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 …)