Even as Morgan and Baxter were entering the hall with Ollamh Folla, Eny was bearing up bravely under the fawning ministrations of the women: of Liber, who washed her; of Crucha, who rubbed her dry and wrapped her in soft linen; and of Anust, her special friend, who anointed her with scented oils and combed out her coppery hair. But when it came time to dress for the feast, the female Fir Bolg stood demurely aside and left her in the care of a slender, dark-haired maid of the Tuatha De Danann.
“I’m afraid we haven’t met,” said Eny as the Danaan girl glided into the chamber with a gown of snow-white silk rustling on her arm. “My name’s Eny.”
“Eithne,” smiled the maiden, her black eyes flashing under long, dark lashes. “I know who you are. I am called Brighid.”
Eny watched her closely. Her movements were like those of a shadow as she swept noiselessly across the floor, her hair falling over her shoulders and the back-lacings of her green kirtle in a rich mahogany cascade. Though she seemed no more than a year or two her senior, Eny knew that Brighid might easily be centuries old in the reckoning of the Sidhe. The age of the Danaan folk shows itself mainly in their eyes, and hers were as deep as ancient wells.
“Brighid,” murmured Eny. “It’s a pretty name.”
“I’m glad you think so. Now, on your feet and hands in the air.”
“Brighid,” she said as the shimmery white gown slipped over her head like a spring shower, “do you know what a tomboy is?”
The girl bent over her shoulder and smiled into her face. “No. Will you tell me?”
“It’s me. Whatever else I may be, ‘tomboy’ is a big part of who I am.”
“And what does it mean?”
“Partly I that like fiddling and fishing and slinging stones better than playing with dolls. But mostly it means that I really, really don’t like dressing up in frilly stuff like this.”
“I see. Stand straight, please.” Gently Brighid drew her up by the shoulders and began lacing the dress tightly behind her back.
“Isn’t there anything else I can wear?”
“Because tonight you are being presented before the King.”
“King Lugh of the Long Hand?” Eny grunted as the girl pulled the lacings tight.
“I am afraid not,” sighed Brighid.
Eny turned to look at her. “But what other king is there?”
“Ollamh Folla. You know him—do you not?”
“Simon!” gasped Eny. “Simon’s the king?”
“He did not know it himself until he arrived in the Baile. He has only just come from the Morrigu’s dungeons.”
So that’s why the Stone roared! thought Eny. “But what happened to King Lugh?”
“He fell in the last fight but one. On Tory’s shore, near Dun Bhabir. Ollamh has pledged himself to serve the people until he can be healed.”
“Then he isn’t dead?”
“He lives yet, but his wounds still bleed. They will until the Maiden, the Stone, and the Key are reunited. That is one reason you are here.”
“Eochy didn’t tell me that!” Eny peered deep into Brighid’s dark eyes. “You’re talking about the ‘Maiden of Perfect Purity,’ aren’t you?”
“Yes. About Eithne. About you.”
“But doesn’t anybody understand?” said Eny. “Don’t they realize what they’re doing? The Morrigu is already winning, and this will only help her!”
Brighid shook her head. “Her power is great, yet not as great as it might become.”
“But that’s just it! Can’t you see? I don’t really know what it means to be the ‘Maiden of Perfect Purity.’ But I do know that the Morrigu thinks I’m her! And once she catches me we’ll all be in big trouble! She’ll be holding all the cards! She’ll use me somehow to tap into the power of Lia Fail. And that will be the end!”
Brighid smiled and smoothed Eny’s hair. “You are mistaken.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Then let me tell you. In the first place, while the Sidhe endures, Ollamh Folla and the people of Danu will never let the Morrigu catch you. You are safe here—provided, of course, that you remain within the palisade of the Baile.
“In the second place, even if she were to possess both the Maiden and the Stone, still the Morrigu could not prevail: for the Maiden and the Stone are only two corners of the Triad. There is a Third Angle—a missing Key that she cannot possess. It was lost long ago and she does not know where to find it.”
“A Third Angle?” said Eny, twisting her head around as Brighid tied the laces at the nape of her neck.
“No more time for talk. We are expected. Come.”
* * * * *
(To be continued …)