Threadbare Pretensions

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I was enchanted when I first read in the Pensées … about how magistrates and rulers had to be garbed in their ridiculous ceremonial robes, crowns, and diadems.  Otherwise, who would not see through their threadbare pretensions?  I am conscious of having been ruled by buffoons, taught by idiots, preached at by hypocrites, and preyed upon by charlatans in the guise of advertisers and other professional persuaders, as well as by demagogues and ideologues of many opinions, all false.

–Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered

The Sword of Paracelsus: Traveling Companions, Part 4

Sword & Stone 2 001

Even as Morgan spoke, Baxter’s expression changed from one of slavish solicitation to abject horror. What a baby! thought Morgan. But in the next moment he realized that Baxter’s terror-stricken eyes weren’t focused on him at all. They were riveted on something high above his head—something in the tree.

“The rope!” screamed Baxter. “What’s that climbing down the rope?”

Morgan looked up. Never had he seen a creature like the one that was at that very moment rapidly descending the wildly gyrating rope like a frantic, furious, agile ape. Its multi-colored proboscis was something halfway between the muzzle of a mandrill and the beak of a toucan. Its flaccid lips rippled over its sharp yellow teeth like two flaps of rubber. Its wiry body was covered with tangled red fur. Its long fingers and toes ended in deadly curved black talons.

“Run!” shouted Morgan as the thing prepared to jump. Without looking back to see if Baxter was following, he snatched up his backpack and took off down a long, broad avenue through the majestic trees.

There was a pale light at the end of that aisle. As Morgan pounded over the carpet of fallen needles, his breath coming hot and fast, he realized that he was nearing the edge of the forest. Breaking out from beneath the redwoods, he found himself running through a downpour. Ahead of him lay a narrow stream, dark beneath the gloomy sky. Beyond it rose a range of gentle hills, gray and indistinct behind the veil of cold rain.

Over the stream splashed Morgan, up the muddy bank on the further side, and straight ahead into the dim and rocky highlands. As he entered a narrow defile between the roots of the lower slopes he saw what looked like a cave or a black hole in the side of the hill. At the same instant he heard the voice of Baxter hailing him from behind.

“Use it!” Baxter cried hoarsely. “Why don’t you use it?”

Use what? thought Morgan.

And then it hit him. Stopping dead in his tracks, he spun on his heel, drew the sword, and swung it up over his head. He could hear it crackle and snap as the raindrops struck the searing steel, bouncing off in little puffs of steam. He could see the face of Baxter, mouth wide, eyes like half-dollars, as he came charging up the slope with the ape-like creature hard on his heels.

“Into that cave!” he shouted as Baxter ran past. Then, gripping the hilt with both hands, he whipped the sword around in a bright, sizzling circle. The monkey-thing stumbled backwards and threw up its hands in self-defense.

For a moment Morgan stood facing his snarling foe, panting and shaking, the marvelous sword vibrating in his hands like a live wire. Then the creature dropped on all fours and slunk off sideways down the hill.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Morgan climbed the slope and ducked into the dark hole in the hillside. There, after carefully returning the sword to its place inside the bolg, he collapsed against a wall and fell into a deep sleep.

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The Sword of Paracelsus: Traveling Companions, Part 3

Sword & Stone 2 001

Swaying in the wind at the top of the great redwood, Morgan suddenly remembered that, among other things, the “miraculous powder” concealed inside the pommel of Azoth—or whatever the sword was called—was supposed to be able to “transport bodies from one place to another.”

Maybe it could “transport” me to the ground, he thought. I’m not sure if there’s any other way down.

He was glad the Fir Bolg’s satchel was still attached to his belt. Reaching inside, he felt for the sword and drew it out halfway into the dim and shifting light. Dark-edged clouds were racing overhead.

Bracing himself against the bole of the tree, Morgan gripped the pommel with both hands and strained to twist it. Nothing happened. Maybe the other direction, he thought. Still it didn’t budge.

Rain was hissing and skittering through the treetops in fitful bursts. He could see his backpack dangling from a branch of a neighboring tree about five feet below him. Just beneath the backpack, perched precariously in a fork between two creaking boughs, sat the pitiable figure of Baxter Knowles, clinging to the trunk with both legs and arms.

“Baxter!” he yelled down through the intervening screen of twigs and needles. “Can you reach my backpack?”

“What backpack?” was the muffled reply.

“Right above your head! Reach up and you’ll feel it!”

“I can’t let go!” whined Baxter.

“Yes, you can! There’s a rope in the pack. We can use it to climb down.”

To Morgan’s astonishment, Baxter did as he was told. Desperately grasping the tree trunk with his left arm and pressing his face into the rough bark, he raised his right hand, slowly and hesitantly, until his fingers touched the bottom of the pack.

“Good!” shouted Morgan. “Grab the strap and yank it down!”

“But it’ll knock me out of the tree!” bawled Baxter.

“Just do it!”

Hardly were the words out of Morgan’s mouth when a fresh blast of wind set the backpack swinging violently. A second later it snapped the branch and came crashing down, one of the straps falling neatly over Baxter’s arm and catching in the crook of his elbow.

“Help!” screamed Baxter, tottering this way and that as he grappled the pack to his side.

“You did it!” laughed Morgan. “Open it and toss me the end of that rope.”

After several attempts, the terrified Baxter, whose pudgy face was as pale as paper and whose hand was shaking so badly that he could barely control it, succeeded in flinging the line up and over a branch just above the one where Morgan was sitting. Looping it around the branch, Morgan made a tight knot and gave the rope a good pull.

“Seems solid,” he called down to Baxter. “Now drop the backpack, grab the rope, and let yourself down. I’ll follow when you reach the ground.”

“I don’t like this!” Baxter shouted back. “It’s too much like that rope climbing business in P.E. class,”

But again Morgan was pleasantly surprised when, a few moments later, he saw Baxter gripping the rope and rappelling slowly down the great fluted column of the tree’s vast trunk. I’m sure glad this rope was long enough, he thought as he swung off the branch and began his own descent.

Not five minutes later he was standing on the springy needle-carpeted floor of the redwood forest, wiping his hands on the hem of his tunic.

“That wasn’t so bad,” he said, brushing a strand of wet straw-colored hair from his eyes. “Looks like my plan’s right on track.”

“What plan?” said Baxter, loosening his Danaan sword in the scabbard and examining the blade. “What’s this all about anyway? Why did you bring us out here? Where are we going to find anything to eat? And how do you expect to get that rope down out of the tree?”

“You ask too many questions,” Morgan shot back. “I’m the one who should be interrogating you. Why do you follow me everywhere I go?”

“I already told you. I want to help.”

“Well, I don’t think you’re going to want to help me this time. I’m headed straight into the jaws of danger.”

Baxter scowled. “So what? I can handle anything you can handle.”

“Not the Morrigu.”

“The what?”

“Madame Medea—oh, never mind. You wouldn’t understand. The point is, I’m going to rescue my dad.”

“The sorcerer?” Baxter’s grin was mocking. “Why does he need rescuing? He bailed out on you, didn’t he?”

Morgan felt his blood beginning to boil. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said thickly. “My dad was taken.”

“Taken?” laughed Baxter. “By what?’

“You’ll find out soon enough if you come with me. But you won’t. Because you’re a simpering, self-centered coward. Just like your dad.”

Baxter was on him in an instant.

“Take that back!” he hissed, gripping Morgan by the throat. “Take it back or I’ll pound you!”

Out flashed the Sword of Paracelsus in a blaze of blue fire.

“You won’t pound anybody!” shouted Morgan, shoving Baxter off. “I know you better now! You’re a big nothing without your gang of goons! And I know all about your dad, too! I heard your mom talking to my mom!”

Baxter sprang back, hid his face, and burst into tears.

Instantly Morgan was smitten with a deep pang of shame and remorse.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Stop your blubbering. I didn’t mean it. You made me mad, that’s all.”

Baxter peered at him between his fingers. “Really?”

Morgan’s cheeks were burning. His mother’s pale and gentle face rose up before him. He heard her words echoing in his mind: Everything that happens to our friends and neighbors concerns us.

“Really,” he said. “You can come with me if you want to.”

Baxter uncovered his eyes and looked up plaintively. “Then could I also … What I mean is … could I hold it? Just for a minute?”

“Hold what?”

Baxter nodded toward the sword. “If I could just touch it,” he mumbled, almost apologetically. “Just for—”

“Of course you can’t!” said Morgan, hot fury welling up in the pit of his stomach. “What do you think I—?”

He stopped, appalled at the force and power of his own words. For even as he spoke, Baxter’s expression changed …

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Traveling Companions, Part 2

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All afternoon they plodded forward, the ground rising steadily and growing rougher and scrubbier as they went. By the time the sun was dipping into the west they had reached the top of a narrow ridge high above the water. From here they had a clear view of the firth widening out into the open sea far to the north. To her left Eny could make out the white foam of the breakers. To her right, at the end of a long, gentle slope, lay a dark patch of woodland crowning a little hill overlooking the sea. In the sky there were no fewer than fifteen pairs of great black wings wheeling above their heads.

Brighid shot Eny an earnest look. “Can you run?”

“Yes,” she answered, sensing that the birds were circling lower.

“Good,” said Brighid. And with that she picked up her skirts and bounded down the incline like a deer. But before Eny could take a single step to follow, even as the sun touched the horizon, something like a multi-colored star came blazing out of the eastern sky and drove straight into the midst of the circling flock. In an instant the birds had scattered to the four winds, their distant cries fluttering down through the air amid their drifting feathers.

“What was that?” gasped Eny as she and Brighid plunged beneath the shadowy branches of the wood beside the sea.

“A ship.” Brighid leaned panting against a smooth-skinned tree. “One of the flying ships of the Tuatha De Danann.”

“Do you think they saw us?” asked Eny, casting off her Feth Fiada and loosening the bolg from her belt.

“No.” Brighid slipped her cloak over her head and ran her fingers through her hair. “No, I don’t believe that what we just witnessed had anything to do with us. Still, I ought to take back something I said to you yesterday.”

Eny unlaced her bag and emptied it of its contents. “What’s that?”

“She may be expecting you after all. I fear she is watching.”

“The Morrigu?” Eny glanced up. “Well, I don’t care if she is.”

“Don’t say that. You must proceed even more warily from this point forward. You must go with eyes wide open.”

“But why?”

“Because she is not one to keep her promises.”

Eny shrugged. “I can’t help that. I don’t have any other choice.”


* * * * *

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Traveling Companions, Part 1

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At first light they rose, breakfasted, and struck camp. Using the skills she had learned among the Fir Bolg, Eny swiftly smoothed, tucked, tied, and refolded the yards of flapping leather until the tent was a small bolg once more. Then she refilled the wondrous satchel with gear and supplies, last of all stowing her sling, her sack of stones, her fiddle, and the shadowy Feth Fiada. Then, hitching the bag to her belt, she followed Brighid down the rocky slope.

Ahead of them and just above the western horizon glimmered the crescent moon, pale and moist behind a veil of melting mist. Behind them and to their right stretched the eaves of the Hill Forest. In the distance, beyond the waving yellow grasses of the plain, Eny could see the early sunlight running like flame across a rippled sheet of liquid silver and blue.

“Is that a river?” she wanted to know.

“An arm of the sea,” answered Brighid. “The Firth of Eochaill. It juts up into the plain of Tuiread from the curving headland of the same name in the north. If we follow it we should come by nightfall to a small patch of woodland atop a gentle rise overlooking the ocean. It’s a lonely place, unlikely to be frequented by Fomor or Fir Bolg.”

As they drew nearer to the water Eny could make out the cries of sea-birds. Squinting against the glare of the sun she saw flocks of gulls wheeling in the rainbow-spattered air—gulls similar in shape to those she had known in Santa Piedra, only bigger and with feathers of glittering purple and green. In amongst the gulls dipped and soared great silver herons, blue-green cranes, and yellow cormorants, their long, graceful necks ringed with glittering gold, their broad wings skimming the tips of the laughing waves as they flew.

“Those big birds!” exclaimed Eny, pointing at the cranes and herons, her scalp tingling with a sudden twinge of alarm. “I’ve seen birds like that twice before. Once in the Sidhe and once in my own world—Only they weren’t really birds at all. They were Fomorians. Do you think these are safe?”

Brighid shaded her eyes and studied the darting and diving waterfowl. “I don’t suppose they are anything more than what they seem,” she said thoughtfully. “But you are right. It is broad daylight. We ought to go veiled.”

With that, she produced her own invisible cloak from the folds of her gown. Casting it over her head, she instantly vanished from sight.

“How do we stay together,” said Eny, “if we can’t see each other?” But the moment she donned her own Feth Fiada, she discovered that she was able to see Brighid again, only in a shadowy, ghostly form. The rest of the world, however, looked sharper and brighter than ever.

Above the beach they hit a rough, stony path and followed it northward. Huge green rocks rose up in broken and serried ranks along the sandy bank. Down below, in the middle of the firth, stood three sharp, steep piles of stone, white as snow and teeming with braying seals and squawking birds. A salty breeze came up, tossing the hems of their cloaks about their ankles as they walked. Eny wondered if watching eyes might be able to see their feet.

On and on they trudged, one hour, then two, while the sun sailed higher and higher, hiding from time to time behind scattered shreds of ruddy cloud. At length it grew so hot that Eny was compelled to throw off her Feth Fiada long enough to shed the woolen jacket she had put on in the cold dawn.

It could not have been more than a minute later that Brighid touched her arm. “Look up,” she said. “Do you see?”

Eny gazed up into the searing blue dome of the sky. High in the upper air, directly above them, wheeling in slow, lazy circles like a patient, hungry hawk, soared a great black bird.

“Do you think it saw me?” whispered Eny. “Is it dangerous?”

“I cannot say,” Brighid answered. “But I do not believe we will be in any great peril as long as we remain covered.”

But the next time Eny looked up there were two black birds circling overhead. And not long after that there were three.

At noon they came to a place where a chattering brook cut across their path and fell in a silvery cascade over the edge of a low cliff before emptying into the firth. There, in a fragrant earthy dell between cliff and stream, grew a low-spreading tree of a kind Eny had never seen. Those of its leaves that still clung to their stems—and there were many—were of a deep scarlet color. But those that had fallen to the ground glittered like piles of gold coins around the thick, twisted roots. Here on this rich carpet under a canopy of shifting red they stopped to rest and take their midday meal.

When they stepped out on the road again there were five great birds in the sky.

“What does it mean?” said Eny. “Are they following us?”

“It is odd,” said Brighid. “I have never heard of any creature that could see through the Feth Fiada. But perhaps we should get off the high road and walk in the shadows beneath the bluff. The Fomor may be stupid, but they have many powers and abilities—some granted to them by the Morrigu. It would be best to take every possible precaution.”

So they left the path and slid down the steep embankment amid a skittering landslide of pebbles and sand. Upon reaching the bottom they glanced up and saw eight black birds soaring overhead.

(To be continued …)

Fair-haired Boy

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My Fair-haired boy, my blue-eyed son,

I see you as one lately come

From foreign lands and shores unknown;

And fearfully I look upon

Your face, and wonder what you are –

Native of a distant star.


A window to worlds beyond the sky

I see within your shining eye,

And from your infant lips I hear

A word to crush the man of war,

To silence scholar, scribe, and sage

From sun to sun and age to age.


My blue-eyed boy, my fair-haired son,

Your cradled head recalls the morn

When Heaven’s bright Sun came down to sleep

Among the oxen and the sheep:

Who grew so wise and kind and good

They nailed Him to a cross of wood.


When moon and stars are dimmed with tears,

And the passage of the fading years

Obscures my eye and fogs my head,

I’ll look to you in hope and dread

Lest world and flesh and evil one

Have made a man of you, my son.


Faith and Reason

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“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know … 

“It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason.  That is what faith is:  God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.” 

Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 423, 424 (277, 278)


“If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, the possibility of life is destroyed.”

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1st Epilogue, Chapter 1


The Sword of Paracelsus: The Feth Fiada, Part 2

Moonset 2 001

With that, Brighid handed the cloak to Eny. Then she turned and walked on towards the stony ridge on the far side of Mag Tuiread.

“But what am I supposed to do with it?” said Eny, running to catch up to her. “Why give it to me now?”

“That is for you to answer. But I know what is in your heart, and I believe the Feth Fiada can help you, whatever you choose to do. Do you wish to escape the Morrigu by returning to the Overworld? If so, the cloak will take you there.”

Eny looked away. “I don’t know. I’d say yes, but I can’t do that to Morgan. He’s been trying to find his dad for as long as I can remember. And now it turns out that his dad is here and the Morrigu is offering to set him free in exchange for me! I don’t think I really have a choice.”

Brighid looked at her intently. “I understand. But what about Lia Fail?”

“You told me yourself that the Morrigu can’t access the Stone’s power without ‘The Third Angle.’ Whatever that is. So I figure she’ll be no further ahead even if I do hand myself over to her.”

“Not quite. Your courage is admirable. But she will be one step closer to her goal.”

“Even if I did go home,” Eny pondered, sensing somehow that she was arguing with herself, “she’d probably catch me anyway. At least that’s what Eochy and Simon seem to think.”

“I believe they’re right. And so, if you do choose to remain—and to pursue your purpose—I think there is another way in which the Feth Fiada may be of use to you.”

“What’s that?”

“It will enable you to cross over to Tory and slip into the tower of Tur Morraigu unseen.”

“But why should I do that? My idea is to go there openly. To turn myself in. I have nothing to hide.”

“Of course. But you may not get that far unless you keep out of sight until the very last moment. The Fomorians will not expect you—the Maiden of Perfect Purity—to be wandering alone in this part of the Sidhe. Their heads are thick and their wits dull. If they mistake you for one of the Danaoi, they may strike first and ask questions later. And remember, my people are searching for you too. In their flying ships.”

“I forgot about that.” Eny stole a sidewise glance at her companion. “You still haven’t explained why you’re helping me instead of them.”

Brighid smiled. “Though we should move heaven and earth to stop it, yet the Stone must pass on to the place of its final destiny. And for that to happen, the Maiden must be present. Out of love for you I would hold you back—if I could—for I do not know what awaits you inside Tur Morraigu. Yet I dare not stand opposed to the prophecy. The Maid, the Stone, and the Third Angle—all three must join and be joined before the end.”

“But what does that mean? I’m supposed to be this ‘Maiden of Perfect Purity,’ but I don’t know how! I don’t understand the first thing about the ‘Third Angle!’ I’m only trying to help my friend find his dad! What if the Morrigu orders me to unlock the power of Lia Fail? What do I do then?”

“You don’t need to know that now.”

Eny looked up at the darkening sky. “And tonight?”

“Tonight we will lie concealed among the rocks,” said Brighid as they came to the edge of the plain and began to labor up the stony terraces at the foot of the upland. “In the morning we will turn and take a path around the forest. From there you must go straight north to the seashore, skirt the Strand of Eochaill, and cross over the water to Tory.”

“But I was thinking of going through the forest. To Rury’s old dun. That’s the road I followed with the Fir Bolg the first time I was in the Sidhe. Wouldn’t that be more direct?”

“No,” said Brighid. “That way is closed to you now. Eba Eochaid has fallen under the power of the Fomor and traitorous Fir Bolg. But here—this seems as good a place as any to make our camp.”

They had reached the summit of the ridge and were standing on a round open hilltop covered with broken boulders, patches of gorse and heather, and a few leafless lilac bushes. Over their heads brooded the bare autumn branches of Croc Cuille, the Wood-on-the-Hill. The wind had dropped to a whisper and the first stars were blinking tentatively through the dusky air above the black lacework of the forest’s lofty canopy.

Eny nodded. Unhitching her bolg from her belt, she unlaced its wide mouth, removed her gear and supplies, and laid everything carefully on the ground. This done, she began to unfold the bag itself. Layer after layer, the soft leather opened out and expanded, growing miraculously beneath her deftly working fingers until at last the bolg was no longer a bag at all but a tent large enough for two. Together they propped it up with a couple of dead branches from the forest, secured the edges with heavy stones, and spread two woolen blankets on the rocky floor. Then, after lighting a candle and inviting her companion to share in a supper of oatcakes and raisins, Eny took out her fiddle, rosined the bow, and stepped out under the blazing stars.

“Is it safe, do you think?” she said, looking back over her shoulder at Brighid, who sat hugging her knees just within the shelter of the tent.

“There is the risk of being heard,” smiled Brighid. “But risks must sometimes be taken. And they always have to be weighed against benefits. Music is power. A power for good. So play if your heart bids you.”

Eny touched bow to string. A moment later the wild, sad strains of The Dark Woman of the Glen were sailing up through the naked trees on the hill and out among the stars in the marbled sky.

A hush fell on the night and even the rocks seemed to hold their breath to listen.

Sunset 001

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Feth Fiada, Part 1

Sword & Stone 2 001

Eny threw herself on her knees in the shallows of the stream and looked up into the big round eyes staring down at her from beneath the hat’s wide brim. Those eyes were not green and lurid, as she had expected, but dark and lovely. They glowed with quiet reassurance. The mouth, too, was supple, warm, and kind, and a sad smile sat lightly upon the lips as the light sits on a rippling stream. In the next instant the hat came off and an abundance of dusky hair flowed down over the soft, round shoulders. The figure threw its patchwork cloak aside, took Eny by the hand, and raised her to her feet.

“Brighid!” breathed Eny. “I thought you were—”

Brighid nodded. “I know what you thought.”

Eny frowned and cast an apprehensive glance over her shoulder. “Are Simon—I mean Ollamh Folla—and the others with you?”

Brighid shook her head. “I came alone. No one else knows. Ollamh has already set out in another direction. I knew I would find you here.”

“But how?”

“It matters not. What does matter is that I also know why you left the dun and what you mean to do.”

Eny pulled away and took a step back. “So you’ve come to take me back?”

“No.” Again the Danaan maiden extended her small white hand. “Walk with me now and let us talk. The sun is going and we must find a safe place to stop for the night.”

They set off across the level plain. To the north, beyond the russet waves of the undulating grassland, Eny could see the fading sunlight glinting like copper on the rocky ridge just below the steep Hill Forest. She remembered those heights well, for it was there that she and the Fir Bolg had paused in their desperate flight from the pursuing Fomorians.

It was with a bittersweet sense of longing mingled with revulsion that she recalled those early hours of her very first day in the Sidhe. Her mother had told her many tales of Faery over the years, but none of them, for all their thrills and delights, had prepared her for the joys and terrors of the thing itself.

Thinking of those stories, she couldn’t help wondering what her mom was doing now. She wondered whether her parents were together, whether her dad had called the FBI, whether Moira was desperate with worry, whether George would be tender and understanding or short-tempered and impatient with his wife. Despite her burning desire to help Morgan find his dad, Eny began to feel that she would give anything to go home and see her own mother and father again.

“I have something to say to you,” said Brighid as the sun dipped behind the hills and a chill breeze rose in the west, ruffling their hair and rustling the dry grasses at their feet. “The time has come, I think, to give you what is rightfully yours.”

Eny turned and studied the girl’s shining eyes and glowing cheek in the dim and fading light. And as she did, she was seized by a sudden inward vision of unsuspected glory. All at once she realized that her companion was something more than a simple Danaan servant—perhaps a person of even greater power and stature than Ollamh Folla himself.

“What do you mean?” said Eny—and her voice sounded small and thin in her own ears. “What could you possibly have that belongs to me?”

“Let me show you.” Brighid reached into the voluminous folds of her green robe and drew out something that looked like a bundle of shadow. She paused for a moment with the faint amber gleam of the west upon her smooth forehead. Then, holding a corner of the gray thing in each hand, she lifted it up and let it unfold. It dropped down before Eny’s eyes like a web of subtly shimmering dreams.

“You have heard the tale of Eithne, your precursor and forerunner?” asked Brighid.

“Yes. Long ago and far away,” Eny answered. “It was in the hut of Rury and Liber in Luimneach. I had been ill. It was a fuzzy, dreamy sort of time. Semeon told it to me.”

“Then you have heard of Eithne’s Feth Fiada?”

“It was a kind of cloak or robe, wasn’t it?”

“More than that. The Feth Fiada is a cloak of invisibility. It is the cloak the Tuatha De Danann wear when they wish to pass between the Sidhe and the Overworld.”

“I remember. Eithne lost hers, didn’t she?”

“She did. In Eire, beside the River Boyne, in the days of Saint Patrick. And the losing of it sealed her destiny, for it helped determine her decision to remain in your world and to embrace mortality. Thus it was that she became a saint among the people above ground.”

Eny nodded.  “Well?”

“This is that same Feth Fiada,” said Brighid. “The Feth Fiada of Eithne herself. The people of Brugh na Boyne found it and brought it back to the Sidhe where the De Danann have kept it as a priceless treasure. And now it belongs to you as her successor and rightful heir.”

(To be continued …)


The Sword of Paracelsus: Eleventh Journal Entry

Dungeon 001

Day 392


Dee has been aggravatingly taciturn since I asked him to tell me more about the sword Azoth. For more than three weeks he has spoken to me only to borrow a tool. Meanwhile, I have noticed that he neither eats nor sleeps. He staggers between his cell and mine like a wandering ghost. But today there came a change.

Today, as I sat crumbling bits of bread in a corner for the young rats, he stumbled through the breach in the wall, sat down in front of me, and said, “There was another.”


“Another like you. A prisoner who would plague me with questions about the sword. I told him next to nothing. But then he asked me something else.”

“And what was that?”

He did not answer directly. Instead, he said, “What dost thou know of the New Birth?”

“Is that what you want to know?” I replied. “It’s simple, really. ‘Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.’ Boehme writes that this is the true ‘Satisfaction of all desire.’”

“The kingdom of heaven,” he mumbled. “I told thee once that I had spoken with angels.”

“You did.”

“Words they gave me. Words to engrave upon the crossguard before I cast Azoth into Carbonek’s stream. That was a long time ago. But he—that other—he inquired of me concerning one of those words! I marveled at the question. Where, I wonder, could he have heard it?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” I said. “Did you answer him?”

“Nay.” He shook his head and was silent for a while. At last he said, almost in a whisper, “I am unutterably old and weary. Like Paracelsus, I seek release. The angels spoke to me and I kept their command. Am I, then, of the kingdom of heaven?”

I did not reply.

“I have not sought the gold of the common crowd,” he went on. “Thou sayest that the true Philosopher’s Stone is the New Birth. Canst thou—or that other—give it to me?”

“I can give you nothing,” I answered. “Heaven must be as death in the soul. That, too, is the New Birth. Men are led to heaven by their loves, but these must first be sacrificed. Does this mean anything to you?”

He turned away. “I cast it into Carbonek,” he said.


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     “No gadget, however ingenious, will enable humanity to discover the meaning of life (and notwithstanding certain brilliant philosophers, we cannot live if our life has no meaning).  Nor can a gadget enable us to recover a relationship of communion with other men and women (and we cannot live if we are hopelessly misunderstood) …

     “Computers are sometimes useful in their narrow domain (very narrow, despite their many possible applications).  We must be iconoclastic with respect to computers, which are pretentious devices that arrogantly substitute themselves for the word and for reason.”  

                                — Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word

The Sword of Paracelsus: Up And Away, Part 3

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Immediately the harper took hold of the ladder, heaved himself up, and began to climb.  Biting his lip, Morgan got to his feet, dashed out from behind the fence, and took a step forward.

“Hey, Izaak!” came a voice from over his left shoulder.  “Where have you been?  I thought you went to talk to the king or whatever.  I went to the hall, but nobody was there.”


Already the old minstrel was halfway to the top of the swaying rope ladder.  Morgan could hear the mariners cry, “Ready about!”  He could see the full-bellied sail come around in the wind as the yard-arm shifted on the mast.  It was now or never.  Gripping his gear tightly, he sprinted for the ladder, made a desperate leap, and grasped its lowest rung.

“Stop!” shouted the sentries as Morgan’s feet left the ground.

“Wait!” yelled Baxter as the rope swung sickeningly from side to side.

Grunting with the effort, Morgan yanked himself up to the third rung.  A quick glance overhead showed him the bard just disappearing over the side of the ship.  Then the ship heeled and plunged like a spirited horse, swinging its painted prow out over the palisade.

Morgan tightened his grip and the ship began to move.  A sharp jerk from above told him that the sailors were pulling in the ladder.  This was followed immediately by an equally forceful jolt from below—someone on the ground had seized the free end of the rope!

Morgan looked back over his shoulder.  He feared to find himself staring down at the deadly points of the guards’ brass-tipped spears, but it wasn’t the guards who had caught hold of the ladder.  It was Baxter.

“Baxter!  Let go!” he cried as the vessel creaked and rolled overhead.  But in the next instant came a blast of wind as keen as a knife and filled with stinging raindrops.  The ship lurched and shuddered, then rose sharply and steeply into the air.

The next thing Morgan knew, the lightly dancing craft was running rapidly before the gale, far out over the battlefield to the south of Baile Daoine Sidhe.  His heart pounding, he glanced down and saw the foaming brook and the rocky hillocks of the plain flowing away like a dream hundreds of feet below.  Ahead he saw the swiftly rising slope where he and Baxter had first stumbled into the Sidhe.  In a matter of seconds the green tops of the great redwood trees were directly beneath his feet.  Then the wind gusted again and sent the rope ladder flying back and forth like a pendulum.  The mariners were shouting angrily at him from over the railing.

“Jump, Baxter!” shouted Morgan above the howl of the wind and the rain.  “Jump now!  We may not get another chance!”

And then, without looking down, he let go of the rope and dropped with a crash through the bristling canopy of the forest below.

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