Part II – the Hag of the Lough
Whatever it is that the Tallith’s druid mixes into those poultices of his, they work a wonder. Getting up the next morning I felt fresher than I had done in months on the road. Perhaps he could teach Elowyn a thing or two about healing.
Preparing to set off in the mac Éogan fortress courtyard, I was very happy to see Dougan striding out to meet us is full mail, a broad grin on his face. “My brother’s given me leave to join you this morn, if that’s alright with you?” Of course it was alright. Dougan’s battle experience would be a welcome addition to our motley crew, not to mention his arm and spear! Elowyn was conspicuously wearing the chainmail that we had found the previous day. Considering how long it must have been lying under the surface, the links were as shiny as fresh polished chain can be. Touching the stuff reminds you of stroking a cat or running your hand along finest silk, it’s as if nothing could ever get a grip on it. It had also caught Dougan’s eye as well. “‘Tis a fine suit of mail you have there m’lady. May I ask where you came to be in possession of it, for it puts me strongly in mind of a suit that my grandsire was wont to wear?” Elowyn explained to him how we had come across the armour in a chest in the hag’s lair. “Then it must indeed be his suit, for he was wearing it the day his boat went down in the bay. My brother will be exceeding well pleased to see it returned to the family, but not half as pleased as he will be when we return this eve with the apple of his eye. Wear it for now, but know that you are wearing a mac Éogan family heirloom. Let’s be on our way!”
And with that we left the fortress to return to the harbour, for our transport for the day was not to be four-legged, but four-oared. We must have rowed upstream for three or four hours before reaching the lough. What a godsforsaken place it was. A mist hung over the water like a pall. I don’t think that I can have been the only one of the four of us who was reminded of our last excursion in a similar vessel. The silence over the water seemed to infect our throats as we rowed the small boat to a small, low island laying in the middle of the large expanse of water – still at least we were no longer working against the current here.
Finally the crunch of shingle told us that we had arrived. The island was only some forty strides across, but looked more forbidding than anything I have ever seen. Alongside two very dead looking trees there was a small stone circle and a barrow. Jumping into the shallows I walked up onto the shoreline only to hear the surprised cries of my fellows. For some fell reason the island was denying them passage; the simply could not put foot on it. Before I could return to aid them, a noise behind me warned me of an approaching foe, and all I had time for was to draw my blade and engage a scruffy-looking goblin-like creature. Dodging his first blow I was able to reply with one of my own, dispatching the creature in one strike. Rather than falling to the ground as expected, the form dissipated into a grey mist, which returned to the stone circle. By this time Dougan and Nab’han were able to join me on the island, however another two of the creatures materialised, seemingly out of nowhere. Joining the battle I was only vaguely aware of the twins finally being able to set foot on the island. Our ‘goblins’ were dispatched in the same way as the first had been, but it seemed that Elowyn and Elathan were having more trouble with theirs. Elathan had landed a non-lethal blow and the creature started to swell in size and ferocity, growing in stature ’til it was standing half as high again as him. Fortunately, the air then seemed to go out of it. Before it was able to shrink again to its original size, this creature too was reduced to it’s gaseous state.
Scouring the island revealed nothing further of note and so we turned our attention to the barrow. Dougan and I were able to shift the entrance stone and we could peer into the dank depths within. After a short corridor, the interior opened out into a chamber around a hole in the ground which contained a none-to-sturdy looking ladder. Deciding not to trust ourselves completely to the unstable looking rungs, we descended by rope. Unfortunately Dougan coming down last missed his step and ended up falling with an unceremonious clatter, warning all of our arrival. A narrow passageway led away from the chamber at the bottom and we attempted to edge our way along this with the minimum of further noise. The passage opened into a chamber but our way was impaired by a group of Sahuagin, who had the advantage over us as they were able to block us in. We retreated in the hope that they would be foolish enough to follow us back to the chamber at the bottom of the ladder, but they were cunning enough to realise our intent and so waited for us instead.
Growing up underground makes you very aware of the rock around you, in fact for us stone-dwellers being able to read the rock can be a life preserving skill, especially when mining. I was immediately aware when the rock around us started moving down, as if sinking into the lough. In fact that was exactly what it was doing. Dougan quickly applied the last of the water-breathing salve that we had been supplied with the previous day as we prepared to be doused once more. That done, we decided to charge the Sahuagin and break through into the remainder of the underground channels. They didn’t put up much too much resistance and we were then free to explore. We found one cavern with a brass cage, still holding a scrap of cloth that Dougan recognised as belonging to his niece’s attire. But no Siandabhair.
Returning to the cave where the Sahuagin had been defeated, we took the other exit, leading up to a small chamber containing the remains of a number of unwary travellers before leading back down again to a dark underground pool. By this time the water was unmistakably beginning to rise. The others would have been useless in the pitch black water and so it was left to Elowyn and myself to enter the murky depths, her using her powers to enhance her sight, me using my natural affinity for dark places. The Hag must have been aware of us again as she was immediately in our minds as we entered the water: “Welcome to your deaths, worthless creatures. Welcome in the knowledge that you die in vain, for she is not here, she’s with my sister of the mountains!”
We were immediately assaulted by another wave of Sahuagin. Again they fell to our blades and so we found ourselves at last confronting the Hag of the Lough. We were able to manoeuvre the fight to the bottom of the stairs, from where the others could shed light on the fight until Dougan was able to land a severe blow on the old woman, at which his face immediately became disfigured with boils and warts. Cackling, the hag dropped the massive sword that she was wielding. “I’ve done enough damage for one day, and you have too. Come, your princess is not here let us go our separate ways.” “Not until you restore me to normal” was Dougan’s reply, his spear to her throat. “Not within my pow…” were her last words, before Dougan rammed the spear home.
We removed the hag’s head to take with us for proof and left. By the time we reached what had originally been the surface of the island, it was all underwater bare the top of the barrow. Removing his armour, Elathan swam up to the boat, re-capturing it so that we could enter it. Dougan knew where the old woman of the mountains lived, and Elowyn was able to work her tracking magic on the scrap of cloth from the cage. South and east we rowed to the banks of the lough, before setting off on foot along an old track leading into the hills. When we could go no longer we made camp in a small hollow that we hoped would hide the light from our fire from any inquisitive eyes.
Next: To Rescue a Princess