My uncle warned me of the hallucinatory effect of smouldering henbane, but it is the essence of my initiation. Surrounded by the maze of megaliths, my body floats. I round up the shrill cacophony of chanting voices, which buck around my head like wild horses at a rodeo, and corral them in a corner of my mind.
My head is clear and I am ready; the only sound I hear is the sweet voice of a nightingale singing.
The message is within me and I am the message.
To this modern world which ransacks Gaia’s riches I bring her revenge.
We assemble at sunset. Goose-bumps cover the bared skin on my back, still tender from the previous pricking of the needle, which has marked me indelibly and for eternity.
Henbane and yarrow scent the air; charms and enchantments encircle the glittering granite standing stones, in a kaleidoscope of crashing consonants, while my uncle, a comfortable presence in the growing darkness, heralds the start of the ceremony with a single beat of an unseen gong.
Blindfolded, I am led to the centre of the circle. The ceremony begins.
In moonlight’s sphere runes on ancient stones ignite; the Mark of Gaia tingles.
My uncle is ebullient this morning, remarkably so. He is a man transformed; overjoyed outpourings spill from his lips as he beams at me across the breakfast table.
I, however, having ploughed through piles of obscure texts and ancient tenets from the towering oaken shelves of my uncle’s library (previously off-limits to me), am less so. The taste of the delicious food on my plate is spoiled by the knowledge I have swallowed down over the weeks since my discovery.
I am to prepare for my initiation, he declares.
Passing the baton gladdens the master’s heart; yet the burden remains.
There is no going back from here, for what I discovered up in that dusty attic on that cold winter afternoon has marked me out.
Now I am one of them.
I should have obeyed my uncle’s directive, but I’d been determined to find out the truth. The secret that was hidden from me, that was buried along with my parents, whose mysterious disappearance has never been discussed.
But now I have the truth, I must face the challenge ahead: the one that all our people must face.
On the lonely road our kind must travel alone; destiny calls me.
The dwarves scuttled back across the cavern leaving Sinead alone once again. Why had they departed so suddenly, almost without a word? Was it the bridge that had frightened them? Or was it the waters over which it led?
Sinead stepped onto the bridge.
She held the Crystal aloft, its soft bluish light glowed a little brighter with every step she took, while the inky waters lapped menacingly on either side. She quickened her pace knowing better than look down into their murky depths.
The bridge ended at a narrow jetty, but its moorings were empty of boats. A single domed archway in the towering stone wall ahead beckoned her, reminding her of the entrance to the Maze of Mandoran.
Courage, Sinead. The words echoed in her mind, just as they had before. So close, so close now.
Sinead placed her hand on the hilt of her sword and entered.
The Prophesy Book remained silent as to where Sinead might find the shackled Mother Earth. She and the two dwarves stood contemplating the key that lay in her hand. Then Dorrin spoke:
‘The key is the key! See the picture on the bow.’ He traced a calloused finger over the head of the key.
Alric nodded. ‘It’s the Cavern of Stalactites! Come, my lady.’
The dwarves each lit a torch from the dying flames of the forge and hurried down the passage next the spring. Sinead strode behind them. It was not long before it opened out into a broad cavern, the roof decorated with sharp stalactites. At the far end was a bridge leading across an inky lake.
The dwarves came to a halt.
‘We must leave you here, my lady,’ said Alric.
‘We may not cross,’ added Dorric.
They both bowed deeply and scurried off without another word.
Sinead forced her eyes open. She was lying on a lumpy mattress wrapped in her cloak. A short, stout figure with a black beard, was crouching beside her.
Sorry for hitting you like that,’ he said gruffly. ‘Alric and me thought you were one of them witches.’
Another squat figure appeared out of the gloom. ‘It’s her, Dorril! Like it says in the Prophesy: ‘She will come bearing a Dwarfen sword’.’ He pointed to the Sword of Elshain, which lay beside Sinead. ‘That’s it! The Destiny we’ve been waiting for all these years.’
Sinead raised herself on her elbows, fighting back the dizziness.
‘We are the last Dwarves of the Deep Mines. It’s says in the Prophesy that we must help you,’ said Alric solemnly.
Sinead blinked. ‘Prophesy?’
Sinead sank back onto the mattress.
Dorril crouched down again. ‘Quickly, fetch some water, Alric! Our Destiny depends on her.’
The sweet scent of meadow flowers filled the air. From her vantage point, mounted on Moonsprite’s back, Sinead allowed her eyes to wander over the welcoming landscape. Her unicorn stepped softly now, filling her nostrils with the captivating fragrance and shaking her silver mane.
Floral notes from a lute and a pipe filled the warm, scented air and suddenly the woodland came alive. Birds swooped among the trees and small furry creatures scampered over the forest floor. Sinead longed to cast off her boots and run barefoot with them.
She leant over Moonsprite’s neck indicating that they should stop. The unicorn came to a halt, turning her head towards the far edge of the clearing where a magnificent centaur, with the upper body of a beautiful bronzed youth, appeared.
Following her gaze, Sinead slid from Moonsprite’s back. The bronzed youth raised his hand in greeting as he advanced towards them.