It was the Spring Equinox yesterday, and I penned this meditative piece for that.
The cold air was sharp, like a knife stabbing, as I ran onwards through the blizzard. And I remembered what I had left behind, the fear, the sorrow, and the loss; it was the ending of our world.
I could still hear the cries of our people as they engaged with the Roman enemy, but the Roman army held its ground, kept its tight formation, and remorselessly, relentlessly, came on. Anglesey had been our last stand, our shout of defiance against the Romans, but it had been in vain.
We had shouted our defiance, and waved blazing torches. Our druids had raised their arms, and invoked the gods to smite the enemy, and cast incantations against the Roman Army. Our women had shrieked and cursed the enemy. But the gods did not hear our plea; they were deaf to our entreaties. We knew that our time had come to an end, and our gods had deserted us, but we still prepared to fight on.
But still the Romans came on, keeping together, and held fast against us. Without such discipline, our warriors soon broke ranks, and fell back in disarray, and everywhere was a clash of metal, sword against sword, and still the Romans came on, shields held upright, short swords stabbing without mercy, and the air was thick with the cries of the dying. And I could smell the thick smoke, the pungent smell of burning wood, as the soldiers set fire to the trees of the sacred groves, and the holy oaks were destroyed.
"Go now," said my mentor, an aged druid, "and take with you our wisdom, our knowledge, and keep it safe, so that once more the sacred flame of our tribes may burn brightly; let not all trace of our peoples perish from the face of the earth. You will be the last of the druids, and in you rests all our hopes."
And so I fled, the cries, and the wailing laments behind me, and ever on my trail, I could hear the pounding footsteps of the Roman soldiers, marching remorselessly onwards. The snow was deep, and my footprints left an easy trail for any enemy. I clutched the precious Ogham sticks, bound together with twine, and wound my way through the thickest forest, hoping that I would succeed, that I might escape.
I passed a frozen stream, and saw the otters padding over the ice, trusting to the crust of the water with such skill. And still I hurried on, my breath catching in the cold air, and still the shouts of pursuit behind me, my feet sinking in the deep snow, and glanced at the icicles, which hung like spears from the branches of the trees.
And so it was that I came to the grove, the bare branches of trees heavy with snow. There was a well, and seating behind it, an old woman, her tattered shawl wrapped around her against the winter cold. And she turned and looked at me. Only her soft blue eyes did not seem worn with age, but gazed at me with a clear bright gaze, glinting with tears, as she said:
The truth is in the depths.
It is time to descend into the dark
And there you must rest, asleep
Until the time of awakening draws near
And the spring comes to this land.
She took me along a winding path to a hillside, and she beckoned me to go there. I had been here before, long ago, and I could see a fine cave, and I entered the cave mouth. There was a blazing torch burning in a stone socket, which I took, and descended into the darkness. I looked back, and she stood there, at the entrance, and softly spoke a word of power. Then the earth groaned, and rocks fell, blocking the way out. All was silence. The only way for me was down.
I passed glittering stalagmites and stalactites, and saw the strange markings on the cave walls that our ancestors had left behind, calling on the deep magic of the earth, and then I came to a wider cavern. There was a large flat slab of granite; a sacred table, and beside it, a neatly folded linen blanket. I placed the torch in a carved stone socket. Then I took the gourd from my belt, and drank the bitter draught of herbs, as I had been told, and lay down upon the stone table, and drew up the linen blanket.
I had a feeling of time passing, I saw circles turning, and felt the darkness pressing heavy upon me, deep within the earth, but it was a feeling of holding and safety, and so it was that I passed out of consciousness, and out of time itself.
I lie there, in the darkness of the mind
The future dims, and I feel so blind
Around me, enfolding, is a sheet of white
Tightly wrapped around with might
Holding me fast within its clammy grip
A shroud so strong, it will not rip
Despite my efforts to break this bond
There is no give, it will not respond
I let go, and fall into the deep abyss
The darkness closing inwards so amiss
And then the strands part, threads break
With screeching sound like a mandrake
Into dust, the shroud dissolves away
Leaving me free, loosed from its sway
To rise up, and see the dawning light
The new day will be so very bright.
And then I awoke with a start, and I knew that many years had passed. The linen garment fell away to dust as I sat up, and I could see a beam of sunlight shining at the far end of the tunnel, for the cave had been so chosen that this would happen when the time was ripe, and the spring equinox had come again. I picked up the dry bundle of my Ogham sticks, and stood up.
I made my way towards the light, groping along the cold, damp walls of the cave. The light grew larger as I approached, and the air inside began to get warmer and drier. And then I was at the entrance, the cave mouth, and the boulder in front had fallen to one side. Gradually I eased my stiff limbs passed it and out into the sunshine again.
The sunlight was warm and gentle, and suddenly there was a burst of sound all around me. I saw a path threading its way through the meadow, bordered by a patchwork of wild spring flowers; there were straggling clusters of cowslips, the soft blue petals of ground ivy, the delicate purple of heartsease, the bright yellow daffodils, all swaying gently in the breeze.
Below my feet, the wild grass was coloured by the shining gold of meadow buttercups, with differing hues of yellow. The air was thick with the scent of flowers, and alive with the gentle buzz of bees as they flew from flower to flower, and all around was the call of birds.
I passed beside a wide stream, no longer frozen, but now swiftly running, water sparking in the sunlight, and shaded by the brilliant green of a huge willow. Birds were singing over the shallows, and I saw a trout darting among the gravel and pebbles. Mayflies drifted slowly with the current, and I saw sand martins flit across in front of me, seeking a safe site to nest.
And there is the clearing once more, and by the ancient well, sits a woman whose outline I seem to know so well, the blue flowers of forget-me-knot in her hair,. She turns to look at me, and at first I do not recognize her, but then she raises her young, fresh face, pushes aside a lock of shiny brown hair, and I see again the bright blue eyes that I knew so well, so long ago, that same clear bright gaze, and I know who she is.
For the seasons have come full circle. The old woman of winter has been reborn, and I go forward to greet and embrace, once more the maiden of spring.
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