The Sword of Paracelsus: Simon’s Tale, Part 2

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“You’ll remember that it all happened in a flash,” said Simon. “—quick as fire, quick as thought, quick as one of the lightning bolts that were falling so thick and fast.  The Morrigu disarmed me, caught me up, and threw me down, just like that.  In an instant I was hurtling through the storm with the iron sky above me, the wind and rain around me, and not a thing in the world to break my fall.  But I never hit the ground.”

“Why not?” said Morgan.

A slow smile crept across Simon’s face.  “I was caught.”  And then, almost in a whisper, he added, “By an angel.  One of those bright and terrible creatures who had been going up and down on Jacob’s Ladder all through that fearful night!”

Eny regarded him with wonder.  “Were you scared?” she asked.

“Indeed I was.  That seraph was more like a firestorm than any living thing I ever knew of.  I couldn’t see its face clearly because it shone like the sun.  It seized me in mid-air, engulfed me in a whirlwind of brilliance, and set me down on the ground so soft and gentle that I hardly felt a thing.  If you can believe it, I didn’t even strike my foot against a stone!  And just before it left me, it bent down and spoke something close in my ear.  “Deh-veev,” it said.  At least that’s what I thought it said.  Then it went spinning away in a pinwheel of red and yellow sparks.

“I don’t know how long I sat there in a daze.  I could see the silver thread of the heavenly ladder, strung like a strand of pearls against the sky between the tower and the upper atmosphere.  I could see the angel-shapes upon it, and the Danaan ships in the air, and the dark hulking shapes of the Fomorians on the ground.  After a while I got up and shook the rain from my hair.  ‘Time to get back into the fight,’ I told myself.

“I had no weapon, so I started looking around for a cast-off sword or spear.  But no sooner had I begun than the earth shuddered and shook beneath me.  The rocks crumbled and a great crack opened at my feet.  Out of the crack boiled a thick shadow like a plume of black smoke.

“This shadow swirled itself up into a tornado of darkness.  Then the darkness congealed and became a huge black snake.  Round and round my body it swirled its glossy coils.  As it squeezed the breath from my lungs I realized that I was in the clutches of one of the Fomorian shape-changers.  Caught by the enemy!  My eyes went dark, and the serpent, with me in its grasp, slid through the crack in the ground and slipped silently into the viewless paths that connect your world with the world of the Sidhe.

“I was taken to Tur Morraigu on Tory Island and ‘questioned’ by the Fomor.  I’ll spare you the details.  After that I was thrown into the dungeon and chained at the base of a rock where the walls ooze seawater and the floor is all slippery with slime and filth.  There was another man in that cell, but he never spoke to me until I’d been there for about a year.”

“Wait a minute!” cried Morgan.  “Time out!  You said a year?  I don’t get that.  The Battle for the Stone took place at the beginning of summer!  That’s just three months ago!  And another thing:  Eny says she’s been in the Sidhe for two months, when I know for a fact that it’s only been two weeks since she disappeared from her apartment in Hollywood!  What gives?”

“Don’t be silly, Morgan!” said Eny.  “Don’t you remember what my mother told us?  Time is different in the Sidhe!  Go on with your story, Simon!”

“Well,” resumed Simon, “as I say, that other prisoner was a strange bird.  Never said a word, though I tried my best to draw him out.  I couldn’t get a good look at him either.  He wasn’t chained like I was, so he moved freely about the cell and kept his distance.  Stuck to the shadows and spent most of his time chipping away at the wall with some sort of tool he’d fashioned out of a bit of metal.  He’d hide the tool and cover his work whenever the guard came in with our rations.

“This went on for a long time.  Then one day I said to him, ‘Break my bonds with that chisel of yours and I’ll help you dig.’  That’s when he came over and looked at me for the very first time.  He was wrinkled and worn and had dingy white hair and a scraggly beard.  Right away I said to myself, ‘I’ve seen this old buzzard before.’  But it wasn’t until he told me his name that I realized who he was.

“I guess my relentless questioning finally wore him down.  We must have been digging away together side by side for over a month when he finally turned to me and said, ‘I am called Dee.  John Dee.  So cease thy prating and trouble me no more.’”

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Simon’s Tale, Part 1

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Morgan’s jaw fell open and his mouth went dry.  When he tried to speak, the words stuck in his throat.  He shot a helpless glance at Eny, but she paid no attention to his mute appeal.  Her eyes were fixed on Simon.

“Don’t be afraid!” laughed the old man as she dropped to her knees.  “I’m not a ghost!”

Morgan stared.  “How can you not be?” he stammered.  “You died!”

With a wink, Simon reached down and helped Eny to her feet.  “I’m glad to see you again, missy!” he said.  “It’s a long time since we rosined the bow together.”

“But Madame Medea—the Morrigu,” pressed Morgan.  “She picked you up and threw you off the tower!  I saw it happen!”

Even as he said this, Morgan became aware that Baxter ’s eyes were on him.  The other boy had roused himself from his nap and was sitting up on the bench, yawning and stretching.  Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he stared dully at the three figures in front of him and frowned.

“What’s the janitor doing here?” he mumbled.

“He’s not a janitor!” said Morgan.

“Not just a janitor,” corrected Eny, her blue eye twinkling.

“Well, he looks like that old janitor to me,” observed Baxter, glancing over his shoulder at the empty table.  “The one from your church.  What happened to the food?”

“His name is Simon Brach,” Eny persisted, grasping Simon’s waist.  “In this world they call him Ollamh Folla.  He’s a Danaan prince of great power and majesty.”

Baxter regarded her with a look of bored distaste.  “I’m going to see if I can find something to drink,” he said, getting up and scanning the hall.  “The service isn’t very good around here.”

“I still don’t understand,” said Morgan as Baxter shuffled off in the direction of the kitchen.  “Power and majesty or not, I saw you fall.  It was horrible.  It’s burned into my memory!”

“Really?” said Simon, peering into his eyes.  “And why is that?”

Morgan’s neck and ears grew suddenly hot.  For some reason, the sword at his side seemed to be burning his skin through its flannel wrappings.  With a discreet motion he loosened his belt and let it drop to the floor.

“Because I’ve always felt as if I was to blame,” he answered in a low voice.  “At least partly.  I distracted you—just at the moment when she was trying to catch you off guard.”  He swallowed hard and looked away.

“Is that all?” said Simon, “Because if that’s the case you can rest easy.  This isn’t all about you.”

Eny turned to Morgan with a smirk.  He answered with a scowl.  Then he reached back with his toe and shoved the sword a little further under the table.

“You were the one, weren’t you?” said Eny looking up at Simon.  “The man on the bus?”

“Ah!” he laughed.  “I thought you knew!  Yes, I was that man indeed—and a score of others as well.  I’ve been watching you a long time, missy.  Wasn’t about to let you out of my sight.”

“Nor mine!”

They all turned at the sound of this new voice—a raspy, reedy voice—and saw the whole tribe of the Fir Bolg come trooping into the hall with Eochy at their head.

“Me it was that served as his eyes and hands and feet,” the little man added, stepping up to the table.  “The legwork, as some might be saying, was mainly mine.”

Simon laughed and clapped Eochy on the shoulder.  “And an excellent pair of eyes and hands you were!” he exclaimed.  “Congratulations, my friend, on your fine work in keeping the crow at bay!”

“But you still haven’t answered my question,” said Morgan.  “What about that fall from the tower?”

Simon sat down beside him on the bench.  “A fall is nothing in itself,” he said.  “Getting up is what counts.  Have you forgotten what I told you?  I’ve been in your world times unnumbered.  I’ve played my part on a hundred stages and under as many different names.  The Morrigu has cast me down again and again, but she can’t destroy me.  I’ve been beaten, baffled, cornered, caught, and stymied, but I always manage to get back in the game somehow.  My destiny is tied up with the Stone’s, you see.”

“But how is that possible?”

“It’s the how that interests you, is it?  Should I tell you the way it was this time around?”

“You must!” said Eny

“All right, then,” said Simon, as Eny squeezed in beside him and the Fir Bolg made themselves comfortable on the rush-strewn floor.  “Near as I can recall, it went something like this …

(To be continued …)


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     I confess that I am sitting under a pine tree doing absolutely nothing … I confess that I have been listening to a mockingbird … This kind of thing goes on all the time. Wherever I am, I find myself the center of reactionary plots like this one.

      – Thomas Merton, “Confession of Crimes Against The State”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The authors of The Westminster Confession of Faith, perhaps the greatest compendium of Reformed theology ever composed, tell us that “there is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions …” (Chapter II, Section 1).

In describing God as “without passions,” the Westminster Divines were harking back to the writings of the ancient Greek Fathers of the church. The word the Fathers used to denote this attribute of the Deity was apathes: “without pathos; free from suffering.”

What this means in layman’s terms is that God is not subject to “mood swings.” Circumstances don’t affect Him as they affect us. Things don’t rile Him up or get Him down. “Stuff” bounces or rolls off Him like water off a duck’s back. He is infinitely above anything that might threaten to poke holes in His unruffled serenity. This doctrine of God’s impassibility is closely related to, and indeed is inseparable from, the concept of His immutability or unchangeableness.

Apatheia – the nominal (noun) or substantive form of apathes – is an important aspect of the Pilgrim life. It is, in fact, the next of our fundamental Pilgrim values.   “Be imitators of me,” says Paul, “just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). As flawed human beings living in a fallen world we will, of course, always be subject to passion and change. But this should not prevent us from emulating and striving after the unflappable calm that resides at the immovable center of the divine nature.

It goes without saying that apatheia is not the same thing as apathy. It doesn’t consist in dismissiveness of others, and it certainly doesn’t imply a deficiency of human compassion. Nevertheless, the two terms do have something in common. There is an important sense in which the Pilgrim, as an alien and stranger in the earth, simply doesn’t care about the things that get the natives all in a huff. The great concerns of this world – the structures and systems of the kosmos – mean little or nothing to him. As C. S. Lewis wrote in a 1940 letter to his brother Warnie:


     Lord! How I loathe great issues. How I wish they were all adjourned sine die. “Dynamic” I think is one of the words invented by this age which sums up what it likes and I abominate. Could one start a Stagnation Party – which at the General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place?


This is part of what we mean by apatheia. But there’s more. For the allurements of wealth, power, and position, of prestige, financial security, social honor, and the esteem of others – all those things that were “vanity” to Ecclesiastes and “dung” to the apostle Paul – these too are neither here nor there as far as the Pilgrim is concerned. He pays little attention to wars and rumors of wars, nor is he in any sense terrified or dismayed at the empty posturing of his adversaries. His sense of well-being does not rise or fall with the stock market or the shifting tides of the political or cultural climate. He refuses to bow before the brazen altar of career and human accomplishment.

When it comes right down to it, the Pilgrim is not afraid of doing nothing and seeming to be nobody. That’s because he knows that the root and stem of his being lie elsewhere: namely, in the invisible reality of his eternal and unshakeable connection with the Infinite.


The Sword of Paracelsus: Eny’s Story, Part 4

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Trembling with the emotion of her narrative, Eny fell silent and passed a hand across her brow.  By this time people were slowly filtering back into the Tellach.  On every side, the Great Hall was beginning to hum with the sound of voices and the bustle of activity.  Cooking smells emanated from the kitchen.  The bronze grate clattered in the fire pit as a couple of attendants added logs and peat to the flames.  Several others occupied themselves with the long ropes that adjusted the smoke-vents in the ceiling.  A group of Danaan warriors seated themselves on the raised dais in one of the upper galleries and began conferring with heads bent close together.  Pots, cups, and bowls clattered.  Stewards and servants hurried to and fro with bundles under their arms or bunches of keys at their belts.  Then a pretty young maiden with long dark braids came and cleared away the fragments and empty platters at the other end of the table.  Glancing up at her, Morgan caught sight of Baxter sprawled out along the bench and snoring like a bullfrog.

“So,” he said when Eny seemed ready to go on, “how did Eochy respond to your outburst?”

Eny grinned.  “He just laughed!  And then he said, ‘Mind your tongue, young miss!  She has not won, and it’s me you can thank for that!  She knew where you were, and no mistake.  Her eye was on you.  Another hour and she would have had you in her grip.  But I was quicker.  It was to protect you that I lured you away and brought you here.’”

“Well,” said Morgan, “that puts a different face on things.”

“No joke.  It sure stuck a stopper in my mouth.  For a long time I just looked around the circle, blinking through my tears, thinking about the horrible risk they were taking for my sake.  Finally I said, ‘So what do we do now?’

“They all looked at Semeon.  Semeon nodded at Rury.  Rury said that they had decided to take me with them to Baile Daoine Sidhe.  Then, without another word, they all started packing their bolgs.

“I wish you could have seen it, Morgan.  It was like magic.  Those little bags are bottomless!  You can cram incredible amounts of stuff into them.  Eochy gave me one of my own, and I put my fiddle into it along with some dried figs and nuts, a sling, a pouch of stones, a sheepskin jacket, a bow, and a quiver of arrows.”

“Really?” said Morgan, fingering the long blue bundle at his side.  “Do you think you could get me one?”

“I don’t see why not.  We’ve got plenty of them.  Eochy and the rest of the Fir Bolg are here in the dun now—we’ve been staying together over in one of the longhouse lodges for the past couple of months.  Anyway, as I was saying, we packed up all of our gear and got ready to leave.  But as I was tying my bag around my waist, a thought occurred to me.  I turned to Rury and said, ‘Will the Danaans take us in?  You told me once that the Fir Bolg aren’t always welcome at the Baile.’”

“Is that true?” Morgan wanted to know.

“It was true in the past, but not anymore.  Things used to be kind of touchy between the Bag People and the Tuatha De Danann.  But all that’s changed since the Battle for the Stone.  As Rury told me, ‘the Danaans know better now.’”

“They certainly do,” said a deep voice from somewhere above Morgan’s right ear—a voice that sent shivers of recognition down his spine.  “But it wouldn’t matter much if they didn’t.  Because you’re here on my say so.  Both of you.”

As this voice spoke, Morgan saw Eny’s mouth drop open and her eyes grow wide as saucers.  From where he sat, she seemed to be staring at something just above the level of his head.  Crooking his neck to follow her gaze, he found himself looking up into the face of a tall man with a long nose, a grizzled jaw, and a pair of bright blue eyes.

“A pleasure to see you again, young Mr. Izaak,” said the man.

It was Simon Brach.

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The Sword of Paracelsus: Eny’s Story, Part 3

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She paused and took another deep breath.

“Heard what?” said Morgan.

“The same sound I had heard outside my bedroom window.  The sound of somebody hissing at me.  ‘Hsst!  Young Miss!” it said, and “Psst!  Over here!’”

“Eochy again?”

Eny nodded.  “Somehow or other he had got there ahead of me!  He was leaning out from behind a big round boulder, holding my fiddle in one hand and beckoning to me with the other.  I knew him at once, so I didn’t stop to ask questions.  I ran up the slope, and he led me behind the rock and into a cave in the cliffside.

“Nothing could have prepared me for what I found there.  The door was small, but the cavern into which it opened was deep and roomy and filled with all kinds of Fir Bolgian implements and supplies.  There were flint-tipped spears and bows and arrows, copper knives and daggers, bell-shaped pots and urns, and lots of the miraculous leather bags the little people carry at their waists.  There were blankets and fleeces and skeins of wool, spindles and looms and coils of rope, barrels of wine, sheaves of grain, and baskets of dried fruit.  From spikes driven into the stone walls dangled bundles of the slings I had taught them to use, and next to the slings hung leather pouches bulging with smooth, round sling-stones.  It was an incredible hoard, and I wondered how it had ended up there.  But amazed as I was to see it, the most amazing part was yet to come.

“As soon as my eyes adjusted to the light I saw that there were people in the cave.  The Fir Bolg!  Anust and Liber, Rury and Semeon, Crucha and Genann, and a handful of others.  They were squatting in the shadows behind that big pile of stuff, back against the rear wall of the cave.  When I recognized them I cried out for joy, because I had never expected to see their dear faces again.

“Liber came over to me and hugged my neck.  I buried my face in her hair and held her tightly.  She stroked my forehead and said, ‘It’s safe you are now, child.’  It was so good to hear her voice again!”

“Did you feel safe?” asked Morgan.

“It’s hard to say exactly what I felt.  I was confused.  I didn’t know what was happening or why I was there.  For a minute it was like I couldn’t breathe.  I pulled away from Liber and stood in the middle of the cave with the Fir Bolg all around me.  I said, ‘What do you mean, ‘safe’?  What are you all hiding from?  What’s become of the dun?’”

“And what did they say?”

“Can’t you guess?  Somehow I knew the answer before I even asked.”

“The Morrigu!” breathed Morgan.

“Yes.  They told me they’d been expecting her to attack ever since the night of the Battle for the Stone.  That’s why they had stocked the cave with food and supplies.  They had barely finished when the Fomorians arrived.  The giants burned their huts and fields, destroyed their flocks, and killed many of their people.  While they told me about it, the women wept and wailed.  It was awful, Morgan.  Really awful.”

“But why them?  They’re no big threat to her!”

“It was payback.  The Fir Bolg had sided with us and the Danaans.  They tried to stop her from getting Lia Fail.  And she’s not one to let her enemies go unpunished.  No matter who they are.”

Morgan shivered at the thought, but held his tongue.

“But that wasn’t even the worst of it.  Not for me.  Because in the next minute it dawned on me that this was all my fault!  I was under geis!  Rury had made me promise that I’d do everything I could to keep the Stone of Destiny from falling into the Morrigu’s hands!  And I failed!”

A tear slid down her cheek as she said this.  Seeing it, Morgan reached over and touched her hand.  “Don’t say that, Eny!” he said.  “There was nothing you could do to stop her.  Not even Simon Brach could.  We all did our best.  Nobody can do more.”

“I know that now,” she said, wiping her cheek.  “Most of the Fir Bolg told me the same thing.  But Semeon said something more.  He said that the geis was null and void because the promise should never have been made.  He said Lia Fail travels the path foretold, no matter what we say or do:  the Stone takes the road of its own choosing.  Then he reminded me that the Morrigu can’t access its power anyway.  She has it locked up in her tower, he said, but it’s of no use to her—at least for the time being.  I guess he thought that would make me feel better.”

“Did it?”

Her eyes flashed fiercely.  “Of course not!  Don’t you see, Morgan?  That’s the whole point!  That’s what makes this situation as bad as it can possibly be!  I’m the only thing she lacks now!  I’m the ‘maiden of perfect purity’—or at least that’s what she thinks!  That’s why my mom took me away from Santa Piedra in the first place—to keep her from finding me!  That’s why I told you that I would never ever come back to the Sidhe!  Not as long as I lived!  And now—here I am!”

Morgan could think of nothing to say.

“No,” she continued.  “Semeon’s words did not make me feel better.  They made me angry.  They made me afraid.  As I stood there in front of the Fir Bolg, I started shaking from head to toe.  The next thing I knew, I was yelling at poor Eochy.  I turned on him and said, ‘Why in the world did you bring me here, you foolish little man?  Don’t you see what a terrible mistake you’ve made?  You might as well drop me off right on her doorstep!  It’s all over, and she’s won!’”

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Eny’s Story, Part 2

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Eny continued:

“I took one small step, then another.  My feet didn’t stumble or bump into anything, so I kept going.  I stretched out my left hand and felt nothing but air.  I reached out with my right hand and touched something rough and solid.  ‘That’s good,’ I thought.  ‘If I stay close to the wall, it will guide me.’  So, running my fingers along that cold, stony surface, I pushed ahead slowly, taking one hesitant step at a time.

“After a while, I came to a place where I stepped off a short ledge and lost my balance.  Luckily, I fell sideways against the wall—otherwise I would have pitched forward and tumbled down a long flight of stairs in the darkness.  Far, far away, about a mile below me—at least that’s how it appeared—was a faint pinpoint of light.  Keeping my right hand braced against the wall, I began to descend the stairs, inching my way closer and closer to that tiny dim star in the distance.

“Down, down I went, lower and lower, deeper and deeper.  And all the while the point of light kept growing.  Soon it got so big that it looked more like a hole than a pinpoint, and then the light shining through it grew brighter and began to glimmer along the rough surface of the rock.

“By the time I reached the bottom, I could see that I was inside a large, narrow cavern with a high ceiling and steep dripping walls.  Straight in front of me was an oval-shaped opening with broad daylight beyond.  I jumped down off the last stair and stepped outside.

“I was standing half in water, half in damp sand at the top of a wide strip of pebble-strewn beach.  The air was pungent with the smell of sea salt.  Behind me was a tall cliff of weathered brown stone, riddled with holes and grottos.  The whole place looked so much like the western shore of La Punta Lira that I thought I was in Santa Piedra.

“‘I’m home!’ I laughed as I went skipping down towards the water’s edge.  ‘Eochy has sent me home!’  But I hadn’t gone far before I began to notice that something was terribly wrong.

“As I went along, I realized that the pebbles on the ground didn’t glitter and shine in the sunlight the way I thought they should.  They were all dull and dingy and gray; and when I bent down to touch one of them, my fingers came away black with soot.  It was like there had been a huge fire, or maybe an explosion of some kind, along that stretch of the shore.  I looked up and down the beach, trying to figure out what it meant.

“That’s when it hit me that I wasn’t in Santa Piedra at all.  Out beyond the surf I could see a big hump of rock sticking up out of the ocean.  You know as well as I do that there isn’t any rock like that off the coast of La Punta Lira.  It only took me a moment to realize what I was looking at:  Rachra, the island that stands about a mile out to sea off the strand of Luimneach.  I was in the Sidhe again.

“I turned back up the beach, rounded the foot of the cliff, and trudged inland over the blackened stones.  I walked in what I thought was the direction of Semeon’s Dun, the village where I had once lived with Rury and Liber and Anust.  But there was no sign of my friends.  Everywhere I looked the land was desolate.  Every inch of ground was trampled and torn and charred.  The farther I went, the stronger grew my conviction that something horrible had happened to the Fir Bolg.

“My head was dizzy and I had a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach by the time I reached the spot where the dun used to stand.  There was nothing there—just a huge pit filled with slag and black clods and lumps of rock and charcoal.  The hills all around were scorched and bare.  The green meadows had been reduced to a crackling gray stubble.  In place of the sweet fruit orchards and fragrant pine forests where Anust and I used to walk in the afternoons stood endless columns of blackened sticks, bare against the sky.  I covered my face and turned away.

“Without knowing where I was going or why, I headed into the foothills of Benn Mellain, up towards the place where the stream of Inber Colpa flows through an upland valley just below the highest heights.  On every side the parched and shriveled highlands were covered with the bloated and stinking corpses of half-burnt sheep and goats.  All the folds and sheepcotes of the Fir Bolg herdsmen were gone, their huts burnt to the ground, their hedges and drystone walls demolished.  Every last vestige of their way of life had been scoured from the face of the land.  I was crying by the time I came among the shadows of the steep dells and rocky clefts of the mountains.  That’s when I heard it again …”

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Eny’s Story, Part 1

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Eny drew a long breath.  “It’s like this,” she said.

And then, without omitting a single detail, she proceeded to fill him in on all the strange things that had been happening to her since she’d moved to Hollywood.

She told him about the lanky homeless man on the bus and the quirky little pianist at the Lord’s Lighthouse.  She recounted her conversation with the mysterious pawn shop proprietor and described her amazement at seeing Simon Brach’s fiddle in the window.  She spoke of her frightening encounter with the crow and her discovery of the little square hole high up in the wall under the freeway overpass.

At last she came to the events of that sultry October night when her mother went out to pick up Aunt Grania and there came an unexpected knock at the apartment door.

“That was the best evening I’d had in a long time,” she said.  “I spent it writing poetry and getting reacquainted with my fiddle.  I rediscovered my music.  I felt happy and confident and really, really good inside for the first time in months.  So when that knock came—well, it’s hard to explain, but somehow opening the door seemed like the right thing to do.  It just felt right.  Even though my mom had warned me so many times not to do it.”

“Who did you expect to see on the doorstep?” asked Morgan.

She tucked a strand of coppery hair behind her ear and looked thoughtful.  “I’m not sure.  I had been hearing a voice that night.  A voice from the past.  Don’t look at me like that—I’m not crazy!  It was a good voice.  A safe voice.  It called to me from outside my window.  Maybe I thought my dad would be standing at the door.  Maybe I was hoping you might be with him.  I don’t really know.  Perhaps I wasn’t thinking anything.  Maybe it was intuition.”

“So you opened the door.  What then?”

“Nobody was there.  At least I didn’t see anybody.  But then, as I was looking around, I felt someone grab me from behind.  I tried to scream but couldn’t because there was a hand over my mouth.  After that I must have fainted because I don’t remember anything at all except blackness until I woke up and saw who it was that had grabbed me.”

Morgan was on the edge of his seat.  “And?”

“You’re not going to believe this, Morgan.  Then again, maybe you will.  After all, we’re in the Sidhe.”

“Go on.”

“Well—” she bent close to him—“it was Eochy!  Eochy of the Fir Bolg!  He was the little piano player I’d seen at the soup kitchen and in the pawn shop!”


“Yes.  And boy was I glad to see him!  I wanted to ask him where he was taking me, but he frowned and put a finger to his lips.  So I kept quiet and let him lead the way.

“The next thing I knew, we were underneath that big, dirty, echoey freeway overpass.  Quick as a cat, Eochy scrambled up onto the ledge.  Then he reached down, pulled me up beside him, and led me to the little square door in the wall.  I knew then that I hadn’t been mistaken:  he had disappeared inside that hole the day I followed him from the pawn shop.  But I didn’t have time to think about it just then, because as soon as we reached the door, he gripped me by the shoulders and pushed me through.

“It was very dark inside—darker than I would have believed possible.  I looked back to see if the little man was following me, but everything was pitch black.  I couldn’t even see the square opening I’d just stepped through.  It was gone—completely gone.  I was surrounded by thick gloom.  But when I turned around and faced forward again, I heard a voice at my ear saying, ‘This is the way.  Walk in it.’  So that’s what I did.

(To be continued …)



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Baldur the Bright,

Wise and good and kind,

Undone by mistletoe –

Fragrant kiss of death

That touched the cheek

And choked the breath

Of life and left thee withered, empty, blind:


How is it that such beauty, truth, and grace

Could fall to a prankster’s trick?

Do idle jests

Decree the falling of the stars,

Or test the right of sun and moon

To keep their place?


Did Judas laugh to see his joke

Played out?  To take the bribe

And plant the kiss?

Or was it with a smirk

He took a twist

Of rope,

Or on a snicker

That he choked?


A joke that cracked

The pillars of the years

And rent the veil of sky;

The thundered earth

Yawed and yawned

And gave birth to the dead,

While blind he pulled the world

About his ears.


But Bifrost’s brightness

Now in ruin lies,

And Gotterdammerung’s

A Present Truth.

The brood of Loki laugh to see thy youth

Gone ghostly gray

With darkness on thine eyes.


While Hela croaks

And Fenris gapes with jaws

Wide as all the world,

And the encircling Worm

Constricts his coils and takes

Yet one more turn

Round the raveling roots

Of Yggdrasil;


While Jotunheim and Niflheim

Swell with pride and cold,

While wraiths rise white-eyed

From the crumbling mold;

Even now the light above thy brow

Descends and makes its bed

In Hell.


A star upon the sea, thy burning pyre

Sinks at last,

Like hopes of dying souls.

The cold and purple ocean

Heaves and rolls,

Its silence huge above

The phoenix fire;


Till Lif and Lifthrasir

Jump from the heap

Of ash – the Second Adam

And His Bride –

Whom Witch nor Wolf

Nor Serpent can deride;

And rising in thy light,

They dance and leap.   







The Sword of Paracelsus: Baile Daoine Sidhe, Part 2

Sword & Stone 2 001

Never in his life had Morgan seen anything quite like the Tellach or Great Hall of Baile Daoine Sidhe.  From where he sat—on a bench at one of the trestle tables beside the fire-pit in the middle of the hall—the building seemed a veritable world within a world:  as long as a river, high as a mountain, wide as the boundless sea.

Wonder swelled his senses as he gazed at the noble fittings and furnishings of the hall:  the hearth of burnished bronze, the interminable rows of carved pillars, the shadowy galleries; the posts and beams hung with shields and spears, the harps and timbrels along the paneled walls, the lofty intertwining rafters painted every color of the rainbow.  From the open smoke holes in the high ceiling fell slanting shafts of smoky sunlight, while the ruddy glow of the fire and the torches in the wall-sconces cast long leaping shadows over the fragrant rush-strewn floor.

The place was empty when they arrived.  At one end of a long row of gleaming tables they found the ample leftovers of a generous meal:  wooden platters of roasted fowl, bowls of fruit, baskets of bread, silver pitchers of golden wine.  Without a word Baxter vaulted over a bench, shoved up to a table, and began stuffing himself as if he hadn’t eaten in a week.  But Morgan took Eny by the arm and drew her down to the far end of the board.

“You have no idea what it’s like for me to see you again,” he said.

She responded with a smirk.  “Do you suppose I don’t have any feelings?”

“That’s not what I meant.  It’s just that—”

“Morgan,” she interrupted, bending forward and peering straight into his face, “what in the world are you doing here?”  Her blue eye gleamed brightly as she said it.

He glared back.  “Shouldn’t I be asking you the same question?”

“This isn’t my first time in the Sidhe.”

“So?  Do you realize your mom and dad are frantic?  The whole LAPD is looking for you!”

She looked down at the bench.  “It wasn’t my idea.”

“Do you think it was mine?”

“All I know is that you’ve been trying for weeks to find a way into the Otherworld!  You wrote letters begging me to help you.”

“You’re right,” Morgan nodded.  “But when it happened, it wasn’t because I made it happen.  It just did.  And it’s a good thing.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Why not?”

“You know why.”

“I know why you think so.  But this isn’t all about you, Eny.”

She looked offended.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Stealing a glance at Baxter, he leaned closer and lowered his voice.  “My dad’s here.  I’m certain of it!”

“What?  Where did you get such a crazy idea?”

“It’s not crazy.  My mom told me once that he was taken.  Just like you.”


“So who do you think took him?”

Eny didn’t answer.

“You know as well as I do,” pressed Morgan.  “Madame Medea.  The Morrigu.  After everything that’s happened, how could you not know?”

“You’re jumping to conclusions.  Your dad disappeared a long time ago.”

“What difference does that make?  He’s here and I know it!  My Grandma told me.  She said she’d seen him ‘under the ground.’  Those were her very words.  She said he’s been calling for me.”

“What does your Grandma know about it?”

“Don’t ask me to explain.  Grandma may be weird and spacey, but she knows.  She sees things.  Like you.”

Her cheeks colored.  Taking this as a hopeful sign, he plunged ahead.

“I didn’t believe it at first, but now I do.  And the more I think about it, the more it all adds up.  The Morrigu had good reasons for taking my dad.”  He dropped his voice again.  “He had information about the Stone of Destiny.”

Eny stared.  “Who told you that?”

“Rev. Alcuin.  That’s the short answer, anyway.  My dad was working on a theory that the Philosopher’s Stone and Lia Fail and the Holy Grail are all just different names for the same thing.”

Her eyes glittered.  “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“For one thing, I never got the chance.  For another, I wasn’t sure.  It was all hypothetical at first.  Just ideas based on my dad’s notes.  Stuff written in old books.  But now I’ve got some real hard evidence.  And that’s why I had to get to the Sidhe somehow!  To find him!”  He paused.  “And you too.”

From the other end of the table came the chomping and slurping sounds of Baxter’s enthusiastic repast.

“What’s wrong with you two?” he said, looking up from a plate of roast duck and wiping his greasy chin on his sleeve.  “Cut the sweet talk and dig in!”  He winked, grinned, and went back to eating.  Morgan scowled.

“So what about him?” said Eny, inclining her head in Baxter’s direction.

“You know I didn’t plan that part!” Morgan answered.  “It was an accident.  Like I said, we were out on La Punta Lira, at the old hotel, and—”

“But why?  And since when did you start hanging around with Baxter?”

“I don’t hang around with Baxter.  I was looking for something.  I can’t go into it right now.  He followed me without being invited.  He seems to pop up everywhere lately.”

Eny frowned.  “Weird.”

“Tell me about it!  Anyway, I was minding my own business when he came along.  Then the elevator cable broke and I had to try to fish him out of the shaft.  After that it got really strange.  Webs and strings of light.  Clouds and birds and ships and a long, long fall.  Don’t ask me to explain.”

“You don’t have to,” she murmured.

“Next thing I knew, we were out there!  In the middle of that mess!  You know the rest.”

For several moments Eny was silent.  Then, glancing down at his waist, she asked, “What’s in the long blue bundle?”

Morgan felt the blood rush into his face.  “Blue bundle?”

“The one under your belt!” she laughed.  “Kind of hard to miss, isn’t it?”

All at once Morgan became aware that Baxter’s keen eye was upon him.  “It’s a tool,” he whispered, shifting uneasily in his seat.  “A sort of crow-bar.  I needed it for my investigation.  At the old hotel.  I’ll tell you later.”

She glared at him.

“And now that I’ve told you how I got here,” he continued before she could get a word in edgewise, “what about you?  What’s your story?”

Eny sighed and shook her head.  “I’m sorry, Morgan.  I’m not trying to be contrary.  But this is a dangerous place.  Dangerous for all of us.  Still—”  She paused.  “Much as I hate to admit it, somehow I do get the feeling that you’re meant to be here.  So I suppose I ought to tell you what’s been going on.  But you better get comfortable.  It could take a while.”

He leaned back against the table and grinned at her.

“I’m ready,” he said.  “And it looks like Baxter’s just getting started on dessert.”

Sunset 001




The Sword of Paracelsus: Baile Daoine Sidhe, Part 1

SOP Poster 001

In an instant Morgan was off the horse, on the ground, and running for all he was worth.

“Eny!” he cried, pushing past a tall Danaan man in an embroidered blue tunic and a dark-haired woman carrying a small child.  “You are here!”

She turned at the sound of his voice.  Oblivious to the stares he was attracting, Morgan shoved through the crowd, elbowed his way straight up to her, and took her by the hand.  “Something told me you would be!  I didn’t know for sure, but I kept thinking—”

Gently Eny drew back and studied him at arm’s length.

“Morgan!” she said softly, a troubled look in her eyes.  “How in world—?”  Then, frowning as she caught sight of Baxter, “And what’s he doing here?”

“Don’t worry.  It’s all right.  I’ve made it at last!  You won’t believe what we’ve been through, Eny!  It was just like you said!  We were out on La Punta Lira, and there was this old elevator, and—”

But before he could get another word out, someone seized him from behind, bound his hands tightly, and began dragging him away.  In the same instant a cry rang out, and Morgan, twisting in his bonds, looked round to see one of the Danaan soldiers yanking Baxter to the ground and lashing his arms to his sides with a thin silver cord.

“What are you doing?” cried Eny, running up and grasping the warrior by one of his flowing scarlet sleeves.

“Pardon, young mistress,” answered a grim voice at Morgan’s ear—the voice of the horseman who had carried him into the Baile.  “We found them among the Fomor.  They must give account of themselves before the Ard-Fer.”

“There’s no need!” she said.  “I know them!”

The horseman cast a doubtful sidewise glance at Morgan.

“This one’s my best friend,” Eny explained.  “And the other—well, he went to school with me.”

The rider regarded her with a raised eyebrow.

“In the Overworld,” she explained.

The Danaan bowed.  Without any further questions he signaled to his comrade to release Baxter.  “Forgive me, young master,” he said as he untied Morgan’s hands.  “A friend of Eithne cannot be without honor among the Tuatha De Danann.”

Chafing his wrists, Morgan looked up tentatively into the man’s face and nodded meek assent.  The warrior reminded him strongly of Simon Brach—or Ollamh Folla—as he had appeared in his transformed state.  The long chin, the noble nose, the steely blue eyes, the flaxen hair under a cap of burnished bronze:  every detail carried his thoughts back to that night of nights when the old janitor stood transfigured before them on the stairs of St. Halistan’s tower.  The very memory of so much light and glory caused him to drop his gaze and avert his face.  If only Simon were with us now, he thought.

“I’ll take them to the Tellach,” Eny offered as the horseman’s companion approached with Baxter.  “You can send someone to look after their needs.  But first—”

“First,” said Baxter’s solemn attendant, lifting a hand for silence, “we will stand to hear the keening.  Not without cost have these two been snatched from the field of death.”

Even as he spoke the great gates of Baile Daoine Sidhe swung open a second time.  Three white horses, caparisoned in scarlet and silver, cantered in beneath the battlements.

The horse on the right carried a tall warrior in red with a round white shield and a red spear that glinted like fire in the sun.  The steed on the left bore a second horseman robed in blue and holding a naked sword in his right hand.  But the horse in the middle had no living rider.  Instead, a long bronze shield lay along its back from neck to rump, and upon the shield was stretched an unmoving shape wrapped in a black shroud.

Slowly the riders proceeded to the center of the open common, the crowd drawing back as they advanced.  Dismounting, they dropped their weapons, lifted the shield and its silent burden from the horse’s back, and laid it upon the ground.  Immediately a woman burst forth from the crowd and flung herself upon the body, her long red hair falling across the black shape in a coppery mass.  At that, a shrill, unearthly wail went up from the gathered people.  Morgan felt the skin crawl on the back of his neck.

“What’s happening?” he said, gripping Eny by the arm.

“One of the riders has fallen,” she answered.  Then, quietly, she added, “While saving you and Baxter from the Fomorians.”

Morgan winced.  As he watched, the red-haired woman rose up on her knees and tore her outer garment to shreds.  Then she raised her hands, lifted her voice, and chanted a lament in high, shrill tones that cut him to the heart:


    Grief it is to me, fair-haired Iolladh,

    You to be slain by the Fomor! 

    A pity to all the Baile,

    You to be dead!

    A good fight you made

     By the banks of the bright stream.


    Fair of body and stout of heart 

    Was my husband, my brother, my spouse.   

    My life, my heart, now fallen in the dust. 

    Me have they killed killing you. 


The voice ceased.  The wails of the crowd tapered off and fell still.  The red-haired woman slumped over the body of her husband, her back heaving with sobs, until the two horsemen raised her gently and led her aside.  Then others lifted the shrouded form and carried it away.

A long silence followed as the crowd dispersed.  After a while Eny touched Morgan’s arm and inclined her head towards a grand, steeply roofed wooden building on the far side of the grassy square.  “Follow me,” she said.  “You can rest and get something to eat over there.”

“Finally!” exclaimed Baxter, licking his lips and rubbing his hands.  But as Eny led the way across the common, he bent close to Morgan’s ear and whispered, “Where the heck are we, Izaak?  And what’s your girlfriend doing here?”

“Shut up, Baxter,” said Morgan.  “She’s not my girlfriend.”

(To be continued …)



Books 001

“Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent.  The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into – what else? – another piece of news.  Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence:  the news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.”

—  Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death


“Politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.”

— Frank Zappa