I can’t believe that it was 7 years ago today that I wrote this…but it was. I’m re-posting this from my former website, Otherworld Journeys thanks to Ellis Nelson. She jogged my memory with her post, ‘Alice was a real girl‘.
A School in the marshes
ZZZZZZssssssssss! CRACK! Like a god’s new arrow the lightning bolt slew through the rolling black sky to strike at a sultry willow tree half submerged in the turbulent morass. A huddled figure, drenched, leapt from the hide-bound willow vessel wrapped the sinew cord around a withy branch and scrambled up the bank. Soon the boy was out of the rain…but not out of danger.
When lightning came, and it came a lot to this inundated, marshy valley, it wrought a dramatic spectacle for the watchers in the oak and elm forests on the hills overlooking…and it tended to stay a while. These fiery arrows surely loved the willow, for they aimed, every time, for their tender hearts…and the trees did smoulder for a while but a flame ne’er did abide.
The marsh dwellers used the quick-growing supple withy for most things: fences, poles, houses and coracles, baskets, fish traps, fodder, and of course bows for hunting. Their abundance, strength and natural resistance to fire meant they were ideal for fortifications and if they touched the ground they grew…living fortresses getting stronger by the day. But what they couldn’t hold out, or back, was the tide.
Only four islands of any size permanently breached the surface of this immense mere but when a hero died the goddess cried and then even they were vulnerable. At such times offerings and great ceremony were imperative to assuage her tears.
But this time there had been no one to raise the winds, to sing the ceremony. Merlin had passed over, after the great warrior K-yan, leaving just this boy. Only a novice, he’d been under Merlin’s tutelage (and K-yan’s protection) for three years, hardly any time for someone whose future was to be a Merlin himself. Another 30 years that would take.
K-yan had studied the secret ways of the nature priest for 11 years but the Merlin had recognised a warrior’s streak – and build – about the growing boy and K-yan’s education had taken a different course. He excelled at this and rose to become the Stag-shaman. There was no one to match him.
At journeying times, or during ceremony, he wore the stag scalp, the antlered head dress. As a warrior shaman he journeyed afar inside and outside doing fierce battle with demons. Around ‘the Gathering Place’ the Seer, Merlin, recounted the events, blow by blow, as they happened, and the audience – tutors and students – gasped and cheered as their hero triumphed yet again. When the warrior returned, to this ancient place of learning, there was always a great celebration.
This time though K-yan did not return. Both the marsh harrier, Kria and Sidhe-wolf were dispatched to search the waters, forests and high places, but there was no sign.
The skies darkened and Merlin himself left this world to seek him out. That was 13 nights ago…and now the rains came.
These pupils and masters of the marshes vanished too. They disappeared into the mists of time – as the romantic historians who came aeons afterwards would say. The waters receded as well but that ancient willow-bound island college, where the youngsters cheered, with one voice, for their hero K-yan remains…Osenfort!
And it was a university college even then. Today it is called ‘Oxford’.
At times of impending crisis, the Gods have interjected these original masters and students into the cauldron, always to match up again with their island origin. Geoffrey of Monmouth, he was one, he was a teacher – talk about strict! Clive Staples Lewis, he was a student, loved his food, a cheery lad and a whiz with a bow and arrow. Colin Dexter, I remember him…absent-minded, but probably the best storyteller we had.
There are others from the island around now too. Some are my friends.
Where was this school?: Where I was Christened this time round. Where St. Giles Church now stands and recently a huge henge was discovered. My memory is that it was a henge, or henges, of circles. Hopefully one day this will be borne out and made public.
8th August 2008