The Sword of Paracelsus: The Washer at the Ford, Part 2

Sword of Paracelsus 001

The stars were shining overhead when Eny slipped out the back door of the kitchen and began running up the gravel path towards the longhouse.  She was nearly halfway there when she remembered that her everyday clothes were still in the chamber where Brighid had dressed her for the feast.

I can’t go back now! she thought, slowing to a standstill.  And I can’t possibly go where I’m going in this frilly dress!  I’ll just have to borrow some of Rury’s things. 

The low-thatched, rough-timbered sleeping lodge was dark, empty, and still when she came bursting through the door—all the residents of the house, including the Fir Bolg, had gone to the great banquet hall.  Striking a light, she threaded her way among the sleeping mats, picked up her bolg, and began rummaging around the room for a few basic necessities.  Her fiddle, which lay beside her bed, she wrapped in a couple of blankets and stowed carefully inside the bag.  Then she packed her sling, a small pouch of smooth, round stones, a bundle of wax candles, a tinder box, a coil of rope, some oatcakes and raisins, and a good sharp knife.  Last of all she found the canvas sack where Rury kept a few spare items of clothing and took a pair of breeches, a tunic of homespun linen, a woolen jacket, a sheepskin belt, a cloak, a cap, and a pair of Fir Bolg boots.  Unlacing the white silk gown, she slipped out of it and quickly donned these rustic garments.  Then, hitching her bolg to her belt, she blew out the light and crept outside.

It was a cold and moonless night.  Nothing stirred among the wooden huts and houses of the dun except a few dry birch leaves that fluttered down from the trees beside the path and went skittering over the gravel in the chill evening breeze.  In the distance Eny could see the glow of the lights in the Tellach.  She could hear a faint rumor of the uproar inside the hall.  Tightening her belt, she ducked into a shadow and stole softly along the narrow lanes that wound between the buildings, heading for the wooden palisade at the rear of the dun.

Upon reaching the wall, she stopped and gazed up at the tips of its massive pointed timbers.  They’d have to be scaled, for there was no other way out of the Baile.  The front gate was guarded.  The watchtowers, too, would be manned.  So she’d have to keep her distance from the palisade’s fortified corners and try to stay out of sight.  It wouldn’t be easy, but her fertile brain was already hatching a plan.

Opening her bolg, she fished out the rope, the little bag of stones, and the knife.  First she tied the pouch firmly to one end of the rope.  Then, about a foot above it, she hitched the rope securely around the hilt of the knife.  Checking to see that the coil was free of entanglements, she took hold of the rope, whirled the pouch in a wide circle over her head, and flung it as high as she could towards the serried crest of the palisade.  It struck the wood about three feet short and crashed to the ground below.

Nothing dismayed, Eny gathered up the rope and tried again.  Then she tried a second time and a third.  On the fourth attempt both the bag of stones and the knife sailed cleanly over the palisade and fell back against the outer side, slapping the wood with a loud hollow thump.  I hope nobody heard that, she thought.

Pulling the rope taut, she drew it up until the knife caught and lodged itself solidly between two of the huge sharpened stakes.  Then, with a tug to make sure the line was secure, she took a firm grip, braced her feet against the wall, and started to climb.

Getting over the top of the wall was harder than she had expected.  It was a delicate business avoiding the treacherous tips of the sharpened stakes; but eventually she managed to slide into a sitting position between two of the pointed timbers as if she were mounting a saddle.  From this vantage point she could see that it would be impossible to descend by means of the rope unless she left the knife and some of the cord behind.  So after a few minutes of careful deliberation, she pulled the blade free of the wood, threw it to the ground, and let herself drop on the other side.

It was a long fall—so long that it might have ended in disaster except that the ground outside the dun angled away from the palisade in a gentle, grassy slope.  Eny hit this slope rolling and was little the worse for wear when she picked herself up at the bottom of the grade.  Retrieving her bolg, she made a quick inventory of its contents and re-attached it to her belt.  Then, humming herself a tune—a sprightly little march called Miss Elspeth Campbell—she turned her back on the town of Baile Daoine Sidhe and set off into the foothills of Beinn Meallain.

(To be continued …)

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