Part 7

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Part 6 Vote Tally

Option A - 2
Option B - 1

You turn to the grey-eyed man.  "This Maeshowe, it was a place of some significance?"

"There can be no real telling, since the culture that built it has long since abandoned it, either having been destroyed or absorbed in other cultures as they came to the islands, but yes, it seems so.  It is well placed and large.  It was meant to be seen and, possibly, to inspire awe."

"We're not here to discuss Maeshowe," the interrogator snaps.

"Speaking of it may help to jolt our new friend's memory," the other man says smoothly.  "And that's what you want, isn't it?"

"I want answers.  Right now all I have is a naked person telling me they woke up in a Neolithic burial mound, went for a walk, found our auxiliary, and started following them."

"That is essentially what happened," you say.  "What does Maeshowe mean?"

"Pardon?"

"The name of the place.  What does it mean?"

"We don't really know," the silver-eyed man answers.  "It probably wasn't the original name for the place.  Maes is a Brythonic word - a language previously spoken throughout the entire British Isles, but had, prior to this mess, been relegated to the south western part of the country.  It means field, more or less.  It has also been used to denote a field of battle, but that is less common.  Howe is a Middle English word which means 'hollow place' or 'valley', so it could be Field of the Hollow Place, if we're willing to accept a sort of Brythonic pidgeon.  The Vikings, the culture that settled much of the islands here long after the mound was built, called it Orkhaugr.  Haugr means mound or hill, so the name could literally mean Field of the Ork Mound.  It would certainly have been grassed over by the time they arrived to the islands."

"This is all very fascinating," the interrogator interjects.  "But -"

"What does Ork mean?" you ask, ignoring him.

The silver-eyed man cocks his head.  "We don't know.  There is an Old Norse name, Orka, which means strength or work. Old English has mention of Orc, made in relation to the dead. Orc, spelled with a 'c' rather than a 'k' as in Orkhaugr, is considered something like a spectre or an evil spirit. There is an Old Dutch word, nork, which means a petulant, irritable, evil person.  All we can say is that it relates to the dead in some form, likely the evil kind.  Orc is also thought to be a Pictish tribal name, meaning something like the tribe of the young boar.  If that is the case, then it simply means Mound of the Orcs."

"Mound of the Dead," you murmur.  "Orkhaugr...  You mentioned the Vikings, whoever they were, came to the island after it was already settled.  By these Pictish you mentioned?"

"Yes."

"Then would they not consider the people here their enemy? Doe we not conceptualise our enemies as evil, whether they are or not?  Could that mean Maeshowe then - Orkhaugr - means only Mound of the Enemy's Dead?  Mound of the Orc Dead?  And Orc has become synonymous with evil that way?"

"It is entirely possible, yes.  And it would be a very practical name for the place, really.  Like I said, we know precious little of that time and the aeons before it.  It could mean any number of things."

Even the interrogator had become absorbed in fascination with your conversation.  "The Vikings looted the place," he says.  "From what we know, they got rid of the bodies therein and used it for themselves. Why would they go near the place if they thought it was evil or haunted?"

"The spirits of the dead keep the land," you say, quietly. "You claim the land in which your ancestors are interred. If they are no longer there, then any claim to that land is up for grabs."

"An interesting theory," the grey-eyed man says.  He smiles, his eyes twinkling with mischief.  "Or, perhaps, their dead got up and started walking around, earning them the title of spectre."

Silence settles over the group.  At length, the interrogator rouses himself.  He clears his throat and stands.  "We're getting nowhere.  Psionic, see if you can't glean anymore information from this amnesiac, will you?"

The grey-eyed man nods at the interrogator, taking his place on the seat at the table.  "Please understand that I mean you no harm.  I'm going to look inside your mind now.  Please do not fight.  It will become painful for you if you fight me."

You nod, understanding.

"You will feel a strange pressure inside your mind.  That's just me.  Are you prepared?"

You nod again.

"Good.  Let's begin.  Look at me.  Look directly in my eyes.  Good."

The man's voice fades as you stare into his eyes.  You can see only his eyes, their grey reminding you of thick fog.  That fog grows, expanding until it covers all.  There are no eyes now, only the fog.  You feel pressure in your brain, like cool, ghostly fingers are wrapping around he organ, squeezing gently.

In the fog you hear voices.  They are distant and faint, fading in and out as if moving closer then farther away.  You try to catch the words, but cannot make them out.  Someone is chanting.  You can hear the rhythmic voice, but cannot hear the words.  Someone else is drumming.  Then the smell of incense hits you; primrose and wild thyme.

"Go now," a voice whispers in your ear.  "Our brave..." And the voice fades again.

The chanting and drumming continues.  In the distance, there are the cries of sea eagles on the hunt.  You can hear the ocean crash against the rocks.  Then it all fades, and there is only fog until that, too, fades.  With a jolt, you awaken, taking a lungful of air as if it was the first in centuries.  Around you, it is black, only blackness.

You panic, only to feel that strange pressure in your mind again.  That is right.  They grey-eyed man is scanning your memories.  This is not real.  You have not returned to the crushing black of Maeshowe.  Forcing yourself to relax, you permit the psionic to sift through your memories until you feel the pressure lighten.

The fog returns and then fades, becoming silver eyes once more.  Your draw your gaze back only to find the psionic frowning at you.

"Well?" the interrogator demands.

"They have no memories before they awoke in Maeshowe.  None that I could access at least.  I have clear images of all that came after, but before there are only impressions."

"Impressions?  Of what?"

"A ritual, I think.  Fear.  A great deal of fear.  And a deep sense of urgency.  There is something they must do, and it is hugely important."

"What?  What must they do?"

The grey-eyed man shakes his head.  "I do not know.  It is buried where I cannot go."

Disappointed, you look down at your hands.  You were hoping to discover why you were here, or, at the very least, your own name.

Sighing, the grey-eyed man rubs his face. He looks weary to you, as if he had been under great strain.  Do you:

a) Remain silent.
b) Offer encouragement.
c) Request food and water.

It might seem like a trivial decision, but it's not. Voting ends Thursday 29 July, 2016 at midnight Ottawa time.  Good luck, Adventurers!

Skara BraensRead this story for FREE!