The Sword of Paracelsus: The Maiden and the Stone, Part One

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As Eny stood mute with apprehension, the Morrigu drew near, kissed her forehead, and encircled her gently with one shapely white arm. She could feel the warmth of the woman’s body. She could smell the delicate fragrance of her breath. She could hear the musical hum of her sweetly resonant voice cooing vague words of comfort and reassurance. Then, as they stood there together watching the two piles of ash scatter slowly in the evening breeze, the enchantress lifted the edge of the Feth Fiada and swept it up over their heads. The world disappeared.

Never had Eny known such darkness. Her eyes were shrouded in a blackness that went beyond blackness and verged upon nothingness. She experienced neither heat nor cold, neither stillness nor movement; yet, for all her lack of sensation, it seemed to her that she was spinning out of control, reeling and whirling in body and mind. She closed her eyes and opened them. It made no difference—the one was as the other. She pinched herself but felt nothing. She began to get sleepy. She wondered if she might be dying.

The next thing she knew there was a light somewhere above her head. Her body was ascending in a slow spiraling motion. This went on for some time before she realized that she was in fact climbing with her own two legs, panting heavily, laboring step by step up a narrow, winding staircase. She could see and hear again. She could feel the rough texture of the stone walls on either hand. Up ahead of her went the train of a billowing black robe, filling the stairwell like a cloud of black smoke.

At length the stairway emptied out into a dim passage where red torches flared in iron sconces between tall pointed windows. At its further end stood a heavy double door of tarnished brass. Advancing noiselessly, the Morrigu approached this door, grasped the big brass handle, and pushed it open. Eny followed her inside without a word.

“This is my Great Hall,” smiled the green-eyed woman with an expansive sweep of her pale, long-fingered hand.

It was the grandest room Eny had ever seen in her life. Glancing up, she saw neither a lofty ceiling nor a high-soaring dome, but what looked like the deep blue of heaven filled with tiny gold stars and filmy white clouds. Down out of this celestial haze descended fourteen twisted columns, barely visible at their upper extremities, but thick, massy, and solid at the base. They were shaped like trees—pines, birches, oaks, aspens, and others of a kind Eny did not recognize—and they all bore delicate leaves of copper and silver and gold. The windows of the hall, which were deep, wide, and round-arched, looked out upon the clean blue slate of a cloudless evening sky and the foaming waves of a restless sea. The floor was like a pavement of luminescent pearls.

“It’s all very beautiful,” said Eny. “But none of it’s real—is it?”

The Morrigu smiled pleasantly. “We have other business to discuss.”

“We sure do,” said Eny, turning to face her. “We’re here to make a deal.”

“Those who occupy positions of power,” said the enchantress, “have no need to make deals.”

“I don’t care about that,” said Eny. “I’m here to take you up on your bargain. That’s why I came.”

“But you didn’t come. You were brought.”

“Wrong! I came of my own free will! Because you proposed an exchange. You made the offer to Morgan, it’s true. But he would never have followed through. Your messenger said—”

“Ssh!” whispered the Morrigu, bending forward and laying a cool finger on Eny’s lips. “I don’t care what she said!”

So fearsome was the light in her eyes that Eny bit her tongue and did not dare to speak another word.

“I have brought you here,” the enchantress repeated in a soft voice, “for another reason. To begin with, I have something to show you. I believe you will find it most interesting.” She raised her hand and pointed to the front of the Great Hall.

The wall at this end of the room was taken up almost entirely by a lofty stained-glass window. At its peak was emblazoned the image of a great bird the color of midnight. The curling feathers of its blue-black wings stretched all the way down the sides of the window, and below their shadowy canopy were ranged faintly radiant representations of seven women in gowns of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Over their heads in letters of gold were written seven names: Dana, Badb, Macha, Etain, Eriu, Medb, and Morgana.

Underneath the window stood seven doors of intricately carved oak. These opened onto a raised dais that communicated with the main floor of the hall by three broad steps. On the left side of this platform sat a huge crow on a tall iron perch. On the right side stood a golden harp with twenty-one silver strings. In the middle, on an altar-like pedestal of rose-veined marble, beneath a shroud of pure white silk, lay a rectangular object about three feet in length.

“Do you know what that is?” asked the Morrigu, raising a shapely black eyebrow and indicating the oblong thing on the pedestal.

Eny hesitated. “The Stone?”

The woman responded with her most enchanting smile. “Falor!” she cried, clapping her hands. “It is time! The Maiden of Perfect Purity has come!”

(To be continued …)

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