Along the side of the main hall was an alcove made of screens of wattle, set at an angle that provided privacy for those within. In the alcove stood Cuchulainn’s bathtub, a large and elaborate affair of bronze. A procession of thewomen of the manor werenow coming in from the well with jugs of water, which they emptied into the tub. Meanwhile the men were poking up the fire at the end of the hall and adding a number of stones of about five to ten pounds’ weight.

Brodsky sidled up to Shea, as they stood in the half-light, orientingthemselves. «Listen, I don’t want to blow the whistle on a bump rap, but you better watch it. The racket they have here, this guy can make a pass at Belphebe in his own house, and it’s legit. You ain’t gotno beef coming.»

«I was afraid of that,» said Shea, unhappily.

«Look there.»

«There» was a row of wooden spikes projecting from one of the horizontal strings along the wall, and most of these spikes were occupied by human heads. As they watched Laeg brought in the head bag and added the latest trophies to the collection, pressing them down firmly. Some of those already in place were quite fresh, while others had been there so long that there was little left of them but a skull with a little hair adhering to the scalp.

«Jeepers!» said Brodsky, «and if you start beefing, he’ll put you there, too. Give me time — I’ll try to think of some way to rumble his line.»

«Make way!» shouted a huge bewhiskered retainer. The three dodged as the man ran past them, carrying a large stone, smoking from the fire, in a pair of tongs. The man dashed into the alcove. There was a splash and a loud hiss. Another retainer followed with a second stone while the first was on his return trip. In a few minutes all the stones had been transferred to the bathtub. Shea looked around the screen and saw that the water was steaming gently.

Cuchulainn sauntered past into the bathroom and tested the water with an inquisitive finger. «That will do, dears.»

The retainers picked the stones out of the water with their tongs and piled them in the corner, then went around from behind the screen. Cuchulainn reached up to pull off his tunic, then saw Shea. «I am going to undress for the bath,» he said. «Surely, you would notbe wanting to remain here, now.»

Shea turned back into the main room just in time to see Brodsky smack one fist into the other palm.

«Got it!»

«Got what?» said Shea.

«How to needle his hot tomato.» He looked around, then pulled Shea and Belphebe closer. «Listen, the big shot putting the scram on you now just reminded me. The minute he makes a serious pass at you, Belle, you gotta go into a strip-tease act. In public, where everybody can get a gander at it.»

Belphebe gasped. Shea asked, «Are you out of your head? That sounds to me like trying to put a fire out with gasoline.»

«I tell you he can’t take it!» Brodsky’s voice was low but urgent. «They can’tnone of them. One time when this guy was going to put the slug on everyone at the court, the King sent out a bunch of babes with bare knockers, and they nearly had to pick him up in a basket.»

«I like this not,» said Belphebe, but Shea said, «A nuditytaboo! That could be part of a culture pattern, all right. Do they all have it?»

«Yeh, and but good,» said Brodsky. «They even croak of it. What gave me the tip was him putting the chill on you before he started to undress — he was doing you afavor.»

Cuchulainn stepped out of the alcove, buckling a belt around a fresh tunic, emerald-green with embroidery of golden thread. He scrubbed his long hair with a towel and ran a comb through it, while Laeg took his place behind the screen.

Belphebe said, «Is there to bebut one water for all?»

Cuchulainn said, «There is plenty of soapwort. Cleanliness is good for beauty.» He glanced at Brodsky. «The slave can bathe in the trough outside.»

«Listen.» began Brodsky, but Shea put a hand on his arm, and to cover up, asked, «Do your druids use spells of transportation — from one place to another?»

«There is little a good druid cannot do — but I would advise you not to use the spells of Cathbadh unless you are a hero as well as a maker of magic, for they arc very mighty.»

He turned to watch the preparations for dinner with a sombre satisfaction. Laeg presentlyappeared, his toilet made, and from another direction one of the women brought garments which she took into the bathroom for Shea and Belphebe. Shea started to follow his wife, but remembered what Brodsky had said about the taboo, and decided not to take a chance on shocking his hosts. She came out soon enough in a floor-length gown that clung to her all over, and he noted with displeasure that it was the same green and embroidered pattern as Cuchulainn’s tunic.

After Shea had dealt with water almost cold and a towel already damp, his own costume turned out to be a saffron tunic and tight knitted scarlet trews which he imagined as looking quite effective.

Belphebe was watching the women around the fire. Over in the shadows under the eaves sat Pete Brodsky, cleaning his fingernails with a bronze knife, a chunky, middle-aged man — a good hand in a fight, with his knowledge of jujitsu and his quick reflexes, and not a bad companion. Things would be a lot easier, though, if he hadn’t fouled up the spell by wanting to stay where he was, Or had that been responsible?

Old Cathbadh came stumping up with his stick. «Mac Shea,» he said, «the Little Hound is after telling me that you also are a druid, who came here by magical arts from a distant place, and can summon lightning from the skies.»

«It’s true enough,» said Shea. «Doubtless you know those spells.»

«Doubtless I do,» said Cathbadh, looking sly. «We must hold converse on matters of our craft. We will be teaching each other some new spells, I am thinking.»

Shea frowned. The only spell he was really interested in was one that would take Belphebe and himself — and Pete — back toGaraden, Ohio, and Cathbadh probably didn’t know that one. It would be a question of getting at the basic assumptions, and more or less working outhis own method of putting them to use.

Aloud he said, «I think we can be quite useful to each other. InAmerica, where I come from, we have worked out some of the general principles of magic, so that it is only necessary to learn the procedures in various places.»

Cathbadh shook his head. «You do be telling me — and it is the word of a druid, so I must believe you — but ‘tis hard to credit that a druid could travel among the Scythians of Greece or the Scots of Egypt, with all the strange gods they do be having, and still be protected by his spells as well as at home.»

Shea got a picture of violently confused geography. But then, he reflected, the correspondence between this world and his own would only be rough, anyway. There might be Scots inEgypt here.

Just then Cuchulainn came out of his private room and sat down without ceremony at the head of the table. The others gathered round. Laeg took the place at one side of the hero and Cathbadh at the other. Shea and Belphebe were nodded to the next places, opposite each other. A good-looking serf woman with hair bound back from her forehead filled a large golden goblet at Cuchulainn’s place with wine from a golden ewer, then smaller silver cups at the places of Laeg and Cathbadh, and copper mugs for Shea and Belphebe. Down the table the rest of the company had leather jacks and barley beer.

Cuchulainn said to Cathbadh, «Will you make the sacrifice, dear?»

The druid stood up, spilled a few drops on the floor and chanted to the gods Bile, Danu, and Ler. Shea decided that it was only imagination that he was hearing the sound of beating wings, and only the approach of the meal that gave him a powerful sense of internal comfort, but there was no doubt that Cathbadh knew his stuff.

He knew it, too. «Was that not fine, now?» he said, as he sat down next to Shea. «Can you show me anything in your outland magic ever so good?»

Shea thought. It wouldn’t do any harm to give the old codger a small piece of sympathetic magic, and might help his own reputation. He said, «Move your wine-cup over next to mine, and watch it carefully.»

There would have to be a spell to link the two if he were going to make Cathbadh’s wine disappear as he drank his own, and the only one he could think of at the moment was the «Double, double» from «Macbeth.» He murmured that under his breath, making the hand passes he had learned in Faerie.

Then he said, «Now, watch,» picked up his mug and set it to his lips.


Out of Cathbadh’s cup a geyser of wine leaped as though driven by a pressure hose, nearly reaching the ceiling before it broke up to descend in a rain of glittering drops, while the guests at the head of the table leaped to their feet to draw back from the phenomenon.

Cathbadh was a fast worker; he lifted his stick and struck the hurrying stream of liquid, crying something unintelligible in a high voice. Abruptly the gusher was quenched and there was only the table, swimming with wine, and serf women rushing to mop up the mess.

Cuchulainn said, «This is a very beautiful piece of magic, Mac Shea, and it is a pleasure to have so notable a druid among us. But you would not be making fun of us, would you?» He looked dangerous.

«Not me,» said Shea. «I only.»

Whatever he intended to say was cut off by a sudden burst of unearthly howling from somewhere outside. Shea glanced around rather wildly, feeling that things were getting out of hand. Cuchulainn said, «You need not be minding that at all, now. It will only be Uath, and because the moon has reached her term.»

«I don’t understand,» said Shea.

«The women ofUlster were not good enough for Uath, so he must be going toConnacht and courting the daughter of Ollgaeth the druid. This Ollgaeth is no very polite man; he said no Ultonian should have his daughter, and when Uath persisted, he put a geas on Uath that when the moon fills he must howl the night out, and a geas on his own daughter that she cannot abide the sound of howling. I am thinking that Ollgaeth’s head is due for a place of honor.» He looked significantly at his collection.

Shea said, «But I still don’t understand. If you can put a geas on someone, can’t it be taken off again?»

Cuchulainn looked mournful, Cathbadh embarrassed, and Laeg laughed. «Now you will be making Cathbadh sad, and our dear Cucuc is too polite to tell you, but the fact is no other than that Ollgaeth is so good a druid that no one can lift the spells he lays, nor lay one he cannot lift.»

Outside, Uath’s mournful howl rose again.

Cuchulainn said to Belphebe, «Does he trouble you, dear? I can have him removed, or the upper part of him.»

As the meal progressed, Shea noticed that Cuchulainn was putting away an astonishing quantity of the wine, talking almost exclusively with Belphebe, although the drink did not seem to have much effect on the hero but to intensify his sombre courtesy. But, when the table was cleared, he lifted his goblet to drain it, looked at Belphebe from across the table, and nodded significantly.

Shea got up and ran around the table to place a hand on her shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Pete Brodsky getting up, too. Cuchulainn’s face bore the faintest of smiles. «It is sorry to discommode you I am,» he said, «but this is by the rules and not even a challenging matter. So now, Belphebe, darling, you will just come to my room.»

He got up and started toward Belphebe, who got up, too, backing away. Shea tried to keep between them and racked his brain hopelessly for some kind of spell that might stop this business. Everyone else was standing up and pushing to watch the little drama.

Cuchulainn said, «Now you would not be getting in my way, would you, Mac Shea, darling?» His voice was gentle, but there was something incredibly ferocious in the way he uttered the words, and Shea suddenly realized he was facing a man who had a sword. Outside, Uath howled mournfully.

Beside him, Belphebe herself suddenly leaped for one of the weapons hanging on the wall and tugged, but in vain. It had been so securely fastened with staples that it would have taken a pry bar to get it loose. Cuchulainn laughed.

Behind and to the left of Shea, Brodsky’s voice rose, «Belle, you stiff, do like I told you!»

She turned back as Cuchulainn drew nearer and with set face crossed her arms and whipped the green gown off over her head. She stood in her underwear.

There was a simultaneous gasp and groan of horror from the audience. Cuchulainn stopped, his mouth coming open.

«Go on!» yelled Brodsky in the background.

«Give it the business!»

Belphebe reached behind her to unhook her brassiere. Cuchulainn staggered as though he had been struck. He threw one arm across his eyes, reached the table and brought his face down on it, pounding the wood with the other fist.

«Ara!» he shouted. «Take her away! Is it killing me you will be and in my own hall, and me your host that has saved your life?»

«Will you let her alone?» asked Shea.

«I will that for the night.»

«Mac Shea, take his offer,» advised Laeg from the head of the table. He looked rather greenish himself. «If his rage comes on him, none of us will be safe.»

«Okay. Honest,» said Shea and held Belphebe’s dress for her.

There was a universal sigh of relief from the background. Cuchulainn staggered to his feet. «It is not feeling well that I am, darlings,» he said and, picking up the golden ewer of wine, made for his room.