Simon’s narrative at an end, everyone got up and hurried off to make preparations for the great feast. Rury took the two boys aside and explained that they were to accompany Simon and the Fir Bolg men to a spot set aside for their use on the upper level. Liber, meanwhile, guided Eny and the women to a private chamber towards the rear of the Tellach.
Just before the two groups parted company, Eny managed to nab a spare bolg from Rury and slipped it into Morgan’s hands. Nodding his thanks, Morgan reached under the table, retrieved the concealed sword, and discreetly thrust it into the mouth of the floppy bag. To his surprise and pleasure, it disappeared completely inside—blade, hilt, and pommel. Securing the flap with a thong, he tied the bolg to his belt and followed Simon and Rury up the steps to the raised gallery on the other side of the scarlet pillars.
Five tall Danaans were waiting for them there. Each of them had curled yellow hair hanging down to the shoulders. Each wore a flowing shirt of red, blue, or green silk and had a speckled cloak about his shoulders. They all had towels draped over their arms, and before them stood a big wooden vat banded with thick hoops of iron and filled to the brim with steaming water.
“Now off with those filthy things and into the tub,” said Simon. “There’s a time and a place for everything, and a high feast in the Great Hall is neither the time nor the place for dirty boys in ragged clothes.”
“Me? Take a bath with him?” Morgan blushed and looked around for a way of escape.
“Ragged?” protested Baxter. “These pants came from Saks!”
But the attendants were swift and efficient, and in the blink of an eye both boys were splashing in the water.
Once thoroughly soused, scrubbed, and dried, they were dressed in fresh suits of clothes: purple cloaks, white tunics, red waistcoats, and shoes of soft leather. To complete their outfits, each received a silver belt with a gold-hilted sword in a silver scabbard.
Baxter stood admiring his reflection in the surface of a polished bronze shield. First he turned this way, then that. Then he fluffed his hair, smoothed his coat, and preened like a peacock. At last he drew the sword, sheathed it, drew it again, and brandished it in the air.
Oh, brother! thought Morgan. But in his heart of hearts he had to admit that he understood what the other boy was feeling. He was, in fact, nearly bursting with the expectation of good things to come. A day or two ago (as he measured time) his cause had appeared hopeless. Yet now, in the blink of an eye, everything had changed. Here he was in the Sidhe, armed and decked out like hero! He was close—very close indeed—to the place where the enchantress was holding his father. It was only a matter of time now. He felt sure of it.
Catching a glimpse of his own reflection, he struck a pose and smiled. Like Baxter, he smoothed the folds of his rich cloak. Like Baxter, he readjusted his belt and ran his fingertips over the snowy sheen of his silken shirt. But unlike his companion, he did not complete the ritual by reaching for the hilt of the Danaan sword. Instead, he patted the lumpy leather satchel hanging at his belt. Nothing can stop me now, he thought.
Meanwhile, Baxter was still twirling the glittering sword above his head. Twice he whirled it, then a third time. But his face changed as he lowered the blade and stooped to examine it in the light of a torch.
“I don’t get it,” he scowled, a cloud of disappointment shadowing his forehead. He turned and fixed his gaze upon the Danaan blade hanging at Morgan’s side. All at once a cold light dawned in his eyes. “Hey—,” he said slowly. “Whatever happened to—?”
“This way to the banquet!” interrupted a bold, cheery voice. And there before them stood Simon Brach, no longer a grizzled janitor but a resplendent Danaan Chief—the dashing, golden-haired, scarlet-cloaked Ollamh Folla.
(To be continued …)