What a day. I had a friend have a meltdown, a computer process that scrambled chapters, and the weather keeps threatening rain. What else can happen?
Oh, I’ve been asked to read a poem at a poetry club tomorrow and haven’t a clue as to what to read. There are good poets there, and though it’s a welcoming group, I don’t read my own poetry well in public. My husband tells me to practice, so I’m walking around mumbling.
A good friend read this chapter. She has an interest in Celtic Mythology, and I told her before she got this chapter today that I was taking great liberties with Celtic Mythology in this chapter. Actually, in this book.
So….the Demon and Bess find themselves in early 7th century Wales, and that’s what happens when you are loitering around the ley lines of the Earth, also known as ‘dragon lines’ by the plain folk. This chapter will confuse those who have been reading “Devil’s Revenge” because I haven’t posted anything that segues into this scene, (or century) but there it is. Hope it entertains, which is all writers of fiction can hope to do.
The sun was barely above the horizon when they rode down the causeway and onto the shore. Skirting the water, they came to the main road and rode through the forest up into the hills. They rode for Gwynedd, days in the distance. Lord Evan looked with narrowed eyes at the far hills, soon to turn into mountains. He was leading these men, but one amongst them was the true authority. He prayed this man would help protect them. He was getting too old for these forays. Soon the soil would warm and the spring planting would call for his presence. The comfort of his own bed and wife beside him was alluring enough.
Lord Dilwen was that man of authority. He sat his horse with suprising grace for one so old and though the pace was not fast, they traveled over landscape that rolled with a constant rhythm. The journey would challenge his bones, but he savored the chance to get away from the women. Given to the Goddess more than sixty years ago, he was trained to endure hardship. He was a very old Druid and the priests of the Christ did not challenge him. If they thought of him at all, they dismissed him as senile. Lady Dilwen and he now lived in the comfort of the castle and both needed the warmth of the hall fire in winter. Spring was appearing, the weather had changed. He was glad to be out from the castle. It did a man good to be with men, out of earshot of women.
Lord Evan sat on his horse, lost in thought. He knew the three men from his homeland to the west. They would follow his orders. The new one, this Lord Gwrtheyrn , was a puzzle to him. He would dismiss him as a cipher, but saw the behavior of those about him. He hadn’t a clue why the younger lord had such value. He smelled like a damn foreigner, but he knew enough to withhold his contempt. He was commanded by his council of his lordships to deliver this Lord Gwrtheyrn to the Isle of Skye. He hoped they would meet little resistance as they passed through the kingdoms. All except Lord Dilwen were competent swordsmen. If the young Lord Gwrtheyrn was killed by a raider, they could turn their horses homeward that much sooner. It was all the same to him. He smiled to himself in thought. Lord Dilwen may not be a swordsman, but he had other powers to compensate. Lord Evan’s horse was leading them through the forest and he looked back at the Lords Dilwen and Gwrtheyrn. He could vaguely hear Lord Dilwen’s voice behind him.
“It’s a twisted history this land has been given.”
Lord Dilwen’s voice was low for they passed through a forest not of their own. Better they pass quietly, without drawing the notice of locals. They were too small a group to take on another force. Lord Evan would know where they were, but to the other’s eyes, one forest was the same as another.
Lord Dilwen rode next to Gwrtheyrn. “The Battle of Camlan, now that’s where Arthur carried the image of Saint Mary on his shield. That showed the Old Ones how much Arthur betrayed them. He had been King Stag at the Beltane, yet look what he fell to!”
Lord Dilwen spat over his horse. “It was his love of peace that set this betrayal. With the priests of Christ welcome at his council, there was no turning back.”
They rode in silence for a while, while Lord Dilwen collected his thoughts, remembering the past, or perhaps considering the present, the future.
“Arthur and his forces were up against Medraut, the son of Llews. That was your foster-father.” Lord Dilwen paused a bit, and thought back over his history. “Medraut joined forces with the Picts and Saxons and blazed through the north.”
Lord Dilwen’s memories heated his words. “Ah, things were again to change, though news traveled slowly. The great five princes of the land, Constantine from Cornwall, Virtipore, who had Dyfed and the regions south, let me think now. Ah! It was Cuneglase of Powys and Maelgun of Gwyddyl, and I believe Conan of Gwent., they held the land in the name of the Goddess back then.” He fell silent again and his eyes darkened a bit.
“It was the wavering of Maelgwn who was won by the Christ’s priests. He was the snake in the grass! When he was young, he served the Goddess well, taking many heads of tyrants. But age can sometimes do strange things, my young lord.” Lord Dilwen spit over the side of his horse again. “Maelgwn repented of his past and swore before the priest’s Christ that he would be a monk amongst them. He was powerful, but turned too much to the council of those priests. They gelded him.”
Lord Dilwen took a water skin from his saddle mount and drank deeply. He offered it to Lord Gwrtheyrn, who shook his head.
“So, what we have, my young lord, is chaos and confusion. Princes raiding princes, Kings breaking pacts. The land is in turmoil, and the Christians no longer wait as wolves at the door. They have made good egress into the minds and hearts all over the island. Their brand of ignorance is particularly galling. Now, the Goddess hides Her face, and plague has descended in the east. This pox lasted 6 years last time. . It took your family along with King Llews. With no one to plow and crops to be set, famine takes what plague didn’t get.”
Lord Dilwen looked sideways at Gwrtheyrn. “Did anything of your childhood come back to you when you entered the land of your ancestors? Did you remember your foster father, King Llews?”
Lord Gwrtheyrn shook his head silently. “I remember nothing, of people nor place. One mountain could be as another.”
Lord Dilwen’s eyes glittered for an instant, and he smiled to himself. “Our priests were wise in preserving your life. You might pay with it now, but there was a greater wisdom in removing you.” He was silent for a moment. “Do you feel any stirrings of your magic?”
Lord Gwrtheyrn looked at him in surprise. “It is that apparent? No, it seems all magic and power have left me. I wondered what had happened.”
Lord Dilwen chuckled to himself. “It will return, my young lord. You are standing in many magic fields, what they call dragon lines, though that is the name used by the people. The old Druids knew another name, one that is not mentioned aloud, and it’s hard to tell where one stops and one starts. They crisscross the earth, and are especially potent underground. Your lady will have some knowledge of its workings before she is finished.”
Lord Gwytheyrn looked hard at the old Druid, his mind forming questions. “I know, my Lord, of some of the plans for my being here. The council has made clear what they want from me. But as to Bess…I mean my Lady Bethan, is it wise to give her such knowledge?”
“Do you not trust her, my son?” Lord Dilwen’s voice was soft, his eyes looking at the back of Lord Evan’s jacket.
Gwytheyrn was silent in thought. “It’s not that I don’t trust her, my Lord. It’s that she is so distanced in mind from all this.” He made a rude choking gesture with his hand. “She will be trouble for the one who is doing the teaching.”
Lord Dilwen laughed. “All women are hard to teach, especially when they resist the lessons. But none of these plans were made without care. We all have a reason for being here, though the Goddess doesn’t tell that to men. Perhaps in the matter of women, She is more gracious.”
Gwytheyrn lapsed into silence. Whatever they were planning for Bess back in the castle, she would give them a good run for their money. He knew her to have a sharp mind, but she was a modern woman, removed from the turmoil and customs of this present land and time. It would take a major adjustment to not be overwhelmed and he did not think that could be avoided. Well, there was nothing he could do at this distance. Those around her would have to adjust to her own behavior. He smiled to himself. It would be quite a contest of wills and he was glad he would be miles away.
They were following a rough road that wound through the hills and through more forests. The hills mounted upward, and soon Gwytheyrn could tell that they had left the lowlands. They crossed over a long valley and began to climb into the mountains. Lord Dilwen sat his horse easily, and at times appeared to doze on his mount. When they began to climb, and the altitude changed he became awake and looked about him carefully. He explained to Gwytheyrn that he was looking for a particular place, sacred to the Old Druids and he wanted to pay his respects to this place. Lord Evan knew his plans and dropped back to speak to the old Druid. Gwytheyrn slowed his horse and fell away from them, allowing the two men privacy. They talked together for a while, though Gwytheyrn would not hear their low voices, but Lord Dilwen eyes were keen in observing all about him. It was an hour further when they pulled their five mounts together and stopped for the night.
* * *
Lord Dilwen walked apart from the remaining four up a steep hill and into a clump of trees. Taking his bearings, he walked westward through these trees until he came to an outcrop. There he climbed around rocks and boulders until he found what he was looking for. It was called “Idris’Chair” and it looked out onto a valley below. However, Lord Dilwen had to carefully step down a very narrow path till he could climb into the stone chair.
It was not cut or hewn, but of a natural shape. Deep and wide, it was a place of great lore and mystery. Only those who had the power to command these mysteries would dare to sit here. Only one who had training and was conversant with magical powers would dare to touch its stone.
Those Druids who had meditated there had transformative experiences, such that either they awoke the next morning enhanced, wise or dead. These high points served as windows to the otherworld. Lord Dilwen had demons to command and he needed these sacred stones for his personal protection. Respect and regard on earth was very different than what was batted about in the otherworld.
Lord Dilwen settled himself into the cupped bottom of the stone chair. Dusk was settling fast and the first star of the heavens was clear and high. Soon the moon would rise in the western sky before him, a beggar’s cup a quarter full. It was the right time, and the forces could be called to him with this moon’s rising.
Lord Dilwen stretched his arms out on either side of the stone arms. It would be cold tonight, the spring very new and tender, but he knew he would be past feeling discomfort. The trance he would slip into would make him insensate to all elements. Only those creatures that would float through the portal of his mind and into his essence would matter. Commanding the demons and spirits he needed would be tricky. Some would try to lure him over the side of the chair, his body to fall to the rocks below. He would have to discern the tricksters from the ‘helpful’ ones, and this would be even more a test of wills.
Taking out a stone from a pouch threaded through his belt, he held it in his right hand, and traced the labyrinth cuttings on this slightly larger than palm-sized stone. He hummed a particular tune, and to a hidden listener, it would sound out of tone, an eerie scale of strange notes. Over and over his hand traced the same lines on the stone. The birds had settled in for the night and the wind picked up and blew sounds like low notes from hollowed out bones.
He knew that the trance, the altered state was approaching, and the serpent’s tails on his wrists started to twitch. Lord Dilwen’s eyes rolled back in his head and his neck fell backward, his shoulders cradled by the hard stone.
“I call out to you, the powers of the Universe, those foul and fair. I have need of your counsel, I have need of your power. Come to me, horrid Morrigan, Come to me, in t-Ellen trechend- come to me three headed Ellen, and give me your wisdom.”
The wind picked up and moaning was heard around the valley below. A low cackle floated up on the breath of the wind and circled the stone chair.
The night was dark, and the beggar cup of a moon seemed to telescope, to move closer to earth, to enlarge itself and spread like a sickening smile across the sky, east to west. Lord Dilwen knew that the power was upon him, for his breathing slowed and he could feel his heart beat lessen. A warm, caressing air embraced his old bones and he knew he was being tempted by some demonic spirit. It would call out to him in whispers, for him to
Stand up and come to me! Come to me, my dearest lover, step out into the night time air, walk to me, I am waiting, waiting.
He knew this was a first temptation, and he willed his loins to shrivel. It was a seasoning, a seasoning of unholy lust that was calling within his mind, and he knew it to be false. His manhood had not shown such vigor in years, and this was the first telling of the temptation.
He shook his head and raised his arms and the serpents crawled up and down his arms, their mouths opening and their tongues flicking. One hissed and the other snapped his jaws, and the whispers moaned and disappeared…for now.
Lord Dilwen knew he would not sleep tonight, for to sleep would be to seal his death warrant. There would be no awakening on the morrow. His limp body would be found either in the chair, stone cold and dead, or his body on the rocks below in the far distant valley.
Still his hand did not stop his tracing the tracks of the labyrinth. He hummed a different and as discordant tune and around midnight, the wind picked up from the north and blew hard down the valley. Lord Dilwen knew then he was to be granted the presence of some spirit, and perhaps it would be the great Morrigan herself. But there would be a price to pay, there always was.
Suddenly the air was filled with a foul odor. Lord Dilwen knew what this plague was, because it was a plague sent by the foulest forces of the Underworld. It was another attempt to frighten him away, but he had smelled death many times before, the particular sweet-sickening scent of putrefaction. He had been on battle fields where the stomachs of combatants had split in half, and had stepped in their fouled guts with their staggering last steps. He had smelled the land when plague took entire villages, and had arrived days later when the stench could be smelled a mile away on the wind. No, this was not of the earth, it was a huge swarm of red-ochre colored birds, the birds of the dead- whose breath withered fields and orchards and suffocated any man or beast they passed close by.
Lord Dilwen tied a cloth over his nose and slowed his breathing. He knew it was a test, another one to see how strong he was, and how much he could stand. After a while, the birds disappeared, but the valley was befouled with their droppings. Where their shit landed, there were burn marks in the grasses and trees would look in the morning as if they were struck by lightning.
Suddenly, the wind picked up again, but this time no foul stench from birds. A vapor appeared in the valley and swirled and gathered, entwining like a coven of ghosts. It rose and exploded, and formed again, tendrils shooting off the tops and sides, then an updraft of energy exploding it all over again. The wide smile of the moon constricted as if even this cosmic form was diminished by what was happening in the valley below where Lord Dilwen sat. This vapor formed again and again, slowly rising up towards the place where he sat. Lord Dilwen continued to trace the lines of the labyrinth. He reached into his pouch and pulled out the dried leaves of mugwort, sacred to Morrigan. For him to eat it would be certain death. This would leave him paralyzed in a dream, where he would not be able to move. But spreading it before him on the ground would be an offering. He also took a clear quartz crystal, her stone, and placed it on the left arm of the stone chair.
When the swirling vapor reached level to his chair, it suddenly burst into a multi-colored display of streamers that shot out into the air, disappearing with a fury of energy.
Lord Dilwen felt a presence and looking to his left spied a huge raven
“Ah! Goddess Morrigan! You are honoring me with your presence. I have come for your counsel and bring you gifts.”
No sound came from Lord Dilwen’s mouth, but a tinkling of what could be called celestial music, or to other ears, a well tuned wind chime. It was answered by a rude calling, a cackling, a low, menacing call not expected from a raven.
I already know what you want, Lord Dilwen. You have called me from my labors to answer that of a mortal’s concern? Of what is in it for me? Why would I mettle in such mundane affairs of mundane creatures?
Lord Dilwen knew he had to proceed very cautiously. The Morrigan was a touchy Goddess. But he also knew her to be a curious one. Mettling in the affairs of mortals, attempting to mess with fate was second nature to these immortals. They fed on this as a mortal would his meat.
“I am here as an avocate to Lord Gwythern in his battle against another force. I ask your counsel, wise Morrigan. I know these two were once locked in battle as young bulls in our prehistory. They continue to clash and it is time that one over come the other. This battle must end.”
There was silence. The dawn wind was unusually quiet, and no birds yet to be heard. The sickly grin of the moon had dipped low in the western sky, faded, muted though the sun was not yet on the horizon.
The raven was as still as a statue. Lord Dilwen rubbed his finger over the stone, a meditation path protecting as well as communicating other things to him.
Go home, you old fool. You mettle in things you know not of. No power of Heaven or Hell or of Annwn will protect or succor your young lord. Go home. Your quest is pointless.
Lord Dilwen sat in silence. Perhaps another way could be found to the Morrigan’s counsel.
“What price, Morrigan, do you demand for your counsel? Would you want the remaining breath of my body? I would give it to you, for I am an old and feeble man, with little life left in me. Is this your price?”
Suddenly the quiet of the predawn was broken. A low and rumbling cackle filled the air, and seemed to creep up the walls of the cliff face from far down in the valley. Lord Dilwen knew this hellish sound was from the Morrigan, though the raven sat its perch on the rock, silent.
Of what value to me the rattling and stinking breath of an old mortal, even one such as you? Priest! Hear me! You attempt to change the forces of fate with your puny involvement. These issues are far beyond your power.
Aye, she will take the bait, it is only the matter of time.
“But they are not beyond you, Morrigan. You can change the fate of all, and the outcome will be to your glory if you just stretch out your hand. You can trump the Christian Devil himself and show the power of the Old Ones once again. Our ways have faded to nothingness, our Gods and Goddesses now reduced to the leprechauns and fairies in the myths. But you, Great Morrigan, with your power can restore a rightful history. You can redeem the true faith.”
A wind whipped up from the valley and the near-morning stars seemed to churn in the still dark heaven. This wind tossed branches, uprooted small trees and large bushes and like a vortex, danced in front of Lord Dilwen’s stone chair. He pressed himself back in terror as the vortex crept closer and closer, drawing the breath out of his lungs. His eyes glanced over to the raven and saw it surrounded in an unearthly glow, and its beak was transformed into a terrible smile. The words of the Morrigan came now from that raven’s mouth.
You shall have what you have sought, Lord Dilwen. I will command the trees of the forest to gather in battle, under the banner of your Lord Gwytheren, to fight all the forces of Hell. But this must not take place on our soil. Go home, go home to your particular Hell. Let none of the forces of God’s Hell gather on our land.
The next morning, the men found Lord Dilwen, cold, seemingly dead, cradled in the stone seat of the chair. They wrapped him well in cloaks and carried him to camp where they tried to revive him. Chaffing his limbs and forcing him to swallow a strong liquor, they were able to bring him to some life, but he seemed beyond intelligent speech. The only words he would utter sounded like jibberish, but the best they could make of it was the sound of “ca godu”. To them, it was the dying rattle of a very old man. And so he died. They bundled his thin body in his cloak and set out to return to the castle for his burial.
Copyrighted, 2009, 2013