The Sword of Paracelsus: The Ultimatum, Part Two

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Another song?” moaned Baxter as the bard returned to his harp.

“Quiet!” hissed Morgan.  “The food isn’t ready yet.  Besides, you can’t just order these people around like the waiters in your dad’s restaurant!  They have their own way of doing things!”

Baxter scowled.  “My dad’s got nothing to do with it.  I’m hungry, and I’m sick and tired of all this singing!”

“Well, I want to listen!”

And as Morgan spoke, the white-haired bard began to chant once more:


In that hall there standeth a bed

With silken sheets of red;

And in that bed there lieth a knight

Bleeding day and night.

And by that bed there standeth a Maid,

Weeping night and day;

And by that Maid there standeth a Stone …  


All at once the singer lifted his fingers from the harp-strings.  For a moment he sat motionless with his hands poised in the air, his mouth open, his eyes fixed on a point at the rear of the Tellach.  Every eye in the hall followed his gaze.  A muffled cry of surprise went up from every throat.  And then, with a great rustling and scuffling, the people stood apart, creating an aisle in the midst of the pressing throng.

As Morgan watched, Ollamh Folla threw back his purple cloak and strode down this open space to where two young maidens—one clad in green, the other in purest white—stood side by side beneath the flickering torches.  Upon reaching them he bowed, took the hand of the maiden in white, and kissed it.  Then he turned and, with slow and stately step, led her back up the aisle as the harper played a strong and solemn march.

Baxter’s eyes were bugging from his head.  “What in the—?”

But Morgan wasn’t listening.  All in an instant the stunning truth had hit him:  the girl in the white dress was Eny!  His very own Eny—his mystic sister and closest childhood companion!  He had known her all his life, and he had always considered her his best and dearest friend.  But never before had he seen her looking quite like this!

On she came, half-concealed in a halo of unearthly luminescence.  The reddish tint in her hair flashed like fire in the dancing torchlight.  Her cheeks were ruddy.  Her skin glowed like the skin of a summer peach.  The sky blue iris of her left eye shone with all the living brilliance of an opal.  Yes, it was Eny without a doubt.  But in this magic moment she had become something more than his friend and next-door neighbor.  She was a princess, a bride, a marvel past all description.  Morgan was completely overwhelmed at the sight of her.  And to make his confusion complete, Ollamh Folla was leading her straight towards him and offering him her hand!

Drops of cold perspiration broke out on his hot forehead.  His head began to swim and an uncontrollable flutter arose in his stomach as she drew near.  Glancing in Baxter’s direction, he saw that the other boy’s jaw had dropped to the level of his collar.  In a desperate quest for reassurance he turned and sought the faces of the Fir Bolg.  All of them were smiling and nodding in the most unsettling way.

“My friends,” cried Ollamh Folla when he and Eny had reached the foot of the platform.  “Here is the other hero of the Battle for the Stone!  The girl with Eithne’s eyes!  The Maiden foretold in the songs of our poets and prophets!”

A roar of acclamation went up from the crowd.  It shook the beams of the ceiling and rattled the shields and weapons along the walls.  “Eithne!  Eithne!” shouted the people.  Those sitting on the benches pounded the tables with their cups.  Those standing along the aisle clapped their hands and stamped their feet.

“You look amazing!” Morgan stammered in her ear as he took her hand.

“Thanks,” she said, blushing amid the clamor.  “But the Stone was lost.”

“Don’t worry,” he whispered earnestly, pressing her hand in his.  “We’re together again.  That’s what counts.  We’re in the Sidhe, and we are going to get the Stone back!  I just know it!”

“And now to meat!” shouted Ollamh Folla over the cheers of the gathered Danaans.  And with that scores of serving-men in red-and-white striped tunics emerged from beneath the kitchen’s deep stone archway bearing steaming tureens and silver platters heaped high with fish and fowl.  Girls followed with baskets of bread and flagons of mead and ale.  The bard stepped aside as a troop of blue-clad pipers bounded to the top of the platform.  Immediately they launched into a set of dance tunes as lively as a bubbling brook in spring.

And so the merry feast began.  An hour it continued, then two, then three, while torches flared and pitchers were passed and foaming cups went up and down the board.  Far into the night the people ate and drank and laughed while the rich voices of the singers echoed off the paneled walls and splintered like shards of gold among the smoky rafters.  From time to time the musicians and minstrels took up their instruments and played yet another round of tunes.  Then the children danced in long lines, weaving deftly in and out amongst the attendants with their heavy trenchers and bowls.

Through all of this Morgan sat like one who sits in a golden dream.  He was wrapped in a cloud of love and warmth and hopes of sure success.  Though he did not fully understand his own feelings, he knew that they were strong and heady and intensely pleasant.

His place was at the head of the table—right between Ollamh Folla and Eny.  He ate but sparingly, for never once during the meal did he let go of Eny’s hand.  Only dimly and in the most marginal way was he aware of the dark glances that Baxter, between mouthfuls of pork pasty and roast fowl, kept darting at him from across the board.  He never noticed that the other boy’s eyes were drawn constantly and incessantly to the rumpled, bulging bag that hung at his waist beside the jeweled and gilded Danaan sword.

At last Ollamh Folla rose to the platform and signaled for silence.  A hush descended upon the hall as the golden-haired King stood there before the people, hands at his sides, eyes half-closed, face tipped up towards the starlight that glimmered through the smoke holes in the ceiling.

At last he opened his mouth to speak; but before he could draw breath or utter a sound, there arose a din at the rear of the hall that caused every head to turn.  The doors of the Tellach crashed open.  A sentry with a long red spear in his hand came clattering down the center aisle at a full run.  He did not stop until he stood directly in front of Ollamh Folla.  There he dropped to one knee, pounded the butt of his lance three times upon the floor, and looked up into the King’s face.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Ultimatum, Part One

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Even as Morgan and Baxter were entering the hall with Ollamh Folla, Eny was bearing up bravely under the fawning ministrations of the women:  of Liber, who washed her; of Crucha, who rubbed her dry and wrapped her in soft linen; and of Anust, her special friend, who anointed her with scented oils and combed out her coppery hair.  But when it came time to dress for the feast, the female Fir Bolg stood demurely aside and left her in the care of a slender, dark-haired maid of the Tuatha De Danann.

“I’m afraid we haven’t met,” said Eny as the Danaan girl glided into the chamber with a gown of snow-white silk rustling on her arm.  “My name’s Eny.”

Eithne,” smiled the maiden, her black eyes flashing under long, dark lashes.  “I know who you are.  I am called Brighid.”

Eny watched her closely.  Her movements were like those of a shadow as she swept noiselessly across the floor, her hair falling over her shoulders and the back-lacings of her green kirtle in a rich mahogany cascade.  Though she seemed no more than a year or two her senior, Eny knew that Brighid might easily be centuries old in the reckoning of the Sidhe.  The age of the Danaan folk shows itself mainly in their eyes, and hers were as deep as ancient wells.

“Brighid,” murmured Eny.  “It’s a pretty name.”

“I’m glad you think so.  Now, on your feet and hands in the air.”

Eny obeyed.

“Brighid,” she said as the shimmery white gown slipped over her head like a spring shower, “do you know what a tomboy is?”

The girl bent over her shoulder and smiled into her face.  “No.  Will you tell me?”

“It’s me.  Whatever else I may be, ‘tomboy’ is a big part of who I am.”

“And what does it mean?”

“Partly I that like fiddling and fishing and slinging stones better than playing with dolls.  But mostly it means that I really, really don’t like dressing up in frilly stuff like this.”

“I see.  Stand straight, please.”  Gently Brighid drew her up by the shoulders and began lacing the dress tightly behind her back.

“Isn’t there anything else I can wear?”

“Not tonight.”

“Why not?”

“Because tonight you are being presented before the King.”

“King Lugh of the Long Hand?”  Eny grunted as the girl pulled the lacings tight.

“I am afraid not,” sighed Brighid.

Eny turned to look at her.  “But what other king is there?”

“Ollamh Folla.  You know him—do you not?”

“Simon!” gasped Eny.  “Simon’s the king?”

“He did not know it himself until he arrived in the Baile.  He has only just come from the Morrigu’s dungeons.”

So that’s why the Stone roared! thought Eny.  “But what happened to King Lugh?”

“He fell in the last fight but one.  On Tory’s shore, near Dun Bhabir.  Ollamh has pledged himself to serve the people until he can be healed.”

“Then he isn’t dead?”

“He lives yet, but his wounds still bleed.  They will until the Maiden, the Stone, and the Key are reunited.  That is one reason you are here.”

“Eochy didn’t tell me that!”  Eny peered deep into Brighid’s dark eyes.  “You’re talking about the ‘Maiden of Perfect Purity,’ aren’t you?”

“Yes.  About Eithne.  About you.”

“But doesn’t anybody understand?” said Eny.  “Don’t they realize what they’re doing?  The Morrigu is already winning, and this will only help her!”

Brighid shook her head.  “Her power is great, yet not as great as it might become.”

“But that’s just it!  Can’t you see?  I don’t really know what it means to be the ‘Maiden of Perfect Purity.’  But I do know that the Morrigu thinks I’m her!  And once she catches me we’ll all be in big trouble!  She’ll be holding all the cards!  She’ll use me somehow to tap into the power of Lia Fail.  And that will be the end!”

Brighid smiled and smoothed Eny’s hair.  “You are mistaken.”

“I don’t see how.”

“Then let me tell you.  In the first place, while the Sidhe endures, Ollamh Folla and the people of Danu will never let the Morrigu catch you.  You are safe here—provided, of course, that you remain within the palisade of the Baile.

“In the second place, even if she were to possess both the Maiden and the Stone, still the Morrigu could not prevail:  for the Maiden and the Stone are only two corners of the Triad.  There is a Third Angle—a missing Key that she cannot possess.  It was lost long ago and she does not know where to find it.”

“A Third Angle?” said Eny, twisting her head around as Brighid tied the laces at the nape of her neck.

“No more time for talk.  We are expected.  Come.”


*  *  *  *  *

(To be continued …)

Christmas Eve: Gower Street, 1983

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Silent, silver, aslant, the rain

Washes sky-dark sidewalks.

The gray sky weeps;

All hushed, the city passes

            In the street below.


Umbrellas cluster shadow black

Over sheeted pavements.

Headlights, tail-lights,

Blood-red, ghost-white,

Bend and ripple in the deeps

            Of the street’s dark mirror.


Cold, cracked comfort, brick and stone,

Rest the halt and hunching stalkers,

Walkers, derelict, alone,


            In the street below.

Gray faces haunt shadow-scrawled corridors,

And night draws near.


But silent in my room a single lamp

Lights this little corner without presumption;

And within the church’s thick rain-stained brick

The heart glows warm and red.

Here and there

Beneath the world’s gray crust

Quiet peace takes refuge,

Unseen, unassuming.

Enclaves of joy humbly hold out,

Unconquered, unyielding,

Under the rawness, rain, and night.

Hope haunts the catacombs;

Salvation goes underground.

Against all odds

The kingdom drops into the earth,

A grain of wheat upon the cold, hard, clayey ground.


Small and weak, we few insanely sing

Of life and hope and heaven’s newborn king.

We light our candles as the dark shuts down

And wait the coming day.

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To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power.  To have shoes is a good thing; to be able to walk without them is a better.

– George MacDonald, Donal Grant 

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


Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist and poet, famously touted the virtue of self-reliance.  Paul the apostle, Pilgrim that he was, took a somewhat different tack:  he recommended self-sufficiency within the context of reliance upon Another.

The Greek term Paul used to convey his thought was autarkeia, a compound of autos, “self”, and arkes, “sufficient, enough.”  The word occurs, among other places, in 1 Timothy 6:6, where it is commonly rendered as contentment:  “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Interestingly, the English adjective content (“satisfied”) is directly related to the noun con’-tent – “the stuff inside.”  Both words are derived from the verb to contain.  Contentment is wealth; and the wealth of contentment consists in the mind-boggling realization that (the claims of advertisers notwithstanding) everything I could ever possibly want or need I already possess within myself – not because I am infinite, omniscient, or omnipotent in my own right, but because, as a disciple of Christ, “I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40).

It was this radical truth that enabled Paul to tell the Christians at Corinth, “All things are yours:  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come – all are yours.  And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).  On the basis of this same internal reality, the apostle could also boast with reference to himself, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content (autarkes):  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 411-13).

In his timeless novel War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy describes how his protagonist, the loveable but inept Pierre Bezukhov, is taken prisoner by Napoleon’s forces after stumbling wide-eyed through the horrors of the battlefield at Borodino.  For all his naïveté, Pierre possesses a rare wisdom and insight; for upon finding himself detained and shackled by the French soldiers, he never thinks to fret or fume.  Instead, he laughs out loud.  With unfeigned wonder he looks up at the night sky and declares,  “The soldier did not let me pass!  They took me and shut me up!  They hold me captive!  What, me?  Me?  My immortal soul?  Ha-ha-ha!  Ha-ha-ha!”  And with that, says Tolstoy, Pierre “laughed till tears started into his eyes.”

And why not?  After all, when a man possesses all things – when the world, life, death, things present, and things to come are all his, and when even the stars twinkling in the heavens make up part of the internal vastness he has in mind whenever he says “I” – how is it possible for any mere sergeant-at-arms to take all of that and shut it up inside a shed boarded over with planks?  No wonder Pierre smiled at the thought.

Somehow in his good-natured simplicity, Pierre – a true Pilgrim in spite of his pampered aristocratic upbringing – had laid hold of an eternal truth.  Somehow, he had grasped the meaning of autarkeia.  He knew that it makes no difference what one owns, what one has accomplished, or how much wealth and stature one has achieved.

He understood that, in God, it is enough to be – no matter how or where.

The Sword of Paracelsus: Fragarach, Part 4

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The harper let his hands drop to his sides. He swung around to face Morgan. “Thus ends the Song of Lia Fail and Fragarach, the fabled Sword of Lugh.”

Morgan was confused. Fragarach? he thought. His hand crept towards the shapeless bolg dangling at his waist. He touched it, ran his fingers over it, and felt for the smooth roundness of the golden pommel lying just beneath the softness of the leather. I thought it was called Azoth.

He glanced up hesitantly at the singer. “Can I ask you something?”

The old bard seemed taken aback. He arched his bushy eyebrows. “And what is that?”

“Your song was definitely about a sword in a stone,” said Morgan. “But it doesn’t seem to be the same ‘Sword in the Stone’ I had in mind.”

Ollamh Folla gave the boy a sidewise glance. “You might be surprised,” he said.

Morgan blinked and swallowed. “Really? In that case, I’m curious. What were the precise words that Lugh engraved upon the sword?”

“The song uses poetic language,” Ollamh explained. “The actual inscription, in the Danaan tongue, was Fragarach: i loingseach: rannaid ocus cenglaid. ‘Fragarach. In exile. To divide and to bind.’”

There was a lump at the back of Morgan’s throat. “And exactly how—if you don’t mind my asking—was it written? I mean, was it spelled out in letters that I could understand?”

The harper looked amused. “Hardly! Ollamh Folla knows as well as I do that the Sword of Lugh was inscribed with the ancient script of Ogma, first scribe and poet of the Danaans. Let me show you.” And kneeling, he traced with his finger in the dust two long, straight lines crossed at intervals by a series of vertical and diagonal hatch-marks.

Morgan leaned forward and put his nose over the edge of the platform. For a long moment he stared hard at the strange markings.

He could have drawn them himself from memory.

They were the same cross-hatched lines he had puzzled over night after night in his dungeon study while staring bleary-eyed at the Sword of Paracelsus.

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The Sword of Paracelsus: Fragarach, Part 3

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Without another word the old man seated himself at his harp. Then he tucked back his flowing sleeves, touched the silver strings, and lifted his voice:


A riddle in a song I sing:

One in two and two in one;

The tie that cuts, the edge that binds;

A severing that in union finds

A narrow bed where parting rivers run.


I sing the circle of the earth;

Within its girth, of corners three,

Three points upon the outer rim

Scattered wide and shadowed dim

Where grasping hands reach not, nor eyes may see.


The Satisfaction of the world;

The Maiden pure with piercing eye;

The Key that in the lock she turns;

The Triangle that yet returns

Ere Lia Fail sets out beneath the sky.


Lia Fail? thought Morgan as Baxter groaned and heaved a weary sigh. But the song was flowing on and gaining speed:


From Falias came Lia Fail;

The Cauldron Black from Murias;

And Joseph’s Spear that dripped with blood

From Finias over the heaving flood;

But Goban forged Lugh’s Sword in Gorias.


And Lugh, himself of doleful fate,

By Goban fostered in the West,

A craftsman of great skill was found,

A King beloved and renowned,

When o’er the roaring Stone he came to rest.


King Lugh! Morgan said to himself. Lugh of the Long Hand! I’ve heard that name before! 


Then Ollamh, seer wise and grim,

Darkened picture-dreams with speech:

Fleets and armies thick as rain;

The sons of Miled out from Spain;

Hungry birds upon the barren beach.


Seven days in council hall

He swayed them all with uttered thunder:

“The Stone of Destiny,” he said,

“The pillow stone of Jacob’s head

We dare not leave to roving thieves as plunder.”


I remember this, too. Morgan glanced up at Ollamh Folla. It was Simon—I mean Ollamh—who told the others to send Lia Fail away.


But Morrigu, in cunning shrewd,

Resisted Ollamh’s counsel keen

And, leagued with giants, swore to fight

The Danaoi by day and night

That, seizing Lia Fail, she might be queen.


Thus, when the Stone was set adrift  

To keep it from the invading horde,

Then Lugh invented artifices

To save it from Anand’s devices:

A plan he forged around his flashing sword.


“Stone of stone and steel of steel,

Flesh of flesh and bone of bone—,”

So spoke the King, “—thus Fragarach,

My answering blade, give and take back:

The Stone in thee, and thou within the Stone.


“Divide thy powers unto her;

Let her virtue live in thee:

One in two and two in one

While unending ages run,

Ever bound across the sundering sea.”


Then, having spoken, Lugh unsheathed

The blue-edged sword that Goban made:

He heaved it up above the Stone;

He thrust it down and drove it home:

No seam could they discern twixt face and blade.


Lugh’s sword ? thought Morgan. That’s the Sword in the Stone?  But the bard’s song was drawing swiftly to a close.


Then Sword in Stone and Stone in Sword

They set afloat upon the deep

To seek the Isle of utter peace,

Where ends the world, where strivings cease,

Where suns go down at end of day to sleep.


But ere he let them drift abroad

Lugh graved the riddle of his mind

Into the steel: “Here Fragarach,

The deathless blade of Ildanach

Goes forth in exile to divide and bind”—


Thus reads the riddle that I sing

Of one in two and two in one;

Of three together intertwined,

Of Sword and Stone and Maid combined

Beyond the sun while endless ages run.


(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Fragarach, Part 2

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With a loud huzzah, Rury, Eochy and the rest of the Fir Bolg followed Ollamh down the steps to the main floor. Morgan gathered up his things and dashed after them.

“Finally!” he heard Baxter whispering in his ear. “Some real food at last!”

The light outside was fading fast. As they moved through the hall, long-haired girls in white dresses came alongside to light the way with flaming torches. Already the long tables were filling with noble guests: men dressed in bright tunics with white-banded swords at their belts; women in flowing robes, their bare arms flashing with gold rings; little children with garlands of fall flowers in their hair—purple asters, rust-hued chrysanthemums, red amaryllis.

And now the broken strains of a mournful melody came wafting over their heads. Looking up, Morgan caught sight of a thin, white-haired man in a voluminous black cloak playing a golden harp on a raised wooden platform. As the band approached, the music ceased and the old bard stood up beside his instrument.

“Greetings, Ollamh Folla!” he said in a soft, melodious voice. “Long live the King!”

King? thought Morgan as the cheers of the guests thundered through the hall.

“I thank you, Corpre,” responded Ollamh. “And I call upon you all to welcome to my esteemed guest”—here he took Morgan’s hand and raised it in his own—“Morgan Izaak, companion of Eithne, hero of the Battle for the Stone!”

At this another deafening roar shook the rafters. Morgan trembled at the sound of it. His cheeks burned and his mind reeled at the thought that Ollamh Folla, newly made King of the Tuatha De Danann—or so it seemed—was calling him, Morgan Izaak, a hero.

Failte, Morgan Izaak,” said the old harper, bowing low. “May I honor you with a song?”

Morgan was struggling to find his tongue. “Can you sing one about the Sword in the Stone?” he squeaked, hardly knowing what he said.

A hush fell on the hall.

“The Sword in the Stone?”

Morgan nodded. “You know,” he stammered. “Like the one in the story of King Arthur. You don’t know any of those songs, do you?”

The old man straightened up and peered down at the boy from beneath a pair of unruly white eyebrows. “Strangely enough,” he said, “I do.”

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Fragarach, Part 1

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Simon’s narrative at an end, everyone got up and hurried off to make preparations for the great feast. Rury took the two boys aside and explained that they were to accompany Simon and the Fir Bolg men to a spot set aside for their use on the upper level. Liber, meanwhile, guided Eny and the women to a private chamber towards the rear of the Tellach.

Just before the two groups parted company, Eny managed to nab a spare bolg from Rury and slipped it into Morgan’s hands. Nodding his thanks, Morgan reached under the table, retrieved the concealed sword, and discreetly thrust it into the mouth of the floppy bag. To his surprise and pleasure, it disappeared completely inside—blade, hilt, and pommel. Securing the flap with a thong, he tied the bolg to his belt and followed Simon and Rury up the steps to the raised gallery on the other side of the scarlet pillars.

Five tall Danaans were waiting for them there. Each of them had curled yellow hair hanging down to the shoulders. Each wore a flowing shirt of red, blue, or green silk and had a speckled cloak about his shoulders. They all had towels draped over their arms, and before them stood a big wooden vat banded with thick hoops of iron and filled to the brim with steaming water.

“Now off with those filthy things and into the tub,” said Simon. “There’s a time and a place for everything, and a high feast in the Great Hall is neither the time nor the place for dirty boys in ragged clothes.”

Me? Take a bath with him?” Morgan blushed and looked around for a way of escape.

Ragged?” protested Baxter. “These pants came from Saks!”

But the attendants were swift and efficient, and in the blink of an eye both boys were splashing in the water.

Once thoroughly soused, scrubbed, and dried, they were dressed in fresh suits of clothes: purple cloaks, white tunics, red waistcoats, and shoes of soft leather. To complete their outfits, each received a silver belt with a gold-hilted sword in a silver scabbard.

Baxter stood admiring his reflection in the surface of a polished bronze shield. First he turned this way, then that. Then he fluffed his hair, smoothed his coat, and preened like a peacock. At last he drew the sword, sheathed it, drew it again, and brandished it in the air.

Oh, brother! thought Morgan. But in his heart of hearts he had to admit that he understood what the other boy was feeling. He was, in fact, nearly bursting with the expectation of good things to come. A day or two ago (as he measured time) his cause had appeared hopeless. Yet now, in the blink of an eye, everything had changed. Here he was in the Sidhe, armed and decked out like hero! He was close—very close indeed—to the place where the enchantress was holding his father. It was only a matter of time now. He felt sure of it.

Catching a glimpse of his own reflection, he struck a pose and smiled. Like Baxter, he smoothed the folds of his rich cloak. Like Baxter, he readjusted his belt and ran his fingertips over the snowy sheen of his silken shirt. But unlike his companion, he did not complete the ritual by reaching for the hilt of the Danaan sword. Instead, he patted the lumpy leather satchel hanging at his belt. Nothing can stop me now, he thought.

Meanwhile, Baxter was still twirling the glittering sword above his head.  Twice he whirled it, then a third time. But his face changed as he lowered the blade and stooped to examine it in the light of a torch.

“I don’t get it,” he scowled, a cloud of disappointment shadowing his forehead. He turned and fixed his gaze upon the Danaan blade hanging at Morgan’s side. All at once a cold light dawned in his eyes. “Hey—,” he said slowly. “Whatever happened to—?”

“This way to the banquet!” interrupted a bold, cheery voice. And there before them stood Simon Brach, no longer a grizzled janitor but a resplendent Danaan Chief—the dashing, golden-haired, scarlet-cloaked Ollamh Folla.

(To be continued …)

Practical Politics

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When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this:  “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.”  Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy.  But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies.  What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen.  They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians.  Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was.  What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics.  I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election.  As a babe I leapt up on my mother’s knee at the mere mention of it.  No; the vision is always solid and reliable.  The vision is always a fact.  It is the reality that is often a fraud …

                                                 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The Sword of Paracelsus: Simon’s Tale, Part 3

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Dee!  Morgan had to grip the bench with both hands to keep from falling over.

“That’s when it all came back to me,” Simon went on.  “Dr. John Dee.  English mathematician, inventor, scholar, alchemist.  Lived a long while ago, as you people reckon it.  I had never known him personally, but I was quite familiar with his work.  In fact, there was a time when I used to keep pretty close tabs on him.  He was considered a ‘person of interest’ in the circles I moved in.  So I said to him, ‘You don’t mean the same John Dee who inherited the famous sword of Paracelsus, do you?’”

Morgan gulped and swallowed.  He could feel the blood draining away from his face.  But he kept his mouth closed.

“Well, that seemed to get his goat,” said Simon.  “He straightened up to his full six feet—the man was as tall and thin as a beanpole—and said, ‘What dost thou know of a sword, knave?’  To which I answered, ‘Not much.  What can you tell me?’”

“And what did he say?” blurted Morgan.

Simon eyed the boy closely.  “That’s the odd thing, Mr. Izaak.  Odd as far as I was concerned.  Because he seemed to be saying that the sword had been lost.  In his words, ‘It passed beyond my ken long years before I came to be imprisoned in this pit.’  After he said that, I couldn’t get him to say another word about it.

“Did the two of you ever make it through the wall?” Eny wanted to know.  “Is that how you got out of the dungeon?”

Simon shook his head.  “No, missy.  To the best of my knowledge, Dee is still there.  As for me, I got out in another way altogether.  Do you want to hear about it?”

“Yes, please!”

“Well, then.  Day after day we chopped and hacked away at the mortar and the blocks, but our progress was tedious and slow.  The wall was many courses thick, and we could only move forward one brick at a time.  After a while we started hearing sounds of tapping and chipping on the other side. That gave us hope for a while.  But nothing came of it.  Then one night, when we were both of us about as low as we could get, I had a dream.  Out of that dream I conceived a desperate plan.

“In my dream, I saw the stones of our prison wall dissolve like ice before a flame.  They melted away, leaving a hole the size of a church door.  On the other side I saw the solitary figure of a man.  There was a bright light behind him, so I couldn’t see his face.  He was nothing but a black silhouette against the glare.  He cried out in a loud voice, begging us to come over and help him.  But though he called again and again, I never moved an inch in his direction.  Dee, on the other hand, responded at once.  As I watched, he got up, walked through the hole, and stood beside the man.  Then I awoke.

“Now I remembered that John Dee was a great believer in visions and that sort of thing.  So I knew he’d listen to what I had to say about this dream.

“‘You will break through the wall,’ I told him.  ‘And when you do, someone will be waiting for you on the other side.  I don’t know who he is, but he needs you and you need him.  So you’ve got to finish what we’ve begun, and you’ve got do it alone, because I won’t be with you.  As I understand it, I’m not supposed to be with you.  I’m going away and you’re staying behind—that’s what the dream means.  But I can’t manage it without your help.  So here’s what I think we should do.’  He heard me out and agreed to do as I asked.

“That evening when the guard came with our food I wasn’t sitting by the wall pretending to be shackled as was my usual practice.  I was hiding behind the door with a length of broken chain in my hands.  Dee, meanwhile, was lurking in the shadows on the other side of the cell with his sharpened chisel.  We overcame the brute without much trouble—Fomorians, as Eochy can tell you, are none too smart.

“In the guard’s clothes and with his ring of keys I managed to make my escape.  That’s another long story.  At first Dee insisted on coming with me, but I reminded him of the message of the dream.  Then I promised that if I got safely away I’d come back and set him free.  We had a pretty stiff argument, but eventually I gained my point.

“Just as I was leaving a thought struck me.  I turned to him and said, ‘I seem to recall that the famous Dr. John Dee understood the speech of angels.’

“He said nothing, but merely gave me a sly look.  So I asked, ‘Can you tell me what deh-veev means?’

“At that a bitter smile—the only one I ever saw cross his features—raised the corners of his thin, dry mouth.  ‘Mayhap,’ he said.  ‘But since, as thou sayest, we are like to meet again, I will withhold my answer until thy return.’

“‘Fair enough,’ I replied.  And with that, I stepped into the passage, locked the door behind me, and slipped away.”

Simon fell silent.

“But why didn’t you just knock the guard over the head in the first place?” asked Morgan.

“Two reasons,” Simon answered.  “First, as I’ve already said, I knew the plan was desperate.  I was taking a big risk.  Getting out of the cell was pretty easy.  Getting out of the Morrigu’s Tower—well, that’s another matter.

“The other reason,” he went on, “is harder to explain, but far more important.  What it boils down to is this:  I’ve learned not to make a move until I get a word.  I’m always listening for it, but on this occasion I didn’t hear it until the dream came.  That’s when I knew what I had to do.”

As Simon concluded, Morgan saw Baxter approaching from the other end of the hall, a big wooden cup in his hand and a dazed expression on his pudgy round face.

“What’s going on?” he said, slurping his drink and gaping at the Fir Bolg.  “Who are the munchkins?”

“They’re not munchkins,” said Eny.  “They’re Bag People.  You’d better get used to them if you’re going to spend any time in this world.”

Bag People?  Like ‘Bag Ladies?’”  Baxter laughed.  “Look, I just came over to tell you that the kitchen help”—he hooked a thumb over his shoulder—“are making a big dinner.  They’re taking their sweet time about it, but the food looks good.  They said you guys should get ready.”

Eochy glared at him.  “A ‘dinner’ says he!  A grand Danaan banquet, say I!  A feast, by the beard of Erc!  To celebrate the return of Ollamh Folla!”

“Hush, man,” said Simon.  “The feast will be to honor another.”

“Whatever,” said Baxter.  “I think they’re going to start serving in about half an hour.  At least I hope so.”  He took another long pull at the cup and sauntered off again.

Morgan watched him go with a frown.

“If we’re here on your say-so,” he said to Simon, “how do you explain him?”

“I thought he was your guest!” Simon answered with a twinkle in his eye.

“Him?” said Morgan.  “No way!”

“In that case I can’t help you.  Haven’t had a word on that yet!”

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