“What was that?” yelled Morgan, driving his oar into the water and fighting to keep the boat’s nose off the foaming reef.
“The current!” Baxter shouted back, digging in deeply on his side. “A strong one, too. We could end up a long way from where you want to go if we don’t do something!”
“The wind,” answered Baxter, wetting a finger and sticking it up into the breeze. “It’s not exactly blowing our way, but it’s a stiff breeze and we can tack against it and the current. Belay these sheets and hold the luff while I get this canvas up!”
“How do you know all this stuff?” cried Morgan.
Baxter laughed. To Morgan he seemed more like his old arrogant, over-confident self than at any other time during their sojourn in the Sidhe.
“My dad owns a forty-foot yacht!” he said with a proud smirk. “He used to make me go sailing with him almost every Sunday. I hated it! ‘Ready about—hard alee!’ Ha ha! I hear him say that in my sleep sometimes!”
Under Baxter’s guidance, the two boys soon got the boat under sail. With the help of the wind, they turned the prow and reset their course for Tur Morraigu. A spark of reddish light had now appeared in one of the tower’s loftiest windows, and by keeping this glittering beacon in view they managed to zig-zag their way across the channel until the black shoulder of the island stood over them, high above the water and close at hand.
It was late by the time they dragged their boat up out of the surf and onto the gravelly beach. The crescent moon had not yet risen, and the stars, though thick as a swarm of bees, gave little light. Morgan felt grateful that they could come ashore under cover of such heavy darkness.
“Now can we stop for the night?” moaned Baxter as they shoved the boat behind an outcropping of rock. “I’ve never been so tired in my whole life!”
“Me too,” Morgan agreed.
After a brief search, they found a dry space beneath a low overhanging bluff, where a small hollow was hidden behind a screen of prickly thorn.
“This okay?” asked Morgan.
“Any port in a storm,” answered Baxter. “At least that’s what my dad used to say.” Unbuckling his belt, he tossed his sword aside and threw himself down on the hard ground. He was dead to the world within two minutes.
There’s more to Baxter than I thought, smiled Morgan as he too unslung his backpack, tucked his bolg beneath his head, and lay down to sleep.
He was awakened by Baxter’s screams.
“What is it? What is it? Get it away from me!”
Morgan sat up and rubbed his eyes. It was gray daylight, and there was a thick fog clinging to the rocks and dripping from the branches of the thorn. Baxter was standing with his back against the wall of the cliff. Not three feet from his face flickered the long forked tongue of a huge black snake.
Without thinking, Morgan leaped to his feet. Out came the sword. Back and forth flashed the snickering blue blade. There was a pop! and a kind of explosion in the air, and when the brightness had faded the serpent’s head was lying on the sand in a pool of sizzling black blood. Morgan wiped the blade with a clump of beach grass and thrust it back into his bag.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “This is an evil place.”
Together they climbed the bluff at the top of the beach until they came to a level spot above the mist. Here, amidst nettles, furze, and tall dead grasses, they sat down to share the last of Morgan’s chocolate chip cookies. Below them the fog stretched in a blanket across the channel and over to the mainland where, far to the west, a sliver of moon was setting behind a range of distant white hills. Away on the other side of the island the blood-red sun was scattering sparks through the teeth of a serrated ridge. Above their heads, jutting three hundred feet into the pale morning sky, loomed the terrible object of their quest: the tower of Tur Morraigu, a sleek obelisk of polished stone, black as ebony in the growing light.
(To be continued …)