The Rocking Stone

On Cadair Idris, close by to the bottomless lake of Llyn Cau, I spent the night on a Rocking Stone, with a youthful desire in my heart, to be a Poet Bard. Legend has it that a night on Cadair’s cold flank gives the curse of madness, or the blessings of Seer or Bard. I knew the risk to my mind and the risks of the rocking stone, the balancing of the stone, a balance to be held on a dark night, high up and all alone. I sat and prayed in silence to the moon and stars above, looking up with eyes wide open, alert to the mountain, the rock and the wind that blew in that desolate spot.

The night was long. I came down with the dawn as nothing; an empty vessel waiting to be filled. No-one, nothing at all. Aware that I was very small.

Ten years later, or was it five, and does it matter how old I was, I spent the night on a rock atop a Tor, looking out across a wide open remote moor. I saw the creatures of the night as they scurried about and eyes shining and blinking in the dark. I heard the song of the wind through the rocks. Nothing more. It was enough.

The night was long. I came down feeling I belonged to something though I knew not what. I became a journey begun.

The night I spent on the cliff edge where the wind sings in the grass above granite rock, the waves beat on the rocks below and seven hours became one. Time slowed, or the stars and the moon sped by, who can tell which, the night I sat high on the cliff edge, the moon path spread across the sea, glimmering on water, reaching out to the a far horizon.

The stars, with the moon at the centre of all, moved in a slow ballet of curved motion across the sky, the constellations shone out from the web of night, a rotation eternal, a moving wheel. Beneath me the tide rolled in an out, fast. Time did not stop, it slowed or the world sped up while beauty shone out high above.

Seven hours became one.

If I can, by a shift of my mind, alter seven hours to one could I change one hour to seven and make life longer or can I pull seven hours into one? What is time but illusion? The days of a child are long, a summer an eternity. Seven hours could easily be as seven decades to a shorter lived creature than me. Does a butterfly live six score years and ten in so short a span as a day.

The earth is a rocking stone held in place by the moon while the sun brings it life. Time does not exist. Life and death is all we have and are but we are not bound in time.

We are all finely balanced on the stone. We either fall off or we balance.

This is all I have learned on the Rocking Stone. This is not the end of my journey, a journey I make alone.

A Bards Tale

Long ago, well before this time, but when the world was even then already old, there was an ancient college high up on a mountain peak, well away from any city or village. It was a college of Druids. Some called them Alchemists and some called them Healers, some called them Seers and many called them Philosophers and indeed they were all of these things. They also acted as Judges when called upon to do so.

It was here that the Bards studied and received their training.

As some of you may already know the studies of the Druids are very long indeed and so it is with the Bards. This tale is about a young man, Alwyn, who had spent nineteen years in his studies to become a Bard.

He learned the natural sciences, logic, philosophy, mathematics, geometry, music, grammar and syntax, oratory, history, astronomy and navigation.

After ten years of these general studies he began to memorise the key features all of the known myths and much poetry and the arts of storytelling and all of the forms of poetry as well as the twenty four ancient forms and their uses and the secrets of Taliesin’s work and the truths of The Matter of Britain. He had learned how to make his own poetry sing with internal beauty and how to hurl a curse so fearful that it could stop an enemy in his tracks.

As you can tell he really had to work hard but he was happy to do so. A Bard was free to tell a tale and say what he liked in free speech wherever he went in those days. He was also a welcome messenger carrying news of what went on in the land. Alwyn regarded it all as a great privilege. He wanted to be nothing else and was aware that there is no end to learning.

So, time passed and after another nine years he had the ability to spin a myth into a good tale to speak with a fine harp accompaniment or to play a music to which no feet could be still at a village dance and compose a fine verse on demand, and beautiful poetry from his own heart and from seeing the essence of nature. He then was set a task, a question, to deepen his understanding of story and to send him journeying, out in the world.

He was to be a travelling Bard. He was too young, inexperienced and unknown to be a great Bard in a great Court for by then he was only six and twenty years on this earth. He was a Bard for the people. He was given a harp as the tool of his craft, a pair of good strong boots and a blue cloak against the cold.

When he set off it was autumn, just as it is now. He carried little, just a small bag of the most necessary things and a hip flask of mead. He took up his harp and slung it onto his shoulder and began his journey of a year and a day..

He descended the rocky path into the woods below. All the leaves on the trees shone with orange and gold and the woods were full of sounds as the creatures bustled about preparing their winter stores.

He thought of the myths and stories he knew and none seemed to fully answer…… ”What is honour?”

The young Bard realised that for all his studies he had less than he thought in his own store for he knew little of the outside world, least of all, about the question he had been asked and was, at that moment, pondering.

A year and a day to answer a question.

”What is honour?” —- the words turned over and over in his mind. He had entered the shelter of the college aged seven. He knew he was himself not qualified to answer the question so he resolved to ask where he could, as indeed he had been instructed to do.

He gathered food here and there as he walked and drank the fresh sparkling water of the mountain springs and composed a new tune in his head as he walked. The words for a song came to him easily but the nature of honour eluded him.

As the sun was beginning to sink he had reached a valley and in the soft curve at the bottom of the valley a small well kept cottage was nestled, by a still grey lake fringed with reeds. There were sheep in a nearby enclosure, bought in for safe keeping at dusk.

A small boy, unafraid, ran out of the cottage door to meet him. The young boy knew a Bard when he saw one and was excited at the prospect of a tale. The boy was soon followed by his father and mother who were friendly, open hearted folk who invited the young Bard to share their supper in return for a tale or two and they all soon sat down by the fire for a bowl of mutton stew.

The Bard introduced himself as Alwyn and told them many tales that night, tales chosen with care to suit his audience, tales that made them cry a little and laugh a lot. He understood his audience well enough from his studies and even more by watching the firelight and delight or sorrow in their eyes, falling or fading and flaring up just as the flames did in the hearth.

They all grew tired, and the boy was long asleep, lulled by the sound of the harp, so they gave Alwyn a bed for the night and in the morning, as he broke the nights fast with them he asked his question. The farmer looked ponderous but the boy swiftly and brightly piped up with an answer.

”If you have honour you don’t steal from your mother or father because they are the people who care for you most and gave you life.”

His mother and father nodded and smiled but his father, looking thoughtful, added,

”Aye but what if you’re starving and ain’t got no coin? then you can steal but from only the rich. I’d steal the kings rabbits out of the wood and mind I don’t get caught and still keep my honour I reckon. He would kill me for it if I was caught though. Remember that my boy! But he should not have let you starve in the first place, I say. Where is the honour in starving folk? Good question it is and I have answered with all I know of it. High born folk will have another opinion of honour i suppose but I think i am as honourable as they. I just know we have been lucky and not had to think about honour too much.”

The Mother spoke then.

” I say it’s being true to the people you love and giving kindness to strangers. If you don’t do that it doesn’t matter if you are honourable in some fine way or not! If you don’t do those two things you are just plain bad!”

Alwyn thanked them for their hospitality and he took up his harp and slung it onto his shoulder and travelled on his way.

He told many stories in his travels and asked the question many times but felt himself no nearer to any certain truth of the nature of honour at all and had formed no opinion of his own, except that it had something to do with kindness and honesty.

Time was passing swiftly.

One day Alwyn reached the walls of a town. The gate stood wide open, for this was a peaceful time, but it was still always guarded by men at arms. Alwyn noticed that a few of them, off duty, were sitting around a fire and he wandered over to ask if he might warm himself and tell them a tale.

He told them tales of glory and battles and heroism and of the crafty schemes of merchants and the witty jests of village landlords in taverns which delighted them. Then he asked them ”What is honour?”

They all answered much the same.

”I serve the Lord of this land and he serves the King. I made a vow to do so. I took an oath and to keep that oath is a matter of honour for me.”

”And what if he commands you to do something you think is clearly wrong?” asked Alwyn.

The most outspoken soldier paused in polishing his sword and answered, with a tone of annoyance, ”I must obey whether I like it or not. I took an oath. I am not an oath breaker! A man who breaks a seriously taken oath is a liar and a cheat and has no honour at all! My Lord must also keep his oath to the King. We are equal in that.”

”And the King? Does he take an oath?” Alwyn asked.

”Of course!” said the Knight. ”He makes an oath to God!”

”He must claim to know very precisely Gods Will?”

The Knight gave the Bard a narrow eyed look and said, ‘I don’t question that. It’s not my place. I know what honour is and I live by mine.”

”You make it seem so simple” said Alwyn, with a smile, ‘Thank you.”

If Alwyn had not safe passage and free speech by right in the land it might have gone ill for him to be asking such a question about the King, but, as always, he took up his harp and slung it onto his shoulder and travelled on his way.

One day, as the first snows were beginning to fall and the red berries shone out against the dark leaves of the holly, he met an old man with a donkey, sheltering at the side of the road, huddled up against the chill air and stirring a pot of thin soup. He invited Alwyn to share his meagre meal which had a wonderful scent of herbs about it, rising in steam in the frosty air.

Alwyn felt sure, that being older in years than other people he had asked, this man might have a good answer. When he heard the question the old man nodded sagely and admitted it was by no means an easy question.

”I wrote a verse of my own about this,” he said. ”It does not answer your question but it does warn of Honour’s most dangerous companion …..

”Honour’s not without grave risks, you will see,
Since close beside Honour’s throne sits Pride;
And Pride’s self-gazing shatters love inside
The soul, thus leaving naught but echoed “Me!”
So heed my paltry lines I write: Stand tall
When called before the crowd, a hero’s crown
Receiving. Wait, when you take it for your own
and know, Pride goes forth before a fall.”

At this moment a younger man came out of a nearby wood, attracted by the fire. He was simply dressed but he had a very fine horse and the horse wore armour and its reins were held by a squire. The man was very polite in his manner. His hair was turning just a little grey and he looked tired and care worn. The old man stood and bowed stiffly and invited him to rest at the fire. Alwyn greeted him with a smile.

”I could not help but overhear your verse” said the Knight, for such he was. He took a seat on a moss covered stone near the fire.

”We were discussing the nature of honour Sir” said Alwyn, passing the Knight and the old man a cup each of mead from his flask. ”May we have your own opinion?”

”Indeed” said the Knight,, ”for honour is the core at the heart of my life. It’s a continuous reaching for a better version of ourselves, and encouraging others to reach for that also. It’s a way of relating to others that places them not only higher than ourselves, but higher than they might think of themselves. It is a standard that we must reach, or die trying, because anything less would be a failure of character.”

”A very interesting answer Sir,” said Alwyn, thinking it the best answer he had received so far and that it seemed to fit well with what the farmers wife had said.

Wrapping his blue wool cloak close around him and bidding them farewell with blessings Alwyn slung his harp on his back and travelled on, thinking of the Knights words about having a better self. What was this better self we much reach for?

The end of Alywn’s journey had arrived and he was still pondering this question as he arrived back at the door of the college. The year and a day was over and even before he had unslung his harp from his back he was called to his teachers chamber to give his own answer and this is what he said,

”I asked many people and everyone answered me in accordance with their view of the world and their own heart. It seems there always has to be a judgement made about what is honourable and what is not. Opinion may change with experience but you have to make these judgements every day of your life, even in the simplest act. I think it is a question with no certain answer and this is not a matter for dogma, for each mans life is his own responsibility. I think one aspect is based on kindness, for we all live in community, but one man spoke of his ‘better self’, a higher version of his self, and this I think is the clue. This higher self is the soul. Perhaps honour is the way we protect our own soul in all our own actions and sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed but the honour is in the trying to care for our own soul. It is our soul that demands honour.”

The Druid smiled and told Alwyn to go and rest but Alwyn was still curious.

”Did I answer rightly?”

”Let your own soul answer that question and soon we will set you another for your next journey. Those who ponder on such questions as what is honour, what is truth and what is love and think with an open heart and mind are well begun in the journey of learning that will one day leads them to wisdom. Always take care of your soul. You will continue to travel. Your studies progress well enough.”

Bardic Forms

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas both made some use of old Welsh Bardic poetic forms (of which there are 24) . They have complex patterns of alliteration and internals rhymes within strict metres.

Here is a poem by Katherine Bryant  in one of the Welsh Bardic styles called “cywydd deuair hirion.”

(It is an example of a poem composed in a language not native to the style as they would usually be in Welsh).

Great my lord, sword and singing,
Over his shire, verses ring.
Bright fame in game and guidance,
Brass Lamp’s dream gleam in his glance
Gifted bard, Lantern’s guardian,
Graceful word heard from his hand.
Sharp his steel, sure praises tell,
Surefoot cat leaing battle.
I speak who know, praise owing,
I feel his steel and its sting.
I know his cheer, clear clamor,
I know his song, strong its soar,
I hear his wise words clearly.
I praise his grace in my glee.
May fame increase, unceasing;
My praise I raise, may it ring!

Having read this aloud to myself it’s clear to me that Robin Williamson has also used it.

I intend to investigate all this more, with the help of a text called Gwenllian’s Poetry Primer by Katherine Bryant (when I can find a copy), because I am very attracted to the ‘music’ of Welsh poetry, which I am sure can be used in the same musical way in English

Following the Bards Advice

let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment
build walls of gossamer and light against it
keep sweet endeavour to our true intent
lift our hearts entwined above
though time will take its toll
build towers of tenderest respect
fly high the joyous banner
i will love you heart and soul
let graceful fountains in the garden flow
with open truths that will refresh us
and make our flowers to grow
i will watch your changing moods
amidst them i will always know
that we are free yet bound as one
whatever breeze may blow

Old Man Willow

I am Old Man Willow
I nurture bees
I am called The Honey Tree
I am loved by Thrush and Hawk
The Cat and Hare confide in me
I shelter Mistletoe and Primrose
Primrose juice inspires the Bard
I gave dreams to Orpheus
I am of the Sacred Grove
Honoured in the Wisdom Old
To talk to me, it is not hard.
I am home to resting Cranes
Who like to build their nests nearby
Together we will bring good fortune
And many stories we enfold.
I protect the rivers banks
I am first and last in leaf.
Rest by me
Come give me thanks
I soothe all grief
Lay beneath me
Watch the shadows
And the flickering of Sun
Filter through my sighing branches
I am Old Man Willow
You need have no fear of me
If you walk gently, kindly, in the wood
And damage not any tree

The Winter of the Unicorn

The Winter of the Unicorn

Outside the city walls, despite a hard winter, the granaries were still well filled. There was plenty for a great feast and for the rest of the winter too. The hens and geese were plump. The Baron and his men had been out on a deer hunt in the forest. The cellars were laden with heavy oaken casks filled with cider and mead.

The streets were brightly lit with lanterns and merry with song and chatter. Minstrels played festive music, glad to have been welcomed into the City.

Children well wrapped in wool coats and leather boots ran about throwing snowballs at each other and made ice slides in the streets to the annoyance of the old and infirm. In the morning when they woke they had enjoyed drawing finger pictures on window panes to embellish the work of Jack Frost.

The cooks were all preparing the winter feast. Everyone was looking forward to eating the Goose (except the geese of course). There would be puddings and pies and fruits and nuts from the fields and the forest and there would be frumenty, a great favourite of all. The poorer people were hoping to have a slice of Humble Pie, made with the heart and brains and other offal of the Deer.

When the festival of the Winter Solstice arrived and the old, old custom of tree dressing began, the plump Friar came to the tree he called the Paradise Tree outside the cathedral and blessed the tree in readiness for the time of Christmas Eve.

There was to be a play just outside the church on Christmas Eve and mummers were to adorn the evergreen tree with apples and communion wafers. Decked out in this way it represented the two mystical trees in the Garden of Eden; the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil and the Tree of Life. The play would be attended by many, both rich and poor.

In the morning the rich Baron stood, wrapped in furs with an armed guard behind him, on the steps of the Great Hall and gave ostentatious, but not overly generous, charity to the poor of the city. He despised the poor. He saw them not as men but as mindless vermin. He had not a compassionate or charitable bone in his body. He was unkind and even cruel. He washed his fingers frequently in a bowl of rose water a servant held beside him, wiping poverty from his hands on a delicately embroidered cloth.

Out, beyond the city gates, a mile or so away in the fields where the ground was a patchwork of brown, bare frozen earth sprinkled by flurries of snow and deeper drifts against walls and hedgerows, a family lived by a frozen lake, close to a forest, in a wooden hut. They were a family of six; an old Grandfather and his son Dynawd, his sons’ thin, gaunt wife, Awena, who once had been very pretty, and their three very young children. All were pale, cold, dressed in rags and starving, as were many others in that land.

The family had done their best to ensure their survival but they were only allowed to keep a small portion of the harvest. The Baron and the City took the rest.

The fire in their hearth was meagre as, though there were plenty of fallen branches and twigs in the forest, these too had been claimed by the Baron as his own property and only a bare supply could be gathered. The Deer and all living things belonged to him too, by his sole decree and the support of his henchmen.

The Barons men rode out from the city frequently to check that the people of the land withheld no item of tax or stole from the forest.

The punishment for poaching or for gathering more than an allotted amount of wood from the forest was very severe, no less than death was ever granted. Dynawd dare not risk his life for his whole family depended upon his survival. He took what he could. His boots were a mess of mended holes. He spent his days plugging every hole that let in a draught or was outside in the snow with Awena scavenging while the old man watched the children. He felt impotent as he watched his family starve.

The winter had come early that year and been very harsh. Dynawd had never before found it this hard to survive and looking ahead he began to despair. There was nowhere to turn to for help. He looked at his wife and children with pity. His father could offer no advice.

The baby was always coughing in a way that caught at Dynawd’s heart. She was his only daughter. He loved all his children dearly and his wife and father too. He was glad his mother had died in a peaceful sleep in the summer. It was a better death than this.

Dynawd couldn’t sleep at night, partly through hunger and partly through sorrow. His wife clung to him in her sleep for warmth. He rolled her aside and wrapped the thin blanket closely around her and went outside.

The moon was full and the snow in the fields, the frost on the leaves, the icicles that hung from the eaves of the hut and the ice on the lake all glittered and sparkled in moonlight. How such beauty could also be so cruel in its consequences was a mystery.

Dynawd looked up. A bright star shone high at the apex of the sky. It was surrounded by myriad twinkling stars as if diamonds had been tossed on a black velvet cloth with one pure jewel at the centre, outshining them all. Dynawd was overcome by its beauty and sat down in the snow outside the hut and wept unashamedly. He was at his wits end and powerless to change anything.

As he sat there the memory of happier winters came to him from the time before the Baron came and seized all the land and murdered so many of Dynawd kin. Almost all of the old Wise Ones had been taken in a day and slain.

Then he remembered the Yule Log that used to burn in his family’s hearth for twelve days each year. Now, this was forbidden. It was a very hard wood and so considered to be of great value.

The memory gladdened Dynawd’s heart for a moment and he resolved that, come what may, he would get a Yule Log once again in this bitter year and some holly and mistletoe too if he could and maybe even a rabbit or a squirrel. What had he got to lose now, they were all going to die anyway. Despair brings desperate actions.

Dynawd stood up and as he turned towards his door to fetch a knife and an axe his eye was caught by a silver glimmer just inside the forest. A light flurry of snow had begun to fall again and Dynawd, squinting against the cold flakes that landed on his eyelashes, peered into the forest with blurred eyes. Now he saw nothing and, looking back briefly over his shoulder he went into the hut.

Dynawd came back out with the knife in his belt. He set the axe down by the door a moment because, to his surprise, he saw a graceful white horse standing beside the lake. He had no thought to try and catch it as, wild or owned, it was not to be his, so he just stood silent and watched it.

Then he saw the white horse bow its head and the ice immediately melted and made a pool. The horse drank. This made Dynawd very curious and he slowly crept forward, trying not to crunch the snow with his ragged boots but the horse heard him instantly and turned its head.

It was a Unicorn.

Dynawd stood transfixed, rooted to the ground. He had never seen such beauty; a Unicorn in the snow lit by moonlight, magical, unbelievable, yet there it stood. Dynawd could not have moved at that moment even if he had wanted to. He expected the Unicorn to flee to the forest and vanish like all dreams do.

Instead of fleeing the Unicorn came to him and stood before him calmly. Dynawd looked deep into the Unicorns soft starlit eyes and saw endless compassion and kindness and something a little like sorrow.

In a voice that was musical with the purity of a struck silver bell that seemed to come from far, far away, the Unicorn spoke.

‘’I have come to help you Dynawd. This land is stricken. The city takes everything. Your people cannot survive. Something must be done. You must swear never to forget your traditions or what your people believe.’’

‘’I swear this,’’ said Dynawd. He would have sworn to anything the Unicorn asked of him, but he agreed with every word.

‘’Kill me and take my horn. My horn must be used for good and never for ill. Your family shall eat my flesh and survive. My flesh will be one with your flesh and with it you will receive my blessings. ’’

Dynawd reeled back in shock. ‘’I can’t kill a Unicorn,’’ he said and tears filled his eyes.

‘’You must,’’ said the Unicorn, ‘’It is my wish and it’s why I am here beside you this night. You must do as I say and nothing less. You must kill me and your family must eat my flesh. You must take my horn and help your people and keep their spirit strong. You will be blessed by my spirit. I will live inside you. From now and forever no-one in your family will die in danger or of ill health. All will have a peaceful death in old age, just as did your mother, who I met long ago in the woods when she was a maiden. ’’

Seven times Dynawd refused to kill the Unicorn.

Seven times the Unicorn insisted he must.

Then the Unicorn said, ‘’I will make this easy for you. Go and lean your back against the oak tree over there and hold your knife out toward me. You may close your eyes if you wish but keep your arm and the knife straight and rigid. Go, do as I tell you.’’

Dynawd obeyed, but he couldn’t close his eyes. The Unicorn walked up to him there and looked at him gently and then raised its beautiful head, bearing its throat and pushed itself onto the knife, cutting the vein that held in life. Blood flowed down onto the snow as the Unicorn fell to its knees without a sound and it lay down at Dynawd’s feet.

Dynawd stood there, unable to move, but then he remembered the Unicorns words. He cut out the horn and took it. It glowed in his hand like starlight a moment and then dimmed to bone. Dynawd skinned the Unicorn and took it as meat to his home. He found it very hard to eat and swallow it but he knew that he must. He didn’t tell his family what it was.

The next morning Dynawd saw that his wife’s face was different. She looked so healthy and seemed to have some inner light. His father and children too looked strong and well. He stood and stretched himself and felt a strong vigour in his limbs that he had not felt for years and he could not help but smile.

He stepped out of his door and looked across at the Oak tree. He saws no sign of slaughter or death but a Holly tree grew there next to the Oak and it was weighed down with red berries and full of singing birds that had come to eat.

Dynawd wondered what the Unicorns horn could do. He had been told to use it to the good and never to the ill so he knew that it must have some power. He had seen the Unicorn melt a hole in the ice on the lake and so Dynawd thought that a safe thing to try. He touched the ice with the wand. The ice melted.

Then he went to a dead tree and touched it. At first he saw nothing but then, after a while, a few buds appeared. Dynawd had sense enough and respect enough for nature not to mess about with the seasons so he did no more than that. He returned to the house to sit and ponder. The horn was still in his hand.

When Dynawd went in and closed the door Awena said, addressing Dynawd’s father, ‘’my, that was a strong wind to swing the door like that!’’

Dynawd said, ‘’It was me.’’

Awena looked startled and said, ‘’Dynawd? Where are you?’’

‘’I’m right in front of you Awena. Can’t you see?’’ Dynawd touched her arm.

Awena squealed and backed away.

‘’Do you see me Father?’’ Dynawd asked.

‘’No I don’t,’’ said his father. ‘’Try putting down the Unicorns horn.’’

Dynawd was surprised at his fathers’ words but did as he was bid and appeared as normal.

‘’How did you know it was a Unicorns horn?’’

‘’From old tales of invisibility my father told me and his father told him before that. Also I dreamed of a Unicorn all last night and I have my suspicions about that meat. Hadn’t you better tell us what happened?’’

Dynawd sat down and told them all that had happened. He showed them the horn and they passed it from hand to hand in reverent awe.

‘’You could kill the Baron maybe?’’ said Awena.

‘’No I don’t think so,’’ said Dynawd. ‘’That’s certainly a good deed to many as we would all see it but it could also be seen as evil and though the Unicorn said I must help our people he also said I must only use the horn for good. That may not include anyone’s death, including that of the Baron. There will be other ways.’’

‘’But the first thing we will do is move into the forest. I will build us a small shelter where we can be more hidden and safe for a few days and I will use invisibility to feed us while I think. We will go far, far in where our fire smoke can’t be seen. We will as good as vanish. I will see what else this horn can do.’’

And this they did.

One night before he went to sleep Dynawd left the Unicorn horn resting on a sack of grain. In the morning he saw that the sack was full of gold coins. They had wealth but Dynawd knew he must not use the horn just for his own well-being.

Dynawd thought hard and long in the forest. He was an intelligent man and his father was full of old stories to guide him so Dynawd also listened. Finally he came up with a plan. He didn’t fear for his families safety because the Unicorn had said they would all live long lives and die in peace.

Dynawd went alone to the City, using invisibility and leaving gold coin on the counters of shops until he was dressed as a wealthy man. Then tucking the Unicorn horn away he went and bought all else he needed with the gold. He bought fine clothes for his family and three horses and a very fine sword of old design for himself and rings of silver and sparkling jewels for Awena’s fingers. He knew this latter was an indulgence but also felt she deserved it. Then he returned home to fetch his family back to the City.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas Dynawd and his family entered the gates of the City in splendour. The people bowed as they passed, even the Lords and Ladies. There was something in Dynawd face that inspired. They felt his inner beauty.

Awena who had once been pretty now shone with an inner light and there was no denying that she was the most beautiful woman any man had ever seen in that City. The old man looked wise and noble and the small children laughed and sang as they rode with him on his horse. The babe was in Awena’s arms.

Dynawd took a room at a simple tavern, which puzzled the rich and the poor alike. But wherever he went amongst the poor he was generous and it was obvious he had wealth. He was polite to the wealthy but didn’t speak with them much at first, preferring to observe the City whilst creating a certain mystique. It wasn’t long before he was invited to sit at the Barons loaded supper table one night.

The Baron asked Dynawd where he was from and Dynawd told him he was from the far side of the forest. The forest was known to be vast.

‘’I have travelled much,’’ said Dynawd

‘’You must have many travel tales,’’ the Baron said, ‘’I would like to hear some if you would oblige. I get bored here in the evening with these drunken louts who hang about the Court. I don’t trust any of them either.’’ The Baron was a little in his cups, as he so often was.

‘’I would be glad to oblige my Lord, ‘’ Dynawd smiled, thinking he had a huge stock of tales to draw upon, stories from his own race, stories with adventure and wisdom. He would be glad to tell them to this powerful, unkind usurper from another land, this man of no compassion.

After a time Dynawd started to create some tales of his own too in a way that was designed to influence the Baron in current circumstances as they occurred. In effect he had become the Barons favoured Bard, which was a powerful position of influence.

The Baron didn’t really even know what a Bard was; thinking it was just a poet and musician, an entertainer. But he came to regard Dynawd as a trusted friend who never did him harm. Occasionally Dynawd would seem distracted and say he was thinking of leaving but the Baron always begged him to stay.

The people knew very little of Dynawd or his wisdom and inner light but under his influence the Baron came to see that showing a little compassion could be an effective political strategy and even a delight. The compassion and love that poured from the Unicorns horn had the greater effect in the land and Dynawd’s family acknowledged that to each other and never forgot it.

While Dynawd told the Baron endless tales and gained his trust and advised him on serious matters Awena rode about the countryside, taking the Unicorn wand with her, helping, healing and feeding the people. She became well known and loved and they started to call her Unicorn Daughter and Lady of Light.

Dynawd and Awena were very happy in this life and they saw their people prosper and the Unicorns blessings revealed. They both lived to be more than one hundred and thirty years old and when they died their children kept the Unicorns horn and continued to help people all over the land.

The blessing of the Unicorns flesh was passed down, generation by generation until its history was lost in the mists of time but in every generation thereafter one Bard of great, slight, or no fame at all appears in that family and has the gift of the Unicorn.

They quietly do their best to help in any way they can wherever there is suffering and a need for secret charity. In this way it could be said that the Unicorn of Winter has outlived all others, who are just a beautiful memory and gone from this world.

The Hall of the Hearts Desire (novel extract)

(This is an extract from The Raven and the Storyteller Book 2: Into the Deep Greenwood, which is available on Amazon on Kindle and also as a paperback)

 

‘’You fight well young Dylan but there was a moment when I could have grasped your sword hand. I didn’t take the opportunity but be more careful of that, be less enthusiastic, you moved in too close. A warrior must develop an internal stillness.’’ Moon said, ‘’ It’s long though since I saw that last trick you played. It can be very effective. Where did you learn it?’’

‘’From Emerald, Sir,’’ Dylan replied.

‘’I would be pleased to meet her,’’ Moon said. ‘’I begin to think we may have the same homeland. Emerald is not a name from that land but as Skillywidden said, some of us have several names. She seems very elusive.’’

‘’Ah yes,’’ said Dylan laughing, ‘’I never met anyone so hard to catch. But she will be home soon enough. All will meet here on May Eve.’’

Glancing at the old book Dylan had left on a log Moon went over and picked it up before sitting down on the grass and taking a drink from his flask. He wiped the lip and passed the flask to Dylan. Moon flipped through the worn pages of the book and then sat holding it. The leather was warm and smooth in his hand. He stroked it absentmindedly and felt again the soft footfall of an old memory, just out of sight.

‘’I see you like to read. You enjoy all the old tales?’’ Moon asked.

‘’Oh yes,’’ said Dylan, ‘’they are full of lessons and yet you don’t feel as if you are learning. The old stories enchant me. I have read almost all the books in the cottage.’’

Moon nodded.

“How did you come here?  You were born in these woods?’’ Moon asked, changing the subject.

‘’No Sir, but I was young when I came. I came here by chance, to escape. I never left. I don’t really know where I am from, though it can’t be very far. I do recall a few details but I most clearly recall my need to escape.’’

‘’Would you tell me this tale? I would be glad to hear it?’’ Moon asked.

‘’If it interests you I will tell it but with all I remember it’s not so very much to tell. I was a boy of about six and there were some festivities in the city. Much of the entertainment was so close to my home that I could sit on a step and watch without straying far from the house. I was trusted not to run off. My favourite performer was a man who did some magic tricks with mirrors and boxes. He also told wonderful tales as part of his act. Being small I was enchanted by all this.  I often saw him talk with my mother.

One morning he asked me to help with his trick and I stepped into the magic box. I cannot say what happened because I still don’t know. I seemed to fall into a sleep in there and when I was awake again I was not in the box but in the back of his cart and I wasn’t in the city of any other place I saw before. He said I fell asleep on the journey and the box must be only a dream. He had a power. I never questioned anything he said.

I begged to be taken back but he told me not to worry and he would take me back soon.  He said he had a use for a lad like me and that I should forget about home for now. He said I had been apprentice to him by my mother and that this was a wonderful chance for me. Later he received news that she had died and he showed me a letter, my family seal upon it.

Perhaps if I had not run away we would one day have gone back to that city but I did run away. I was so confused and unhappy at the news of my mother’s death.

I escaped one night and ran to the woods because I didn’t know which way else to run. I was afraid of the wood at night but I was lucky and I met Dewberry who made me laugh all the time. I have been here ever since and have no idea to this day of where that city was. I am happy here and have no great inclination to find it after so long. I think of my mother sometimes. I do remember her face. I missed her very much for a long time. But she is gone. I saw the letter. Now I stay here and learn to be a warrior so that I can protect the woods and anyone who is badly treated.’’

Moon wondered about this story. He had no idea how long the boy in the city had been missing and many boys went missing.

That night Moon spoke with Wilf. Wilf was very interested in the news but he too had no idea how old the lost boy might be by now.

 

15.

 

Moon and Dylan met again next day by the pool, where Skillywidden sat fishing. He seemed a very patient fisherman as they sat there long and he caught nothing. Wilf was watching the water closely. Dylan remarked on the lack of fish.

Skillywidden laughed.

‘It’s a long time I’d be here for sure,’’ he said ‘’if it were fish I was after for there are none in this pool that I know of at all. I’m fishing for dreams and I caught a dozen or more already lad. They are resting there in my net keeping fresh. One of ‘em may be yours tonight.’’

Dylan peered at the net just below the surface of the pool but to him it seemed entirely empty. Having known Skillywidden for a while he didn’t question further. He liked the idea of having a dream from Skilly’s catch and hoped he might have one that very night.

‘’Let me tell you a story,’’ Moon said, settling down with his back to an oak tree. ‘’It is a tale of the power of the word and the sword.’’

Dylan settled to listen and Skillywidden went on with his fishing.

‘’In ancient days a knight, who had fought many great battles during his life and all in honour of great and just causes, was returning from war, hoping that the people of his homeland might remember him. One night, on his journey he stopped to rest beside a waterfall. He lit a fire and had not sat beside it long when an old woman appeared. She held a scroll. She sat down beside him and spoke,

‘’Lord Knight,’’ she said, ‘’I have waited here for your return so that I might deliver this scroll to you. It will tell you of your true quest. It is the quest of your own destiny. Follow it and you will be rewarded. Follow it not and your life will be wasted in endless struggles and all you do will come to no purpose. The choice is yours to make. Here is the map.’’

Handing him the map she continued, ‘’ This map that will lead you to your true hearts desire. Few people really know what this is. They imagine they want or need this or that but they are never replete, whatever they may gain. Only the deepest desire of the heart can satisfy. Many people live their whole life and never know or find it. I offer you this opportunity, take it or not as you will. ’’

With these words she vanished.

It was all so sudden and strange that the Knight might have thought it all a dream if it were not for the very real scroll he now held in his hand. The Knight felt he must follow this quest for if he did not he would think about it and wonder ever after. This choice seemed like no choice at all.

The warrior travelled far as he followed the map and he had many adventures on the way but one day he came to a dark castle on a mountain peak. The map showed this as his destination. The castle seemed abandoned. Uncertain what next to do he decided to shelter there for the night, in the roofed courtyard. It had begun to rain. He fell asleep in a sheltered corner and he had a strange dream. He dreamed of three statues and each statue had a chain attached to it that led off into the darkness. One chain was made of iron, one of jade and one of silver.

A voice, in his dream, said, ‘’we all must make choices.’’

He knew he must choose one of these chains to follow and, wondering what each chain signified, he chose the one made of silver.

He was awoken by a sound, the sound of a door creaking on its hinges. He stood and saw that the huge oak door on the other side of the courtyard had swung open. It opened into a gloomy passage way. Along the wall ran a fine silver chain that gleamed as if with its own light. He took hold of the chain and followed it into a deepening darkness. It became so dark that he could see nothing. He went along until he reached another door. The door was inlaid with an inscription in silver.

The inscription said, ‘’All is dream. All is story. Speak seeker.’’

The Knight, by instinct, knew what to say.

‘’All is dream. All is story,’’ he said.

The door swung open and the Knight entered a vast hall made of huge blocks of dark stone, both walls and floor, with a high vaulted roof open to the night sky. The hall was filled with fires. Each fire burned in its own grate and each grate was of a different shape and design. The Knight walked slowly around the hall looking at each grate. Some were decorated with fruit, some with weapons, some with flowers, some with faces, some with crowns but he was drawn to one grate and returned to it over and over again. It was larger than the others and made of cast iron. It looked both ancient and timeless. The fire in the grate burned strong and fierce.

The Knight walked all around the large grate examining the design which depicted a sequence of events as if from a long story. Many scenes in this story were familiar to him but other scenes came from parts of a story he did not know. He wondered if this story was in some way his own or showed where his own actions belonged in a far greater story.

As he stood there watching the fire he began to notice more story within the flames. The images were fleeting.

How much time had passed he did not know, when he became aware of a quiet movement behind him and turning he saw a woman dressed in a long white robe. She held a book in one hand and a sword in the other.

‘’Welcome,’’ she said, with a gentle smile. ‘’Welcome to the Hall of Fire. I see that your eye is drawn to the Fire of Imagination.’’

‘’It seems in part to depict my own story,’’ said the Knight.

‘’Yes, it does,’’ said the Lady, ‘’but it also shows how your actions have affected the world and, more than that, it shows your choices. The flames at the heart of this fire reveal your dreams and the things you have imagined and will imagine. I see you are drawn to them. You were seeking their stories, were you not?’’

The Knight didn’t really understand but he nodded.

The Lady bent down and placing the sword she held on the floor beside the fire she said,

‘’Follow me to the Hall of the Hearts Desire.’’

The Knight followed her and, turning a corner, they entered a great library. The Lady placed the book she held onto a table and opened it.

‘’This is the Book of Numbers,’’ she said, turning the pages until she arrived at one.

‘’This page is yours,’’ she said, pointing. ‘’Come and look.  Listed here are the numbers of all the people you have killed, in battles of good causes, and in this column here is the number of all the children never born, due to these people slain. This next number is the number of tales never to be told now. The final column shows the number of minds changed for the good by your honourable knightly actions. You see? It is zero.’’

The Knight felt disheartened and ashamed and he bowed his head in silent acknowledgement.

‘’Now follow me’ said the Lady and she took him to an alcove at the side where a small boy sat reading a book of poetry.

‘’You know this boy?’’

‘’Yes it’s me’’ said the Knight, feeling sad. ‘’I loved to read above all things when I was a boy.’’

‘’What did you read?’’

When I was allowed to I read books of poems and stories. Ah, I remember those magical stories as if it were only yesterday.’’

‘’What was your favourite story?’’

‘’There was a book about a man who travelled the land planting trees and helping people he met. He was poor but was a very good man. I would have liked to do that and be like him but more than anything, when I was a child, I wished I had written that story or one like it. All I wanted to do as a child was make stories but my family had other ideas for my future.’’

The Lady smiled. ‘’Did you wonder where the jade and the iron chain might have lead you?’’

‘’Yes I did wonder,’’ said the Knight.

‘Those are stories you can create. It doesn’t matter at this moment where the chains went. Use your imagination and decide that for yourself, make the story, a story people will remember just as you remember the man who planted trees. You have the power to plant ideas in story. When all warriors are dead and gone the word lives on. Words have a power that outlives the sword. Some words outlive us all. Use them with care. Words and stories are magic. Go now and fulfil your true hearts desire. You are free to do so. It is your destiny. Use this gift well.’’

The Knight thanked the Lady and lay down his weapons and took off his armour and left the Hall of the Hearts Desire. Joy and hope filled his heart as he travelled on; beginning to imagine all the stories he could tell.’

Moon looked a Dylan.

There was silence.

Dylan looked thoughtful.

‘’I feel as if this story is almost my own,’’ Dylan said.

Moon smiled, ‘’It touched your heart perhaps. It is almost mine too.’’

Wilf cocked his head and gave Dylan a penetrating look. At that moment Skillywidden caught a fresh dream and gently placed it into his net with a chuckle.

‘’Does a unicorn mean anything to you? Or a silver hand on a door?’’ Moon asked.

‘’I remember a unicorn, yes,’’ Dylan replied, looking puzzled at the sudden change of subject. ‘’A unicorn statue stood at the door of my home. I used to play beside it on the doorstep. My mother told me that my family was blessed by a Unicorn centuries ago. I think there may have been a silver hand on the door but I am uncertain of this. The memory of the silver hand is as if only from a dream. I believe it is the hand of fate.’’

Wilf let out a loud squawk and flew in a circle, swooping and dipping. He came to rest on Moons shoulder.

‘’I will lead him home,’’ he said. ‘’Imagine his mothers joy when she sees him!’’

Moon nodded and smiled broadly. ‘’Yes, that is certainly easy to imagine Wilf. You can take much pleasure in such a journey.’’

Dylan stood up. ‘’Take me home?’’ he said.

‘’Sit down Dylan, be patient a moment.’’ Moon said. ‘’I have a further story to tell you.’’

And so it was that Moon sat beside Dynawd’s descendant and told him the Tale of the Winter of the Unicorn, the tale of Dylan’s own gift and destiny. He explained to Dylan that, by chance or fate, he had told this same tale in the City at the Winter Solstice and how a woman had come to him afterwards with tears in her eyes and had given him gold and of how sad and gentle she was. He told of Wilf’s part in the tale when he returned to the City and watched the woman and learned the source of her sorrow, that her son was lost to her. Dylan’s eyes filled with tears for the Unicorn but they were mixed with tears of joy at the thought of seeing his mother again and the realisation she was not dead.

After a moment of thought Dylan said, ‘’But I must wait. I can’t go without saying farewell to Emerald. She has been like a mother to me for many years.’’

Emerald sat under a tree at the edge of the woods looking out across the land, her bow at her side, as she so often did. The young hare played in the field nearby.

Emerald was always on guard, always watching for signs of potential threat to the woods or to the nearby stone circles. Over the years she had noticed subtle changes, changes that troubled her, making her wonder what more might come with time. She had been a warrior almost all of her very long life and much had already changed in the world.

‘’Wait for Mayday, lad,’’ said Skillywidden, with a grin. ‘’Emerald will return to the clearing soon enough. She would never miss the Gathering. There is more to be revealed here yet. Wait for the end of this story.’’

Skillywidden set his fishing net aside and brought out his loom and began to weave. The pattern was at first like water and then the water lead into paths that crossed and circled one over another and it was as if a flower bloomed at each point where a path crossed. The pattern became more and more complex until it dazzled the eye and no mind could grasp it all at once. All the while Skillywidden hummed to himself and it seemed to Moon that this wordless song held all things together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Welsh Voice

 

The mists, the mountains, cloud topped giants,
houses hung beneath the roads,
the mysteries of Cader Idris,
the bearded lake, Arthur’s stone,
a throne beside the glassy water
hollowed rock o’er grown with moss,
the leap of silvered salmon in the river,
the sheep, the lanes, the wayside markers
in the wall of wild flowers blooming,
by granite seat of ancient Bards,
where people gathered
hearing story roll from lips and memory.
All these things we saw together,
wandering in the wilderness of Wales
with my father, as a child.

The village streets where women gossiped,
the cobblestones and chimney pots
enchanted drifts of wood-smoked air
the clanging chime of book shop bell
as my father lead me to a gloomy room
walled with shelves.
Reaching up above my head
he handed me Dylan Thomas
a poet he had never read.

In bed that night a door swung open
with all the chimes of stream and meadow
louder than the bookshop bell
ringing out in word and image
words delicious in my mouth
the sounds, the shapes, the sensual pleasures
wrapped in beauty, thoughts profound,
laughter, love, the lowing cattle
driven home at eventide.
The orchards and the apple trees,
the night above that shines with stars.
The chapel choirs sang out across the valleys
voices raised in harmony and hymn,
the moaning echoes of the wind in grass
the sighing singing of the sea,
short lives lived
parading slowly to the grave.

A Souvenir of Shakespeare

A Souvenir of Shakespeare

In a bay window, at a dark oak table, my grandfather sits after breakfast, in a room that smells faintly of pepper when the sun shines in and warms the white table-cloth. My grandmothers green breasted budgie repeats and repeats good morning as he gazes at himself in a tiny mirror. A laburnum branch taps on the window, glossy dark stem and yellow flowers.

The smell of bacon and egg lingers as my grandfather puts on his glasses and reaches for the newspaper. By his hand sits a heavy glass oval ashtray and under the glass, in the centre, a face gazes out, oval too, bearded, in sepia. The ashtray is always there and never used. Age four or five I ask,

‘Who is that man?’’

‘’That’s Old Will,’’ says my Grand-dad, as if it’s his best mate he rubs shoulders with often.

‘’Who is Old Will?’’ I ask, because I enjoy a story and I like to keep my Grand-dad talking to me.

‘’William Shakespeare, the worlds greatest Bard,’’ says my Grand-dad.

‘’What’s a Bard?’’

‘’He wrote wonderful plays for the theatre and poems and he told about all the things people think and feel and do and why.’’

‘’What did he say?’’ I ask, impressed because that sounded very clever.

‘’Oh, lots of things,’’ says my Grand-dad with a smile.

‘’But what things?’’

‘’All the world’s a stage and we but players on it, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, to sleep perchance to dream, to be or not to be that’s the question.’’

‘’To be or not to be what?’’ I ask, falling into my Grand-dads well laid trap.

‘’Well that’s the question, isn’t it’’ he says with a grin. ‘’Now go out and play and let me read my paper.’’

To be, to not be.

How can we ever not be?

Would we be again?

To be or not to.

Was I not before now then?

What if I wasn’t?

Being, not being?

Do they feel very different?

Could I switch between?

My head starts to hurt.

I think I am glad I am

here, now, being.

I run out to the garden to play.

Ogham and The Celtic Tree Language

Dreoilin's Weblog

This is not meant to be a definitive on the topic, but rather some random thoughts that I pose for people to think about when thinking of the Ogham. It is my thought that the Ogham and the Celtic tree alphabet though similar, are different from each other.

Could it be possible that it was created by Irish scholars or Druids for political, military or religious reasons to provide a secret means of communication in opposition to the authorities of Roman Britain. The Roman Empire, which then ruled over neighbouring Britain, represented a very real threat of invasion to Ireland, which may have acted as a spur to the creation of the alphabet. Alternatively, in later centuries when the threat of invasion had receded and the Irish were themselves invading the western parts of Britain, the desire to keep communications secret from Romans or Romanised Britons would still have provided…

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