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Earn Fire takes Reynir to Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, and finally Ireland, where he is alternately befriended and threatened by a variety of personages from Celtic and Norse mythology.
"The Celts call by the names of gods that hidden something that only reverent eyes can see." - Tacitus, Germania 9
"There is a race of men and a race of gods; both are of the breath of the same mother. Power is the distinction: man is weak, the gods endure. However, in some ways we resemble the immortals, whether in greatness of mind or in physical nature, though we know not what destiny is laid out for us by day or night." - Pindar Nemean 6 (c. 465 BC)
A metallic scream and a roar from Pops wake me mid-wave to slashing rain and howling wind. A hollow bell-like bong chops off Pops’ voice as I splash into the tilted cabin wall and float down it to the tilted deck. The warm mass of Pops topples and pins me into the wall-deck angle. Hissing sounds nearby.
The box I was sitting on skitters down the deck along the leading edge of a wave and splinters over the aft railing. My free hand searches for help and grabs a thick rope. The moon has disappeared. The black cloud is squatting on us. Splotches of yellow light spill from the cabin windows.
The boat rolls violently to starboard. Pops’ limp body spins across the deck and crashes into the railing. Released from his weight, I slide spread-eagled after him until the rope I’m holding tautens. The other end is tied to the mizzenmast.
A wave climbs aboard and floats Pops briefly. But before it can carry him away, the gunwale scoops up Pops and the wave and flings them over me against the cabin wall. I tumble after and land heavily on Pops. Water spouts from his mouth. The rope is under him now.
There shouldn’t be enough time to do what needs to be done before the next roll of the boat sends him over the side, but time stretches like warm taffy. Using the boat’s slant, I slide Pops to the mizzenmast, take several turns of the rope around him, and tie the loose end to the mast.
The boat rolls to starboard. I hug the mast. Pops dangles in the rope-sling. The galley door flies open, belching gas. I remember the gas bottle clamped to the outside starboard cabin wall. The hissing has stopped.
In the wheelhouse, a cloud of smoke stands in front of the wheel, and Mac lies on the floor not moving. The wheel spins as the boat slews sideways down a wave.
My feet slither on the slanted deck, while my hands crawl along the handrail on the outside cabin wall. The gas bottle’s gone, and the brackets hang loose. I look around and see the bottle bobbing against the aft railing.
The boat hits the bottom of the wave-trough with a thud and snags on something solid, pivots and shudders loose to climb backwards up the next wave. I slide forward, hanging onto the cabin handrail. The swing of the boat rolls the gas bottle along the side railing, and it bounces forward, narrowly missing me, until it comes to rest against a section-board in the bow, hissing malevolently with a deep dent in its side. I feel an urge to get my hands on the wheel.
I climb aft up the deck, pulling myself along the handrail. Suddenly, the boat lurches over the crest of the wave and takes my feet out from under me. The only warning is a slight compression of air against my back. I turn to look, but there’s no way to avoid it. Apparently catapulted by the upswing of the boat, the gas bottle smashes into my right hand and shoulder and glances off the right side of my head. I feel the hand bones collapse just before the numbness in the shoulder cuts off all messages from nerves further down the line.
I swing my left hand around to grip the handrail, dangling, half-sitting, half-lying on the canted deck. The light from the galley door shows the gas bottle lurking in the stern, waiting to pounce. Beyond the stern railing, rocks reach up from the bottom of the wave-trough. The boat crashes into them and jolts to a sudden stop. My hand slides to the last bracket of the handrail and fastens itself securely – how, I’ll soon discover.
The boat stands on its stern and twirls a grinding pirouette among the rocks. The bow slams down, and the boat lifts off to head up the next wave. I’ve read enough about shipwrecks to know that the waves will continue to pick up the boat and drop it onto the rocks until it’s smashed to kindling.
The boat crests the wave, but in slow motion now. Or is it just me slowly savoring my last moments of life? The gas bottle rises from the stern, drifting lazily through the air directly toward me with tantalizing deliberateness, as if aimed.
The boat is tilted forward now. I try to release my grip on the handrail so I can try to dodge the gas bottle. But nothing happens. My hand won’t move. Why, I don’t know yet. The gas bottle hovers in mid-air. The boat is stranded partway down a motionless wave. Nothing moves. Why? A matter-of-fact voice rustles dryly inside my head:
part of the law of necessity
a rule about time and tasks
Work expands to fill the time allotted to it?
that’s parkinson’s no, the opposite pops will have the words
Pops is dead, or will be soon. So will I.
time obeyed the rule when you tied pops with mac’s cloak it’s obeying now
It’s a rope, but that was only my imagination. Who are you?
The voice doesn’t answer, but it was right. The scene around me is like a photograph.
But now the bottle starts easing toward me again, slowly, then picking up speed. The solidified wave thaws to a gel, and the boat begins to move forward. With a scream like a metallic battle cry, the mizzenmast boom blurs through the yellow light, violating the slow-motion spell, and meets the bottle with a resounding bong. Ringing like a church bell in agony, the bottle shoots over the railing like a bullet.
Meanwhile, the boat is still oozing down the wave. I can feel the presence of the beckoning rocks at the bottom of the next trough.
“Take the reins, son, and jump us to The Island.”
Pops’ voice is weak and strangled. His body is bent backwards like a bow in the rope-sling, and a loop of rope is tight around his neck.
“I’ll get you loose, and you can jump us.”
“That’s not necessary. Time won’t allow.”
“But I don’t know how to do it.”
“Put your flippers on the steering hoop.”
“Pretend it’s a dream and you’re making a wish.”
That changes everything. It all makes sense now. But my left hand still won’t move. The right one is useless, so I haul myself off the deck with my left hand to where I can see why it’s stuck to the handrail. The bracket has sliced halfway through the hand, and jagged bones have clamped themselves like a safety pin around the bracket. All of me will look like that, I reflect with detached interest, as soon as we hit those rocks ahead. The boat is gathering speed as the wave melts.
I lever the hand loose with my left elbow, fall, then crawl and elbow my way up the deck to the galley door. Pops’ face is dark, blood flows down the side of his head, and his eyes are closed. No sign of breathing. Perhaps it’s better that way.
Mac is still on the floor in the wheelhouse. The wheel is steady. The cloud of smoke still stands like a human figure in front of the wheel, but there’s no smell of burning, only gas. I slide on my shoulder up the doorjamb to a standing position.
Jump us to The Island? How? What does it mean? And why do I have to have my hands on the wheel to do it? Will one broken hand be enough? But how?
The rustly voice murmurs calmly:
‘she sails where her helmsman directs’
But that’s Manannán mac Lir’s Wave Sweeper. This is Mac’s Son of the Sea.
mac means son the sea is lir in this dream mac is manannán
“Who are you?” I ask aloud, but time has run out of patience. Wave Sweeper stops with a shuddering crunch. The stern lifts, and the boat stands on its nose and doesn’t pirouette this time. I slide, then fall straight down the length of the galley, aiming – wishing – to split the uprights of the wheelhouse doorway.
I land heavily on the wheel, partially cushioned by the smoke (proof that it’s a dream) and pushing it through the spokes, but there’s a dull cracking sound in my chest.
“The Isle of Man,” I shout with a voice that sounds like gargling.
With a surge of disappointment, I feel the boat continue to tip over in a slow somersault. I start to sigh, but my lungs won’t take in air.
manannán would true-name his destination
“Ellan ...” What’s the rest of it?
ellan vannin veg veen
“Ellan Vannin Veg Veen,” I gurgle through fluid that isn’t seawater. The cabin lights flicker out, and a deeper darkness spirals in counter-clockwise. As an afterthought, so we don’t land in some farmer’s field in case it works this time, I spurt with the end of my breath, “Purt-ny-Hinshey.”
A bright spot in the center of the darkness glows stubbornly against oblivion, and a small, surprised voice – not the dry, rustly one – says:
... hello?, Lwish? ...
Then the dark spiral tightens and closes.