“Dost expect me to swim?” asked John Dee as they gathered on a rainbow-misted rock above the foaming breakers.
Simon shook his head and nodded in the direction of the four Fir Bolg, who were already turning their belt-bags into sturdy round currachs. “We sail with the tide!” he said. “Missy—bring us those few bits of driftwood. We’ll need some paddles.”
In a few minutes they had the four little boats in the water. Eny boarded the first with Simon and Eochy. Morgan tumbled into the second with his father and John Dee. Slanga and Crimthann manned the third, while Sengann was left with the lethargic Baxter as shipmate. “Row, you slug!” they heard the cantankerous Fir Bolg shout as they launched out into the surf and spray.
No sooner had they got beyond the breaking water than a blast like a thunderclap drew Morgan’s gaze back towards the land.
“There she goes!” shouted Simon; and as they watched, the tower of Tur Morraigu collapsed into the bay, casting a plume of white spray high into the still blue air. In the next instant something that looked like a column of black smoke shot up from the crest of the plume.
As this dark pillar flattened out against the upper atmosphere, spreading over the sky like a net of shadow, the rowers in the boats could see plainly that it was not smoke at all, but a dense flock of seabirds—cranes, herons, terns, petrels, cormorants, and multi-colored gulls. And at the head of this feathered throng one great black bird, conspicuous for size and commanding in aspect, was leading the rest down towards the four little currachs in a massive swooping wedge.
“Bend your backs!” cried Simon. “Out into the current!”
Morgan picked up his piece of driftwood and cast a glance at his father. Smiling grimly, John Izaak grabbed his own paddle and thrust it into the sea. Together they began to row with every ounce of strength they had.
“Whither away?” yelled John Dee.
“Follow the Stone!” answered Simon, driving his boat up the glassy slope of a steep green wave.
“The Stone?” shouted Morgan.
“Yes!” said his father, pointing out across the whitecaps. “Over there!”
Morgan shaded his eyes and caught his breath. Was it possible? Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny, was floating on the surface of the water, exactly as in the picture in Rev. Alcuin’s book! He could see it, about twenty feet away, bounding over the crests of the jostling waves just as if it were a big piece of cork. The jagged sword blade sticking up out of its back made it look like a ship with a broken mast.
“By the beard of Erc!” cried a voice at Morgan’s ear. It was Sengann, who had just come alongside, paddling furiously while Baxter sat staring in the stern of the currach. “She’s going against the current! How do we follow that?”
“How indeed?” grunted John Izaak.
“Just keep rowing!” shouted Simon, whose craft was directly in front of theirs. “You’ll find out!”
So row they did. And at first it seemed to Morgan that the harder he strained, the greater grew the gap between the floating Stone and his fragile little currach. Nor was that the worst of it; for with every passing second the armada of flying Fomorians was getting closer. Already he could feel the wind of their wings on the back of his neck. Already he could hear their harsh cries echoing off the rocks.
Then, without warning, came a jolt from behind. Suddenly the currach was darting through the water like a torpedo. Morgan looked back to see what had happened. There was nothing there.
“Keep paddling!” shouted Simon. “Follow the Stone!”
And now they were tearing along, driven by some power they did not control, but which responded automatically to their feeble efforts to keep up with Lia Fail. For if they stopped rowing, this force faded like a dying wind; but as soon as they started again, it picked up and thrust them forward with all the energy of a violent gale. Out across the strait it carried them, away from Tory Island, straight towards the curving promontory of the mainland.
Morgan grinned, exulting in the speed of their flight. But a moment later he heard someone screaming in the next boat. He turned and saw Baxter Knowles standing in the currach, flailing his arms wildly in an attempt to drive off a big gull that was pulling out tufts of his hair with its beak. The birds were upon them!
“Stop your bawling and row!” shouted Sengann, taking a great swing at the gull with his paddle. But no sooner had he batted the bird away than the entire flock descended in a storm of flapping wings and jabbing bills.
“What now?” cried John Izaak, slapping a big cormorant with his oar.
Simon answered by pointing to the sky.
(To be continued …)