“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 …)