When a misguided spell lands Janet in trouble, she and Liam call for help.
Becula, the gruesome Fairy Witch, answers their desperate summons.
Becula must take them to the Fairy Palace beneath the lake,
which is also the home of an ancient monster known as the Crogall Cú.
The lines on Becula’s forehead deepened. “Only the sídhe who created the spell can reverse it. I will take young Janet down to the home of the Daoine Linn. You will accompany us, Prince Liam. I’ll need you to hold the sealskin bag while I maintain the Invincible Orb.”
Terrifying as Becula was, in some strange way, Liam trusted her and her Invincible Orb, whatever that was. And he couldn’t wait to see what lay hidden beneath the lake.
Becula waved her arms, repeating the motion until a pulsing ball of light encircled her. The ball grew until it surrounded Liam and Janet in a transparent bubble that rose and floated over the lake. As the magical vehicle had no seats, Liam turned so Janet could rest against him. He felt lightheaded watching the water pass beneath his feet.
“So the crannog endures,” Becula said as they drifted past its rocky remains.
Her statement provided not only a welcome diversion, but a chance to learn more of Glensheelin’s history. Liam repeated the question he’d asked Lewy: “Do you know who built it?”
“The bag men. Renowned for the fine leather sacks they made from the creatures they trapped in the thicket. They lived on the bounty of Ireland’s woodlands and lakes.”
Liam had read of the Fir Bolg people. “Lewy told us the people who lived here used the crannog for a fishing camp.”
“They did, at least when their shamans weren’t dancing and chanting upon it to worship their water and sky gods.” Becula chuckled. “They had great magic, back in the days before roads pierced the forests.”
Where had all the magic gone? Liam shifted the bag beneath his arm. He knew where some of it was. “Then your kind came to Ireland.”
“Yes. We tried to live in peace with the bag men. We offered to teach them our ways, our magic, while learning from them as well. We had much to teach each other, and we were hungry to learn. Over time, they grew to resent us. They rebelled and attacked us. Our warriors fought well, and the bag men fled to the western isles cursing us, saying the lake monsters would avenge them. Be silent now. I must find the right spot.”
Abruptly, they plunged into the lake, leaving Liam’s stomach behind. Janet gripped his shirt and didn’t let go until Becula calmly announced that they were on their way to the palace.
How she knew that, he could only guess. The phosphorescent glow from her magical orb failed to penetrate the opaque water around them. An occasional flurry of foam and bits of plant debris flowed by, but otherwise, he saw only murky gray.
The depth in this part of the lake astounded him. Their descent seemed endless. He suspected he’d have lost his way, and perhaps his life, if he’d tried to dive. Yet he would have made the attempt for Janet. He asked Becula when the Crogall became the Crogall Cú.
She paused before she answered. “After your kind came. The mighty Celts.”
The bitterness in her tone made him wince. He asked why the sídhe hadn’t used their magic to keep his forebears from settling in Ireland.
Again, she paused. Her silence spoke volumes. “We foiled your coming repeatedly, until your druids flaunted their skills and showed us magic that equaled ours. Our elders bade us allow you to enter the land, thinking, as they had with the bag men, that we would exchange knowledge.”
“And if we proved troublesome, you’d simply vanquish us, like the bag men.”
“We had nothing to fear from you. Or so we thought. Our ways amazed you. You treated us as gods and sought our favor with finely wrought gifts you fashioned from newfangled metals.” Becula’s familiar cackle echoed through the bubble. “The idea of being your gods amused us, until you tricked us and forced us with your contemptible might to live beneath the land.” She waved her arm. “And the lakes. The sídhe who lived in the glen here protested. They couldn’t reside in the lake because of the Crogalls. Your forebears insisted they could. Arrogant men that they were, they sent a champion to slay the beasts. To show their good will, so they said.”
“Was the champion Gann of the Glen?” Janet asked, speaking for the first time since the outlandish journey began. “The man the sídhe queen fell in love with?”
The witch’s face screwed up in thought. “I do not know that name.” Her sly grin returned. “And to my knowledge, Queen Sabia loved only one mortal man. Whoever the champion was, he slew one of the Crogalls but died from the wounds he sustained. The second Crogall swallowed his fearsome wolf dog, absorbing the hound’s brave spirit and becoming the Crogall Cú. The Crocodile Hound.”
Liam thought Becula’s version, while not as romantic as Fintan’s, sounded more plausible. “Who devised the spell that keeps the monster sleeping?”
“That was a joint undertaking.” Her beady eyes narrowed. “After the champion slew the beast, its enraged mate devoured mortal and sídhe alike. Out of grave and immediate necessity, your druids joined forces with ours and devised a potent spell that must be renewed every seventh Samhain.”
“And as time went on,” said Liam, “the mortals forgot what had happened, while the Daoine Linn maintained the spell.” He raised the sealskin bag.
“Indeed, young prince. The Celts put the Crogall Cú from their minds, but their offerings to the Daoine Linn, whom they still considered gods, continued. They used the crannog to cast their gifts into the lake. Over time, they expanded the crannog, using it for rituals, as an abode of honor for their itinerant minstrels and shanachies, and as a refuge in times of trouble.” She turned her face away. “For all the good it did them. Ah, we draw near.”
Below the bubble, the water brightened to lustrous cobalt blue. Stars seemed to shimmer deep in the lake. A forest of vegetation waved on the lake bed. The impossible sight of crystal towers emerged beyond the greenery, and Liam wanted to dance.
Janet raised a hand to her face. “It’s lovely, but why does it smell so bad?”
She was right. A nasty whiff of something vile had seeped into the bubble.
Becula raised her arms. “Hasten!”
The bubble’s downward speed increased. The stench intensified. Trying to pinpoint its source, Liam scanned the ghostly lake. An amber mist glowed in the inky water beyond the light and seemed to be pursuing them.
“What is it?” he asked, dreading the answer.
“The Crogall Cú,” said Becula, her nonchalant tone at odds with the stiffened sags and bags on her face. “When it hunts, its nostrils blow foul vapors to confuse its prey. Fear not, young prince. It shall not harm us.”
A terrible roar tore through the bubble. Janet yipped and clung to Liam. Squashing his lips to keep from yipping himself, he hugged her to him.
The mist billowed into to a putrid fog that poured like custard to sully the water. Another roar, much closer this time, jolted the bubble.
Janet screamed. Liam’s heart leapt into his throat. A blood-red eye as big as an autumn moon stared in at them from the water. How could such a behemoth exist in the little pond? Liam tightened his hold on Janet and hoped the Invincible Orb lived up to its name.
“I thought mortals couldn’t see it!” she cried.
“You are in the domain of the sídhe, child.” Becula raised the sealskin bag. “Begone, vile demon! Begone in the names of the Blessed Danu and the Shining Druids, Trosdan, Mogh Ruith, Lobas, and Nuca. Depart and plague us no more!”
A prolonged growl rumbled from the creature’s unseen throat. The eye drifted back, replaced by a hideous smiling jaw whose conical teeth gnashed and snapped in defiance.
Undaunted, Becula shook the bag. “The united tribes of Erin command you! They of the mystic arts and omnipotent incantations command you! Begone or suffer their burning rage!”
The monster inched forward. Patches of wiry black fur on a scaly green torso as big as a whale slid by and angled upward. A paddling paw came into view. Wicked black claws tipped its five long fingers. The beast slithered off, leaving the stinking fog to dissipate in its wake.
Liam’s knees wobbled with relief. “Nicely done, dear lady.”
Becula tittered. She sounded relieved. “I find little enough opportunity to practice my art these days. Though I must admit, I’d prefer to practice upon other subjects. Ah, we’re here.”
Too engrossed with the monster to realize the bubble had nearly reached the palace, Liam gazed at the sparkling glass walls before him. Becula guided the orb to a gauzy white square that appeared to be the main entrance. The bubble popped through and entered the home of the Daoine Linn.
BACK TO THE MAIN PAGE FOR AUTUMN GLIMMER