THE CAULDRON OF CERRIDWYN
Summary: Sydney finds out she's dying, so she accepts an invitation to go to Ireland to find a Relic that may hold the secret to eternal life.
Disclaimer: I don't own them, just wish I did...
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Note: The Cauldron is a mythological object, that, depending on what tradition you read grants either real wisdom or eternal life. Personally, I prefer the idea that it grants true wisdom, but for the purposes of the story... Cerridwyn is the Gaelic goddess credited with bringing magick to mankind. All of the deities etc. mentioned in this story are drawn from historical sources, as are their relationships to each other.Chapter 1 -- The Cauldron
Karen looked up as the woman entered the office. Her face was plain, but her red hair was shocking, not just because it was so red as to be almost orange, but because there was so much of it there. She smiled when she saw Karen and stepped towards her desk.
"Hello. I'm looking for Professor Fox. Is she in?" Her voice had a strong Irish accent, which at least explained the hair.
"You just missed her. She's in class."
"Can I take a message?"
"Yes, if you could tell her that Bridgit Mac Ceallach has called, I would be grateful."
"Sure." Karen grabbed a pen. "Could you spell that?"
"Oh, certainly." She nodded.
Before she could, Nigel Bailey walked into the office. "Bridgit?" he asked with a smile. "Hello, again!"
"Nigel." She smiled and nodded in his direction. "I was just looking for your professor Fox, but I'm told she has class."
Nigel nodded. "Yeah, she does, but if you can wait a while... We could grab lunch or a cup of coffee..."
She shook her head with a regretful smile. "Much as I would like to, I have to get back to work. I've a big order that comes due in a couple of days. If you could just tell the professor that I have called..."
"Again." Nigel smiled. "You know, Bridget, it would be a lot easier on everyone if you just told me what you want to talk to her about."
She smiled, her eyes glinting mischievously. "Ah, but then it would no longer be a secret!" She turned to Karen. "If you could just tell her I called and give her my card..." She felt around in her pocket until she found her wallet and handed Karen a card. "Thank you." She smiled and turned to leave.
"Will you be at work, then?" Nigel asked as she left.
She nodded. "All day, yes. And likely into the evening." She smiled at him. "I'll see you later, Nigel."
He grinned. "I sure hope so."
"Good day. To both of you." She bobbed her head at them and left.
Nigel smiled after her, shaking his head.
"What's she want with Sydney?" Karen asked.
Nigel shrugged. "She won't tell me. I mean, obviously it has to do with some Relic or other, but she won't say anything more than that to me."
"So, she's, like, a friend of yours?"
Nigel shrugged again. "We met a few months ago."
Nigel nodded, missing the curious note in her voice. "Yes, we were attending a reading of some Irish poetry. Fascinating stuff."
"I'll bet." Karen glanced at the business card in her hand. She frowned and read it again. "She's a blacksmith?"
Nigel nodded. "Yes, she makes reproductions, primarily of ancient ceremonial and decorative weaponry."
"Anyway, she's been trying to get in touch with Sydney for a week or more now, but she keeps missing her."
Karen grinned. "And having to deal with you instead?"
Nigel nodded slowly. "Well, yes. Why?"
Karen shook her head. "Oh, no reason."
"Well, then, I'll be at the library if anyone needs me."
"Have fun." Karen shook her head as he left. Poor Nigel. He just doesn't get it...
"Hey, Syd, how was class?" Karen asked.
Sydney shook her head in disgust and dropped a pile of papers on Nigel's desk. "If I have to listen to one more excuse this week as to why the term-papers aren't getting in on time..."
"Sorry." Karen smiled sympathetically. "Oh, hey, someone was looking for you."
"Yeah." Karen found the business card on the desk and handed it to Sydney. "I guess she's some friend of Nigel's. He says that he thinks she wants you to go after some Relic for her."
"Huh." Sydney examined the card for a minute before tucking it into her pocket. "Where is Nigel?"
"Library..." the two women said together.
Sydney nodded. "Dumb question. Thanks, Karen."
"No problem, Syd!" Karen called after her as she left the office.
Sydney quickly crossed the campus and entered the library. One of the students who worked there smiled at her as she entered. "Hi, Doctor Fox. Are you looking for Mister Bailey?"
"Yeah." She nodded.
"I saw him head towards the elevator. I'd try the basement."
"Your welcomed. Hey, do you have any openings in your class next semester? I know it always fills up fast, and underclassmen have to wait." She rolled her eyes.
"Tell you what, Jamie. Call my office and tell Karen that I said to reserve a slot for you."
Sydney smiled. "No problem. Basement?"
"I think so." She nodded.
Sydney grinned at her and started for the elevators. Sure enough, Nigel had occupied one corner of the basement archive, where they stored books that they did not want regular students damaging, and seemed to be reading three books at once. He looked up over his glasses at her approach. "Oh, hello, Syd. How was class?"
"Term-papers were due today."
Nigel winced. "I'm sorry, dumb question."
"How's it going?"
"So-so." Nigel shrugged absently. "Oh, have you been to the office?"
She nodded. "Karen said that a friend of yours was looking for me?"
"Wants some help finding a Relic?"
"As far as I know, though she seems somewhat reluctant to discuss the specifics with me."
"Huh..." Sydney sat on the one chair that was not covered with books. "You think it's worthwhile?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps. She's certainly being mysterious enough about it to imply some great hidden treasure, but she doesn't really seem like the gold-digger type to me."
Sydney nodded. "Well, it can't hurt to talk to her, can it?"
"I should say not." Nigel smiled slyly at her. "Besides, you look as if you could use a vacation."
Sydney laughed, balled up a piece of scratch paper and threw it at him, shaking her head. She could use a vacation from campus, as a matter of fact, but she could not resist the opportunity to give Nigel a hard time. "Since when has Relic-hunting ever qualified as a vacation?"
"Well, there was that trip we took to recover the urn that allegedly held the real ashes of King Numa."
"A revolution broke out, Nigel!" Sydney laughed.
"Oh, that's right..." He nodded. "So sorry. All I remembered was the Mediterranean sunshine." Well, that and Sydney's bathing suit, but he was not about to mention that.
Sydney shook her head. "If you say so. Where can I get in touch with this... Bridget?"
"Oh, she'll be at her shop all day."
Nigel nodded. "She makes decorative weapons. It's really fascinating to watch. She refuses to cut corners or use modern methods."
"Anything to get off of this campus. Coming?"
Nigel hesitated for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, I'd like to see her again."
"You were in the office when she came looking for me, Nigel. That makes it less than three hours since you've seen her." Sydney stared at him curiously.
"Really? Seems like longer."
Sydney smiled and shook her head. "Let's go."
"Go where?" a cheerful, Irish voice inquired.
Nigel glanced up in surprise. "Bridget? What are you doing here?"
The smiling redhead leaned out from behind a shelf with a large book in hand. "It's a library, Nigel. I'm reading."
"Oh, of course."
Sydney cleared her throat. "Um, this section is restricted to staff and faculty."
"Really? I'm sorry, I didn't see any signs posted to that effect, and the door was unlocked."
"That's odd..." Sydney muttered. "I must not have closed it all the way."
"Well, no harm done." Bridget smiled and carefully returned the book to its place. "You must be Professor Fox?"
Sydney nodded and extended her hand. "Please, call me Sydney."
Bridget smiled and shook hands. "A pleasure, Sydney. You are quite as lovely as they say, if I may be forgiven the observation."
Sydney smiled at Bridget. She was the kind of young woman whom it was impossible not to like. "Your friend's a very perceptive woman, Nigel."
"Yes, isn't she, though?" Nigel smiled.
Sydney glanced curiously at Nigel. She could not recall having ever seen him smile so much in one day, except from embarrassment. "So, Bridget, you wanted to talk to me about a Relic?"
She nodded placidly. "Shall we walk? It's stuffy down here and I much prefer the fresh air when I can have it."
"I thought you were to be in your shop all day?" Nigel asked.
"I finished early." She smiled.
"Ah." Nigel nodded.
"So, Nigel tells me that you make weapons?" Sydney asked.
She nodded. "Yes. Swords, mostly. Also armour occasionally."
"It must take a lot of strength to forge them the old-fashioned way."
She shrugged. "It takes practice more than strength. It's more about knowing where to hit the metal than it is about how hard you hit it. In my experience, most pieces of metal are just waiting to be turned into something useful. You just have to know how to persuade them." She smiled and started for the door. "Shall we?"
Sydney and Nigel followed as soon as Nigel had gathered up his things. It was a lovely fall afternoon, perfect for walking, so they were by no means the only group outside. Bridget steered them away from the campus common and towards a nearby wood.
"So, let's talk business..." Sydney suggested after a brief silence.
"Ah, yes, business." Bridget nodded. "Have you been to Ireland, ever, Professor?"
"Um, not recently. Why? Is that where your Relic is?"
Bridget smiled and inclined her head slightly. "It's not mine. It belongs to all people."
"But it is in Ireland?" Nigel asked.
She nodded. "It is. Are either of you familiar with the mythology of the country?"
"Pre or post Christianity?" Sydney asked.
"Pre-Christian." Bridget smiled. "Considerably pre-Christian."
"Well, that rules out a quest for the Holy Grail..." Nigel laughed.
"So it would seem..." Bridget agreed quietly. "What do you know about the pre-Christian religious practices of Ireland?"
"Druids?" Nigel asked.
"Before them, even."
"Um, it was mostly stone-age religions, wasn't it?" Sydney asked.
"Animism, totemism and the like?" Nigel asked.
Bridget nodded again. "Yes. Now, for the 64-dollar question. Who did the Irish believe brought magick to the human race?"
"Cerridwyn, wasn't it?" Nigel asked softly.
Bridget nodded and smiled. "It most certainly was. Very good, Nigel."
"Well, I read a lot."
"So it would seem." She smiled. "Do you remember the specifics of the story?"
"I'm afraid not. Something about a potion, wasn't it?"
She nodded. "You're very close, Nigel."
"It was the magical cauldron that the potion was brewed in, wasn't it?" Sydney asked, beginning to remember a story she had read years ago.
Bridget nodded. "It was. The Cauldron of Cerridwyn."
"And that's what you want us to go hunting for?" Sydney asked dubiously.
"Indeed it is, Professor. According to legend, it resides in a temple under a lake, and I believe I may have discovered which lake."
"Really?" Sydney considered her. "You want us to go hunting for the actual Cauldron of Cerridwyn? In a temple under a lake?"
Bridget nodded serenely. "I do. See, I recently came into possession of a transcript, written, I believe, by a Druid king, which mentions certain land-marks that allow me to narrow down the location of the lake to a very small geographical area in Ireland."
"I don't know..." Sydney began, shaking her head. It all seemed dreadfully far-fetched to her.
"Is it any less likely than the existence of Blue-Beard's treasure or a magical knife that gives any warrior it cuts the strength of ten men, or an idol to Ganesh that allows a supplicant to see visions of the god?"
"She has a point, Syd."
"I'll have to think about it." was as close as Sydney came to making a commitment.
"Of course, I'll be more than glad to cover all of your expenses and pay whatever fee you request." Bridget smiled. "Within reason."
"Why, though?" Sydney asked. "What could you possibly want with the Cauldron?"
"Perhaps to bring magic back to mankind?" Bridget shrugged. "I'll leave you to consider my offer. You have my number. Good day to you both." Bridget smiled and bowed her head respectfully before turning and leaving them alone.
They stared after her in silence for several minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Sydney spoke.
"Why is it that your friend has almost managed to persuade me in spite of myself?"
Nigel shrugged. "She has that effect on people."
"Hmm." Sydney frowned. "Have you seen the manuscript in question?"
"I want you to check it out. If it proves legitimate, I might say yes to her."
Nigel smiled at her. "Ireland is a lovely place."
Sydney smiled faintly. "Yes, it is."
"I think I'll drop by this afternoon. I have some free time."
Sydney nodded. "That's fine, Nigel."
"Do you want to come?"
She shook her head. "I can't. I have some things to do. Besides, that's really more your department."
"Knock, knock, Bridget. Is anyone home?" Nigel called, letting himself into her shop.
"I'm in the back, Nigel!" Bridget called. "Come in."
"Coming." Nigel stopped to examine a row of swords on a long table. There were ten in all, almost identical, done in the medieval Spanish style. She had even decorated the blades with traditional patterning.
"Well, what do you think?" she asked, emerging from a door in the back of the shop, wearing a heavy, leather apron, and covered with soot, but smiling as always.
"They're lovely. I'd almost think them genuine if I didn't know better."
Bridget smiled, pleased. "High praise, coming from one such as yourself."
Nigel smiled and reached for one of the swords. He paused. "Oh, may I?"
"Certainly." Bridget nodded and waited patiently as he lifted the sword in his hands and examined it closely.
"It's lighter than I would have thought."
"Mark of a good blade. Light but durable." She smiled quizzically at him, leaning into his line of sight. "Did you come just to check the quality of my work?"
"Oh, no." Nigel shook his head swiftly and replaced the blade in its place on the table. "Sydney sent me, actually. She wants me to authenticate your manuscript."
"Fair enough. This way."
Bridget led him through the shop-front and through the door she had ducked out of and into her forge, which, Nigel observed, did indeed resemble one from medieval times. Except for the CD player and the small television. She unlocked a door which led to a staircase, which she led him up.
"You live over your shop, then?"
"Yes. It's more convenient. Sometimes I get the urge to work at three in the morning. This way I can." She smiled and pulled off her apron and shoes before ducking through the door at the top of the stairs. "Come in, Nigel. Get comfortable and I'll get the transcript."
"Thank you, Bridget." Nigel smiled and sat on the large couch in front of a massive fireplace. The room resembled nothing more than a rustic and homey log cabin. It was, in his mind, enchanting. "You have a lovely home!" he called.
"Why, thank you, Nigel." Bridget deposited a cloth-wrapped bundle in front of him. She had managed to remove most of the soot from her face and hands in a surprisingly short span. "Can I offer you a cup of tea, Nigel?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
"Suit yourself." Bridget smiled and sat down next to him. "Do you, in fact, read Gaelic?" she asked curiously.
"A small amount." Nigel shrugged. "Enough. Besides, I'm more interested in the writing style and the material used than I am in the wording. Where my translation is... fuzzy, you can help."
"Gladly." Bridget smiled at him and unwrapped the transcript. "I know I don't have to warn you to be careful."
Nigel smiled and nodded. "No fear, Bridget. I'll treat it as if it were my own." He reached out and gently turned the first page. "Could I get ink and paper samples?"
Bridget winced, but slowly nodded. "Small ones."
Nigel smiled and nodded reassuringly. "Well, the lettering certainly looks authentic."
Bridget nodded but pointed out, "Anyone can fake lettering."
Nigel blinked in surprise. "So they can. You for instance?"
Bridget nodded, unabashed. "Of course. But, that was written by a right-handed person."
Nigel smiled and nodded. "You wouldn't be ambidextrous?"
"I might be." Bridget smiled at him. "Look, you go ahead and take your samples, and I'll make a pot of tea." She rose and left through a small door.
Nigel, who suspected that, as much as anything, Bridget did not want to watch him mangle her transcript, smiled as she left. He was, of course, always meticulously careful with antiquities, and this book was no exception. By the time Bridget had returned with a tray of tea, he had finished collecting his samples. She set the tray on the coffee table and handed Nigel a cup.
Nigel smiled and nodded. "Please." He took a small sip and stopped in surprise. "There's no tea in this tea..."
Bridget smiled and shook her head. "Just chamomile and jasmine and some lavender for spiciness. I don't trust real tea, except for facials."
"Well, it is remarkable. Quite lovely, actually." Nigel smiled and placed his cup down. "Let's have a look at this transcript, shall we?"
Bridget nodded. "If you'd like."
Nigel bent over the transcript. "Where did you come by this?"
"An Italian antique-dealer."
"Italian?" He looked up at her in surprise.
She nodded. "We assume that it was removed from Ireland after the Emperor Tiberius Claudius invaded."
Nigel nodded. That made perfect sense. He bent over the transcript again and began translating. The first few words were obscured by age-spots, but the rest was quite legible. "It's really been wonderfully preserved, hasn't it?"
Bridget nodded. "Fortunately, yes. Can you translate it?"
He nodded. "'...Ancient knowledge can to me from my father from his father and his father before him for a hundred generations.'" He considered this. "That makes it... what, two or three thousand years at least?"
She nodded. "At least. Assuming that it was new when it was removed to Rome."
Nigel skimmed over it, occasionally muttering words in Gaelic or translating them into English for a good twenty minutes before he paused. "'Beneath the holy lough, but above the earth'? How can that be, Bridget? Did I mistranslate?"
"No. You're doing fine. Read on."
Nigel did, until he came to a word that he did not know. "What's this one?"
"Mountain. Mountain range, actually."
"Ah, of course." Nigel nodded. "So the temple lies under a lake in this mountain range?"
She nodded. "Yes. They're now called the Blue Stack Mountains."
Nigel nodded and wrote that down. "That explains this earlier passage about it being beneath the lake but above the ground."
Bridget nodded. "Exactly. Now, there are hundreds of lakes in the mountain-range, but by looking at the other geographical clues mentioned, I can narrow it down to one that's not even on the maps."
"If it's not on the maps, how do you know it's there?"
"I've been there."
"Oh." Nigel nodded. "I see."
Bridget rose and walked to her bookshelf. She pulled down a large and detailed map of Ireland and carried it over to the table. She unfolded it and pointed to a spot circled in red. "Right here. I was quite a young girl when I first found my way to the lake. It's small, but there are several very promising caves all around it. I've no doubt that one of those caves leads directly under the lake and to the Cauldron."
Nigel nodded and glanced at the transcript again. Bridget had marked all of the locations mentioned in the transcript, along with notes as to distance and altitude. She had done her homework.
"Bridget, this is... really fascinating."
"Why thank you, Nigel." She smiled at him. "Do you think that Professor Fox will now agree to accompany me?"
"I think it's quite likely. I'll talk to her."
"And analyze the samples?" she asked, grinning.
Nigel nodded. "Of course. Provided that they prove sufficiently ancient, I'd say that there's a good chance that Sydney will agree."
Bridget smiled. "Wonderful news, Nigel. Thank you."
"May I ask a question?"
Bridget nodded and regarded him curiously.
"Why do you want the Cauldron?"
"I have my reasons, Nigel. Better not to ask too many questions about them."
Nigel nodded. "Of course. I'm sorry. But..."
"What does it do?"
"Accounts vary." She smiled. "Some say that it grants true wisdom or absolute knowledge. Others say that it grants eternal life. Still others say that it insures eternal life only after death."
"What do you think?"
"Me?" Bridget grinned at him. "I like the idea that it might bring a little magic into the world."
"Sydney, the doctor will see you now."
Sydney rose quickly and followed the nurse to the doctor's office. She waited in front of his desk, tapping her fingers together nervously until the doctor entered.
"Good afternoon, Sydney." He smiled and shook her hand.
"Doctor James." Sydney smiled and sat back down. "So..."
Doctor James sighed. "Sydney... I have the results of your bone-marrow biopsy here." He held up her medical records.
Sydney swallowed hard. His tone of voice said it all. "How serious is it? How long do I have?"
The doctor hesitated. "With aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, you could have as much as nine months or a year."
She nodded. It was, quite honestly, better than she had expected. "Without chemo?"
"Four to six, probably. Maybe less. The problem is that it's just a very aggressive strain of leukemia."
Sydney nodded. He had prepared her for this possibility before the biopsy. "How long will I be able to keep working?"
"It's hard to say. You're already feeling weak, but..."
She held her hand up, cutting him off. "Will I be able to go on any more expeditions?"
"It's hard to say. You really shouldn't be doing strenuous work in your condition."
"What's it going to do, kill me?" Sydney asked bitterly.
"It could hasten the process, yes."
Sydney swallowed hard. "Will I have time to train my replacement at the university?"
"It depends on how long you think something like that would take..."
Sydney sighed. "Nigel's been working with me for more than three years, already. I'll need three months."
"No promises, Sydney, but it's fair to say that you probably have that."
"Probably?" Sydney sighed. "Do you believe in miracles, Doctor?"
"Sydney, there's no use denying what's happening to you..."
"I'm not denying anything." She smiled and shrugged. "Just curious. The odds are very good that I'll be leaving in a few days for an expedition in Ireland."
"Frankly, I'd recommend against it."
"I'll take that advice under consideration, Doctor."
"And go anyway?"
Sydney nodded. "I'm not the kind of person to leave a job unfinished." She rose. "We'll speak again when I return."
Doctor James shook his head as she left. She was, without doubt, one of the most stubborn patients he had ever had. She would do what she wanted, utterly disregarding his advice, and probably work herself to death in the process.