Last night I was talking at a poetry jam with other writers. We had finished with the poetry and were moving on to a small discussion of novel writing. It seems most of us write purely to entertain…first ourselves and then others. If we are serious about a story, a tale, a book, we mire ourselves in copious research, especially if we are writing about a culture or a time that isn’t our own. I thought back to this book, “Devil’s Revenge” that I started in the beginning of 2007. Then I thought of the research into Celtic Mythology and realized that it was something that disrupted the writing for about two years. But then again, it is never enough.
As I go back to this book to finish, I realize I am thrown back into research, this time of a different theme. But that is alright because it extends the scope and breath of our imagination. It gives us a fleshing out of plot and character. And that, most importantly, is the heart of our writing books.
The men reversed their journey and made their way back to the castle. There was no question of burying Lord Dilwen in some forest, nor did they consider continuing onwards towards Gwynedd.
They rode without break, neither considering hunger or sleep. They drank from water skins and ate their ration of hard bread from the leather pockets on their saddles. Riding hard for almost three days, they came through the forest to the shore. Lord Evan lead the silent, exhausted men and slowly they crossed the stone causeway leading to the entrance of the large cobbled courtyard.
It was early in the morning when they arrived, and only a few sentries were on guard. However, within a short time, more men gathered in the courtyard.
A murmur went through the small crowd when they realized Lord Dilwen’s body was tied to the horse. Others ran into the castle to alert Lady Dilwen.
Garrett slid off his horse, and almost fell to the ground. This ride was hard on all of the men physically, but the sadness they felt added to their despair. Without the wise guidance of the old Druid, they wondered with some confusion what was to happen. The future, once with such solid plans, was now very murky.
Garrett felt this loss deeply. It was two-fold for him, for it wasn’t just some answers that died with Lord Dilwen. It was that the old Druid had extended himself in friendship, and this was not something Garrett experienced commonly. It was a rare occasion for him to have another he could trust and share confidences. Now he felt very much alone. He also felt an immeasurable sense of guilt, for he knew, as did the others, that the Druid priest had gone to consult with the demons on his behalf.
There was a great clatter of noise as people emptied the castle and rushed into the courtyard. Lady Dilwen appeared slowly, at one point leaning upon the stones for support, and then being surrounded by her women. She slowly made her way down the steps and then to the horse where her husband’s body was tied. She almost silently crooned a lament, over and over, a lament that expressed all the sorrow in the world, a new widow greeting her beloved husband of many decades.
“Ah, Mordag, just yesterday was it I kissed your cheek and sent you off with the others? Had I known you would return lifeless to me, I would have fallen to my knees and grabbed at your stirrup. Oh, husband of mine, what is to be done now? I am lost without you. I will perish without you. What is to be done now? Where do I turn to? Your people are wanting, are waiting, Oh Mordag! And this be the end of our days?”
Lady Dilwen clutching her narrow, bony hands over her heart, and with her women crying softly around her, demanded Lord Evan bring her dead husband into the hall and let her look upon his face.
A wide wooden plank was brought and laid on the ground and Lord Dilwen placed upon it. Four men shouldered this burden and slowly climbed the steps into the castle hall. Lady Dilwen and the rest of the people followed and a soft keening floated, a primitive dirge, up into the rafters of the hall.
Garrett saw Bess amongst the women but did not acknowledge her. There would be time enough to talk, but now it was time to prepare for the general grieving.
Lord Dilwen was buried in the forest, in the middle of an oak grove, as was befitting a Druid priest. All day the incantations and prayers were offered by a group of elders, Lady Dilwen amongst them. They tried to make her return to her rooms and rest, but she was determined to spend these last heavy hours with her husband.
Lord Dilwen’s grave was dug and lined with stones. His body was placed in the bottom with emblems of his office and food for his journey to the Abred, the Otherworld of their belief. Many stones were placed upon his grave, a cairn built up, and thick branches were laid upon those stones.
That evening a fire was built upon the cairn, reaching to the tops of the trees, these heavy, old oak trees which had grown for centuries in this virgin forest. The sorrowful face of the full moon looked down upon the grove, and the flames seemed to reach to that pallid orb. It was morning before the fire burned out, and only hot stones and ashes remained of the old Druid.
* * * * * *
“I have sent a messenger to summon trusted friends and advisors, my Lord Gwythern.” Lady Rhonwen spoke to both Garrett and Bess.
“ It is right and proper for us to understand and proceed carefully, for the death of Lord Dilwen has great portend. We have discussed some of the details of Lord Dilwen’s last hours with Lord Evan. We have drawn some conclusions. We must prepare ourselves for the loss of Lord Dilwen. We must decide how best to help you.”
Bess looked at the dark, silent men around Lady Dilwen and shivered. They were a sinister looking bunch in their dull woven robes, their faces shadowed by deep cowls. Garrett and she sat across a trestle table and Bess looked at her hands in her lap. These hands had changed in just the few months she had arrived. They were now rough and reddened with the various daily chores. More than her hands had changed: she knew something fundamental had changed within. She was no longer the woman writer of the 21st century. Her concerns were very different now. The death of Lord Dilwen was only part of it.
She wondered if they would be blamed for his death.
She looked up at Lady Dilwen and caught a sad smile and knew Lady Dilwen had read her thoughts. Oh, the grief this poor woman must feel after all these years! Her eyes clouded with tears and she quickly lowered her head.
An elderly man slowly pushed back his cowl and revealed his face. Bess looked at him and gasped, her eyes rudely traveling across his face. He looked like close kin of Lord Dilwen, and this exactly was what he proved to be.
“From what Lord Evan related,” said Brother Griffin, “I have no doubt he spoke to some demonic force up on that mountain.”
He looked across the table at Garrett, and his eyes were hard and narrowed.
“Perhaps it was not a demonic force, but a God or Goddess of long ago, Brother Griffin.” These words came from another elderly man, whose voice could be barely heard in the hall. He was known to the others, but not to Bess or Garrett.
“We have the power of Christ to drive out all these dark things, Brother Llews. That my kinsman Lord Dilwen would deny the true faith and hold to dark superstition says much about the current failure of our monks.”
“Brother Griffin.” Lady Dilwen’s voice was faint but she made an effort to speak clearly. “It is clear you are grief stricken with the death of your kin, but now is not the time for our differences to divide us. We have many tasks ahead to decide. First we have a responsibility to these two young people before us. My dear husband’s concern was to find guidance for Lord Gwrtheyrn, to help develop some answers. That was why he was traveling with him.”
Brother Griffin looked at Lady Dilwen and clamped shut his mouth, his lips forming a line across his face. Bess could see that he was struggling with his desire to argue.
“My apologies, my dear kinswoman. My sorrow is nothing compared to that of yours.” He bowed his head in obedience to Lady Dilwen and sat back in his chair. His glare at her belied his own polite words.
Lord Llews spoke up. “It is not exactly clear what Lord Dilwen’s last words meant, but I do think he was trying to tell Lord Evan and the others something. What it was, we have some conjecture.”
“From what I think, it was more the dying confused words of a very old and shocked man.” Brother Griffin kissed the heavy wooden cross that dangled on a chain from his neck.
“But perhaps it was not? Perhaps it was a final message, Brother. Perhaps we have enough of something here, in these last words, to discern a meaning, something of importance.” Lord Llews looked around the table, and his eyes were excited.
“ I think it is very possible that these last words, “ca deus” could mean something that would reveal what happened up on that mountain.”
Each spoke in turn as to their opinion, but there was little really of that. This death sat too close to the heart, and as Lady Rhonwen said, it would take a few days perhaps of prayer and thought for it to be made plain, obvious to them all.
Days later Bess and Garrett met with Lady Dilwen and Lord Llews. Lady Rhonwen joined them with drop spindle and a basket of wool. Bess smiled to herself. Lady Rhonwen could spin wool thread in her sleep if it pleased her. The harpist Lord Rhys appeared out of the shadows in the corner of the hall. The light was waning outside, as the sun sank to the horizon. Dust motes danced in the few rays of light that streamed down on them from the high windows.
Lady Dilwen spoke in a very low voice and though Bess was seated across from her, she leaned forward to catch the old woman’s words.
“You are well aware now, that there are great differences amongst us. Brother Griffin has come from the monastery across the strait, and of course as a close kinsman of my husband, he has his concerns. His faith and ways are not of our own, but there are many people in the castle who believe as he. In fact, our beliefs, the old ways, are disappearing in the face of Brother Griffin’s religion.”
Lord Llews looked at the Lord Rhys and the Lady Rhonwen, and cleared his throat.
“We are in a battle to preserve our old ways, or at least not to be drowned in the holy water of the new. The Christ’s priests have grown prominent and strong in the last few generations, even stronger than in Arthur’s time, and we are now standing on less and less ground.”
“Yes”, said Lady Rhonwen, dipping her covered head in his direction. “And we see Good and Evil in different ways. Brother Griffin’s beliefs are a challenge for us in many ways.”
Lord Rhys gave a low laugh at her words.
“Challenge is an understatement, my Lady. We are fighting for our lives. The Christ’s priests would finish the work Caesar started those many centuries ago. Only the total destruction of our existence is fitting for them. They have destroyed the largest part and we are clinging to the mists now.”
“Yes, Lord Rhys, what you say is right, but we are not without our friends.” Lady Dilwen’s voice was soft but her presence carried weight amongst them and not only because of whose widow she was.
“Yes, my Lady, but each generation our friends become fewer and fewer.”
Lady Dilwen’s eyes shone and her face softened.
Lord Llews looked at Garrett and his voice was pitched low, almost as if he feared he would be overheard.
“There is little we can do about the Christ’s priests, but keep to our own faith. We have our own miracles. This aids us. Our powers are not completely depleted.”
Bess glanced at Lord Rhys. It seemed he had grown larger. Perhaps it was a trick of the dimming hall light, or perhaps something else. He just seemed different, if only for a second.
Lady Dilwen caught Bess’ eye and lowered her head as she smiled at her.
Bess heard Lord Llews’ soft voice and strained to catch his words.
“The Old Beliefs differ from the priests in many ways, but perhaps most significant when the soul flees from the breath of life.”
Bess saw the confusion on Garrett’s face, but the others did not seem to hold the same sentiment. In fact, they exhibited almost–a quiet joy.
Lady Dilwen spoke, her voice strengthening suddenly.
. “The Christ’s Religion have their miracles. We have our own.”
For some reason all eyes turned to Lord Rhys, the harpist. His face wore nothing extraordinary, but a serene smile, though one would be struck by some difference upon seeing him. What this change was, Bess could not grasp, but something was in the works.
“Aye, Lady Dilwen, we have been again in the presence of a miracle.” Lord Llew’s voice held a strange note of awe.
Casting his pale blue eyes upon Garrett and Bess, his voice was firm but his words made the hairs on Bess’ neck prickle.
“When the soul flees from life, it searches out another to carry on it’s work. Since Lord Dilwen’s death we have awaited this ‘thing’ we call a miracle, though it is no miracle.”
He cleared his throat again and lowered his voice.
“Life seeks life, and death is a stepping stone to another life. The soul of Lord Dilwen has sought a life to continue his work and a way to continue to give of his wisdom. Before us, we behold the miracles of miracles. Lord Dilwen has chosen well in his journey. Lord Dilwen has chosen the Lord Rhys.”
Suddenly the beams of light which had lessened over the past quarter of an hour were no more. The corner in which they sat was plunged into a murky darkness. But Lord Rhys seemed to beam forth, his body aglow with a aura, a surrounding gleam that was unearthly. There was a majesty, a noble cast to his form, as if he had expanded in bulk. But perhaps most noticeable was the tender compassion that shown from his eyes.
Bess looked at him in fascination, wondering what had happened. Suddenly wind whirled around, making a soft humming sound. A vortex of a pulsating light swept up from the rushes on the floor and towered over them. It was like a rainbow of many colors come to the earth, a carnival ride where one could not move a limb. She closed her eyes, this queer light filled her head and confused her senses.
She smelled the scents of the forest in the night, and heard a whippoorwill or a nightingale, she couldn’t tell what exactly, but heard this soft birdsong close by. Opening her eyes she found herself standing in an Oak grove, with the glimmer of something like ribbons chasing through the branches of the trees. She saw Garrett and the others standing there and she knew something very strange had happened to them all. She felt no fear as she sought Garrett’s hand. She blinked and smiled up at him, his eyes wide and startled.
Lord Rhys smiled at them, the others neither startled nor confounded by where they had landed.
“We are in the sacred Oak Grove, the part that is not seen by many mortal eyes. We come here when there is occasion to do so, and we are safe from the eyes of those who would bid us ill.”
Lord Rhys’ voice was strange, neither the strong and young tones of a young man, but more the rusty vocals of an elderly man. With a start, Bess realized she was hearing the voice of the dead Lord Dilwen. Her expression must have changed with this because Lord Rhys gave a chuckle.
In his own voice now, the strong voice of a younger man, he spoke again.
“Yes, Lady Bethan, you are hearing the words of Lord Dilwen through my mouth. He can do this, you know, when he so pleases.”
He glanced at Lady Dilwen and bowed from his seat.
“Three days ago, Lord Dilwen came to me as I slept. When I awoke, I had beside me the small sickle knife of Lord Dilwen’s possession. We buried the good Lord Dilwen with his knife. I knew then I had been chosen to continue the tasks of this Elder.”
Lord Llews spoke next as the multicolored ribbons vibrated and glimmered through the trees. Bess realized that this grove, this sacred grove, was not of this dimension. Though not afraid, she squeezed Garrett’s hand for comfort.
“We have counseled these three days and we have knowledge what Lord Dilwen’s last words meant. They were not his dying death rattle, nor the confusion that comes upon a body as life is fleeing. They were direction for you, Lord Gwrtheyrn and your lady. You have come amongst us for counsel and now we give it.”
Lord Llews looked at the younger Lord Rhys and nodded his head.
Again in the voice of Lord Dilwen, the young harpist spoke.
“The Great and Terrible Morrigan, who parleyed with me that fateful night when my spirit split from my mortal form, told me what it was she would do.
“Listen carefully, my children, for she will be heard in her wisdom and she has pledged her favor.”
Lord Rhys face changed, a frown of concentration formed upon him, as if his words were dug up from a great hole in the earth.
“The Great Morrigan will aid you in the fight with this foul Devil called Obadiah and his gathering demonic forces. She will call forth the very trees that will do great battle, those that will lash out with their heavy branches, all the trees and birds that are under her command will march from all points of the compass and stand behind you. She herself will pick out the eyes of these demons and cast them to her flocks of crows, ravens. They will be blinded in battle and you will make victory with the magic of the Cad Caddeu. “
His eyes narrowed into slits and Bess felt a shiver go down her spine.
“But you know the terms for her help. The Great Morrigan is merciful, my Lord and Lady, but she demands of you the daughter yet to be born. She will raise her as a Druid Priestess, and she will have great power.”
Inwardly Bess groaned, but said not a word. There was nothing she could say for all this was unreal. How could anything rational be applied to now? From the moment she awoke in that bed in the 1820’s…no, there was nothing real to anything. Not then, and certainly not now.
She looked at Lady Rhonwen and then at Lady Dilwen and their eyes caught and held hers. She saw Lady Dilwen raise her finger and she couldn’t think anymore. She heard Garrett speak but the words made no sense, they were all a jumble, tossed at random and fading fast from her hearing. It was as if a strong narcotic had been injected into her veins. She stood there, senseless and rooted to the ground like the oaks surrounding her.