Weapons from Paradise (Vol. II)

 

Weapons from Paradise

 

The Epic of the Holy Grail: Volume Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book III:  Bran the Archdruid

 

Book IV: Heroes Who Climbed the Singing Constellations

 

Book V:  The Council of the Kings

 

Book VI: Evalak, King of Avalon

 

Book VII: The Gallic Wars

 

Book VIII:  The Sword and the Shield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book III

Bran the Archdruid

 

 

 

 

 

The last long rays of light sank with the sun,

turning to spears of gold in the lower air

like the weapons of glory from out of the other world.

Far to the west, horizons burned with seas,

a cup of fire filled with the floating sun.

 

A mix of green and crowded blossoms, that island

in sheets of the extreme, final brilliance

interrupted by shade, revealed its ruined

bridge to the anchoring mainland. Longinus rode

across it while the water closed behind him.

 

The last light flashed on him, then was gone.

Endless forest miles submitted to dusk.

 

Murderers of God!” I yelled.

 

In the echo

crows took flight, taking up the scream,

filling the sky with black wings, and I thought one called:

“Well said. Murderers of God! Well said!”

 

But it was a voice that calmed them. They returned

to their nests of darkness.

 

Not fifteen steps away

a man, old as the earth, sat watching

where the waterfalls began.

 

Think of this:

the ruins of a temple, concealed in trees

whose first parents were not yet seeds when the walls

began to crumble. Rain-worn stones suggestive

of the original glory, when worshippers crowding

could not possibly know by contemplation

everything the mysterious ruins teach.

 

The frame of a man, sagging in its years,

is more astonishing than this.

 

The bones

rupture bent shoulders, telling of a strength

no warrior could threaten with weapons, when he was young.

His hair and beard were gray as the veined granite.

His eyebrows arched until they were almost lost

in studying me:

 

“Most men seem to believe them.

As if God could be killed!” He leapt to his feet and began

walking on the mountainside, back and forth,

strides as huge, swift and powerful

as driving storms that meet from east and west

head-on, at the turning of the seasons.

“That is what they think! That they killed God!

And, by spreading the belief in his death

inviolate everything! What profanity!”

 

The moving power of his weathered body,

sublime intelligence of muscles tired

in servitude to highest ideas, spoke things

that youth in its beauty cannot contain.

 

A crow

fell from the darkness in the lower branches

and stood on a bare rock, its large wings uplifted.

He stared at the bird: “Yes, Branwen! Go to sleep.”

The crow returned to its shadows.

 

Then he said:

“Did you bring any texts?”

 

“Texts!” I laughed: “Of what?”

 

“The first Book of Moses I know: ‘In the beginning…’

the most splendid narrative out of antiquity.”

 

“No, I brought nothing.” It must have seemed I was growling.

 

“You brought your language. You have intelligence, then?

You come from the country of the prophets. I have wanted

the explanations of their ecstasies.”

 

“I am not a mystic. I don’t argue meanings.”                                                      Myself

 

Deep with disappointment, his eyes, like that cavern

where waters originate: “Just give me, then,

the substance of their words, and it is enough.”

 

“Not from memory!”                                                                                           Myself

 

“Why not? My poets are required to know                                                   The old man

the entire canon of tradition kept

in song for centuries.

 

“Three things a singer of histories must know:                                      The Triads of

every story since antiquity,                                                                                 the old man

the style and rhythms of the recitations,

and all the meanings contained in every tale.

Historians, therefore, are called ‘wise leaders, guides’.

 

“Three ways to understand a history:

for story itself, and the inspiration of song;

for the lineage of kings from divine ancestors;

and illumination of the soul that understands.

 

“Three classes of poets: historian, bard, and druid;                                       The three kinds of

and the Archdruid is responsible for all.                                                       poets

 

“Three things a bard must know:

the lists of triads, and the stories they contain;

genealogies of gods and kings;

and the prophecies revealed in earth and sky.

 

“Three things a bard must learn to read in the earth:

the speech of stones, and of rivers, and the language of trees.

 

“Three things a bard must learn to read in the skies:

the flight of birds, the language of the clouds,

and the stories that are written in the stars.

 

“Stones are not silent. How they arrived in their places                          The three languages of

the poet must know: when giants lifted the mountains,                              earth

what battles were won, what cities ruined in fire;

what graves are marked where centuries of rain

and grieving storms erased the names of gods.

 

“Rivers are eloquent; and where springs erupt

from the hidden borders of the world, the poet

converses with the divine.

 

“In sacred groves

he contemplates the whisperings of leaves

and the turning of their growth in the silence of moons.

He gathers herbs in the hours of the planets,

his heart intent on the proper incantations.

 

“Moods of sky and sea, changes of weather                                                            The three languages of

my poets learn to read prophetically,                                                               the sky

and the speech of birds, their writings in the sky

ascending to intuitions of prophecy

inspired from the minds of gods, like the birds of Rhiannon.

 

“How all things strive and grow beneath the moon

in the brighter half of her month, and in the darkest

quarters of her calendar, he observes,

under the fixed revolutions of the stars

suggestive of those thoughts of transcendent order

which a clear mind is able to discern

with the faculties the gods have placed in our nature,

as when our enlightened ancestors

moved the great stones into circles and trilithons

in an ecstasy of contemplation.

 

“These are the things a bard must know.

 

“And the druid                                                                The druid, chief of the

has mastered knowledge. His measured words of power                          three classes of poets

raise storms, call spells, deprive men of speech,

move the hours and centuries, to pass

the unspeakable borders into paradise.

Only to him is given the art of writing.

Letters will not blind him to immediate knowledge.

All stories in his far-ranging memory,

songs of waters, writings of earth and sky,

he understands the intended use of letters

and their sacred combinations: poetic knowledge

given by inspiration to the heart.”

 

_______________

 

 

 

 

And the spell he had cast on my imagination

leapt like a moment of wisdom from his cave

where the rush of waters made music I’ve never heard.

 

I said: “The reputation of the druids                                                              Myself

has been established by centuries of lore.

Beyond the borders of the known world they walk

among your people, inspiring unthinkable daring:

the first invasion of Rome, in its earliest glory –

even in Empire it fears the memory!

And boldly stealing Apollo’s gold from Delphi,

laughing at the prophetess,

challenging the sky to collapse!”

 

He answered: “The origins of that sacred shrine                                      The old man

were Hyperborean, not Greek,

‘the land beyond the north’: Apollo’s country,

Beli we call him, where the circling sun

returns to the center of his eternal dance

when our virgins with pounding feet

and pleasant voices call him.

The prophetess of Delphi knew it, submitting

to my ancestor, when he appeared and called her.”

 

“The druids are wiser than philosophers,”                                                 Myself

I said; “even the Greeks themselves admit it.

Pythagoras’ slave was one, and gave to him

the pure, exalted chords that are struck across

the heavens, strung in orbits of perfection.”

 

“Like these curtains of sky, our power and teaching covered                        The old man

the map of the recognized world. But now,” he sighed,

“we are pressed into a corner of this island.

Caesar has conquered Gaul and the northern countries

and come into Britain. Our generous lowlands are his,

the richest soils, the splendor of our rivers.

He has built his city, hideous on the Thames.

Endless green hills are subject to his roads.

At least he does not know where I am. His search

would have to conquer mountains

more formidable than his stone walls!

This is a hidden kingdom. He knows it is somewhere,

but he will not find me here.”

 

_______________

 

 

 

Darkness climbed the east. Its wings were settling

across the trees, among the invisible

multitude of crows. But not in the west!

Not yet. Eternity opened its treasures of light,

throwing a handful of fireflies in the grass.

 

Old in his robes, deep in contemplation,

tall as the balance of day and night, he stood.

That kind of evening in which, if one could ask

just the right question, the answer would lead him home.

So I began by trying: “Are you the Archdruid?”

 

“If Caesar finds me, our hope is lost. He knows                                     Bran the Archdruid

what that would mean! He knows my determination

for the preservation of our ancient tradition.

For his delusions of divinity

to be accepted, even in the decadent city,

Rome’s own religious origins must be

destroyed.

 

“He knows how I have been fighting that!

 

“I am Bran the son of Llyr the sea-beard,                                                  The lineage of Bran

the son of Kymbaline the king, the son

of Kasswalawn, who was first to oppose the Romans,

driving Caesar back into the sea

which, in its anger, swallowed many ships.

 

“At Caesar’s second invasion, in Kymbaline’s reign,

my valiant father Llyr, commanding warships,

withstood the crossing of the world’s proud fleet,

surrounding it in the storm of battle-fury,

equal to his ancestor, Llyr the seagod,

protector of the island (and father of three,

princesses of beauty given in marriage

to the three realms of Britain in its first age).

 

“The names of the gods of my ancestors are three:

Llyr of the sea, Beli of the sun,

and Bran of the treasure-caverns under the earth –

the melancholy crow who guards the tombs

at the unseen entrance to eternity –

these three battled for supremacy

of the other world in the dawn of our history.

 

“But God is one, as I have attempted to teach!

Many gods are the faces of one godhead

in one or another name. All gods express

what our ancestors knew: that God is beyond expression,

beyond understanding. Wise men, naming him,

became poets, speaking in similitudes.

 

“The goal of knowledge is one: it cannot be spoken

except in the histories of voyages

and visions, adventures to the other world

with conversation in rapture with the gods.

 

“It can not be spoken, except in the names of gods

which are the mysterious language of the other world.

 

“Our first ancestors in these islands were godlike:

Prydain, in the Kymric dialect;

Brutus in the British tongue; and Myrddin,

or Merlin, the magician of Lloegria.

 

“These three are the names in different dialects

for one: the father of the three realms of Britain,

and the words he spoke were in the original language

of illumination, when the meanings of truth were uncovered.

His name in that language is lost, for centuries.”

 

“I learned the one true name” – I hammered the words,                         Myself: on

driving them with anger –                                                                                    the Divine Name!

“from Temple elders, in the scriptorium!

It trembles off the end of the brush like a silent

roaring fire. It is not to be spoken!”

 

Astonished at myself, I stared into

the barren edge of myself: a ledge

over a black ocean, and hollow laughter…

 

He smiled: “In that name is the secret of writing kept,                            Bran

the goal of understanding. Your nation preserves

the first of truths: worship of the one God.

Even in the precision of our rites,

the mystery of what is worshipped remains

in danger of being lost.

 

“Three things worth knowing, more than any other:

the names and deeds of our ancestors, as written

across the night in stars;

the names of God, and the meanings of those names;

and how to call him, so that he comes and stands

in indescribable immediacy!”

 

One thought, as he said this, like a first faint star

surprised me: that maybe I had never known

what God is – (or was) – never thought –

the thought of God. The hope of God, like smoke,

a ghost in the ashes. The war in me began.

Belief and disbelief took up their positions

but I only said: “The stars are forbidden knowledge.”

 

“It is only worship of stars that is forbidden,                                                       Bran

as it should be. But if it were not meant

for men to stare into the stars in amazement,

searching for some high understanding there,

they would not be visible to us

in such perfect beauty. Hear me now!

I speak in the power of blessing, and the power of curse:

if you do not understand the heavens,

you know nothing at all!”

 

_______________

 

 

 

Now the rim of the horizons, burning

under the skies’ immeasurable bowl

boiled some strong enchantment old as time.

 

High above, translucent veils of flame

in deepening intensities rolled westward

and fell from the hands of dancing hours, revealing

expanding limits of another heaven.

 

One glory drops: a different breath is felt

from higher altitudes, where angels drink

their potent contemplations, promising

thoughts of immortal splendor.

 

Planets appear

under full sail of their own light to that island

of most distant brilliance in the celestial sea.

 

Two in the west, making good time in the tide

of sunset, close together and brighter than any

except the sun and moon! If I had known

their names and exalted powers in that moment,

I would have been master of undying song!

 

Bran stood, tall as the trees that reach the night,

and thrusting his hand to the sky, toward the leaning

axis of the spinning heavens, seemed

to touch the apex of the universe,

 

gigantic in one moment! Then small as a man,

his face like a child’s, talking to the sky:

 

“This noble dome of heaven! These high crossed arches                          BRAN’S SONG

exploding with light from the sun in his declinations!                            OF THE SKY-DOME

And in his risings and his settings marks

the posts of the year, while the pure and soaring moon

moves the stone of months around the horizon.

 

“Where sunset, embossed by smiths in the ancient fire

on the side of this beautiful cauldron of the spheres,

glows for a moment, then fades, so that the writing

of truth comes out in the sky: stars in their perfect

constellations and circles across the vast

light-bearing vault, inscribing the oldest stories!”

 

Stunned with amazement, I stared into the sky

like I had never seen it.

 

“This dome of heaven!

When the architect of the universe in wisdom

thrust its immense, invisible buttresses

against celestial seas, and nailed them to

the extremities of earth, holding back

the waters of the deep and of the heights,

he had in mind the perfection of our poetic

insight in the knowledge of himself.”

 

Then he turned on me fiercely,

every superior fire in the stellar highways

magnified in tear-filled bowls: his eyes

like twin globes, reflecting seas and skies.

 

“In your oldest stories, this wall of sky is known!

Firmament! With waters above, and those below.

No ship has come into the seas beyond it.

What are those waters? No living tongue can describe them

except for poets who have climbed in thought,

and who can interpret their intoxications?

 

“A long as I have thirst, I will attempt it!”

And turning his ancient head to the graying skies:

 

“Atlas, older than the gods, above

the clouds, straining, according to the Greeks,

shouldering the heavens, his feet at the ends

of the earth, at the pillars of Hercules (where the hero                             mythological

took the burden for a day when Atlas                                                                exegesis

was sent for the apples of the sun) – Gibraltar                                             of Atlas

and its opposite granite piled in Africa –

on either side of the world sea’s emptying

into the ocean-river surrounding the world.

This stretches the eternity of horizons

where waters take the huge revolving globe

of stars, dizzy in its plunging speed.

 

“The inner sea, Mediterranean,                                                                        Inner sea and

is named for its pleasant earth. The outer sea,                                          the outer sea

Atlantic, on the other side of Atlas,

the greatest of Titans: the firmament himself!

 

“What is above is reflected here below:                                                 Waters above and

one ocean is the mirror of another.                                                                       the waters below

One is the waters at the end of the world,

the other is the universal sea.

One, the revealed sky of stars (reflected

here in broken endless waves), the other

invisible beyond, unimagined brilliance!”

 

Again the unmeasured depth of his huge eyes

fell from the highest heavens into my soul

and studied me. I felt like a frightened schoolboy.

 

“You know the poets? In your Hebrew schools                                                Bran

is the knowledge of Greek allowed?”

 

“These days                                                     Myself

Greek is the language of the world,” I answered.

 

“Our British tales would only sound strange to you.                                     Bran

The immortal writings of heaven in the stars will be

familiar to you in the Greek. I know them, better

than any man alive!

 

“In that part of the world

books and teachers are common, but memory

is lost. Mnemosyne, mother of muses,

come now! Sing in me,

muse of history, muse of astronomy!

 

“The lands on the map and the regions of the stars                                         The heavens

correspond, to one who has understanding.                                                            and the earth

 

“And our islands at the extreme western edge                                         The outermost

of the ocean-stream, beyond the ends of the earth,                                       islands of the earth

were placed by the Hellenic geographers

in the realm of the other world.

 

“Before the age of the Greeks these islands were

revered in verse by the Mediterranean sailors:

Phoenician traders and astronomers

and adventurers from Cyprus, Carthage, and Crete

who dared the outer ocean, beyond the storm-cloaked

legs of Atlas, where he holds up the sky.

 

“Odysseus’ journey here, in the oldest writings                                              Bran’s explanation

preserves our sacred lore: the voyage of Bran                                                of the Odyssey

to the other world.

 

“You know the Odyssey?

That hero’s name in Latin, ‘Ulysses’, was taken

from Eleusis, descent to the underworld

and mysterious rites of passage to the Blessed Isles:

in all traditions, Britain.

 

“Homer, supreme of poets among the Greeks,

divides the world: the dark hemisphere

from the sunlit side. These were west and east,

as you Hebrews divide the day, evening and morning.

 

“‘Evening’ in your primordial language, Ereb,                                                His explanation of

gave to Europe, ‘evening-land’, its name.                                                   the myth of Europa

Europa’s abduction by Zeus… you know the story?

Westward she rides on the constellation Taurus.

Only the head of the star-wreathed bull is seen.

Her form of darkness and her robes obscure

his flanks in night, the invisible mother of stars!

Westward she rides. Where is he taking her?

 

“Beyond the western continent, ‘Europe’, in sunset’s                                                His explanation of

ocean are islands, remote and legendary:                                                        the Kimmerian lands

home of the Kymry, true name of the British race,                                         in Greek myth

known in the legends of Greece as Kimmerian lands!

Cymry we call ourselves, in Cambria;

Kemer is your word in Hebrew, ‘darkness’;

Kheme in Egyptian, ‘black soil’, alchemic

where the sacred beetle rolls his eggs before

his miracle of wings above the tombs.

 

“Zeus carried her here and made love to her, perfecting

divine generation among the race of mortals.

 

“And here, in the sunset beyond the world                                                   The goal of

Odysseus came to visit the western glooms                                                            Odysseus in the

at the ocean’s boundaries, and conversed with the dead.                            otherworld  islands

Driven beyond the world by Poseidon’s anger

he comes to Aeaea, where Circe the beautiful

loved him, and revealed the hidden way.

 

“‘Aeaea’: off our northwestern coast, Iona,

Hy in the Scottish dialects, an island

sacred to the seagod.

 

“And ‘Circe’:

 

“Why are you staring at me?

 

“Look there!”

 

He threw his hand to the sky, and with open palm

swept an arc in speed from east to west.

 

When had the stars come out? So many were there!

As though from his fingers they’d spun into their places

 

or he opened some manuscript

preserved from the wrinkled wasting of centuries,

and I stared at the beauty of perfected letters

I have never seen, and don’t know what they mean.

 

 

 

Book IV:

Heroes Who Climbed

the Singing Constellations

 

 

 

 

 

Night between the boundaries of worlds

unrolled its wide illuminated pages,

fine-pointed script of the fiery stars

painted with faint pulsing nebulae

while I stood in the focusing parabolic shadow

of knowledge in Bran the Archdruid

 

who sang their ageless rhymes as he read them there:

 

Circe, ‘circle of stars’: the sun’s own daughter,                                              Bran’s song

her magic spindle on a northern island                                                            of the stars

over which the polar star is fixed.

 

“There. That sea around is celestial,

revolving in the intelligence of stars.

 

Arianrod we call her, ‘the silver wheel’,

and place her castle in the constellation

the Greeks call ‘the Crown’ – that circlet of stars –

 

and we sing tales of a revolving castle

appearing out of the sea

in rare tides off our coasts. She shows the way

and the destination of the mythic heroes:

 

the circle’s mysterious center, peak of the heavens,

the ‘land beyond the north’.”

 

I interrupted:

“Odysseus had crossed the outer ocean.                                                  Myself

Already he was in her island, in

her arms. He still had far to go?

Once, if he goes beyond the world, that’s all.”

 

“And how did you come here?” His tone was severe.                         Bran

 

“How else?” I laughed. “By sea.”                                                                Myself

 

“You crossed the Mediterranean and came                                                    Bran

to the pillars of Hercules?”

 

Dark memories rose.

He must have seen my eyes. “How was your passage?”

 

I said nothing.

 

“And where are you now?”

 

I stared into the splendor of the skies:

“Beyond the ends of the earth, in the outermost ocean,                          Myself

whether in heaven or earth, I cannot tell.”

 

“Think like a poet! You’ve learned the wrong way,                                        Bran

from dialectical reason, the ruin of the Greeks!

A word must shine, translucent in layers of meaning

leading in higher directions, beyond expression

 

“like this:

 

_______________

 

 

 

Epic                                                                                                   The epic-songs

of Bran

“from Greek epos, ‘word’,

a tale, visionary and winged with words,

the spoken power of invocation, expanded

into the song of narrative, sublime

and old as the stars.

 

“But also, epicycle,

a cycle of tales: like in the circle of stars,

there is only one story in existence; but in it

others, circles within circles, as we see

there in the stars, with the movements of wandering planets.

 

“There they are. See them! The ancient epics.

Look, those heroes, human and divine.

Look at them, all on their way!

Hercules, standing on the solar circle,                                                   Bran

the glorious zodiac, his own twelve labors;                                                 points out the

Perseus, descending from the north                                                                constellations

toward Andromeda, having achieved the quest;

and the ship of the Argonauts, far at sea

on the southern horizon. Its distant goal, like theirs:

ascend the seven circles of the constellations

to the invisible center.

 

“These three quests before the fall of Troy

are remembered among the Greeks:

Perseus, Hercules, and the Argonauts.

 

Quest: root-word for ‘question’. Therefore our search

in these mysteries should reveal to us also

what was given to the heroes themselves

at the goal of their quest, given by the gods.

 

“Quest of Perseus: see, there he is,

the divinely equipped warrior! Sandals and satchel,

helmet, sword, and shield, given by gods!

His story written and illuminated

from the southern horizon to the northern pole,

climbing the ladder of the constellations!

The star-song                            “Cetus, whale of horror, from the abyss,

of Perseus                                  from the southern horizons of heaven known as ‘the sea’,

advances to devour Andromeda

chained to those rocks of stars.

But Perseus descends from the peak of heaven!

His radiant feet and face and hands anointed

with splendors from beyond the realm of stars,

he finds his way in the mirroring shield of Athena.

Behind him, Pegasus leaps into the stars,

the winged horse that sprang from Medusa’s blood.

Above him, Cassiopeia, Andromeda’s mother,

sits radiant on her throne, voluptuous

and vain. She dared to compare her beauty

to that of Poseidon’s daughters! The angry god,

the sea, earth-shaker, demanded

Andromeda in sacrifice to the monster.

Above them all, Andromeda’s noble father,

Cepheus the Argonaut, walks slowly

around the north star, pure in contemplation.

 

“Goal of the quest: before he could kill Medusa,

the weird journey northward was required

beyond the ocean, to the Kimmerian lands,

guided by Hermes, who leads the dead through that darkness.

He found three hags with a single eye among them,

a trinity of goddesses who guard

the eye of heaven: the pole star. They revealed

the secret way to the Hyperboreans

who live beyond the world in paradise.

He found them, maidens dancing to the lyre

who gave him the magical treasures. These were three:

the wallet-bag which is able to hold all things,

winged sandals; and helmet of invisibility.

These three are known in our lore of the treasures of Britain.

See them, shining there!

 

Quest of Hercules: straining in his strength

looks back at the stars. Ten labors he has accomplished.

 

Star-song of                                    “But now, an impossible task: to find the way

Hercules                                 to Hesperides, the garden of the gods

under the evening star, lamp of the west,

Hesperus, ‘Vesper’, the eternal light.

He came to the western summit of Africa

where Atlas stands. The starry hemisphere

opens beyond him. He comes here, with his question.

 

“Atlas, the celestial titan, the first

to understand and interpret the singing heavens!

Astronomer: the ‘namer of the stars’,

carries the weight of primordial wisdom!

 

“And gave

that burden to Hercules, and with it, knowledge

like three golden apples from paradise,

from the tree of the heavens which is Atlas, groaning

support of the universe. Its fruit is the meaning

of every star it drops.

This perfect reward of the eleventh labor

allows the wisdom to achieve the twelfth,

becoming the solar hero,

ruler of the zodiac, Herakles,

‘Hera’s glory’, in honor of the goddess

whose trials of adversity inspired his greatness.

 

Ruler of the                           “You know the zodiac, and its mysteries?

zodiac                                      Twelve labors of the sun, in his four seasons,

that ribbon of revelation, one band of stars,

mystic beasts at the middle belt of heaven

one quarter aslant from the starry equator,

drawn perfectly and purely in its low circle

that intersects the horizon.

Within that narrow radius, illumined

by seven wandering torches of differing brightness

is seen to the eye of raptured contemplation

most movement among the spheric altitudes.

Seven spheres, between us and those stars

immovably engraved in exalted placements;

seven runners, seen in this high road.

And their voices, as they move in different measures –

sublime in argument then blend in rapture

of fire, earth, air, and water, in their regions;

complexities of beauty, worthy of study

rewarded by enlightenment into

eternal meanings of unfolding ages!

 

“And Quest of the Argonauts: see it, there!                                                   Star-song of

the argonauts

“Argo: the ship under sail of stretched stars

tossing on troubled seas near the southern horizon,

enduring the rising and setting of the stars

most distant from the pole. Sometimes the brightness

of its tilted mast is almost submerged in the chaos

beyond the rim of the world.

 

“Its goal in the north: the golden fleece which is hung

on the polar axis, tree in the mystical garden

guarded by Hera’s unsleeping dragon, there.

 

“On board were: Hercules, Cepheus;

Polydeuces and Castor, ‘twins’ of the zodiac –

see them, there; and the primordial poet

Orpheus, whose lyre is shining there.

 

“Therefore the voyage of the Argonauts

was the song-cycle including and completing

every tale before the fall of Troy,

the conflagration ending the ancient world.

 

“Troy, ‘city of circles’, with walls and towers                                                 The song of Troy

inspired by construction of the constellations –

buried under the burned earth,

not far from the present city of Byzantium,

as forests destroyed by fire give seed into

the scorched soil made more fertile by fire.

Troy: its riches were untold.

Troy: its riches were knowledge, not gold.

 

“At the fall of Troy, a new song-cycle began

sung by Homer, oldest of poets whose name

with his whole song is kept: the Iliad,

song of the destruction of Ilius, or Troy;

and the voyage of strange adventures, the Odyssey,

the unworldly search for the origins of meaning.

And after the fall of Troy, the British came

to the isles of remotest west, as Hesiod sang,

with Brutus of Troy: last of the race of heroes.

 

_______________

 

 

 

“These are the quests of antiquity, and their goal                                         Goal of the quest

was one: axis of the turning heavens.

And their destination was the other world,

tree of the universe in the garden beyond…

 

“Look there; see it!

 

“This noble dome of heaven

built at the beginning of time, and time

was written in mythic iconography

across it, as soon as it shone with the first dawn

fastened at the intersections of seasons,

oblique circles across its buttresses

and the three great crossbeams raised by the laboring sun.

It stood for a moment, motionless and glowing.

Then, with its mighty revolutions, began

the ages: night and the giants, and the golden race.

 

“But its crowning mystery was meant to be                                                    Axis of the heavens

invisible: that soaring, unfailing pole

on which the globe of the universe is spinning.

 

“Invisible: but the poets unveil its meaning

in tales of a sacred tree with apples of wisdom

in gardens of blessedness, guarded by terrors,

summit of climbing star-myth, higher than thought.

 

“And where the pole is fitted in its socket,

one star in the immovable north:

eye of gigantic cyclops

through which the deity surveys the world.

Cyclops, who boasted to Odysseus

how he was greater than the gods, and older.

 

“And the teller of tales is the poet-magician: ‘bard’,

from boread, ‘pole-man’ of the land beyond

the north wind Boreas. Hyperboreans

who dwell in stillness, peak of heaven’s turnings,

who live beyond the center of the seasons,

fathers of the poets, who brought the power

of words. Musaeus, Orpheus, and Linus:

‘knowledge’, ‘harp’, ‘the white-robed’, their names in the Greek,

priests of knowledge, before the age of Homer.

 

“The secret of the pole is guarded by                                                                 Constellation around

the constellations of the inner circle,                                                               the polar axis

stars that never set, sublime in meaning.

 

“Dragon: wound around the pole,                            “The Wagoner: ‘Auriga’, drives

unsleeping guard of eternity.                                               the seven stars, the funereal

In his coils, the calamity                                              ‘Wagon’, chariot of the goddess

of time, and its terrible ending in death.               turning slowly on its pole

Time: interweavings of orbits                                       ever toward the other world,

and the lunar nodes, where the wandering moon            ship of eternity, transporting

crosses the sun’s inspired ecliptic.                                    departed spirits to the upper seas.

Time, the serpentine paths of the planets.

 

 

“And the two bears: the greater constellation

and the lesser constellation.

And under these two islands of light

revolving in the nights of heaven,

corresponding to their places

in the earthly seas inclining

toward the northern pole, two islands:

Britain and Ireland, the greater island

and the lesser island.

 

“Strong pillars of rock, broken basaltic columns

on the north coasts of Britain

rise from the angry waves that come in from the Arctic.

Beneath them, in legends, are laid the posts of the earth

on which the skies were constructed. In other stories,

a road, now submerged, from Britain and Ireland

began nearby that coast: ‘the giants’ causeway’,

the wondrous road to the hyperboreans

since ‘Ireland’ is from Ierne, ‘path’; or from Iris,

‘rainbow’: path of glory from earth to heaven.”

 

_______________

 

 

 

And he began to sing of the voyage of Bran                                                            The ecstasy of Bran

and the ecstasy of Bran, the ecstasy of song.

And he sang of the seven circles of the constellations

that climb the eastern degrees of the gradual skies,

descending to vanish under deep horizon.

Their places, according to the calendar,

regions of the star-globe illumined with stories,

and the whole encyclopedia of song.

 

And he showed the three bright rivers of the stars:

 

where Pegasus, playing with the sweet-singing muses

stamped on the universal mountainside

and the spring of Helicarnassus erupted, sacred

to those goddesses of song. A taste of those waters

is far too potent for men. It would make them poets.

That river spills to the constellation Crater,

chalice of divine intoxication.

 

And the river from Aquarius’ jar he showed me,

said to be poured from the cup of Ganymede,

nectar distilled for the gods reclining in wisdom.

 

And the river Eridanus

that quenched the apocalyptic flames when Phaeton,

drunk with presumption, climbed the sun’s chariot

and set the heavens on fire.

 

And he began to sing, like many waters,

like the rivers of heaven. The streams from his own cave

amplified and echoed each beautiful word

until at once, all their voices competing,

intense in chorus, enticing, like the sirens,

my soul to pass from the body, to know beyond death…

 

“That is enough!” he shouted.

 

The night stood still.

 

He looked around him. “Where are my disciples?                                             Bran the recluse

To know these tales, intimately as I do,

a lifetime of song… it seems

I have lived an eternity.

 

“But let them go. They want to be Joseph’s disciples.

 

“A strange prophecy! All my poets gone

to Avalon, and I am left behind.

 

“All my life I’ve desired this solitude,

the hermit’s desire to drink the mysterious silence

welling within himself, from unseen depths.

My students and my kings could untie me now

from the hierophantic burden,

allowing my weary mind to dream among

the wings of the complex winds, and to seek

the source of their inspiration,

ascending in the gratitude of existence

until song takes me in its consolation

with the deep-voiced crows to the barrow of my long rest.

 

“If only it were not that Britain is in such danger!

Rome advances. The end of the age has come.

 

_______________

 

 

 

“There was a golden age, when men were wise,                                        BRAN’S SONG

lived long in blessings; the earth was kindest then;                                        OF THE AGES

 

“an age of silver, when men began the hunt,

killing animals for food and power.

But the hunt was magical,

a quest for revelations and paradise.

It was then that they violated the earth with plows,

and the sea with ships.

 

“Then followed the age of bronze, when men were warlike,

but still heroic, as Hesiod has sung,

lamenting his own days in the age of iron.

A thousand years ago he sang it. But now

the lowest of degenerating ages,

the age of lead, basest of metals, begins.

Rome advances.

 

“Huge quantities of stone                                                                Rome, and the

forced from the earth and piled against the sky                                     end of the ages

as though by the unholy minds of giants.

Arches conquer the space confined beneath them,

tremendous in bridges to overcome the rivers

which, singing agelessly, continue unheard,

and roads bury the grain-bearing soil under milestones.

Along the way, new cities: a mass of walls

increasing in unthinkable magnitudes.

 

“This is the Roman measure of civilization:

trampling the nations to dust.

And this is its unspeakable decadence:

immense temples, and in them, colossal statues

of dead gods. Letters cut in stone

like epitaphs to the memory of knowledge.

Rome, the enormous tombstone!

 

“Rome, the decadence of all religions:

drunken feasts with orgiastic rites.

No inspiration. No raising man to enlightened

converse in song. Instead

they substitute the chaos of organization,

systems of gods, systems of government,

rivalries and murder for the sake of rule

since the soul is destitute.

 

“Genius in massacre and ruthless conquest,

Caesar the propagandist has brilliantly written

of human sacrifice among the Gauls.

I met him myself, on a mission to try for peace,

and watched him chronicle the corruption of druids

who were pleased to win his favor by lighting a fire

in a cage of captive heroes, their own people!

Outraged, I confronted him with a curse of death

at the hands of his Senators, in a certain hour.

He has known, since then, who I am.

 

“The superstitions he wrote of with so much care

were his own: the familiar customs

of a vanquished people imitating Rome

where ritual slaughters were practiced in their temples

less than a hundred years ago; but the Senate

outlawed them for barbarism!

 

“Nevertheless their thirst for victims remains:

passionate for war at any excuse

while promising peace to the nations,

Rome delights in blood sports in times of peace,

arenas cheering the gladiatorial deaths!

 

“Rome, the loss of meaning: new world, new faith

in material greatness, with the loss of understanding.

 

“When I heard the Aeneid chanted

by Caesar Augustus’s poet,

I had it condemned at a council of our bards.

Only in its Trojan origins

is there any remnant of truth.

No poet should sing the perversion of history

to the glorification of empire! The epic theme

must lead toward what is pure and spiritual.”

 

“It is impossible to stop the Romans,”                                                        Myself

I said. “It is wisest not to try.

They will allow religion; but they impose

the Emperor’s deification.”

 

“Druids opposed                                              Bran

the rise of this empire for centuries. Rome knows

our power to inspire the nations against it.

The massive offenses under Julius,

Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius

against the Gallic nations are for our sake!

Druids cannot exist under Rome. That is why

I have reorganized the druids against it,

and am searching for the weapons of paradise.

I am the goal of their world quest. To kill me

is the final victory.”

 

“That’s interesting,”                                                                             Myself

I said without thinking.

 

“Oh, would you like to see it?                                      Bran

‘The sacrifice of Bran’. A worn-out legend,

older even than I am.”

 

“I have never heard it.”                               Myself

 

“I think you will. You have the look of a warrior:                                               Bran

the flame of truth in eyes inspired by song.”

 

“I am a guard of that flame, in the Holy of Holies,                                     Myself

in the most pure and sacred of ancient traditions!

I am trained to fight. It has been my whole life’s learning.

I’m trained to recognize truth, to distinguish from error.

But I have been confused in it by God himself!

I am a soldier in exile from religion.

How could I fight for you?

I was taught to expect the great king’s coming,

hero of a sacred nation. And I have seen

him, more than it is possible to expect,

hanging on a dead tree!

I have come to know things which are unspeakable.”

 

“No, you have much to learn.                                                                           Bran

How could this have been God?”

 

“I do not know,                                                  Myself

but what I know is irrevocable.

I have come to the crown of knowledge: the mystery

of doubt, the great achievement and wisdom of men!”

 

“I will heal you of this disease!                                                                       Bran

I will make you a warrior of such power

and inspiration as was not possible

in your own land under Roman occupation.

One such is among us: a king

who withstands the might of Rome.

Warriors come to him; and he teaches well.

 

“Virtue your indestructible weapons, wisdom

your goal, not a destroyer of men, but of evil.

Let this be your battle! Bran blesses you.

 

“Look; the east has opened its hand of light!

Dawn approaches. Tonight we cannot sleep.

We must challenge our weariness

and hurry to the council of the kings of Britain

in Evalak’s hall. Rome will be defeated,

if not by us, then by itself! Come…”

 

 

 

 

 

Book V:

The Council of the Kings

 

 

 

 

 

First, in Evalak’s hall, there was feasting,

mead and meat in abundance – and the promise of song.

Twelve harps stood by the wall.

 

I was given a place

at the table of young warriors, vigorous

in thirst, ravenous in hunger; smooth-browed,

clear and quick in the eyes. No one asked

the reason for my presence, or for any man’s

before the feast was finished.

 

But I could not stop

staring across the hall to the high table –

severe countenance of so many kings

at once, and queens who robbed me of my eyes:

 

one, black hair to her knees; raven eyes

like nights in a low moon. The other, red hair

cascading to her feet like sunsets of love

and war, and eyebrows soft with thoughts where men

must die. She was dressed for war.

 

No one spoke.

Even the poet, when he rose to touch the harp,

overcome with inspiration, trembled

and turned to Bran, where he sat in the druid’s throne:

 

“Lords of Britain! Which among the gods                                                    Poet

should I first commemorate? Each dwells in power!

Which is the first to be named?

My training in the arts of poetry

and the mysteries of genealogy

has not been challenged like this! Master, instruct us!”

 

Unmoving as his ancient throne, Bran stared:

 

“Child of my teaching-songs, you are wise                                                     Bran

to the hidden danger of harps.

Praise of kings is right, and the deeds of their fathers –

this is the poet’s treasure. But the praise of one

is the envy of another.

When brothers love to drink each other’s blades,

what poet dares invoke the gods and their virtues?

The strings in his fingers are as sharp as swords!”

 

He stared at them, one by one, with burning eyes:

“Degree of place and precedence of tradition

are nothing but foolishness, when we are in danger

of losing all traditions in the Isle of Britain

at once!”

 

The color crumbled from their faces

like ash, and they turned their gaze toward the shadows.

 

Only one endured that kindled brow

unchanged. He said: “That is what Caesar wants.                                      King of the

He knows your names, and the nature of your quarrels.                                 Atrebates

That was how he destroyed our Gallic nations.

Mine is the only continental tribe

withstanding him to the end,

and only because you have given us a shore

of exile on your island.”

 

“Your people are welcome among us, Commios,                                           Bran

king of the Atrebates, ‘the settlers’, from Gaul,”

said Bran. “In your resistance to the Romans

we see the reason for our own.”

 

“But perhaps                                                                        The Dark-Haired

had we not so freely accepted you among us,                                                       Queen

Caesar would not have pursued you into our island,”

spoke the dark-haired queen, with a mysterious smile.

 

Immediately the red-haired leapt to her feet,

and tall and beautiful in quick strides, stood

in threatening pose over Bran:

 

“Where were your passionate kings when my nation was conquered?            The Red-Haired

You’ve led us to think that Rome is worse than death.                           Queen

I want you to know, it’s not so bad. If Caesar

deprives you of your power, we’re better off.”

 

The king that jumped to his feet in front of her

had a face of thundercloud, and eyes as red.

 

“Caradoc!” she spat. “Did my words excite

your blade from its sheath? Did I blaspheme your father?

I’m not afraid of Rome, and I’m not afraid

of you. I’ve made my choice between two tyrants.

My people have prospered better under Caesar.”

 

Bran answered her, unmoved:

“His Mediterranean jars of wine for your splendid                                              Bran

horses, Boadica, that love to shake

the blood from the harness in war!

And Seneca, the thoughtful Senator,

has given mountains of gold

for temples, baths, and public monuments

on the promise of your sun-drenched horizons of wheat.

I’m curious how this generosity

will be repaid in his balance.”

 

Staring at Caradoc, she answered slowly:

“What is the worst? A borrower’s penalty                                                 Boadica, the Red-Haired

is not as severe as the heavy sword in the hand                                        Queen

of the son of your ambitions.”

 

And another ruler:

“Caradoc, leader of the kings in war,                                                             Dubnovellaunus

pendragon! Supreme authority in Britain!

This is what you want your son to be

among us. You want us to elect the one

who, in preparation for the Roman advance,

drove us from our cities, deprived ancestral

inheritance, until we welcomed the legions!”

 

Quick as a breath of lightning, Caradoc

stood towering over him, and the force of his glare

pressed hot: “If this were spoken like a king,                                                    Caradoc

I could not have stolen your finest warriors

for the sake of their valor. Have you noticed? They abandoned

the Rome-endowed grandeur of your marble courts

for the wilderness of honor, the hunger of crows

and delight of death at my side!”

 

“When it’s time to fight,”                                      Boadica

said Boadica, splitting her soft, deep breast

with a firm hand around her upright sword hilt,

“we’ll see who is able to inspire men to the death.

But there has to be a better reason for it

than your puny motive for supremacy.”

 

“What do you know of bringing men to war?                                                 Caradoc

You haven’t been alive long enough to know

the losing of your realm, when the crows descend

on your best fighting men!” Caradoc answered.

“Before you were born, I knew that Rome would come

again, this time with determination to stay.

My zeal to unite the kingdoms was sometimes fatal.

I paid the penalty

with the loss of my own city, defeat at the Medway,

and, at the shallow crossing of the Thames

defeat of the eastern kingdoms; and with the loss

of strongholds in the southern hills,

retreated into the mountains.

 

“When have you known the weariness of war?

Uncounted days of lifting the same sword, stained

with tragedies of sundown;

long nights of weeping, and still

when the sun climbs the eastern hill

lift the horn to your tired lips and call

courage from the deep hearts of your survivors!”

 

“That’s what you want, isn’t it? That’s your glory,”                                     Boadica

said Boadica. “Eleven kings submitted

to Claudius in Camulodonum.

Only one resists him.”

 

“Camulodonum, city of the wargod                                                                        Caradoc

Camulos, and you gave it to Caesar! I watched him

tear it down, to build

temples to himself!” said Caradoc.

“I’ll tell you where I was, when your kingdom was conquered.

Watching, from the confinement of the forest,

weeping for you, and for the other kings

who surrendered the fight. Because, if you had not,

you would know the greatness of soul that exists

when the battle is not yet over. Just yesterday

it was proved again on their flanks

with the deaths of a thousand auxiliaries of Rome.

 

“While this was going on, I crept like a cat

into the Roman camp, to the general’s tent

and gave him the scare of his life!

I had him under my sword. But his son came in,

gave out the alarm, and I fled, without

the incomparable trophy of his head.

 

“Look at your faces! Are you not amazed

with my narrative? What, you thought it was lost,

long ago? Then watch, like Caesar watches

with his fascinated commentaries

and add your own; or join me, when you want to.

I am king of all Britain, if you wish.

If not, I’ll fight the Romans at my own pleasure.”

 

Silence ruled the hall; and Caradoc

was the only one who was standing. Then Bran, from his chair:

 

“Kings of Britain, allow me to remind you                                                      Bran

who you are. The ancient tribes in our island

are the remnants of the Kelts from every land:

tribes of the Kymry in old Cambria,

‘Britain’, as in Ireland, and in Gaul.

Twelve kings, twelve lands. Twelve portions of the year,

of the skies, and of the world; and in our island.

Their kings in every age

are named for twelve divine ancestors.

No king is greater than another. Notice

how you are placed at table: in a circle.

The high table for the kings of Britain

is round, as Myrddin made it in the beginning,

with no place higher than any other seat.”

 

Then he began the song of the tribes of Britain!

 

And, if you had been there,

you would have seen the power and beauty of song!

When Bran began to sing,

 

the poets of the kingdoms, as Bran called their names

one by one, stood, strode to their harps

and sat, as though obedient to the voice,

 

leaned his harp to the breast, and seemed to be

concentrating on its silence, waiting

for the words of Bran, master of song in the islands

 

who sang in the melodies

of the modes of the twelve traditions.

 

_______________

 

 

 

“Ancient muses of the hills and springs                                                            SONG OF THE

of the land of Britain! Tell us: what are your names?                                                TRIBES OF

Who are your peoples, and what are their traditions?                                           BRITAIN

Who are the kings that claim descent from you;

what cities did they build, and how were these named?

Which are the ancient tribes? Who were invaders;

what did these bring, and what did they destroy?

Tell us, since you know. You remember

primordial things, forgotten even by poets;

we receive nothing but a distant rumor.

Open the gates at the springs of inspiration

and stir the song of the kings that are called to war!

Pour out your incantational memory

and command us to sit as still as the standing stones

until the song is finished,

so that no distractions of the temporary spheres

remove our minds from the bliss of original knowledge!

 

“Dubnovellaunos, king of the Trinovantes,                                                   The Trinovantes

whose tribal name remembers our ancestry

from Troy, city of mysteries, when Brutus

was driven out in the night of its destruction.

Guided by the goddess,

he searched the seas for the island of his new city,

and found the place of beauty enclosed by the Thames

with heavy forests and tributary rivers.

He called it Trinovantum, ‘New Troy’, and gave

his own name, Brutus, to the isle of Britain;

but in our Kymric speech his name is Prydain.

The tales of his name are the meaning of our race.

Your city’s lore is too vast and old to sing!

Locrine, first king of Llogria, when the realm

was divided among the three sons of Brutus,

with Cambria west, and northward, Albion:

of splendid caves for his secret mistress Estrilda.

No one witnessed the rites of worship there,

but the rivers and springs of the land took their names from her daughters.

Of the king and magician Bladud

who built hot springs near Bath, crafting fires

never extinguished, and learned the secret of flight,

though the attempt was fatal, when he fell to your walls.

Of Dunwallo, the best of kings, law-giver,

whose name is given to you, Dubnovellaunus!

Then Ludd surrounded the city with walls and towers.

He was the first to call it Caerlud, for himself.

Since then, it is known as London,

though the name of Troy was kept by the Trinovantes.

But now Londinium is Caesar’s city.

His walls more massive, his streets laid out on ours,

his Tower of London on the ruined foundations

of the tower of White Hill, where Bran kept watch;

his architecture concealing ancient temples

and we are exiled from it.

 

“Caradoc, king of the Catuvellauni,                                                               The Catuvellauni

‘strong leaders in war’, ‘the battle-experts’,

the finest of our warriors! Caradoc,

the son of Bran the Archdruid, son of Llyr,

the son of Kymbaline, the son of Kaswallawn,

the son of Beli by many generations.

All of these, the names most feared by Rome!

Beli, ‘the shining one’, the wargod in light,

whom even the Romans revere in their word for war,

bellum. He brought his weapons from the sun.

Kasswallawn, whom the Romans call Cassobelinus,

‘fortress of Beli’, first of our kings against them.

Kymbaline, in Latin Cunobelin,

greatest king of our times, ‘the hound of Beli’,

hound of war! But no one, since his days,

has carried the banner that unites the kingdoms,

the dragon of Ludd, pendragon. Nor since his days

has Rome dared the crossing of our angry seas.

Listen now to wisdom. Great is your courage!

Be reconciled with your cousin Dubnovellaunus,

the king of the Trinovantes.

Let your embrace be witnessed by the kings

for the reinstatement of concord among them all!

Too often, your ideal of the one true kingdom

has brought you into conflict with neighboring kingdoms.

Among us there is no tyrant, no king of kings,

no Caesar! But there is one leader in war.

Remember our fathers, Brennius and Belinus,

brothers, rivals for the throne of Britain.

When their tents were pitched for battle, their mother came,

walked on the field between them and reconciled them.

Afterward, they crossed the sea together,

subduing Gaul, tearing down the walls

of Rome, and taking the treasures of Apollo!

Think of the ancient epic! Be reconciled.

 

“What name shall I give to the tribes                                                               The Regni

of the rolling, treeless downs, and the scarp-ridged chalk-lands

from the great-browed cliffs of Dover to Salisbury Plain?

All ships that love the summer breast of the sea

have touched this coast, rich with sheltering inlets,

thinking they have come to paradise!

So many have settled here, so many driven

out of its shores in exile,

that no one remembers its first inhabitants.

Were they Cantii of the kingdom of Kent and its city

Canterbury, founded by Hudibras

the father of Bladud?

Or maybe the innumerable monuments

of standing stones on the downs, and the burial mounds,

represent an earlier race of gods

whose name is forgotten – even I don’t know it –

spirits that retreated into the groves,

the inaccessible bliss and impenetrable

forests of the Weald.

Now you are known as Regni, ‘the proud ones’, descended

from Regan, daughter of Llyr, to whom was given

Cornwall; but she took the half of his kingdom

in the weakness of his old age.

But you, Cogidubnos! How do you come

as king of that land? The shadow of Caesar’s hand,

I think, has crossed your brow.

 

“Diviciacus, king of the Belgae,                                                                        The Belgae

‘overlords of Gaul and Britain’!

Invaders in our island from Gallic Belgium,

the continental worshippers of Beli

who came five centuries ago with new

ideas, new gods, new culture: the knowledge of iron.

An earlier people, from the interior lakes

of Gaul had come with the secrets of bronze to Britain:

extracting tin and lead by water and fire

for warlike bronze, and the loveliness of pewter.

Their intricate designs were dedicated

to Llew, the ingenious workman, the tinker

and storyteller, craftsman to the gods.

But this was a deeper knowledge, more dreadful, digging

buried veins from stone. Its sacred lore

showed where the seeds of iron were deposited

by the passionate sky in its earliest age,

when the maiden earth lay fair to his view.

He spilled a rain of fiery meteors,

and she grew pregnant. With secret chants the miner

enters her germinated caverns,

bringing to light the matured ore.

Its rites of fire in smithcraft are as hidden:

the names of bellows, speech of the anvil,

and the terrible incantations

while the white-hot blade is hammered in the flame.

Superior with iron, proud warriors

took what they wanted from our southlands.

The edge of their plow cuts deeper.

The untouched clay has never seen the sun;

but now it is turned, forced to yield tall corn

and so much barley, you sell it even in Rome!

And the dense forest was nothing in front of your axe.

It was you who cleared the downs of their ancient oaks

for charcoal in your smiths’ black furnaces:

more swords, more ploughs, more axes. This is your gift;

and Caesar is pleased with your progress. You trade with him

for his finest wines, and he’s taught you how to think

that a king’s head on a coin makes him a god!

He’s given you your mint, and your own stamped image

like a face in gold were the image of the sun!

The wise ones laugh at you!

The soul of a king were the image of the sun

if he carried it in virtue!

 

“Salog, king of the warlike Durotriges,                                                      The Durotriges

‘people of the fortress’, ‘the water-people’,

a nation of sea-going traders

controlling waterways, and jealous of land.

Yours are the massive hill-forts, the earth-piled walls

with a watery maze of ditches. Yours is the knowledge

of tides and winds; and the intricate, conflicting

currents off every shore in the complex oceans

are intimate to you. Your boats of skins,

stretched on floating ribs of wood, are known

in the outer seas, and every winding river

is mapped to its source in your lore. But there is one place

where five rivers meet underneath high ground,

and there the great stone henge

was built by Myrddin the prophetic archpriest

in time out of mind, chronicling the ages

from beginning to the end. Beli speaks;

Don answers; the skygods in her court

are seen in eternal dance!

Coolin the northern warrior himself came there;

and to him was given in marriage

the last daughter of your ancestral goddess

Sulis of the healing springs and baths

near Salisbury, named for the springs of wisdom.

 

“But, like the most ancient western mountains,                                          The

stubborn from hill-forts, resisting                                                                      Dumnonians

change since primordial dawns,

the concealed kingdom of Dumnonia

at Land’s End. There the sheer promontories

high over boiling depths of tides and seas –

Tintagel, ‘fortress on a neck’

of rock against the muscular white-haired sea;

Castle Dore, which imprisons the singing maiden;

and Maiden Castle, which was in your territory

when it was the oldest temple of the goddess –

appear and disappear in seasons of fog

and storm, like sirens luring innocent sailors

into the other world of formative ages.

Your strong traditions, reaching beyond the time

of metals, when stone temples held secrets

hung from invisible skies and locked in mists

which, if one enters, he does not return…

Yours are the old gods: the children of Domnu,

the giants, Dumnonians, for whom you are named,

whom the children of the sky

with the weapons from paradise

drove into the mountains before

the world began. Primeval enemy,

mysterious Dumnonian dynasty

descended from nameless kings: you are welcome

among the kings against Rome,

Drystan, son of Cunomarus.

 

“Verico, king of the Cornovi,                                                                                  The Cornovi

‘people of the horn’, from  cornu, ‘horn’,

descendants of Corneus, who came with Brutus,

the mighty warrior, known among the Gauls

as Cerrennos the horned god

who loved to wrestle with the giants, and drove them

into the mountains of Dumnonia.

He struggled with Goemagog,

hurled him from the cliffs into the sea;

took possession of the peninsula,

renaming it as Cornwall, ‘the horn of Britain’.

The kings of Cornwall, the sons of Corneus

possessed his magical horn, a relic of power,

and passed it down among them:

cornucopia, the horn of plenty.

But after time, it was lost. The giants

drove you out of old Dumnonia

and the island was divided in civil wars

until Dunwallo the law-giver, most just king.

He gave you the pleasant valley of the Severn,

the sacrificial river, rich in springs

and pastures of Sabrina, for whom it is named.

You kept your name of Cornovii; but Cornwall

returned to the kingdom of Dumnonia.

But now, Caer Urnach, your tribal center,

is next in the Roman advance from Londinium.

Whether to fight or surrender, you must decide.

 

“The throne of Siluria is held by the young prince                                      The Silures

Cyllin, son of Caradoc, in whom

Silures and Catuvellauni are united.

Exceptional in your ferocity,

Silures, ‘cat-people’: named for the sinister wargod

known in lore to have come in the stealth

of that most savage of predators, the wildcat.

Iberians, from Caucasus and the Black Sea

brought the language of our origins

and lore of primeval ages. Settlers in Spain

and Ireland, Melisians, ‘sons of Mil’,

drove the children of Don to the otherworld;

and, in our island, aboriginals.

Then you yourselves, at the end of the age of stone,

were driven into the western mountains by weapons

sharpened with fire in bronze.

But temples from the stone age cannot be rivaled

in metal, since the earlier peoples

themselves were superior!

We conquered them, and so defeated ourselves.

Yet even today, the druidic school

in Caerleon is famed above the others

in teaching the magical skills of poetic speech!

 

“Cynan (whom the Romans know as ‘Conan’),                                              The Ordovices

king of the Ordovices, ‘the hammer-fighters’,

named for your axes of stone. Tough hill-men who cling

to the inaccessible mountains under Snowdon,

Rome will never climb into your realm!

Three ancient races driven back

to the three peninsulas of Wales and Cornwall,

the crags and promontories thrust into

the ocean that tears them down:

Dumnonians, Silures, and Ordovices.

Three horns of Britain, pointing in one direction:

southwestward into the waves,

to the sunken kingdom, now

the realm of the laughing sea-god.

 

“Cartimandua, powerful                                                                                 The Brigantes

in lineage, queen of the Brigantes,

‘the high ones’! Named for your great goddess

Brigid, who dwells in light, ‘the exalted one’!

Ruler of our most expansive tribe

in the north hill country and the highland lakes

to the wild borders of Caledonia.

Caer-brauc your ancient fortress, ‘York’, is named

for King Ebraucus, the fourth king after Brutus,

father of countless children, who after him

laid the foundations of cities and territories.

Your wealth, in pasture and in livestock, remains

unmatched in our history. If you join our cause,

you and your king the noble Venutius,

we would be confident of victory!

 

“Prasutagus, king of the Iceni,                                                               The Iceni

and your queen unmatched in all magnificence,

Boudica the image of sovereignty the goddess!

Ancient tribe of an isolated realm

where the sweeping bluffs with timeworn tumuli

frown across the tumultuous North Sea –

tombs whose mysteries are known by your poets.

Past this shore, thick forests, unexplored

give way in the west to the extensive marshes

named for your tribe, the Iken, and the Ouse,

the bogs of ‘the Wash’, where wanderers are doomed,

invaders are swallowed, and even the moon was drowned.

But the sandy soils northeast are deep in grain,

good pasture for your horses, which were bred

in paradise. No wonder you worship Rhiannon,

mother of the earth, ‘the great queen’. Her birds

were fed on apples from the paradise-tree,

and nothing compares to their song!

The birds of Rhiannon are three: their names are not known,

but every other knowledge is given their hearers.

And once, as poets tell it, your horses carried

men beyond the limits of the earth.

Here, they are on gold coins. Have you seen such an image?

Her Gallic name, Epona, revered by the Roman

cavalry which covets your horses and wealth,

here, in Roman letters. What flawless minting!

See, what a fine example of a coin!

Rome has robbed your traditions.

 

“These are the kings of Britain. Are they not?”

 

 

 

 

 

Book VI:

Evalak, King of Avalon

 

 

The spell was broken now, but no one moved.

The kings were silent. Their eyes were on the floor,

as though they were robbed of speech by the invocations

of ancestors, and the genealogies

of gods! Bran the Archdruid had spoken.

 

“Is something wrong?” said Bran. “Did I forget

the name of any nation, or its ruler?

Why yes, I did! Our host, the lord of this hall!

 

“King of the Dobunni,                                                                                            Arviragus

the fierce Arviragus! More feared in Rome                                                   (or Evalak

than Caradoc himself, than Kymbaline!                                                     the king of

Arviragus, name that the Romans give                                                   Avalon),

to Evalak the king of Avalon.                                                                                   king of

When he mounted his chariot, his speed and aim,                                         the Dobunni

leaping from wheel to horseback, running down

the harness pole itself, downhill, to hurl

his accurate spear with a huge and frowning eye,

surpassed the skill of the legendary war-kings!

What has happened? He was worthy of the name

of Avalloch, his ancestor among the gods,

first to arrive in Avalon from the sun

where it separated itself from the eastern seas,

from the ocean of dawn!’

 

He glared at Evalak,

and his words grew in wrath:

 

“Does any man challenge my choice of song?”

 

Evalak answered mildly, but with a voice

powerful in calm:

 

“Bran, son of Llyr, son of Kymbaline,                                                     Bran addressed

chief of druids in the isle of Britain!                                                                        by Evalak

And the continental Gauls, and Scythians,

Hibernians, Galatians of the east,

the Danes, all the fierce tribes of the Northmen

and the race of Kymry in every land acknowledge

the wisest of our times! All know that you

were the chosen high-king, above all kings of Britain.

 

“When you renounced the throne for the sake of knowledge                              The Triads of

your song became divine, accomplishing                                                 Bran the Archdruid

what none, since the days of our ancestors, have known.                                    composed and recited

Like Bran the Voyager, you entered the other world;                          by King Evalak

like Bran the Conqueror, you plundered the riches

of Delphi, Rome, and Ireland, and the strange realm Annwyn,

bringing back the meanings of their lore;

like Bran the Blessed, you bestow this wealth

freely among your followers, making them wise.

 

“The three gifts of bliss from Bran the Blessed:

he feasted his followers a hundred years,

while they never aged or remembered their ordeals,

and the conversation of his severed head

was pleasant as life while the birds of Rhiannon sang.

 

“The three provisions of his blissful feast:

abundance, youth, and ecstasy of vision.

 

“The three abundances of the horn of Bran:

a drinking horn distilling the ale that inspires;

the horn of plenty and fertility

which overflows; and the horn which blows one sound.

 

“Three notes blown on the horn of Bran: the call

to the hunt, the call to battle, and the call to worship.

These three notes are blended into one:

the vision of knowledge, preserved

by him who is Archdruid.

 

“You who so completely understand

the ancient triads, stole their riches, and gives them

to those who hunger for history and truth!

As Archdruid, you have re-structured the schools of bards,

securing their mystic chairs throughout the realms,

and have re-organized the royal houses,

establishing their original boundaries.

How have we failed to be inspired by your wisdom?

When you begin to sing, creation listens!”

The argument of

Bran seemed to be waiting for his turn to speak:                                      Bran and Evalak

“You should never have given him the paradise island.”                                    Bran

 

“Avalon was never mine to give.”                                                               Evalak

 

“Then what have you done? Every day, more come                                        Bran

to Joseph and his companions. It looks to me

they have settled there! And the crowds… what is it?

Every day a festival?

 

“At sunrise

so many come down to the illumined shore,

ecstatic faces lifted to the island,

and solemnly take rafts. The sun-filled lake

is covered by the silent processions, and sometimes

psalms, when they begin to disembark.

What do they think they are doing? How can they know

apples from the tree of eternity

in the island of the sun were brought there? The seeds

were scattered on that hillside.”

 

“I have done nothing                                                            Evalak

except to submit its otherworld traditions

to the hands that made both worlds, and gave our traditions.”

 

“The most ancient center of druidism!”                                                      Bran

 

“He who made the islands float in the water                                                   Evalak

like the blessedness of paradise removed

from the traffic of the world,

appointing the boundaries of earth and sea,

himself is among us. His rule is greater than mine.”

 

“Evalak has begun to attempt song!”                                                             Bran

 

“If I had not tasted                                                                                       Evalak

the three drops of inspiration, I would

never have attempted even to speak.”

 

“He never had instruction in song from me                                                       Bran

or from my poets! What do you think of his rhymes?”

 

“If I had not drunk from the cup of regeneration,                                       Evalak

I would never dare interpret the taste of knowledge

rising from the breath of the guarded cauldron

where Gwydion drank the illumination of song!”

 

“Now he thinks he’s a prophet! Who is his druid?”                                                Bran

 

“The fruit that fell from the tree

of life in the desert that is paradise.”                                                                    Evalak

 

“And speaks in riddles! Am I to guess the meaning?”                               Bran

 

“If I could instruct you in these mysteries,                                                        Evalak

if I could reveal to you what has come to pass

in my time, and in my realm…”

 

“He would instruct me! Hear me, now:                                                    Bran

You stand condemned by the mysteries you’ve known.

Let truth be strange to you. Let the earth swallow your throne!”

 

Your curse, as you see,                                                                              Evalak

has no effect on me.

If the weapons of paradise had not returned

to Avalon, if I had not seen and touched

and felt them pierce my humanity, take root

and grow in splendid virtues, blossoming

from my heart and spirit throughout my hands and feet,

I would never dare to stand against you.

The twelve mystic bards of the isle of Britain

are the twelve disciples of Joseph.

The isle of the blessed belongs to the blessed ones.”

 

“Silent harps, do you hear? Bring me your bard!                                        Bran

Let Evalak’s name be erased

from the genealogies!

Where is my poet, which I sent at your request

to dispute with the Arimathean when he arrived?”

 

“In Joseph’s healing care. He has learned a new song.”                          Evalak

 

“Even my poet? When did this Joseph become                                                Bran

such a wicked rhetorician?

I remember him as a quiet man,

a trader in tin, with no pretensions to knowledge.”

 

“He is even more quiet now,                                                                            Evalak

more eloquent in silence than any man –

as though having received the relic of relics

down from the cross, he has been given the hands

of the Life-Giver Himself. All that he touches

is new again, in beauty like the world’s creation!

 

“When he came to Avalon,

weary with the journey, he leaned on his staff –

it rooted into the hillside, branching white blossom:

a sign, without re-seeding,

of the original tree in paradise.

 

“Has there ever been a simple man who could show

such miracles as these?

He almost never speaks; but when he does,

his words concerning our regeneration

accomplish a rarer blossoming of souls.

 

“He made no argument against your poet

who, following your words exactly,

pronounced the curse against him.

He spoke, and the poet’s mind was wrapped in darkness;

his eyes fell out of his head. His tongue grew limp.

Then Joseph blessed him, gave him understanding,

restored his mind and senses.

 

“I saw all this;

and thinking about it all night, unable to sleep,

at last I was given two dreams I cannot describe.

 

“One was the vision of the Trinity:

essential nature of consubstantial Godhead

sublime in three. The other was as strange:

the passage of God into the inviolate womb,

and the revelation of God as man, in his son.

These are the exalted mysteries,

the most supreme of doctrines.”

 

“I wish I had the strength of words to describe                                              Bran

this depth of profanity! What do you think?                                                  (to me)

Preserving the secret of truth to our own days

the Hebrew writings exist; and now, one man

in his delusion thinks

that he has revolutionized their meaning

and the best men believe him!”

 

“If I could show you the nature of the feast                                                     Evalak

to which you’ve been called, beyond your understanding!

Today is the feast of feasts: his Resurrection!

Even the taste of these rare and delicate meats,

provided by a wonder I dare not speak of,

served from a vessel I cannot explain.”

 

“I wish I could hear the best of rabbinical teachers                                              Bran

tell me what it means. He would know!”

 

And he glanced at me:

“Probably, by now, he would be an instructor,

one most respected in your scriptorium.

I wonder… did you know him?”

 

And to Evalak:

“That boy that Joseph sometimes brought on his journeys

when he came in trade for tin –

that wonder-filled boy. Do you remember him?”

 

“Oh, my lord…”                                                                                     Evalak

 

“He was wise beyond his years.                                                   Bran

At Joseph’s side, he would stare at the miners, frowning

in deep consideration of their toil.

After some thought, he instructed them

in the secrets of metals, and they were astounded. He showed them

how to draw them out of the ore by fire

and strengthen them, and what the metals mean.

Remember? And a few years later, too,

when he was barely a man, he came to me

requesting a summer’s solitude on the island.

Joseph gave his permission; and so did I,

and he became a hermit in Avalon.

I visited him, and taught him carefully.”

 

“You taught him!”                                                                                       Evalak

 

“What it was I taught him                                                                  Bran

could never be known by any other man.”

 

“You don’t know?”                                                                                                Evalak

 

“Know what?”                                                                                     Bran

 

“He is the one!”                                                   Evalak

 

“What one? I always wondered…”                                                                Bran

 

“The one who died on the cross!”                                                             Evalak

 

In the face of Bran

were things I have never seen, in skies or seas,

in the slow, vast change of seasons, days or nights.

 

“He is the one? I taught him everything!”                                                    Bran

 

And he began, in his enormous strides,

to measure the length and breadth of the great hall, weeping

with violence, in speech like broken thunder:

 

“He was the one who died? He sang for me                                                  Bran

the sacred Hebraic scriptures, sang them all

in one night and day, and he was just a youth!

And he gave me the entire interpretations

in a clear voice, so revealing, I could not

remember, a moment after he had spoken,

everything I had just understood!

And he sang of a promise, that made me desire again

the weapons of paradise!”

 

“He was your best student, you believed?                                                        Evalak

With his own hands, He formed you out of the dust.”

 

“He is the one? That’s what he came to think?                                      Bran

I wish I had the strength of understanding

even to describe this tragedy.

Then I could pronounce an effective curse!”

 

“My lord, do not. You don’t know what you’re saying.”                                  Evalak

 

Bran trembled: “You would speak of what I know?”

 

 

 

 

 

Book VII:

The Gallic Wars

 

Then Commios arose, the fugitive,

survivor of Caesar’s continental plunder,

demanding to be heard in that assembly.

 

“Lords of Britain, is this what we’re here to consider,                                  Commios

disputing the names of the god of Avalon?”

 

“A king that argues against the Archdruid                                                       Conan

should be condemned to silence.”

 

“We are here

for decisions of war, which must be made tonight.                                                Caradoc

 

“You know our only hope: oneness of mind                                                    Commios

under one inspired and unresting warlord.”

“Such a leader among the Kelts in Gaul                                                                     Commios’ poet

was Vercingetorix.

 

‘King-who-tramples-upon’.                                                            Caradoc

I was never so committed to kingship,

slicing throats among my own advisors,

that I would earn such a name.

I am Caradoc, ‘the beloved one’“.

 

“The warlike heritage of kings demands                                                          Commios

criteria of glory, and tests of combat.

All tribes have enemies! I myself

made war with Vercingetorix, and taught

that bitter interpretation of his name;

I went so far as to beg the intervention

and law of Rome, when legions moved north from their province.

That was before I learned the mind of Caesar.

That was before he bridged the sacred Rhine,

ripped our coastal trade from our hands and stole

our ships, to launch them against this holy island;

before he burned our towns, and sold our wives

and daughters for the markets of civilization!

When the tribes of Gaul rose up united against him,

Vercingetorix, ‘Great Leader of Warriors’,

was the name on every tongue!”

 

“When the fight for Gaul was lost, and he gave himself                                    Boadica

in sacrifice for his people to Caesar’s sword,

none of them were spared. They paid in full

for the conqueror’s glory.”

 

“That slaughter                                                            Caradoc

should never be forgotten.”

 

“A long tale to tell,                                                                                          Commios

the demolition of our Gallic kingdoms!”

 

“The lamentation of our poets begins                                                              Commios’ poet

two centuries ago, when legions crossed                                                            (History of the

the Alps into the valley of the sacred river                                                     Roman Wars

Rhone, with the taste of waters from paradise;                                             according to the

invading the temple of her temperate climate                                                 poets)

with swords, establishing a second Rome,

Provence, from Orange to Marseilles – ‘the province’.

The northern tribes were enraged,

and the Gallic Wars began.”

 

“We stood in battle with you!”                                                               Caradoc

 

“Fifty thousand men into Aquitaine                                                                    Caradoc’s poet

at Kaswallawn’s command, routed the Roman proconsul.

Caesar, in fury, burned the Gallic fleet

that controlled the heavy seas and carried our warriors,

and since that day he turned his burning eyes

to these islands chiseled from the stones of sunset.”

 

“Standing on the conquered coasts of Gaul,                                                   Cogidubnus

he gazed across to our crimson headland, so distant

in brilliant horizon, and asked what land that was.”

 

“And when he was told its name, he kept on staring,                                                Cogidubnus’ poet

and after a moment spoke: ‘They are of our race.

At the devastation of Troy, our ancestor

Aeneaus, son of Anchises, a lord of Troy,

came to establish Rome. Their fore-father

was Brutus, son of Silvius, son of Ascanius,

the son of this same Aeneaus.

But they are degenerate, and have never seen

the engineering and tactics of modern warfare,

living beyond the deep sea, off from the world.

They have never tasted astonishment and fear

while watching our timbered city fortresses

carved out of the edge of forest overnight!

By morning, their protective trenches are bridged.

Walls shake while rolling ramps are shoved against them,

and flame-vomiting catapults on moving

towers. Behind, in irrepressible lines,

deployment of cavalry and calculated

blocks of legions, detaching ordered flanks!

I will send them this message: that if they will submit

to tribute, I will not shed the blood of kinsman.”

 

“No, that is a lie! He said it like this,                                                                 Bran

and in his anger spoke:

‘Who are these people from beyond the world

with endless reinforcements for my enemies,

as though from out of the cauldron of regeneration?

For every man my legions kill, three more

come from beyond the world!

What is that land, the home

of the ancient priesthood of my enemy?’

And Kaswallawn’s fierce reply, what was it? So that

Caesar made for his ships immediately!”

 

“From the walls of Dover, battlements of chalk                                        Caradoc’s poet

burning against the sea, we saw the fleet

spread on the sparkling waters, ships frowning with shields.

     Burning in mind to know them, we crowded the cliffs:

chariots from every part of the island,

five times the number burdening their ships.

     The brilliant sails quivered. The breeze itself

warned them of our warlike deathless hearts.

The flagship moved northward on storm-brewing seas

     and its galleys followed, and so did we on shore…

so that epic goes on…”

 

“In that flagship’s prow with Caesar stood the traitor                                       Caradoc

Mandubratius, brother of Kaswallawn,

who gave the knowledge of the narrow beach

where he disembarked his men and battle-machines.”

 

“He had reason to ask for Caesar’s protection:                                           Dubnovellaunus

his uncle’s killing, king of the Trinovantes,

under the hands of Kaswallawn!”

 

“Song will remember what a man he was,                                                     Caradoc

traitor or hero. And, as the song relates:

 

     “‘Galleons disgorge their swimming legions                                     Caradoc’s poet

who die on the sands under our red swords

while disordered ranks still battle the bitter  waves.

     Now their flat-bottom boats scrape the shallows,

open their monstrous mouths, let down the ramps

like speechless tongues. Mules scream and charge the shore;

     levers over the side; on belly-slings,

horses let down to the hostile waves are herded,

swimming in frantic formations, climb the foam. ‘”

 

     “‘What a day of battle, defending our shores!                                                Boadica’s poet

Never allowing Romans to make formations

of war, while the angry waves outflanked them.

     But Caesar, from a small curragh, kept watch,

sent rafts to rescue men, found new positions…'”

 

     “‘Once they formed the phalanx, what force could stop it?                        Salog’s poet

Shield to shield, at a trained and measured run

like a leaden wall, penetrated only

     by the uncountable spears

     thrusting as one iron mind!’”

 

“Our heroes stood against them!”                                                             Caradoc

 

     “‘The weight of the phalanx slams them to the ground                                    Caradoc’s poet

to finish them underfoot with short, quick swords,

like this were the greatness of man!'”

 

“Our heroes live                                          Caradoc

as long as poets can sing! Remember them,

noble-minded, warriors for the sake of virtue!

Their life is a battle to the death for truth,

consummated in glory, continued in

the superior life of song!”

 

“That was how Kaswallawn inspired the ones                                                     Caradoc’s poet

who fought another day! As that song goes on:

 

     “’Retreating up the Thames, we turned at the bend

where forests begin, and fought again, more fiercely.

Caesar could gain no ground among the trees,

     and winter was threatening with stern black gales

sweeping the skies from out of the cold North Sea,    

so he hurried back to the shore. The waves revealed         

     a storm-tide in the night had destroyed his fleet.

He pulled the wrecks from the water, side by side,

rebuilding with energy, and then set sail

     to the safer continent. Instead, he found

the universal revolt of Gaul at the news

of his defeat in Britain!‘”

 

“It nearly cost all his winnings!                                                                   Commios’ poet

It nearly cost his life as well, at the hands

of Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls!”

 

“But it did not, did it? It did not end,                                                                 Commios

that prolonged, self-glorifying epic

written in his own hand: ‘The Gallic Wars’!

The military genius unsurpassed

in all the ages of war-craft,

who founded the imperial dynasty,

so confident in his divinity

as he imagined it, that he fought with more brilliance

when cornered and outnumbered!”

 

“The army of the whole world, we defeated!                                                         Caradoc’s poet

We drove them from our shores…”

 

“You are still so elated with the victory                                                 Commios

that you do not understand the present danger?

Caesar never failed in his objectives!

Had he come to fight, he would have come to stay.

He came for a different reason: for information

on your geography and controversies,

for secret treaties in trade, and promises

of power to friends of Rome. There are among us

those who understand. This invasion

in its tenth year, is the record of what he accomplished.”

 

“Is not this what I said to you, kings of Britain,                                                Caradoc

when I pointed my sword at your thrones?

You thought he was gone! You thought he would never return?”

 

“Caesar submitted to the treaty in London                                                             Boadica

with Kaswallawn in the White Tower, signed with his hand.

And Kymbaline and Llyr were sent in childhood

to Rome, brought up in imperial fosterage

in the peace of Augustus.”

 

“Yes, we believed again, for all time                                                                 Caradoc’s poet

in our isolation in the infinite seas.”

 

“And when, in the peace of Augustus, he attempted                                            Boadica’s poet

to conquer  the uncontainable German tribes,

he launched on the northern seas of unknown gales;

forbidden waters where sleeping hurricanes

are roused to scatter ships and swallow men.”

 

“The undigested wreckage of the Roman navy                                        Cartimandua’s poet

is still washed up on our shore.”

 

“Survivors, with wreckage for minds, brought back to Rome               Conan’s poet

tales of primeval horror: black-mouthed monsters

which are met in the limits of the outer ocean,

where Odysseus spoke with the famished dead.”

 

“These legends were known to the fearless legionnaires                             Caradoc’s poet

refusing to embark under Claudius,

when he commanded this final invasion of Britain.”

 

“‘We will follow you, anywhere in the world,’ they said,                             Boadica’s poet

‘but not beyond the world, to the isles of the ocean!'”

 

“Hearing this, you abandoned your watch,                                                  Commios

and Caesar won the landing uncontested!”

 

“Crossing the sea, inspired by a eunuch’s speech!                                                Caradoc’s poet

Swimming unfordable rivers in full armor!

Marching across the island in a single day!”

 

“But I know how to fight them! If you want to see how,                            Caradoc

find a seat in the mountains, and tomorrow

you can watch the game.”

 

“What? Tomorrow!”                                        Bran

 

“Find a seat where you can! My entertainment                                      Caradoc

will all be down on the field.”

 

“How close are they?”                                      Bran

 

“A day’s forced march, if we gallop to meet them.”                                      Caradoc

 

“Call the chief druid out of every kingdom                                                         Bran

to the council of bards at Mayday, in Anglessey!

Send word immediately!”

 

Messengers were appointed, and ran for the doors

in a brief abrupt commotion.

 

“How can their march have come that far already?”                                             Bran

 

“Have we not always underestimated                                                             Commios

their swift determination to reach the goal?

As soon as Vespasian took Maiden Castle,

the southern hill-forts fell.”

 

“He took Maiden Castle?”                                              Bran

 

“In one day.”                                                                                                    Caradoc

 

“Did you not fight at all?”                                         Bran (to Salog)

 

“They ran through all our ditches and defenses                                              Salog

while we showered missile-stones.

But all my people are slaughtered. I do not know

how I escaped, or why. That same day

the rivers were under his barges, to their sources.

They took the highway to the metal mines

and built a fortress over the Bristol Channel.”

 

“I never would have thought they would come this far!                                    Bran

We counted on the tides and winds around Land’s End

to carry them out on the unreturning seas.

We were sure they would come that way!”

 

“Remarkable, what Caesar can come to know                                       Commios

before he makes his move!”

 

“How can he have found me?”                            Bran

 

“Spies, everywhere. I have tried to tell you.”                                                   Commios

 

“Bring the prisoner!”                                                                                            Bran

 

The young men around me

leapt to their feet and ran into the night,

returning with a Roman: a man in his prime

with eyes too deep for his years, and a forehead which spoke

its chronicle of nobility and courage.

 

“This is the Senator!”                                                                                             Salog

 

“An excellent prize!”                                                 Bran

 

“I faced him in battle, exchanging spirited words                                      Salog

and swords. I had not known among the Romans

such a skilled and disciplined fighter, and so high-minded!”

 

“Let us hear of that!”                                                                                       Conan

 

“How were you captured?”                                           Salog

 

“I came of my own will. Your words stirred me.”                                         The Roman

 

“We fought at sundown. My men were in the field                                         Salog

lying in their own wounds, defeated, dying.

He was inspecting his conquest, when I stepped

from behind an oak to speak my mind, sword drawn.

I say, he answered well! A mist had risen,

concealing our hard contest from his legion.

Someone shouted his name. He answered no one

but me. But neither could get the upper hand,

so we fell exhausted under the oak and talked

while dusk removed that battlefield from me.

 

“With sadness, he watched the crows that filled the sky.

He said, ‘You are a brave folk. We prefer

your friendship in peace. Why will you not submit?’

I pointed out the great stone henge. In the distance

it floated on mist, glowing white in dusk,

and I answered, ‘This is not only our fathers’ traditions,

but yours as well. This is what Caesar outlaws

in favor of his image and his worldly power!'”

 

“How could you be loyal to the Senate                                                  Caradoc

and to Caesar as well?”

 

“My loyalty is Rome’s.                                               The Roman

The enlightened Emperor himself is only

a servant to that universal peace.”

 

“Enlightened conqueror! Is that what you’re told                                          Bran

of that megalomaniac? Does no one speak

of the emperor’s domination over the Senate?

Do you want to return to the laws of the old Republic

and the old religion? But to show his power

and prove his pretensions, he must overcome the world,

must wear the wreath of victory in your streets

with the conquest of Britain!”

 

“If what you say is true, I must know for myself.                                                The Roman

I have come to investigate the cause of this war

and report it to the Senate.”

 

“So you came to hear our council?”                                                                     Bran

 

“After my victory at Salisbury,                                                                    The Roman

I raised a statue at the springs, and worshipped.

I meditated on the words of Salog

and came to this resolve:

the source of my religion is unknown.

If knowledge is in your island, I must drink it.

If I must pay for knowledge with chains, I pay.

If I pay for knowledge with death, I must know.”

 

“Words like that! Did you hear the way he said it?                                     Bran

There’s nothing a British king would rather hear!

Words well minted; true as Roman silver!

Is this the unlimited treachery of Caesar?

 

“I am a Senator. My words are straightforward.”                                           The Roman

“What is your name?”                                                                                                Bran

 

“Rufus Pudens, the son…”                                      The Roman

 

“I know the Senatorial lineages.                                                                     Bran

Your uncle is the commander. You are a spy.”

 

“Accept me as a hostage, for the sake of truth.”                                      The Roman

 

“A hostage for Avalon!”                                                                                 Bran

 

“Caesar wouldn’t care for this tiny kingdom                                                         The Roman

if you were not here. You are the one he’s after.”

 

“We make a stand! We will not abandon                                                          Bran

Avalon!”

 

“Father, I have made my stand                                                    Caradoc

in every part. I’ve never yielded ground

unenriched with blood. So many men…”

 

“When I renounced the kingdom to study doctrine,                                             Bran

first, I trained you: everything I learned

myself from your grandfather Llyr; and from mine,

the incomparable warrior Kymbaline.

Never forget the wars that went with their names,

and think of how your sons will remember you.”

 

“Has there ever been one king among the tribes                                       Caradoc

who has fought as long against an enemy

no one in the world has been able to stop?

Many battles ago, my strength was exhausted.

Ten years, and still I have not thrown down the sword

you gave me in my youth.

Damaged as its edge is, I have brought it

down through another Roman breastplate

before seeking shelter

of sundown in the mountains and the terrible prayers

of the loud and hungry crows!”

 

I began to see

that this was a tongue the poets would not forget!

Those were the kind of words that make a man

want to follow a king, and fight for something.

His thought-inspiring stride was toward the door.

The kings sat staring at each other. He turned:

 

“But now is not the time to surrender. I know                                       Caradoc

the way to drive them out; and the time has come.

 

“Years of fighting, I’ve labored in the fields

of study, to defeat such an enemy.

and through my poets, published my reports.

You knew it when you came.

You would not have answered my summons to this council

if victory were so far out of reach.

 

“I have never seen the Romans so vulnerable.

 

“Formidable, they seem: so many forts

along the expanding front, each at a day’s march.

Think of it! Six legions, thirty thousand

they brought into the island,

relentless in concentrated might, controlled

in the eagle eye of one strategic commander.

 

“But now, divided among so many posts,

even that number is thin,

even with reinforcements. And more than this:

now is a change of command.

This general has not been tried in war.

 

“You know what I have learned: a pitched battle is useless.

That is like fighting the forest, or the waves;

that is like fighting the sunrise. But draw off a few men,

tempt them with the chase, then corner them

where they have to face us, out of their strict formations.

Or strike along supply lines, far down their roads,

wherever their mass of shields is out of reach.

In individual combat, they have not matched us.”

 

“Do you have a plan?”                                                                          Conan

 

“Wherever we attack,                                                  Verica

cannot he concentrate his forces there?”

 

“In one blow, we could crush them all.                                                       Caradoc

If the occupied kingdoms behind the front

were to rise in rebellion at one moment…”

 

“If you wanted unification of the kingdoms,                                                      Boadica

you would have taken thought of our peace under Rome,

rather than continue provoking war

without my permission!”

 

“War is a goddess.                                                         Bran

Victory is her name. Have you ever known her?”

 

“Bring me my spear!”                                                                                     Boadica

 

Andraste herself has come!”                                     Bran

 

“The sacrificial fires that feed my veins                                                    Boadica

with the spilled blood of victims and enemies

will not be mocked.”

 

“What, you thought I was joking?                                    Bran

I can see, by the way you hold your spear,

you’ve been drinking hymns at her blood-stained shrine.

What will you do when the new Roman commander

takes your spear from you?”

 

“He would not dare!”                                                  Boadica

 

“A Roman? I think he would.”                                                                      Bran

 

“I am queen in my territory. That’s the agreement.”                                         Boadica

 

“You haven’t heard? He knows he’s desperate,                                            Bran

commanding disarmament of the conquered Britons.”

 

“You are making this up!”                                                                             Boadica

 

“You can discuss it with him.                                         Bran

You are an outlaw in your territory

returning, if you do, holding that spear.”

 

“If what you say is true…”                                                                         Boadica

 

“But if Rome is our protector,                                            Prasutagus

why do we need weapons? Let’s go home.”

 

“Prasutagus is right. Peace is better                                                                        Cogidubnus

than war.”

 

“Treachery in our island                                                               Dubnovellaunus

is known in the world as sensibility.”

 

“Is this a council of war? Do any here                                                     Boadica

dare to be faint-hearted, or ill-equipped?

Are we kings and queens, rulers of warriors? If not,

may the gods strike us down!”

 

“Let Caradoc cut down the forest,                                                              Dubnovellaunus

face the forest of Roman spears at sunrise

or go and battle the waves. He’s lost his mind.”

 

“Do you understand that the island is not yet conquered?                             Caradoc

Only the easy paths. The western mountains

and the vast northern highlands are not yet his.

Do you understand

our island is the only part of the world

to stand against the Roman apostasy?

Every time their legions have had me trapped

and were certain of victory, I have surprised them

with a fighting spirit they do not understand.

I hope you will, and can be instructed in it!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book VIII:

The Sword and the Shield

 

 

 

Again the kings fell silent, considering

the words of Caradoc which burned in their minds

and the vote in front of them: pendragon and war

in the name of every ancient Keltic tradition,

or submission to Rome, peace, and the possibility

of an unrecognizable future of cities.

 

Then Evalak spoke: “This war                                                                  Evalak

with Rome is not the one to be fighting now,

if you understood your enemy.”

 

“Why do you go for your shield?”                                                                      Bran

 

“For your sake.”                                                  Evalak

 

“What is that shield? Why do you keep it covered?”                                             Bran

 

“Because of its holiness.                                                                                 Evalak

It was given to me by the blessed priest Josephes,

the son of Joseph.”

 

“Unveil it!”                                                                                           Bran

 

“I dare not.”                                                                Evalak

 

“I shall see it for myself.”                                                                                  Bran

 

“Do not, my lord.                                                     Evalak

I will show it. There; now you see it.”

 

“That’s his cross, is it not?                                                                             Bran

Blood-red, on a white field.

Tell us what it means!”

 

“Under this sign, you will conquer.”                                                                    Evalak

 

“Kings of Britain, what do you think of this?”                                       Bran

 

“It is better to submit to the will of Rome                                                   Boadica

than to a new religion.”

 

“It is better that Caradoc should lead us to war!”                                       Conan

 

“I vote for Caradoc!”                                                                                           Verica

 

“And I!”                                                                                            Divitiacus

 

“And we.”                                                                 Salog

 

“So do we all.”                                                                                                Drystan

 

“If Rome believed it could take our weapons from us,                               Boadica

every king in the island would stand against it;

but if you are making this up,

be sure, my vote will go the other way.”

 

“Venutius, what is your intent in war?                                                            Bran

The kings must know your mind.”

 

“If kings can be trusted                                     Cartimandua

to stay in this alliance, my lord should be with them.”

 

“You will never win                                                                                          Evalak

without the sword of light, which erupts in fire

in the hand of a righteous king.”

 

“You dare even to speak of the heart of truth?                                       Bran

Be silent!”

 

“If you could obtain that sword,                                                 Evalak

I would stand with you also, behind this shield.”

 

“Where is my poet? Sing to us of the sword!”                                              Bran

 

“My lord?”                                                                                                  Bran’s poet

 

“Sing of it!”                                                                                       Bran

 

_______________

 

 

 

With trembling fingers, he reached for the strings, and woke them:

Bran’s poet

“Held against the darkness before the world,                                                  Origin of

when the magical weapons were fastened                                                          the sword

to handles of power in the realms of light,

forged in the sun by the silver-wristed god,

Excalibur, the sword of lightning-edge!

 

“When Prydain brought the sons of the Cymry from lands                            The sword in

toward sunrise, the weapons of knowledge were in this island,             primordial Britain

cauldron and chariot, horn and spear of the gods.

He held that sword, not for war, but for wisdom,

proclaiming laws and judgments which bardic tradition

preserves. And with it Corneus,

his champion, drove the giants into the sea.

 

“Before the recollection and chronicle                                                         The loss of

of song, beyond the memory of strings                                                              the sword

these things occurred. No master of sagas

remembers how the sword was lost,

unless, as one tradition teaches,

the men who came took law in their own hands,

wrestled the island from its ruling gods

who with the magic in their weapons retreated

into the other world.

 

“But since the beginning of time                                                                 Raids into the

when men were born, and began                                                               otherworld

ransacking ancestors’ burials,

entering the fairy mountain,

war was necessary, to win

by perilous adventure

the weapons from paradise.

 

“The tales are many; and among them first

the songs of Gwynn “the fair one”, son of Nudd,

or the songs of Finn his godlike Irish namesake

descended through druids from the silver-handed

craftsman of divine Excalibur.

His father slain before his birth for love

of a druid’s daughter, the child

was raised unknown in the forest by warrior-women.

Not yet a man he set out to win that weapon

at great cost of life to his brave companions,

killed the giant in his turning fortress –

 

“and, if I could go with him,

I would gladly die, or lie imprisoned

in the fairy cave forever, just to have fought

once among those warriors!

 

“As far back as the fading reverberations                                                 The sword

of dreaming harp-strings reach, one song recalls                                      broken;

two brothers who traveled in search of paradise,                                             legends of

mysterious land beyond the western mountains,                                          the wasteland

and they came into the kingdom of Lyoness.                                                         & the submerged

The elder brother was king; the other’s heart                                                    kingdom

festered veiled desire to steal his kingdom.

There by invocation they obtained

the sword from a goddess whose primordial name                                        “Lady of the

watered the root of every intelligent tongue.                                                            lake”

She rose from a river’s source, walking slowly,

drenched in wisdom, holding out the sword,

its name and meaning on the blade, engraved.

The elder’s hand received it. The other unbuckled

his own mortal weapon. Each proved his reach

and measured its edge in the heart of his own brother.

The brilliance of its flame was doused in blood;

the blade, oracular, shattered.

The fountain rose in rebellion, inconsolable

weeping of a goddess, its river swelling

in overwhelming flood. The land in horror

hid beneath the waves, lost to the sun

of men forever. The rest of Britain was waste.

 

“Who mended the sword, and how? The rightful king                             The sword

and heir of the sunken realm                                                                           found and

came searching for that land, and its ruined weapon.                                               mended

Lost in the shadows of wilderness by fate

at dusk, when poetry is powerful,

at land’s end emerged on an endless causeway

through the ocean mist to an unmapped island.

He came to the hall of the gods, saw its wonders

and spoke to immortals by means of interpretation,

the question test. Twice he failed in knowledge.

At the third attempt, the halves grew welded as one.

It burst into flame in his hand! The ambrosial gods

invited him to drink the bliss of knowledge

out of their fragrant chalice; and in that taste

the wasted lands were for a time restored.

 

“Then Myrddin the magician, the father of druids,                                                 The weapons

priest of the sacred dwellers beyond the north,                                       removed again

ancient sky-watcher in his house of glass,                                                   into paradise

observatory under the northern star

where the progress of the ages

is depicted in crystal transparent images

and ghostly pulsing visions in the northern lights,

returned to Britain to retrieve his weapons.

And the kings and keepers of those treasures of power

demanded he bring to them the horn of Bran:

‘If Bran the Ungenerous surrenders to you

that first of marvelous treasures, the horn of plenty

from which the powers of magic were first poured out,

we will yield the others!’ They were certain

that Bran could never be convinced to yield it.

But Myrddin won possession of that horn,

and so obtained them all: the sword, the spear,

the cauldron, cup and dish, the helmet, cloak,

the game-board and the shield;

and he disappeared with them into Avalon.

 

“There they remain, according to our stories.

 

He rested his harp, tilting it upright.

Free of his hands, it sat mute, yet seemed

concentrating in thought. All eyes were on it.

A servant brought mead. The minstrel drank, then said:

“Master, I have a question.”

 

Bran stared: “Speak.”

 

“What were those weapons? How could they be lost?”                           Bran’s poet

 

“You are here to sing. The place for instructions and questions                    Bran

is the bardic circle, not here! You know our traditions!”

 

“But the sacred tradition is lost, is it not?                                                  Bran’s poet

How can I tell these splendid histories?

I do not know them truly! I merely sing

the catalog of their great themes, no more.

And I have begun to fear that the loss of those weapons

conceals a tragic meaning: the loss of truth.

Even in the transmission of the tales,

divine faces of the gods are clouded

to show the countenance of men; and their names

corrupted, conforming to adventures of heroes,

sacred histories degenerating

to tales for entertainment only. These heroes,

who are they? What was the nature of their quest?

What is the meaning of their critical question?

What are the gods? Why was the Greek philosopher

sentenced to death for asking; and what was his question?”

 

“Those heroes were told to never question the meaning                                  Bran

of wonders seen in the shining hall of the gods!

But now, my poet has broken that code of silence.

And he shall be rewarded,” Bran smiled, “with answers.

It is just as you have said. The sacred weapons,

sword of righteousness, the spear of truth,

cauldron of knowledge and regeneration,

the shield of virtue: what they were in truth

in the hand that could hold them, before they were veiled in legend,

this is no longer clear in our histories.

But if they are to be restored by the gods,

they would come at the time

of the restoration of our understanding.

Now, are you done with your song?”

 

He reached again for the strings.

They wakened to the repeated melody:

the sword, cutting its bold walk through time.

But the martial tone changed. The music was strange

and his face was not the same:

 

“Sword of the thunderblade!                                                                          Bran’s poet

We call your name, we sing your history

and we summon you by the secret                                                               Invocation of

writing on your unsheathed edge of fire.                                                      the sword

Excalibur! The island of your tradition                                                          of fire

cries out for your return, in need of defense!

If there is no king of valor to reach for you,

revealing your glory from his hand upright

to the burning heavens, raise one up among us!

Come to us now, by the power of our song!”

 

The harp fell from his hands.

It hit the floor. Disconsonantly, strings

echoed through the sound-box like the voice

of random mountains out of primordial seas

at the summons of creation.

 

The poet stood,

staring, white and trembling – like the ash tree

in winter’s angriest winds, when it seems to hear

the wrathful gods. His voice began in a whisper:

 

“I see the gods in battle over Avalon,                                                                       Bran’s poet

the gods of darkness, and the gods of light!

One army, emerging out of the unfolding                                                        The vision of

eternities of sky; the other leaps                                                                the sword

from under stones, and from the cavernous sea.

And where they join battle in middle air

with noise of terror and jubilation,

beneath them, to the ends of the earth,

the armies of Rome and Britain.

 

“Why does it seem

the sky-gods have withdrawn from our invocation,

the ones of superior beauty, with the weapons of light?

Crowding our naked warriors in battle-frenzy

are the dark gods, with faces disintegrating

in horror as men cut men from their thinking hearts,

and blood in brief but angry fountains fills

the air with a dark mist. The battle-axes

descend, plucking brains from their sodden roots.

The dark gods drop like crows to the harvested souls.

 

“Here and there, one of the brilliant warriors

chases those spirits away,

draws one man aside in contemplation,

gives him invisible weapons. Now more come

with impenetrable armor!

 

“The fields of war

disappear in the dusk. I cannot see

who might win the day.

But that battle at its fiercest was nothing like

the intensity of fight in the terrible skies!

 

“There, I see a decision!

 

“Two in heaven,

each the greatest of warriors, in single combat.

The chief of the dark hosts is thrown. He falls

from the star-enameled dome of the spinning heavens

down, down, down… the rocks open their jaws,

and, with a breath of fire, have swallowed him.

 

“Now the champion stands on Avalon!

His wings are the suns emerging from countless dawns,

his blade of erupting fire held high!

 

“And he kneels,

thrusting his sword to the incombustible hilt

in the hill of Avalon – spreads his wings

of immaterial tinctures that ignite

the continuation of the solstices;

and taking flight beyond the sphere of the sun

where centuries slide on their sidereal wheels,

opens a vision in times of our distant descendents!

Around that sword a temple will be erected

with two stone towers, and an altar of red veined marble

where the sword remains embedded. The upward hilt

is free, and the blade shows only the inscription:

‘No one but the righteous king can draw me

out of this stone.’”

 

The poet fell unconscious.

 

There was never a hall so crowded that emptied so quickly.

All ran out the door to stare at the island.

A brilliance like the sunrise was just on the peak.

No one dared to move. The skies had spoken;

in the silence, there were words that no one dared

interpret,

 

until Bran,

walking like a first wind, passing

like a whisper through the people

led them back into the hall

and sat on his own throne:

 

“I have known it for some years.                                                               Bran

The sword is in the stone, on Avalon.”

 

“But you did not tell us?” spoke Cartimandua.                                       Cartimandua

 

“What would you do? Go get it?” He glared at her.                                      Bran

 

She only laughed, “I would send my devoted husband.”                               Cartimandua

 

“There’s not a man alive that could pull it,” he answered.                               Bran

 

Caradoc spoke: “We need it, now!”                                                              Caradoc

 

“Then take it,                                                              Bran

if you can,” said Bran.

 

“Father, I dare not                                                       Caradoc

even go look upon it.”

 

“If you were the noblest king of purest judgment                                             Bran

since the days of my father Llyr, or of Kymbaline,

there are qualities even they did not possess

which must be given directly from the gods –

I don’t even know how to tell you of them –”

 

“If you are not the king to draw that sword,”                                                          Caradoc

said Caradoc helplessly, “then no man is!”

 

Bran answered with all the resolution of conscience:

“If I take up my realm and sword again,                                                   Bran

the prohibitions of the prophecies

reveal their condemnations. My task has been

inspiring you to the oneness of mind that exists

in turning, with faithful adherence, to our traditions.

In this conviction you have chosen your pendragon!”

 

“Return to your kingdoms. Organize your warriors.                                             Caradoc

Send the best to me,” said Caradoc.

 

“May we take the prisoner?” Cartimandua                                                    Cartimandua

asked with music in her words.

 

“What for?”                                                                Caradoc

 

“For interrogation,” she said with downcast eyes                                     Cartimandua

that made my blood run high,

and made me wish I were the captive tonight!

 

“It is better,” Bran replied, “if I were the one                                                 Bran

to test his honor. He will come with me.”

 

The Roman breathed with a visible gratitude.

 

“Come to me again,” said Evalak,                                                                        Evalak

“when you want the interpretation of the vision.”

 

But Bran ignored him, speaking instead to me:

“We must go to the island of the sunset coasts,                                                 Bran

since Evalak has given this one away.

I’ve no more followers here. We leave tonight.”

 

But I said, “Are you one of those gods you sing about?                          Myself

I do not remember the last time I slept!

Look, they are bringing out blankets to cover the benches.

You kept me awake, singing to the stars

all night, last night – if that was not a dream!

Go, if you have to. I am staying here tonight.”

 

He looked at me with a father’s eyes, deeper

than understanding – looked at everyone

preparing for sleep, as if he were father of all!

Evalak saw, and smiled. He himself

brought blankets for me – and Bran, too, took one.

His eyes fell to its soft wool. Eyes as old,

weak and weary as the stars at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: