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.”
“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?”
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 …)