THE APPRENTICE WITCH
It's one thing to arrange leave for one's holiday months in advance, but another thing on the Friday afternoon before the day of departure when all of a sudden it seems there's a week's work to do in the space of the few hours that remain. And so it was with Lowri with five experiments in progress at once. She had hoped they would have been completed last Tuesday, or by Thursday at the latest, but the reactions had been slower than she had anticipated. Two seemed likely to reach completion by about next Monday and another two about four or five days after that and only one of them was reaching the final stages now, which was in itself a bother. So she was rushing round the lab to Gareth and Eirlys who had offered to take measurements for her and keep a few vital observations and regretting all the time that her notes were so scruffy; clear enough for her own use, but pretty indecipherable when someone else has to take over in a hurry. And meanwhile the one experiment that was drawing to a close was demanding her concentrated attention and she was divided between meter readings, weighings, rapid note-taking, and trying to explain as simply as possible to her lab mates what to do in her absence. And then there was the pH of the corrosion tanks to check every third day and, no, it wasn't alright to use the pH meter; there was a suspected trace of HF in the effluent that would be through the electrode in no time. And keep an eye on the resin reaction as it was inclined to unpredictable temperature rises and if they were allowed to go over about five degrees, the whole lot would polymerise with consequences which needed no further description! And then the phone was ringing. It was the typist: "Is that you, Lowri? Your report... the bit under the second diagram after the formula... I can't read your handwriting. And just below that, did you really mean 'sulphate' because you have 'sulphite' in the previous sentence?" And she had promised a short note to Geraint in the production department before the weekend on how the new resin was standing up to the alkali wash and steam treatment, and of course he'd need a bit more information than just "It seems to work." There wouldn't be time for tea break, or at least, no mind-space for tea-time socialising. And then, nearly forgot, there were the four platinum crucibles to return to security for the duration of her holiday. And her holiday... That in itself had its problems. She'd been into the shop three times already for her climbing shoes and was beginning to think she'd have wasted less time had she done the repair herself, and probably not made too bad a job of it, but it was too late to think of that now; they had been finally and firmly promised for this afternoon, so if she rushed for the bus she'd just catch the shop before it closed. It would mean missing the train home and using up an hour's precious time, but there was no choice now. And then there was the plumber to phone. For five weeks he had been coming "in the next few days," and she didn't want him coming now during the next four weeks. So the hours rushed on. She caught a later train home and bought a double helping of fish and chips on the way; there was no time to cook anything this evening. And then to the wireless for the news amid the chaos of packing and what to take and what could be dispensed with, and the news was no help at all. The rail strike was still hanging in the balance. The South looked as though it might accept arbitration but the Northern unions seemed determined to force a confrontation. So what was she to do? It was too late to book a coach ticket. Five phone calls to the station brought only the "engaged" signal, while a call to the coach station brought only a tinny voice announcing "Please speak your message which will receive our immediate attention when the office opens in the morning; this a recorded announcement." Next morning, and a registered letter to sign for, and a rather persistent bloke with encyclopaedias who had to be shouted at, and then a hurried and much-bagged walk to the bus stop for the station. The bus arrives on time but the conductor objects to the luggage:
"This is not a removal van, you know!"
"It'll go under the stairs."
"It'll take up too much room. Somebody else might need a bit of space."
"But it's empty at the moment."
"I haven't got time to argue!"
"I've got a train to catch."
"I can't help that. You'll have to get a taxi."
Lowri doesn't get a taxi; she gets the next bus whose conductor's discretion is not so dependent on his buried resentments, and arrives at the station as the train is coming in and rushes onto the platorm and up the steps and over the bridge and into the crowd coming off the train and moving against her. Baggage is a help down the steps but it's no help at all on the level, and then it's a fight all the way to the carriage door, but at last she's on the train, baggage and all, finds her way to a nonsmoking compartment and settles down and the train moves off.
After an hour or so the train slows down and pulls into a station. All the rest of the occupants of the compartment get out and a big bloke gets in with an enormous scarlet rucksack on his back, and boots and aluminium pans that dangle and jangle from the straps, and a map and a cheap novel in his hand, and wearing a thick white pullover with a glaring black and red zig-zag pattern across the middle. He sits down and takes out a packet of fags.
"This is a nonsmoking carriage" says Lowri with some trepidation.
"Oh, I'm sorry; I thought you wouldn't mind" says the big bloke, and puts the fags reluctantly back in his pocket, opens his map and gazes intently while his fingers drum absent-mindedly on the aluminium pans on the back of his rucksack. This goes on for ten minutes and Lowri is thinking of looking for another compartment when the bloke stops his drumming, looks up, and says "Going on holiday?"
"Yes" says Lowri.
"Fine weather for a holiday!" says the big bloke.
"Yes" says Lowri.
"Going to see the mountains?" asks the big bloke.
"Yes" says Lowri for the third time and begins to wish he'd go back to his drumming if this was the alternative. She never was a conversationalist and the effort embarrassed her. The big bloke didn't seem to notice.
"Mountaineering's my line" he said. "Did the three peaks in one day. What you need is a good fast car and a mate to dump you on one side and drive round to catch you on the way down and then off you go at a steady sixty to the next. If you start with Snowdon just after the pub traffic has died down..." Things were getting desperate.
"Don't you admire the scenery?" asked Lowri.
"Scenery? Oh yeah, sure!" retorted the big bloke, "but it gets boring after a time, don't it? All that mauve stuff for instance."
"Ten to eleven" said the big bloke, looking at his watch. "Fancy a walk down to the bar?"
"No thanks" said Lowri and got her lunch down from the rack, hoping to indicate a break, and opened it and began to eat though she wasn't really ready for it.
"Whatyer got there?" said the big bloke, "Cheese? 'Ere, I've got a bit of chicken; have some of mine!" And before Lowri could say "Thank you!" or "No thank you!" there was a chicken sandwich on her lap.
"Get on with that and I'll get something to wash it down with" says the big bloke pacing off down the corridor in the direction of the buffet before Lowri, her mouth full of bread and cheese, could restrain him. In less time than it takes to say "Mabh help me!" it seems, his big frame fills the doorway again and a bottle of something in each hand, two packets of crisps and his lips going again like a pair of grass-hopper's legs. "Just got the news, Whatsyername, from the boys in the grub tub. The strike's on from midnight. Nothing north of Leeds after 6pm. OK for me; I'm for the Lake District and they'll settle it by the time I'm on my way back. How about you? Lowri didn't know whether to make up a story or tell him the truth, but it didn't matter because by this time he was at work on the crisp bags and the bottle tops and rummaging in his baggage among the aluminium pans for his enamel mug which he insisted she use while he gallantly made do with the bottle. She hoped some more people would get in at the next stop, but they didn't. Either they were put off by the big bloke and his stuff spread all over the seat, or they tactfully refrained from imposing themselves on the twosome, and so the time wore on.
"I think I'm feeling tired" said Lowri hopefully.
"Yeah, stuffy in here!" said the big bloke, opening the window, "Funny how travelling makes you tired. Boredom I suppose. 'Ere, tell you what I'll do. I've got a pack of cards in the old rucksack; always carry them with me. Passed many a happy hour! What do you play?" Lowri's plea that she played nothing only brought out the tutor in him, and when the wind finally blew the queen of hearts out of the window, he produced a pocket chess set and the next hundred miles saw him reduce his handicap of a queen to a bishop.
He got out at Appleby and the train began to empty so at last after over 250 miles there would be peace for the last thirty or so, but a woman gets in with two young children who sit one on each seat and bounce up and down, and when they've done that for a few miles, they have a game with the sliding doors and chasing each other up and down the corridor and in and out of the compartment, and when the woman has had enough of the noise she tells them to be quiet and "Show the nice lady your new picture books," and here's Lowri having to talk to them and tell them about her holiday and all the things she's seen out of the window, though in truth she saw scarcely anything at all but a chess board and the spots on a deck of cards, and that hefty white pullover with its hideous black and red zig-zag pattern. And her head's still spinning with "A pawn moves up straight but skew to capture" and "A fast car from Snowdon..." and "When me and the boys got ourselves stuck on Great Gable in the fog..." and how he'd made a rope from his spare pair of trousers, four pairs of socks and the cord out of his pyjamas, and how the train lulls you to sleep... How she wished it had lulled him to sleep!
But at last the train slows down and pulls into Carlisle, and already the refreshment room has closed in anticipation of the strike and nobody knows where anything is, or if they do know, they're not saying, and there's an argument with the ticket collector who wants to take the ticket but there's a refund to claim on the unused fraction north of Carlisle and he asks Lowri if she's trying to teach him his job, but then he sees his mistake and tells her she should have told him straight instead of beating about the bush.
There's still a long way to go but the trains have all been cancelled. It's too late to get the coach station open and tomorrow's Sunday, so there's no choice but to find somewhere to camp for two nights and a day. So off up the road, through a gate, along a rough farm track to a farm house, and a knock at the door. The door opens and a hefty-looking woman appears and a sheep dog from round the corner who seems to think Lowri is his long-lost soul mate that he hasn't seen for months.
"Do you think I could pitch my tent in one of your fields?" asks Lowri.
"I don't know about that" says the hefty woman; "you'd better ask the master. He'll be back any minute now." So Lowri waits and the door shuts and the dog's affections grow as the minutes pass, and then it brings a lump of old wood and Lowri has to throw it away and the dog brings it back, and this goes on for half an hour or more. Finally a tractor drives up and the man sees Lowri.
"Could I pitch my tent in your fields?" asks Lowri again.
"Eh, what's that?" says the bloke.
"Can I camp on your farm?" says Lowri.
"Damp in the barn?" asks the farmer.
"No, camp on your farm!" repeats Lowri.
"Speak up!" shouts the farmer above the noise of the tractor engine.
"I need somewhere to camp for the night" shouts Lowri above the noise.
"Camping site?" says the farmer. "Down the road, right at the bridge, then about two miles and take the left fork; another half mile then and you can't miss it. Good day to you!" And the tractor revs up and the dog joins in because it's a dog and it's the sort of thing that dogs always join in.
So back to the road and only two farms within the next mile and both of them with No Camping' notices on the gate, so it seems it'll have to be the camping site. "I hope there isn't a welcoming ceremony" she thought. There wasn't, but there was an argument going on in the tent next to the spot where she'd pitched hers and it kept her awake, and she had a dream about the bloke with the black and red zig-zag pattern, and the argument started again next morning, supposing it hadn't been going on all night, and it rained all day, and one of them wanted to know if she had a tin of beans to spare and could they borrow the tin opener, and one of the kids spotted her Concise Flora' and wanted to look at the pictures and asked her if he could cut some of them out and stick them in his scrap book; his dad always let him cut up the Sunday Supplement' when he'd finished with it.
Monday came slowly, but it came at last. There was a coach going about a hundred miles north, but then she'd have to change. No she couldn't book through; it was another company. So off it went, and it seemed to be full of smokers and the driver had a transistor radio that turned out a constant barrage of popular trash till a bump in the road knocked it off the board and he couldn't get it to work after that. A change and about another ninety miles northwards and westwards, a bus, a lift in two cars and a landrover, and then legs for ten miles, northwards and westwards and, for the most part, upwards. She pitched her tent for the night, and then up again as the dawn began to colour the north-eastern sky and the Pleiades were caught and lost in her rose red draperies. The one-inch map and compass were barely adequate now. The North Star was no use in the daytime, and nobody but a fugitive would venture along this way by night, and the compass served well enough, but the map had to be used with intelligence, perception, even the inspired guess and an idea of the rock strata and their associated flora. Progress was quite slow now, plains of mat grass, just beginning to whiten, alternating with expanses of soft rush, and here and there some greener areas of close-cropped fescues, but the deer grass and the cotton grass were never very far away, and a chill wind bent the harebells and the bracken was never more than knee-high. And then the ground began to rise again, in broken fashion, and when the rocks shut the wind out, it was quite warm in the Sun. She was nearly arrived now. Scarcely half a mile before her she could make out the spot where the Mheit Fios poured its seething torrent into the Seaidughos Teis just where it emerged from its hidden and still unknown source in the caves, muddied and brown-staining with iron leached from some unknown source deep in the unyielding granite. Just beyond the confluence there should be a few rowan trees, and beyond those a sheltered spot. And so there was. It faced to the north and somewhat east, and the Sun was high and she pitched her tent on the close-cropped herbage among the bracken and mountain fern, the hawk's bit and scabious, and clumps of much-chewed hard fern that preserved a precarious existence in some ever-moist niche in the broken quartz in company with the mountain mosses and lichen that braved the weathers and made few demands of the Earth. She arranged her things as well as she could. She's decided on cold food for the most part. Cooking pots, a stove and fuel are too heavy to hump around, and even without fuel it's not much better and there's not much wood in the mountains, and what little there is is green and probably soaked as well. But she prepared some food and organised some collecting equipment and arranged a primitive looking lab bench and then carefully covered the items in polythene against the damp and aluminium foil against the busy teeth of whatever rodents or other creatures that might eke out their lives in this remote seat of the gods. Here it was acid land, and her interest was in the limestone ridge that emerged mysteriously out of the peat some three miles to the west, and after running for half a mile or so, as mysteriously and suddenly vanishing again. She hoped to see the moonwort, though it was somewhat late in the season, and with luck collect a pinna from the holly fern that was rumoured to grace this barren spot with its fronds. Why not camp nearer the spot if it's three miles to the west? For the most part, it's three miles of squelch, cotton grass and sphagnum, and when arrived one can't pitch a tent on bare limestone, and the wind over there was if anything even more resentful of the intrusion of those who ventured where he would blow unhindered and hurl himself at the rain-lashed crags and the rushes that bent like a field of barren corn. So she pitched her tent where the grass held the thin soil and the scabious and the hawk's bit found the Sun, and set off for the limestone ridge.
For two miles it was blind faith in the compass, but soon after that she could see what she thought must be a thicket of blackthorn, and then unmistakably the white calciferous rock, scoured bare of any covering by wind and rain, standing lonely and incongruous-looking out of the peat. Its surface was a maze of fissures, and it was in these crevices that she hoped to find the holly fern, while the moonwort would be found, if at all, on a rock ledge out of reach of the sheep. For four hours she found neither fern, though she found Festuca vivipera, a common enough grass in the north, and she thought she had found a patch of the rare Glaucus Meadow Grass, but it turned out to be a common species bleached by the climate. She searched all the low ridges and a few of the higher ones that she could reach by climbing, but there was no sign of the moonwort. A tiny ridge thirty feet up looked as though it might harbour a plant, but it was too high to be sure and she couldn't reach it to look closer, so she concentrated then on searching for the holly fern in the rock fissures. Another two hours passed without success and it came on to rain and the wind picked up so that she had to stand on the leeward side of a low ridge for an hour and a half, and used the opportunity to eat her sandwiches and have a drink of water; and then another hour's search until the lengthening shadows signified a halt. Reluctantly she turned back, her sole specimen of Festuca vivipera in her bag, and otherwise empty-handed, and trusted in the compass to guide her back over the bleak terrain to the haven she had made herself on the grass.
The Sun was already setting over the flat expanse of Cuieceang Baog between Beon Beag and the Diaeints Chaigh when she came within sight of her camp and as the great Baigh Stughon stood dark and thwarted his dying rays, Lowri felt a chill. His shadow seemed to end in the shape of a crude hand. No doubt it was a trick of the changing light, but as the reddening orb sank below Cuieceang Baog, it seemed almost as if the fingers and thumb moved together in the act of clenching something, till just before the flap of her tent, the shadow of the thumb faded into the grey of the mountain evening. "Finger and thumb... Is that what I thought?" Lowri suddenly came back on her thought with a start. There was nothing about the sombre grey outline of Baigh Stughon to suggest a hand. "I'll take a closer look tomorrow evening" thought Lowri, though she also thought something like "I'll be away from here as soon as Dawn chases the shadows out of the hills!" It's strange how a place in the warm rays of Pahh looks so friendly and inviting, and the same place when his back is turned seems all so suddenly to be a haunt of dark things and even the rushes seem to speak of darker things when the Sun goes down. Lowri thought then of all the trouble she had been through to get to this place and wondered, with more than a tinge of fatalism, how much trouble she was going to experience now in getting out of it again. "Anybody but a fool," she told herself, "with the rail strike erupting just now would have settled for the Lake District. After all, it's the richest area in the Isles for ferns and rich in hybrids as well as some of the rarer flowering plants of the mountains." But no, she couldn't have done that. For some reason she felt drawn, a sort of pull, to the Mheacheas Cioldran, and she had simply obeyed it. "Obeyed what?" she thought with alarm. She crawled into the tent, lit a lamp and opened the map. There was Beon Beag and Cuieceang Baog, and here was Baigh Stughon, and here was... but it wasn't... The contours seemed right, the distances checked, but the spot where she was pitched hadn't got a name on the map. It was too insignificant. And what's more, though she scoured the map till her eyes were tired, there just wasn't any place on it at all with a name like Mheacheas Cioldran'. So she must have imagined it... "Alright then, let's forget it again," she thought, carefully unpacked her specimen of Festuca vivipera and took up her notebook to write up her observations. But she couldn't concentrate, and the name wouldn't lie down. "Just imagined it..." But her guts didn't believe she had just imagined it; no, she had never before imagined anything in this tongue, and could never remember the names even when she had read them a dozen times. But she was having no difficulty in remembering them now, and this one at least not even on the map at all. This sort of thing is disturbing when you're all alone and it's dark and there's no-one to talk to and there's at least two thousand feet of high alpines, ling and heather between your feet and the head of the closest kinsman down below and as many miles as fingers on your hands, and it becomes more and more disturbing when you begin to imagine that even the rushes are whispering "Mheacheas Cioldran" and the wind is carrying their voices over the bleak reaches of Cuieceang Baog and blowing them under the flap of the tent. And there's a tap-tap-tap on the tent pole, like a woodpecker, but woodpeckers don't peck in the dark, and they don't peck at this altitude anyway, or in this sort of country. So it must be something nibbling at the bottom, but no it isn't because the poles are inside the tent and the bottoms are clearly visible. So it's something outside having a go at the bit that pokes through the top where the hole is... Lowri's scientific training began to feel as much a part of her as a new pair of shoes. "I expect there's an explanation" she thought. And then more urgently, "I expect there's a rational explanation." Doubtless there was. but who held the premises? She had that empty feeling that one has when one knows one's metaphorical hands are all but empty, and one's watch seems to be ticking in a deliberate way, and everything is just a little too real, and at the same time not quite real enough. And the wind was rising now, not to any great force, but there was a regularity in it, a deep note that rose and faded, and then it would begin deep again, and this three or four times every minute, without any change in the pattern.
Lowri admitted to herself now that she was frightened. Science is alright when you're in control of the experiment, or even when you're not if you observe from a safe distance, as the astronomers do, but it's different, and so very different, when you become the experiment, as Lowri was beginning to suspect might be the case. "Witchcraft" she thought. "I suppose I'll wake up and find I'm a toad or a hare" she said to herself jokingly to break the tension. But the wind ignored the joke; the rushes didn't hear her, and nothing changed. Something bounced off the side of the tent and she opened the flap and saw a mountain hare bounding away towards Baigh Stughon. "Witchcraft" she thought again, and became wild with fear and, inexplicably, strangely calm at the same time. In the presence of immense dread, fear suddenly becomes irrelevant and fatalism gives way to submission, and it was in this state that Lowri dropped off to sleep.
She awoke with a start. There was something on top of her and it was moving, and something hard pressing down on her left leg. It was a few seconds before she realised in the dim light of the lamp that had been left on when she had dropped off to sleep so suddenly that it was the tent in a state of collapse and something outside tugging at it. The wind seemed to have come a hundred paces nearer while she had been sleeping and he was rearing up now at five or six to the minute. The Moon had not yet risen and there seemed to be voices in the dark, though as always with the night voices, however clearly they are speaking, they never seem to be saying anything. "It must be the watery dialogue between Mheit Fios and the Seaidughos Teis way back over Lugho Maghund" she thought hopefully, and before she could stop herself, added "and Lugho Maghund won't be on the map either." One pole was down and over half the ropes were out and rapid intervention was called for if anything was to be saved, so within ten seconds of waking she was on her feet, the lamp in one hand and her geological pick, the only weapon she could improvise, in the other, and over to the vague shape where the main struggle seemed to be. But there was no need of the pick. It was a black face ewe in as much of a panic as she was, caught up in the canvas with one of the guy ropes pulled tight around its horns. She freed the animal which sped off into the night and then in the dim light of the lamp managed as well as she could to set the tent straight again.
That seemed to break the tension temporarily. She made herself a drink, unrolled the sleeping bag, got undressed and into it, and turned off the lamp. It was pitch dark. There seemed to be a tree creaking outside in the wind, but it wasn't the rowans; they were too far away, and in any case rowans don't creak. The wind seemed to be not much farther away now than Baigh Stughon, and didn't sound as if he was going to be in the Stughon's company for the night. She looked nervously outside. The sky was for the most part dark. Cassiopeia appeared for a few moments and was lost again in the fickle sky of the highlands, and appeared again and was gone again, and then a momentary gleam to the west, probably Vega, but the turmoil above her blotted it out. Another here and there, but erratically and the magnitudes distorted and dimmed by the mountain vapours. And to the south and below was utter blackness, a drop of perhaps some five hundred feet to an alpine meadow, but now in the night a great, dark, bottomless cauldron. She closed the flap of the tent and drew herself down inside her sleeping bag like a snail in the shadow of the thrush's wing, and dropped off to sleep.
She was no sooner asleep, it seemed, when she was again awake and the wind whooping all around her and down into the black cauldron, and up out of the blackness with the smell of sphagnum on his breath and neither the tent, her bench, her tools or her clothes anywhere to be seen. And true to say, there was nothing left at all but the sleeping bag she lay cringing inside, and outside, the damp mountain grasses, some alpine species of trefoil and the soggy dew-soaked sundew leaves clinging close to the Earth. It's strange the things that impress themselves on the mind in a crisis, and she was wondering how she was going to explain herself to the god-fearing people down below, and whether she might collect the moonwort before she left and she hoped the sleeping bag wouldn't get too dirty, when suddenly her mind cleared and she was no longer aware of the immediate flora and no longer cared what anybody thought, or what state the sleeping bag was in so long as it offered some protection from the mountain's anger. But she noticed with alarm that she was on the move. In the chaos that had wrought such recent devastation she must have been blown or rolled some thirty or forty paces to the west and onto a ledge that sloped at a terrifying angle, and she was sliding on the slippery turf, downwards. Immediately she was alert; downwards could only mean five hundred feet, and without a thought, she freed herself from the sleeping bag and watched it vanish into the abyss, while she clung, in her nakedness, to the trunk of a silver birch tree. The wind suddenly abated and stole behind the ramparts of Baigh Stughon and when he was gone the Moon lifted her ageing face far in the east and cast a silver light on the bare crags and trees and a black shade in the hollows and valleys. And a mist came with her and she watched it. Lowri clung to the birch tree and as the ageing Moon rose over the misty plain, she compared her body, white in the moonlight, with the silver tree and her arms with the branches, and her toes on the damp Earth felt something she had never felt before, and she marvelled how silver was the trunk of the birch tree, and how silver her body in the Moon, and the leaves of the birch tree were rustling, and gradually it bore in upon Lowri that they seemed to be whispering, and when she listened she heard "Deception... deception..." With a start she realised there was something ridiculous about standing naked in the moonshine at nearly three thousand feet on the edge of a precipice with her arms round a birch tree, and yet, she thought, it's something that could happen to anybody. Or at least, though it usually doesn't, she couldn't think where or how she'd gone wrong. Strangely, and when she came to think about it, very strangely indeed, she didn't feel the mountain coldness, or the mountain wasn't cold, or the wind had other things to attend to, or .....
All at once there were voices and laughter, and there was no mistaking it, it wasn't the Mheit Fios or the Seaidughos Teis and there was a strong arm around her waist and a hand caught her hand and she found herself in a gay company of youths and maidens. The maidens, five in number, were dressed in gowns of gossamer, and the youths, who were six, were naked, if they were youths, for their ears were somewhat pointed and, more strikingly, their legs were shaggy and they danced on cloven feet. Each of the youths was paired with one of the maidens and Lowri found herself paired with the sixth, and the cry went up: "Hail to the thirteen! To the Fall and the Seaidugho Raging!" And they caught their hands together and whirled round in a wild circle and over the greensward and there before them Lowri saw a great wide plain whereon the moonwort grew like clover in a field of grass and she felt a wild racing joy of intoxication as the Moon was rising out of the east and coming over the mist to meet them.
The birch tree was sighing "Deception... deception... deception..." and gradually it bore in upon Lowri and she caught sight of the birch tree and a thought took root in her shifting mind: "The sheep would never leave this pasture alone for the moonwort to remain as abundant as this," and then, suddenly, and more urgently, and with stark alarm, she blurted out "In the name of Mabh! There's no moonwort that can be seen in the waning light of the Moon that can't be seen the better by the light of the Sun, and I know there's none here by day!" And immediately the wild dance was broken and the youths seemed to be boulders in the grass and the maidens were no longer flitting over the turf like diaphanous daughters of the Moon. One was a young woman, it seemed, haughty and aloof, and there was another, about thirty, with her back turned, and another, bent over and sobbing, and there was one with a stick that seemed to be broken in the middle, and another with a spinning wheel and she was spinning something that was white, and they seemed to be all saying things, or shouting them or sobbing them at once. "On, ever on" said one; "The ring is made" said another; "Don't turn"... "Do as she bids you"... "Speak it right"... "Take him by the opposites"... "Bot laes hidhl canfaghund mheadh dha truith bidhiaond dham"... "See true"... "Ean dha hadht leabhs truith"... "Didhp, ughold, aind dha heod nughos niot abh eat"... And the voices faded into the night as the ashen wraiths dissolved in the mist and the Moon was again low in the east. And Lowri, her head spinning, saw with alarm that she was standing barely a footstep from the edge of the abyss and another step and she would have been over. "Thanks be to Mabh!" she said aloud, and then, "And to her silver-armed daughter!" And she wondered then what had prompted her to say the latter words and, half jokingly, how she'd explain it to Gareth and Eirlys back in the lab if she were asked to explain her actions in a way which had a meaning for them. But that would never happen.
And now, having just broken a sorcerer's spell by utterance of a sacred name, and that almost by accident it seemed now on reflection, and having barely missed a hideous death on the bare-scoured knees of the granite giant is one of the most wonderful things to happen. And yet there remains something of an anticlimax, standing nearly three thousand feet up, completely naked in all that vast craggy emptiness, at an utter loss as to what to do about it. The tent, the geological pick, the lamp, the sleeping bag had all gone. Artefacts of security and protection, they had proved themselves no protection at all to the frail creature who placed her security in their care. "They're gone" thought Lowri, "but I, fragile me, am living still." Her books, her bench and collecting equipment, her hand lens had all gone too and seemed in some way irrelevant. Her clothes, for all she knew, might be serving now as padding in some eagle's nest, and likewise had proved of no protection, and it was all the sort of thing that could happen all over again with as much care and as much forethought. Here, in this remote fastness, it seemed to her in some way that she was an intruder, or she was irrelevant. But yet again, it was not wholly so. So much had gone, and yet it seemed so little, and here, in this lofty seat of the gods, a name, if that's all it was, and the whisperings of a birch tree had been of more avail to her than all her carefully contrived artefacts. Her sleeping bag, after all, had nearly dragged her with it down into the abyss while the birch tree had stood before her. Some wild frenzy had all but driven her in a state of strange ecstasy into that same empty hole, and again the birch tree's whispering had set a breath against the vapours. And a spell was broken; so it must have been a spell. There were things of immensity up here and not only of granite hardness. There was terror and dread beyond the imagination; yet it seemed there were friends too. But they were not friends like a Concise Flora' or a lamp that you could turn on and as easily turn off, or clothes that you can put on and off with equal ease. It was different. So utterly different, and its retaliation was ruthless.
And now the wind was picking up again and Lowri could hear the low note behind Baigh Stughon, very quiet and rising, and he was breathing about four to the minute, but he seemed to be rising fast and soon he was searching like a black hound of the dead, bearing down at every fourth heart beat and then an extra whoop, and then every third beat, and above the whooping howl of the wind was a high pitched wail that began in the wastes beyond Cuieceang Baog and rose into the night like a scream as she came over the marshes, and this was a black one and blotted out the stars and threw down a stinging rain and Lowri fled before her. And then came the wind from behind Baigh Stughon, baying in a hideous rhythm, every second heart beat now, and as Lowri's heart beat faster his whooping rhythm became quicker, more insistent, more deliberate and the sickening dips seemed to be finding a niche between her mind and her body. And the screaming one was howling... "Mine... She'll be mine... By the Cuieceang Baog and the Raoteang Tridh... By the dark of the Moon and the Brughocan Stughon... One she'll be by the Mheit Fughomd Fiol, and one she'll be for the Seaidughos Teis..." And now for the first time Lowri felt cold, and bitterly cold and the cold had come out of Cuieceang Baog as a bitter wind, as a stinging rain, the Black One, the Screaming One.....
Lowri fled along the trodden way of a sheep track past Fiolan Raoc and the Mheadhad Thion, and after half a mile the Bughons abh Mhiota was rushing in its stony bed to the left of the path, and it all seemed so familiar as though she'd sped this way before, and there'd be a turn to the left and then a rise and over the rise there'd be the desolate Mhaeineang Muia and the ford... The wind was screaming behind her and her footsteps carried her to an inexorable tryst, and now she was over the mound and there it was, at the ford, just a quarter of a mile in front of her, all shrouded in black, and Lowri was off the track and into the rushes but the soft squelchy soil was over her ankles and the cotton grass brushed by her hands and her belly and the Moon was coming over the cotton grass only a quarter of a mile to the fore and there was hate in her eyes and age in her ashen hair. Terrified, Lowri was back on the sheep track and the Moon was gone, but there again was the wraith at the ford. "If only I can cross the stream" thought Lowri in desperation, but there was no crossing before the ford, and again she was off the road and running into the bog and the smell of sphagnum rose into her nostrils and she was up to her knees in the marsh, and the sphagnum and the polytrichum were catching between her toes, and some low forsaken shrub of the wild terrain was catching her by the hands and legs, and she was tripping and stumbling and the water was up to her thighs now and the Moon in front again, more hideous than before, scarcely as much as two hundred paces away, and she was coming over the cloudberries and the sundews and the marsh towards Lowri. Again Lowri struggled out of the deep water and onto the trodden way, and the Moon was gone, and the ford now no more than thirteen paces before her, and the gaunt shade bent over the icy waters and her bony hands wringing the pallid shrouds. "Give" said the wraith without halting in her labours or raising her shrouded head. "I have nothing" said Lowri. "Give" said the wraith and the hooded head rose to fix Lowri with her eyes, but her face was black, if she had a face at all, and that was something that none had told of. "I have nothing" repeated Lowri in abject fear. "All I had is lost, taken from me, stolen, cast on these cursed rocks and crags." "Give" said the wraith, rising from her stone and treading on her old, bare, bony feet across the stony river bed towards Lowri. "Three times she asks" thought Lowri, and she was shaking with fear and the bitter cold, and there was nought to give, and her mind was aroaming back along the path and over that vast emptiness to the Mheacheas Cioldran and the plain of the moonworts and the ashen wraiths of the Seaidughos Raoth. "Do as she bids you..." she remembered among the confused babblings of the ashen shades; "Do as she bids..." "What in Earth have I got to give?" thought Lowri in panic with the wraith scarcely an arm's length before her, "and me with my hands empty of all that I ever had on this accursed mountain and naked as the day I was born..." And she knew then that there was only one thing left to give. Herself.....
She stepped forward among the boulders into the icy torrent and the wraith was again upon the stone, her head bent to the waters and her bony hands wringing the pallid shrouds. Lowri took a blood-stained shroud in her hands and bent to the cold waters and rubbed at the stain and her hands were numb and she shivered. "How it sticks" she thought, and went on with the rubbing. And when it was cleansed, there was another, and they worked in the night in silence, Lowri and the Black Shadow of the crooked hands, rubbing at the blood stains at the icy cold ford of the Bughons abh Mhiota. And she picked up the third shroud and there was an ugly red stain on it, and another congealed and blackened, and the black and the red made a zig-zag pattern on the whiteness, and her hands were atremble with the fear and the cold, and she shuddered. And then two small shrouds that came up in her hands together and the tears were running down her face and she was weeping, and then a big one, and another, and two more. "And now there'll be a little one again" thought Lowri, and for a moment she forgot the black wraith in her grief. And then another one, and then one that was folded over and stuck with congealed blood, and when she tore it open there was a bit of grass adhering in the fold. "Festuca vivipera" she said to herself without a thought. "Festuca vivipera.....!" She dropped the shroud in dread, and the shadow was rising from her rain-lashed seat, and she had a half-washed shroud in her left hand, and her arm raised to strike. Lowri picked up her shroud from the raging torrent, and the wraith was again on her lonely stone, her aged and crooked fingers wringing the blood from the pallid shrouds. Lowri could hardly hold the shroud for the biting cold, numbness, and dread, but there was a dread beyond all these scarcely more than a shroud's length away on the farther side of the icy flood. Lowri rubbed at the stain in the corner and the numbness was creeping up her body from her frozen feet and up her arms from her frozen hands, and as she rubbed at the corner she looked up for an instant and the wraith was scrubbing at the other end.
"I must not reach the middle behind her" thought Lowri. And then, "O Bughons abh Mhiota! Friendless and cold, how dear to me is your freezing torrent, for you and you alone stand twixt me and... and... her... in this, my darkest hour!" And then, "But even you can avail me nothing before this night is out!"
And the wraith had taken a step further into the flood and Lowri had taken two and was rubbing at the stains with her eyes fixed on the pallid sheet that lay in the rushing flood of Bughons abh Mhiota.
There was nothing to fear now. It would be any moment. Her senses were paling as the blood stains were fading. Soon her hands would feel the scrawny fingers of the Shade and her eyes would look into that empty hole that was her face. Her legs were so cold she could not move them if the right had remained to her, and she had given all that she had and now nearly all that she was, and what little there was still would be no more before the wraith had set her scrawny foot on the backbone of the raging flood. She laughed, in a wild delirium, and her senses reeled. "Nothing at all!" she laughed. "Even you, Black Shade, Hollow Wraith, Old Hag of the barren moors and the cotton grass fields; even you will have to forget me!" And as her fingers, scarcely able to move now for the cold, washed the thread that divided the cloth in her hand from to moiety of the Cailleach, she threw her head back in a wild act of ecstasy and unutterable dread, a last act of unspeakable defiance and at the same time, complete and utter surrender, and she gazed straight down into that hollow pit of a face, down... down... into blackness and more blackness... . . . . . . . . . .
A wren was singing the sweet notes of the evening.
Her eyes opened for an instant and closed again with a weariness beyond all telling. The thin crescent Moon was in the west. It was over. She shed a tear and was still. Her body lay heavy as the massive granite range and limp as a moorland pool and her will as the thin white mist that hangs on a lonely mountain stream. Her thoughts were as the shadows of leaves on a river's ebb and flow and her breast heaved a vast sigh, vast as the darkness, vast as the wide wild night, vast as a mother's love, and her heart was full of the long low murmuring of the deep Earth. "O Earth, O Love, O Mabh, Dear Mabh....." Her feelings welled up like spring waters bubbling round the willow roots when the Earth is young and her feet stir the kingcups and she does off her white gown of winter. No will she had to stir again those heavy eyelids nor strength to lift a weary hand. A deep contentment found her heart and a peace lay in her breast. And there was a sweet voice singing, low and from the heart, and with it flowed all of a mother's love and tenderness:
" Reost maei deiridh, didhp aind mheiridh;
Laei maei deiridh lugho aind laong ..... "
"Oh Mabh!" signed Lowri, deep, deep in her heart, and the tears were filling her eyes and running down her cheeks and the warmth and the love were flowing all about her. And the singing was so deep and full of love and seemed to be made of all the mystery and wonder of the dark and all the softness and quiet that rests for ever in the still green depths of a lake that lies brooding and sleeping and wrapped in her mists. And it was as if there was the haunting call of the curlew in her voice, rising over the marshes of her childhood, and then the song of the lark in the still air, and again the mellow tones of the blackbird as the gold of the sunset fades into the misty mauve and the grey of the evening shadows. Low she was singing, so low, so deep in her breast. And her voice was as water, tumbling on the hollow stones and the brown stones where the alders cast their shade. "Oh Mabh!" sighed Lowri as the singing came nigh to her, and there was a love and warmth about her and the sweet scent of honeysuckle and a hand on her forehead. Oh blessed hand! And there was nought in the whole wide world save the touch of one who was dear beyond all telling. And her love went out, in wave upon wave, and she gave herself in her love and her gladness, in her deep content and her tears of ecstasy into the love and the sweetness of her most loved, her dearest, her love of all loves. "O Beloved! O Most Loved! O Mabh!" And she was sobbing, so softly, as she lay now on that blessed breast wherein is all gladness and love, and the blessed hands so gently caressed her brow, and the honeysuckle scent flowed about her. Deep she lay in a deep, deep love and warm hands caressed her most dearly and stroked their life and their love and a mother's sweet longing into her body so weary and so limp, so heavy, so happy and bathed in a deep content.
And now she was laid again on the warm softness of the bed in the dreamy shadows that drift so drowsily under eyelids that lie heavy in tiredness, closed with the weariness of the ages, and sealed with kisses. And the soft hands were stroking her neck, so gently, so lovingly, stroking peace into her soul. And as she lay there so peaceful, it seemed the scents of the woodland ferns were drifting by her and she was sinking, deeper and deeper into the mosses of her dreams. For a moment, a blessed moment that shall lie for always among the memory of treasured things, the shadows that were about her deepened and warm lips whereon was all the love and longing and the care and tenderness of the ages were pressed to her own and she was fain to melt away in her tears of love and longing. "Oh Mabh!" she sighed, deep, deep, in her heart for there was a joy now upon her lips and her lips were holy. And the blessed hands were laid so gently on her eyelids as the kiss lingered in its sweetness on her lips, and as the shadows deepened and the softness and the dark were all about her and sacred, Lowri could hear her singing so softly:
" Dridhms abaeid iui, ceaseas faeind iui;
Mhacs maei deiridh slidhc aind straong ... "
And the darkness deepened, so sweetly, and it smelled all of honeysuckle and warm skin and it cradled her in its warm and fragrant arms. And as the grey shadows of her deep content were melting in the endless dark of the sombre plains of the night, she could hear her loved one, loved of all ones, whispering softly:
" Lowri dei, ao Lowri, dioi abh maei mhuim ... "
And her heart melted to the low murmurings of a mother's sweet content:
" Lowri dear, O Lowri, joy of my womb ... "
And the sounds of the deep were sacred for she spoke them as she spoke them of yore, and she spoke them with a mother's longing and a mother's biding care; all peace and love was in the words she whispered and she spoke of the joy that she held in her love. And the love wrapped its arms about her and breathed sleep into her weary breast.....
Warm scents and fragrant were gathering in the glades of her soul and for an instant her eyes flickered open and her hands stirred, but oh so barely, with the ecstasy of warmth and softness, and then her eyelids gave themselves again to rest and her eyelashes laid themselves down on her love-kissed cheeks. And the Moon was dancing with the apple tree among the apples green and red and her silver skirts she'd loosened and they flowed the fuller and the brighter as she danced so passing lovely in the fading western sky.
And now was Lowri's content the deeper for the vision lingered in her dreamy eyes and stirred a rapture in her breast until, in the deeps of her heart, she loosed the vision to the darkening colours of the west. A quietness stole among the creeping shadows and hushed the dreamy birds till the fading songs of the twilight found their rest in the deepening night. And the shadows were warm and rusty hued and russet brown and aflicker and adancing among the velvet black of the blessed dark and there was a fragrance of pine logs burning and the sweet scent of resin in the air, and a soft crackle and the sound of ash slipping and falling and the merry pop-pop-pop as the resin was caught in the little flames that chase the shadows into the rafters and up the chimney and behind the big broom that stands in the corner to sweet the cares away. And now a soft voice in all its sweetness and love, speaking so softly and so warmly, deep, deep from the heart, of all those things of love and endearment that words may not say, but are borne on the murmurings of a mother's deep content. And there was a sigh. And it seemed that the sigh welled up from the forests of her heart. "Oh Lowri!" she sighed, and Lowri's heart was as moonlight on the aspen leaves. And she stooped over and wrapped Lowri in her arms and raised her till she was sitting there and a pile of pillows and cushions and soft things at her back to rest her, and then she sat on the bed before Lowri and took her hands in her own and kissed them, and Lowri opened her eyes.
"O Earth! Oh Beauty! Mabh!" she breathed in a long deep sigh that caught in her throat and spoke the sweetness and the wonder of the valleys of her soul for her eyes beheld beauty beyond compare. "Oh Earth!" she sighed, deep, deep and long, and she shuddered for the vision was so lovely and her smile surpassing fair. And then she could see no more for the tears of love and wonder filled her eyes and the tears flowed full like the springs of the Earth when she casts off her winter snows, and they flowed long for the springs of her soul were deep. And neither did aught to stem the flow, for it was a sacred thing and a blessed thing about them, and she spoke softly to Lowri and murmured sweet things of love and endearment that her tears be ever the sweeter to her, and a sacrament and shining pearls upon her breast. And Lowri knew in her heart so soft in love that her Beloved loved her most dearly. And then she lifted her gown and dried Lowri's eyes and kissed her and sat down on the bed before her even as she had sat there before. And Lowri looked in love and wonder on her beauty and the peace that hung about her lovely form.
She looked so beautiful among the shadows and the dancing lights and the warm red glow of the pine log fire, dark and full of mysteries, serene and full of softness and her eyes glowed with love and were deep as the wells of half-remembered things, and dark as the pools wherein forgotten things of sweetness lie and breathe again their loved and forgotten fragrances to beckon home the exiled soul. Her mouth was barely open in the silent rune of soft compassion and her lips so sweet, for she cast them in the glypth of ecstasy. She wore a veil on her head and drooped about her shoulders and she gathered the shadows about her for their softness and their quiet, and through the veil about her lovely face the firelight glowed and flickered as the star-studded gems of the black robe of the night. Her gown whereon the shadows played was green as the summer forest, and there she was, sitting before Lowri in the warm lights and the shadows, and smiling, and her gown undone and her breasts hanging lovely in their nakedness, and a garland of bindweed about her neck, and the trailing stems about her breasts where her rose red paps and the soft white flowers adorned them. And she was smiling at Lowri, so softly in her love, for her beauty she would have Lowri look upon till her heart was full and her warm smells and fragrances she would have about Lowri to enfold her and breathe peace into her soul, for she loved her so wondrous dearly. And Lowri looked long and lay long enwrapped in her fragrances, and ever her eyes came again and again to gaze in a love mixed with wistfulness and longing deep into those enchanting eyes wherein were all the mysteries and the memories of the Earth.
And when she saw that Lowri's heart was overflowing, she rose from the bed and went over to the fire where a cauldron hung from the chimney hook, black among the dancing flames and glowing charcoal of the pine wood and she raised the lid and took down a long spoon and stirred it, and now was a pit in Lowi's stomach as the aromas filled the room and she savoured the steamy vapours that rose and bubbled where the waters boiled and made a broth from the things that hands had gathered and the huntsman's hand had felled, and things that were lifted where the spade had turned the soil, and things that were gathered where the winds roamed wild. And a merry smell they made! And a merry song abubble in the cauldron to the stomach that has tasted the highland wind! And she set three bowls on the hearth and dipped her spoon into the cauldron and out came the savoury broth and there were turnips in it and onions and carrots in pieces and little round potatoes coloured golden brown, and celery in little moon-shaped slices and pieces of rabbit no bigger than a mouthful and peas that came out in little piles on the spoon, all bright and green and shining in the fire glow. And she left them on the hearth to cool a while where the fire gathers his wind and she put a loaf on the ash table and took a knife and made slices for an empty belly. One bowl of stew she lifted in her hands and went with it to the door, lifted the latch, and put it down on the stone, and Lowri thought she could hear her speak a few soft words:
" Fio maei Mhaeildleangs "
And then she did on the latch and drew up a chair to the bedside and another beside it and she went over to the fire and brought the two bowls of stew and the bread from off the table and a spoon and she sat herself down beside Lowri and put her arm about her. And whereas Lowri was all weak and could not lift her hand, she fed her, and this was more joy to Lowri than if she had all the strength of her woman's limbs. And never had she tasted nicer food, nor had the greater joy in the eating. And if there were greater joy than that, then sooth, it were in the breast of her Beloved.
And then she laid Lowri down and put more logs and big ones on the fire and stirred the glowing charcoal till the sparks were flying and the bright yellow flames came leaping from the butts and staves and cast their ruddy glow on the wall stones, and the little black shadows were dancing in and out among the cups and plates and the little lights a-flicker on the soup bowls. And the fragrance and the warmth filled all the corners of the room. And then she came again to Lowri and sat down on her bed with her where the shadows gathered about her and Lowri's eyes were aglow with excitement and longing and her eyes were pleading and gazing deep into those dark pools of enchantment and love, and nor had she any need of pleading save it were a rapture in the breast of her Beloved and dear to her. And whereas she knew it were a pleasure to Lowri, she looked long and softly on her, and was smiling sweetly and her love flowing so peaceful from her dark and shining eyes. And she sighed and murmured sweet things and Lowri's eyes were filled with shadows and her lids were closing with a sweet weariness and the vision sank deep inside her till it lay in the gloaming of her heart and she cherished it. And now were the shadows deepening and her loved one caressed her and stroked her while the shadows wove the robe of the night. Long she stroked her weary arms and laid her hands upon her weary neck, and sweetly she was singing in the tones of a mother's peace. And she laid her hands on her shoulders and moved them so lovingly so that Lowri felt a rapture, and she brought them before her and by her neck and so slowly and lovingly down to her breasts and round them and the paps stood forth and she kissed them, and still she caressed her and moved her hands like eddies in a slow water in all their love and tenderness on the softness of her belly and Lowri was melting like a mist in the dell of the Earth. Still she stroked and down and her hands caressed her in the valley of her thighs and she stiffened like the leaves when the rain comes down on the thirsty Earth, and the wave was achase in her body like wind among the golden ears of corn, and then was it soothed and brought to a quiet ebb as the blessed hands were upon her feet and wrought a calm and a peace like the shadows that gather in the greenwood's eaves. And she laid a hand as soft as the dew and light as a spider's web upon her cunt for therein she deemed would be a joy to Lowri and her joy was her sweet content. And when she had done so much in her sweetness for her she lifted Lowri tenderly in her arms and turned her about and laid her upon her breast and her cheek upon the pillow and she laid her hands like the fronds of the forest upon her back till the ripples danced like a lake where the wind was roaming. And so softly she was singing. And she slid her fingers about her neck and down her backbone like a forest breath among the ferns, and so slowly by her sides like a gentle wind in the long grass, and ever she sang, so softly, so sweetly, and so deep from the love in her breast:
Reost maei deiridh, didhp aind mheiridh.
Laei maei deiridh lugho aind laong.
Dridhms abaeid iui; ceaseas faeind iui.
Mhacs maei deiridh slidhc aind straong.
Slidhp maei chaeildleang, didhp maei mhaeildleang.
Slidhp maei maeild theang; hose dhaei saeis.
Sleonda buach tridh, mhud mheach, nuas dhidh,
Strughoc dhidh sleonda, dadhcleang aeis.
Gridhn meast mhe tridh, ceas maei baeibidh;
Gresfiul laeididh seidh tu bidh.
Niot mheal hadhm iui; buach tridh chadhm iui,
Lobhd mhon, deileang, dei tu midh.
Slidhp iui saoftlidh, mheand ceasd, mhaoftidh.
Buach tridh laoftidh gres dhidh mhidhbh.
Mhiom adhms fughold dhidh, mhiomlidh hughold dhidh.
Blaosamd lobh mheand baei dhidh bridhdh.
Lidhbhs saoft seangeang, mheost mheand fleangeang,
Mhiom seonts breangeang, mhaeild aind raigh.
Smhidhtneos slidhp dhidh; mhud mheach cidhp dhidh,
Lobhlidh fiom dhidh, cadhst dhidh faigh.
Hose maei bhegrant. Gridhn hua remant,
Faigh aind fregrant aon dhidh baghund.
Gridhn hua treoseas. Smhidht careoseas
Hughold dhidh, lobh dhidh, raip dhidh raghund.
And it seemed in the sweetness of Lowri's soul that she was borne in the arms of the Earth and the winds of love into the deep bosom of the boundless night and over the plains of the sleeping wild till she lay in the silver arms of the birch tree and her silver-green leaves like a mist about her, and she was lying in the branches where the slender birch tree caressed her and breathed sweet vapours about her and called the wind to take her arms and make a waving of her branches and a dancing of her leaves. And now Lowri was at her feet and pressing her maiden's body in a rapture to her trunk and her arms were gliding on her silver skin and up and into her slender boughs. And the wind was about her leafy fingers and she stooped in her misty green loveliness to the damp of the sweet-scented Earth and took Lowri up in her leafy arms and her leaves made a gown that draped her and stirred in the wafting wind and their soft touch and their waving brought a rapture to her skin, and she turned and twirled where the white-hued arms of the wood witch were about her to stroke their slender beauty on her moon skin and stir a maiden's passion in her breast. And the wood witch opened her arms and glints of silver glistened on her leaves and she took Lowri down into her arms and folded her to her heart, and Lowri was dressed in a gown of green and her arms were white as the shining Moon. Her toes were deep in the damp dark Earth and she held stars in her fingers and wore a veil of the Misty Way.
And the wind was come to ravish her and she ran her leafy fingers through his long dark hair and sighed in her breast to his caresses. And sweet was the sighing and the soughing till they bade each the other the sweetness of the dark and the wind took his songs and his singing into the deep glens of the night.
Her soft bed was under her and her hands stirred in the dusky shades that were gathered where her eyelids gave them lodge and she bade them rest there a while for a pleasure was upon her and she lay all cozy in her bed. Deep she lay in the snug depths of her joy and a thrall to a sensuous pleasure that ravished her body and breathed delights into her eager breast. Her hands were lying droopy where her hips had gathered warmth about them, and her fingers stirred in a tremor of excitement and her hands clomb her thighs and roved the downs of her eager skin. How soft was her belly and peaceful in the cozy dark! How firm her ravished skin when a passion rode the shivers and chased them on excitement's roving waves! And her vagrant hands were roaming on her warmly cushioned skin and stroking her breasts with sweet caresses and she was lying there so snugly and so warm in the peace that the shadows and the softness wrapped about her. And then she stretched her body and had the more pleasure in the stretching and she opened her eyes and looked out into the deepening twilight of the evening. And there was the Moon in the evening sky and her beauty waxed the brighter in her shining silver gown and diamonds gleamed and sparkled from her scintillating hair. And that was a joy to Lowri.
She turned her eyes among the dancing lights and the shadows of the fire glow and there beheld her Lady sitting by her with love shining deep from her dark and glowing eyes and it seemed to her in her sweet content that her beauty grew ever more enchanting. And she bent her lovely head to look in her beauty on Lowri, and the little fire lights agleam in her veil were twinkling and scintillating like gems in the vault of the night and Lowri's heart was melting for love of her. And she drew herself up, for her strength had somewhat waxed the while of care and enchantment, and she threw her arms about her Lady and kissed her full dearly and stroked her hands and kissed her fingers whereat she had got such tender care and sweet caressing, and she pressed her face into her breast and then was she sitting back an arm's length to gaze the more on her lovely face and into the deeps of her dark and shining eyes. And they were glistening like dew ponds for she saw in her sweet joy that Lowri was grown so wondrous fair.
She wrapped her arms about Lowri and lifted her in her sweet nakedness to her feet and held her tenderly till a steadiness was come upon her, and they went by the open door and the dewy grass and into the hall of stars and Lowri thrilled to the crispness of the night. The Moon was in her hair and shining in her eyes and a moonbeam in her hand, and she cast about and turned and twirled in the ice lights sparkling and the crystals gleaming and her skirts were set with diamonds fair, and her silver splendour was a joy in the heart of her most loved and a sweetness in her breast. And when Lowri had done with dancing her heart turned again to the sweetness and love of the Earth.
And there was her Love, and her words were tender: "Ao smhidht dhidh Uath mhaigh maei preatidh mhon dadhnseas!" "Mabh! O Dear One!" sighed Lowri as she wrapped her arms in love about her blessed shoulders for her soul had been cradled in the forests of the deep and her eyes had looked in the enchanted wells and the words were as sweet to her head as they were dear to her heart: "Oh sweet the Earth where my pretty one dances!" And she kissed her on her lovely lips.
And when Lowri was joyed enough of the smell of the cold and the quiet that lay on the bosom of the wild and the bindweed blooms wrapped in sleep and the michaelmas daisies drooping their heads among the moon shadows, they came again over the dewy grass, and the threshold threw a fragrance of wood smoke upon them. And her Love had got her a gown of her maiden green.
"Sit you down at the hearth" she said to Lowri, and she brought a low oaken table and put a block of cheese on it as pig as a pig's head and yellow as the harvest moon and it smelled as nice as the fire was warm. And she brought some onions on a plate, with long dark leaves and little round bulbs all shining white and little green stripes on them, and she brought butter, and a crusty loaf that was wheat in the barrel when the Sun was yet asleep in his mountain bed. She brought some cakes she had made with the milk of her breast and she set two apples down on the oaken board, and bade her set to while she brewed a hot drink that smelt all dark and spicy by the fire. And that was another nice meal and as nice in the eating. And when an end was made of eating, the brew was as nice in the drinking. And then was the table pushed back a way, and they sat there together on the goatskin before the fire and she put her arm around Lowri and was talking as the shadows and the lights played among the glowing charcoal, and Lowri was learning of the tales of the fire and the way of their telling. And then was a tiredness come and the coming was as welcome as the tales and the flickering lights and the dancing shadows. All weary and warm stood Lowri by the fire and the Earth was peaceful and wrapped about in her darkness. Lowri did off her gown and got into her bed, and the warmth was upon her and her eyes were pleading. And then came her Love with shadows in her arms and dreams in her eyes and she bent over Lowri and kissed her full sweetly. "O Earth! My Love! breathed Lowri softly as the dark wrapped her arms about her and her soul went a-gathering of the harvests of the night.
A new light was come and sat upon the hummocks of her eyelids and sent a thrill into her breast and Lowri stretched her beautiful body and opened her lovely eyes. And there she beheld the vast blue, the endless blue whereon the dawn had crept scarce long before and gathered the stars, and away then in her rosy gown before the yellow-gold gleam of the Sun. She sat up in bed and looked from her window in the west where the distant hills were aglow in the morning light and she knew, with a joy and a wonder in her heart, that the Skylord stood upon the eastern range. She got out of bed and did on her gown and cast her eyes upon the lovely Earth; and the Earth had been gathering sunshine and was full of love and sweetness. And sooth to tell, it were a hard word to say whether the one or the other were more fair, and no whit the easier to name the heart wherein the one had the greater joy of the other.
The oaken table was by the fire and a good loaf of bread upon it and butter in a dish, and there was green-glass jar and apple jelly in it. And scarcely had Lowri sat herself down and gathered her skirts than her Love had set an egg in the cup, big and brown, and the steam coming off it, and Lowri's beautiful fingers then cracking the shell with the spoon and putting butter on the bread and making strips of it for dipping down into the yolk. And the drink was of the fragrant herbs of the wild moorland.
And then would Lowri be a wandering and out she was gone and into the garden and her bare feet on the greensward and in among the clover and the dandelions of the Summer's ripening days, and the Sun kissed her hands and the wind combed her hair, and the rosemary and the lavender breathed their perfumes about her. And her heart joyed to the golden apples and the green, the reds and the russets and the blackberries in the hedges and the elder berries like gems of shining jet hanging in bunches on the aged trees, and the ash trees draped in their golden keys, and then in the fields and away over the hills till the mists and the hazes beguiled the eye there were the bright vermillion clusters of the rowan trees laden with their berries and shining in the Sun like gowns bejewelled with rubies, and the hawthorns agleam as though their dark green leaves were set with garnets and the Sun had set their flames alowing. And the Sun was well pleased and he smiled the width of his old, broad face and the bindweed and the dandelions were turned to gaze the fully on his radiant face. Lowri walked along the path set down like paving and made of the rough-hewn rock, and here and there among the paves she spied the little star-flowers of the woodruff and her thoughts, and her heart, were turned to the May and there was a sweetness in her breast. Golden was the rye grass and the cock's foot and the timothy, and green was the lawn and the orchard grass, and warm and soft in the golden rays of the Lord of the Sky. And the wind brought her the fragrance of the honeysuckle, and from the deep forests the smell of the woodland ferns, and from the open plains the scent of the pine trees; and a tortoiseshell butterfly was sitting on her finger and a wren bobbing in and out among the ivy, and there was a ladybird, and little green beetles and beautifully patterned spiders and harvestmen among the grasses. Her heart was dancing with joy and the wind was playing with her hair and she turned her feet to the west and was wandering by the apple trees and came to a hedge of damsons and sloes and an archway whereon the wild roses had blown and had left their blood-red drops to glow among the leaves for the roses of Midsummers to come and for the filling of the Earth's wild larder and the feeding of her wildlings. There was an old gate here and Lowri stood before it with her hands on the bent and gnarled old wood and her eyes were roaming on the meadow and beyond the bounded fields, and there in a wild place where the birch trees were gathered she spied a grassy mound all rounded and the form so fair and she felt a softness and a longing in her body, and she stood long in that place and looked with a yearning and love and there were tears glistening in her eyes. The Sun had climbed to his lofty height, and still she looked, and ever the longing was upon her. And then were the clouds gathering about the mound and Lowri's eyes were sparkling and she watched as they turned about and their fleecy white billows took on the tones of silver-grey and the fire in her eyes was dancing. And the greys were darkening and turning about and there were dusky hues and smoke blue in the tumbling, and ever the grey was deepening. Lowri's heart was leaping with a wild excitement and she threw off her gown and was running through the grasses and the knapweed and the wild waving rushes and her hair was streaming in the wind behind her. Like the hare she was running on the wild rolling plain and into the steely grey and the air smelt hard and the rushes were raising their reedy voices to the whirl of the wind. And now stands Lowri on the grassy mound and wild lights are dancing in her eyes, and her hair is about her and blowing in the wind like clouds in a tempest and she casts about her and the ring is made and her arms held aloft to the great grey sky, a prayer in her heart and words on her lips for the wild, wild wind and the lowering clouds:
Oh! the love of the hollow hills
and the loves of the days gone by,
The rain and the wind and a silver crown
and the roll of the roving sky!
Oh! the days of the rising Sun
and the days that shall come again,
The ferns and the trees and the dancing grass
and the smell of the rolling plain!
Oh! the sound of the dancing feet
and the flash of the silver sword,
The cup and the wine and the silver draught
and the arm of the forest lord!
Woe's the pain of the empty cup
and the drear of the empty hall;
But joy is the vale and the river's rush
and the love of the Greenwood's call!
Cast thy staff and I'll dance a ring
and I'll cast thee a silver key!
Oh! dance to me, Love, on the hollow hills
at the well and the hawthorn tree!
And the big drops were falling, and fast they were coming and heavy and the rain was splashing into Lowri's hands and the water running down her arms and her hair was wet and the big drops were splashing on her breasts and running in torrents on her body and down her legs and streaming from her cunt and the wind was about her and blowing rain in her face and on her belly and about her legs and rushing down her back, and Lowri closed her eyes and lay herself down on the grassy mound and her arms and her legs cast wide asunder and her palms wide open to the great grey sky and the tumbling rain. And the water was running over her and streaming about her neck and Lowri was breathing heavy and the sound of raindrops in her ears and the feel of raindrops on her lips and running on her breasts and her soul was in thrall to the wind and the rain and the wild convulsions that chased a turmoil about her heaving body. And the wild mood was upon her. And she got her name that only the wind may call her.
Now she lies still while the last drops of rain are falling and she lays her cheek on the soft wet grass and is happy and a frog is sitting on her belly and feels soft and looks beautiful and hops away into the rain-soaked leaves. And now comes the Sun among the clouds and Lowri is standing on the mound. And the Earth beholds her so wondrous fair and beautiful. There are lights in her hair and her cheeks are flushed as the rowan trees and she wears for a gown the passion-coloured rainbow. And now she is coming though the long wet grass and the rushes and she takes her time and the wind and the Sun dry her hair, and she comes through the archway where the rose hips glow and there is her gown as wet as therushing flood and she picks it up and puts it over a bough to dry and comes into the garden among the bindweed and the dandelions and the michaelmas daisies, and here is her Love to meet her and greet her with kisses and her arms open wide and her eyes shining with happiness, and she holds Lowri to her breast and kisses her sweetly and Lowri wraps her arms about her and looks into her lovely eyes.
"Lowri, my beloved, never a maiden said better than thee." And her love was sparkling in her eyes.
"Never in a maiden's breast was love so stirred" said Lowri, and kissed her on her lovely lips.
And her Lady had been gathering blackberries and there was a pie set down for eating on the grass and more than a few were the words that were shapen on the one's fair lips and the other's, and more than a little was the joy in their hearing. And Lowri was learning of the ways of the forest and the way of their knowing and how it might be that her footsteps would take her where more and ever more her heart was drawing her.
The Moon waxed the fuller that night and silver sparkled in her eyes and on the morrow the Sun came close in the train of the dawn and set his steps in the clear blue sky, and his golden eye was shining on the lovely Earth. And she took Lowri's hand in her own and by the rough-hewn path they went and by the apple trees and into the west.
"Soon, my love, we'll come upon a sight that will set a gladness at your heart and a joy in your breast, and no less will be the joy in my own" she said to Lowri.
"And what sight is that that will bring a greater joy and a fuller gladness than I have already the while in your love and your sweetness and the wind and the sky?" asked Lowri in wonder, and the bracken was green at her hands and dark at her feet and the Earth was dear to her heart.
"I'll set the sight of the woodsman in your eyes" she said to Lowri, "and then you will tell me if there is gladness that heaps ever on gladness," and soon they came to a rounded rock that set its shoulders above the ferns and thereon they sat and spied the dark skirts of the greenwood scarce four times thirteen paces before. And Lowri set her eyes aroaming where the hazels and the briars gathered by the forest eaves. And there was a rustle and then the sound of a branch breaking underfoot, and the foot was heavy and Lowri's heart was leaping in her breast. Then were the leaves pushed asunder and a man, he whom her Love had called The Woodsman', stood in the cleft of the greenwood and a deer upon his broad shoulders and a bow at his back and a knife in his belt and a pair of strong boots upon him and his skin as brown as a hazel nut. And his eyes threw back the light of the Sun.
Lowri was atremble, and a gasp in her throat, and a sweetness in her cunt, and a softness there was upon her breast, and she was fain to run through the ferns to meet him and throw her arms about his neck and push her nose against his sun-bronzed skin and feel the hardness of his arms. "Hush, sweet one!" said her Lady, and Lowri well knew that if this were the purpose of her Lady's heart, then would they not be sitting here now so many footsteps from the greenwood's cleft, and so she stayed her longing and her Lady's eyes were deep as the greenwood's shadows and soft as the woodland mosses, and they were full of dark mysteries and sweetness. Lowri looked with longing in her heart as the woodsman turned his steps and his striding, and his strides took him below the brow of the hill.
And a few more days passed and with them the nights, and ever the Moon grew in her splendour and Lowri waxed wise in her learning of the wild ways and the woodland ways and ever and more the Earth was dear to her. And then she deemed Lowri grown wondrous fair and beautiful and the longing in her breast had cast a soft light in her eyes. The Sun was high aloft. She took Lowri and kissed her sweetly and said to her: "I would have you meet the woodsman before the Sun comes again into my arms," and Lowri was all hot and cold and a passion upon her and her love flowed out to the Earth and she kissed her and threw her arms about her and her eyes were glistening in her love. And her Lady had got her a gown to drape her, of fine gossamer and light as a spider's web, and translucent as a green mist to adorn her. "For the wooing of the woodsman" she said to Lowri, and her words were as dear to Lowri as the quickening Earth and the mist and the dew drops and the big silver Moon. "The wind and your heart be your way guide" she said to Lowri and pressed her to her breast and kissed her, and Lowri was gone by the archway and into the wild and her feet turned ever to the west.
And she is coming though the ferns and here is the greenwood before her. "My beloved" she sighs and her hands are upon her breasts and she goes in under the trees. Therein is a quietness and it lays its long green fingers upon her and the green is deep and the tears are running down Lowri's cheeks for she knows, in the deep of her soul, that her feet stand in a holy place, and herein are gathered all the blessed memories of the Earth. And she stoops and kisses the Earth and her tears are flowing and fall to her feet and her body is all soft and it seems that even Time must pause here awhile or lose himself in this green eternity and wander for ever among the sacred shadows. Lowri stands and gazes upward into magnificence as the giants of the forest lift their grey trunks and green into the soft light until they are lost among the leaves that lie on leaves and hang in the shadows of leaves that merge into the green darkness of the woodland roof. And now is she come into the home of the ferns and their fragrances are come upon her and intoxicate her and there are male ferns growing over there in the gloaming, and delicate and sweet-smelling lady ferns here at her side, and then towering under the greenwood roof the polypodies are hanging from the aged boughs and drape them all over with fronds of green. And there's moss on the boles and here and there a silver trunk and little white-flecked red toadstools on the floor and big yellow russulas like honeycombs, and a hydnum like a hedgehog, and a purple deceiver in the shadows. And it all smells so lovely and brings her memories that were old when she was young and she is weeping for joy and a peace beyond speaking. "Mabh!" she sighs from the depths of her soul and her heart is at one with the greenwood.
Deeper she moves, like a woodland shadow, noiseless as the forest people as she comes by a hazel tree and caresses his leaves, and passes on to where the sunlight filters to the Earth and the leafy patterns drift on her moon skin and float on her misty green veil. And another hazel tree and she rubs herself on his branches, and ever deeper she is roaming past might oaks and magnificent elms, by aged holly and slender birch trees, under the trailing ivy and by the woodbine twining, and now an old hazel on a fine trunk and she wraps her arms about him and presses her cunt to his brown trunk and her scent flows sweetly about him. Ever deeper she moves in the quiet and the green. And now in the quiet and barely more loud than the peace itself she hears a pipe and a wild melody and the tune is as if she has ever known it and yet the memory lay forever among the hidden things. And as she moves the music comes better to her ears and ever more lovely to her heart and her heart is joined to the player whoever, and wherever, he might be in there, deep in there, where the green grows ever the greener and the fragrances ever more enchanting and the mosses grow ever the softer and the moister to her feet. And now the Earth slopes downward and it seems the playing is in this blessed dell and her feet tread the woodland floor and the mosses, and her hands part the wild apple leaves and the hazel and the tall-standing bracken, and now she is moving among the willows and the beautiful wood horsetails and the Earth is soft, and now is she standing at the edge of a woodland pool and the piper just over yonder with his pipe and sitting at the bole of a huge oak tree. Lowri starts aback for his beauty and catches the willow to steady her arm and the willow is arustle and sets her sisters rustling their grey-green leaves, and the piper looks up. And now is the pipe fallen from his hands and awe and wonder written on his sun-bronzed face.
"Play on Piper," says Lowri, "for my heart is ravished of the melody and the stopping is a pain to my breast."
"That may not be, Fair Maiden," says the piper, "for it would be a dead man's hands that could play a true note while you, in your maiden's beauty and lovely as the Moon, stand over yonder and all the wonder and the beauty of the greenwood gathered about you." And he is looking at Lowri and is ravished of her moon skin and she is standing there at the pool like green-veined marble and the pool has caught her vision and made her another, and her misty green gown is draped about her feet and hangs from her breasts and her hair hangs loose and still in the quiet air and the holy shade of the greenwood. And the piper puts his pipe into his belt and takes up his hazel staff, and the hawthorn tree drops a berry into the pool and the ripples set Lowri's image dancing. And now is he come the round of the pool and stands before Lowri and Lowri gone forward to meet him, and they are standing there in the quiet and the stillness and their fragrances lie upon the air and mingle with the ferns and the pool is making a gathering of them. And long it pleases them to stand there in the stillness and look upon the beauty of the other and it seems in the beauty of Lowri's heart that her love flows from her like a lowland river that slips ever and more over the low polished falls and into the quiet deep, and she was melting in the shadows of the forest.
And the piper took her hands and kissed them and they went by the mossy road and came to a little river that was bubbling and singing in her bed.
"Here I will play for you" said the piper, and Lowri was sitting on a dark mossy rock among the filmy ferns with her toes in the water and the piper sat him down by an old elm tree and put his pipe to his lips. And it was a slow tune he began to play and the low notes were upon the woodland floor and rolled among the tufty mosses and down by the river bank where the liverworts are growing, and then but barely he raised his pitch and he played to the ferns and it seemed to Lowri as though the greens and the dark greens and the deepest greens of all were mingling to the enchantment of his pipe and her heart was melting for love of the piper and love of his piping. And ever the melody grew more haunting and roamed far in the greenwood and came again to her feet and her lips and again to the pipe, and there was an intensity about it that moved through it and through, and it tore at her soul and was pleading with her and it seemed to be sad and surpassingly beautiful and the sadness was the pain of a strange ecstasy that set Lowri sobbing for its pathos and its joy, and as she looked, the green was darkening where the piper played and his belt was as if it were melting in the green, and his shirt was fading and as he played, there was nought on him at all but the ferns and the mosses at his cloven feet and the horns upon his head, and stark naked he played to the woodland flowers and the shrubs, and his playing was growing faster and louder and the immense green was moving in the wild magnificence and the very trees were swaying and Lowri gazed in a strange fascination and a holy awe. His eyes shone dark with the deep glow of the forest for Summers beyond counting were upon his brow and his loins bore the seeds of unnumbered Springs. And he rose from his seat and he was laughing like the tumbling stream and Lowri was rushing to meet him and catch his hands, with a wild light in her eyes and a wild cry of ecstasy upon her breath, and she danced to him, to the merry laugh, and the hazel staff
and the wind was blowing
and her hair was flowing
and her feet were atapping
and her hands were aclapping
to her passion all aflow
and the racing and the pacing
and the dancing and the glancing
and the treading and the threading
of the bindweed
love seed shining
heart's need pining
and the running in the Sun, and the fun
and the spinning in the wind, and the winning
of the singer in the sunshine
shining all aglow
pining all aflow
twining in the gloaming, roaming
by the river in her racing
all aquiver in the pacing
all apassion and ashiver
And his feet were drumming
And his blood was running
And the going and the coming
And the jogging and the bobbing
And the world was awhirling
In the tapping and the twirling
And the spinning and the singing
And the flying and the flinging
Of the kisses in the air
And the woodland pair
were dancing there in the forest glade and the woodland maid was dancing to the piper and her love was grown till her heart was near to breaking. And then was Lowri again on the mossy rock and her feet in the running stream and a mist about her and the piper was playing a sweet melody that spoke the cool and the wonder and the great green deeps of the forest glades. Lowri rose to her feet and came to the bole of the tree and stood before him.
"There's a word in your heart that would be on your lips" said the piper.
"Forsooth there is," said Lowri, "and this I would have you know: I love you Brirn!"
"Sweet is your love," said the piper, "and I love you full well," and he spoke her name that only the wind may call her. And they came then to the edge of the wood and Lowri kissed him with the sweetness of the Moon and set her feet to the bracken path. And ere she came to the bower of the Earth the twilight had sprinkled the sky with stars and the Moon was grown so fair in the south. Weary she was and weary her feet upon the doorstone and welcome the hearth and the fire and the smell of venison on the spit, and she threw her arms about her Love. And she wrapped Lowri about and kissed her and cuddled her to her breast. And there was nought of it that the Earth knew not, but the tale was ever fresh and sweet to her ears, and her eyes sparkled with joy for Lowri was so wondrous dear to her breast.
And they spoke long in the shadows and the fire glow and the Moon cast a fair light for on the morrow would her splendour be grown full and lovely, and Lowri was grown surpassing wise and beautiful. And the Earth drew her into the deeps of her soul and the plain of the moonworts and the ashen wraiths, and she looked into the deeps of Lowri's lustrous eyes. "Could you put the names on the wraiths of the Seaidughos Raoth?" she said to Lowri. "Right well I could," said Lowri, "and one name to serve them all!" "But it serves them no more, Lowri, my Love," and she wrapped Lowri in her arms and kissed her full dearly on her lovely lips. "True they spoke," said Lowri, "before they tasted of the empty feast and were cast as nought in the awful hole of the Mheacheas Cioldran." "But withal there is somewhat yet undone" said her Lady. "Right well I know it," said Lowri, "and methinks it will be no long time ere the doing be upon me." And her Lady was well pleased and kissed her and wrapped her about in her arms. And sweet was the night and Lowri lay in the arms of the Earth and her soul was aroaming in the forests of the dark.
And no less sweet was the morning for a mist hung upon the Earth and draped her cobwebs and the Sun had caught the drops upon the grasses and set sparkles upon them and they were glistening in fiery orange and green and ruby red and Lowri was out and her bare feet on the wet grass, and gathering the smells of the morning, and then came the Sun to gather the drops and the wind carried them away to grace another morning with their splendours and cast abroad their scintillating lights.
Her Lady was come and took her hands in her own and her love was shining in her beautiful eyes for a gladness was upon Lowri and a lustre in her eyes and the gladness at the heart of Lowri was a joy to her breast and her lustrous eyes spoke the wonders of the evening. And of the next hours that came there is nought to tell save that they came as sweet to the one as they were sweet to the other and they bore a sweetness as of the wild scented road that winds in its fragrance onward to a tryst of beauty where a loved one waits and sings his love to the fading evening. When the Sun had made an end of his shortening of the shadows, then was among remembered things the time of waiting and now was come a time of making ready. Her Lady had got her a gown of misty green to drape her and it hung from her beautiful shoulders like the green flow of a waterfall frozen in a moment of surpassing beauty, and it came like a cascade upon her lovely breasts and hung as a dewy web from her rose red paps and down to her beautiful feet in the summertide grasses and the clover. Her hair flowed loose upon her shoulders and down to her waist, and the Earth beheld her surpassing fair and beautiful in all her maiden's loveliness. And they went by the apple trees and under the arch where the rose hips hung and away then beyond the bounded fields and into the wild, and they turned their footsteps upon the southward way.
And now through the bracken were they coming and out of the north and the wind ran his fingers through Lowri's tresses and was wrapping his arms about her waist and pressing his hands upon her lovely breasts, and a sweet song he was singing the sweetly to speak his love, and the Sun cast lights to dance in her hair. For a mile they were walking and the bracken tall by the side, and for another mile, and two more again, and then over a ferny ridge and down into a dell and the greenwood lay before them and the shadows were growing long. And now are they come among the trees and they go in among the buckler ferns and under the great oaks, by ash and elm, past beech and hornbeam, and into the deep glade of the forest. And now they are come to the foot of a mound and the greenwood rises before them, and here at the foot of the mound is a well in the shade of the branches of a hawthorn who bears in her heart the memories of two hundred Springs. "Sit you down, my sweet one, says the Lady, and Lowri is nothing loth when she has made the ring for the hawthorn is lovely in her eyes and dear to her cunt and her arms are among the branches and her fingers where the wind stirs the leaves, her paps where the deep red berries are hanging, and her toes in the deep Earth, and the Earth loves her full dearly and wraps her about in her arms. And now she has drawn a casket from out the well and laid it on the mossy ground at Lowri's feet, and her fingers turn the key and lift the lid. As Lowri looks with wonder in her lustrous eyes, her Lady puts her beautiful hands into the casket and lifts out a fair crown of silver gleaming in the green lights of the hawthorn's shade, and set with gems of sparkling emerald. And a cunning hand it was in times gone by that set the figures on the metal and wrought thereon the hawthorn's love and the spell of the bracken and the fern's enchantments in figured leaf and frond. Lowri's eyes are sparkling and gleaming in the green lights, and ancient memories are stirring in the deep glades of her soul. She looks on the Earth and the Earth is grown surpassing beautiful. And no word they say of it, the one to the other, and no need there is of the hearing of words. And they are standing the one by the other where the leaves are draped and the shield ferns are growing and the broad bucklers and the lady ferns at their feet and by their hands, and the honeysuckle is draped upon the aged boughs and twined among the branches. "O Mabh! O Love!" sighs Lowri as the old memories come back to her and flow again in the rivers of her soul, and she takes her blessed hands into her own and holds them tenderly. And her Love brings her hands together and raises them to her lips and kisses them and she lets fall a teardrop upon Lowri's right hand, and another upon her left, and nor might Lowri do otherwise with her Love than her Love has done so tenderly and so sweetly with her. The crown rested now in the bosom of the Earth, and they set their feet to the mound.
By an upward slope they went and the slope was long and gentle and in a while the slope was scarce anymore at all, and now Lowri sees a level place before them whereon the wood meadow grass is growing and a great stone standing like a pillar in the woodland clearing and mosses growing on the Earth. And she goes forward into the clearing and here is a green road that runs far away into the east and far into the west and the big golden orb of the Sun is at the end of the road and setting on the ferns and his fiery orange and red sink below the bracken. As the purple shadows of the woodland evening gather in the twilight glow, Lowri hears a wild melody coming out of the west. Faint yet is the pipe over the darkening ferns, but lilting in the gentle wind and rising, and the pipe she knows well and the tears are glistening in her eyes and a lump is rising in her throat and the music is flowing about her and tearing at her soul and melting and merging the shadows of the woodland glades. And the silver crown rests now upon a cushion of the dark green moss and a holiness is come upon Lowri and into her cunt and about her breast and deep in her yearning heart, and whereas it would be a holy thing in the doing, Lowri casts a ring and turns her to the east and her hands on her breasts and she is walking slowly on the green road and the moss, and the big silver Moon is rising in the east. Out of the Earth she is growing in all her silver splendour and Lowri turns about and the great stone is standing straight up out of the green before her and the piper on the moss road and the green with the trees at his right hand and the trees at his left and a crown of hazel leaves upon his head and the twilight glowing on the tips of his horns. And there he is standing with the green light of the woodland in his eyes and the passion of the forest in his loins. And he beholds Lowri wondrous fair in her maiden's beauty. In the east she is standing draped in a green mist and the Mon is rising out of the Earth. And she opens the shining green brooch at her breast and the mist falls from her and about her feet and she is standing naked in her loveliness among the ferns and the woodland grasses. Silver her body among the sombre trees and bright her lovely eyes that speak the passion of her cunt and the love in her breast, and her scents are about him and enchant him and her lips are cast in the shape of her ardent love. "Brirn!" she says, and firm as a woodland queen and lilting is the fall of her moontongue, "Here I am come for the love that is in me, and the love that goes out to the forest lord!" "Right glad is my heart for the love you bring" he says, and the Moon kindles the lights in his eyes.
And they are come by the love of the Earth where the stone is standing and the silver gleaming on its mossy bed, and Lowri places her beautiful hands upon the stone. And the light is aglow in his eyes and he says to her:
"Do you, Lowri, swear by the risen Moon that, save I will it, you cast nought about of these mysteries and enchantments?"
"O do not" says Lowri.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
In dedication, Mabh, my beloved
If a few of the words, the place names, the spells and endearments appear strange at first, perchance you will learn them as Lowri learned them. And if not, this example will help you on your way:
Mheastfulidh abh lobh aind smhidhtlidh seidh mhas spidhceang
Mhaigh dha buach tridh cadhst hua laeit aind daipald seed;
Reosteang ean dha seaidughos mhaeil hua hadht mheont lidhpeang
Fio hua medan lobh - aind hidh hu lobhd dha Med.
Wistfully of love and sweetly she was speaking
Where the birch tree cast her light and dappled shade.
Resting in the shadows while her heart went leaping
For her maiden love - and he who loved the Maid.