The Magus Conspiracy

By Michael J Synnott All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

Chapter Twenty-Four: Dewenisch.

Three days after their escape, Fintan and Sam, disheveled and hungry, crested a dawn-drenched hill and looked north. In the valley before them was a vast lake dotted with islands, like rough emeralds sewn onto a shimmering blue cloak. Some way off the southern shore lay a large island covered in dense forest throughout which derelict stone buildings were dotted. At the forest’s center was a clearing in which stood a gleaming stone tower.

Dewenisch”, said Fintan.


It took them the rest of the morning to reach the lake and another hour to hike along the shore to a jetty where an old man wearing a jester’s hat was dozing on a crate. He raised his head at their approach and regarded them serenely. Sam’s step faltered. In the center of the old man’s forehead was a third eye.

“Fintan, I don’t like this, man,” hissed Sam pulling at Fintan’s sleeve. “Let’s find another boat.”

A goofy grin lit up the old man’s face.

Oh, there are no other boats, Dearie,” he said. “No other boats, no, no. Hee hee hee!”

Fintan patted Sam’s arm. “C’mon. Let’s talk to him at least.”

Talk, talk. Yes, yes. Let’s talk. Hee hee! Come closer, dear friends. We’re all friends here, we three. Hee hee!”

The jetty creaked as Fintan and Sam stepped onto it and they picked their steps across the weathered boards to where the old man sat.

Yes, yes. Come closer. Come closer to me. So I can see. Hee hee!”

Sam couldn’t tear his gaze from the man’s forehead.

“You’ve got three eyes!”

“Yes, yes. Very wise. Three eyes. Hee hee, eyes of three!”

He leaned conspiratorially toward Sam. “Just as well I do, Dearie; just as well I do. There are cataracts in the other two. Hee hee! Cataracts, cataracts; you’ll soon be planning cat attacks. Cat attacks, cat attacks, you wish to find the Kommanlak.”

He stood up and removed the jester’s hat. All trace of mirth drained from his face.

You would seek the aid of the cat folk in your quest.”

How could you know that, Øsul?” asked Fintan.

The old man chanted and tapped his head, cheeks and forehead in a well-practiced ritual gesture.

The eye of the mind to see the past

The eye of the left to see your face

The eye of the right to watch you pass

The eye of the brow to see your fate.”

“See our fate? Are you telling me you can tell the future?”

I can see all futures.” He put one hand over his two lower eyes and looked over the lake with his third, pointing towards the island.

I can see you disembarking at the old quay yonder.” He barked a short laugh. “You just missed your step and stumbled onto the dock.”

He pointed to a place in the lake, midway between the jetty and the island.

Your friend’s hand is dangling in the water. A luus comes from beneath and takes his arm with a single bite. In the same spot, I see the same fish do the same to you and your friend gets away scot free. Over there, we hit a rock and we all join the luus for supper.”

I see.”

No, Dearie; no, you don’t see. Not like I do. Given an arbitrary starting point I can see all possible futures branching and branching again, all overlaid on my vision.”

“But the possibilities are infinite. How can your mind cope?”

Those of us from the northern isles born like this are sent to the felkynd at an early age to learn to control and use the ability. When it becomes too much to bear or we want to sleep, there’s always the hat.” He waved the jester’s hat in the air.

That’s extraordinary! With a gift like that you could have been anything; a great leader, or a military tactician or an adviser.”

Or a gambler,” added Sam.

Ah, but I was something far greater, Dearies. I was a lungschohr – a navigator. I once guided flotillas over vast expanses of ocean, but then I started to lose the sight in my lower eyes. A lungschohr needs his full sight. I was pensioned off and came here to live on Inischkoppel, the most beautiful island on all of Lokeirn. The felkynd pay me a retainer to service the islands with transport.”

“So you, what, come here every day and wait for passengers?” asked Sam.

“Oh no, Dearie; I only come when someone needs ferrying.”

So how did ya know we were coming?”

The old ferryman leaned forward to Sam and keeping his lower eyes perfectly still, rotated his middle eye in its socket.

Sam took a step back. “Don’t do that again,” he said.

The old man cackled. “You’re a meek one, aren’t you, Dearie?”

Øsul, can …” started Fintan.

“Berentos,” said the old man.

“Sorry?”

My name is Berentos. Grand titles like Øsul and I are poor bedfellows.”

Berentos it is then. I’m Fintan and this is Sam.”

Berentos replaced his hat then immediately swept it off and bowed deeply. “At your service,” said Berentos.

Sam could have sworn that as Berentos replaced his hat for that split second the same goofy grin flashed across his face.

“Berentos, can I ask you a question?” asked Fintan.

I believe you just did.”

“Aha, very droll. Can I ask you another?”

Again, you just di…”

“Berentos, where’s your damn boat?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

Berentos stooped to the jetty and picked up a long rod made of some pliable wood. He flexed it like a fencing foil a few times then stooped and ran it in a graceful curved pattern on the surface of the lake. He had just lifted the tip of the rod from the water when bubbles started to break on the surface. In seconds the water around the jetty was seething like a hot spring. In the middle of the maelstrom, a circular coracle rose to the surface. Sam eyed it with blunt mistrust.

That thing doesn’t fly, does it?”

“I have no idea; I’ve never tried to make it fly.”

“Well don’t start today. I’ve had enough flying in weird boojums for one life.”

“As you wish.”

The coracle settled on the surface and the water flowed up and over its edge. The residual pools of water ran in self-propelled rivulets from the interior into the lake leaving the seats bone dry.

“That’s a neat trick.”

My felkynd mistresses are not fond of water. I extend the same courtesy to all my passengers. Time is wasting, Dearies.” Berentos gestured towards the boat.

Sam stepped down into the craft. Fintan threw him the spear then jumped down after him. The coracle stayed unexpectedly stable causing a sort of reverse sea-sickness.

“Oh man, that’s weird,” said Sam. “It doesn’t rock at all. Damn, I hate this. Gimme a good ol’ fashioned rowboat any day.”

“I hear that!” said Fintan. “Wish I had my boat here.”

You got a rowboat back home?”

“Nah. Something a little bigger.”

“Oh, one more thing,” called Berentos from the jetty. “You’ll need your strength and wits about you on the other side. I brought you some food.”

He lifted the crate and pulled out a sack. He threw it into the boat where it landed with a dull thud. Sam and Fintan looked at each other for a moment then both lunged for the sack. They’d been living on leaves, berries and water for three days but the sack contained a variety of cheeses, bread and meats which they set upon with relish. When they had eaten their fill they realized they were halfway to the island. Sam belched and lay back in his seat, his arm dangling over the side.

Oh man, I’d never been so hungry. Thanks Berentos.”

“Watch your arm, Dearie,” called Berentos from the rear.

Sam snatched his arm out of the water and looked down. He caught a glimpse of a huge silver fish and a flash of needle-like teeth. The creature passed beneath them creating a swell on the surface which the coracle rode smoothly.

“Was that a pike?” he asked.

“Looked like it,” said Fintan. “But I’ve never seen one that big.”

That was a luus, Dearies. They keep me in business, so they do. The occasional brave heart decides he doesn’t need a ferry to reach Dewenisch and swims for it. Very unwise.”

Yeah, well if I had my marlin rod we’d show them who’s boss,” said Sam, but he still moved away towards the center of the boat.

And all the while Dewenisch loomed closer.

Eventually Berentos maneuvered the coracle alongside a mooring point. The water lapped around a flight of alga-carpeted steps leading up to the top of the quay.

“Now Dearies, all ashore that’s going ashore.”

Sam stepped out onto the slippery stone gripping Fintan’s shoulder then returned the favor as Fintan disembarked. They picked their way up the greasy steps using each other for support. Just as they reached the top, Fintan’s foot caught on the lip of the quay and he sprawled forward dropping the spear.

Easy there, Tiger!” Sam caught him just before he fell.

Fintan looked back at Berentos who nodded and did the weird eye trick.

I told you, Dearie,” he called. “One more thing; ware the forest, and be sure to follow the path of righteousness.” With a final salute he spun the coracle around and headed back towards the lake shore.

“I wonder what he meant by that,” said Fintan.

Hell if I know,” said Sam. “I didn’t understand a whole heap of anything he said.”

“Me neither. What a strange little man.”

“Yeah, well are we going to hang around here all day or find Whiskers’s mother?”

Fintan looked along the quay to the edge of the forest. There was a gap in the trees through which he could see an arched gateway in an imposing stone wall. He looked at Sam and indicated the forest with his head. Sam shrugged and said, “Let’s do it.” Fintan picked up the spear and they headed down along the quay.

They stopped at the tree line and peered into the forest shade. The stone wall stretched as far as they could see in both directions, and all there was through the gateway was more forest.

We’ve come this far,” said Fintan. “No going back now.” He clapped Sam on the shoulder and entered the trees. After a moment’s hesitation Sam muttered “Aw hell!” and followed.

That’s some stonework,” said Fintan when they arrived at the gateway. “Some kind of white granite I’ve never seen before. These felkynd, or whoever built this for them, are fantastic stonemasons. What a beautiful wall!”

And high,” said Sam. “Jeez, that thing must be forty feet tall.”

Which is puzzling,” said Fintan. “Why build such a wall and not put a gate in the entrance?”

The gateway was an ornate gothic arch that could have graced an abbey, and was entirely devoid of door or gate.

Who knows,” said Sam. “I’ve long since given up trying to figure out things here.”

“Hey, look at this,” said Fintan. He ran his fingers down along the left side of the gateway’s surround. There was a series of notches on the edge of the stone.

“Mason’s marks?” suggested Sam.

“No, this is Ogham,” said Fintan, a hint of surprise in his voice.

“It’s what?”

Ogham. It’s an old Celtic alphabet. The grouped notches on the edge form letters.”

“Can you read it?”

Actually, I can. It’s an amazing coincidence but when I was designing buildings back home I always put a stone with an Ogham inscription in the design; some quote or such that suited the building.”

That sure is a coincidence.”

Except I don’t believe in coincidences. Not anymore.”

Well, I already told ya how I feel about this place. Nothin’ makes sense.” Sam indicated the gate surround. “What’s that say anyhow?”

Fintan ran his fingers over the markings again. “It says ‘Follow the path of righteousness.’”

That’s what Three-Eyes said!”

Yeah, it is. Maybe it’s some felkynd motto.”

“Well, if it’s important we’ll find out. C’mon, let’s find this crazy cat lady.”

Wait…” said Fintan, but Sam had already stridden through the gateway and was heading for the trees beyond.

Hold up, Sam.” Fintan caught up with him and grabbed his shoulder.

“Hey, what the ..?”

“Sorry Sam, I didn’t mean to manhandle you but I have a bad feeling about this.”

What’s the problem? That tower we saw is right over there. Can’t be more than a coupla hundred yards through the trees.”

I know, but I’ve got a weird feeling. That inscription on the gateway, and what Berentos said; it’s got to mean something, right?”

“Follow the path of the righteous? OK, we’ll be righteous! We’ll be righteously righteous.”

Look, let’s think about this. There are four paths leading into the forest here. Which one should we take?”

Sam pointed to a path that went along the side of a derelict building covered in ivy. “That one. It’s goin' in the right direction.”

OK, we’ll do it your way, but watch out for traps.”

“Yeah, we’ll be careful. C’mon.”

Fintan raised the spear into a defensive position and followed Sam. They had just cleared the end of the old building when they heard a rustling behind them. Fintan whipped around raising the spear. The ivy on the building had come to life and was extending tendrils in the air and along the ground towards them. Fintan shouted in shock and thumbed the fire button on the spear.

Too late.

The ivy wrapped around his arm and twisted it. He screamed in pain and dropped the spear. The ivy continued to twist until he felt his shoulder dislocate. “Sam!” he screamed, “Jesus Christ, help me!”

Sam grabbed the spear and sprayed the ruined building with fire. The ivy in the air withered and turned to ash and the remaining tendrils withdrew. Fintan was kneeling on the ground whimpering and supporting his arm. Sam grabbed his other arm and got him to his feet. Further down the path, the grass was moving as if alive and roots were tearing up from the ground, writhing like snakes.

“The hell with that!” said Sam and propelled Fintan back towards the gateway.

“Oh Jesus. Oh God, this hurts. What am I going to do Sam? There are no doctors here.”

Here, gimme a look.” Sam examined Fintan’s shoulder with great care.

Turn around so I can see it from the back,” he said. As Fintan turned around, Sam grabbed his arm and kicked his legs out from under him. As he fell his own weight pulled his shoulder back into place with a loud Snick!

Fintan screamed and passed out.

A while later he woke up to find Sam making a sling from a piece of his shirt.

“Here, put this around your neck and support that arm in it.”

“You bastard!” Fintan croaked. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“College football. How you doing?”

“It hurts like hell, that’s how I’m doing, but at least it’s back in place. Thanks Sam.”

Yeah, but what are we gonna do now? We can’t go back down there; that creeper woulda torn us apart - and who knows what might be down the other trails.”

There’s got to be a safe way of getting through those trees and it’s got to be something to do with this ‘path of righteousness’. Oh God, this is throbbing. Let me rest here a while and think about it.”

“Sure, sure. Take your time, man. I’m gonna take a walk back out on that dock if ya don’t mind bein’ on your own for a time.”

Yeah, of course. I’m pretty bad company at the moment. Go ahead and take a look around; just be careful, OK?”

Yeah, I will.”

Sam wandered off and Fintan lay back favoring his damaged shoulder. When he closed his eyes the pain seemed to get worse but eventually his brain flooded with endorphins and the pain became manageable. The instinct to sleep after the injury was strong and he started to slide into the well of unconsciousness. As he fell into that pre-sleep slumber where you hear voices in your head and memories are almost eidetic, his thoughts took flight. He thought about the Ogham inscription and the almost mocking way Berentos had said it. The Path of Righteousness was clearly a reference to the safe path through the forest, but what did it mean? He slid further towards sleep. Snatches of music, smells, faces and a variety of random memories flashed through his mind. Eventually his thoughts found their way back to his college days and his first encounter with the Ogham alphabet.

His girlfriend had opened a design book at a page showing a photograph of an ancient Ogham stone. Written at the top of the page was Beith-Luis-Fearn and the alphabet was shown beneath.

What do the Irish words at the top mean?” he had asked.

Ogham is sometimes called Beith-Luis-Fearn because those are the names of the first three letters, just the same way that the word ‘alphabet’ is made from the Greek words Alpha and Beta.”

Oh yeah, I see. Makes sense. Actually, thinking about it, beith is also very close to the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet ‘Beth’ which means house. I wonder if they come from the same root.”

“No, I don’t think so. Beith means ‘birch’”

“Birch?”

“Yeah, as in birch tree. All the letters in Ogham are named after trees or plants. So Beith-Luis-Fearn is Birch-Rowan-Alder.”

Fintan came awake and sat bolt upright. He shoulder howled in protest but he ignored it.

“Sam!” he roared. “Sam! Where are you? I think I’ve got it!”

He got to his feet and shambled to the gateway. “Sam!”

Sam was sitting near the end of the dock looking into the water. He turned around at Fintan’s voice. Fintan gestured to him, the movement sending darts of pain through his shoulder. Sam got up and came walking back down the dock.

“What’s up?” he asked when he reached Fintan. “I thought you were going to take a rest.”

I was, and as I was falling asleep it came to me. Look.”

He led Sam to the gateway and ran his finger along the inscription.

Each letter in the Ogham alphabet is named after a tree or a plant. See the word for righteousness, ‘firentagt’?”

“Yeah?”

If you spell it out in Ogham you get Fearn Idad Ruis Edad Nion Tinne Ailm Gort Tinne, or Alder Yew Elder Poplar Ash Holly Fir Ivy Holly. What I’m thinking is, if we follow the path of righteousness – or firentagt – letter by letter, we’ll make it through the forest safely.”

Sam’s eyes were wide. He made several attempts to say something then just shrugged. “If you say so, man. I hope you know your trees. I wouldn’t know a poplar from a parka.”

“I should be able to recognize all of these, yeah.”

“I guess we’ll know soon enough. What was that first letter again?”

Alder.”

“Well, was there an alder at that first junction?”

“As a matter of fact there was.”

“Ok then, we’re off to a good start. Wanna give it another go?”

“Sure. But keep that spear at the ready, just in case.”

The trail marked with an alder tree was second from the left. They crept down it like a pair of frightened birds, Sam following Fintan with the spear cocked. The trail took them on a circuitous route through the forest and led them a long way from the tower, but nothing attacked them. Eventually they arrived at another clearing with four trails.

Fintan breathed a sigh of relief.

There’s a yew tree here. Maybe I’ve got this right.”

“Yeah, well I ain’t gonna relax just yet. It could all still be fluke.”

“Only one way to find out.”

They headed down the trail marked with a yew tree and when they got to the clearing at the end of that, they followed the next trail.

The sun had peaked and was on the lazy downhill amble into mid-afternoon when they finally walked out of the forest into the well-kept grassy clearing at the center of the island. After the gloom of the forest, the brightness and openness felt like a curse lifting. The clearing was roughly circular and many hundreds of meters across, cut through with radial and concentric pebbled paths dividing the area into sectors and sub-sectors. The glistening white tower stood at the center like an enormous gnomon, its lengthening shadow pointing somewhere to the left of Fintan and Sam. Throughout the grounds were derelict buildings, overgrown with grass and wildflowers yet still at keeping with the landscaped feeling of the place. If Midir had indeed laid waste to the complex, he had failed to rid it of its essential essence: Dewenisch still had the atmosphere of a place of retreat and learning.

A door opened in the base of the tower and a tall figure emerged in a long robe, accompanied by several other creatures. As the figure drew closer they could make out an aging female felkynd who radiated a tremendous aura of calm and power. The fur around her muzzle was graying and her whiskers and ear tufts were long. The iridescent blue of her robe shimmered as she walked, the front of it decorated by symbols reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

In her arms was an exotic-looking domestic cat with blue eyes. The other creatures that walked and flew alongside her were vaguely feline but unrecognizable to either Fintan or Sam.

Fintan bowed as the stately felkynd approached and held out his hands in the supplicatory gesture Jere had taught him. He hissed out of the side of his mouth at Sam who made a diffident effort at doing the same.

Good morning Øsul, I am Fintan McHewell and this is Sam Renstrom. We have come to seek an audience with Worara Øsul Mieru-San.”

The felkynd lady stopped, her creatures arranging themselves around her feet.

{Worara Øsul Mieru-San, you say? Your information is outdated, Øsul-ti. There is no longer anyone by that name here.}

Fintan’s heart sank and he heard Sam swearing under his breath.

“Øsul, we have come a long way to find her and to ask her help. Could you tell us where she is now?”

{Oh, I am she, but I do not go by that name any longer. I am now Worara Mieru-Roku.}

Fintan breathed a sigh of relief.

Ah, I think I understand. The suffix on your name is a title indicating how far you’ve progressed through your Worar levels.”

The felkynd inclined her head in affirmation.

{Very good. You are somewhat familiar with Diru meditation. But what brings you here, may I ask? You said you needed my help?}

Yes Øsul. We need to petition the Ord Kommarlu for help.”

Mieru stopped and cocked her head at Fintan.

{And what makes you think I have any knowledge of the Ord Kommarlu, or their whereabouts?}

A felkynd who once knew you told me to come to you.”

{Indeed? And what was the name of this felkynd that I may verify your story?}

I’d rather not say, Øsul.”

Mieru drew herself up to her full height.

{Without candor we have no basis for parlay. Please leave my island.}

She started to turn on her heel.

“Please! Please, Øsul… his name is Jere.”

Mieru’s muzzle twisted in a slight snarl. It was uncanny; just for a moment it could have been Jere standing there. He had exactly the same expression of bemusement.

{Jere? It is a noble name but I do not know this felkynd.}

The lump returned to Fintan’s throat and tears pooled in the corners of his eyes, already watery with pain. How tragic that a mother could have no memory of her son.

He explained that you might not remember him, but I assure you he was very important to you in your past. Could you take my word for it?”

{The word of a stranger is easily given but not so easily taken. However, I can see a sincerity in your eyes. Why does this Jere wish to find the Ord Kommarlu?}

“Kuhn-Ridh is holding Jere and twelve other felkynd captive at his city. He plans to perform a taghairm to locate the Lebor Stara.”

A collective shock went through Mieru and her companions. The cat in her arms wriggled and started to mewl. Mieru placed it on the ground and it started to pace back and forward, keening and swishing its tail.

{Come with me immediately.}

Mieru strode back towards the tower with her entourage. Sam and Fintan exchanged glances then hurried after her.

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