The Sword of Paracelsus: Up And Away, Part 2

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“Hold on!” cried Baxter, hurriedly gathering his own things and stumbling to his feet.  “I’m coming with you!  Just give me a minute to get something to eat!”

But Morgan had no intention of waiting for Baxter.  Nor was he really interested in conferring with Ollamh Folla.  As it happened, he had not been entirely truthful with the Fir Bolg.  In his own mind he was convinced that he knew exactly where Eny was going and what she was up to.

Gathering up the folds of his cloak, he ran all the way from the long house to the main gates of the dun.

“Do you know the way to Tory Island?” he said, boldly approaching one of the sentries on guard.  “How long will it take me to get there?”

The tall Danaan frowned at him from under the silver brim and brass nose-guard of his scarlet-plumed helmet.  “You speak like a fool.  No one goes to Tory Island.  And no one leaves the Baile without the permission of the Ard Fer.  Not in time of siege and crisis.”

“What’s the Ard Fer?” asked Morgan.

“The High Chieftain!  The King!”

“Well, that’s okay, then,” said Morgan, taking another step forward.  “He’s a personal friend of mine.”

The guard scowled and lowered his brazen-tipped spear threateningly.  “We are at war, my young friend.  Danger lurks outside these gates.  The Morrigu’s minions walk at large.  Trouble us no more!”

Morgan hadn’t been anticipating this kind of opposition.  “You don’t understand,” he said.  “I’m Morgan Izaak—the one they’ve been calling a hero.  I’m just trying to …”

“Go!” said the warrior, advancing with drawn blade.  “And do not dare to come again unless accompanied by the King himself.  I do not think you will succeed in gaining his escort today.”

“Okay, okay!” said Morgan, backing away.  “I get the message!”

He withdrew about fifty paces and ducked behind a wicker-work fence at the edge of the open square.  Sooner or later somebody’s going to come in or go out, he thought, peering through the gaps in the weaving.  And when the gate opens, I’ll be waiting. 

But a long time passed—at least it felt like a long time—and nothing of the sort happened.  Meanwhile, a chill wind began to blow and a few clouds straggled across the sky.  Morgan shivered and pulled his cloak closer.

Soon he began to fear that Baxter might come looking for him any minute.  He must have had time to finish a five-course meal by now! he thought.  He was just wondering whether it might be better to go away and come back after dark when he noticed the old white-haired bard, his harp on his back, a bag in his hand, and a great fur-lined cape over his shoulders, approaching the two sentries.

As Morgan watched, the three men bent their heads together and conferred earnestly for a few minutes.  At length the sentries bowed and stood aside.  The bard took a few steps backward, tied his bag to his belt, and tightened the strap that secured the harp to his back.

Looks like I’m about to get my chance, thought Morgan.  He had read enough about harpers and minstrels—mainly in tales about King Arthur—to know they were traveling folk who rarely stayed long in one place.  He felt certain that this one was getting ready to leave the dun, so he took a firm grip of his own gear and prepared to make a dash for the gate.  They’ll open it any minute now.

But they didn’t.  Instead, as the guards glanced up, a sudden shadow fell from the sky.  Morgan followed their upward gaze, thinking that another cloud had crossed the sun, and was surprised to see a bright, glittering shape come sweeping over the top of the wooden palisade.  It was one of the Danaans’ flying ships:  a long-stemmed, high-prowed, carved and gilded vessel with a red-and-whited-striped sail.

The ship pulled up, hove to, and hovered above the square, heaving and rocking in the turbulent air as the wind gusted and sent its blue and green pennants streaming sideways from the tip of the tall mast.  In the next moment faces leaned down over the shield-lined gunwales.  Voices cried out above the rush of the rising wind.  Then a shining rope-ladder of glittering golden strands fell over the side of the vessel and came tumbling down until it touched the ground below.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Up And Away, Part 1

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Morgan blinked in the mote-speckled sunshine that came pouring in through the dormer window high in the thatched roof of the lodge.  Sitting up, he stretched luxuriously and gazed stupidly at the scattered gear and empty sleeping-mats that lay strewn across the floor, wondering why he and Baxter were the only ones still in bed.

He had retired for the night under the assumption that Eny simply needed some time to herself.  She had slipped away from the banquet table, he thought, because she wanted to be alone.  He knew her well enough to know that she craved solitude at all times, but especially when there was serious thinking to be done.  And the dark and threatening words of the Morrigu’s envoy had given everyone plenty to think about.

It was a rude awakening for him, then, when Rury and some of the other Fir Bolg suddenly burst into the sleeping chamber with the news that Eny was nowhere to be found.

“She never came back to the long house,” Liber said.  “Not all the night through.”

“She’s taken her things with her, she has,” added Semeon.

“Some of mine as well,” put in Rury, shaking his head.

Baxter, who had been snoring beside Morgan, sat up and rubbed his eyes, his face red, his sweaty hair a rumpled heap atop his head.  “What’s all the fuss?” he said irritably.

“Eny’s gone,” said Morgan.

“Long gone, if the signs tell true,” observed old Genann sadly.

“Is that so?  Well, you better run after her, lover boy,” yawned Baxter.  “You can’t let her go now.  Things were just starting to get good!”

“But why?” asked Anust.  “Why has she done it? If you know the reason, we beg you to be at the telling of it.”

“Is it to spare us all the trial of the Morrigu’s wrath?” asked white-haired Crucha, motherly concern shadowing her matronly brow.  “Does she risk her own self for the sake of the rest?”

Morgan scanned their anxious faces.  “That’s just the kind of thing she would do,” he said thoughtfully.  “But honestly, I don’t have the slightest idea where she’s gone or why.  Do Ollamh Folla and the other Danaan chiefs know about this?”

“They were the first to be told,” said Rury.  “We have only just come from their council meeting.  We brought them word while yet the last stars hung fading in the sky.”

“Well,” said Morgan, standing up and putting on his cloak.  “I want to talk to Ollamh myself.”

“Na, na, man!” countered Rury.  “No chance of that now.  It’s gone away he has—under the guise of Simon Brach, mind you.  And Sengann and Slanga and Crimthann and Eochy with him.  They’re off to search for the missing girl!”

“Then I’ll catch up to them.”  Morgan took his bolg and backpack and turned to leave.

“Wait!” called Baxter, holding up Morgan’s silver-sheathed Danaan sword.  “Won’t you be needing this?”

Morgan glanced back over his shoulder.  It seemed to him that there was a strange glint in the other boy’s eye.  “Keep it yourself,” he said with a smirk.  “That way you’ll have two.”  Then he opened the door and stepped outside.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Tenth Journal Entry

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Day 367


By my reckoning, I have now been in the Morrigu’s dungeon over a year.  

As for John Dee, he has never spoken to me about the length of his own imprisonment.  But it is not difficult to guess.  He is supposed to have died soon after the year 1600.  And I seem to recall that there was never any official record of his death.  

For reasons that should be obvious, I cannot help being intensely curious about this odd companion of my captivity.     

 “You once called Edward Kelly a ‘gold-cook,’” I said to him today as we worked at the wall.  “What did you mean?”  

  “‘Aurum nostrum non est aurum vulgi,’” he said.     

“‘Our gold is not the gold of the common crowd,’” I translated, surprised to hear him quote from Jacob Boehme.  “But where did you hear that?  Boehme was not of your century.”

“Those are the words of Paracelsus.  Boehme I know not.”

“Well,” I observed, chipping away at the mortar, “you should.  Paracelsus had it right, of course.  The true gold is from above.  But it was Boehme who first taught me the secret of the Stone.”

He turned from his work and eyed me down the length of his crooked nose. “What secret?”

“‘One should not look upon the Stone and say, “I must by force set upon it.”  For the Stone is nothing but the gift of the New Birth.’”

He edged closer.  “New birth?”

“You have heard of it before, I think.  I suppose you are also familiar with the Emerald Tablet?”

“‘That which is above is as that which is below,’ he recited as if by rote, “‘and that which is below is as that which is above.’”

“Precisely,” I said.  “Or, to put it another way:  ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”

He squinted at me in the dim light.  “And what of Azoth?”

I squinted back.  “I’ve been hoping you could tell me more about that.”         


*  *  *  *  *



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(Originally published January 22, 2015)

The renunciation of power is infinitely broader and harder than nonviolence (which it includes).  For nonviolence allows of a social theory, and in general it has an objective.  The same is not true of nonpower.

         – Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity 

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


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the brave men and women who served alongside him as architects of the Civil Rights Movement were people of high ideals.  In every situation they strove to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of truth and virtue.  Their words and actions were chosen with grace.  They kept a constant eye on the quality of their witness for Christ.  They cared deeply about individual integrity and collective responsibility.  And yet it would be neither unfair nor inaccurate to say that their decision to make nonresistance the keystone of their social and political strategy was never a matter of mere principle.  It was also a pragmatic consideration.  They were convinced that nonviolence would work.  They knew it could work because they had seen it work for Ghandi.  They adopted it because, for all the pain and anguish it entailed, it was still the plan most likely to succeed.

The case is very different with the Pilgrim.  The Pilgrim has no good earthly reason for embracing weakness.  He embraces it because it is central to who he is.  He gets nothing by turning the other cheek – nothing but a lashing and a cross.  He has no worldly goals.  His only objective is to identify with his Master.  He belongs to that looking-glass kingdom where reality is a mirror-image of the kosmos and heaven simply the world turned upside-down.  He shuns force as a means to noble ends.  He rejects the notion that truth, in order to be true, must have the backing of the state, the validation of the law, and the endorsement of film stars.  He cares nothing for the pillars or powers that be.  Presidents and kings in his estimation are merely marginal.  He has no network, no connections, no lobbyists in Congress.  The definitions in his dictionary have all been turned inside-out:  loss is gain, debility is power, failure is success, ignominy is glory, and death the pathway to life.  He is the wisest of fools and the most foolish of the wise.

In the first century the oppressed inhabitants of Judea were still dreaming of Judas Maccabaeus.  In their deception they looked for a hero to smash the Roman yoke.  What they got was a baby in a manger.  They looked for a political strongman to set the world to rights.  What they got was an itinerant poet-preacher.  They looked for a king to lead a liberating army.  What they got was a convict on a cross.  Many never grasped the point.  But there were a few who eventually fell under the spell of the devastating, earth-shattering truth:   My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.

It was of such the poet was thinking when he wrote, “They went forth to battle, but they always fell:”


Their might was not the might of lifted spears …

            Their wreaths are willows and their tribute, tears;

            Their names are old sad stories in men’s ears;

Yet they will scatter the red hordes of Hell,

Who went to battle forth and always fell.*


This is why the Pilgrim, if he boasts at all, will always boast exclusively about his weakness.  In contradistinction to political operatives, cultural strategists, and ambitious men and women of every stripe, he understands that to fulfill his true destiny he must learn to be content with infirmities, insults, distresses, and difficulties; for when he is weak – and on no other occasion – then he is strong.


*  Shaemus O’Sheel, “They Went Forth To Battle But They Always Fell.”

On Old Books

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“There is no luck in literary reputation. They who make up the final verdict upon every book, are not the partial and noisy readers of the hour when it appears; but a court as of angels, a public not to be bribed, not to be entreated, and not to be overawed, decides upon every man’s title to fame. Only those books come down which deserve to last. All the gilt edges and vellum and morocco, all the presentation-copies to all the libraries will not preserve a book in circulation beyond its intrinsic date. It must go with all Walpole’s Noble and Royal Authors to its fate. Blackmore, Kotzebue, or Pollock may endure for a night, but Moses and Homer stand forever.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws”

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Washer at the Ford, Part 3

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The lower slopes were thickly covered with pine.  This suited Eny’s purposes precisely, for there was no doubt in her mind that Ollamh Folla and the Danaans would raise a search as soon as they found her missing.  How long it might be before they made that discovery she couldn’t tell.  But she was encouraged to think that the confusion in the Tellach was working to her advantage.

Eny had, of course, covered this stretch of ground once before, during her first visit to the Sidhe.  But she had been under enchantment and delirious with fever at the time, and so had no memory of the terrain this side of the steep pass of Na Cupla.  To make matters worse, the night was exceptionally dark.  Once among the trees she lost even the faint illumination of the stars.  She was traveling blind in the truest sense, with nothing to guide her but instinct and the gift of Second Sight.

Fortunately, both told her that she was headed the right way—due north.  She had made up her mind to go in this direction because she felt sure no one would expect it.  They would be far more likely to seek her to the south, she thought, in the caves above the ruins of Semeon’s Dun—or in the east, perhaps, where the bare red rocks of Tory Island and the black spire of the Morrigu’s tower rose stark above the waters of the strait of Camas Morraigu.  Setting her jaw and gritting her teeth, she trudged straight up the hillside, groping her way from branch to branch and bole to bole.

Long into the night she climbed, pausing from time to time as dim pricks of light, like the glint of amber eyes, or strangely fleeting threads of glimmering blue, like the tails of will-o’-the-wisps, went flitting among the trees or darted out at her from between the frosty pines.  Often she was aware of the softness of large moth-wings fluttering against her cheek.  Once she saw what looked like a pair of glowing red antlers go floating past her in the dark.  On another occasion she felt something sleek and furry brush against her leg.

After a while the rough pines gave way to what felt like smooth-skinned birches, all of them bare-limbed, their leaves having dropped to the ground in a rich and fragrant blanket.  As in Hollywood and Santa Piedra, it was autumn in the Sidhe—something Eny had not anticipated.

When she felt she could go no further she sat down under a tree to rest.  Though her sense of direction was still strong she had lost all track of time and had no idea how long she’d been traveling.  It seemed to her that a faint gray light, barely perceptible as yet, was filtering down through the tangled canopy of twigs above her head.  Trembling with exhaustion, she leaned back against the tree and shut her eyes.

When she awoke, broad daylight was exploding through the naked white branches in a profusion of glittering splinters and sparks.  Good, thought Eny, noting that the light was pouring in from the left.  She was indeed still facing north.  Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she undid the flap of her bolg andtook out an oatcake.  Then, pulling herself up by a tree branch, she set out again munching her breakfast as she went.  I’ve wasted enough time sleeping, she said to herself.  There simply isn’t a moment to lose.

By noon she stood in the shadow of the Twins, two rocky spires that rose up from a sharp ridge overhanging a tilted expanse of bronze tundra.  Gone were the tiny white blossoms that had covered these high slopes during her first visit to the mountains.  The long green grass had faded to purple and brown, and though the sun shone bravely, the bright air was sharp with the expectation of approaching winter storms.  Eny followed the narrow white road, which threaded its way between the two peaks, passed over the roof of Benn Mellain, and then wound its way down the other side through lofty redwood groves and ferny dells.

On and on she trekked, over rocks and roots and clumps of withered columbine and honeysuckle, past scattered dogwood and liquid amber trees luminous with leaves of flaming scarlet, down cathedral aisles overshadowed by the deeply fluted columns of towering redwoods.  All through the afternoon she pushed ahead, coming at length to the thickets of white-stemmed aspens that occupied the lower ranges of Benn Mellain’s northern slope, many of them still clothed in robes of rippling gold.

The sun was dipping low over a range of hills far to the west when at last she broke out from beneath the eaves of the forest and looked out across a yellow plain traversed by a winding thread of shimmering red-gold.  This was Mag Tuiread and the brook of Inber Duglaise, where once she had put the Fomorians to flight with a sling and a stone.

It’ll be dark soon, said Eny to herself, and it probably isn’t a good idea to spend the night in the open field.  Maybe I’ll camp here under the trees.

But even as the thought passed through her mind, while she was still gazing out over the flat terrain to the north, it seemed to her that she saw a figure standing beside the meandering stream.  Squinting against the glare, she looked again; and as she did, a vivid scene flashed across her memory.  The Fir Bolg running ahead of her.  Giants thundering after her.  Pebbles glistening in the shallows.  A sheen of enchantment descending through the air.  And in the midst of it all, a woman in a blue cloak washing a pile of rags in the clear purling water.

“It’s her!” breathed Eny.  “The Washer at the Ford!”

Those words brought another flood of images crowding into her mind—not only of her own nightmarish experience in this very place, but of her mother’s many stories about that dark, mysterious person, that weird, uncanny harbinger of doom.

“It’s the Morrigu herself in another form!”

Instantly she took off running.  Down the scrubby slope she plunged, the woods behind her, the level plain before her, the slanting rays of the setting sun throwing her long rippling shadow far out across the rustling brown stubble.  Faster and faster she ran.  As she drew nearer the bent figure dropped a bundle of rags in the water and straightened up.  At the sound of her approach it turned and peered sharply at her from under the brim of a large, floppy hat.

“It’s me!” Eny cried breathlessly.  “I got your message!  I’ve come of my own free will!  Go ahead and take me!  Do whatever you want with me!  I don’t care anymore!  Just let my friend’s father go!”

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The Sword of Paracelsus: The Washer at the Ford, Part 2

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The stars were shining overhead when Eny slipped out the back door of the kitchen and began running up the gravel path towards the longhouse.  She was nearly halfway there when she remembered that her everyday clothes were still in the chamber where Brighid had dressed her for the feast.

I can’t go back now! she thought, slowing to a standstill.  And I can’t possibly go where I’m going in this frilly dress!  I’ll just have to borrow some of Rury’s things. 

The low-thatched, rough-timbered sleeping lodge was dark, empty, and still when she came bursting through the door—all the residents of the house, including the Fir Bolg, had gone to the great banquet hall.  Striking a light, she threaded her way among the sleeping mats, picked up her bolg, and began rummaging around the room for a few basic necessities.  Her fiddle, which lay beside her bed, she wrapped in a couple of blankets and stowed carefully inside the bag.  Then she packed her sling, a small pouch of smooth, round stones, a bundle of wax candles, a tinder box, a coil of rope, some oatcakes and raisins, and a good sharp knife.  Last of all she found the canvas sack where Rury kept a few spare items of clothing and took a pair of breeches, a tunic of homespun linen, a woolen jacket, a sheepskin belt, a cloak, a cap, and a pair of Fir Bolg boots.  Unlacing the white silk gown, she slipped out of it and quickly donned these rustic garments.  Then, hitching her bolg to her belt, she blew out the light and crept outside.

It was a cold and moonless night.  Nothing stirred among the wooden huts and houses of the dun except a few dry birch leaves that fluttered down from the trees beside the path and went skittering over the gravel in the chill evening breeze.  In the distance Eny could see the glow of the lights in the Tellach.  She could hear a faint rumor of the uproar inside the hall.  Tightening her belt, she ducked into a shadow and stole softly along the narrow lanes that wound between the buildings, heading for the wooden palisade at the rear of the dun.

Upon reaching the wall, she stopped and gazed up at the tips of its massive pointed timbers.  They’d have to be scaled, for there was no other way out of the Baile.  The front gate was guarded.  The watchtowers, too, would be manned.  So she’d have to keep her distance from the palisade’s fortified corners and try to stay out of sight.  It wouldn’t be easy, but her fertile brain was already hatching a plan.

Opening her bolg, she fished out the rope, the little bag of stones, and the knife.  First she tied the pouch firmly to one end of the rope.  Then, about a foot above it, she hitched the rope securely around the hilt of the knife.  Checking to see that the coil was free of entanglements, she took hold of the rope, whirled the pouch in a wide circle over her head, and flung it as high as she could towards the serried crest of the palisade.  It struck the wood about three feet short and crashed to the ground below.

Nothing dismayed, Eny gathered up the rope and tried again.  Then she tried a second time and a third.  On the fourth attempt both the bag of stones and the knife sailed cleanly over the palisade and fell back against the outer side, slapping the wood with a loud hollow thump.  I hope nobody heard that, she thought.

Pulling the rope taut, she drew it up until the knife caught and lodged itself solidly between two of the huge sharpened stakes.  Then, with a tug to make sure the line was secure, she took a firm grip, braced her feet against the wall, and started to climb.

Getting over the top of the wall was harder than she had expected.  It was a delicate business avoiding the treacherous tips of the sharpened stakes; but eventually she managed to slide into a sitting position between two of the pointed timbers as if she were mounting a saddle.  From this vantage point she could see that it would be impossible to descend by means of the rope unless she left the knife and some of the cord behind.  So after a few minutes of careful deliberation, she pulled the blade free of the wood, threw it to the ground, and let herself drop on the other side.

It was a long fall—so long that it might have ended in disaster except that the ground outside the dun angled away from the palisade in a gentle, grassy slope.  Eny hit this slope rolling and was little the worse for wear when she picked herself up at the bottom of the grade.  Retrieving her bolg, she made a quick inventory of its contents and re-attached it to her belt.  Then, humming herself a tune—a sprightly little march called Miss Elspeth Campbell—she turned her back on the town of Baile Daoine Sidhe and set off into the foothills of Beinn Meallain.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Washer at the Ford, Part 1

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With a leer, Cundri turned on her heel, lifted the wilted lily in her hand, and began shuffling back up the aisle towards the door.

Instantly a tumult erupted in the Tellach.  Swords flashed from scabbards.  Spears rattled on shields.  Torches flared, cups pounded on tables, and angry voices were raised.  A few demanded the emissary’s death.  Some cursed the Morrigu while others blamed the Overlanders.  Still others wailed and cried aloud upon the name of Eithne.

In the midst of the confusion Morgan jumped up on the bench, vaulted over the table, and caught hold of the arm of Ollamh Folla, who was standing on the edge of the platform, watching the messenger exit the hall under the protection of two guards.

“Aren’t you going to stop her?” he shouted above the din.

The Danaan King regarded him solemnly.  “She came under sign of truce.  We owe her a safe conduct.”

“But the Morrigu wouldn’t play by those rules if she were in your place!”

“Probably not.  Are you suggesting I follow her example?”

“No, but—”  Morgan’s vision blurred as he groped for words.  For a moment he felt like he was choking.  At last he blurted out, “I wish I’d never come here!  I only did it because I wanted to find my dad!  I never meant to put Eny in danger!”

“You haven’t,” Ollamh said quietly.  “And you didn’t come.  You were brought.  Didn’t I tell you?”

“Yes, but … we have to do something!  There’s no way I’ll ever hand Eny over to that woman!”

“Fortunately,” observed Ollamh, “the decision isn’t yours to make.”

Morgan bit his lip and stared down at his toes.  “Still, we’ve got to get her away from here somehow,” he said.  “Why don’t you send both of us back where we came from?  Wouldn’t that be safer?”

“Not if Eochy’s right.  In any case, I can’t.  It’s not entirely up to me.  Besides, there’s your father to consider.  What do you want to do about him?”

Morgan didn’t know what to say.  Never in his life had he been faced with such a choice.  Eny or his dad?  It was impossible to answer.  His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.  His head felt as if it were about to burst.

“And your friend?” the King continued.  “Where does he fit in?”

“Him!”  Morgan pursed his lips in exasperation and blew out a puff of air.  “I told you he wasn’t my idea!”

“Perhaps not.  But he was somebody’s.”

Morgan looked away and said nothing.

“I know much of the Morrigu and her schemes,” Ollamh went on after a pause, “but I must admit that I never expected her to come against us with something quite like this.”  He looked at the boy out of the corner of his eye.  “Do you have any counsel for me?”

“Me?”  Morgan considered.  “How about sending an army to rescue my dad?  I’ll go with them!  I’ve got—” he hesitated “—I’ve got courage and determination.”

Ollamh Folla smiled and shook his head.  “I know you do.  But Lugh fell in just such an assault.  Tur Morraigu is strong and closely guarded.  Tory Island is an impenetrable rock.  We can hope for nothing from a direct attack.  Not even from the air.  A more subtle approach, on the other hand …”

But Morgan was no longer listening.  His eager brain had seized upon on those two names—Tur Morraigu and Tory Island—and he was revolving them over and over in his mind.  In that instant he realized that they were what he’d been seeking all along.  Now he knew where to look for his father!

True, at that moment Tur Morraigu and Tory Island were only words to him.  For the time being, he had no idea in what direction they lay.  But he could find out.  And then he’d be able to rescue his dad and divert the Morrigu’s threat from Eny.  Both at the same time!

With a cautious sidelong glance at Ollamh Folla, who was saying something about the folly of rash decisions, Morgan felt for the pommel of the miraculous sword.  Yes—it was still there, safely tucked away inside the marvelous bag.  Then he turned, shoved past Baxter, who was just creeping out from under the table, and called to Eny:

“Don’t worry!” he said.  “I’ll keep you safe!  I’m working on a plan!”

But Eny was gone.

 *  *  *  *  *  *

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Ninth Journal Entry

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Day 302


“Tell me,” I said this evening when Dee had returned to my cell with his portion of bread and water (for we now pass freely between his apartment and mine, blocking up the hole only when the blundering guard makes his rounds with the rations), “did Paracelsus have any special reason for entrusting his sword to you?”

The old alchemist squatted on the floor, glowering at me over his moldy repast.  “More questions,” he grumbled.  “Thou’rt too curious for thine own good.”  

“Obviously,” I answered.  “But that’s past mending now.”

The shadow of an amused smile flitted across his wasted features.  But he said nothing and withdrew into a dark corner to finish his meal.

After a long while I heard him mutter, “A reason he had indeed.  He might not keep it.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It resisted him.  He attempted to alter it.  He would have bent it to his will, but it owns no master.  The hilt burnt his hands and he sought release.”    

I considered this a moment in light of everything I knew about the sword of Paracelsus.  “Did he ever tell you where he got it?” I asked.

A grunt in the darkness.  “Montsalvat.  The Gral Castle.”

The Gral Castle!  That caused me to prick up my ears! 

 “There he had found it,” Dee continued.  “There he wished it returned.”

 “And he charged you with the task?”

 “Yea, verily.  But Edward tried to wrest it from me.”

“Edward?” I said.  “Do you mean Edward Kelly?”

“Yea.  He would have taken it to Hnevin.”

“What for?”

 “Edward was a sniveling gold-cook.  He would make use of the powder Paracelsus had concealed in the pommel.  I was forced to cast the thing away in order to save it.  I know not what became of it after it sank beneath the waters of Carbonek.”

“But I thought Kelly was your colleague and friend.”

This drew from him a bitter laugh.  “Edward was ever a liar and a thief.”        


*  *  *  *  *  *

A Stranger Upon Earth

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“The city of Christ, which, although as yet a stranger upon earth, had countless hosts of citizens, did not make war upon its godless persecutors for the sake of temporal security, but preferred to win eternal salvation by abstaining from war.  They were bound, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, burned, torn in pieces, massacred, and yet they multiplied.  It was not given to them to fight for their eternal salvation except by despising their temporal salvation for their Savior’s sake.”

— Augustine, The City of God, XXII.6


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       There are some who see clearly that man has no other enemy but concupiscence, which turns him away from God, and not (human) enemies, no other good but God, and not a rich land.  Let those who believe that man’s good lies in the flesh and his evil in whatever turns him away from sensual pleasures take their fill and die of it.  But those who seek God with all their hearts, whose only pain is to be deprived of the sight of him, whose only desire to possess him, who grieve at finding themselves surrounded and dominated by such enemies, let them take heart, for I bring them glad tidings …

                                             – Blaise Pascal, Pensees 

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

Closely related to autarkeia, “contentment,”is enkrateia or “self-control.”  Enkrateia is the last of the nine bright gem-like words Paul uses to describe the Fruit produced by the indwelling Spirit in the life of the believer (Galatians 5:22, 23).  It’s also the next item on our list of fundamental Pilgrim values.

Interiority is the controlling concept here.  Inwardness is the link that binds these two mutually enhancing terms.  As the observant reader may have noted, en is Greek for “in”; and since the noun kratos denotes “strength, might, or power,” the resulting compound, enkrateia, can be interpreted either as “inner strength” or “the strength to draw or hold something in.Autarkeia (as discussed in the previous entry) is the deep satisfaction that consists in knowing that everything I could ever possibly want or need I already possess within myself.  Enkrateia is the ability to rein myself in, to restrain, contain, and control my inner impulses.  The one refers to assets, the other to liabilities.  In both cases, it’s all about what happens on the inside.

That’s where Blaise Pascal enters the picture.  Pascal understood that interiority is essential to true spirituality.  It’s the place where Real Life happens.  This insight (which, of course, was not uniquely his own) provides a much needed corrective to the notion, so prevalent in our time, that the warfare of the Church Militant is a matter of beating back the infidels, the heretics, the persecutors, the atheists, the agnostics, and all the other human enemies of the Gospel message.  There is, in fact, no substantial threat to be anticipated from that quarter; for as Isaiah (29:7) says,


                                   And the multitude of all the nations who wage war

                                                against Ariel,

                                    Even all who wage war against her and her stronghold,

                                                and who distress her,

                                    Shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.


The only danger the Pilgrim need truly fear comes not from other people but from the temptations in his own heart and the pernicious allurements of his own internal tendencies.  There is indeed a good fight to be fought and a righteous war to be waged, but it is not a battle against liberals or conservatives, gays or homophobes, Republicans or Democrats, terrorists, tyrants, racists, cultists, or right-wing wackos.  It’s much simpler – and far more challenging – than that.

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,” writes author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, “and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them!”  We all face a subtle and perennial temptation to define our spiritual warfare in precisely these terms.  It’s a deception, of course; for the truth, as Solzhenitsyn goes on to say, is that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

To put it another way, the most formidable opponent you will ever face in the battle for truth and goodness is … yourself.  The toughest battle you will ever endure is the one that gets played out on the field of self-discipline, self-control, and moment-by-moment reliance upon the indwelling presence of the Spirit.  And enkrateia is the only weapon you will ever need to win it.




The Sword of Paracelsus: The Ultimatum, Part Three

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“Pardon, King,” said the sentry, bowing his head.  “An emissary stands at the door craving a hearing.”

“What emissary?” asked Ollamh.  Morgan could see that, for all his poise and grace, the King was not quite sure what to make of this unexpected interruption.

“From the enemy.  Bearing a token of truce.  She claims protection.  She also insists that she must not be kept waiting.”

“She?” said Ollamh, raising an eyebrow.

Morgan turned and looked at Eny.  Eny looked back, and he knew that her idea was the same as his own.  Surely this she could not be the Morrigu herself?  Surely she would not be so bold as to walk straight into the Danaan fortress?

Forgetful of the unshakeable optimism that had so lately swelled his brain, Morgan suddenly found himself trembling like a dry leaf.  He was afraid for Eny—afraid of what might follow if the enchantress should somehow snatch her away.  But he was also thinking of himself—wondering what he would say if this were his one and only chance to confront the woman with a demand for his father’s release.

“Yes,” he heard the guard say.  “The messenger is a she; though—if I may speak freely—hardly recognizable as such.”

The King nodded.  “Send her in.”

The sentry withdrew; and before Morgan and Eny had a chance to exchange so much as one hastily whispered word, they saw a small, dark, misshapen figure appear in the wide doorway at the further end of the Tellach.  Slowly this shadowy shape advanced through the confused buzz and hum that went up from the benches as it passed by, drawing ever nearer to the platform where Ollamh stood waiting with crossed arms.

As it came into view, they saw clearly that it must be of a race or kindred closely related to that of the Fir Bolg:  a dwarfish creature with bandy legs and a large head that wobbled from side to side as it walked.  In its spidery hands it carried a drooping lily, the symbol of truce.  Its long black gown, which seemed woven of raven-feathers, trailed behind it in a ragged train.  Its unruly hair spilled out from under a shapeless red cap like a mass of frizzled and knotted black wool.  Its appearance was altogether uncouth, uncanny, and repulsive.  But when the face came into view Morgan caught his breath and Eny jumped as if stung by a wasp.  Never in their lives had they seen anything half so ugly.

The eyes were two dark hollows overshadowed by bushy black brows.  At the center of each was spark that glowed like a distant star through a pestilent green mist.  The forehead was low and broad and almost completely overgrown by the encroaching black roots of the hair.  The nose was bulbous and irregular, the cheek-bones protuberant, the mouth unnaturally wide, the lower lip thick and pendulous.  Most disturbing of all were two long teeth that protruded upward over the thin upper lip like the fangs of a serpent.

As the she-thing moved forward, sweeping the crowd with a chilling glance, Morgan saw Rury bend and hiss something into the ear of his shrinking wife:  “Cundri.”  At the sound of that name, the other Fir Bolg shook their heads and curled their lips in disgust.  Sengann spat on the floor.

“A message I bring, Ollamh Folla,” said Cundri when at last she stood facing the King.

Ollamh nodded, eyeing her grimly.

“A message from the Queen it is,” the emissary continued.

The King said nothing.

“To the boy she would have me bring it.”

An audible gasp went up from the assembly.  Every head turned.  Every eye fixed itself upon Morgan’s face.  He felt the blood rush up his neck and into his cheeks.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Baxter slip from his chair and duck underneath the table.

“Speak,” prompted Ollamh Folla, his brow darkening.

“To the boy, then,” Cundri proceeded, regarding Morgan with a toothy grin.  “A greeting from his Mistress.  She knows that he is here, and she bids me speak this word in his ear:  ‘I have your father.  Bring me the girl if you wish to see him alive.’”

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