The Sword of Paracelsus: The Maiden and the Stone, Part Two

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From somewhere in amongst the tree-pillars—and Eny noticed now for the first time how dark were the spaces between and beyond their gnarled stone trunks—came a figure she recognized at once:  the one-eyed, bull-necked, broad-backed, bald-headed shape of Falor son of Balor—the hulking Fomorian she had seen in Madame Medea’s shop, except that on this occasion he wore a long shirt of interlocking steel rings instead of a greasy black suit.

Stalking up to Eny, Falor grunted and seized her by the arm.  Without removing any of her garments he hurriedly threw a gown of fine white linen over her head.  Oh, no! she thought.  Another dress!  But she didn’t have time to protest, for after lacing up the gown, which covered her from neck to toe—clothing, bolg, and all—the great ugly Fomor gripped her by the shoulders, faced her forward, and walked her down the aisle towards the raised dais.

The Morrigu, seating herself at the harp, began to pluck a haunting melody.  The tune wrapped itself around Eny and seeped into her brain through the portals of her ears.  It pushed its way right down to the tender roots of her heart where it lay coiled like a serpent.  Suddenly she felt light and ethereal.  So pleasant was the sensation that she closed her eyes and yielded herself up to the influence of the music.  The next thing she knew, she was standing at the base of the three broad steps.

As she stood there, the seven oak doors swung open.  Out stepped seven maidens in gowns exactly like those worn by the women in the stained-glass window.  Each wore a garland of flowers in her long flaxen hair.  Each carried a golden candelabra.  The flames of the candles were dazzling-bright and the lips of the women glowed red as fire.  Around the pedestal they marched and down the steps, forming a line behind Eny.

The music of the harp flowed on, swelling and increasing in power.  Again the doors at the rear of the platform sprung open and out came another group of seven young girls with wreaths of wild roses in their thick red hair, all of them dressed in wide-sleeved tunics of scarlet velvet.  The first one carried a tall red taper.  She was followed by four who bore silver trays laden with ivory cups.  Last came two with snow-white lilies in their hands.  They descended the steps in a body and took up their places behind the first seven.

Last came a pair of slim maidens who entered from the wings.  They were clothed in white and had long, glossy black hair.  Encircling their willowy waists were golden girdles into which were thrust long, sharp silver knives.  Approaching the center of the platform, they knelt before the marble pedestal and whisked away the silken shroud.

That’s when Eny saw it:  flat, dull gray, and entirely unremarkable amidst all the shining splendors of that fantastic hall; stained and scored and pitted with innumerable scars.  Lia Fail, the lost Stone of Destiny, Jacob’s Pillow; the well-worn step from the old tower stairway at St. Halistan’s Church.  And seeing it, she caught her breath and felt a lump rise in her throat.

Falor gave her a shove and she stepped forward.  The two maidens in white came down the steps to meet her.  Eny could see the flickering yellow light of the candles glancing on the polished blades at their belts.  The Morrigu rose from her harp and glided noiselessly to center stage.

“The time has come,” she said, lifting her white arms above her head.  “Time to solemnize the Mystical Wedding!”

With a graceful, sweeping motion she stretched out her right hand and placed it on Eny’s head.  “The Bride is here!” she said, her emerald eyes sparkling in the candlelight.  “Bring in the Groom!”

Trumpets sounded and the brass doors at the rear of the hall flew open.  Fifty mailed Fomorian guards filed in and formed up behind the fourteen maidens.  Glancing up the aisle between their ranks, Eny saw a solitary white-robed figure standing in the open doorway.

The figure was slender and small and leaned slightly to one side.  Reddish light from the corridor shrouded it in a lurid halo, concealing the features of its face.  In spite of this, she could not help thinking that its gangly, awkward body looked familiar somehow.

“Come forward!” shouted the Morrigu; and with that, the figure began to move.  Eny shuddered involuntarily to see how its head wobbled as it walked.  Its gait was halting and unnatural.  Step-sluff, step-sluff—slowly it shambled towards her, tripping over its own feet like a clumsy mechanical doll.  Yet for all the repulsive inhumanness of its movements, the feeling grew upon her as it approached that she had seen it before.

The reason became clear the moment it stepped into the light.  At the sight of its face she opened her mouth to scream, but there was not an atom of breath in her paralyzed lungs.  She felt as if she’d been punched in the stomach.  She gasped and felt as if she might faint.

The face was Morgan’s.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: The Maiden and the Stone, Part One

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As Eny stood mute with apprehension, the Morrigu drew near, kissed her forehead, and encircled her gently with one shapely white arm. She could feel the warmth of the woman’s body. She could smell the delicate fragrance of her breath. She could hear the musical hum of her sweetly resonant voice cooing vague words of comfort and reassurance. Then, as they stood there together watching the two piles of ash scatter slowly in the evening breeze, the enchantress lifted the edge of the Feth Fiada and swept it up over their heads. The world disappeared.

Never had Eny known such darkness. Her eyes were shrouded in a blackness that went beyond blackness and verged upon nothingness. She experienced neither heat nor cold, neither stillness nor movement; yet, for all her lack of sensation, it seemed to her that she was spinning out of control, reeling and whirling in body and mind. She closed her eyes and opened them. It made no difference—the one was as the other. She pinched herself but felt nothing. She began to get sleepy. She wondered if she might be dying.

The next thing she knew there was a light somewhere above her head. Her body was ascending in a slow spiraling motion. This went on for some time before she realized that she was in fact climbing with her own two legs, panting heavily, laboring step by step up a narrow, winding staircase. She could see and hear again. She could feel the rough texture of the stone walls on either hand. Up ahead of her went the train of a billowing black robe, filling the stairwell like a cloud of black smoke.

At length the stairway emptied out into a dim passage where red torches flared in iron sconces between tall pointed windows. At its further end stood a heavy double door of tarnished brass. Advancing noiselessly, the Morrigu approached this door, grasped the big brass handle, and pushed it open. Eny followed her inside without a word.

“This is my Great Hall,” smiled the green-eyed woman with an expansive sweep of her pale, long-fingered hand.

It was the grandest room Eny had ever seen in her life. Glancing up, she saw neither a lofty ceiling nor a high-soaring dome, but what looked like the deep blue of heaven filled with tiny gold stars and filmy white clouds. Down out of this celestial haze descended fourteen twisted columns, barely visible at their upper extremities, but thick, massy, and solid at the base. They were shaped like trees—pines, birches, oaks, aspens, and others of a kind Eny did not recognize—and they all bore delicate leaves of copper and silver and gold. The windows of the hall, which were deep, wide, and round-arched, looked out upon the clean blue slate of a cloudless evening sky and the foaming waves of a restless sea. The floor was like a pavement of luminescent pearls.

“It’s all very beautiful,” said Eny. “But none of it’s real—is it?”

The Morrigu smiled pleasantly. “We have other business to discuss.”

“We sure do,” said Eny, turning to face her. “We’re here to make a deal.”

“Those who occupy positions of power,” said the enchantress, “have no need to make deals.”

“I don’t care about that,” said Eny. “I’m here to take you up on your bargain. That’s why I came.”

“But you didn’t come. You were brought.”

“Wrong! I came of my own free will! Because you proposed an exchange. You made the offer to Morgan, it’s true. But he would never have followed through. Your messenger said—”

“Ssh!” whispered the Morrigu, bending forward and laying a cool finger on Eny’s lips. “I don’t care what she said!”

So fearsome was the light in her eyes that Eny bit her tongue and did not dare to speak another word.

“I have brought you here,” the enchantress repeated in a soft voice, “for another reason. To begin with, I have something to show you. I believe you will find it most interesting.” She raised her hand and pointed to the front of the Great Hall.

The wall at this end of the room was taken up almost entirely by a lofty stained-glass window. At its peak was emblazoned the image of a great bird the color of midnight. The curling feathers of its blue-black wings stretched all the way down the sides of the window, and below their shadowy canopy were ranged faintly radiant representations of seven women in gowns of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Over their heads in letters of gold were written seven names: Dana, Badb, Macha, Etain, Eriu, Medb, and Morgana.

Underneath the window stood seven doors of intricately carved oak. These opened onto a raised dais that communicated with the main floor of the hall by three broad steps. On the left side of this platform sat a huge crow on a tall iron perch. On the right side stood a golden harp with twenty-one silver strings. In the middle, on an altar-like pedestal of rose-veined marble, beneath a shroud of pure white silk, lay a rectangular object about three feet in length.

“Do you know what that is?” asked the Morrigu, raising a shapely black eyebrow and indicating the oblong thing on the pedestal.

Eny hesitated. “The Stone?”

The woman responded with her most enchanting smile. “Falor!” she cried, clapping her hands. “It is time! The Maiden of Perfect Purity has come!”

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Twelfth Journal Entry

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Day 393


Dee and I have resumed our excavations at the rear of my cell.

Today, upon removing the camouflaging stones, I was astonished to see how far we have progressed. Our tunnel has already pierced four courses of hard granite blocks! Delighted, I took up my tool with a buoyant heart. My tongue, too, was unusually light and free.

“Yesterday,” I said as we worked side by side, “you spoke of Galahad and the Gral quest. You said that Galahad brought the Sword to Montsalvat. Can you tell me anything of his dealings with the Stone?”  

Dee regarded me cautiously. “I said naught of a Stone.”

“But the Gral is the Stone,” I said, keeping him in the tail of my eye.

“Is it?”

“Surely I am not the first to have surmised a connection between the Gral and the Philosopher’s Stone?”

He shrugged. “Belike not.”

“Yet now I believe my suppositions were somewhat misguided.”

He turned and raised an eyebrow.

“I have already told you,” I explained, “that the New Birth is the true Philosopher’s Stone. It follows that genuine alchemical transmutation is not what the wise have always believed it to be.”

“What then?”

“Jacob Boehme said it: ‘The eternal fire is magical, and a spirit, and dies not. It moves out of a painful desire into a love-desire.’”

He pondered. “Love-desire. Is not love painful as well?”

“Without doubt. Because love never gives up.”

“As I learned,” he observed bitterly, “when Kelly would have taken my wife from me.”

“And I, when I was taken from my own,” I responded. “But don’t you see? Galahad exemplifies that relentless purity of heart. For purity of heart is to will one thing—even when the will goes astray.”

Dee smiled knowingly. “Galahad was a fool.”

“Yes and no. In a sense his quest went unfulfilled. It spelled the end of the Table Round. My quest too has failed. Yet somehow, during my long months in this darkness, I have come to believe that it will all come right in the end. That’s grace. That’s the true Elixir of Life.”

As I spoke Dee’s chisel rebounded off the wall with a hollow ringing sound.  

“Did you hear that?” I cried. “We must be getting close!”

Again he shrugged, as if indifferent to my remark.

* * * * *


The Sword of Paracelsus: Gemstones and Dry Bones, Part Three

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“Help!” wailed Baxter, clinging to the net with one hand and reaching up with the other.  His pockets were bulging with jewels.  Morgan’s lost bolg, which hung drooping from his waist, dripped with rubies and diamonds every time he made a move.  “Get me out of here!”

“You traitor!” said Morgan.  “You disgusting thief!”

“I’m sorry!” whimpered Baxter.  “Really and truly!”

“You took my bag!  And my sword!”

“I can explain!”

“I don’t want an explanation.  I want my stuff.  Hand it up now, or I’ll leave you to the crows!”

“Don’t!  Please!  I’ll do whatever you say!”

“On second thought, maybe I’ll just cut the net.  I can pick up my possessions down there!”

“No!  Hold on—you can’t!  I’ve got both our swords!”

Morgan hooked a thumb over his shoulder.  “There are lots of sharp stones back down this passageway.”

“Wait!  I’ll give it back!”  Quickly Baxter undid the bolg from his belt and lifted it above his head.  “Here!  I haven’t touched it!  I never even took it out of the bag!”

Morgan knelt on the ledge.  “Why did you do this, Baxter?  And after I promised to let you come along!”

Baxter lowered his gaze.  “I couldn’t help myself, I guess.  It’s got some kind of power over me.  Ever since I saw it for the first time—that night of the storm and the earthquake in Santa Piedra.  I saw what it did for you, Izaak.  You weren’t the same kid anymore.  After that I wanted to—to be your friend.”

“That’s not friendship.”

“Why not?  You’ve got something I need.  I said I’d help you.  You can help me, too.”


Baxter raised his head and looked straight up into Morgan’s eyes.  “My dad hates me,” he said.

Morgan stared.  “Hates you?”

“He thinks I’m worthless.  He called me lazy.  He said I’d never amount to anything.  According to him, I’m a blot on the Knowles name.  But if I had that kind of power—”

Morgan couldn’t help pitying Baxter.  He knew what his own dad meant to him.  More importantly, he knew what it was like to be without a dad.  He understood what Baxter would be up against if Mr. Knowles stayed in New York City and never came back.  A strange, sad warmth welled up inside him as he looked down at the boy in the net.  “What if you had that kind of power?” he said.  “What then?”

“I’d use it.  I’d show him that I could be something after all!  I’d make him love me!  That’s what!”

Morgan lay flat on the narrow ledge and stretched his right hand down as far as he could reach.  “Give me the bag,” he grunted.  “I don’t think you can make anyone love you.  But I will help you up if you give me the bag.”

“Take it!” said Baxter with a grin.  “I’ll never steal from you again!  I promise!”

Morgan hauled the bolg up, opened the flap, and ran his fingers tenderly over the smooth roundness of the sword’s golden pommel.  Mine again, he thought with a sense of profound relief and satisfaction.  During the time it took to draw a single breath he felt strongly tempted to get up, strap the bag to his belt, and head back down the tunnel.  But then he thought about Baxter and his father.  He thought of own dad languishing in the Morrigu’s dungeon.

Morgan shook his head.  Baxter was an idiot, but he couldn’t possibly leave him in this fix.  The problem was, how to get him out of that net?

He leaned further over the ledge and stretched out with his fingers.  “It’s no use!” he groaned.  Your hand is just beyond my reach!”

Baxter looked back at him with an expression of fear in his pale gray eyes.  For the second time since he’d been in the Sidhe, Morgan thought about the miraculous powder inside the pommel of Paracelsus’ sword and wondered whether its transportative powers might help him in this situation.  He drew out the hilt and tried again to unscrew the golden ball from the handle.  It refused to yield.

“What is this place anyway?” he heard Baxter say.  “What are all these nets for?”

“I have no idea,” Morgan responded.  “Probably the work of the Tuatha De Danann.  A trap for their enemies.  I wish we hadn’t left that rope hanging in the tree.”

“Hold on a second!” said Baxter, a light dawning in his face.  He grasped a corner of the net and shook it.  “We’ve got all the rope we need!  And I’ve still got my Danaan sword!”

“Brilliant!” said Morgan.  “Cut a piece from the edge.  Only be careful you don’t do it in a spot where you might fall through.  Then toss the end up to me!”

In a few moments they were standing together on the narrow ledge at the top of the precarious stone stairway.  At their feet the country beyond the mountains stretched away into a dim blue distance.  On the left, two forks of a glittering stream played hide and seek among the silver-edged hills and rills of a yellow plain.  On the right a long, glassy, serpentine lake glittered in the sunlight.  Far beyond the lake a dark-blue finger of the sea zig-zagged up into the land at the base of a misty promontory.  And out beyond the promontory, rising up out of the hazy ocean like the fluttering hem of an approaching shadow, lay the long, dark line of what appeared to be an island sleeping at the edge of the world.

Squinting and shading his eyes against the sun, Morgan stared hard at this island.  The longer he stared, the more firmly convinced he became that he could see something like a sharp spike or a thin spire sticking up from the crest of its jagged spine.  He thought he knew the name of that island.  He thought he knew what that spike must be.  He turned and looked at his companion.

“Thanks,” said Baxter, offering his hand to Morgan.

“No time for that now,” Morgan answered.  “Follow me.  We don’t have a minute to lose.”

And with that he spun on his heel and went leaping down the stairway in the face of the cliff.

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The Sword of Paracelsus: Gemstones and Dry Bones, Part Two

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Retreating into the cave, Morgan switched on the flashlight and plunged into the gem-studded corridor, determined to follow the winding tunnel wherever it led.

And follow it he did:  on and on, hour after hour, until it seemed that his descending footsteps must have brought him beneath the very heart of the mountain.  And the deeper he went, the richer and gaudier, the more stunningly brilliant grew the dripping stalactites, the elephantine stalagmites, and the jewel-encrusted walls of the passage.  Precious stones protruded in clusters from the rock-face, hung down in bunches from the ceiling, jutted up from the floor like petrified bubbles of transparent color.  Everywhere he turned he saw sapphires and rubies, amethysts and carbuncles, emeralds, topazes, and diamonds.  Brighter and brighter they glowed, pulsating with a luminescence of their own, until the beam of Morgan’s flashlight faded away completely before their radiance.

Eventually he came to a place where so many gemstones lay scattered across the pathway that he had to slow his pace simply in order to avoid tripping over them.  Here he saw signs that many treasure-hunters had passed this way before.  There were broken shards of crystal on the ground, deep glassy scrapings and scorings in the walls, and a confusion of footprints in the ruby-red dust.  Morgan was strongly tempted to follow their example by stopping to load his pack with precious stones, but he dared not take the time.  The jewel he was seeking—the jewel of the miraculous sword—was of far greater worth to him than any gem.  That jewel, he firmly believed, was going to help him find the greatest treasure of all:  his father.  And with every passing moment it was slipping further beyond his grasp.  He closed his eyes to the dazzling beauties of the underground passage and pressed on.

At last he turned a sharp corner and found himself confronting what looked like a patch of blazing daylight at the end of a long, straight corridor.  The door to the outside!

Picking up his feet, he bounded over a pile of glittering gold nuggets and began to run.  But no sooner had he made the jump than the floor of the passage suddenly dropped and pitched steeply forward.  A few steps more and it became as smooth and as slick as a sheet of ice or polished glass.  Morgan slipped, fell, and began to slide.

“I can’t stop!” he cried as he hurtled forward at a great rate of speed.  The square opening at the end of the tunnel lay straight ahead.  With all his might he thrust his arms and legs sideways in a desperate attempt to brace himself against the wall.  And then, in a second, it was over.

Not far off a shower of gravel was hissing and skittering over a hard rocky surface.  To Morgan’s ears it sounded as if it were falling a long way.  He opened his eyes and looked around.  The strap of his backpack had caught on a sharp spur of limestone just inside the cavern door.  Unhooking himself, he crept forward on his hands and knees and peered out.

The end of the passage, which stood high in the face of a steep, craggy mountainside, opened onto a little stone ledge no more than two feet wide.  From this ledge a narrow stairway descended sideways along the cliff to the bottom of a deep gorge.  Far, far below, at the base of the scarp, he could see heaps of sun-bleached skulls and bones glinting dully in the slanted autumn daylight.  And higher up the bluff, between him and those grim piles of pale death, stretched a series of long, deep, thick-corded nets.  These were laid out with great care and cunning along the face of the precipice, just as if someone had set them on purpose to catch greedy trespassers and gemstone-gatherers.

Many of the nets contained quarry.  Among the trapped were several long-necked cranes; an eagle, a fox, and a highland goat; some squirrels and rabbits; a bandy-legged Fir Bolg mountaineer; and a couple of round-headed Fomorians.

Some of the prisoners squirmed and fought and struggled.  Some howled and screeched at the top of their lungs.  Some lay limp in the thick rope meshes, looking as if they had long since given up the ghost.  But the victim that caught and held Morgan’s attention was the one that occupied the net nearest to the opening where he crouched—the one that hung just below the narrow stone ledge.

It was Baxter Knowles.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Gemstones and Dry Bones, Part One

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Morgan awoke in near total darkness.  His arm was numb.  His neck was stiff and sore.  He winced as he shifted his weight and felt a stabbing pain shoot down his spine like a bolt of lightning.  Apparently he had fallen asleep with his head propped against a rock wall and his backpack jammed awkwardly under his left shoulder.

“Ow!” he moaned, rolling onto his side and unslinging the pack.  For a few moments he couldn’t remember where he was or what he had been doing.  He sat up and rubbed his eyes.  And then, like a scene from a forgotten movie, it all came back to him:  the wild flight from the Baile; the harrowing descent from the tree; the beast with the sharp teeth and the rainbow monkey-face; the rain and the flashing sword and the hasty retreat into the cave.

He blinked and looked around.  It was hard to see anything.  The only illumination came from the cavern’s mouth, which was low and screened from his view by an outcropping of jagged rock.  Opening his backpack, he took out his flashlight, switched it on, and swung the beam from one end of the chamber to the other.

Baxter was nowhere to be seen.

“Baxter!” he called, his voice rebounding hollowly down a long, empty corridor.  “Baxter!  Are you here?”

No answer.


The name went echoing into the shadows until it died somewhere deep in the interior of the hillside.

Morgan got up and stumbled further into the cave.  It seemed to go back for a long, long way.

“Baxter!” he cried again, shining the light up and down, peering into rocky nooks and crannies, stopping every so often to look behind big boulders and gleaming stalactites.  “Where are you?”

And then, as the light slid over a deposit of sparkling emerald crystals in the wall, sending a splash of green brilliance up to the ceiling and down across the front of his tunic, he suddenly noticed something else.

His bolg was no longer hanging at belt.

His heart racing, Morgan retraced his steps.  Back he went to the place where he had been sleeping beside the wall.  There he got down on his hands and knees and examined every inch of the floor.  Again he flashed his light from one side of the cavern to the other.  Five times he crawled around the chamber in search of the bag.  But there was no trace of it.  It was completely gone.  And gone with it was the precious Sword of Paracelsus!

That rat! he thought.  I should never have trusted him!

There was only one thing to do.  Hunt the culprit down.  He couldn’t have gone far.  He didn’t know the terrain, and he obviously wasn’t cut out for hardship and danger.  Probably hiding under a bush somewhere, smirked Morgan as he peered out through the cavern door.

Outside it had stopped raining.  Birds chattered in the wet shrubbery below the dark gray-green hillsides.  Spiral-shaped fall flowers, orange, red, and yellow, bent their heads together in the shaded spaces between the rocks.  The sun was still below the horizon, and two very bright stars gleamed white between pink and lavender bands of cloud.  He glanced to the right.  He glanced to he left.  And then he saw it.

Halfway down the muddy slope that he and Baxter had climbed the previous afternoon sat the horrid monkey thing.  Its arms were raised above its head and its long multicolored snout was tilted upward to the heavens.  It did not notice Morgan, for it had its back towards the cave.  But Morgan realized at once that there was no possibility of slipping past it unseen.

Not this way, he thought.  I can’t possibly fight that thing without the sword.  Baxter must have found some other path.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Green Eyes, Part 3

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Quickly she drew the knife from the bag and cut the cords binding her feet. Then, after chafing her wrists and ankles to get the blood flowing, she attached her bolg to her belt and pulled out the Feth Fiada.

Fodbgen groaned, raised himself on one elbow, and looked around. Eny threw the invisible cloak over her head and got to her feet. As she watched, the giant’s bewildered black eyes turned towards her. They seemed to linger on her face momentarily, then swept blindly past. She took one hesitant step, then another. She moved towards the narrow opening in the rock.

Just then Fuat blundered into the dell with a wineskin over his shoulder.

“I’m back!” he cried. “Had to go all the way to our stash on the other side of the mountain. Never thought that—”

Suddenly his eyes popped and his mouth fell open. “Where is it?” he blurted, scanning the grotto from one end to the other before casting a pleading look at his partner. “Where’d she go?”

Fodbgen’s face was red as a beet. “I’m skewered if I know!” he shouted. “Why in Balor’s Evil Eye did you let her get away?”

“Me?” fumed the other. “I just got back! What’ve you been up to, pig?”

“Who’s calling who a pig?”

“Ate her all up yourself, did you?”

“Why, you—!”

Eny slipped past the two squabbling Fomorians and crept out between the two stone pillars at the edge of the circle. She heard Fuat screech in pain as they grappled and fell into the simmering coals of the dying fire. I’ve made it! she thought. I’m home free!

But no sooner had she stepped outside the ravine than something behind her caught at her cloak and twitched it away. Suddenly she felt naked. Snagged it on a rock, she thought, looking back to see what had happened.

The first thing she saw was a pair of burning green eyes.

In the next moment a couple of pointed black ears took shape just above the eyes. Then a sleek black tail could be seen flickering over the ground.

At last the entire cat took shape before her eyes, emerging as if out thin air. It was sitting on its haunches, staring at her serenely with the Feth Fiada in its mouth. Apparently the two Fomorians could see it too, for they stopped their scuffling and slowly approached the rocky portal. There were expressions of mute terror on their pale, flabby faces. At the sound of their footsteps the cat dropped the invisible cloak and turned to face them

“Just checking,” it said—and as it spoke, it reared up on its hind legs and assumed the form of a beautiful, dark-haired, green-eyed woman in a long, black robe.

“A simple test,” she continued in a calm, soothing voice. “To see if the system works. I’m afraid you two failed.”

As Eny watched, the woman lifted her right hand. Instantly the Fomorians were reduced to two piles of smoking ash at her feet. Then she turned and smiled, her eyes glowing like two green moons. Eny knew her at once.

It was Madame Medea. It was the Morrigu.

“How pleasant to see you again, my dear,” she said.

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The Sword of Paracelsus: Green Eyes, Part 2

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Directly opposite the place of her landing gaped a broad opening in the dark, craggy cliff above the shore. Packing her bag, she made her way towards this shadowy gap, shells and pebbles crunching beneath her feet. The opening led to a path that rose steeply through a twisting gorge to a notch high in a rocky ridge. Maybe I’ll be able to see the tower from up there, she thought.

She began climbing at once, but the way was longer than it seemed. By the time she reached the pass at the head of the trail, sweating and panting and burning with thirst, the sun was high and the morning was nearly spent.

I wonder if there’s any water around here? she thought. Leaning against one of the two tall rocks that stood up like grim, gray sentries on either side of the path, she dipped into her bolg and ate a handful of raisins. Then, eager for a peek at the landscape on the other side of the ridge, she tightened her belt and stepped through the stony portal.

That was when she heard the voice—a deep, gruff voice that echoed as if it were coming up out of the depths of a cave:

“Well, now! What have we here?”

Eny stopped in her tracks. She knew in a heartbeat that she’d walked into a trap. There was no vista to be seen beyond the narrow gateway—just a rough, rocky dell under an overhanging cliff, circular in shape and half-open to the sky. Below the cliff, in the middle of a gravelly space, burned a smoky little campfire. And on either side of the fire sat a hulking, bug-eyed, bulbous-nosed giant, each one dressed in a long shirt of dull gray ring-mail, each with a heavy club of knotty oak at his feet. Fomorians!

Her first thought was of the Feth Fiada. Where was it? The terror and excitement of her perilous sea-crossing had driven the invisible cloak clean out of her thoughts. Until that moment she had entirely forgotten it—along with all of Brighid’s careful warnings and instructions!

Instantly she made a frantic grab for the bag at her waist. But before she could open it and lay hold of the gossamer mantle, a crushing weight struck her in the back with all the force of an avalanche, slamming every particle of air out of her body. Then a pair of huge, thick-fingered hands grasped her by the shoulders and threw her face-down in the gravel. A shadow fell across her as she lay there gasping for breath. Rolling onto her side, she found herself looking up into the heavily-jowled face of her Fomorian captor.

“Danaan?” growled his partner, a no-necked, hunchbacked, black-browed brute who sat gnawing a bone on the other side of the fire.

“S’pose,” answered the first Fomor, who stood looming over her, his huge misshapen head tilting to one side, his left eye squinting maliciously at his prey. “Too big for Bag-Folk—toting some of their gear, though.”

“Have a look inside,” said the other, tossing down the bone and picking up another from a pile beside the fire. “Anything we want?”

Wrenching the bolg from Eny’s belt, the first giant tore it open and peered eagerly within. Almost at once she saw his expression change from greed to disappointment. “Empty!” he spat, flinging the bag against the wall.

Empty? Eny groped in her mind for an explanation. And then it struck her: Of course! The Feth Fiada! It’s at the top of the bag!

“What are you?” said the bone-chewer, eyeing her hungrily. “Fairy or Fir Bolg? Pinch her good if she don’t talk, Fuat.”

Eny sat up straight and brushed the hair from her eyes. “I’m the Maiden of Perfect Purity.”

The giant’s mouth dropped open. “The what?”

“You heard me. I came to Tory to see the Morrigu. She’s looking for me.”

The Fomorians burst into an echoing guffaw.

“You heard her, Fodbgen!” roared Fuat. “She wants to see the Morrigu!”

“Hoity toity,” grumbled the other. “Too bad you came to the wrong place. This is Ara. Not Tory.” His black eyes narrowed as his dirty yellow teeth champed down on the bone with a loud crack!

“Well, then, take me there,” demanded Eny.

“Sorry,” said Fodbgen, sucking out the marrow. “We don’t take orders from nobody.”

“Not even from her, eh?” winked Fuat.

“You have to,” Eny insisted. “She’s your Queen.”

“Maybe,” grinned Fodbgen. “But what she don’t know won’t hurt her.”

“And tomorrow’s another day,” offered his comrade, this time with two winks. “And another meal. Right?”

Again they burst into a fit of raucous laughter. Eny sat staring at them, trembling from head to foot, wondering what was going to happen next.

That’s when she noticed the cat.

It was a sleek black cat. A cat of unusual size and appearance—as large as a big dog, she thought, and as subtle and sensual in its expression as a princess of the Nile. It was lying beside the fire, just behind Fodbgen’s bone-pile, stroking itself with its long pink tongue, casting its great green eyes slowly from one end of the rocky dell to the other.

As Eny watched, those piercing green orbs suddenly swung round and fastened themselves upon her. All at once the blood drained away from her face. She felt as if she was going to faint. She looked away and tried to fix her attention upon Fuat’s round red nose.

“Tie her up!” ordered Fodbgen. “Then go and get me something to drink.”

A coil of rope lay atop a heap of spears, knives, pots, pans, sticks of firewood, and assorted garbage. Fuat lumbered across the open space to fetch it. As he did, the black cat arose, arched its back, and stepped out directly in front of him. To Eny’s great surprise, he didn’t seem to notice. For an instant she thought he was going to trip over the creature. But at the crucial moment the cat lightly avoided the giant’s feet and scampered around to the front of the fire right under Fodbgen’s nose. The bone-cruncher went on with his meal as if completely oblivious to its passage. Then, with a toss of its head, the cat strutted out between the two stony pillars and disappeared from the ravine.

Didn’t they see it? wondered Eny.

Fuat brought the rope and bound her tightly hand and foot. Then he picked her up and dropped her like a sack of meal beside her bolg.

“I’m off, then!” he grunted, and away he went.

Fodbgen, in the meantime, tossed his bone aside and sprawled at full length on the ground. Almost immediately Eny heard him begin to snore.

The cat had gone. So had Fuat. Fodgben was sound asleep.

Eny was left alone with her thoughts.

Why? she wondered. Why do I see the cat while they can’t?

It was a mystery she could not unravel, though she revolved several theories in her mind. She thought of her blue eye. She recalled the tale of Eithne and Moira’s many other stories of the Second Sight. She remembered that the Fomorians were shape-changers. She pondered the possibility that the cat might be one of them in another form. She looked from one end of the little grotto to the other, frantically searching for some means of escape. And then, as the slumbering Fodbgen rolled over with a snort, another thought suddenly occurred to her:

There’s a knife inside my bag.

Raising herself to a sitting position, she scooted sideways until the bolg was directly behind her. Reaching back with her bound hands, she fumbled blindly with the latch for a few minutes, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on the sleeping Fomor. At last she succeeded in opening the flap and reached inside. The airy, cobwebby texture of the Feth Fiada tickled her fingers as she shoved it aside and thrust down deep into the bag. She wiggled her fingertips this way and that. She pushed past the cloth-wrapped packet of food. She cringed and held her breath as one of the strings on her fiddle emitted a muted plunk! And then she touched it—the smooth bone handle of the knife.

Now comes the hard part, she thought as she gingerly drew it to the top of the bag. How in the world do I use this knife to cut these cords?

Just then her hand brushed against the sack of sling-stones. Suddenly she had an idea. Taking great care not to cut herself, she turned the knife in her hands and drove the handle down into the sack of stones. When it seemed secure, she began to rub the cords on her wrists against its sharp edge.

Slowly and gently she moved her hands, up and down, up and down, worried at every pass that the force of her motion might dislodge the knife from the anchoring stones. As she worked, the sun slipped beyond the edge of the serrated cliff. The autumn afternoon began to fade. Everything seemed to shift into slow motion. Her nose began to itch and a drop of sweat trickled down her cheek. And then—

Got it! The rope parted and fell away from her hands.

(To be continued …)


The Sword of Paracelsus: Green Eyes, Part 1

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When Eny awoke, Brighid was nowhere to be seen. She had disappeared without a trace. Not even the fallen leaves at the base of the tree where she had been sitting the previous evening showed any evidence of her presence. There were no tracks, no footprints, no broken twigs or trampled grasses to indicate which way she had gone. Eny searched the wood, calling her friend by name, but there was no answer. At length she was forced to give up the quest.

Sad at heart and weary of limb, she gobbled two oatcakes from her store and drank from the cold, clear rivulet that flowed nearby. After that, she struck her tent, packed her bag, and set off through the trees.

Tiptoeing warily to the edge of the little grove, she peered out from between the trunks of the pines and saw the endless ocean glittering blue-green and white at the bottom of a steep sandy slope. Over the ground between the wood and the beach nodded a few sparse patches of thin, dry grass. Above her head the trees were alive with birdsong. The sky was as clear as a pane of polished glass. Off to the west a fingernail moon was setting on the far side of the Firth. And out across the water rose the dark hump of an island, gray-green in color and round as the back of a whale.

Is that Tory? she wondered, gazing hard at the barren heap of stone. She remembered seeing Tory Island from the hill above Rury’s dun. It seemed to her that, on that occasion, she had clearly discerned the tower of Tur Morraigu rising up like a spire of obsidian from its highest ridge. Guess I’m seeing it from a different angle today.

Leaving the wood, she went down to the water’s edge where the breakers boomed and hissed on the shining sands. There she unlatched her bolg from her sheepskin belt, dumped its contents, and began to undo the folds of leather once more, this time shaping them into a small boat or currach like the one she had learned to navigate on the bay of Luimneach near Semeon’s dun. When the boat was finished, she loaded all her possessions and equipment into it, found a piece of driftwood to serve as a paddle, and shoved out into the deep.

Once beyond the surf, she rowed vigorously for the island. It was tiresome work, for the choppy waves were against her. “Unh!” grunted Eny, digging deeper and harder with every stroke of her awkward paddle-stick; and then, all at once, with a jolt and a jerk, a stiff current seized the coracle and sent it skimming like a leaf around the edge of a circular coral reef.

Suddenly an image rose up before her mind’s eye: swirling green waters, gyrating winds, a funnel that pierced the ocean floor itself. “No!” she screamed, remembering the Morslogh and the terrors of that dark passageway between the worlds. She pulled with all her might, fighting desperately to drag the currach clear of current. But this time the powerful surge did not plunge her into the trough of a whirlpool. Instead, it swept her far out to sea, past the reef and all the way around to the distant side of the island.

Round and round in a series of wide circles spun the frail little craft. At last, dizzy with the relentless motion, Eny shipped her oar and pitched forward into the bottom of the currach. A moment later the current died just as suddenly as it had arisen. Opening her eyes, she saw the vast blue dome of the sky wheeling lazily overhead.

Slowly she sat up looked around. She was lying in a calm, glassy bay just within the shadow of the island’s beetling cliffs. Well, thought Eny, taking a long, deep breath, that wasn’t so bad! Then she paddled to shore, jumped out into the rippling water, and dragged her little boat up onto the sand.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Eleventh Journal Entry, Part 2

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Day 392, continued


I gazed at him with a feeling of compassion such as I have never felt for anyone. It seemed to me that he had grossly understated his case. He was not merely unutterably old and weary—he was fading away before my very eyes. He was, in fact, the closest thing to a ghost I had ever seen: thin as water, attenuated as air, frail as an ancient parchment.

The look of him reminded me of my dear wife in the days of her lingering illness. That illness came and went with her as the ebbing tide: always returning, never far distant. I wondered how it was with her now. I wondered how she was faring with our infant son. “He will be more than a year old by now,” I thought. I reached out and touched Dee’s arm.

“You did well to cast the sword away,” I said. “I cannot but think that it will go well with you in the end because of the choice you made.”

He turned to me with a look of gratitude in his eyes.

Then I said, “You told me that you made inscriptions on the sword before you let it go.”

“Yea,” he answered. “Upon the quillion. In the Enochian tongue.”

“What did they say?”

He compressed his lips said nothing. But in a while I heard him mutter, “Mine were not the only markings. There were others on the blade.”

“Yes,” I said. “In ancient Ogham. ‘To Divide and Bind.’ That much I know. Can you tell me what it means?”

“Nay,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I know naught of Ogham, nor of the history of the sword before my time. I know only what Paracelsus told me: that it was brought to Montsalvat by the knight Galahad when he came questing after the Gral.”

“The Gral,” I said smiling. “And what do you know about that?”

“Little enough,” said he.               


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