Chapter Nineteen: The Hunter.
Niamh trudged into the study in Almha, where Ferdia and Forgill were sitting at the desk examining the four Tetroi.
“How is he?” asked Forgill.
She shook her head. “He’s not doing well, but that concoction you gave him has knocked him out for now.”
In the journey back from Ferrisfort, as they exchanged their experiences, Mark had swung from bouts of hyperactivity - talking rapidly, even telling jokes - to deep depression. Forgill had taken over the driving and Niamh had sat in the back with Mark, doing her best to keep him on the level. By the time they reached Almha, he had sunk into a profound silence, wide-eyed catatonia, his head in Niamh's lap. She had brought him indoors and put him to bed while Forgill foraged in the kitchen. He brought a drink made of hot milk and spices up to the bedroom. Niamh had gotten Mark to drink it and stayed with him until he fell asleep.
She sat between Ferdia and Forgill at the desk and indicated the Tetroi. “I hope this has all been worth it.”
Forgill looked into her eyes for a moment, then back to the cubes on the desk. “It will be. I’m sure it will be.”
He shook his head in wonderment. I can’t believe they’re all here together. I’ve dreamed about this for years.”
“OK, well what are we supposed to do with them?”
“Put them together, obviously,” said Ferdia.
“Let’s find out.”
Using the pen from Mark’s backpack, Ferdia released the spring-loaded dowel on the first Tetros and joined the second to it. As before, a further set of dowels sprang out of the second cube to which Ferdia attached the third, releasing three more dowels.
Ferdia moved the fourth Tetros into position to attach it and paused. He looked at Niamh and Forgill and said “Ready?”
“I’m not sure,” said Niamh, chewing her lip. “What’s going to happen?”
They both looked at Forgill. He looked back at them in astonishment.
“Don’t look at me!” he said, “I have no idea what’s going to happen any more than you do. All I know is that this thing is supposed to open a sidh to the tír in which Magus was exiled.”
“Now, wait a minute,” said Niamh, “do we really want to do that? I mean, what if we’re releasing him?”
Forgill shook his head. “From what I understand, the sidh is tuned in such a way that Magus cannot use it. Some very clever teic was employed to make it possible for the Sentinels to move to and fro, but to make it impassable to Magus.”
“Are you sure?”
“That’s what I understand.”
“There’s only one way to find out,” said Ferdia, and connected the last Tetros.
“Wait,” shouted Niamh, but it was too late.
The fourth Tetros snapped into place and a rhythmic clicking sound like a carousel projector loading slides came from within the device. Then there was a loud click and several of the lenses on the chessboard squares lit up with a dazzling blue light. They all jumped back and froze. Niamh realized she was holding her breath.
After several moments the lights went out. There was another click and the Tetroi sprang apart with a loud snap. They all jumped again and Niamh gave a little shriek.
Nothing happened for several moments. They looked at each other then back to the inert Tetroi on the desk.
“Is that it?” asked Niamh, a little disappointed, despite her earlier misgivings.
“So it would seem,” said Forgill, quite disappointed himself.
Ferdia was looking thoughtful.
“There’s obviously more to this,” he said. “There’s a particular set of circumstances under which the Tetroi must be joined, and I believe the poem holds the key.”
Forgill nodded. “I think you’re right.”
“I’ve already transliterated the runes,” said Ferdia.
He put his iPad on the desk where they could read the poem. Niamh read it out:
Against the sable backdrop of the night,
The starry actors glide across the stage.
In jeweled costumes sewn with threads of light,
They read their parts, then turn tomorrow’s page.
The earthly audience watches from the dust,
As cosmic players tread Forever’s boards.
Our bearing on our travels we entrust,
To these bejeweled heroes of the Gods.
The Hunter leads the lambent stellar ranks;
His faithful Dogs attending his foray.
His hunting grounds are Danu’s fertile banks;
The Unicorn and Hare his timeless prey.
The Hunter tempers Man’s conceited traits,
And teaches him the limit of his worth.
And Man in turn has sought to emulate,
The august Hunter’s works on austere Earth.
And thus on Earth the Hunter can be found,
In structures placed to emulate his form.
Where Vikings and St Patrick came aground,
The Hunter’s shape conceals a secret door.
Prone, he spans the village like a plan,
From which the ancient builders drew their schemes.
They plotted out his measure on the land,
And placed their covert lodges at his limbs.
Three hallowed houses sit along his belt.
His sword affords a haven from the seas.
His shoulders rest up high along the hills.
His head is where they hid the secret key.
Above a lofty crag, a Regal keep
surmounts a grotto hid by time and tide,
wherein the key is placed to then reveal
the secret door that’s hidden Saiph inside.
Niamh looked around the desk at the others.
“What does it all mean?”
Ferdia picked up the tablet.
“We already know the first four stanzas are something to do with the constellation Orion. What’s all this about St Patrick and the Vikings, though?”
Niamh furrowed her brow, looked into the middle distance for a moment, then exclaimed:
“It’s Wicklow! St Patrick came ashore at Wicklow when he returned to Ireland, and Wicklow was founded by the Vikings.”
Ferdia pursed his lips.
“OK, let’s work on that assumption and see if it fits,” he said. “If we’re interpreting the fifth and six stanzas correctly, someone - the original Sentinels presumably - put up a series of buildings in Wicklow town, arranged according to the location of the stars in Orion.”
“How do you mean?” asked Niamh.
“I think we need to overlay Orion on a map of Wicklow town, and a pattern should appear.”
“There are thousands of buildings in Wicklow,” said Forgill. “Even if you’re right about Orion, how would we know how to orientate the constellation over the town?”
Niamh, who had taken the tablet from Ferdia and was reading the poem again, piped up:
“I know how.”
Ferdia and Forgill peered over her shoulder as she pointed at the seventh stanza.
“It says ’Three hallowed houses sit along his belt’. Hallowed means holy, right?”
Ferdia nodded. “I see where you’re going with this. There are three stars on Orion’s belt, and you reckon they apply to three holy houses; churches, in other words?”
“Exactly,” said Niamh.
“But are there three churches in Wicklow along a straight line like Orion’s belt?” asked Forgill.
“Not exactly,” said Niamh, “but there are two churches and another place that might fit. Let me show you. Can you get Google Earth on this thing?”
“Of course,” said Ferdia. He loaded Google Earth on the tablet screen and navigated to Wicklow town. Niamh zoomed and rotated the aerial view of Wicklow for a moment then placed the tablet back on the desk and pointed at the screen.
“OK, here’s St Thomas’s church on Church Hill, and here’s St Patrick’s church on St Patrick’s Road. Now, look here: In between the two churches is a ruined Franciscan abbey – another holy place. Do you reckon they might fit the pattern of Orion’s belt?”
“I do indeed,” said Ferdia, his interest piqued. He took the tablet from Niamh and downloaded an image of the Orion constellation from an astronomy website. He overlaid the image on the aerial view of Wicklow and manipulated it, trying to align the stars on the belt with the positions of the three places.
But it wasn’t working.
When he scaled the image so that the two churches aligned with the two outer stars on the belt, the middle star did not align with the abbey.
“I don’t think we have this right,” Ferdia said, his voice heavy.
“You’re forgetting something, son,” said Forgill. “The sixth stanza says Orion is ‘prone’, meaning he lies over the town face-down, as it were. You need to use a mirror-image of that picture, I believe.”
Ferdia thought about it, then, annoyed that it hadn’t occurred to him, grudgingly said, “You’re right.”
Using Photoshop, he flipped the image of Orion, and overlaid it on Google Earth again. Niamh and Forgill moved in close as he aligned the two outer stars with the churches. The middle star fell precisely over the location of the abbey.
Forgill grinned and slapped him on the back, and Niamh whooped and punched the air. Ferdia just looked stunned.
“That’s it. I don’t believe it”
“There’s more,” said Forgill. “Look at the stars that make up his sword.”
The stars of Orion’s belt fell directly over the North Pier in Wicklow harbor. “’His sword affords a haven from the seas’,” quoted Forgill.
“Oh my God,” said Niamh, “It’s all true. So Wicklow town was built according to a plan; to match the constellation Orion?”
“So it would seem. There are several other constellations mentioned in those first few stanzas, so they might have been factored into the design too.”
“But if the stars of the belt align with the churches and the abbey, does that mean the churches were involved in all this?”
“Quite possibly,” said Forgill. “Don’t forget that one of the Sentinels is always a cleric. It’s likely that some or all of the churches were part of the conspiracy to suppress the truth about Magus and Midir.”
“Oh, this is big,” said Niamh. “Do we really want to get involved in this?”
“I don’t think we have much choice at this stage,” said Ferdia. “Fintan and Bree have both disappeared, and circumstances have chosen us to be the people to see this through.”
“So what do we do now?”
Ferdia pointed at the tablet screen.
“We find the secret key mentioned here and open the secret door. I have a feeling once we do that we’ll know what to do with this device.”
“Well, it says the secret key is located at Orion’s head. Which star is his head?”
Ferdia indicated the screen. “These two stars, Betelgeuse and Bellatrix are his shoulders; and this one, Meissa, is his head.”
“That’s right on Ashtown Lane; on the outskirts of the town. Look, Meissa is right over a huge house with a wall around it. I have no idea who lives there, though.”
“So let’s say we get this key,” interjected Forgill, “what do we actually do with it?”
“The answer is in the last stanza,” said Ferdia.
Forgill read through it.
“Why is the word ‘regal’ capitalized – and why is ‘safe’ misspelled? Did you make a mistake in the transliteration?”
Ferdia gave him a withering look.
“Certainly not. It’s a play on words. The two stars at Orion’s knees are called Rigel and Saiph. We use the key at Rigel and the door will open at Saiph.”
“All right then,” said Forgill, “Niamh, you have the local knowledge; what’s located where the star Rigel is?”
She peered at the tablet screen for a few moments, looking for obvious landmarks, then exclaimed:
“It’s the Black Castle!”
“It’s an old ruined castle on the cliffs near Wicklow Harbor. It stands right over a beach called ‘Travelahawk’ where St Patrick is supposed to have landed when he came back to Ireland.”
“Is there, by any chance, a cave beneath it?”
“Yeah, at the bottom of the cliff. You can only get to it at low tide. There are steps cut into the rock at the back of the castle that lead down to it. People call them ‘The Danes’ Steps’. My dad always told me not to go near them, ‘cause they’re slippery and dangerous. There’s supposed to be a tunnel in the cave that leads somewhere, but my dad says that’s just an old rumor.”
Forgill looked at Ferdia. “Sounds like our ‘grotto hid by time and tide.’”
“Yes. There must be a lock in there that takes the secret key. Once we use it, the door located at Saiph will open.”
“Guys,” said Niamh. “If I’m reading this right, the star Saiph is out in the middle of Wicklow Bay. If this is correct, the door is underwater. That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I shouldn’t worry, young lady,” said Forgill. “I suspect the tunnel will run under the ocean floor to the location of the secret door.”
“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Forgill. “First of all we need to get the key.”
“When are we going to do that?”
“Well, tomorrow, I should think. I don’t know about you, but I’m bushed. It’s late, and even if it were safe to go back to Churchtown, I have no way of getting there without taking Bree’s car. Do you think Mark would mind if I stayed here on the sofa?”
“I guess not,” said Niamh, looking at her watch. “Omigod, it’s after ten! I’m gonna be killed! Mr. Forgill, could you drive me home? It’s only five minutes away.”
“Of course, young lady. I’m sure I can stay awake another few minutes. Shall we go?”
Ferdia raised a cautionary finger. “Don’t say anything about what’s happened to Bree.”
“No, of course not.”
“Don’t you need to get home, Ferdia?”
“No. I’ll send my mother a text and tell her I’m staying with friends. My parents don’t really care what I get up to – as long as I stay away from my grandfather.”
“Very well. We shall see how Mark feels in the morning,” said Forgill. “If he’s up to it, we’ll all go and reconnoiter the place on Ashtown Lane. If not, one of us can stay here with him, and the others will check it out. Agreed?”
Niamh and Ferdia both nodded.
“Good. Right then, young lady. Let’s get you home.”
Niamh and Forgill went out of the study, leaving Ferdia alone with the Tetroi - and a load of unanswered questions.