On the western rocky shores of Ireland there was a thunderstorm, and it was one of those storms that thundered every minute. Flashing lightning burst downwards onto the wild sea; waves thrust upwards seventy, eighty feet as they beat on the cliffs; and a fog thicker than pudding curled over the land, unhindered by the ponderous rain that fell in tempest. You couldn't see anything. You couldn't hear anything. There was only the grey fog and the grey sea; and there was only the wild storm and the wild waves.
Well, you couldn't see or hear anything besides, of course, the great god Lugh of the Long-hand. If the great god Lugh of the Long-hand was present, then everything was rather unseeable or unhearable in relation to him. Lugh was standing on a cliff edge — a tongue of rock that thrust over the dark sea — and portraited as such against the loudness and the dreariness his body was distinguished from the noise as if with thick brush lines. For Lugh shone as gold; and on his head was a tall crown made of something like silver, although it had an inner glow that burst out like fire; his hair was more gold than the sun, and it unfurled down in long curls more curled than the wild ocean foam; darting about him were many flames that shook not only with electricity but also holy life; and his eyes were Royal, decked with many pupils. Lugh unfurled his grey cloak and, behold! he wore a vest of linked rings, every other ring silver and every other ring diamond. And he wore a blue kirtle in which was sewn the roving essence of the storm. But it was his spear, now unhid, that should catch the eye. For it thrashed and quivered in Lugh's hand, and its violence was so great that its slender shaft cracked, and there was a roar like the sucking of a vortex.
"O, Yew-Spear," Lugh of the Long-hand roared, louder than the roar of his cracking spear, "O, Lightning-that-Falls, and O, Thorn, down you go onto the rocks until you are overcome! And then, maybe, you will learn to differ between friend and foe." Then, with speed faster than the lightning that flashed above, and with a wail of grief more troubled than the troubled seas about him, Lugh of the Long-hand dropped the butt of his spear and kicked it over the cliffs and onto the rocks. Then he leapt back, for as the spear landed the whole earth trembled as one struck, and the sea retracted as one afraid, and though the sky, too, tried to billow upwards it was pressed down, and the clouds swirled so that there was one great hole through which the moon was beheld, white and cold.
Lugh's Spear struck a cluster of stones near the once-deluged beach. From its iron tip came roots. From its shaft came branches and leaves. From its bottom grew the buds of soon-to-be sweet-smelling flowers.
Then, with a shriek, Lugh's Spear, trembling and quivering, cried out to Lugh, "Thirst is not quenched by drought. And I thirst more than any creature. Yea, I wander through the desert, and I dream of oceans of blood." Then the branches thrust out further, and the shaft grew long and thick as a trunk, and the flowers began to bloom. The spear moaned, now, "Thou can not bind me! Thou can not bind me!" But still the shaft grew thicker and taller, and the flowers bloomed. Lugh's Spear now nearly lost its voice, so with its final breath it cried, "From fire, I was made; in blood, I was quenched. I turn to wood, for now, but I will return to fire. I will see your eyes on my point!" The tree that grew from Lugh's Spear now grew and grew and grew until the crown of its leaves overtopped the cliffs, and still they grew on and on. The roots dug deep into the earth, overturning whatever rock and animal that lived there. The trunk smashed the cliffs and Lugh was forced back into the central woods. But still the tree grew on and on.
Now, Lugh did not see this — if he did he would've lunged to try to take back his spear right away — but a shadow curtained over the moon that still hung framed in the centre of the clouds, like some great lid had closed; and the moon's light disappeared.
The tree stands on the western shores of Ireland. You could see it from twenty miles away. It is the most magnificent thing in the world, and the most dangerous. Evil things lurk on its boughs, and the perfume of its flowers make you delirious. The tree itself has been hollowed out by vicious, large insects. And at the bottom is Lugh's Spear, bristling with more hatred and bloodlust than all humanity may even attempt to express in all its wars put together.
But the story doesn't start exactly here (and won't end exactly here, either). So let's turn from gods and spears and hates and set our heads thinking of more rational and important matters, in this case, the hum of music. For that's where Seamus and Mag lived, in a slender white tower that always seemed to be humming some tune or other. And they lived with two old philosophers, who loved them both very much.
The Adoption of the Children
In a rising Tower called Music there lived two old philosophers and their two children, Seamus and Mag. The philosophers were amongst the wisest creatures under the vast sky. It was truly said that wisdom in all her splendor sat on their furrowed brows — though this eventually led to rheumatism of the neck. They had many adventures which they could cite as proof of their wisdom. With their heads knocking against each other, they defeated the owl in a game of Who's Who? And with their books on economics, they taught the dragons the dangers of hoarding treasure. Simply: if a dragon should die to a stray adventurer's arrow, the resultant injection of the plundered hoard would destroy the economy by means of inflation. This led to the great conclave of dragons of 64 in Rome, to discuss fiscal matters, though, as all conversations about economics go, it probably would've been better if it hadn't begun at all.
The philosophers were called Crazalomepides and Lootheremenedes. The names were of Romano-Greco origin, and meant Tom and Jeremy, respectively. But the children couldn't remember either of these names, so they called them Tim and Jam, which is how we'll refer to them for the rest of the story.
One fine June day, the philosophers sought to learn the art of child-rearing through experience. So they decided to rescue some children from an orphanage. Now, Seamus and Mag had to be rescued — and not adopted — because the orphanage they'd chosen was administrated by one of the more cruel hags of the woods, called the Hag of Dun Magrath. The philosophers chose her specific orphanage because, in their wisdom, they determined that if they wanted to rescue children from a hag, then they should rescue the children under the more evil hags. Furthermore, the Hag of Dun Magrath was a globally reviled kidnapper of children — thusly, not only would they be doing the public a great service by freeing the hag's children, but they would also find many different sorts of children in her orphanage from which they could pick and choose.
When Tim and Jam arrived at the orphanage, which was hidden between two big hills covered in eternal autumn leaves, they checked their list of 'Requirements for the Adopted Children Times Two'. They opened a scroll that billowed downwards like a rolling cloud, and the paper unfurled over the glades and knolls for longer than a marathon's route. Tim put on his glasses and checked the items listed.
"Eh-hem," he coughed, "we must keep our focus on this, dear Lootheremenedes. No matter how much we wish, we must stick to this list. Agreed? Remember the syllogism." Tim was quite proud of his syllogism. The syllogism was the argument that proved that following the items on the list would be the only ethical route for adoption. Jam agreed with Tim. So, Tim read on, "First, it must be one boy and one girl." He looked at Jam and saw that he nodded and continued, "Second, one must have the blood of a legendary person or persons, and the other must be absolutely lacking in said metaphorical blood. Note: preferably we would have a girl with the legendary blood, as there are too many boys with that sort of thing running around." Again, Tim looked at Jam to see whether he nodded. When Jam did so, he continued, "Third, they must not be perfect little children and ought to have one flaw at the least. Note: any flaw is acceptable, except for loud snoring." Jam nodded again and clapped his hands in approval. At that, Tim harrumphed at his successful reading and furled his scroll, taking twelve minutes to do so, and collapsed it with a resounding snap. He patted the scroll and put it in his satchel. "Then we are finished, here," Tim said.
"Ah", Jam replied, "but you've forgotten something very important."
"What could I possibly have forgotten?" said Tim with a frown.
"You've forgotten to mention the method by how we should get them!"
"Nay, you've forgotten your categories. I wrote that down in the 'Approved Mean by which We May Adopt Children Times Two', as you may see, here." Tim took out another massive scroll from his satchel and opened it. The paper unfurled down like a tumbling waterfall and rolled over the rocks and dirt and mud over a distance longer than the distance between Over Here and Over There. He read off the list, "We will need one truncheon and one distraction. There!" Tim furled the great scroll, taking nine minutes to do so, then he dropped the scroll into his satchel. "Have you brought the truncheon?"
"I'm afraid I took the spear by mistake," Jam said, taking out a long spear with an ivory bottom.
"I do hope it was a mistake," Tim replied, "spears incite violence, and shouldn't be trusted as a rule. Though they may do many things besides killing."
"It was a mistake!"
"Hmmph, hmmph. Very well. I've got a club with me, anyhow. Throw the spear somewhere. You'll go up and be the distraction."
The two philosophers headed to the front door of the orphanage. Tim went off into the bushes. Jam knocked on the door and waited.
The Hag of Dun Magrath opened the door, and her ugliness was such that Jam felt her ugliness before she had even opened it. She had long legs that went all the way up until they reached her armpits. She had wild, bright eyes that made Jam think of restraining orders. Her arms were white as bleach and slender as straws. And her hair was brown and wavy as a river downstream of a sewage plant. Jam peered over her and tried to glean a look into the dim hall behind her, hoping to catch a glimpse of the prospective adoptees. When he couldn't find anything of note, he spoke, "My dear, my very lovely, very repugnant dear madam. We have come here to adopt two of your fine children."
The Hag of Dun Magrath hadn't been flattered with such finery of speech in a long while so at once she was amiable to the philosopher. She laughed a laugh that was like the falling rain that would drown many ants. She giggled a girlish giggle as one would hear before roasting a hamster. The Hag of Dun Magrath spoke, and her voice was like the trill of a beached whale, "Ah!" She said, and everything was awful about it, "No doubt I should love to invite you in. Yes, maybe you can stay for lunch? Say we talk about the paperwork over the table?" She trailed the end of the word 'table' with a high-pitched whine similar to tinnitus.
Jam didn't much anything of what she said, but he did see her licking her lips, which were as luscious as bags of blood. And Jam knew that eating meals in a hag's home was the first step in becoming part of that hag's meals, so he asked her if she might bring the children out for him to see. The hag, seeing that her prospective dinner guest was wily, relented. She resigned herself to having him over at a later time.
But before she could turn and go back inside, there was a great 'THWACK' and the Hag of Dun Magrath fell like a sack of coal. Tim had fallen from the rooftop, heaving and red-faced. He stood up, dusted himself, and adjusted his skull cap and spectacles. "Alright, we'll need to package her up to get her to the constabulary," Tim said, "make sure not to hit her head." Then he stepped off the hag's head.
"I think you knocked her too hard," Jam replied, "look, she's stiff as a stone."
Tim sniffed and peered at the body over his spectacles. "Hags are naturally that way," Tim explained, "their tendons are averse to movement. This came about as a product of evolution, for you see, hags will suddenly combust if they ever make a motion that has the aesthetic appeal of a dance."
"But we really should," Jam gestured at the Hag of Dun Magrath on the ground, her arms straight by her sides and her legs crossed together, "empirically test your claim of whether she's alive or dead. Knocking a hag out cold is fine; killing one is still illegal."
Tim agreed. He took out his club, stood over the Hag of Dun Magrath, and whacked her around a few more times. When the hag began to shout a string of curses, declaring that one of their children would be drowned, hanged, and stabbed, the philosophers were satisfied with her state of liveliness. They stopped their smacking and left the hag behind as they went into the orphanage.
"Remember," Tim said to Jam as he made his way inside, "hags are vicious and evil. We've had our fun knocking her about, and we'll knock her about some more later, but she will have, and I say this with perfect certitude, treated all the children here with immense ineptitude. If we're lucky, we won't find a kitchen inside."
Jam said he knew. He lifted the candle up high so he could see the grime about him. "Perhaps we should've found her sisters as well," Jam muttered.
"We have our own business. Not everyone can be a hag-finder. Even this one took us many years to find. Besides, we have more important business to do — business that we're better trained in. This is a toe-dip to find something we need for our work. Don't get carried ahead; I know you're still young and filled with ideals."
Jam scratched his bald head and chewed his white beard. "You've told me often," he said.
The orphanage was small, damp, and dark. The philosophers stepped on rat droppings piled in great mounds and pinched their noses as they stumbled their way through the many cages. There was a low wind that blew through the shelter, though the philosophers couldn't ascertain where it came from. "Spirits?" Jam wondered.
The wet, vile smell was followed by the sweet aromas of meat pies. Tim led Jam over to the kitchen, and Jam's blood grew cold as they discovered the oven. With grim and hushed whispers, they went to the oven and opened it. With care, they took out the seven baking pies and placed them on the rotten table that lay in the centre of the kitchen. For a moment, the only noise was the sizzling and popping of meat.
Tim spoke, "I've told you how hags are bad. Hags and dragons are the irredeemable creatures. There's debate on whether one is worse than the other, with most agreeing that dragons are the worser, as they are cunning and hide their foul intentions with fair words. But even a dragon would not do . . . this! " Tim pointed a trembling finger towards the pies as he spoke his bitter words. "A reeducation, maybe," he muttered, "to teach stories that mothers would later tell to their children, warning them of signs of hags: those that would trap you with past gifts, those that oppress you with false morals, obliging obligation." Tim muttered, and he cried.
Jam was as one struck by electricity, and didn't know what to say or do. He wanted to shout and pray in silence and fall on his knees and stand to avoid the floor's grime. So he looked at Tim, and did and said nothing.
Suddenly, like leaping lightning Tim flew with his club to the oven and smashed it, invigorated by the righteous fury of a man sixty years younger. He split the gears that were in it. He broke the clock that hung on the mantlepiece. He shattered the glass and spilled the gasoline. Tim's blood ran hot and though his hands shook he struck the oven again and again, and the club bent with the force. He cried out. In his voice was the keen roar of the prophet and the judge, like a rushing red hot spear, and the dark curse that is available to the philosopher was invoked. "It's all rotten. It's all defiled. Woe to that Hag of Dun Magarth and woe to her sisters! No one will use these parts for any machine ever again," he invoked the curse over and over, declaring the unfitness of the metal and the machinery, hoping that through destruction would come transfiguration, hoping that the dust of the metals would later do some good, or, at least, no harm. And while Tim smashed, Jam thought to stop him, to say that is was useless: but that's wrong — destroying evil symbols is rational and glorious. But still, his heart was not bent towards rage. Instead rose in him a desire to save what could be saved, and Jam went off by himself to search the cages that lined the walls, using a candle as a light, and his heart beat hard in his chest, a hymn and a prayer for intervention.
Jam heard rattling. He followed the noise and saw two starved children in cages smaller than kennels, one on the upper shelf and one on the lower. The children were so filthy and starved that he couldn't tell one from the other. Black dirt, dark as sin, had found its way into every fold and crevice on their bodies. Their hair was matted and crawled with fat lice. The children pulled themselves away from Jam's candlelight, trying to find some dim corner in their cages. He brought himself lower so that he could see all the children at once. They were silent. They crept back towards the nail worn wall of their cages. Their wide eyes were kept steady on Jam's. They were bloodshot; and in them was fear.
Tim murmered behind Jam, surprising the philosopher, "They won't leave willingly. They've been taught to fear open doors. There's a fine cave I know about near here, it has old drawings over the ceiling. We can stay there. It's dark but not so far from the daylight like this place. Stand back, now, yes — about there — now . . ." And Tim blew a soft yellow dust over the children. At first the children were afraid when the dust entered their cages, but then they found that it was warm to the touch. It was the first warmth that they'd felt since they were brought to the orphanage of the Hag of Dun Magrath. The children felt warm and loved, held by something soft; and they slept their first dreamless sleeps in a very, very long while. The last thing they heard was Tim speaking to Jam, his voice still low and grim, "I've buried the others . . . I'll bring the hag to the constabulary . . ."
Tim left with the hag over his shoulders. He'd given her a few whacks for self-therapy's sake, and she was unconscious again. "I'll be back in two weeks' time," Tim told Jam, "stay in the cave until then." Jam assured Tim he knew child psychology very well and that he could take care of them. Nevertheless, Tim gave Jam a list of instructions on a scroll of paper longer than his arm, and only then did the older philosopher leave for the constabulary.
The children had already been brought to the cave when Tim had left. They were swaddled in soft blankets and lain near the back of the cave where drawings of square men hunting round cattle were mixed with drawings of square cattle hunting round men. These drawings covered the back of the cave like a curtain.
On the first day a storm came. When the lightning flashed the drawings came alive and danced in a play-act of hunting and dancing. The children's attention was latched to the pictures. They watched the hunters, rapt. Jam wondered what they thought when the hunters flung their spears into the bulls, the bulls with horns like devils and big, ugly heads. He especially wondered what they thought when the bulls flung their spears into the hunters. Jam then took some chalk and added his own drawing to the wall. He added a knight fighting a dragon, his knees buckled and his shield raised up against the flames, his sword raised high like a sign to all who would see and respond. The children seemed to love that one as well. And for a moment they weren't afraid.
Jam tended the children and fed them and loved them as dearly as he could, but while the children no longer saw him as an evil thing they never spoke, and only stared at him with their wide eyes. The only times they showed great emotions were while they watched the pictures during storms. He was glad to hear them with every roll of thunder giggle softly: half-afraid by habit, but also half-knowing it was, at last, alright to laugh.
When Jam saw that the children wanted to hear the storm and to see the pictures flash with the lightning again, he used his arts to make the immediate outside of the cave appear as if under a storm. He would then go about the rest of the day the exact same way he did the days prior: with care and love and a large tub with soap. Jam was pleased to see no lice or fleas on them by the end of the week.
At the end of each day he would light his pipe. With the storm behind him he would read out his favourite stories to the children, who tended to stay a little ways back from him while they lounged about the cave. The stories he read out would be pleasant and boring ones, at first. But, remembering the dragon drawing, Jam decided to tell more exciting stories about heroes and monsters — always with the hero winning. The children liked these stories more. Their eyes flashed at the cutting of each sword stroke; their eyes twinkled with each happy ending.
Jam was glad when Mag, who was the girl of the two, approached him and decided to sit beside him while he read aloud. And he wept when she spoke at the end of his story, "Again." she said, her voice cracked and was soft from disuse. So he read again. And again and again he read at her asking, until he saw that the boy, Seamus, were nodding off. Then Jam told Mag that they ought to respect him and his bedtime, so Jam put them all to bed with a kiss and a goodnight.
When Tim arrived at the end of the week, he came back with a large black eye. "Halloo," Tim said at the cave entrance.
"Halloo," Jam replied. The children huddled behind him. They weren't used to Tim, yet. "Smarting eye you've got there," Jam said.
"Hmmph, yes. I dealt with a cartel of leprechauns who kept chasing me with spears. And the police! My goodness, what is this country coming to." Tim had forgotten, for the moment, that countries weren't invented yet. "I got waylaid by Pan as well, if you could believe it." A shadow fell over his eyes, "We ought to talk about that. Anyhow," he continued, "I see you've helped the children along. Should we be off, now?"
"I think three more days here should settle them well enough," Jam replied.
"Good, good." Tim settled himself on a stone shaped rock in the cave and sighed. "Have you given thought to our list's requirements?" Tim suddenly said.
"The girl, whom I've named Mag, is of Persian blood." Jam said, "She is the direct descendent of the hero Rustam. She was taken by the Hag of Dun Magarth by trickery. The hag killed the mother and waited for a full moon so that she could have the power to take the mother's appearance. Then she stole the child."
Tim nodded, "She is perfect, then."
Jam continued, "Seamus also fits your conditions. By my genealogical records I've reckoned that he's related to no one and will not be related to anyone important until the year 2500, when at last his line will produce a talented peanut farmer."
"Good, good," Tim said.
Jam watched the children play, their shadows expanding and contracting on the walls as they moved, their laughter ringing between the narrow walls like a song too wild to be played in tune. He closed his eyes and put his fingers together and thought for a while. Then he opened his lids just a bit and looked at Tim. "Tell me more about Pan, and how you got waylaid," he said, "then we'll talk about how we'll care for the children."
Tim did so, and they talked until it was time for Jam to read the children their bedtime stories. Then, while the children slept, the two old philosophers stood outside the cave and in the darkness, the orange glow of their pipes lighting their faces, and they talked some more. They paced and spun and exclaimed in whispers. And the moon shone cold above them, round and as keenly lit as an eye. The night passed. The sun rose. The children woke up and found the two philosophers still debating. And when Jam left momentarily to take care of them, Tim sat and thought. But Jam would soon return, and they would talk again. Their hearts beat like portending drums. Their beards were frayed with chewing. Their cuticles had been picked to tatters. "So that's what Pan told you?" Jam muttered. Tim replied in the affirmative. And a shadow lay long and dark on their hearts.
For Wotan was returning.
"We must contact the authorities! The High King! Establish laws banning large hats and putting close watches on old men!" Jam exclaimed. The philosophers had gathered the children and left the cave. They were now treading a road that cut through a flowering meadow. The hills and their sloping forests loomed large over the party.
"I'm afraid the High King Art has died," Tim replied amiably. He had since gathered himself and cooled his blood. He didn't intend for this news to shock him anymore than it already had. "And even if he were alive, I doubt a law banning hats would be much use. Although I'm partial to the watching of old men, as its been rather lonesome as of late with just you around."
Jam huffed. "Well, we must do something," he said.
"Why?" Tim replied, "What could any of us possibly do about it? That's like saying you ought to catch the sun. You'd need, at the least, a very large mitt." And then Tim began to think deeply about the logistics and metaphysics and poetic implications of a very small man catching the sun with a very large mitt, and he would hear no further conversations that day. So Jam shook his head and turned towards the children, who had been cowering under the heated discussion of the philosophers, not knowing anything about the high matters which they discussed. He explained to them who Wotan was.
"He is a god." Jam said, "And that means that he is strong and is desperate to have other strong people recognise he is strong. He is also wise, and far-seeing of the future, which means that he always gets what he wants." Jam retread what he just said so that the children would understand him better. Then he continued, "He's the sort of person which you're terrified of meeting. His cheeks are aflame, and his eyes are like lightning. He is the most dangerous person in the world." Now there was silence. Only Tim's mumbling could be heard. Jam continued, "There was a war, and many people died. No one knows who fought for whom, and whether there were sides at all. That's when Muirne — she was Lugh's sister — was killed by Lugh's own spear! That's why it's called the kin-slayer; and it's an evil weapon. Anywho, Wotan fought in the war, too. And at the war's end he'd promised that he'd leave Ireland alone. If he's coming back to Ireland, then he intends to cause a great deal of trouble."
Mag understood what Jam said, but Seamus was slower, though he was just as earnest to learn. Jam was pleased by this, and reexplained as often as he was asked to. So their trip passed by uneventfully, and when Tim left his thoughtful stupor, Jam began to prepare with him their education plan for their adoptees.
After a hard day of traveling, the philosophers returned to their cosy avenue where the Tower called Music stood, tall and white, surrounded by a shady forest, an ever-flowering hawthorn gracing the lawn, its flowers so white and so pure that, when the tree dindled in the wind, it looked like a cloud. The party was home, and it was a glad return.
The philosophers raised the children and taught them everything they knew. And as the years passed, and more and more authority was given to the children for their own, independent use, they began to travel well beyond the boundaries of the tower's woods. They ran over the open fields and climbed the green hills of Ireland. So by the summer of their youth they had become healthy, brown-faced, and strong. They were comely to look on, and long-limbed.
Mag was always the greater of the two, for the blood of Rustam ran strong in her veins. She was round-faced, and her mental faculties, lithe and quick and muscular, were only matched by her bodily powers. Her eyes were as the flames in an emerald.
Seamus knew he was lesser to his sister, and sometimes he chafed over the fact. But soon he settled into his role as the secondary person of their adventures. He was lean and wiry, with a wild tangle of flaxen hair. His eyes were wide and brown as the new-turned earth; and his eyes had the far-seeing look of one who had long-lived in open, solitary places.
They were inseparable and loved each other as dearly as a sister and brother could love each other. While Seamus tempered his sister's rage she inflamed his passivity. And while Seamus loved moving slowly and appreciating things in their entirety, Mag loved the flurry and rush of new things, one after the other. Together they became known by all the nearby tribes as a fearsome pair. And for a long while they killed any who would try to assault the Tower called Music — often henchmen of wizards, trying to steal the philosophers' secrets — so there was peace in their corner of the forest for many years. But the philosophers forbid them from learning any magic, as magic was the domain of the fearful and desperate. They were taught many arts, but magic was always forbidden.
The years passed in their speedy way.
The Moon with Its Glow
A mighty storm crashed against the Tower called Music, and the philosophers and their children were huddled inside drinking hot whiskey. It was the day of the harvest moon, but the storm had ruined any chance of seeing it. The four of them sat on the floor (the aging philosophers on cushions) and were wrapped in blankets. They were gabbering about the childrens' most recent adventures. Seamus and Mag had just returned from the county of Dun Gortin and were describing the countryside and its peoples in extreme detail. The people of Dun Gortin were a strange folk, given to walking on their hands and eating with their feet. So the family was having an uproarious time as Seamus described the buffoonery of Dun Gortin. Between the strikes of thunder their laughter rang through the tower from top to bottom.
"And and and . . . !" Mag suddenly broke in, tears running down her cheeks, "there," she fell into a fit of giggling, "there was," and she doubled over laughing, "there was . . . !" And the rest laughed with her because she looked ridiculous, squeezing out what words she could, her face all red. Suddenly Mag raised herself up, and swung her arms in a grand and heavy gesture to ready herself for the continuing of the story. But right before she could speak, Tim suddenly stood — or, as suddenly as he could stand in his increasingly old age — and said, "Someone's knocking downstairs. I'll go check."
"Maybe one of us should come with." Seamus ventured.
"Nay," Tim replied, "or, with another thought, yes. Lootheremenedes, come with me."
"I meant for it to be one of us." Seamus said, gesturing at Mag and himself, "In case the stairs are too. . . " He trailed off.
Tim shook his head. "There is," he said, "between the naked selves a determinate amount of 'selfhood' allotted to them . . . " Tim then proceeded to spend ten minutes to give a very philosophical and very resounding speech that was of an exceedingly high rhetorical quality, telling why he should open the door.
Seamus relented, not because he believed he was wrong but because he had lost track of what Tim had said halfway through, and grunted something unhappily to Mag. Jam took Tim by the arm and helped him down the winding stairs of the Tower called Music.
The going was tough, but they managed. "We must install an elevator, sometime," Tim muttered, forgetting, as he usually did, that elevators hadn't been invented yet.
"Or we could install a pool outside, and jump into it via means of open window." Jam replied gravely. Tim thought about this idea for a few minutes and then rejected it, on the basis that one's clothes would get wet.
As the philosophers descended, the banging on the door grew louder. It was like some great branch was swinging on the wooden frame, beating it with such viciousness so that the whole thing shook. "No one cares for good woodwork, nowadays!" Tim bemoaned. They hustled down the stairs as quickly as they could, praying that whatever hooligan was smashing their door wouldn't do irreparable damage.
At last, Tim and Jam reached the bottom of the tower. Tim unlatched the door's lock. But then a wild gust blew. It swung the door and smashed it against the wall and brought in a burst of rain and wind. The tables flung about (nearly knocking Jam's head off) and formulas scattered across the room. Most unpleasantly, the two of them became thoroughly soaked.
"Letter for Crazalomepides of Tower called Music on Pleasant Avenue." A bright-eyed, red-cheeked young girl answered. She handed them a letter in a yellow package with a golden seal. Then she handed them a waterlogged scrap of paper. "Please sign here, yep, and here, and . . . here! That's all, thank you!" Tim accidentally tore through the sheet once or twice, but the girl was fine with that. And then she left, heading out into the blinding thunderstorm.
"Curious." Jam murmured, "What'd she give to you?"
"A letter, it seems. But I don't remember asking for one."
"Mail isn't a consensual matter."
"Well, by gum, it should be! Who wants to be notified of their relative's weddings or whatever the latest scam is? I'm perfectly happy being cut off from the world at large, thank you very much." Tim grumbled and fiddled with the seal. "Help me with this . . . thank you." Tim began to read.
"Eh?" Jam suddenly exclaimed, "Did she just fly off?"
"She grew wings and suddenly flew off! Did you see that?"
Tim squinted into the blackness. A sudden gale blew and burst a smattering of rain onto his face. "Yes." He murmured, "Yes . . . I see absolutely nothing."
"I don't mean what you see now, you old coot," Jam replied, "of course you won't see anything outside now. I was asking whether you saw her fly off."
"I don't see how I could've spotted a girl fly off, when that's strictly improbable to the point of impossible." Tim huffed and shivered. "And the door's still open!" He exclaimed, "Close it, thank you, otherwise I'll catch my death. My goodness, look at the room! Oh, look how the floor is ruined. That's some fine granite stone; we can't be eroding it willy-nilly!" Tim grumbled more and continued reading the now thoroughly dripping letter. "Who in nine blazes is 'Peath'?" Tim shook some dribbling ink off.
"Yes, take a look."
Jam squinted. "It's just bad handwriting." He said, "It says 'Death'."
"Well, it seems that Death wrote me a letter."
"But Death's an abstract concept. How can it be writing letters?"
"I am only saying that that's what's on the bottom, and that it seems that Death wrote to me."
"Well, what does the rest of the letter say?"
"That's what I mean. The rest of the letter is exactly what you'd expect if Death itself were writing to you! Look, here's a clause refering to my immortal soul, and then the stipulations regarding my qualities as a Form per se. There's even a bit on religious attitude." Tim brandished the letter.
"It's still not Death."
"Of course not: Death is an abstract concept."
"But that's what I said!"
"Did you? Sorry, I hadn't noticed."
"OH BY THE HEAVENS THAT STIR ABOVE." A voice, terrible in its age and depth, ruthless in its exasperation, broke into the minds of the philosophers and rattled their brains. The door flung open again, bringing in a torrent of wind and rain (to Tim's bewailing anguish), and in stepped a tall, grim man. He stood bent over a tall staff of ash. He wore a grey cloak, and blue shoes. A grey, wide-brimmed hat hung over his left eye. And his right eye flashed like sparks. "Should I apologise to ye for the outdoors voice?" He asked, but his indoors voice was little better. For in it was the rain, and the winds of the hurricane, and the chill of the mountains of the north. Is it strange to say that? But that's what his voice was. Those things no longer lay outside, but were now localised, put in this little room, in this little tower, which seemed to shake at the hugeness that had decided to invite itself in the form of a bent, old man. In other words, he sounded exceedingly Scotch. "I had hoped we could avoid meeting, but here we are."
"Wotan!" The philosophers cried. And they saw the wide harvest moon shining through the storm behind the god. And they saw that its light was also beheld in the god's one eye, an eye of yellow fire.
There was a loud crash and tumult as Seamus and Mag came hurrying down the stairs, spears in hand. "And these must be thy children," Wotan murmured "I've longed to see them for a while, now."
Mag placed herself between the god and her fathers. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks were aflame. There was thunder in her chest. She pointed the spear at Wotan, "You are trespassing. Who are you? If you answer swiftly, I won't kill you. But you must leave." But she knew that he was Wotan. She had dreamt of the Wise-God since she was a child; ever since that first argument the philosophers had, she had dreamt of his terrible spear and his flaming eye.
Seamus stood with her, though less fierce and a little less brave. He took his spear and tapped it against his buckler.
"Yes." Wotan murmured, "I am that which you fear. Raven and Storm king. Lord of the Airs and of Battle. But just as I have many titles, so I have many duties. And today I am Death. I am here to bring Crazalomepides beyond the pale bridge and into Hel." And he spoke so meekly and so softly that the family lowered their guard and thought for a moment. Death was something that had to come: that was a common teaching of the philosophers. If Wotan was acting in his duties then little was to be feared from him; and nothing could forbear him. But then Mag caught the flash of steel beneath Wotan's cloak, and she knew it to be Gungnir, his mighty spear, and her guard was raised again. If he were acting with authority and with his duties, he wouldn't fear for his defense. The very Fates would protect him.
Mag's heart beat quicker when she caught the lie. Few could be said to have caught a god in a lie. So she raised her spear again and said, "Liar liar. If you had come as one bound to duty then nothing could stop you. But I see your spear! Tell us why you're afraid and why you need my papa." She raised her head and looked down on old bent Wotan.
But Wotan was not disturbed. "I hadn't intended to come," he replied, revealing his open palms, "it's only because the wise philosophers misunderstood my letter that I came. And because I came suddenly, without preparation, I arrived with my weaponry." Mag flushed and searched for a reply.
"But doesn't he have foresight?" Seamus murmured behind her. Mag leapt to the answer. She repeated likewise, louder.
"The movement of causes is implacable, and most routes are cleaved to one path. And these routes are as such so that even one who knows all must be surprised at times, as is required by the causal chain." Wotan replied. "Now come, dear Crazalomepides, it's getting late. The night is good, and ye will enjoy its fruits before the morn."
Tim stepped forward. "Death in Norway is the same as in Ireland," he said, "and I'm getting old."
Mag lowered her spear, now confused and ashamed at her confusion. Why was he surrendering? But as Tim went forward, a riot grew in her blood, and her face grew hot. Before Seamus could grab her, Mag rushed at Wotan and attacked. She thrust with the force of the wind, and cast on the god all her arts. But in Wotan is the wind, with its full fury and form brought to bear; and he had founded many of the arts which she now used against him. He took her thrusting spear and broke the slender shaft. He tripped and hurled Mag upon her face. Wotan sneered. His great beard tickled her neck as he bent over and murmured into her ear, "There is a large tree to the west from here, girl. Ye will know it when ye see it. Lugh's spear is hid in it. I will be stopping there before I take dear Crazalomepides to Hel. If you would like to fight for your father again, take up that Spear, and we will see!" Wotan released her, took Tim by the arm, who himself never resisted, and stepped into the storm.
Wotan went forward. The family was silent. The sturdy frame of the god grew distant, his grey cloak cast around him. And now he was so far that he was near swallowed up by the storm. Then Jam spoke softly, "He didn't tell us what he was truly here for."
But Wotan had heard him. "I am here," he turned back towards the tower with a roar, a terrible roar more terrible than the storm, "as a last gasp and sigh for joy! A mighty king comes from the south. My time is over; but I long to see the rushing of the mighty, which has long been denied to me." He raised his bright-faced spear out from his cloak, catching the light of the moon. Then there was a mighty gust, and the door shut, and the storm was left outside, again. And all was silent but for the falling of rain.
After the taking of Tim Mag would often set out by herself — usually in the middle of the night so that no one could stop her — and would search for news of the western tree which Wotan spoke about. Jam would confront her when she returned, soaking or muddy or dusty, and he would plead with her. He told her that it was nothing but moonshine. Wotan was wise, and his favorite role was that of the trickster. He set a false hope in her heart so that she would be tormented. And even if she could find such a weapon, Jam said, what use could it do against a god? No matter that weapon's powers, you could no more hurt Wotan with the Spear than an ant could hurt a man by wielding a sword. Besides, who could bear that terrible spear? The kin-slayer. So Jam told her often. But Mag rejected Jam's counsel, and continued her adventures. Seamus, on his part, could not decide who was right. He longed to save his father if he could, but he valued Jam's counsel more than his own. So he languished, silently.
Mag always returned unhappily and snapped at Jam and Seamus whenever they tried to talk with her. Whatever advice was given, even inconsequential advice such as how to get the mud out of your shoes, Mag rejected. Fury beat in her chest: the apathy of Jam enraged her. And everything he did was hateful to her. Seamus, in his neutrality, was equally sinful.
"Think! Please!" Jam cried one night, another night after a series of nights, and he was tired of the pleading, "He lusts for you and your blood. Every god and fairy does so. Now, I let you play with the fairies of the woods because they were small and harmless enough, but now you're dealing with the King of the Air. It is a categorical difference! And he wants you to find the Spear. You can't . . . !" Jam searched for the right words. Seamus watched from the other room, not sure if he should talk.
Mag interrupted, "And if he's as wise as you say, then he must have discerned a path that would benefit him regardless of what I did. I couldn't escape his plans if I wanted to, so I must do the noblest, bravest thing. To 'strike down a path like a thunderbolt'. That's what you always say. And saving papa is noble and brave."
"Yes," Jam replied, "strike down as terribly as you want, but temper it with prudence."
Mag interjected, "I have. I've thought about it, as you taught me to think about everything. Why don't you trust me! I won't hand it to him, and I won't fight him. But, and it's clear to me, he desires the Spear itself: not, as you think, me. Who heard his words? I did! I have a keen insight — which you taught me! I won't boast — trust me when I say that he can be played and defeated: he is attached to the Spear and his words as he left us were not wholly true. He is afraid for himself. "
But Jam shook his head, "The fear of the gods is not as the fear of men. And what's to stop Wotan from bringing papa Tim to Hel, first?"
"He did not lie. Papa is still alive; he can be saved." Mag replied with iron tone. And that was that. Jam submitted to that statement: Mag had a knack for discerning the truth. And it is within the power of men to discern the words of the gods.
"Still. What chance is there you can succeed?"
"Little. But I must strike down the path." Mag grated. She had repeated the same conversation with Jam many times over many nights. Things were going nowhere.
Jam leaned forward and put his elbows on the table. He put his fingers together and put his head on his thumbs. He closed his eyes and opened them. A moth flew round a candle, and then it got burnt, and staggered off and died. He watched it struggle with its burnt wings, and how it stirred even after death, but then stirred no more. Jam said softly, "But . . . oh, if you won't think of the fact of the matter, then what of Seamus and me? Don't you see how terrified we are for you?".
Now here was something new! Mag felt a black triumph. She could use this to win the argument. "So this," she said with almost a sneer, "is what it's all about! Yourself and how you feel! I can take care of myself. And I guess that you don't care for papa very much, then, if you want him to die!" She was standing. Her heart beat hard. But she felt sick; she had gone too far.
"How could you say that? There are few more dear to me. It's just that we can't —" Jam replied, standing as well, "My daughter, pulse of my heart . . . " He could not find the words. He stretched out his hands to her.
But it was like a dragon had uncoiled and hung itself over Mag's heart, and with black satisfaction she forced from her mind all tender feelings and all apologies. She had won the argument. "I'm going back out." She said, stepping back, "When I've found the tree I will return to let you make amends, and to let you join me. Then I'll leave again, and I'm only coming back with papa." Mag turned and left the Tower called Music.
One day she returned to the door of the Tower and exclaimed that she had found a pilgrim who would bring her to the tree of Lugh's Spear. Then she left before anyone could reply.
Few fathers have loved their children more than Jam, and he spend many days and nights worrying. He talked with Seamus, jittery as a bird. They discussed what she could be doing, and whether they could, or should, try to find her. But Wotan loomed over their minds like a dark storm cloud. What if, by searching for her, they only endangered her? Eventually, Jam said that they had to find and rescue her. But Seamus wasn't sure. He pondered the possibilities till his brain spun. So he continued deliberating with Jam. But soon Jam grew sick with longing, and he ailed grievously.
Jam was bedridden for many days. Seamus took care of him. He summoned the fairies of the woods and promised them gold if they would help him take care of Jam. The fairies did so, although they stuck their tongues out at Jam and made jokes at his expense.
On a fine April day Seamus went for a walk. He stood beneath the ever-blooming hawthorn that graced the lawns at the foot of the Tower called Music. Taken by a sudden throbbing in his heart he fell to his knees and cried. He wept for his fathers, and he wept for his sister. He wept because he didn't know what to do, and he cried and cried over the pale roots because he was sick of worrying. He watered the tree with his tears.
As Seamus wept, he was overshadowed by a sturdy, grim man. It was Wotan. "Ye have felt a mighty sadness." He said, "And ye are weak. But ye will survive, despite thy misgivings. This I speak truthfully — as I always have and will, though the interpretation of my words will differ. And before ye is a path in twain, a momentous occasion. Would ye know the routes?"
"I know them already, but tell me," Seamus said bitterly.
"I may bring ye to thy sister, and to suffering worse than ye have ever felt. Or I may leave ye here, to suffer much less, though it will be in anxiousness."
There was no noise, now, and when Seamus looked on Wotan he saw that the mighty god looked haggard and worn. But his face was stern, so stern that Seamus was loathe to call anyone else stern ever afterward — for who can compare to the sternness of Him? But it was not Wotan's face that made Seamus decide, it was love. And love filled him from his head to his toes, and his heart was full of it, and he longed to see his sister, and to rebuke her, and then to see the end of her journey.
"Take me to her," he said. And Wotan did.
In a whirl of wind and rain Seamus was thrown from Here to There, and he arrived in a shady forest during a storm. Wotan murmured behind him, "Go left." And Seamus did so. He found a small cave, and Mag was sleeping inside it beside a little fire. He went to the fire and fell asleep as well, the din of the thunder like a lullaby.
"What are you doing, here?" Mag's voice woke Seamus. The morning sun shone behind her.
Seamus blinked stupidly and sat up. "I'm here to bring you back," he croaked in his morning voice. Seamus squinted at Mag.
"Then you ought to go back," Mag replied. She was wearing a bright shirt of interlinked rings, and she had a bright-faced sword which she swung and let catch the light, dazzling Seamus. Then she sheathed it.
"Papa's sick," Seamus said.
"And Papa's stolen," Mag said.
"He was taken by Death!"
"No." Mag said with iron tone, the tone that invoked Truth and brought all her induction to a point like a knife, "Wotan isn't Death, only a thief with similar avenues. And I can rescue Papa: I only need to match strength for strength."
Seamus recoiled when she spoke. "You can't beat a god!" He said.
"Shut up," Mag replied, "You already told me that. Many times. I don't want to hear it, even if I'm wrong: but I'm not."
"Shut up." Mag commanded. And Seamus obeyed, though he muttered that strength could not help her, and he thought her cold to not care for Jam. But Mag did care. She resolved to hurry her journey and finish it as quickly as she could.
Bees hummed outside.
"I've figured most of it out," Mag said softly, "You came during a storm with the full moon behind you. I know Wotan sent you, here. He's in lots of places — like the wind.
He's in me, you know. He's in you, too, but only because you're so near me. I don't think he's in our parents at all. They don't think at all like him. They think he's dangerous and beautiful but that's about it. But I like going out and fighting. And I like beating people, and making them surrender. And you're the opposite of that. You also want to go out and fight, but only because it keeps our tower safe. And you're always thinking of things inside of you that don't change whether you win or not, like if you're liking the fighting too much."
Seamus looked up at her but didn't say anything. Mag could tell that he was mad at her for telling him to shut up. "Wotan's like that," Mag said, "like me, I mean. He loves strength for its own sake. Maybe it's because of my blood, I don't know, but I know it makes me better than most people. I'm not just saying that, you know I don't. I mean it. That's why I have to save Papa. It's in me to save him. I know Wotan would do it, he would go out and fight because it's in him. That's what I mean by Wotan is in me. He shares in what I am. He's in my blood and bones and marrow. "
"So you're saving Papa to prove you're strong?" Seamus said sullenly.
"Yeah," Mag said to Seamus's surprise. "More than prove," she continued, "it's because I am strong. And a strong person would rescue a person they loved. That's why I need the Spear, and that's why I need to fight Wotan again."
The trees were filled with singing birds singing for joy. Their wild and careless melodies carried in the air soft and sweet.
"Then I'll go with you, until the end." Seamus said. The feeling of love filling him like a liquid was returning. His heart throbbed for his sister. "And I'll try not to repeat myself. But you're still wrong about everything. You'll die before you kill Wotan."
"No, I won't. Not if I do it right," she said. And there the conversation ended.
Another storm came that night, and when the thunder woke Seamus, he realized that Mag was not in the cave with him. Thinking she had gone out on her own and wouldn't want to be bothered, he turned over and tried to fall asleep. But then Wotan was standing before him, and cried out to him, shaking the cave, "Thy sister's in danger! Go, help her!" And Wotan cast Seamus out of the cave, into the rain, and bade him go straight until he came upon a farmstead with an open well.
Seamus ran and tripped through the rain-soaked forest. He leaped over mud and darted over puddles. He ran quick as he could, and his heart beat hard in his chest. He stumbled into the farmstead and leaned over the well that stood before the façade. "Where is she!" Seamus cried out to the storm. He shook in the cold.
"Look below." Wotan replied through the rain.
There was a flash of lightning behind him. Seamus looked down and saw his sister half-veiled in the darkness of the well. Her head was submerged in the water. With a cry, Seamus climbed in. He fell with a splash. Swimming beside her, Seamus realized that the well's rope was hung around her neck, so he cut it. And as he began to climb out, heaving and roaring, he saw that her sword had fallen out and pierced her left eye.
His heart ablaze and his body shaking from the strain, Seamus took Mag over his shoulder and brought her out of the depths of the well. He clung to the well's rope, and when he felt himself slipping he caught himself on the wall. The rain fell down on him like arrows. He couldn't see and could hardly breathe. He didn't allow his mind to think; there was only the pulling and pushing, pulling and pushing. And as soon as he began to despair that he would ever get out, he had got out.
The rain had stopped. The grey-veiled stars shone above, bright and bold. The grass was wet and the mud-caked his knees and hands.
"Heal her." Seamus murmured to the air. But there was no response. Seamus took Mag and broke into the farmhouse. There he waited until its owner returned, who was very surprised to see two people who looked very much like bandits in his house. "Help us." Seamus pleaded, and the kindly farmer did.
"You shouldn't be breaking into people's houses," the farmer said.
"I'll work to pay it off," Seamus replied. The two stayed there until Mag got better, for the blood of Rustam ran in her veins; and she hadn't lied when she said she was strong. Then they kissed the farmer goodbye and continued westwards towards Lugh's Spear.
The Tree at the World's End
Sloping meadows greeted Mag and Seamus as they journeyed west. The sun threw its careless light onto the earth. Deep wells of shadow, flung by free-flying clouds, interspersed the light; and the clouds stretched like banners towards the ends of the earth. Everything was good, and glorious, and it were as if the childhood of the world had returned.
"You were attempting magic," Seamus said to Mag, "that's why you almost killed yourself in that well."
"I needed to, because Wotan knows magic."
"Papa wouldn't say that was a good reason."
"I think they're wrong," Mag said, "it's just a tool that happens to be used by bad, desperate people."
"I see," Seamus replied, but Mag was unsettled by what he said. She shook her head and reaffirmed her heart.
"Because I've been near death, now I'm the greater for it. I've seen wonders, Seamus. Look at my eye." Seamus saw that it flashed like lightning, and that it had many pupils. And before her eye Seamus was a slave.
"Wotan will kill you like a dog," Seamus replied, trying to keep the quiver out of his voice. "But you are more . . . fearsome. Is that what death does?" He asked. He hated what she had done. And at night Seamus gnashed his teeth and prayed to become greater, so that he would be able to fight his sister if she suddenly attacked him and tried to kill him in a fit of madness. But his heart was still bursting with love for Mag, and though he feared her like a demon, he would stay with her.
They traveled for many days, and the land became barren. They traveled along the cliffs and coasts; and they camped in wide, open grasslands. They saw the tree of Lugh's Spear rising ahead of them like a tower. It set their hearts trembling.
Mag and Seamus came to the high tree, and they gazed up on its majesty. There was no wind, and it was a starless night so dark it choked you with its blackness. The two rappelled up the tree, and they sought a way in.
Three nights they sieged the tree and its fearsome denizens. Against sap and flower and tangled vines they fought; and against terrible, roaring beetles and against terrible, roaring creatures of night and of Faery they battled. Two times, they were repelled. But on the third night, Mag went by herself and carved a path of blood and flesh and bone and delved to the bottom of the tree where Lugh's Spear stood, bristling and whispering. She took the spear in her fist and raised it out of the tangled roots and vines. Then the tree shook beneath her feet, and began to unwind and collapse into the sea. Mag fled. Only barely did she escape the crumbling cliffs and swinging boughs, sweeping like flying hills, and she stood on the barren land and watched the most magnificent thing in the world vanish beneath the dark, wild waves.
Wotan waited for Mag on the cliffs, and a storm grew about them. Lightning flashed, and the sea roiled. The full-bellied moon bathed the land in a dim and chill light.
"What are the principles upon which the world turns?" He asked Mag. She came closer so that they could look at each other in the eye. They were mighty individuals. In their firm hands were their slender spears, Gungnir and kin-slayer, in their eyes was the white fire of moonlight, and their eyes were many-pupiled, seven pupiled, decking their eyes as with kingly gems. Their cheeks were aflame. Royalty was in their bearing. Proud were their faces.
"Death and Self," she replied.
"It derives from how close the Self brushes by Death."
"Correct! Ye are wise. Do ye know, then, what the southern king has done?" Wotan asked with a sneer.
Mag didn't know, so she didn't answer. Wotan continued.
"It is Resurrection. And he has made the strong, weak; and the weak, strong. For he offers power if ye will die entirely; brushing is not enough. So those most easily killed become great: the simpering, the fearful, and the dying. The gods have fled from the invasion, and only I am left — for I am closest to death, among the gods." Wotan spoke slowly, and softly, so that Mag could hardly hear his words amidst the wind.
"Why don't you die, then? If the southern king's doctrine will give you power." Mag asked.
Wotan laughed. His laugh was high and wild. His beard thumped against his chest as he laughed. "Because it's ridiculous — do ye not hear yourself? Ye will die! Besides, Resurrection is not for the strong; it is not for the proud and self-assured. Will ye want to die?"
Mag replied that she would not.
"Then don't speak nonsense. It is not in the strong to die. It is in us to near to Death, to brush it, and to avoid it."
"How can I disagree? You're in my blood," Mag mused.
"Yes, I am. Rustam is your forefather, no? So then also is Heracles, and the Hound. Your vitality is from me and the gods. You are truly wise, to discern that! But ye have missed a part. For not only am I in ye, but ye are in me; and we are both of each other."
"Aren't we supposed to be fighting?" Mag asked, "What will happen when we fight? Tell me. I'll know if you're lying."
"We will clasp each other in the recognition of the mighty, and we will be fulfilled. I will gasp in gladness; so will ye," Wotan replied. Mag didn't like how famished he looked.
Then Mag saw a small figure coming over the horizon. It was Seamus, and he was desperately running. Wotan took no note, and only stared at her. "What if I don't fight?" She asked.
Wotan did not laugh this time. "Then ye will die," he said gravely, "for it is in the strong to fight. See ye not your spear? How it violently shakes? Ye will die to it, if ye do not fight."
"And you will fight," Mag said.
"And you are in me."
"Where is my papa?" Mag asked fiercely.
"He is here," Wotan said idly.
"I told my other papa I wouldn't fight you, but I want to."
"Then fight. Do as you will."
"I want my papa back."
"Then fight!" Wotan snarled.
Mag looked at Wotan and gripped her spear. It shook in her fist, and its slender shaft cracked in its throbbing for battle. Thunder boomed and lightning thrust down to the earth like bright-faced swords. The rain fell hard about them, and the stars vanished in the ever-brightening light of the moon.
Then, like a ghost, Seamus appeared out of the tempest. White-faced and afraid, an insect between the god and hero, he rushed to Mag and fell and clung to her legs. "Don't!" He gasped, "You will die to him, or be enslaved! Don't let him destroy you! Leave!" Seamus's face trembled with fear, even as he grappled Mag's legs, he shook when he touched her and he watched her spear — but in his eyes shone love brighter than the sun, and more fierce than the storm that blew around them was his beating heart. Seamus flung himself between Wotan and Mag. Wotan only looked on, amused. Mag was embarrassed.
"I told you to stay at camp. I can handle this," she muttered. Then, looking down on her brother her shame fell away. Instead, she was filled with a wrath born from unlikeness. Was he really her kin? She sneered down on Seamus and spoke louder, "And what do you want me to do? Die? That's what'll happen if I don't fight." Her heart beat hard as she spoke; and her eyes flashed as with many sparks, and she gripped Seamus's shoulder and pulled him towards her face.
Seamus turned towards her and stared at her. He trembled and said softly, though not once did he look away, "Is this, now, when you kill me? I'm scared Mag, because you look like you're going to kill me. That you'll kill me so you can go on."
His words fell on her heart like a hot brand. And that bite of shame did more to turn Mag on her head than anything else Seamus had before said or done. She let down her brother. And as Wotan watched on, she fell on her knees to meet Seamus and embraced him and kissed him and they both bitterly cried. Like a shaft of light that pierced the cloudwrack, Mag forgot her strengths and her arts and powers. She forgot her cruel words which she had long regretted. She was free and forgiven as she rocked herself in her brother's hug. Then Mag unclasped herself. Standing above her was an unhappy old man; but beside her was her brother, who loved her. Why hadn't she seen it before? Released from pride she knew the answer.
The storm grew stronger.
"There's some good that's come out of this," Mag stood and shouted at Wotan over the wind. "For aren't we the same, Wotan?" She spoke with iron tone, and even Wotan could not deny the charge.
"Aye," he said.
"Then I surrender! Will you not follow? We will both lose, and maybe you'll lose some of your grimness." Then Mag held Lugh's Spear high towards the sky and cried to it, "Shall I loose you?"
Then the Spear responded, "Thou are familiar to me, and thou stink of godliness. But thou are not a god, are thee? Thou may loose me; but I claim thine eye for it, on thine honor!"
Mag took the spear and brought it to her face. She grimaced and lamented that this was the price for victory. Mag thrust the spear through her eye, so she fell forward in agony. And the spear went out the back of her head. So she died.
Wotan stood like a pillar of stone, and he watched as Mag died on the ground, her blood pooling with the rainwater. "So!" He said, "The Southerly King followed me here. Fine! I will forebear. There is no point, now. The last of the heroes is dead. O, Weakness, welcome to this bitter world!" The storm suddenly stopped, and the moon shrunk, and the stars filled the sky again. And Wotan disappeared in a terrible flash, and he was Wotan no more, and Seamus saw in that golden glory Mars, and Jove, and Baldr, and shining Lugh: all the gods arrayed in splendid fashion, and they all vanished together, not to be seen in this world until it is overturned and remade. And where Wotan once was was Tim, scratching his nose. Now only a few drops were falling as the grey clouds dispersed. The churning sea quieted. And a cold and wild wind came from the north, and on it was Wotan's voice, "So I will return, in future times, reborn and greater. Remember me! When the wind blows wild and free and the grey sea leaps upon the shingles, I am there."
Tim was now scratching his bald head. "This," he said, "dear Seamus, is why one should not just trust anyone in a robe to be Death incarnate. My, my. He was much too convincing — had a letter and all."
"Papa," Seamus said, grey-faced, "Mag is dead."
"Eh? Oh. Oh my. Oh no. Oh dear. Quick! Quickly! I know what to do!" And Tim went about like a drill sergeant barking orders at Seamus to pack her up and to bring her over to a friendly leprechaun's house which he knew was nearby. "We'll bring her home, dead or no! Oh my, oh dear, I hope it's the latter. But there is a spear sticking through her brain, oh dear, oh my. No! Don't pull it out, now. We'll give it to an antiquary, later, much later. Goodness."
And the two returned with Mag's body. They retraced the treacherous routes and paths. They starved for many days. And they found small places of kindness, an idle monk, a friendly farmer, along their path. At last, Seamus and Tim, with Mag's cloth-bound body held between them, reached the Tower called Music, and it was humming gladly. The hawthorn was in full bloom, and Jam was waving from the window, tears in his eyes.
They placed Mag beneath the hawthorn and stood in silence. They hummed a doleful tune. And just as Jam was to give the eulogy and bawl, he was stopped by Tim. Look! The white sheets were moving. Trembling, Seamus removed the covers, and he leaped back. For suddenly Mag had sat up, shaking with joy inexpressible. Her eyes were white and blind, but she was smiling. Her face was radiant as the sun. Jam took her hand and felt it, to make sure she was not a ghost. And Tim took her face and kissed her over and over again, and he couldn't believe that she was warm. Seamus looked if she still had a hole in her head. But no, besides her eyes, she was whole. And a nimbus, red as blood and fire, seemed to glow about her: she was crowned by love. Then the family took each other by the hands, and their feets couldn't resist, and there was a song throbbing in their throats; so they sang the long song of peace, and they chanted to the sky the old chants of love, and they danced in uncontrollable joy. Round and round they danced around the hawthorn tree, its petals falling on them like light and snow. Round after round they sang their songs. The sun was high, the air was cool, and everyone's cheeks were flushed with blood. And they danced and they sang in triumph, and they gasped for joy, dancing, dancing, dancing for joy . . .