Enlightenment: A Meditation for Beltane
I remember charcoal burning on the brazier in a cold night in early May. The air was fresh with the scent of wild flowers, but as the sun set, a chill wind came across the land, and I huddled closer to the fire, the better to keep warm. And I was beset with a fever, and shivered in the cooling evening.
I am Gawain, a Knight sworn to chivalry, and this is my tale. In those days, I was a brave hearted young man, full of restlessness. I had heard of Arthur and his consort, the Lady Guinevere, his advisor, the Mage Merlin, and the Great Court of Knights that Arthur had summoned; I had pledged to join that noble band, and fight for justice and peace throughout the land. For ours was a time of discord, there were many bands of brigands in the forests, and local war lords held sway over their own domains, oft ensnaring the unwary traveller.
In the distance, I heard a hunting horn, and presently I beheld a man in rich raiment, coming along the woodland track, on horseback. He dismounted, and approached me. He told me he was the Lord of Cader Idris, and his castle was nearby, and if I would follow him, he would give me food and shelter for the night.
So it was that I journeyed to the keep of the Lord of Cader Idris, and outside its gate were three beacons, built of well dried wood, and ready for the burning. But I thought no more of this, and entered the castle, and was shown to my room by the Lady of the Castle; she was dressed in a fine green gown, and wore an emerald ring upon her finger. And there I remained for three days, recovering from my chill, and in daytime, I lay there in my bed restlessly, listening to the birdsong, and slowly regaining my strength, sleeping and taking sustenance as the servants brought me bread.
At times I slept; and then I dreamt fitfully, and in my dream I saw the silhouettes of an old lady and an old man, seated at a small table, lit by a small candle which did not suffice to light the darkness; they were moving the pieces of a finely carven chess set across the board, and every night the lady would take the knight up, and place it in a place of peril, and I would awake, hot and sweating.
And later each night, the Lady of the Castle came to me in my room and brought with her a shining golden cup, and bade me drink deep of the mead within, and then servants came and lit the fire, so that I might remain warm. And after drinking this, I fell asleep and slept deeply and restfully each night until the dawn; a sleep unclouded with troubled dreams.
Then at last I was recovered and the Lord came to me and told me that I must pay for my keep, and he would have me take three days in the hunt to match the three nights I had dwelt in his castle.
The first day I set off into the forest, a cheerful sunny morning, with the sunlight dappled through the canopy of green leaved branches. I wore a light jerkin, and took with me a sharp long knife, and this was to be the hunting of the wild boar. All day long I hunted him, and all day long he eluded me, so that I was forever catching a bare glimpse of him as he fled, until at length I came across a clearing where he was grazing on the grass, and I rested a while, for I was worn down by the chase. And I would have killed him, but I stayed my hand, and returned to the castle empty handed. Then the Lord of the Castle asked me why I had no prize to bring back. And I said to him:
"I bring back the lesson of fortitude that the hunt teaches me that like the wild boar, I must not give up at the first hurdle but continue, and persevere with all my strength until the last. The reward of the chase is not in the kill, but in the striving. This I learned from the hunt and it is enough."
And the Lord said "Truly that is well said", and he bade me light the first beacon, saying "Now is the Beltane fire that enlightens burning once more."
The second day I set off into the forest, a cold and cheerless morning, with a cool dry breeze moving the branches above. I took with me a spear, and this was to be the hunting of the red deer. All day long I hunted her, catching stray glimpses of red amongst the greenery, until I was thirsty and exhausted by the long chase. Then I came across the deer, and she was panting by the running stream, and she gazed at me with soft sad eyes, and I bent down, and kneeling took water into my hands and drank deeply of that cool water. And I would have killed her, but again I stayed my hand and returned to the castle empty handed. Then the Lord of the Castle asked me why I had no prize to bring back. And I said to him:
"I bring back the lesson of delight that the hunt teaches me that like the red deer, I must not forget to turn aside from a pursuit of worldly aims and neglect the steams of living water, for those replenish the parched spirit of those who thirst after justice, so that they may not be worn down by the cares of the world. This I learned from the hunt and it is enough."
And the Lord said "Truly that is well said", and he bade me light the second beacon, saying "Now is the Beltane fire that enlightens burning once more."
The third day I set off into the forest, a wet day, with rain dripping off the canopy of leaves above. I took with me a bow and arrow and this was to be the hunting of the fox. The fox was sharp, and on more than one occasion I came round the trunk of a tree only to see a bushy tail disappear from view behind some bushes. And I was soaked with the water, and it was a miserable day, overcast and grey clouds drizzling down upon me. But I presently I found myself in darker part of the forest than I had hitherto seen, and there was a dry floor of pine needles. And there, curled up and grooming itself, was the fox, and it looked slyly at me, as if daring me to go for the kill. And I would have killed it, but for a third time I stayed my hand and returned to the castle empty handed. Then the Lord of the Castle asked me why I had no prize to bring back. And I said to him:
"I bring back the lesson of hope that the hunt teaches me that like the clever fox, I must learn to think swiftly on my feet, and avoid the snares and traps of the commonplace, seeking instead a haven of calm; for many are those who turn aside to the distractions of the world, but the fox is a cunning beast that knows how to run the race unseen, and use knowledge in the quest for justice. This I learned from the hunt and it is enough."
And the Lord said "Truly that is well said", and he bade me light the third beacon, saying "Now is the Beltane fire that enlightens burning once more. And now your pact is kept, and you are free to stay or leave my domain, as you will."
That night there was much merriment among those living in the keep, and a fiddler played a merry tune; I danced with the Lady long into the night. When at last I tired, I lay down my cloak, fell asleep, a good restful sleep, such as I had not had for many a night
When I awoke, I was in the clearing, and around me were the charred remains of the three beacons, the great Beltane fires, their grey ashes blowing gently across the scorched earth. But of the castle, there was no sight, nor have I seen it since these many years.
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