“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 …)