“Your dad’s in there?” said Baxter, pointing up at the tower. His pudgy face was still pale and twitching from the encounter with the snake.
Morgan nodded. “It’s bigger than I thought.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! I told you not to come, didn’t I?”
“You wouldn’t have made it without me.”
Morgan didn’t respond. For once Baxter was right.
“So how do you expect to get inside?”
“I’m working on it,” said Morgan. “Maybe I’ll just knock on the door. The only way to find out is to get up and start walking.”
“Right now?” Baxter gulped. “I’m thirsty.”
A gurgling sound led them to a small spring at the base of a heap of flinty rock. They knelt and drank sparingly, the water being brackish and bitter. Then they buckled on their gear and set off for the tower.
It was a longer and more strenuous climb than Morgan had been anticipating. Tur Morraigu was by no means so near to the shore as it appeared from the beach or the sea. It only looked close because it was so lofty and imposing. The hill upon which it was built, itself a veritable spike of black rock, rose hundreds of feet above the bay. Nothing grew there, nor were there any trails or marked pathways winding up its steep sides. Much of the time Morgan and Baxter found themselves climbing hand over hand up precipitous bluffs and sheer cliffs of crumbling gravel and dirt.
Sometime after noon they reached a flat place where they could stop and rest. From this spot only the topmost tip of the spire was visible. In front of them a graded plateau rose gently towards a notched ridge that stood out sharply against the sky. Morgan sighed and dropped his backpack.
“We’re getting close,” he said as Baxter flopped down and lay panting in the cool autumn sunlight. “I think we should wait here awhile. Maybe until it starts getting dark. We don’t want them to see us coming.”
“Them?” asked Baxter, rolling onto his side.
“Yeah. The Morrigu. And whoever works for her.”
“She has employees?”
“Giants. Only they’re not always giants. They’re called Fomorians, and they can change their shape. Like Falor son of Balor.”
Baxter scrunched up his nose. “Any food left?”
Morgan shook his head.
“I was afraid of that.” Baxter lay on his back. “Wake me when it’s over.”
“Not out in the open!” said Morgan, yanking Baxter to his feet.
Shouldering his backpack, he led the way a little further up the plateau. About a hundred feet from the ridge were a couple of tall boulders leaning against one another and forming a small triangular nook. Slipping into the narrow space between them, Morgan slumped heavily against the lichen-cool stone and blew a sweaty strand of hair out of his eyes. Baxter, meanwhile, stretched himself on the ground and began to snore.
Morgan glanced at his companion. He knew exactly how Baxter felt. His stomach, too, was pinched and growling. He was beginning to wonder where he would find the strength to do what needed to be done once he reached the top of the hill. Guess I’ll find out when I get there, he thought as he lay down to rest his weary limbs.
He awoke in the twilight to see Baxter sitting on his haunches and peering out between the two big rocks.
“Who are they?” said Baxter. “Enemies?”
Morgan poked his head out of the opening and looked. Several dark figures, mere silhouettes against the sky, were making their way through the gap at the summit of the ridge. He tried to count them—one, two … three, four, five. The fifth—the one in the lead—was very tall.
“Hard to tell,” he said, ducking back under cover. “We should probably figure that everything on this island is an enemy. Like I said, Fomorians can change shape at will.”
“What should we do?”
“Let’s follow—at a distance. Better to keep them in sight. Maybe they’ll even show us the way. Come on.”
As he said this, Morgan stepped into the open and drew the blade Fragarach from his bolg. It flickered with a pale light as he held it up into the dusky air, turning the hilt this way and that. Baxter looked on and said nothing; but it seemed to Morgan that his gray eyes glittered as he clambered out from between the boulders with his own Danaan sword in hand.
Swiftly and silently they climbed the ridge. At the top, Morgan stopped and caught his breath. Before them, soaring up into the melting heavens like a burnished spear-point, rose the spire of Tur Morraigu. So high did it stand, so glossy and mirror-like were the sleek black stones of which it was made, that they could see the first glimmering star of evening reflected in its jet-like surface. On every side it was surrounded by a high wall and a steaming ditch. Its single gate was heavily fortified with tall guard towers.
“We’re going in there?” breathed Baxter.
Morgan didn’t answer. For even as he stood gazing at the tower’s formidable outworks, the five shapes they had seen a few minutes earlier suddenly slipped out from behind a shoulder of the hill and darted across his line of vision. The sun had gone, but a small orange cloud still glowed above the western horizon. In its unearthly light Morgan could see them clearly. More than that, he thought he recognized them.
Apparently Baxter did too.
“The janitor!” he shouted. “And those munchkins!”
“Sssh!” hissed Morgan, clapping a hand over his companion’s mouth. He could see that Baxter was right. The five figures who were at that very moment stealthily making their way towards the gate of Tur Morraigu were familiar to him. The tall one was Simon Brach. The four smaller ones were his Fir Bolg companions: Eochy, Slanga, Sengann, and Crimthann.
“What are you doing, Izaak?” spluttered Baxter. “They’re our friends, aren’t they?”
“You don’t understand,” Morgan whispered. “I don’t want Simon to catch me here! That’ll spell the end of my plans! Get down and keep quiet!”
“I won’t!” said Baxter. “That’s crazy! We need their help!” Then, pulling away violently, he began waving his sword in the air. “Hey! Over here!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “It’s us!”
“Shut up!” yelled Morgan, grabbing Baxter by the shoulders and knocking him off balance.
Together they fell. Together they rolled down the slope like an avalanche, grappling one another, pounding one another, tearing at each other’s hair. And then—wham!—they slammed up against something massive and solid, something like a tree-trunk wrapped in a tough leathery hide.
For a moment Morgan just lay there moaning, a barrage of painful fireworks exploding inside his skull. At last he opened his eyes.
To his surprise, his right cheek was jammed up against a sharp iron stud. The stud was projecting from the toe of a heavy hob-nailed boot.
“On your feet, spies!” bellowed a harsh voice.
Morgan turned his head and glanced up.