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

Sword & Stone 2 001

From somewhere in amongst the tree-pillars—and Eny noticed now for the first time how dark were the spaces between and beyond their gnarled stone trunks—came a figure she recognized at once:  the one-eyed, bull-necked, broad-backed, bald-headed shape of Falor son of Balor—the hulking Fomorian she had seen in Madame Medea’s shop, except that on this occasion he wore a long shirt of interlocking steel rings instead of a greasy black suit.

Stalking up to Eny, Falor grunted and seized her by the arm.  Without removing any of her garments he hurriedly threw a gown of fine white linen over her head.  Oh, no! she thought.  Another dress!  But she didn’t have time to protest, for after lacing up the gown, which covered her from neck to toe—clothing, bolg, and all—the great ugly Fomor gripped her by the shoulders, faced her forward, and walked her down the aisle towards the raised dais.

The Morrigu, seating herself at the harp, began to pluck a haunting melody.  The tune wrapped itself around Eny and seeped into her brain through the portals of her ears.  It pushed its way right down to the tender roots of her heart where it lay coiled like a serpent.  Suddenly she felt light and ethereal.  So pleasant was the sensation that she closed her eyes and yielded herself up to the influence of the music.  The next thing she knew, she was standing at the base of the three broad steps.

As she stood there, the seven oak doors swung open.  Out stepped seven maidens in gowns exactly like those worn by the women in the stained-glass window.  Each wore a garland of flowers in her long flaxen hair.  Each carried a golden candelabra.  The flames of the candles were dazzling-bright and the lips of the women glowed red as fire.  Around the pedestal they marched and down the steps, forming a line behind Eny.

The music of the harp flowed on, swelling and increasing in power.  Again the doors at the rear of the platform sprung open and out came another group of seven young girls with wreaths of wild roses in their thick red hair, all of them dressed in wide-sleeved tunics of scarlet velvet.  The first one carried a tall red taper.  She was followed by four who bore silver trays laden with ivory cups.  Last came two with snow-white lilies in their hands.  They descended the steps in a body and took up their places behind the first seven.

Last came a pair of slim maidens who entered from the wings.  They were clothed in white and had long, glossy black hair.  Encircling their willowy waists were golden girdles into which were thrust long, sharp silver knives.  Approaching the center of the platform, they knelt before the marble pedestal and whisked away the silken shroud.

That’s when Eny saw it:  flat, dull gray, and entirely unremarkable amidst all the shining splendors of that fantastic hall; stained and scored and pitted with innumerable scars.  Lia Fail, the lost Stone of Destiny, Jacob’s Pillow; the well-worn step from the old tower stairway at St. Halistan’s Church.  And seeing it, she caught her breath and felt a lump rise in her throat.

Falor gave her a shove and she stepped forward.  The two maidens in white came down the steps to meet her.  Eny could see the flickering yellow light of the candles glancing on the polished blades at their belts.  The Morrigu rose from her harp and glided noiselessly to center stage.

“The time has come,” she said, lifting her white arms above her head.  “Time to solemnize the Mystical Wedding!”

With a graceful, sweeping motion she stretched out her right hand and placed it on Eny’s head.  “The Bride is here!” she said, her emerald eyes sparkling in the candlelight.  “Bring in the Groom!”

Trumpets sounded and the brass doors at the rear of the hall flew open.  Fifty mailed Fomorian guards filed in and formed up behind the fourteen maidens.  Glancing up the aisle between their ranks, Eny saw a solitary white-robed figure standing in the open doorway.

The figure was slender and small and leaned slightly to one side.  Reddish light from the corridor shrouded it in a lurid halo, concealing the features of its face.  In spite of this, she could not help thinking that its gangly, awkward body looked familiar somehow.

“Come forward!” shouted the Morrigu; and with that, the figure began to move.  Eny shuddered involuntarily to see how its head wobbled as it walked.  Its gait was halting and unnatural.  Step-sluff, step-sluff—slowly it shambled towards her, tripping over its own feet like a clumsy mechanical doll.  Yet for all the repulsive inhumanness of its movements, the feeling grew upon her as it approached that she had seen it before.

The reason became clear the moment it stepped into the light.  At the sight of its face she opened her mouth to scream, but there was not an atom of breath in her paralyzed lungs.  She felt as if she’d been punched in the stomach.  She gasped and felt as if she might faint.

The face was Morgan’s.

(To be continued …)

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