Chapter Nineteen

The Questers Increase

"What happened the next day?" Finn asked, sitting forward in his seat.

Emrys looked at him and replied, "There is still much more of the story to tell; but as you can see, there are others of this audience who are weary. The remainder must be continued at another time. For now, I have addressed your curiosity about the sword."

Finn glanced around. Ms. Honora's head bobbed at an irregular angle, which she would surely pay for in the morning; and Granddad sat, slumped forward in his chair, releasing the occasional snore. Molly was the only other person in the room with her eyes open. Just the sight of the girl irked him, and made him scowl.

"But your story didn't answer my questions," Finn jerked his head back towards Emrys, "Or am I to take it that that sword is supposed to be Oilill's 'Sword of Sharpness'?"

"You are correct, young Finn," Emrys responded, "How very astute of you."

Finn glowered, unable to tell if he was being mocked or not.

It was strange to him how, during the telling of the stranger's story, he almost felt like he was there watching Padraig live out his life, and witnessing the battle between Oilill and the giant nathair. But it was late after all, and he must be very tired. It had to be his imagination running away with him, causing him smell the sea air when Padraig floated on the waves; and making him hear the scream of the serpent when its eye was punctured in the combat with Oilill. Still, what he wouldn't do to re-enter that fantasy world and finish the tale. To find out if Oilill faced the monster again. To know what happened the next day when it was to come back for the princess . . .

"Okay, okay. So, say I go with that being Oilill's special sword. But then, why is she supposedly the only one who can 'handle' it now?" he pressed again. In any case, that was his main concern, right?

Molly rolled her eyes at him, making Finn finally realize just how annoying that sort of gesture truly was. "Because Oilill was Emrys's grandson," she spoke up, "and my ancestor. Since I'm the only McGillpatrick left, it goes to me."

"That is true, Molly-cailin, but a common inheritance claim is not the sole reason it is yours." Emrys picked up the sword from where Molly had leaned it on the lamp table beside him. "This sword was crafted by the fae. You see this symbol here? It is the mark of Goibhniu, the Great Blacksmith. He is renown throughout Faery for his masterworks, because they will not dull, and they never miss their mark.

"He has issued very few such swords, and he has bequeathed them only to the use of one master at a time. The weapon may be passed down from generation to generation upon the death of its wielder, but it will not obey the sway of the wrong hands. You see, young man, if you were to handle this weapon, it may cause you excessive harm."

Finn looked at the golden stranger for a long nervous moment, letting the words sink in and feeling the flesh on his arms tingle. And then, he frowned. "Yah, right. It would do me 'excessive harm'. Oh, I'll bet it would. You know, you almost got me with that one. A magic sword . . . the impressive 'Sword of Sharpness' . . . a weapon designed by the 'fae'. I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to scare me into not wanting it. Well, it won't work. I still think that yoke belongs to us. Me and my Granddad."

Molly groaned, "Oh, good grief. You really are impossible."

Granddad snorted and woke up at the noise of Finn's commotion. "Right, right. Aye, it's time to go to bed. Been a long day. It has, it has."

The old man stood up and stretched his arms over his head. He addressed his guests before heading for the stairs. "Now, you are welcome to stay the night, you know. I haven't got any extra beds here, but there are blankets in that hamper; and I think you'll find our sofa and the chairs are quite comfortable . . . if I say so myself."

"We thank you, again, for your continued kindness," Emrys replied.

As Granddad climbed the stairs and disappeared, Finn watched the tall limber Emrys Gwennin guide the sleepwalking figure of Ms. Honora to the sofa and cover her with a blanket. Once he saw to Molly's comfort in the armchair with her legs propped up on the ottoman, he returned to his own seat in front of the fire.

And that unhuman-like man sat there all night by the hearth with the sword at his side . . . very much to Finn's chagrin.

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Finn awoke from his station on the stairs, and peeled his head away from the varnished banister only to find that his awkward sleeping position had given him a fierce headache and a crick in his neck. When his eyes could focus, he looked down at the parlor between the railing posts and saw that the room was empty.

They were gone. The strangers left . . . and they took the sword with them.

Finn jumped to a start and ran down the staircase. He poked his head into the dining room and kitchen to make certain they were not still somewhere in the house. No one was around.

"Granddad," Finn ran up the stairs. "Granddad they're gone, and they took the sword – Granddad?" The old man wasn't in his bedroom.

The boy felt an odd foreboding. What did they do with Granddad?

The barn. Check the barn.

Taking the steps two at a time, Finn ran down and cut through the parlor. When he made it to the front door he ground to a halt. There in the yard were the three interlopers and his granddad. The strangers were preparing to depart, and Granddad appeared to be handing them a satchel for the road.

"Where do you think you're going with that?" Finn pointed to the sword, which Emrys had belted to his side. And just where did he find a sheath for it, anyhow?

"We must now head towards the next phase of our quest, young Finn," Emrys replied to the boy's impolite demand with calm civility.

"I don't care where you're going. Why do you have the sword?" Fin prodded.

"I am carrying the sword for the time being to relieve Molly of the burden; however, rest assured, she will be the one wielding it to face her foe," he explained further.

Ms. Honora moaned at that and looked anxious.

Finn ignored the woman' s distress, and replied, "Enough of the codding. I'm not stupid, you know. You think you can fool me into giving in to your thieving lies, but I'm not some silly wee child. I don't believe in that fairytale bollocks."

"Finn," Granddad cried, 'I told you they ain't lies. I can vouch for the truth of it. I know there are faeries. Don't you get it? You're the grandson of one, you mighty gombeen."

That gave Finn a jolt. He hadn't really taken the idea into consideration, even after hearing Granddad's story last night. For-cryin'-out-loud, the old man was suggesting that Finn was part fae on that side of his family on which he knew nothing about. What a bunch of nonsense. Granddad really was going weak in the head.

"And what's more, as to the honesty of their claim, didn't I tell you his name is Emrys Gwennin? Can't you get that one through your thick noggin, boy? Gwennin Ngrá is called for him. He has every right to come here and make claims on that what was here before us."

"Ah, Granddad, you can't believe that malarkey." How could his grandfather be so naive? "It's an elaborate lie. They're telling you exactly what you want to hear. Good lord, Granddad, don't feed into it."

"Shut your gob, young man. I've had about enough of your skepticism. I realize now that I should never have kept our history to myself. Maybe if I'd told you everythin' from the very beginnin', you wouldn't be carryin' on the way you are now. I only did it to protect you from all the snarkies out there in the world. And now look what it's done to you. Made a nonbeliever out o' you." Granddad shook his head as though ashamed. "You'll just have to learn for yourself that some things are true, no matter how far fetched they may seem."

"Granddad, you're . . . " Finn suddenly had an idea. "You're right. Perhaps I will have to learn for myself. Maybe . . . maybe I should just follow these strangers down the road a piece, and see for myself what it is they do with the sword."

The boy crossed his arms and smirked at Emrys, calling his bluff on their quest.

Emrys gazed back, and his mouth drew into a slow keen smile. "What a noble idea. Why do you not come along on our quest?"

What? The boy didn't expect that. This guy was calling Finn's bluff on calling his bluff. He was turning the stakes back around.

"What? No!" Molly cried.

"You're joking me, right?" Finn narrowed his eyebrows trying to challenge him back.

"Indeed I am not. Your aid could be of vital use to us; and a volunteer on our quest should be gratefully accepted. We would be fools to decline your help." Emrys gave a brief bow of his head, as though the matter was settled.

"But I have school," Finn exclaimed, looking for a reason to back out.

"We don't need him," Molly interjected – and for once, Finn agreed with the girl.

"You don't have school for another week," Granddad replied, knocking that excuse off the fence.

"Granddad," Finn whispered in his ear, "you can't just expect me to run off with some quare hobblers for a few days. That's irresponsible. What if they knock me off, and leave me out for the crows? Then, what would you do?"

"Oh, don't be so dramatic, Finn," Granddad answered back in a loud voice. "You better go pack a few things. Take the knapsack in my bedroom closet. Haven't used it in years. It could do with a little airin' out."

"Granddad?" Finn couldn't believe his ears. The old man was actually, sincerely condoning this.

"Get a move on, boy. They want to go," was the reply.

Begrudgingly, Finn admitted to himself that maybe his grandfather was right about one thing: he should learn to shut his gob. Well, in any case, at least he could keep his eye on his sword.

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"So, where are we headed, anyways?" Finn asked his guide.

They were walking northwest, around the circumference of Benbulben. Instead of keeping to the road, Emrys was leading them through farm fields and grazing pastures. Finn stepped in more than one pile of sheep coodle, and his shoes were now full of muck.

"Our next stop is in the Forest of Dubros," Emrys answered him.

Seriously? Was he kidding? "Ah, I don't think there is a Forest of Dubros anymore," Finn said. He grinned at the notion that, this time, he was catching them in their lie.

"You are nearly correct, my lad. The Forest has been very much depleted, but the farmer on whose land it stands has kept the last of it intact. Particularly, the rowan trees from Tír Tairngire."

"Tír Tairngire?" Finn asked. "The mythical Land of Promise?"

"You are correct, young Finn. You know, then, of the rowan trees and of their guardian, Searbhán?"

"Of course I do. I pay attention in school," Finn spit out in offence.

"Well, I don't . . . I don't know anything about them," Molly admitted; and surely Ms. Honora didn't know either, but she said nothing about it.

"Well, that's because you're a st—"

"Finn," Emrys cut him off. "Will you, please, tell Molly what you know?"

Finn looked disgusted at the idea of such a task; but he relented when Emrys raised his eyebrow in a look of disapproval. Disapproval from him just felt a little too unnerving.

"Fine. I suppose I might as well," Finn conceded, "And here it is: Tír Tairngire is the Celtic – mythological – Land of Promise. An otherworld, like a paradise of sorts. According to legend, the Tuatha Dé Danann brought some special rowan trees from that Land and planted them in the Forest of Dubros, where County Sligo is now. Those trees were supposedly guarded by a one-eyed ogre named Searbhán."

"Very good. And do you know the story of Diarmuid and Gráinne?" Emrys asked of him.

"Doesn't everyone?" Finn replied. To that, Molly glared.

"Please enlighten those amongst us who do not share your knowledge," Emrys indicated Molly and Ms. Honora with his eyes.

"All right, all right," Finn said. "Diarmuid and Gráinne were lovers, but Gráinne was betrothed to Fionn McCumhaill, who was the leader of the Fenians, a band of heroes of which Diarmuid was a part. Fionn was much older than Gráinne, and she didn't want to have anything to do with him. So, even though Diarmuid was reluctant to betray his lord, Gráinne convinced him to run away with her. She slipped a sleeping potion in everyone's drink, and the two lovers ran off into the night. Their flight was aided by Diarmuid's patron, Angus Óg, the god of Poetry.

"Angus Óg gave them a cloak of invisibility so that they could disappear from Fionn's sight. They used it to run all over Ireland and even into Scotland trying to escape from Fionn's wrath. Eventually they ended up wandering through the forests of County Sligo . . . well, what became County Sligo, anyways. It was known as the Province of Connaught back then.

"It was there they found themselves in the Forest of Dubros with the mystical rowan trees and the one-eyed ogre on guard. Gráinne was pregnant at the time, and she craved the red berries that grew in the branches of those magical trees. Well, old Searbhán wasn't about to let her have them; so Diarmuid had to best him for it.

"It didn't start out as a fair fight, though, because Searbhán was wise to the ways of magic; but Angus Óg had taught Diarmuid how to turn his sword into an iron club. Being a creature of Faery, Searbhán couldn't withstand the iron and was defeated. After that, Diarmuid and Gráinne feasted on the berries to their hearts' content."

"Well done, lad," Emrys commended him. Finn started to smile, and then changed his mind. He wasn't about to get chummy with these crooks.

"Hmm, it's very interesting," Molly interjected, "although, I have to say, you're not quite as good at storytelling as Emrys is – or even as good your grandfather, are you?"

Finn's brain boiled to hear her critique, and he spit back, "I wasn't trying to tell a story. I'm not here to entertain you. I was relaying the information as I was asked. And I don't need any of your crap."

"To relay information is to tell a story, young man," Emrys intervened, "and you performed your task well enough. To be sure, those of the fae, and those who have been touched by them, are inclined to have a degree of storytelling enchantment above the average mortal. But perhaps, you are still developing yours."

Molly sniggered, but Emrys gave her a stern look, and she uttered nothing more on that subject. Instead she said, "Okay. I think I get the story about Diarmuid and Gráinne. So, then, what does that have to do with our quest?"

Emrys answered her. "When Diarmuid and Gráinne were feasting on the rowan berries, Fionn and the Fenians came upon them. The lovers were forced to flea once more, but this time they did not have the opportunity to use their cloak to hide them. They left it behind in their hurry. Afterwards, when Searbhán came to, he found the cloak and claimed it for himself.

"He now uses it in his ongoing duty to guard the trees. We intend to borrow it from him, just as I did on a previous occasion."

"Seriously," Finn asked, doubt pasted on his face and in his words, "we're going to walk up to some ogre and ask him if we can borrow his cloak of invisibility?"

"It is called the Cloak of Darkness. And yes, we shall ask it of him." Emrys replied.

"Oh, I can't wait to see this," Finn exclaimed. This time, he would call them on their guff.

"Emrys? You said you borrowed the cloak on a previous occasion. What did you use it for?" Molly asked.

Emrys gave her a warm, genuine smile and said, "To tell you would be to continue the story of Bishop Padraig, and your ancestor, as well as the great serpent."

Finn's ears perked up. Hadn't he been hoping to hear what happened next, when the serpent returned? Well, at least one good thing might come out of this trek through the poo-patches.