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.