The Sword of Paracelsus: The Vision on the Stair, Part 1

Sword & Stone 2 001

“Izaak? Did you say John Izaak?”

Eny stood back and took a good, long look at the man who was pushing his way through the dust and debris of the crumbling wall. He reminded her of a chick just breaking through the shell of its egg: weak, wobbly, bedraggled.

The bald crown of his head, which was the first detail of his anatomy to present itself as he emerged from the rubble, was surrounded by a long, lank crop of thin and graying yellow hair. His sufferings were evident in the painful lines of his gaunt face. The high cheekbones were sharp and prominent, the cheeks dark and hollow, the nose narrow and pointed. An abundant growth of matted gray beard covered the long chin, and the forehead was deeply lined and furrowed. His wire-rimmed spectacles were bent and cracked, and the skin around his eyes was as yellow and wrinkled as an ancient parchment. But the eyes themselves were almost terrifyingly brilliant—blue and piercing as the eyes of Simon Brach himself.

He straightened himself and shuffled into the cell, brushing the dirt and dust from the ragged remains of an old tweed suit. His wrists and ankles, which stuck out below the shredded sleeves and cuffs, were mere skin and bone. With a tentative bow, he stepped forward and stuck out a shaky hand.

“Yes, Izaak,” he said. “Does the name mean anything to you?”

Eny covered her mouth with her hand and took a step backwards. “It really is you!” she whispered.

He tilted his head and smiled vaguely.

“Those eyes! And the nose, too! They’re just like Morgan’s. You’re almost unrecognizable, but I think I’d recognize you anywhere!”

The smile faded from John Izaak’s lips. “Morgan?”

“Your son!”

“You know my son?”

“He’s my best friend! He’s in the Sidhe, too—trying to find you. I’m Eny Ariello.”

“Ariello? As in George and Moira Ariello?”

“My mom and dad! Morgan and I grew up next door to each other.”

“Grew up? But he can’t be more than a year-and-a-half old! He was born only a few weeks before she brought me to this horrid place.”

“He’s twelve.”

John Izaak turned pale and fell back against the wall.

At that very moment another figure stuck its head through the hole in the wall. If Eny had been shocked at Izaak’s appearance, she found the aspect of this emaciated, scarecrow-like creature positively alarming. The top of its head, which wobbled unsteadily as it broke through into the half-light, was covered by a tight-fitting black skull-cap. Its scraggly beard, white as snow and at least a yard long, reminded her of wizards she’d seen in books of fairy tales. Its frayed and tattered garments were black. When it stood up, it looked like a skeleton veiled in a death-shroud or a ship’s mast wrapped in the remains of a torn sail. The dirty scraps of an old lace collar hung about its neck. Its face was drawn and withered, its eyes pale and luminous.

“Music of the angels!” it muttered as it staggered forward, looking as if it might collapse at any moment. “Is this the gateway to the kingdom of heaven? Have I attained to the New Birth?”

John Izaak laughed. “Sorry, Dee. There are no angels. It’s just another cell. After all that work!”

“Humph!” snorted the scarecrow, eyeing Eny up and down. “Thou’rt naught but a maid!”

(To be continued) .

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