This is a story about a rock formation, and it’s an attempt to write another folk story from scratch. It’s one of my longest pieces for a while, but i really like it. The idea is that there’s a coastal village nestled in a cove, protected by huge cliff walls either side and the only route to the sea for a few miles around it. I’ve tried to make it as if it’s being told as a story again, so similar in style to the folk-story-ness of The Gifts of the Forest . Also I thought it would be fun to not-so-subtly hint that the young wizard is a young Merlin, but i thought i’d leave it to the imagination a little.. I’m rather enjoying these imaginary villages, full of stories, though to be fair i’m sure most ancient villages have their own tales anyway (perhaps back to Snake Charmer, which is based on an actual story from my hometown). I feel as if this would have to have sound effects if read aloud though, just for added emphasis and fun.
Just out from shore there’s a rock formation known as ‘the fleet’. It’s even in formation, four rocks as four ships aero aching a single rocky pillar out from the shore, like raiders approaching a beach head. They say that’s because that’s exactly what they were. They were almost the doom of our ancestors. In the days before our current lords made peace with them they used to come, cause havoc and scourge the coast, killing and maiming and burning.
He wasn’t one of them, though he claimed to serve the King. He was young, barely a man, travelling alone, an unusual sight in those dangerous times. The roads back then were hard and the forests full of wild beasts and bandits. He came to us when we needed him, though he left alone again, in the end.
Our village wasn’t much of import, far from the nearest town. We were farmers and fishermen, we provided enough for ourselves and to pay our pittance to the crown. The King’s men came rarely, though we were still obliged to pay our yearly tithe. Our own merchants travelled in caravans, ten or twenty men at a time to protect our crop from bandits and the dangers of the wilds. They travelled only a few times a year, often with the tax collectors for extra protection, but they did not always return even then. We were not a populous people, we could not afford to lose workers or supplies, but if we did not make the journey we would not survive. We would risk the ire of the King, or miss out on supplies desperately needed to survive, or to make our meagre living a little more bearable.
The village itself was little more than a hamlet, though we all congregated in the longhouse in the evenings. The monks from the hill produced the finest mead, which they traded to us for basic supplies. Many of us still followed the old ways, but they did not press their god upon us. They seemed content to live simple lives on the hillside, tending their beehives. A few would sometimes come to the village and join us for an evening, to listen to our stories and to share their own. They told of this new God, and his deeds in far off lands, and we told them of the forest folk, and the great battles against the monsters of old. One or two of our boys went to join them, it seemed a quiet life, and they were close enough to us that they would visit on occasion, when the monks came down from the hill.
We’d never had to worry about raiders before, we were secluded enough, our cove sheltered by two high cliffs, our little cove like a fortress, though the only exit to the sea for miles. One was peaked with the monastery that overlooked the sea, the other empty but for a high overlook. Our security had left us a little naive, perhaps. Our people would learn the basics of defence, for the journey to the town or to protect themselves whilst hunting, but we were not warriors. Even the recruitment parties visited us rarely. the King had conquered far then, and we were so far from the borders. The old enemies were no threat to us, we thought.
The King kept his army, of course, but we knew little of them. There were no soldiers stationed near us, our militia consisted of farmers and an old veteran who spent most of his time in the mead hall, he’d been in the war in his youth, and was one of the few yet living who remembered the old war, and our great king’s father and his bloody rise to power. He had fought in his youth, but now he drank, his wooden leg testament to his experience, and told stories. He spent his days and nights drunk, and told us of the wars against the northerners and the ‘fancy men’ who had come across the sea. Even then, these had been a hundred miles away, and he was one of the few that came back to the village. This was not a war men returned from, and though he had been gravely wounded he had returned, alone, one of fifteen men when he left. Our village had learnt to be self-sufficient, losing a generation of boys had made us share all our tasks, we knew our women were just as worthy than our boys. He trained some of the young brave ones in sword or spear-play, but this was usually treated as the play of children, not useful on the sea. All we knew other than his stories was that our King’s father had won his war. The borders, so many miles away, were well defended, and our King’s enemies balked in fear of his wroth.
We first heard that our peace would be shattered when a gaggle of wounded, terrified men and women arrived one day. They clung to a broken cart like their lives depended on it, they were a sorry sight. A man clutched a badly wounded arm, a woman cradled a baby and the few others were badly wounded, a man lay on the cart, barely breathing. One stood tall, flame haired and tired eyed, clutching a spear. She was the only one who carried a weapon, and her body was covered in crude leather armour. She led them, and with the woman and child beside her, requested shelter. We took them in, treated their wounds and gave them sanctuary.
They, like us, had thought themselves safe. The spear-woman, Berra, had managed to protect them, drive off the last few the raiders, but they were the only ones left. They brought stories of four great ships ravaging the coast, burning and pillaging as they went. Their village had only been a few miles up the coast from us, and they had taken a dangerous path over the cliffs to get here – they would be ahead of the ships, they hoped. The woman with the child kept close by her as she consulted the heads of our village.
We turned to her, rather than the old veteran, to organise our defence. We turned farm tools to spears, tools made for earth-work to fuel our pittance of defiance. Turned tables to barricades and prepared, steeled ourselves for war. We lacked enthusiasm, our minds were not those of warriors, but she turned our village and the beachhead into a fortress with a minimum of coercion. She brought us out, a sad army, old men and farmhands unused to conflict. We, when she had tried to make us battle-worthy, were not a great fighting force. A few stood out, three of the young folk, but also the blacksmith and his wife and the baker, a stout woman in her later years, and kept them by her side. The rest of us she tasked with keeping the village. We were United, but we did not look strong.
When a boy came from the cliffs to tell of the approach of the ships, she took her six to the beachhead, and left us to watch from the village. In the distance, four great longships could be seen, and we steeled ourselves.
The man came alone, astride a worn and aged pony. He was young, barely really a man, raven hair as mad as his eyes. He walked with a lopsided gait, with the aid of a stick, his meagre possessions strapped to his mount. He was called Myrddin, he said, and he had been sent from the King.
There was a power to him, an otherworldly eccentricity that exuded from him. He was an opposite to the fierce, noble, flame-haired Berra, though as the strange man arrived he looked to her first of all.
He left his mount with us, and went straight to the beach to converse with the warrior. They stood apart even from her six, he had barely acknowledged us except to state his purpose and authority. They looked deep in conversation, though both looked serious as fighting Rams, and they were at an impasse when they stood away from each other, her turning back towards her fighters, and him running back towards the village. He jumped astride his pony, and with surprising speed galloped towards the cliffs and the overlook opposite the monastery. We call it the wizard’s rest now, the cracked cliff face and deep natural amphitheatre that faces into the cove.
As he topped the cliff he left his pony to rest, and travelled to the highest point of the cliff. He took only a bag and his staff, and once he appeared seemed to inscribe symbols on the ground below him. He took his staff, and thrust it into the ground below him so it stood upright, with a great thundering crash, and crouched down in front of it, raven eyes glinting in the fading sunlight.
Berra brought her erstwhile defenders to the beach, after saying her farewells to the villagers. She spent a particular moment with the woman and child, and through tears they parted, promising they would see each other again soon. She would return, she assured them, but in case the fight went badly she wished them farewells. If the last line of defense fell, the woman would lead the old and the sick and the weak away again, through the forest to the walls of the town. Berra took her six warriors to the beach, and the veteran and some willing townsfolk would hold the edge of the village for as long as it took. The most eager of the young men, she left with the villagers who would escape if the day turned evil, bound by oath to protect their kin on the roads.
When the raider ships were almost to the point of disembarking, she left her six on the beach, signalling them to stay, and prepare. She waded out into the water, spear raised in defiance, booming a shrill warcry that echoed off of the cliff walls of the cove.
They were close enough that their drums could be heard on the beach when the magician arose. He brought his staff down again on the ground in front of him, with a great thunderclap. In the distance his voice bounced from the cliffs, pleading to Berra to leave the waters. She would not, and pushed against the tide, towards the ships.
Another thunderclap, and it was as if the world shifted. The skies became black as night as sudden stormclouds arose, covering the clear skies with malevolent grey.
Another thunderclap, and a great crack appeared on the cliff-face, the earth visibly collapsing underneath the wizard’s perch, though he held his feet and around him the earth stayed flat as it fell. A great wind struck up a conchord and howled, flinging itself from the walls of the cove onto the waters below.
One, last, thunderclap, and the world went dark as pitch.
All sound became the warcry of the warrior-woman, then, silence.
Great SIlence, the kind that envelops everything, rolled across them.
Where she had been standing proud in the water, waist deep, there was a great pillar of stone. It was almost human shaped, it’s arm and spear outstretched towards the sky. Berra, holding her spear aloft in eternal defiance.
Where the ships had been, rocking and turning on the waves, were four great rocks, one almost sinking, barnacled and worn as if they had been resting there forever. They would, now.
He returned to his horse, but he barely looked at us, barely talked. He left in the night, refusing the provisions we offered him. He never came back to the village, but there were rumours of his adventures abroad, when the new king came, that burnished golden warrior king with his cloaked magician. He had saved us, but such a price to pay.
So when you walk upon the beach remember, look up at the amphitheatre and the cracks in the cliff-face, opposite the ruins of the monastery, and think back to long ago. The rocks in the harbour, in the cove that protects our village. There’s still magic there, she’s still there, and she protects us. She will stand there until the end, and protect us.
Notice how there are ravens flying with the gulls, black feathers falling on the beach. There’s some of his magic left here.
They say that one day, the magic will fade. Then, the rocks will become ships again, bursting with bloodthirsty raiders. Berra will be there then though, to hold the beach, spear raised in defiant fury.
The Image is from http://www.cornwalls.co.uk/Cornwall/facebook_covers.htm (which is why i’ve left the tag on it 🙂
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