Late arrival and abrupt departure
ARRIVAL AND ABRUPT DEPARTURE
Oh my goodnesss, whatever am I to do, I groaned inwardly. I had just arrived at the inn in Duwamish only to be told that my group has already departed, and on donkey back. The innkeeper handed me a tattered piece of parchment with the following inscription:
To Traveller – urgent – forced march on donkey required to reach House of the Serpent asap. Ariel waiting at the gibbet. Love. Enchantress.
He also handed me a small leather bag. I decided I would investigate its lumpy contents out of the sight of prying eyes.
The innkeeper looked at me with some suspicion when I asked where the gibbet was. “Follow this dog leg until you get to a fork. You can’t miss it and if you do, the ravens will guide you”.
Swallowing my misgivings I headed out in the way he had directed. The road wound on and on. I decided I had better investigate what was in the bag as it had obviously been given to me for a reason. There was a clump of rowan trees at the side of the road so I stepped into their russet dappling and, crouching down, tipped the contents on to a large flat stone. Imagine my surprise when I found a pair of spectacles – how did the enchantress know I’m shortsighted? But perhaps these are no ordinary spectacles. There was a candlestick, a tiny silver anchor charm – somebody must have lost that off a cherished charm bracelet, I thought. There was a little medallion with the imprint of a unicorn on it and a set of wings. The last items were a map and a small book whose inscription on the outer cover bore the curious legend “dictionary of runes ancient and modern”. I opened the book but all I saw were masses of indecipherable characters – 1234567890asdfghjklyxcvbnm
I carefully packed everything away and tied the bag securely to my belt. This was obviousy going to be a pretty extraordinary journey. I peeped cautiously out of the rowan grove before continuing on my way but there was no sight of anyone or anything. I hummed Ruthie Henshall’s pilgrim song as I walked and wrapping my swansdown cape closer round me, turned up the speed of my Mercury winged shoes to get to the gibbet faster. I could see ravens circling overhead in the distance and knew I must be approaching my goal.
Pilgrim how you journey
On the road you choose
To find out where the winds die
And where the stories go
All days come from one day
That much you must know
You cannot change what's over
But only where you go
One way leads to diamonds
One way leads to gold
Another leads you only
To everything you're told
In your heart you wonder
Which of these is true
The road that leads to nowhere
The road that leads to you
Will you find the answer
In all you say and do?
Will you find the answer
Each heart is a pilgrim
Each one wants to know
The reason that the winds die
And where the stories go
Pilgrim in your journey
You may travel far
But pilgrim it's a long way
To find out who you are
Pilgrim it's a long way
To find out who you are
Before I had gone much further there was a loud bray and a shaggy, honey coloured donkey blocked my path. The donkey opened its mouth and brayed. I looked at it blankly. It brayed again. I continued to look at it blankly. I didn’t know how we were going to be able to communicate until I thought of the spectacles – maybe they were magic and I would in some fashion be able to see clearer. I put them on and this time the donkey’s braying revealed that HER name was Ariel. I was to mount her and she would take me to catch up with the rest of the group. Ah, I thought, these spectacles are a sort of translation device as well.
Since I didn’t have any choice I mounted her back. It was just as uncomfortable as I had feared and remembered from childhood rides on the beach at Western-super-Mare. Ariel ambled off. We passed the gibbet – mercifully there were no grizzly remains – and the ravens merely cawed at our passing.
We soon entered an old wood. Swathes of moss hung from the branches overhanging the pebbled track. Lichen and fantastic orchids covered the trunks and lush ferns grew on the forest floor. I could hear the occasional twitter of birds high in the foliage above me and once, I caught sight of a bird about the size of a jay, with a brilliant flash of turquoise wings – not any bird I had ever seen before. A slight breeze made the leaves brush against each other in sweet susurration.
I had no idea how long our journey would last so I set about making a mental inventory of the objects the enchantress had given me and touched the bag, wonderingly, to reassure myself it was still there. Apart from the birdsong and the ripple of water somewhere nearby there was no other sound. The sun’s rays dappled the path before us and I was beginning to relax and enjoy the soft clopping of the donkey on the path. Evidently it led somewhere as the pebbles were worn smooth with passage and few weeds grew between.
I was deep in my reverie when Ariel suddenly brayed again. I looked up but could see nothing. She brayed again and I hurriedly put the spectacles back on but this time I couldn’t understand a thing, only sense that something was terribly amiss. Before I could ask her what was wrong a huge shadow fell on our path. I looked up and wished I hadn’t. Blocking our way was a huge winged horse with a hooded rider astride it. All of a sudden the rider appeared at my side. How did that happen? I didn’t see it dismount. By now, I was beginning to know better than to ask the obvious. The rider towered above me but I could see nothing of its face. It stretched out a sleeve towards me and somehow managed to mount me on the horse and set me in front of it. “Wings” a voice said. “I beg your pardon.” “Hurry up, we haven’t got all day. Put on your wings. I know my horse has wings but humans weigh too much and we have a long way to go. I don’t want to tire my horse so be a good girl and put on your wings”. I felt in my leather bag and my fingers touched the feathers. I withdrew the feathers and looked at them in disbelief. The wings had the same turquoise colours that I had seen on the bird in the woods. They looked ridiculously small and I seriously doubted they would be able to support me. However, my guide was beginning to get impatient and almost snatched them from me in its haste to fasten them to my back. “You will need to hold the anchor at all times as it will keep you on the horse” it added, touched its horse’s flank with a trailing sleeve and we were off. At breakneck speed we rose through the forest canopy and popped out into blue sky with fluffy clouds high above us. We sped higher and higher until the land lay like a map below us. I looked down but the landscape was meaningless and I had no idea where we were.
I began to feel dizzy as we flew higher and shut my eyes against the rush of wind in my face. Eventually I think I must have dozed off for a while, leaning comfortably against my rider. When I woke again, it was to see the land rushing up to meet us. I closed my eyes, waiting for the bone-jarring thud of landing but none came. Instead there was a slight sound of something brushing through foliage and I opened my eyes again. I looked round at the rider with a question in my eyes but it said nothing, only placed me gently on the ground. As it turned to go, its hood slipped off and I saw that the rider was a cherubim. I almost burst into laughter at this incongruous sight but restrained myself just in time. It might not help matters so I pretended to sneeze instead. The cherubim said “go to the pool in the grove and your way will be revealed” and disappeared.
I looked around and saw that I was in a small clearing with a very old stone building with a weather-worn stone plaque affixed to the wall but it was difficult to read what was written on it. Close by a natural spring bubbled ebulliently out of the rocks. I was glad to wash off some of the dust that now covered those bits of my skin not covered by the swansdown cape. It was completely silent there. I sat down to think. This was where I needed my wits, I thought. I had packed them, hadn’t I. Hadn’t I? Oh, yes, I had. Thank goodness for that. I carefully took out my wits from their little cobweb bag and dusted them off. But what does one do with wits? Put them on one’s head so that they are nearer the brain or wear them round one’s neck so that they are nearer the heart? In the end I put them back in their bag and hug it from by belt and hoped that would do the trick.
I sat on a bit longer and then decided to explore my surroundings. First I went into to the chapel for that is what it was. It was very dark inside so I took out the candlestick but then realised I had nothing to light the candle with. I went back outside and laid the remaining objects from the bag on the ground and inspected them carefully. As I turned the medallion over in my hands the sun glinted off it, casting reflections on my cape. If I could use the sun’s rays to start a fire then maybe I could light the candle but what to use for kindling? Necessity is the mother of invention – I would use a page from the dictionary of runes. I only hoped I wasn’t going to need that page. I tore the last sheet out of the dictionary, which didn’t seem to have anything written on it and carefully took aim with the medallion. I hoped this was going to work as well as using a piece of glass. I twisted and turned the medallion for ages until at last a tiny brown dot appeared in the middle of the page. It grew rapidly as the fire took so I quickly lit my candle. I stood up carefully so as not to extinguish the bright flame and carried it inside the chapel. As my eyes grew used to the dimness I could see a wooden screen in front of me with pieces of cloth hanging over it. I set the candlestick down and carefully picked up the corner of one of the fabric curtains and pulled it aside. Underneath was revealed the most beautiful painting. No wonder it had been covered up, it needed to be protected. As I looked at it my heart sung, for it was a picture of the archangel Michael. Then I knew I would find my way. I moved to the next picture but it wasn’t a picture. It was just a piece of wood on which someone had burned some curious symbols. I couldn’t make any sense of this and my candle had nearly burnt out. I carefully lifted the piece of wood off its hook and carried it to the entrance. I sat down on a convenient block of stone and closed my eyes allowing my finger tips to trace the slight indentations of the burned symbols and allowed my mind to wander.
Heiroglyphs? No. Runes.
follow the fish
This was where I was going to need my battered copy of “runes ancient and modern”. I started to thumb through the pages in search of enlightenment. Unfortunately, runic is not one of the languages I speak so it was going to be a laborious job, trying to match up the characters and find the meaning of the script. Then I thought of my translation spectacles. They had helped me understand what Ariel, the donkey was saying to me. Maybe they could help me decipher this. The spectacles were the plainest pair I’d ever seen but perhaps their plainness belied their innate qualities. I put them on and realised I could now read the symbols. In no time at all I had the words: Follow. The. Fish.
“Follow the fish” what on earth could that mean. It appeared to be an instruction of some sort. I took out the map and unfolded it, I hadn’t looked at when I had first inspected the enchantress’ gifts to me.
It didn’t look much like a map to me. It looked like a childish depiction of a fish but on closer inspection I realised that the eye was a cartographic symbol for a church. Maybe this drawing of the fish was, in fact, a map. Could the scales be rocks and the feathery bits on the tail fins be trees?
I walked over to the spring and sure enough the water gurgled happily away between rocks and I could now discern a worn path disappearing out of the clearing.
Since I didn’t seem to have any other choice I returned the wooden plaque to its hook in the chapel, made sure I had left nothing behind and set off between the rocks. The path twisted and turned but it was a lovely warm day so I was quite content to follow it. The path took me through a rocky gorge with yellow gorse flowers in full bloom, their coconutty perfume wafting through the air. Brightly coloured birds flitted from stone to stone or foraged for seeds among the thistle heads. At length the walls of the gorge got lower and I found myself crossing a grassy plain. In the distance I could see a wood and in the further hazy distance could see a chain of mountains, purple in the now late afternoon. I stopped for a drink in the brook, using my scallop shell to scoop up the water and then, as I scooped up more water to wash my face , I saw that my face had changed. There was the light of adventure in my eyes and a broad smile told me I had got this far safely.
With renewed vigour and a spring in my step I approached the wood and soon came to some ruins, which rampant undergrowth was doing its best to claim. I had better tread carefully here, I thought, for there might be snakes ……
This place must be the House of the Serpent and the pool must be the Blind Springs.
I hoped I wasn’t the only one here and that I would soon meet up with some of my fellow travellers. Would the enchantress be here as well? I was longing to meet her.