Despite the chill Melkin felt sweat running down his back as he lifted the heavy stone. The Roman Villa on his manor posed many questions that he wanted answers to, and one of the riddles was the broken stone tablet. He had come upon a piece of a text two years ago, and the thought had struck him this morning that he might have some time for a bit of a treasure hunt. Now Melkin was out of breath and he felt a stab in his right shoulder that made him wince. Pulling at his tunic he stole a look at the scar left by a saxon from the ambush last year. The spear had gone right through him and punctured his lung, only hindering Melkin’s suffocation by breaking from the impact and thankfully blocking the two holes in his body. Holes that now were scars thanks to Merlin.
Vivid memories of how his squire Deian had managed to kill the saxon and of lady Ellen’s terrified face as she burned Melkin’s wound with a lamp, came to his mind. Melkin shook his head trying not to recall the pain he had felt at the hands of the lady’s care or afterward when Brangwen had done her best to keep his fever down.
He stood abruptly. The injury might make him wheeze and steal some of his strength in his right shoulder, but he hadn’t lived through the Hillfort cough thrice for naught. Stubbornly he started to clear away the stones once more. At least these were scars he could carry with pride, earned leading their unit defending Count Roderick’s wife.
Suddenly, he caught glance of it; the other piece of the white stone with the ancient beautiful inscription on it. Melkin pulled the rock above it aside and stared. The letters almost seemed to gleam like gold in the early morning sun. He reached for them, but upon touching the smooth white surface the stone sang. It was an ear-splitting shrill sound that seemed to make the earth shake and the sun dim.
Melkin stood up, his heart pounding. He was standing in something that resembled the Roman Villa that he knew, only it was whole, in its pride and dark. The murky halls were filled with a fluttering sound, and Melkin began to follow it hesitantly. The corridors became darker and darker. Then as the labyrinth seemed impossible to solve, as Melkin walked the maze, a word here and there lit up like gold leading him on his way, pulling him back to a path.
Following a staircase Melkin stepped out into an old forest as dusky as the building he had left. Then, a black bird lifted from a branch next to him swiftly flying away. Running as fast as he could Melkin followed it panting. The forest grew colder as he ran, and he could soon feel the frost fill his lungs and see the white of his breath. Looking ahead he realised where he and the crow were going and decelerated. He was greeted by a pond in the midst of the woods, frozen, perfectly round like the moon in the sky and in each quarter of it lay a huge black rune stone. The bird was gone.
Under the ice though, something moved. Breathing heavily, clutching the injured shoulder Melkin looked down and felt his heart stop. He threw himself on the mirrored surface. Shouting and hammering with both hands until his knuckles bled. Ultimately the ice broke and the frigid water took him finally.
It was cold, but at least Melkin didn’t feel lost anymore. Just as he felt like darkness was going to take him, a pair of strong hands reached down and seized Melkin’s own and pulled. Sunshine met his face then, and a tall figure in a druid’s cloak, pagan tattoos covering his arms hauled Melkin above the water.
“Search here,” said the tall figure holding Melkin above the surface on which he seemed to be standing with ease.
Looking upon the man’s kind but intense face, Melkin was filled with relief. As utter peace spread through his frozen body Melkin got the strong feeling that this was a holy man, someone who knew both god and Melkin well. It could be no one but Saint Alban himself.
“I will,” he promised. “I shall come here.”
The man smiled and stroked Melkin’s wet hair.
“Bring courage,” he advised, “and remember their names.” The crow was sitting on saint Alban’s shoulder.
Melkin jerked awake. Realising that he was in the ruin of the Roman Villa once more he stared around and his gaze fell upon the stone before him. The two parts of the white engraved stone had been joined, completed as if it had never been cracked. Melkin was shaking uncontrollably, and it took some time for him to comprehend why. He was soaked to the bone in ice cold water and blood still dripped from his bruised knuckles.
Doged said that maybe he had fallen into the creek close to the Roman Villa and hurt his hands in the fall. Maybe he had been hallucinating from the fever that hit Melkin the next couple of days.
“Saint Alban wouldn’t show himself as a pagan druid,” concluded Doged finally, but the chaplain didn’t sound too sure about the statement himself.
And Melkin, Melkin didn’t know what to believe, but he stole many glances at the white stone with the engraved message that not even Doged could read.