICK: (impatiently) ‘Never mind all that, they all know who I am! Is this the man you asked here to help us?’
UCHTRED: (somewhat uncomfortably) ‘Yes. Sir Hugh has assured me that they have some unusual talents, though their methods be unorthodox.’
GOSPATRICK: ‘Well, they better had after all this wait.’
UCHTRED: (growling) ‘We may be old friends, but don’t forget who’s lord around here. Just tell them your story and let’s get on with it.’
GOSPATRCK: (addressing the hall) ‘I was recently at our lands in Cumberland with my son, Gilbert, here, where I my main estates near Appleby. We came over by boat about two and a half weeks ago – a rough voyage made worse by the grumbling of my men at having to lug around that great big trunk of my son Gilbert, here…. ’
UCHTRED: ’Get on with it!’
GOSPATRICK: ‘We came my my lands at Culwen, where my other son, Thomas, looks after things when I cannot be there. Upon our arrival, I immediately sent word to Lord Uchtred that he might come and visit us and together we might beat the bounds of out territory. Soon enough Uchtred, young Lachlann here, Master Crokeshank, and a few others came and we did indeed beat the bounds together, along with my sons Gilbert and Thomas. For some reason, my son Thomas invited his newly acquired and most disrespectful harper, Rath mac Suibhne, to accompany ourselves. Naturally, as we were beating the bounds, we came to the coast and followed along it. I know not if you’ve been to our lands, but our share of coastline has many good sized cliffs, punctuated here and there by a number of good-sized coves.’
GOSPATRICK:(continuing) ‘Well, anyway, when we came upon one of these coves – a particularly large one – Lord Uchtred here asked just how deep it went. An argument broke out when Thomas said it extended no deeper that 120 yards and his ludicrous harper insisted it went much deeper – in fact, a mile deep at least, he insisted! Well, I know not how long Rath has been in the employ of my son Thomas, but they behaved like an old married couple. They were at each other’s throats, arguing over trivialities. Now, normally I can’t abide disrespectful people, let alone harpers, so I became angry myself and told the harper to prove it! I said ‘If you think this cove is a mile deep, let’s see some proof or I’ll put you in stocks for a braggart!’
GOSPATRICK: (continuing) ‘To this, Rath mac Suibhne, his face red with anger, produced a set of pipes from somewhere on is person and said he would gladly do so. ’Thomas and I,’ he said, ‘will go into this cove together and I will play these pipes most loudly. You will be able to hear them on the surface and can follow out progress into the cove! Then you will see for yourself just how deep the cove is!’ Well, it seemed like a reasonable solution, so long as the pipes were loud (which they were) and all were convinced of this plan. Uchtred here even offered the use of one of his best dogs to accompany the pair, and Master Crokeshank picked his favourite hound, Camhanaich, to accompany them.
GOSPATRICK: (continuing) ‘And so they went down, the two of them and the dog, into the cove. Rath started to play the pipes and we could hear them loudly, so we followed. We walked across the grass inland. We went 100 yards and we could year the pipes. 120 yards and we could still hear the pipes. Two hundred, three hundred yards, we could hear the pipes. WELL, DAMN-IT! WE FOLLOWED THE SOUND OF THOSE PIPES THREE AND A HALF MILES, NEARLY TO FAIRGARVE KIRK BEFORE THEY STOPPED!’
Gospatrick slammed his fist down on the table for emphasis, then paused before finishing.
GOSPATRICK: ‘And I haven’t seen my son since.’ He finished lamely, choking back a swallow.
This revelation was met with stunned silence from the crowd. Medigas felt compelled to say something, but was uncertain as to what.
GOSPATRICK: (finishing his tale) ‘Well, of course we went back to the mouth of the cove expecting them to return. I sent a few men down there, and they reported that the cove was no deeper than one hundred and twenty yards! Those men are still there, waiting lest my son return. As a father, I am at wit’s end!’
UCHTRED: (interjecting) ‘And he has been here for the last two weeks, driving me crazy! Where have you people from Ken Muir you been!?’
MEDIGAS: (directing the conversation away from his tardiness again) ‘Do you happen to have any personal effects of Thomas’?’
GOSPATRICK: ‘No. Though there may be something at Culwen. Why do you ask? Do you really think there is something you can do?’
MEDIGAS: ‘There just might be, but I will need to investigate this cove and I will need a personal effect belonging to your son. And maybe also something belonging to his harper.’
GOSPATRICK: ‘We will see what we can find at Culwen, and can certainly show you the cove. I have not so far thought to browse their personal effects. When will you be ready to depart?’
MEDIGAS: ‘I am ready now.’
GOSPATRICK: (standing) Excellent!’
UCHTRED: (also standing and holding out his arms) ‘WAIT! We have a repast prepared! I insist you cannot go on empty stomachs!’
III – GROGS AND PROVENDER
As the final preparation for the meal were being made, Uchtred offered to show Medigas around Castle Fergus and took him off on a tour with the rest of the courtiers. The three grogs, their social standing somewhat uncertain, were left to their own devices. They sat for a few moments in the hall while the servants started to wash down the tables, deciding how best to amuse themselves. Guillaume, knowing that Corwynn was gullible and Ugo not very bright, sought to engage them in a little gambling, but Ugo’s eye soon turned toward the girls scurrying back and forth between the hall and the kitchen.
He uttered a few crooning words at two of the girls as they passed by, and was encouraged by their shy smiles. When they retreated bashfully back toward the kitchen Ugo stood up to follow them. Guillaume followed, too, hoping to cash in by association with the charismatic Italian. Corwynn followed at some distance behind, thinking vaguely that he needed to keep the other two out of trouble.
They arrived at the kitchen to see that it was bustling with frantic activity. The last of the bread was being pulled from the oven on a pele, garnishes were being chopped and precious salt sprinkled, and two men were wrestling with a vat in one corner. The two girls that Ugo had been following were gathering up clay cups to carry back to the hall. Oblivious to the urgency of the preparations of the people in the kitchen, Ugo walked right up to the taller of the two girls, the dark-haired Sara, and offered to help her carry her cups. Sara twittered a little laugh and started to hand some of the cups to Ugo. The other girl, brown-haired Elen, hissed a warning under her breath that Sara ignored. Ugo, in an effort to deflect the sister, suggested that she might like the Norman. Guillaume, however, had not had the courage to enter the kitchen and was mooning about near the door.
Ugo managed to chat long enough to learn that the girls were daughters of Gillechrist mac Gilwinin, one clan chiefs of the Glen Ken, but his attempts at wooing were soon put to a halt by the large chief of the kitchen. The man strode over and took the cups from Ugo’s arms and chased both him and Guillaume away.
Out in the courtyard, the ever-enthusiastic Corwynn was drawn to where several men stood about grooming horses. Ken Muir did not have any horses itself, so the prospect of seeing a destrier always excited the young Grog. He dragged both Ugo and Guillaume over with him to speak to the men, who he assumed were squires. Ugo and Guillaume watched patiently for a while as Corwynn buzzed around like an excited bee, asking a hundred questions of the men with the horse. Ugo decided to have some fun with the naive young man by playing on his strange belief that he would one day become a knight.
UGO: ‘Hey, Corwynn, what is your family crest? You never showed us your shield before’
CORWYNN: (scowling) ’I’m not a knight yet, you know!’
UGO: (laughing meanly) ‘Well, this would be good place to learn.’
Corwynn purposely avoided the baiting (he was used to it) and so missed that Medigas and the tour group were now returning to the hall. It seemed that the midday meal was now being served. Guillaume and Ugo turned to follow the others into the hall, leaving Corwynn behind. By the time Corwynn realized it was time to go, everyone else had already entered the hall. Leaving the men with the horse reluctantly behind, he began to cross the courtyard when his attention was drawn to another man leaning discretely against the side of one of the buildings. The man hissed at him, calling him over. Corwynn could see as he approached that it was none other than Gilbert fitz Gospatrick, son of the lord of Culwen.
GILBERT: ’You’re one of the lads from Ken Muir, aren’t you?’
CORWYNN: ‘Yes sir.’
GILBERT: ‘You have a ’Thomas’ there at Ken Muir, is that right? Thomas fitz Roy?’
CORWYNN: ‘Yes sir.’
GILBERT: ‘Well, I have a message for this Thomas. Can I trust you to deliver it for me? It’s very important!’
CORWYNN: (accepting a small satchel which seemed to have a scroll inside) ‘Yes sir, you can!’
GILBERT: ‘Thomas is going to have a visitor, in fact a cousin, in the near future. I need you to take this to him so that he knows this cousin is coming. And give this to Thomas as well…’
He handed Corwynn a small pouch which clinked. Corwynn’s eyes widened.
GILBERT: ‘Can I trust you to do this?’
CORWYNN: ‘Yes, of course. I am a loyal servant of Ken Muir!’
GILBERT: ‘Good. There is much to be gained from following what I’m about to tell you, Do you understand? The contents of these pouches will be of great interest to Thomas, and furthermore there will be some personal benefit to yourself as well, not the least this…’
Gilbert then slipped two small bits of metal into Corwynn’s palm. Corwynn did not recognize what they were (two English farthings) but he knew they were valuable.
GILBERT: ‘Now, keep this to yourself! Tell no one but Thomas himself, understand? Deliver it as quickly as you can manage, but discretely! Don’t blow your cover! And if you should perform this service well, I’ll be sure to put in a good word with the knights!’
Gilbert winked knowingly at this, for he had watched Corwynn’s interaction with the squires and had correctly judged his character.
CORWYNN: ‘Y….Yes sir!!’
GILBERT: ‘Good. Now, wait here a few minutes before coming into the hall. That way we won’t be seen together. Understood?’
CORWYNN: ‘Yes sir.’
By the time Corwynn entered the hall everyone else was already seated. At the head table sat Uchtred, his son Lochlann, the Scottish warden Gillemore Albanach, Gospatrick fitz Orm and his son Gilbert, and the other gaelic lords. Below this were arranged several other tables in descending rank. Magister Medigas could be seen in the middle of the hall, seated with several landless knights. Guillaume and Ugo were right at the back of the hall at the very last table and they had saved a seat for Corwynn. A blackened trencher of bread sat on the table in his place and dishes were being passed around so that the food could be spooned onto it. He was given a mug of small beer.
During the meal Ugo continued to direct his attentions to the girl Sara. One of the other men at the table warned him to be wary of the girl’s brother, Paitin mac Gillechrist, who sat a a nearby table and was very protective. After the meal, when Ugo had a chance, he went over to the table where this fellow Paitin sat and plopped himself down next to him and spent a good fifteen or so minutes trying to butter him up. This largely worked, but was somewhat tempered by Ugo’s description of life at Ken Muir as being limited to ‘carrying heavy books around and picking mushrooms and herbs’. He further confused the man by telling him that ‘Sir Corwynn’ was the knight who held Ken Muir and in the end left a mixed impression.
Through the dinner a few other rumours were heard. There was some talk of Sir Hugh de Morville of Westmorland, the English knight who was being sought after for having killed Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It turned out that Gospatrick fitz Orm, apart from being upset by the disappearance of his son, was also annoyed at being delayed in his return home to Appleby where he was the sheriff. He felt that since Hugh de Morville also had large estates at Appleby, he might well be headed there and Gospatrick wanted to get back in order to convince him to turn himself in.
There was also some talk of Uchtred’s plan to improve the safety of the pilgrimage route to Whitherne by protecting the road. The impetus behind this was an order from the Scottish King, William Garbh, that Scottish monks and pilgrims should not be harmed while travelling through Galloway, and the warden Gillemore Albanach was pushing for this. Hence the building of the new motte at Dalri and another at Dun Uchtred. Many people seemed to assume that Ken Muir was part of the same initiative, since it lay close to the route. This was the first that Medigas had heard of it, and he was not quite sure what to think of the prospect of monks and pilgrims coming regularly by Ken Muir, or whether they would be expected to provide hospitality.
Lastly, there was some discussion of Mael Coluim mac Gillebrigte, Uchtred’s nephew and heir apparent in western Galloway. It seems the young man was something of a brute. Tales of his beating servants and villagers abounded.
When the meal was over, Gospatrick was anxious to leave and Uchtred anxious to the people of Ken Muir gone before Gunhulda and Brother Fearchar returned. And so it was that without delay Gospratrick, Gilbert, Lochlann, Medigas, and all of their assorted men-at-arms departed for the lands of Culwen which lay several hours march to the east.
IV – CULWEN
The route to Culwen took them north, through the crossroads at Cheleton, then east past the loch at Caer Llyn Wark, on to Botel, and then across the river Urr, south past Richhyrn and finally to Culwen. Most of Culwen consisted of rolling farmland perched between the coastal cliffs to the south and the forest clad hills to the north. The motte itself lay in a low-lying dell in the centre of the estate. It was modest, as mottes go, with a broad but low bailey attached. The vill of Culwen and its church sat nearby to the west.
THE CULWEN COAST AS SEEN TODAY
The travellers arrived around dusk. The air was gloomy with drizzle. Medigas briefly considered taking advantage of this magical time to visit the cave, but was still fatigued from the voice spell he had cast earlier in the day, and the three grogs were none to anxious to brave the cliffs at night in the rain. So Medigas decided to spend the night gathering torches and other supplies. They also reviewed the personal chambers of Thomas fitz Gospatrick and Rath mac Suibhne, looking for personal effects that might allow Medigas to locate them.
Ugo told a tale to the other grogs of mythical beings known as sirens on the Mediterranean coast that could lure men to their death by song, and thought it was a good idea for everyone to bring something to plug their ears, so they added some candles to their list of supplies. Medigas was sceptical of this notion, but since it calmed the nerves of his men he let it go.
Under Sir Gospatrick’s supervision they looked through Sir Thomas’ chamber for a personal item and found a comb that had belonged to him, a gift from his mother, Egelina d’Engaine. Sir Gospatrick allowed them to take it for the nonce provided they swore to return it after Thomas was found.
A similar review of Rath mac Suibhne’s chamber, however, revealed that it was quite empty of such items. Either the harper owned nothing more that what he carried on his person, or he had taken pains to clean out his room before leaving. To Medigas this suggested that the harper had pre-meditated the events to come. He began to suspect an abduction, rather than a disappearance.
Lastly, they were shown to the the kennel where, amidst all the other fine dogs that belonged to Sir Gospatrick, there was one skinny and simpering bitch with dusky grey colouring who cowered in a corner by herself. Sir Gospatrick confirmed that this was indeed Uchtred’s favourite dog, Camhanaich. She had been found wandering in the woods a day after the disappearance of the two men and would now no longer go anywhere near the entrance to that cave. Medigas knelt down and tried to calm the cowering dog by casting a spontaneous calming spell and speaking soothingly to it. With that, the dog calmed and could at least be convinced to eat, but still could never again be coaxed to go near the cave.
Investigations done, they settled down for the night. Medigas was permitted to use Rath mac Suibhne’s vacant room while beds for the three grogs were set up in the hall.
V – THE PIPER’S COVE
They woke in the very early hours and walked to the Piper’s Cove in the dark. It took them about an hour to get there. The cove itself lay at the bottom of some steep cliffs. A rough trail meandered its long way down to the pebbly beach. One then had to climb up again from there on a steep scree to reach the dark, triangular mouth of the cave itself. Medigas sent the grogs on ahead down the trail while he remained on the cliff above with Sir Gospatrick and Sir Gilbert.
In the gloomy pre-dawn light, Medigas surveyed the scene. When the grogs were out of sight on the trail, he distracted the two knights who stood beside him by pointing to the west and asked them what was out there, then he quickly cast the spell known as Rise of the Feathery Body upon himself and stepped off the edge of the cliff. The spell allowed him to float down to the mouth of the cave, where he discovered the the two slumbering guards who had been posted to watch the mouth of the cave. From up above he could hear the concerned voice of Sir Gospatrick raised in alarum:
GOSPATRCIK: (speaking to his son atop the cliff) ‘Good God, he’s buggered off!’
MEDIGAS: (calling up to the knights, and startling the two sleeping guards awake in the process) ‘Worry not, Sir Gospatrick! I am down here!’
GOSPATRCIK: (calling down) ‘Heavens above, man! Are you alright? You haven’t broken a leg, have you? Did you lose your footing?’
MEDIGAS: (shouting to Sir Gospatrick) ‘In a sense, yes, but worry not – I’m quite alright.’
Medigas then turned to the now-awake guards and asked ‘Would one of you good men have a torch?’
GUARD: (trying to hide his surprise) ‘Aye, but tweren’t no use, sir. The cave only goes in one hundred and twenty paces.’
With torch in hand, Medigas awaited for the arrival of the three Grogs who at last scrambled up the scree slope. They were quite surprised to see Medigas standing there waiting for them with a torch in hand, but Medigas offered no explanation.
Ugo tried to lead the way into the cave, but kept slipping back down the scree. It was Corwynn who climbed up, carrying a rope, which he tied off and then played out to allow the others to climb up. ‘Very good, Corwynn. You will be a knight yet’ commented Ugo condescendingly. Ugo then led the way into the cave, helping to steady Medigas who followed close behind. Guillaume also lit a torch and suggested that the char from the third torch be used to mark their trail, should they need it.
They proceeded into the cave. The floor and walls were very uneven and there was much scrambling to be done. At one time Medigas had to pass his torch to Ugo to hold onto, and the moment the torch left his hand the light went out. The instant Medigas too it back again from Ugo, the light came back again, clear and yellow. Ugo, used to such tricks, said nothing.
When they had gone in about 60 yards, a sweet and flowery scent came to them, seemingly from deeper in the cave. The torches seemed to burn brighter for the colour of the rocks seemed more vivid. Eventually the cave widened to admit two people abreast and the floor flattened out. In the middle of the floor was a round hole, about two-feet in diameter. Holding a torch above the opening revealed little except that it went straight down into inky blackness.
Ignoring the hole for the moment, they proceeded another 6o yards or so into the cave. The amount of rocks on the floor of the cave grew less and less until the floor became smooth. The cave sloped up and became narrower and narrower until they saw a bright area ahead. Approaching, they found that light was coming down from a small crack in the roof of a cave. Some vine seeds must have fallen down through the hole, for a solid mass of green vine was now growing up through it. This seemed to be the end of the cave. Guillaume, however, separated some of the vines and found that the cave continued into darkness on the other side. Before proceeding, however, they decided to go back and explore the hole in the floor.
Guillaume was lowered into the hole by rope with a torch in hand. Medigas peered down from above while Ugo and Corwynn played out the rope. The walls of the hole remained smooth and it continued straight down for nearly the entire length of the rope. Looking down, Guillaume could see his own torchlight reflected back to him from a smooth surface of inky-black water. He reached down to scoop up a bit and tasted it. It was fresh. And yet, by Guillaume’s estimation, the hole was deep enough and close enough to the shore that he expected salt water. They pulled him back up and he reported his findings. Medigas suspected that the cave was not exactly what it seemed.
Next they proceeded past the vines and deeper into the cave. The floor descended again and they travelled again for quite some time (it was difficult for them to gauge exactly how far – Guillaume had been counting paces but had long since lost his count and given up). Eventually they began to see bones strewn about on the floor of the cave. They were old and had clearly been chewed to varying degrees. Medigas identified a human femur, and Corwynn sussed that the remaining bones were those of cow, sheep, and deer.
UGO: ‘Boss, is it time for the ear plugs yet?’
MEDIGAS: ‘No, Ugo. Not yet. How will you be able to hear if something dangerous lives in the cave?’
GUILLAUME: ‘Maybe we draw our weapons, though, no?’
They went another fifteen minutes or so before the air changed.
UGO: ‘Ugh, the sweet smell is gone. Rotting meat smell. Ugh.’
Medigas reached down as picked up a fist sized piece of stone off the ground, muttering some words under his breath as he did so. Ugo and Corwynn could now hear a snuffling and clattering sound echoing through the cave, though nobody was moving. It seemed to be coming from behind them – from where they had already been!
UGO: ‘Boss, you want I should go back and look? Noise from behind and stink from in front!’
Ugo moved to the back of the group, facing toward where they had come from and holding his sword forward. Guillaume stood beside Ugo with a torch in one hand and sword in the other. Corwynn stood behind them, holding his quarterstaff in two hands but realizing he hadn’t enough room to swing it properly in the cave. Medigas stood at the back of the group with his magically prepared rock in hand.
The grunting and clattering of stones became louder as something approached from the darkness.
Suddenly the massive shape of a big, black, bear formed out of the darkness of the cave and charged in a lumbering fashion toward them! It stopped just short of where Ugo stood and bared its teeth, letting out a loud roar! The three grogs stood firm in the face of this fearsome sight, but Medigas held an unreasonable fear of bears and let out a shriek! He threw his magically ensorcelled stone in a panic and then ran desperately deeper into the cave. The grogs saw something fly over their shoulders and burst into a million shards in front of them. The bear roared in response! The whimpers of the mage disappeared down the tunnel behind them, leaving the three grogs to face the fearsome bear alone.
Ugo, uncertain where his loyalties lay, glanced after the departing mage and then looked at his two companions. ‘BOSS?! WHERE YOU GOING?’ he called into the darkness.
- This adventure is inspired by the legend behind ‘The Piper’s Cove’, an actual cove and cave on the Colvend Coast of Galloway. The tale reported in Highways and Byways in Galloway and Carrick records merely that a bag-piper went in to explore the cave and found it nearly four-miles deep before his pipes stopped and the piper was never seen again. The actual depth of the cave, records the author Reverend Dick, is only 120 yards. Note that in Galloway, the word ‘cove’ can refer to either a ‘cove’ or a ‘cave’, and quite often the two are found together, as is the case at the Piper’s Cove. There are similar tales told of caves on other parts of the coast, and Galloway Gossip records one such tale from the Rhinns district, adding the element of the dog.
- Bagpipes are not recorded in Galloway or Scotland at this time. The pipes that Rath mac Suibhne used were pan pipes.
- The dog’s name, Camhanaich, is gaelic for ‘Twilight’ referring to the colour of her fur. ‘Rath mac Suibhne’ translates literally as ‘Grace, son of the pleasant man’ – a somewhat fanciful name but not inappropriate for a harper.