They all looked up. Though it was still broad daylight, the air above them appeared to be filled with glittering stars. What’s more, the stars were growing. No, not growing, thought Morgan. Moving closer. They were in fact rising up from the steep black headland across the water and bearing down upon the flock of seabirds at a great rate.
“Flying ships!” shouted Eny.
Squinting at the approaching points of light, Morgan could see that she was right. Even now he thought he could make out the red and blue stripes of their billowing spinnakers. A second later he clearly discerned the flash and sparkle of the painted shields lining their gunwales. And then came a burst of blazing pinpricks, like sparks from a bonfire, as the airborne archers let loose a volley of steel-tipped arrows.
“What’s happening?” panted his father. “Is it good or bad?”
“Very good!” answered Morgan. “It’s the Tuatha De Danann!”
“They’ve come from Taman!” Simon shouted. “That’s where the fleet is anchored!”
And now the arrows were whizzing and flashing around them like a deadly hailstorm. A shrill chorus of squawks and screeches rose from the throats of the stricken birds as hundreds of them splashed heavily into the water. The others rose up in a hurricane of flying feathers and wheeled back towards Tory Island.
“Hurrah!” shouted Morgan. “They’re running away!” But no sooner had the cheer left his lips than he felt John Dee’s bony hand upon his shoulder.
“Glory be!” cried Dee, once again pointing heavenward.
Following the old man’s trembling finger with his gaze, Morgan looked up and gasped. There was not a cloud in the sky, but the sky was parting like a curtain on a stage. The great blue dome itself was splitting from zenith to horizon. Within the widening crack, against a background like black velvet, shone a host of diamond stars. And looping down from the biggest and brightest of these stars, swaying above the sea like a ribbon of gold, swung the celestial stairway he had seen once before, on that fateful night at St. Halistan’s: Jacob’s Ladder. Its lowermost rung dangled directly above the surface of the floating Stone of Destiny. And upon the ladder, ascending and descending in rank upon luminous rank, were the terrible seraphim, fair-faced, many-eyed, eagle-winged, searing and burning like living coals in a red-hot furnace.
“E’en so they appeared to me, lo! these many years ago!” Dee murmured. “Edward never saw them!” he added emphatically, turning to Morgan’s father. “It was to me they taught their speech!”
Even as he spoke the vision faded and the shining stair withdrew. The edges of the rift in the sky drew together and the seam was tightly sealed once more. Dumb with wonder, Morgan watched the Danaan ships race away after the fleeing Fomorians. For an instant he thought he could discern a tiny spot of glossy black hurtling over Tory, far ahead of the rest of the flock. And then the entire cavalcade—the retreating cloud of birds and the pursuing specks of the glittering ships—disappeared beyond the heights of the island and went down unseen beneath the dim horizon.
The wind dropped and the waves fell flat. The current died and the sea fell still. On and on over the glassy water floated Lia Fail, nearer and nearer to the chalky cliffs on the further shore, the four currachs bobbing along behind it as if drawn by the Stone’s native magnetism. At last it rounded the tip of the headland and drifted into a calm inlet of smooth jade-green waters. There, as the sun touched the western horizon, it came to rest upon a wide, flat shoal of golden sand.
(To be continued …)