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Stronghold 2 » Forums » The Sword and Buckler Inn » Bands of Gold ~ A Haunting Tale
Topic Subject:Bands of Gold ~ A Haunting Tale
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Lady Arcola
SHH Seraph
posted 10-16-09 13:28 EST (US)         


By Civis Romanus and Lady Arcola

All text copyright © 2009 by Civis Romanus and Lady Arcola. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the authors. This story and copyright notice is posted here with permission of and by agreement with HeavenGames LLC.

All characters in this story are historically based or fictitious. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.

This is a two author written story. Please do not post in this thread. Go here to the Discussion and Comments thread to contact the authors or post a comment. All comments welcome.

Seraph Lady Arcola
"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." -Walter Winchell

~ BFME2 Heaven | Stronghold Heaven | Stronghold 2 Heaven~

[This message has been edited by Lady Arcola (edited 01-23-2010 @ 00:51 AM).]

Lady Arcola
SHH Seraph
posted 12-01-09 14:22 EST (US)     26 / 35       
Alistair stood there holding Katie in front of him, his words fading into the emptiness before them. Katie could feel him stiffen in fear behind her but for the touch of his hand could not see anything.

“What was it Alistair?”

“I am not sure Katie but it felt like someone touched my cheek… like you would if you touched me.”

As he finished speaking Katie also felt a caress against her own cheek, which sent a shiver of fear through her and Alistair felt her hand tighten in his.

“Alistair… something just touched me…” Katie never finished her statement; Alistair felt her tight grip on him be torn from his hand.

“Katie!” he screamed into the mist but there was no reply. Frantically feeling in front of him and moving forward as fast as the mist would allow he was stopped dead by wicked female laughter.

“She will be well cared for; wanderer of the mist…will you miss her?” The voice was feminine but dripping with sarcasm and malice.

Alistair felt the anger flow through him and tried to follow the voice with his eyes but she was either hidden in the mist or the mist itself.

“What do you want!? Where did you take her?” Alistair’s voice shook with the level of emotion he was feeling. But nothing came back to him from the mist. It grew thicker around him till he lost all sense of direction.

The mist was overwhelming, not a sound could be heard but the beating of Alistair's heart and rapid breathing.

“Would you like to see her again?”

This time the voice was soft and kind and Alistair sank to his knees as the hopelessness set in.

“Very much so, I don’t want to traverse this world without her.”

“Be careful the one who is using this mist will come again to test you, remember to have faith and listen to your heart. In this mist…, the gentle voice paused as if listening then continued, "I maybe able to help you again but she may keep me at bay, it depends on you Alistair, she is the master of deception and will try to shake your very faith in your existence.” A small sigh followed the soft words and then the mist lessened some. Alistair could see some of the path ahead and stood to move forward.

Seraph Lady Arcola
"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." -Walter Winchell

~ BFME2 Heaven | Stronghold Heaven | Stronghold 2 Heaven~

[This message has been edited by Lady Arcola (edited 12-03-2009 @ 01:19 PM).]

Civis Romanus
posted 12-02-09 21:56 EST (US)     27 / 35       
On impulse, Alistair reached down and grasped a small stone in his right hand, and threw in the direction of the dim path up ahead. He heard it thump a few times as it struck the dirt of the path and finally stop. To some it would seem a meaningless gesture. For Alistair, it was an act of silent protest. For the first time in his life he felt abandoned for lack of the presence of a special person. Not even when he left home to attend university did he feel quite this way as the train pulled away from the town station leaving his parents behind waving goodbye. He felt rising anger at the disembodied voice who had taken Katie away. The tossed stone was more than just a gesture, it was also a challenge.

Alistair began to make his way up the path trying to fathom a means of finding Katie. Of course, the first thing he needed to know was the place to which Katie was taken. The other voice with its soothing tone and words offered some hope but not much help. Katie could be anywhere on the four points of the compass and Alistair hadn't a clue where. Then he had a thought as he recalled the help given by Saint George. Perhaps another saint might be available who could help? Who, though. Then Alistair remembered a bit of Isles' history.

"May I please have the help of Saint Brendan of Ireland?" he called out. Alistair was rewarded with a shimmering in the mist and the appearance of a smallish man dressed in the plain brown cloth of a monk. His head was hooded such that Alistair could only see his chin and mouth in the dim light and murky mist.

"Alistair, be you?" Brendan queried with an ancient Irish Celtic accent. "Tis you who called me?"

"Tis me," answered Alistair, unconsciously slipping into the same accent with its uniquely audible and one might say musical lilt. "I seek my friend, Katie."

"Am, she be the lovely young lady who reflects Ælfgifu?"

"The very one," said Alistair, "As I am the one who reflects Theodric."

Brendan pulled the brown hood off his head and studied Alistair briefly. "Tis a quandary we have here, tis it not," Brendan observed matter-of-factly. "We don't know where the fair maiden has been taken and we cannot see our way to find her even if we did."

Alistair nodded. "I thought of you when I realized the same thing."

Brendan chuckled at that. "I have been in this quandry before in my small boat when navigating beyond the Irish Sea. Seems we are in it again, together. I'm glad for the company though." His brow wrinkled as his face took on a more studious look. "But there is always help, if one simply searches for it. I had a device, a metallic device, which helped guide me to and fro, and then back home. In view of my homeland once again, I carelessly lost it to the sea when it fell from my hand into the water. I could not then explain to those who asked how it helped me find my way. Do you have anything that may help you find your way to her side? Perhaps something of hers?"

Alistair thought for awhile and then remembered that he carried Theodric's ring intended for Ælfgifu. He pulled it from his pant's pocket and showed it to Brendan.

The monk's face lit up. "That will do nicely. Put it on any finger that it fits."

Alistair did as he was told. The ring fit his smallest finger as it was intended for a young woman. Immediately it shined brighter than it had ever shined before. "Move it about now," advised Brendan. Alistair did so, noting that the ring shown more brightly in a certain direction than another-to the northwest as a matter of fact. "Follow its glow," Brendan directed with great emphasis.

Alistair turned to say something but all that he could find of St. Brendan was his fading image and fading voice repeating its instructions, "Follow its glow." Alistair did think to say "Thank you" to the disappearing image of the Irish monk and was rewarded with a final flicker, a puff of greenish sparkles which settled upon him harmlessly and St. Brendan's voice faintly saying, "And take with you this wee bit 'o Irish luck," followed by a cheerful laugh and then silence.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-03-2009 @ 10:58 AM).]

Lady Arcola
SHH Seraph
posted 12-03-09 14:26 EST (US)     28 / 35       
Katie had lost her grip on Alistair’s hand from the sheer force of what pulled her away from him. She instinctively opened her mouth to scream but was stopped from doing so with a rough rag forcibly shoved into her mouth. The cool metal at her throat kept her from making a sound as she was dragged away from Alistair.

Katie fought her tears and the panic welling inside her as she heard him scream her name, she could not see anything in the thick mist and had no idea what had a hold of her. She appeared to be floating through the mist in the grip of strong arms. She wanted to scream but the gag and apparent knife at her throat kept her from doing so.

Fighting the fear inside her she closed her eyes and prayed that Alistair would find her and somehow she would be OK. “This can’t be real.” Her mind reasoned as she sped through the mist. “Please let him find me… God please let him find me.”

Suddenly the force that held her dropped her. She fell to the ground with sickening thud, hurting her wrist and hitting her head. Deep male laughter hatefully ripped through the mist. “Ælfgifu…or vision of her…I will in one form or the other destroy you again, don’t think calling on help will save you this time, I rule this realm!… You will die just like the others before you have died at my hand…” The laughter ripped through the mist and the last words seemed to fade as if retreating.

The words stunned Katie, was it possible to die here in this realm of unreality? Tears blinded her as she tried to sit up but crumpled back to the ground with the pain she had unintentionally put on the wounded wrist as she tried to use it to sit up. Realizing again that she was very alone anger filled her, reaching up Katie pulled the gag out and the mist washed over her in ever deepening waves. She laid on the ground and fought to control her breathing and the frantic workings of her mind. She needed to find Alistair but in this mist had no way of knowing where he was. Suppressing a sob she sat up and gingerly felt her damaged wrist.

It needed splinting and a brace, she had neither, or did she…? The small bundle they had been given had contained a small leather pouch that they had put a small dagger into. Pulling the pouch up to her vision level she opened it to find soft material inside and some long lace like leather strips in the contents. Katie stared at the array of contents, slowly a idea formed and she reached for the dagger that had belonged to Ælfgifu. It was beautiful, with a large blue stone in the end of the grip and intricate knot work through the metal and on the sharp blade delicate runes were inscribed.

Carefully wrapping the blade of the dagger Katie set her wrist on top of the length of it and wound the rest of the material around her arm tying it off with the leather. Carefully taking the armband from its place of safety she put that over the wrapping she had around the wrist, it gave the wrist the support in needed. The hilt of the dagger supported her palm and she gently wrapped her fingers around it. Rubbing the stone with her thumb, Katie gasped as a blue glow suddenly emanated from the jewel on the dagger illuminating the mist around her. Katie smiled for the first time since being taken from Alistair. She didn’t know where she was but she knew in her heart that he was looking for her. As the hope filled her the fear diminished, Katie stood now and took a deep breath and quietly called into the mist.


“I am here Alistair…”

“Please, please find me…please…”

Slowly she took a step forward feeling the ground in front of her as she did so.

Seraph Lady Arcola
"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." -Walter Winchell

~ BFME2 Heaven | Stronghold Heaven | Stronghold 2 Heaven~

[This message has been edited by Lady Arcola (edited 01-05-2010 @ 02:31 PM).]

Civis Romanus
posted 12-04-09 16:04 EST (US)     29 / 35       
Alistair oriented the ring on his right hand's little finger in the direction which caused it to glow its brightest. Fortunately, it glowed brightest in the direction of the path which disappeared into the mist in front of Alistair, not behind him. He began to walk the path noticing the mist parting a short distance before him and then closing in again behind him. The ring continued to shine brightly on the path even as Alistair periodically tested it by moving his hand left or right to see if the glow diminished. It remained its brightest when centered on the path.

Alistair's having the means to navigate his way towards Katie was only slightly comforting because he still had no idea where she'd been taken nor how far away her captor had gone. His eyes on the ring and the path, and his thoughts on Katie and her plight, left him little in spare attention to give to a noise up ahead which seemed out of place in the eerily quiet mist. Something struck the dirt of the path more than once, intermittently, and it was this sound which finally drew his thoughts away from Katie. He rounded a curve in the road and then looked up to see reflected in the glow of his ring the freakish image of a four-hoofed demon in the shape of a hellish horse. This was no spirit-like apparition but a solidly structured creature with black pupils and orange yellow where its eyes should have been white. It was angrily tossing its head and by the look of its bared teeth and posture, it easily conveyed the message to Alistair that he dared to pass only at his own risk.

Alistair backed up a step or two and the horse stepped towards him an equal distance. Alistair surmised with a high degree of confidence that if he should turn and run the horse would chase him down and use its flashing hoofs to put him down. As if to signal this intent the horse whinneyed menacingly and tensed its shoulder muscles, sending waves of ghostly white light down its body like moonlight-illuminated waves on a surfer's beach. Alistair froze in place. This was a true pooka, and Allistair for a moment was at a loss as to what to do.

Then he noticed something. Black as night without light, the pooka's body color became more like chestnut after each light wave passed. The flashing lightning like illuminations on the pooka's muzzle created a blaze that seemed shaped vaguely like that of a horse he recalled seeing not very long ago. Alistair took a chance.

"Whoa, there," he said to the pooka as soothingly as he could muster from the confines of his fright. "Easy, there. I mean you no harm." The pooka reared up and waved its deadly front hooves in the air not far from Alistair's head, but Alistair stood his ground as the pooka planted its forefeet once more, the right hoof scrapping front to back in the dirt of the path. "Theodric," Alistair said. "Remember Theodric?"

The pooka paused its threatening gestures and stared at Alistair with its yellow-black eyes. Encouraged, Alistair continued. "I was Theodric. You were my horse. A lovely creature you were, and still are..." Alistair swallowed hard hoping the pooka would swallow his words as well. The pooka calmed further. "A mare, a beautiful mare, chestnut with a blaze. We rode to the Ancient Wall and then evaded the barbarians. Long, long ago. Remember?"

The pooka turned its head as if intently studying Alistair, then it lowered and turned its head as if checking itself for the truth. As the pooka did so, its color changed from midnight black to the very chestnut Alistair described. Demonic lights stopped coursing over the surface of its body, and the blaze on its muzzle ceased to flash, but became steadily white as if belonging there. The horse nickered and stepped closer to Alistair in a non-threatening way then lowered its muzzle as if begging for its blaze to be stroked. Alistair obliged, and as he did so, in the dim light afforded by the mist, he was surprised to see little greenish sparkles bordering the edges of his hands and in places where his hand touched the muzzle of the pooka.

It was now no longer a hellish horse, but very much the horse which Alistair/Theodric rode to avoid the Norse. The mare nickered again and this time bumped its muzzle first on Alistair's right hand which held the ring, and then on Alistair's shoulder as if to suggest they had something to do. The horse tossed its head as if to say, "Get on. We have to ride from here, and quickly." Alistair didn't hesitate. He pulled himself up and onto the back of the chestnut mare, pointed the ring forward, and the horse took off on its own in the proper direction as if it knew which way the light beamed. From someplace here or someplace there, Alistair couldn't tell from where, he heard a series of faint cheerful laughs begin and fade away as he left them behind.

The horse travelled at excellent speed as if the mist and dim lighting were not a constraint. As long as Alistair kept the ring forward towards the horse's head, the chestnut mare never hesitated. Only once was there confusion when Alistair forgot himself and with his ring bearing hand scratched an itchy spot on the back of his neck. The horse suddenly stopped and whinneyed disapprovingly as Alistair hastily grabbed onto its mane to keep from flying over the horse's head. He promptly returned his right hand to the front, and the horse snorted its irritation and then returned to its previous pace.

The ring's light dimmed suddenly and Alistair frantically waved it to and fro to find the right direction as the horse slowed its pace. "To the right!" Alistair cried out when he found the "directional sweet spot" once again; but this was off the path, and the mare responded by bounding off into the mist shrouded area beyond the path's righthand border. Alistair could see nothing to the side, in front or... BELOW! The horse gathered itself and made the most incredible, gravity defying leap Alistair could possibly imagine. He held on for dear life to the horse's neck as he and the horse seemed to soar through the air and then begin to descend. After what seemed an eternity the horse's front hooves found ground and it pulled forward to plant its hind hooves. Without missing a step, the horse galloped into the mist beyond the gorge bearing its traumatized rider with his glowing ring towards the person they both sought.

Author's Note: Pooka

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-04-2009 @ 04:23 PM).]

Civis Romanus
posted 12-09-09 16:21 EST (US)     30 / 35       
As he clung to the chestnut mare's neck during its rapid gallop over untouched terrain, Alistair desperately tried to retain his perception of direction. He sensed rather than knew that he was being carried sharply northwest as his mount zigged and zagged to avoid obstacles in their path. Through all of this, he kept the ring pointed ahead and its glow increasingly grew brighter as, he presumed, the closer he got to the place where Katie was located. How far can it be he wondered as the mare relentlessly pressed onwards.

Katie felt forward in the very dim light and found the wall she could see through but bounced off of using her nose as a bumper. Her nose still hurt a little, but fortunately she was walking very slowly and the damage was more to her hopes than to her nose. A man's voice coming from out of the darkness at that moment and behind her made her jump. It was not Alistair's voice. That she knew instantly. It was familiar, frightening and caused any color Katie had to drain from her face. It was the voice of Ragnar. His heavily accented English sliced through her heart, mind and soul.

"So, maiden, we meet again. For unfinished business."

Would this race never end, thought Alistair. A disembodied voice floated towards him even as he raced towards its source. "Maybe I can help?" It belonged to a woman, but not Katie's nor the gentle voice which came to him when Katie was taken from his side. The mist thickened as he strained to hear her words. "Just a few more steps and I'll be here to help. That's right. The mare knows the way."

Suddenly Alistair's pooka slowed its pace and veered due north, breaking through underbrush into an open area in which he saw that someone had constructed a cottage. The outer walls were formed from roughly hewn wood lengths, rounded side out. The roof was thatched. No fence bordered the area and nothing else balked the pooka's approach, for the chestnut mare had become once again the pooka. It reared up in front of the entrance to the cottage and nearly threw Alistair onto the ground. Hurriedly Alistair dismounted fearing the pooka would do him harm. The horse again began to radiate demonic lights and approached Alistair with devilish yellow/black eyes and a tossing, tooth-bared muzzle. It seemed it wanted Alistair to approach the door of the cottage. He obliged the beast and knocked on the door. The pooka snorted, and then reared up once more, but this time as its hoofs hit the ground not far from Alistair, it turned around, its tail barely missing Alistair's face, and galloped off into the mist and dark.

The door of the cottage opened and the most beautiful woman Alistair had ever seen stood there smiling at him with light pink lips, punctuated by dimpled cheeks and bright crystal blue eyes that sparkled with immediate recognition. "Enter, Alistair," she said, the melody in her voice making him swallow hard and comply without any hesitation. He noticed as he entered that her blonde hair was tied up in a bun and that as he entered she reached up and released it, letting her hair fall its full length past her shoulders to the middle of her straight bare back. He swallowed hard once again.

"If you would like to see her again, Alistair, I'm one who can help," she said as she elevated her right hand and began to play with the strings of her blue bodice. "But I will ask for a reward. Then again, I think you suspected that already didn't you?"

"Uh, no... I mean, yes. Well, maybe," he stuttered.

The Lady of Northumbria flashed another devastaing smile and Alistair fell into the chair behind him as he tried to step backwards to maintain the distance separating them. "Oh, don't be so shy, Alistair. Nothing about it will hurt."

"It won't?"

She laughed a musical, compelling laugh. "Not at all, silly." Then she reached down and in some manner managed to grasp the edges of her floor length skirt and pulled it back as if making her steps safer from entanglement with its hem, but at the same time causing the material to outline the shape of her womanly legs. Alistair's imagination was on fire and eating at any thoughts of resistance Alistair was using to douse the flames.

"I can find Katie with your help? And you want a reward?"

The Lady sighed. "That's right. Something simple, something nice." She stepped nearer such that her leg brushed Alistair's as she slowly walked around Alistair in his chair and let her right hand drop to his shoulder and trace a line to his ear by way of his neck and brilliantly reddened cheek. "Something you have I need."

Alistair was shaking as she pioneered a new path with her index finger past his ear and up, into and through his hair. Behind him now, she placed both hands on his shoulders and brought them up to his cheeks, leaning over and kissing him on the top of his head, gently bumping the back of his head with something Alistair couldn't see or aptly describe. The next kiss was placed gently on his left cheek, and a subtle, indescribably enticing perfume found its way into his sense of smell. He tried hard to think of Katie, but something was dimming his mind's view of her.

"What... What is it you want?" he asked fighting hard against even asking the question, and losing.

"Just the ring, Alistair. Please give me the ring and I'll have Ælfgi... (she hesitated) Katie at your side in moments." As if to cover her momentary hesitation, she quickly leaned over Alistair's left side, pressing hard against him, and placed a devastating kiss right on his lips.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-09-2009 @ 04:26 PM).]

Lady Arcola
SHH Seraph
posted 12-11-09 14:45 EST (US)     31 / 35       
Katie was unable to answer the deep voice. Her eyes searched the mist desperately, franticly looking for the source of the malice ridden words.

Ragnar, hidden in the mist, repeated the question, “So, maiden… we meet again. For unfinished business…"

Katie gripped the dagger she had supporting her wrist tighter and swallowed hard. Fear permeated her very being; with her loss of visibility she was virtually helpless. She felt for the wall behind her and started moving carefully along it. The wall turned and Katie stopped.

Here the mist cleared some and she could see the outline of the building she was creeping along. It was round structure with one entrance and a thatched roof. A large post was in front of the door and on it sat a large raven. Blood dripped from its beak and it held tightly in its claw the remains of what appeared to be a finger with blood still dripping to the ground below it.

Katie blanched and stopped dead in her advance. Malice ridden laughter ripped through the still air as Ragnar walked out of the building. A dark helm covered his long dirty golden hair and hid most of his face, two piercing blue eyes laced with disdain watched her from his haunted visage.

“You have something I desire visage of Ælfgifu, give it to me now!”

“But… I know not of what you need warrior of old… I have nothing that belongs to you.”

“Silence! You lie! Give me the ring you wear!”

Bewildered Katie could feel her heart pound erratically; she chanced a look at him again and shuddered, he was a nightmare that took life, her mind screamed at her. Ragnar was tall, muscular and very fit, bare to his waist he only wore a harness that carried a great sword. His right shoulder appeared to be covered in old dried blood and he had a firm grip on the spear he held ready. Ragnar started to stalk towards her and Katie cowered into the recess of the wall as he closed the distance between them in a few short strides; stopping just in front of her.

“Ach, you favor her more than all the others before you.” The hard look in Ragnar’s eyes softened as he reached for Katie’s cheek with a filthy hand.

Katie reacted to his touch as though she had been bitten by a viper. Jerking her head back from his caress stepping to the side she stifled the scream that was building in her.
Ragnar’s eyes narrowed with the slight, “You will give me the ring now, Katie visage of Ælfgifu!”

Pinning her against the wall he grabbed her left hand and raised it to take off the ring. It was only then he realized that she did not have a ring on at all. “Where is the ring?”

“I don’t possess it…” stammered Katie franticly. Ring? Why is he so bent on the ring?” Katie’s mind raced trying to remember what Saint Cuthburt had said about the objects that they possessed.

Ragnar shook with anger now. “I need the ring! Or armband! My dagger or his! I will not be trapped here for eternity! Give it to me now! I must meet my forefather’s in glory.”

“I don’t have it... the ring… I don’t have it Ragnar.”

Ragnar pressed Katie into the stones of the wall harder. Ramming his knee between her legs his eyes now took on a murderous look that told Katie he meant to take her body and soul. Katie could feel his hot breath on her neck as he bent in towards her and shudders shook her slender frame. Her mind screamed, “Alistair! Where are you! God I need you!… Please save me before… Please… there has to be someone… I don’t want to be trapped here like a female Saint of old… like Eanflæd or Hilda if she was caught too.”

Katie pushed back against the large Norseman in desperation. His body did not move and the attempt only fueled his anger. Unfortunately for Katie, Ragnar noticed the brace on her right arm. There the armband carefully protecting her wrist in the soft folds of the cloth could be seen. In one swift movement he caught her wrist.

Ragnar looked back at Katie and scowled, “You… You will pay for this Katie, visage of Ælfgifu.” Malice ridden laughter shook his frame. “When I am through with you, death will be a gift.” His haunted eyes raked down her form and hovered on the curved areas that would cause him the most pleasure. Katie watched him with horror as she realized the intent of his stare.

Then a voice she longed to hear with all of her heart made Ragnar stop what he was doing. Ragnar grabbed her by the arm and pulled her from the stone wall of the building, turning about to see who had interrupted his intent to take Katie . Seeing who it was, Ragnar scowled, tightened his grip on Katie and clenched his other fist. It would only take one swift movement to remove the sword from it's scabbard,making it ready for the battle soon to come.

Seraph Lady Arcola
"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." -Walter Winchell

~ BFME2 Heaven | Stronghold Heaven | Stronghold 2 Heaven~

[This message has been edited by Lady Arcola (edited 12-17-2009 @ 05:52 PM).]

Civis Romanus
posted 12-18-09 21:06 EST (US)     32 / 35       
Alistair's head spun with the effects of the Lady of Northumbria's kiss. So distracted was Alistair, he hardly noticed her hand moving down his chest, then his belly and over to his left side where a small rounded object pressed outwards from his pocket suggesting the object she sought was there. She paused and applied a second kiss as her hand searched for the opening to Alistair's pocket and access to the ring he placed there when his journey on the pooka ended. So close, she had just a centimeter to go to find the ring. Nearly there, she could almost feel the aura of the ring as it shined brightly as if the aura had substance and form and not just light. Even while she kissed Alistair leaving him thinking no breath of air would ever return to his lungs, she began to smile, breaking the seal that locked her lips to his... And then she felt the smooth metal of the ring's outer curves.

"MORRIGAN!!!" The suddenly ear-deafening shout of another mature woman's voice echoed off the wooden walls of the cottage and caused The Lady of Northumbria to startle fiercely and make her empty hand fly out of Alistair's pocket, just as it also caused Alistair to nearly jump out of his chair and his skin in shocked surprise. The Lady's and Alistair's lips parted violently as The Lady stepped back to see who it was whose voice disrupted her well orchestrated and nearly fulfilled seduction.

The shimmering image which floated near the closed, locked door of the cottage became increasingly more discernable. A woman's voice, mature and stern, came from the shimmering image. "Leave that young man alone!" it ordered.

Morrigan couldn't see the figure in the image clear enough to know who it was or what threat to her it might pose. She was startled again when a more gentle voice behind her spoke loudly but gently, soothingly aiming its words at a bewildered Alistair who was slowly regaining his composure. "Alistair, are you recovered?" it queried. "Quite the lady, The Lady is, isn't she?" There was irony and a bit of teasing humor in the younger sounding, soothing voice. The Lady of Northumbria spun on her heels, the anger in her beginning to wrinkle the skin of her feet and redden skin as it progressed up her foot, ankles and calves.

"Shut your mouth, wench!" bellowed the not so pleasantly sounding Lady. "You don't belong here!"

The shimmering image behind Alistair gave forth a very lighthearted laugh, "Of course not. I'm just visiting. 'Tis you who belongs here, Morrigan, much to your despondent delight." The statement was punctuated with another laugh.

"Stand there long enough, Eanflæd, and I'll make two pieces out of you!" Morrigan, The Lady of Northumbria bellowed as a sword suddenly materialized in her right hand. More skin reddened and withered on the Lady, moving past thighs, hips and waist. Her clothing began to darken and crack, and pieces either sheered off or merely disappeared into thin air. She looked now more like a poor aged peasant than the beautiful Lady who kissed Alistair. This is the apparition that he saw forming before him which made him leap from his chair and back away towards a wall of the cottage's inner room. St. Eanflæd laughed again. "Nonsense, Morrigan, you can't do that any more than sheer the lad in two you were trying to seduce. You're a fraud, M'lady, an outright, withered, screeching fraud."

The skin of Morrigan's hand gripping the sword became like the rest of her: dessicated and scaled. It trembled with pent up fury. She spun around again when the mature voice of the first shimmering image said matter-of-factly, "The ring is not for you, Fallen One."

Morrigan's voice screeched and wailed, "NO! Don't say that. It belongs to me!" All the while the now mummyish, tattered, shrouded Lady began to levitate upwards. "NO!" she wailed. "You will die! It comes for you! In the night! Die... All of you will die...!"

"Banshee! Stop your loathsome noise. We're dead already," St. Hilda said commandingly. "You can't hurt us. Certainly you can't make us die again."

"The boy with the ring... The boy with the ring..." wailed the banshee, "He will die..."

"Oh bother, Morrigan, you moaning moron, is that so? Not likely. That's his spirit, not his body," noted the soothing voice of St. Eanflæd, again hinting at amusement. "He's needed, you know," Eanflæd added.

That caught Alistair's ongoing wide-eyed attention. "I am?"

"Well of course you are and just a short few steps away from this cottage," Eanflæd said.

"But why... I mean who... what's it about?" stammered Alistair.

Can't you guess?" Hilda said. The banshee wailed all the more. "Honestly, Morrigan, haven't you had enough of that?

"I want the ring!" Morrigan demanded in her pitiful voice. "I want freedom from here." The last word trailed off until it wail became a screech. Alistair winced.

Hilda shook her barely visible head. "Not today. That ring's not for you." Hilda turned to look squarely at Alistair. "You know who it's for, don't you, Alistair?"

Alistair nodded. "Katie... I mean, for Ælfgifu.

Eanflæd laughed again. Despite himself, and the situation, it was infectious enough to bring a smile to his lips and another wail from Morrigan. "Both, maybe?" Despite the shining around her face, Alistair thought he saw her wink at him. It caused him to smile once more and Morrigan to nearly bump the ceiling of the cottage. "But what's this about being needed." He paused as a sudden suspicion struck him. "Is it Katie?"

Eanflæd answered. "We can't tell you that since we're not supposed to do anything to interefere."

"Liiarrrs" wailed the banshee.

"Not so, Morrigan. We decide to visit and here you are with company. How're we to know?" chuckled Eanflæd. "It's not like you had a sign on the door saying "Go away, I'm seducing Alistair. Not like that at all."

Alistair frowned. He didn't like being pointed out as the victim... Victim! "Is Katie alone?"

Hilda and Eanflæd looked at each other. Hilda responded, "No."

"Someone with her?"



"Can't say."

"Is he Irish?" Alistair said, hoping against hope.


Alistair hesitated, almost fearing to ask. "Is he Norse."


"Ragnar!" Alistair nearly shouted, bringing a great wailing from the banshee.

A muffled scream seemed to find its way into his hearing despite Morrigan's wailing. Alistair immediately ran for the door, threw it open and heard a second scream distinctly coming from a place beyond a thicket behind the cottage where a high wall ended and dense vegetation began. He didn't stop to thank Hilda or Eanflæd knowing instinctively the two saints would understand why.

He ran through the narrow patch of vegetation so quickly he was lucky not to trip on a root or branch. He burst into a clearing to see Katie braced against a wall and Ragnar pressing obscenely against her. Rage coursed through him as he cried out a forgotten war cry and bellowed his challenge in no uncertain terms at the Viking. "Ragnar, leave her be! I have the ring, you dung-laden oaf! Katie is mine forever! Come for the ring, dragon-boat slime! I dare you!"

Author's Note: Banshee

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-18-2009 @ 09:40 PM).]

Civis Romanus
posted 12-22-09 16:40 EST (US)     33 / 35       
"Ragnar grabbed her by the arm and pulled her from the stone wall of the building, turning about to see who had interrupted his intent to take Katie . Seeing who it was, Ragnar scowled, tightened his grip on Katie and clenched his other fist. It would only take one swift movement to remove the sword from it's scabbard,making it ready for the battle soon to come."

But Alistair was not thinking strategy or tactics. Charged by blinding anger, he launched himself at Ragnar running as quickly as ever he could on tennis strengthened legs. It didn't matter to Alistair he had no clue what to do with Ragnar once he had the Viking in his grasp. It only mattered to Alistair that Katie was no longer being manhandled by Ragnar. The collision of the two men came so fast that Ragnar had no time to draw his sword fully from its scabbard. Big and brawny as the Viking was, being struck by 185 1bs of taller though more slender human was more than he could resist. He was driven back so hard he lost his grip on Katie, the young woman herself staggering backwards as the Viking's grip on her was ripped free. There would be bruises, she knew, both on her arm and on her... Well, where she hit the ground. But that wasn't important to her at the moment. Only Alistair was important.

Alistair and the Viking crashed to the ground, Ragnar on his back and Alistair on top. Hands and arms struggled with each other for grip and advantage. Alistair dug deep for old wrestling lessons he learned from school when he had tried that sport before taking up tennis. The Viking had no knowledge of these holds, but applied his brute strength to neutralize Alistair's skills. To Katie's horror advantage began to shift inexorably to the Viking. She tried her best to think what to do given her minimal body strength

Finally, Ragnar got a grip on Alistair he couldn't break. The Viking shifted a little for leverage and with the greatest portion of his own strength threw the younger man off of himself. The effort though took most of his energy and though he was free of Alistair, who was lying on his stomach a short distance away breathing hard, Ragnar was not of a mind or ability to immediately take keen advantage of his freedom. Most importantly, he had no idea where his sword had gone when it was driven from his hand by the force of the collision.

Quickly Ragnar glanced around trying to find his weapon. He found it being held in Katie's tight grip. Katie had picked it up shortly after it flew out of Ragnar's hand, but had stood back in fear that if she wielded it as they wrestled she might harm Alistair accidentally. Ragnar slowly, even painfully, rose to his feet looking back and forth at Katie and at the now also rising Alistair.

"Give sword," he growled at Katie in his clipped, accented English. Katie shook her head. She quickly glanced at Alistair to see if he would be able to help. Alistair was on his feet now, anger mostly drained, looking back and forth from Katie to the now slowly advancing Ragnar. It was then they all heard it-that lighthearted little laugh which Alistair first heard in the cottage when encountering St. Eanflæd. It came not once, but twice. Even Ragnar paused to consider where it came from and from whom. That pause was just enough for Alistair to be reminded of something and a thought of just how to take advantage of it and of Ragnar.

"Katie," he said calmly. "Give him the sword."

"Alistair! NO!" Katie cried out in protest. "I won't do it!"

"Give him the sword, please, Katie."

"Alistair!" This time there was a hint of tears and pleading.

"Don't worry so much, Katie. I know what I'm doing."

Ragnar snickered. He held out his hand. "Katie, give sword," he said with a sardonic grin. "He say give, you should give sword."

Alistair nodded. "That's right. Do it, Katie, please."

Katie swallowed hard. Tears welled up in her eyes. She gave the sword to Ragnar by throwing it on the ground at his feet making him step back a little to avoid the sharp edge of the flying blade. Maybe this was Alistair's plan, to distract the Viking and then attack. She hoped so anyway, but to her dismay it wasn't.

"Pick it up, Ragnar," Alistair invited. Ragnar stared at Alistair trying to fathom the trick. He couldn't detect any, so he quickly glanced down and up again at Alistair and keeping his eyes on the youth, he bent down to pick up the sword. Successful, he gripped the handle tightly in his right hand and began to consider which part of Alistair's body should receive the first blow of his blade. But Ragnar stiffened instead of attacking when Alistair unexpectedly reached into his clothing to retrieve the two daggers he retrieved from the spring. They both looked at the weapons, one with curiousity and the other with desire. The two blades had fused together just like the artifact Katie and Alistair found near the boulder in the clearing in their own time. But the two blades weren't fused by corrosion. They simply adhered to each other now and would not be separated.

Alistair began to laugh. Katie couldn't believe her eyes or ears. Ragnar scowled. "You make jest of me? I kill you." Alistair laughed all the more.

"Ragnar, you blind fool, go ahead and try to kill me."

Taken aback by Alistair's bravado, he threatened even worse mayhem. "I kill girl, then kill you."

What Alistair said next made Katie turn white as a bleached linen sheet. "Sure, why not. Try to kill Katie," he said with what sounded like lack of interest.

Ragnar stared at him. "Coward, you not fight for girl?"

"Would you?"

"Fight for girl, yes, if mine. Fight for the Lady, fight for ring and armband."

"Ahh, the Lady of Northumbria. I met her. Lovely thing." Alistair kept the image of the banshee from his mind to make what he said possible. "The ring and armband, I'm told, are not for you. They are for another man and lady."

"Liar, I kill you for them and then Lady and I will be free."

"Really? I don't think so, Ragnar. You know you can't kill me. You can't kill Katie either."

Katie's eyes, wide with aprehension, followed this conversation not understanding where it was going. Ragnar hesitated. He did not want to admit this as it would take away his eons long advantage. Alistair continued, "Swing your sword if you'd like. Chop off my head. Lop me in half at the waist. It won't matter, Ragnar, because you know we are spirits here and spirits cannot be killed." Somewhere nearby the pleasant musical laugh came again, with a tone of jolly encouragement this time. Alistair began to enjoy the moment at last. "See, you know what I say is true. That's why you haven't struck me a blow with your sword."

Ragnar stared at Alistair a moment more and then began to slowly lower his sword. "Want dagger," was all he could say.

"Of course, come here and take it," Alistair invited. Katie's heart clawed its way to the base of her throat. A reassuring look from Alistair kept her silent. Ragnar put his sword in its scabbard and walked cautiously towards Alistair. He didn't fear the lad as much as respected this opponent who seemed to know so much.

When Ragnar was close enough to reach for it, Alistair held out the fused daggers with his grip on his own dagger and the other dagger's handle to Ragnar's outstretched hand. The daggers came apart easily when both gripped their respective weapon's handle. Ragnar stepped back and crouched as if ready to spring at Alistair, business end of the dagger positioned for a sharp upward thrust.

"Oh for Peter's sake, Ragnar, we've been through this already. You can't kill me!"

Ragnar pursed his lips. Old battle instincts die hard. The boy was right. The Viking stood up again but kept his dagger in his hand. "Want ring and armband." He did not expect the answer which came from Alistair.

"No. They are not for you. Take them and you'll be in this place all the longer, you and the Lady."

"Not true!" Ragnar bellowed. "Way out! Must have!"

Alistair shook his head. "Think, man, think! You've gained them before. You lose them right away making you want to seek them again. Have you ever found the way out when you had them? Never! The ring and armband are not for you! To possess them even for a moment is what locks you in here each and every time!"

"No, not true," argued Ragnar, but it was evident he was unsure.

"Yes, true. Stop seeking the ring and armband. Let me return them to their rightful wearers, and I believe you and the Lady will in time leave this place for doing so."

"We have not done it before. Not do it now," Ragnar said shaking his head.

"And you are still and have been forever here. Try this, Ragnar," pleaded Alistair. "I've met your Lady and she is marvelous when not in her fallen state. An eternity with the Lady would be wonderful for a man like you." Katie's eyebrow over her left eye raised a bit. She would have to ask him about this "Lady" and the circumstances when she had a chance, assuming they survived this gambit. But she didn't have to wait to see the Lady of Northumbria. She came gliding into the clearing dressed and looking, face (and figure) as Alistair had seen her at the beginning.

"Ragnar," she said gliding to his side. "I've been thinking, my love. The young man might be right. We've won the ring or the armband each time and still we are here. We've never lost. Is that what imprisons us, maybe?" She lifted her hand and brushed it lightly against the man's cheek. "Let's try what he says. Let them go. At worst we'll still be here, but we'll be together. At best, we may be in a better place soon. I think it's worth the risk. Please, Ragnar. Let's try it." As she listened to the Lady speak to Ragnar, Katie began to suspect why the Lady made such an impression upon Alistair.

Ragnar paused, looked at Katie, Alistair and the Lady, and decided. "Yah, we try. We do what is asked." He turned to Alistair. "Keep dagger?"

Allistair nodded. "Yes, Ragnar. Keep your dagger. As you separate yourselves from this task, let the separation of the daggers be the symbol of what you have decided this moment." Ragnar looked down at the weapon, and then at Alistair. Both put the weapons away in a proper place in their clothing. The Lady placed her right arm under Ragnar's left arm and wrapped her other arm around it as well to lock him to herself. For the first time ever, Katie and Alistair saw him smile, and both Ragnar and the Lady faded slowly from sight just like the spirits they actually were.

For a moment Katie stood stock still. Then with a whimper of relief and a sudden cry of tearful joy, she closed the distance between herself and Alistair and nearly crushed him in an all out hug, followed by a stunning kiss on his lips far surpassing anything offered by the Lady of Northumbria, at least in Alistair's well-experienced opinion. "I love you," she blurted out after briefly separating her lips from his. "Did you mean what you said about 'mine forever?'"

"I did, Katie. Every bit of it," he answered when he could finally catch his breath. And that earned him another kiss, even better than the first. Thusly occupied, they didn't notice at that particular moment that the foggy mist which had obstructed their view of things for so long had dissipated. Clearly in view when they chose to look, only a short distance and rise away, was the Cave of St. Cuthbert, their long sought destination.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-24-2009 @ 01:28 PM).]

Lady Arcola
SHH Seraph
posted 01-07-10 03:36 EST (US)     34 / 35       
Alistair was the first to pull apart from Katie’s passionate kiss. His eyes were filled with a love he never knew could exist.

Katie, I love you…nothing can ever take that feeling from me, now and forever I will be yours.”

Katie looked up at Alistair with tears in her eyes and melted against him. Engulfed in his embrace she had not needed to look away from him. Contented to be held against the beating of his heart she closed her eyes and sighed in relief. All they had just been through had brought them to this moment.

It was the gasp from Alistair that woke her from her reverie. Following his gaze she took in the surrounding area that they were standing in. Just above them in the dissipating mist was a large sandstone escarpment, huge rocks seemed to just erupt out of the landscape. What caught their attention were the huge boulders in front of what appeared to be a cave. Shimmering light seemed to sparkle in the air around the large stones and the woods around them grew quiet.

Alistair… This is where I first started from when I was more like Ælfgifu…I fled to the north and then found you, hurt and wounded…then I died at the spring after caring for you when you were Theodric… Katie’s voice broke and became a whisper as the memory washed back over her.

Katie felt his body shudder at her words; as she still held on to him tightly within their embrace. She watched the emotions wash across his features as he looked down at her, tightening his own embrace of her.

I was here also, I desperately searched the cave as the visage of Theodric, followed your horses hoof prints till I lost them near where you found me as Ælfgifu, I remember your tender and loving care of my wounds and your protective slumber as you rested over my beating heart, I was horrified to awake and find you dead…Knowing I had lost my only true love....We cared not if we lived or died so we also died at that spring…Theodric as me…but we then reappeared and so did you. Ragnar vanished from us, so we should take heart that what will happen here must be good? We have to remember we are visiting this realm in spirit form… Hopeful eyes implored Katie to believe.

Ahem.” A gentle clearing of a throat caught their attention. “Ah what a wondrous faith have ye.”

Katie and Alistair both spun back towards the direction of the cave their grip on each other tightening. There in the dwindling mist sat a middle aged man. Dark hair fell to his shoulders and a lean tanned face graced his tall form. Robes and sandals completed the simple attire he wore. The air around this apparition seemed to glow all on its own and he appeared to be part of the light.

Who are you to greet us so?” Alistair asked with trepidation.

A beautiful smile lit the newcomer's face. “That will be answered soon enough young Alistair. Now it is time for you and Katie to complete what no one before you has ever completed. Your love for one another has brought this haunting cycle to an end. We are blessed that it was you two that came this time for all the others have failed; whether by weakness of spirit, or morality, greed or anger beyond what my words can convey.”

Both Alistair and Katie nodded to him. They knew the adversaries of this realm had dissipated with their final encounters of them.

What now is our final task?” Katie asked from the safety of Alistair’s arms.

Shortly you will see, Katie Seren, I will caution you now… do not be afraid.”

The gentle mannered man seemed to float towards the entrance of the cave. There more misty colors appeared in the mist still surrounding the entrance. Laughter floated back to them sounding a lot like Saint Brendan’s and Saint Eanflæd’s.

Alistair and Katie exchanged puzzled glances.
It was with that exchange that something seemed to flow through the both of them. Katie looked up at Alistair and gasped as he changed before her eyes into a transparent apparition again. She caught the look on his face and realized that she too must have taken on the form of an apparition of transparency. Just as they realized that their forms had been changed, sounds drifted up from the trail below. A fast galloping horse was quickly approaching them. Alistair had the presence of mind to pull Katie further up towards the cave. They seemed to float again like they did when they first entered this realm. As they achieved relative safety the horse and rider thundered into view.

It was hard to tell who was dismounting but as the young man turned towards the direction he had just ridden up from Katie gasped. It was Theodric! Turning quickly Katie made sure Alistair had not vanished from her side. He was staring open mouthed at the young nobleman also. A full view of one of his counterpart, this was confusing for some reason they were not inside their respective couples bodies. Instinctively Katie felt her wrist for the armband, it was still there and surprisingly it was not transparent. Alistair watched her and also felt in his pocket for the ring it was also still there and whole. Slowly a smile spilled across Katie's face. She looked up into Alistair's gaze and knew he also understood her smile.


Theodric ran to the cave entrance and stopped as his eyes adjusted to the dark interior. He could see the horse on its side and his heart leapt to his throat. No sign of Ælfgifu could be seen and his heart sank, had they killed the horse and taken her? Frustration and fear were evident as he advanced into the darkness of the cave.

Ælfgifu… if you live hear me …


Fighting the fear that was consuming him Theodric worked his way around the horse. A soft movement from the great beast gave him hope as he realized that the animal lived. But the sound he heard next made his heart leap for joy. Soft breathing not of the great animal was emanating from the other side of where he was. Patting the horse gently to let it know that no harm would befall him, Theodric leaned over the stallion. There sleeping in the refuge of the animal and snuggled close for warmth was Ælfgifu. Theodric gently shook her and slowly her eyes opened.


Ælfgifu was awake in an instant and it took her only seconds to scramble up and make her way to her betrothed. Strong arms reached for her and pulled her into his embrace.
I have been following you for this day. I led the Danes astray to keep them from finding you here. I had hoped… to hold you now is all that matters. I would wed you now if we had a bishop here in this cave. Ælfgifu… I thought you were dead. To hold you now…

Ælfgifu tenderly stroked his worried brow and laid her head against his still rapidly beating heart. Suddenly remembering the token of her love for him she reached into the folds of her gray cape. Feeling as far down as she could she found nothing, she could feel her eyes narrow in concentration, what she was searching for was not to be found.

Theodric pulled her back from him to look at her. “Are you hurt? Did they harm you Ælfgifu?”

No my beloved, I am whole. No harm befell me.”

Relief filled his cool grey eyes and he pulled her back into his strong embrace. Theodric also reached into his wool cape. He too carried a token for her, but search as he might nothing came from the deep pocket for him either.

It was in that moment that the caved filled with a soft glow. Katie pulled on Alistair and the couple glided effortlessly into the interior. The young couple before them fell to their knees in awe and fear. Two transparent beings handed them what both had been searching so intently for. Ælfgifu gasped as Katie handed her the armband and quietly spoke to the frightened young woman.

I believe you need this for Theodric, Ælfgifu.” As Katie handed it to her the inscription came to unbidden to her thoughts. I, like a lost sheep, went astray; thy servant seek, and find: For thy commands I suffer’d not to slip out of my mind.

Theodric you also need this token of your affection, I know how much she means to you.” Alistair said as he reached out and took the astonished young man's hand. Laying the ring into his palm he gently closed his fingers over the object. As he did so the inscription Katie had read that went with this ring also went through his mind unbidden. O let my soul live, and it shall give praises unto thee; And let thy judgments gracious be helpful unto me.

Theodric; they were in my dreams.” Ælfgifu stated simply as she took the armband from Katie.

Aye and in mine.” Theodric looked at Katie intently. “You died in my arms.”

So startled was Katie that Alistair pulled her into his embrace. “I do not know how to explain how we are here and have these items you needed. We did not do it alone and it took many to help return them to you. But we are thankful you are both alive and we found you here.”

At those words the cave filled with light and the gentle spirited man that had talked to Alistair and Katie before they entered came into view. Behind him Saint Cuthbert and Saint Edwin took their places. Then came Saint Hilda and Saint Brendan who had Saint Eanflæd on his arm. Young Saint George calmly appeared and took his place beside Edwin.

Ælfgifu had backed into Theodric and the couple now stared at the assembled host.
Saint Andrew will you explain to these fearful two what was needed to pull them through to this moment in their time?”

Saint Andrew the Patron Saint of Scotland smiled his beautiful smile and calmly brought Alistair and Katie into the illuminated group.

Theodric and Ælfgifu do not fear what you do not understand; just know that your lives were deemed of great worth. To get you to this point in time… He turned and smiled delightedly at Alistair and Katie. “Many have come but only two have gained victory.”

Theodric and Ælfgifu watched in wonder as one by one each of the softly radiant transparent apparitions bid them long life and farewells then dissipated before their eyes. Leaving only Saint Andrew and their counterparts in the cave with them.

Theodric opened his mouth to say something but closed it again as he viewed the radiant forms before him. Watching Alistair hold Katie tightly to him he pulled Ælfgifu into his arms as well. Still speechless he waited for gentle being before him to speak again.

Seraph Lady Arcola
"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."
"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." -Walter Winchell

~ BFME2 Heaven | Stronghold Heaven | Stronghold 2 Heaven~
Civis Romanus
posted 01-07-10 13:05 EST (US)     35 / 35       
St. Andrew smiled once again as the two young couples silently contemplated each other and then turned their eyes to him. "You will each go on with your lives now and will remember this day each in your own way. We mark this moment as the beginning of the campaign to bring the Norse into our fold. It would not have been possible without you. Ælfgifu and Theodric, the danger from the Norse has passed for the moment. Your continuation in life will be harder than this beginning; but you will have us at your side. Katie Seren and Alistair, you will return to your time and place, to resume your lives as you shall decide."

Between the couples a brilliantly shining object appeared floating in mid-air. It was a squared golden cross embedded humbly with semi-precious stones. Alistair recognized it right away as being in the form of a Celtic cross. He knew he'd seen its like before, but couldn't exactly place it. Then from the cross a simple chain, roughly forged, formed and extended upwards with its loop widely spread to accomodate a person's neck. The air shimmered behind the cross and the apparition of the person who wore the cross appeared glowing brightly with white light. It was Saint Cuthbert once again. But the saint said nothing as he favored Katie and Alistair with a benevolent smile. Instead, he raised his right hand and touched the cross which hung from his neck over his heart and then gestured with his open hand as if saying "From my heart to yours." Then his apparition quickly faded from Katie's and Alistair's view to be followed by a brilliant flash of light which seemed to emanate from the still suspended cross.

The familiar scent of damp vegetation, trees and soil on the air told Katie and Alistair they were someplace different. Instead of holding each other closely, they were sitting on the ground looking at each other with hands extended as if reaching or giving something. Startled by the sudden change they dropped their hands and looked at each other and then quickly around at their surroundings. Once again they were in the clearing near the boulder where once there had been a spring. In the distance through a small break in the copse of trees surrounding them, Alistair could see a bit of the automobile parked there which he drove that day. He said to Katie what both had promptly concluded, "We're back."

"But Alistair, did it really happen? I mean, Saint Cuthbert, Andrew..."

"And Ragnar too?" added Alistair. He saw Katie pale at the mear mention of the Norseman's name.

"Yes, Ragnar too."

Alistair nodded. "It had to have happened. How else would you know of these saints or of Ragnar. Or of Theodric."

"Or Ælfgifu?"

"Right, or Ælfgifu."

Katie suddenly lost the paleness brought on by mention of Ragnar's name, and her cheeks pinkened with her next thought. "And those things you said to me about 'love' and 'forever'? Did they happen too?" she asked expectantly.

"Hmm? I don't remember... I mean, did I say something about those?" Alistair struggled to keep a straight face and ultimately failed. His failure was rewarded when Katie closed the distance between them and fell into his arms, hugging and kissing him with fervor. Their ardor ended suddenly when they remembered almost at the same time about the artifacts. Checking quickly, both found them missing. The ring was no longer on Katie's finger and the armband was no longer on Alistair's arm. Nor were the rusted daggers between them anywhere.

Alistair pondered this for a moment. "Makes sense, Katie. They were meant to be found repeatedly until the problem in the past was resolved. Being resolved, there is no reason for those objects to be here, and so they are not; nor will we find them now because that part of the past is repaired. It never happened quite the way we saw it in the past."

Katie frowned. "I will have to think about it for awhile to truly understand all that we saw."

"As will I," Alistair agreed. "Meanwhile, we have a problem."

"We do?"

"Yes, Katie Selen, a problem. We have no artifacts to report upon, do we."

"Oh my, you're right! What are we going to do, Alistair?" A bit of panic seemed to find its way into Katie's question as the implications of receiving a sour grade for a non-existent report filled her mind.

"I don't know," Alistair replied with a frown. "I think..." A gentle breeze which suddenly arose in the west, that seemed to be whispering something, called the couple's attention away from their conversation and made them look eastward in the general direction where could be found the island of Lindisfarne. Something compelled them to lower their eyes and look once again at the base of the boulder which lay near the now dry spring. Alistair and Katie both saw the glint of something there, just a tiny glint of something shining. Both rose to see what it might be.

With their hands alone, they began digging in the soft dirt to unearth the object which seemed to be there. With a handkerchief from his pocket, Alistair dislodged the dirt which clung to the squarish object. Dark with age where it lay below the soil, there was no question the tell-tale impervious nature of the metal used to fabricate the artifact made it indeed an object in gold. It was in the shape of a Celtic cross. It still held semi-precious stones. There was no chain to hang it with, but the place for the chain was evident. Katie and Alistair had seen this object before, they realized quickly. It was the cross born by Saint Cuthbert when they saw him for the last time in the cave.

"Do you think it really is...? Katie didn't have to finish her question.

"Katie, if this isn't the real Pectoral Cross of Saint Cuthbert, I'm not worth the degree I hope to get. The one on display is a very old artifact, but the moving of Cuthbert's body in the 1500's has caused some to believe the cross attributed to him and on display was fashioned then, not in the century when he lived. This artifact we just found is what we will write about, not the bands of gold which no longer exist." So saying, both fell silent as they realized the nature of the gift they may just have been given. Silent 'thank you's' flowed. But moments later, Katie's face registered a bit of sadness.

"I did so like those bands, Alistair. The ring was... Well, precious," Katie said with a sigh.

"Precious, is it? Your precious?" Alistair said with a twinkle in his eye and a change his voice to make it sound like that of Gollum's in "Lord of the Rings." All the while, Allistair seemed to be digging into one of his pants pockets on a hunt for something. "Well, Katie, it just so happens I have another artifact here. Not as old as Theodric's artifact, but indeed a band of gold." His fingers found it finally and with a broad smile he pulled the object from his pocket, but kept it in his closed hand. "Now, arise Mi'lady, if you please."

Bemused by this manner of being addressed and suddenly with her emotions leaping, maybe fueled by unrecognized anticipation, she got off her knees and stood as requested. Alistair went down on one knee and held out his once closed and now open hand. In it was a different band of gold, more modern, with a small diamond in its setting. "This was my grandmother's engagement ring," Alistair said. "I'd like you to wear it and become my wife. Will you wear it and will you be mine forever?"

A flash of brilliant white light, and a surge of pure joy, illuminated Katie's heart, mind and soul, all unseen but certainly felt by both. "Of course I will, Alistair," she answered. "With all of my heart!" They reached for each other then and there to sign their mutual agreement with a loving embrace and no small number of kisses.

The professor's term paper was doomed to await its writing for yet another day.

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