Chapter 23 - Drake's Discovery
Pisky sat in the great hall, a Cornish pasty in his hand and the obligatory bottle of 'Best Pixyland' sitting on the table before him. The cold
winter sunlight shone through the large windows, making the cider shine like liquid gold as the pixy ate his breakfast. Beside him, Tobias was rifling
through a sheaf of paper - computer prints delivered to him every morning courtesy of Erisian. Tobias liked to know what was going on in the wide
corporate-controlled world, his maxim being 'Know thine enemy'. And what an enemy it was - since the corporate takeover and the release of the
DNA666 plague, over one third of the population of the world had been killed and thousands imprisoned in concentration camps. Meanwhile, most of the
rest were herded into ghettos and forced to work their fingers to the bone for the good of the 'world'. Of course that world was dominated by the
Corporations, and they
were controlled by a shadowy organisation whose existance was known only to a few outsiders.
Some said they were an offshoot of the Bavarian Illuminati, others that they were reptilian creatures from other worlds who had manipulated humanity
since ancient times. Tobias didn't care who or what they were - Bavarian or Extra-terrestrial it was all the same to him - it was what they
that concerned him. One world Government, one world currency, one world religion - the ultimate goals of the shadowy figures at the top of
the pyramid - and it was that dark organisation that Tobias considered his most dangerous enemy.
"Anything interesting ?", Pisky asked as he topped up Tobias' glass of 'Best Pixyland'.
"Not much", Tobias muttered absently. "One of Monsanto's warehouses was torched yesterday and a couple of people were jailed for breaching curfew
in Birmingham", he picked up his glass and took a sip. "Verichip's new advert comes out in a couple of days trying to con people that 'its cool to
be chipped'. Its a load of bollocks but the sheep will fall for it no doubt".
Pisky nodded in agreement, a look of resignation on his face. The pixy had already made his opinions on the subject quite obvious - anyone attempting
to implant him
with a microchip would find themselves walking very delicately back to their office with said chip deeply embedded somewhere the
sun rarely reaches.
"Whats that you're talking about then ?" Fingal's Irish lilt echoed around the massive mediaeval hall as he entered from the courtyard. "And why
weren't you heathen buggers at mass again ?"
Tobias looked up at the slight, grey haired priest and grinned. "We were having our own communion", he said, raising his glass to Fingal. The old
priest shook his head with a smile on his face and took the chair opposite.
"So, what's up?" he asked, reaching for a glass which he promptly filled with cider.
"It's cool to chipped", Tobias said, handing a piece of computer paper to Fingal. The priest read it, dropped it to the table and scowled.
"That's the Mark of the Beast if anything is", he said angrily. "Some people will accept it because it will help the police find missing kids.
Others will fall for this 'Cool' malarkey, but a lot of them will be against it at the beginning. Then they'll say that having your financial data
on a chip linked to some mainframe will help the fight against fraud. After all, you can lose your credit cards but you can't lose your hand".
Fingal took a swig of cider. "Then they'll do away with cash altogether and force
people to have the chip or they won't be able to buy or
Pisky nodded his agreement and took a drink.
"How's Erisian getting on translating that inscription from the crucifix ?" the old priest asked, referring to the cross that Benjj had volunteered
to take to Jerusalem some two months previously. Prior to his departure, Erisian had copied the inscription with the hope of translating it using
the computers in Stokesay.
"Bugger all so far", Pisky replied, "Its in no known language - at least not one that is anywhere on the net. Of course a lot of the net servers
have been taken down or are now in corporate hands but even so she managed to hack into the British Museum site a few days ago. And guess what ? -
don't have anything remotely resembling the inscription on the crucifix".
"Lets hope this Rabbi whatshisname can understand it then". Fingal finished his drink and poured another just as Angover appeared at the doorway.
The blacksmith and his apprentice had been inside the bell tower of St. Philomena's helping with the finishing touches and removing the ancient bell
which would be placed in storage to await a kinder world. Fingal had been saddened when Tobias had refused his request to call the faithful to mass by
the ringing of the bell, but understood the reasoning behind such a denial. The sound would have easily travelled many miles and the risk of it being
heard by unfriendly ears was too great to allow the priest even this small allowance. It was decided therefore to remove the bell. This would also
take temptation from the children of the settlement, some of which had already been caught creeping into the church to play in the darkened recesses
of the old building.
"Father", said Angover. He always called the old priest either 'Father' or 'Father Fingal' in respect for his calling; "Coleman found something
in the tower".
Fingal placed his drink onto the table and turned to face the blacksmith; "And what would that be ?", he asked.
"Some kind of hollow space in the wall", came the reply; "The clumsy sod knocked into it when we were shifting the bell. We couldn't do anything
right then or we'd have dropped the buggering thing right through the floor but as soon as we got it into the hoist and down to ground level, we had
a look. There's definitely something there. Coleman found a little gap in the plaster and reckons its some kind of hidden room - he had his knife out
and was about to get it open when I thought it was best to tell you first".
Fingal nodded and stood, following the blacksmith to the door; "Would any of you fine gentlemen care to accompany us ?", he said, turning to where
Tobias and Pisky still sat. Tobias declined the offer, waving the papers towards the priest with a look of resignation. Pisky shrugged his shoulders,
drained his cup and stood to follow.
The top of the bell tower seemed larger that it had previously, Fingal thought as he clambered up the ladder and through the trapdoor. Of course that
was because the old bell was no longer taking up most of the space. A hole in the middle of the floor showed where Angover and Coleman had removed the
floorboards in order to winch the bell down to the floor.
Fingal looked down at the hole in the floorboards, crossed himself and edged slowly to the other side of the floor to where the apprentice blacksmith
Coleman was about fifteen years old, thin with long dark hair and a pointed nose which turned upwards. He had been one of Arthur's people, and in
fact it was the old Druid who gave him his name - Coleman Gray, named after a character in an old Cornish faerytale. Over time he had shown himself an
able worker, eventually catching the eye of Angover, who took him as his apprentice. "After all", the blacksmith had said after a night on 'Best
Pixyland', "Oi won't be here for ever".
"Let's see what you have there then", Fingal said, crouching beside the apprentice as Pisky joined them. Angover stood beside the pixy and watched
with unveiled interest. Coleman leaned down, knife in hand and slipped the blade into an almost invisible crack in the plaster. He grinned at the old
priest and twisted the knife. With a slight click, more cracks appeared in the plaster denoting a rectangular shape the length and height of a
shoebox. Coleman put more pressure on the knife and with a snapping noise the plaster fell away, revealing a small dark hole cut into the underlying
"See anything ?", Angover asked as Coleman bent to peer into the hole. The apprentice leaned closer, his head almost touching the surrounding
plaster then put his spindly hand into the hole, a look of concentration on his face. "Looks like some kind of handle", he replied, leaning back and
pulling at whatever was buried deep inside the brickwork. Finally, accompanied by a rather loud scraping noise, a small wooden box came into view. It
was jammed tightly into its brick sarcophagus and it took all of Coleman's strength to draw it completely free.
Once released it was quite light in itself and Coleman was able to hold it in one hand. It was oak, sturdily made and completely undecorated, with
the only markings being the scratches it received when being removed from its previous home. There was a small gilt handle on one of the longer sides,
but it too was plain. There was no locking mechanism, the lid being made to fit snugly onto the top of the box itself. Coleman blew the brickdust
from the box and handed it to Fingal who held it tightly as he began walking towards the trapdoor. The priest had spent enough time squatting
precariously on the edge of the hole in the floorboards and desired a pint of 'Best Pixyland' before the box was opened. Pisky concurred and,
followed by Angover and his excited apprentice, moved after the priest towards the ladder.
Pisky stood beside one of the outside tables, a piece of vellum in his hand. The parchment was not as old as Stokesay itself, but was old enough to
require careful handling. Beside the pixy stood Fingal, the now empty box on the table before him accompanied by a small leather bag and piece of bone
bearing a strange incription. The pixy had recognised the lettering as being runes, specifically the Elder Futhark - an ancient Germanic form of
writing - but had been unable to translate the Norse language the message had been written in. Fortunately it appeared that someone had already taken
the trouble to do so, and it was the story of that translation that Pisky now held in his hands. He quickly scanned the writing, the words written so
many years ago by a man who is now a legend. A man who roved the world in voyages of discovery. A man who fought his Queen's enemies both home and
abroad. A man whose honour was impeccable. Pisky held the parchment, cleared his throat and began to read.
"Synce yt behooves mee to leav accounte of mye resent discoveries for those who may followe, ande knowing as I do the demeanour of thoes seekyng thys
tresure, I am playcing yt ande mye wordse yn a holy place knowne onlye to myeself and thowse I truste. Wen yt comese tyme, ye runes wil speake but wen
thatte is, ownly thee Lorde knowes."
Pisky read slowly and succinctly, translating the Shakepearean language into contemporary speech as he went along. It told the story of the box and
its contents, of an ancient smith and seven swords, while everyone crowded around in expectant anticipation.
"The Spanish were defeated, and being so trounced can cause little trouble for merry England now. With my Queen's blessing I chose to return to my
lands and seek out the source of a legend, one that since my first learning of it as a boy, has held me captive for many a night. I include it
Wayland was the son of the great God-Giant, Wade, King of the Finns. As a child his father sent him to be apprenticed to the greatest of master
metalworkers, the dwarves of the Icelandic Mountains. Wayland learnt quickly and, as he grew, he began to outshine even his tutors. Before long he
was unable to keep up with the demand for his wares. Kings and princes vied to possess more and more of his handiwork, and envy was rife. Covetous
eyes pored over every newly worked item that emerged from Wayland’s forge, but the smith was not interested in the squabbles of mortals. He only
wished to be left in peace to get on with his work. King Niduth of Sweden, however, had other ideas. He was consumed with envy every time anyone
managed to purchase some of Wayland’s merchandise before him. He decided that Wayland’s great works were fit for no-one outside his family.
So he captured the smith and hamstrung him, making sure that he could never escape and forbidding anyone to visit him. But the wily Wayland made
contact with his brother, Egil who designed for him a pair of wings with which he could make his escape. The king's greedy sons defied their father
and entered Wayland's cave determined to take for themselves the best of the smith's work, but Wayland was prepared and slew the princes, removing
their heads and turning their skulls into gold plated goblets which he sent to the king.
Collecting his wings, Wayland flew far and wide, eventually coming to rest across the North Sea in Britain. He discovered an ancient chambered tomb
which he made his home. It was here that he was visited by Merlin himself, who had seen in a vision a dark time when the forces of evil held sway.
Merlin commissioned Wayland to create seven swords, each of which would hold within a powerful magick. They would be named Cymru, Erin, Kernow,
Caledonia, Mannin, Vectis and the greatest of them all would be Excalibur.
And when the swords were ready, Merlin and Wayland prepared strong magikal spells to keep them in safety until they were needed, for Merlin knew that
he would be long gone by that time and Wayland could not see his future. But while the rituals were being performed, two vile entities - followers of
evil - stole for their masters the sword 'Mannin' and the sword 'Vectis' and they were never heard of again. And when the place of safety was
made, Wayland placed five swords inside and locked it with runic chants. And Excalibur was given to Merlin who gave it to King Arthur who wielded it
until his death whereupon it was cast into the lake and returned to Wayland who locked it with the others.
And in time he made runestaves that would point the way to the swords, but only for those destined to be swordbearers.
"The search was long, and full of wrong turns leading me eventually to the City of York where as luck would have it, I met with an old man whose
ancestors settled in that fair city during the time of the Danelaw. With his aid, I obtained my goal, but not without catching the eye of a dark coven
who sought to deprive me of my treasure and my very life.
I took flight to Stokesay, where an old friend ran the manor. There, accompanied by old Amundson and de Ludlow, my friend, I cast the runes. Six times
I cast them as instructed by Wayland himself, whose instructions I translated from the bone runewand. Six times - five times for the swords, the last
for the place of their repose. But the runes said nothing. The swords were not for me, nor for my companions. I was hoping to obtain them and with
them vanquish the two swords in the hands of darkness, but it was not to be so.
With a heavy heart, Amundson returned to York while I stayed for a while enjoying de Ludlow's company. Then one day a group of hooded riders visited
the manor house. They asked for me but de Ludlow, fearing for my life, denied that I was here. The riders left but I knew then that the runes must be
hidden and I must leave.
Once I have completed this missive, I plan to return to my first love - the sea. The coven still seeks my death and they are strong indeed, although
not so strong as to have been able to obtain for themselves the swords. For those coming later, beware the coven, those who revere death, for they
desire the treasure and will do all in their power to gain it."
Pisky picked up his glass of cider and took a sip. Then, taking a deep breath he completed the rendition.
"Ande nowe I leave ye with but one reequeste, and thatt is that thou who followe mee do as I did. caste ye runes and followe theyr advise. Yf they
speake notte, as theye didst notte for mee, reeplayce the box into the churche and thynk no more of yt. For yf they speake notte, then they are notte
for ye. Yf they speake, thenne maye thee Lorde blesse ye and may Britain bee gratefulle".
It was signed Francis Drake
"Feck me !", muttered Loki, "Francis Drake ?"
Pisky replaced the parchment into the little box and nodded his head; "looks like it", he replied.
Everyone looked at the small leather bag which until now had not been opened. "Tobias ?", Pisky asked, "Do we caste ye runes and followe theyr
?" The pixy grinned.
"May as well", Tobias said, reaching for the bag and untying the leather thong at the top. "Here", he said to Rhiannon who stood close by. "You
"Me ???", the woman asked with a shocked look on her face.
"Why not ?"
"Wow !" She exclaimed. "Right now ?"
Taking a deep breath, Rhiannon leaned over the table, released the top and tipped the runes into her hand. They were small carved pieces of wood from
a grove of tree that no longer existed. Pisky noticed that there were more than the normal twenty four runes of the Elder Futhark.
"OK", Rhiannon said breathlessly, "Here goes !", and with that, she cast the runes over the table.
The runestaves hit the table and spun around. Over and over they bounced as if they were organising themselves in sequence - as if they had lives of
their own or were being placed in position by an invisible hand. Eventually they stopped and as if the power manipulating them had been roughly ripped
away, lay flat on the table.
Most of the staves were face down displaying no runic symbols, however the ones that did
have visible symbols lay in such a manner as to make
the message obvious to all.
Pisky looked at the staves, his rusty knowledge of runic symbols quite adequate for the task.
", he said "Cymru
"What ?", asked KayEm, who had been standing behind Pisky chatting to Sarah and LadyCool.
"Your name just came up with the name of the sword Cymru
", Pisky explained to his bemused wife.
"Looks like its true then", Loki exclaimed, "What Drake said about the runestaves."
"Not necessarily", Asala said as she leaned over and watched Rhiannon pick up the runestaves for the next casting, "If there's one thing I learned
from ATS it was to be skeptical. It could
be true. Given the odds, it probably is
, but there's only been one casting so far - lets see
what happens next".
Rhiannon held the runes in her hand and at a signal from Tobias, let them drop.
Once again they danced around, placing themselves in order. Once again they seemed controlled by an outside force and once again they displayed a
"Tobias - Excalibur
", the pixy translated.
Tobias rested his hand on the hilt of the broadsword hanging from his thick belt. The replica of Excalibur that Arthur had bequeathed to him just
before his death. "Well old man", he said addressing the druid's spirit, "The true Excalibur. If anyone deserved it, it was you. I hope I'll do
"You have so far", said Fingal, placing a hand on Tobias' shoulder. The soldier smiled.
Rhiannon cast the runes yet again. Asala was no longer skeptical and watched with baited breath as the staves organised themselves into the relevant
"Fingal - Erin
" Pisky grinned at the old priest.
"Whale oil beef hooked !", Fingal exclaimed. "That's something I never expected. And to be honest, if it hadn't been for Drake's explanation,
I'd have turned the thing down as heathenish". He lifted his ever-present bottle and drank a toast to Drake and Wayland.
The runes were cast once more. They skittered around, flipped and spun and eventually told their message.
", said the pixy, grinning, "Kernow
"Now why doesn't that surprise me ?", asked LadyCool, "You are
the original Cornish pixy after all"
Sarah was perplexed. "What's that mean ?", she asked LC. Being a New Yorker she was unaware of the nuances of ancient British languages.
"The word 'Kernow' is in the Cornish language", LC explained as she watched Rhiannon collect the runes again, "It means Cornwall
"Oh", said Sarah, "thanks". And she turned to watch the next casting.
"Sarah - Caledonia
Sarah's eyes widened and blinked her eyes in shock. "Me ?", she exclaimed, "Why me ? I'm not even British" She turned towards where Tobias and
Pisky stood grinning. "Don't ask me", said the pixy, "Obviously Wayland knows something we don't - and anyway, KayEm's not British either. Maybe
its something to do with your ancestors".
"Cool", said Sarah.
"Last one", said Tobias, motioning to Rhiannon to cast the runes one final time. This time the message would tell where the swords were to be found.
The woman took a deep breath and scattered the runes. They hit the table and began their magickal dance. Suddenly a small grey shape flew out of the
nearby window, landed on the table and shot away. The kitten was followed almost instantly by Phoebe who, not as dextrous as Pillywiggin, slammed onto
the table, slipped and knocked the runes onto the grass below. With LC yelling unladylike comments behind them, the cat and dog rushed through the
gatehouse to disappear into the long grass at the other side of the moat.
Pisky bent down, hoping that the message would be visible despite the bad treatment the runes had received. He was not to be disappointed.
", he said. "Obvious really".
"Where ?" KayEm bent down and began picking up the runes.
"An ancient burial mound near Oxford", the pixy explained. "Close to the Uffington white horse. It's been known as 'Waylands Smithy for hundreds
of years. I wonder why Drake didn't work it out?"
"Maybe only the ones destined for the swords are able to claim them", Asala suggested as KayEm replaced the staves into the old leather pouch.
"Remember, Waylands Smithy has been visited by thousands of people over the years and as far as I know, there has been no mention of anyone finding
"Seems fair enough", the pixy replied, "Unless the swords have
been found but the finders have kept things quiet".
Asala thought for a while, leaning against the table and lighting a cigarette. "Not necessarily", she said eventually, "Drake said that two swords
are 'in the hands of darkness'. I bet that if we had cast the runes another twice, we would have just got garbled crap. The runes don't recognise
those two swords anymore. If any others had been found, surely the runes wouldn't have recognised them
Pisky nodded, confirming Asala's logic. Asala merely grinned and strode off to prepare lunch.
The rest of the day was spent dscussing exactly what to do next. Obviously there was more to this than met the eye, especially with the strange
actions of the runestaves. As for the rest of the story - the truth or otherwise of that could only be proved by actually going to the place mentioned
in the last casting. KayEm and Sarah were both eager to leave immediately in search of the fabled swords, but fortunately more sober minds prevailed.
Pisky arranged the horses and equipment necessary for the trip to darkest Oxfordshire, while Erisian furnished Tobias with up to date maps of the
area. These maps included the positions of corporate and Azraelite bases which the adventurers preferred to avoid. Loki supplied ammunition for the
firearms while Asala rummaged through the food supply and dug out rations enough to last the journey.
Late that evening the contigent sat in the main hall, drinking and finalising their plans. Since Tobias would be absent for the duration of the trip,
Pantha would be in nominal control of Stokesay. LC was seconded to aid Erisian with her monitoring of corporate wavelengths and internet
transmissions, which suited both of them after the debacle of Butser. Loki was still working on a defence system which of course included booby-traps
and explosives, and Asala had found her niche as Stokesay's chef - the cooking area being known playfully as 'Asala's Kitchen'.
Earlier in the day, Tamsin had asked Tobias if she could join the travellers but that idea had been vetoed by Angover who was furious that his
daughter had been found playing with a ouija board. A couple of days earlier, LadyCool had came across Tamsin and Damien fooling around with a
handmade board and, realising the dangers of such things, took the board from them and threw it into Angover's furnace. That would have been the end
of it, had it not been for Damien's constant whining about LC's action - whining which eventually came to the ears of Angover. It was difficult for
the blacksmith to deny his daughter anything but this time he was adamant - Tamsin would stay at Stokesay as punishment.
And so it was that the five would-be swordbearers rode over the drawbridge the very next morning, not realising that their lives were soon to change
in a most dramatic fashion.