It’s the dark-ages, Rome has fallen and an uneasy peace lies between the Britons, Picts and Scots, until the Jutes invade and conquer the east. Even the Northumbrians have fallen, Rheged (modern day Cumbria) stands alone in the west and its king, Urien, forges an alliance with a Pict shaman, and King himself, Myrrlin of the Gododdin.
Myrrlin – Mere-lin
Taliesin – tal-e-ay-zin
Sidhe – Shee
“Wart!” came a call from the great hall.
Wart flinched, he hated that name, it had been given to him by his father after his roman mother had died. He had been called Artorius until then; he couldn’t wait until he could pick his own name at his coming of age. “Wart! Come here boy!” came the thunderous voice once more.
Wart hurried towards the hall, it would not be pleasant to bear the brunt of anger that could come from the owner of that voice. “I’m here father” Wart called out as he entered “I’m sorry I’m late, I was in the wings.”
“You should be less tardy young prince” said the man standing fully naked, apart from the blue woad spirals painted over his body and the golden torc around his neck, next to his father “ It shows disrespect to the kingdom and it’s king.”
“I am sorry Lord Myrrlin, I did not know that my father was given to allowing picts” Wart spat the word “to speak in his place.”
“Wart, do not speak to your betters in such a manner.” Urien, King of Rheged and Wart’s father said quietly, promising hurt to come if the behaviour continued, “you are here to listen to the seer’s predictions, they affect us all. Please, continue Lord Myrrlin.”
“As I stated earlier my liege, my apprentice Taliesin was given a vision by the great mother, he was told that the Jutes are invading from the east, coming with a force of twenty thousand.”
“And does the great mother also tell you that to defend against those kind of numbers we would have to completely empty Rheged,” Wart interrupted “and leave the kingdom completely open to attack? And is it perhaps a coincidence that our marching to the east would leave your people behind our lines?”
“My people have already gone to meet this force,” The shaman said quietly “three hundred and thirty three of our fit men have taken the death rite and painted the blue woad. They are accompanied by Taliesin’s brother Aneirin, so that he may tell the tale that the Gogoddin gave their lives in order to hold back this tide so that your father may mount a defence here in the west. I and my apprentice shall ride there tomorrow, accompanied by yourself and the castle guard, to see how the Gododdin fare.”
That silenced Wart. Three hundred was the last of the Gododdin’s men, they would die and the old shaman’s tribe would be no more. Wart looked to his father, the king nodded gravely “Go, see to my business on the battlefield my son, while I look to the defence of our land.”
The Castle Guard rode out at dawn the next morning in full armour and tack, apart from the two Picts, the old Myrrlin and the younger Taliesin, who rode naked and bareback, in their customary blue woad and golden Torc. The ride east was grim and silent, every man dreading what they might find on the Catterick battleground.
The ride was long, hard and as they neared the battleground, they could hear the crows, screaming. It was not long before the smell of rotting corpses was added to the cacophony. Wart vomited over the side over the side of his warhorse “If you think that it is bad now young one, wait until we get over the hill” the old shaman said gravely.
The battleground was littered with the dead, armoured Jute and naked Pict alike, it looked as though the Gododdin had held the Jutes for days and taken a fair number with them, but in the end it had been futile, as they must have known from the beginning. Taliesin screamed and leapt from his mount and charged down from the hill only to fall to his knees beside one of the bodies. “Something to learn young prince,” Myrrlin murmured “Shaman die just as well as ordinary men.”
Aneirin, Taliesin’s younger brother, stirred in the young man’s arms, and started to sing in a strange, and beautiful language, that evoked in Wart images of bravery and death. Myrrlin turned to Wart with a surprised look on his face “Would you like me to translate young prince? Some of this pertains to your future.”
Wart nodded, the old shaman tilted his head back and started to sing in the tongue of his fathers people, whom the Jutes called Welsh.
He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress
Though he was no Arthur
Among the powerful ones in battle
In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade
“It seems that young Aneirin has been granted a vision of the future, and lets us know of your importance while telling us of the deeds of the men he fought with” Myrrlin said with wonder “Your mother named you Artorius did she not, and in your father’s tongue this name would be Arthur?”
“Yes.” Wart said suspiciously
“It seems that you have great things ahead of you young prince.”
It was a full day before Aneirin ceased to sing and drew his last breath. Taliesin stood and drew a deep breath, he turned to look at his master “I wish to send these men directly to the other side.”
“As you wish.” The old shaman responded, turning to Wart, he murmured a warning “You are about to see something that no man has seen in living memory, a binding. We are about to ask the fae to come forth and bear these men to paradise. Please, be careful young one and do not look directly at the fae and do not go near them, for they are perilous to mortals.”
The two shamans walked to the centre of the battlefield and knelt facing one another, heads touching. They started to sing in that strange language again, but instead this time the sound sent a chill down Wart’s spine. As they sang their woad spirals seemed to take on a glow in the dying light. At first Wart thought that he was imagining it but as their singing intensified the light increase and started taking on patterns of their own, fire like patterns around the old man and shapes that resembled snowflake around Taliesin. As the light patterns mixed a sudden flaring of white light burst free and Wart was forced to close his eyes, when he opened them again what he saw left him dumbfounded, all of the ground was covered in a coating of white fire. The field of bodies was deathly silent, no longer could Wart hear the cawing of carrion birds or the soft groaning of dying men. Out of the ethereal fire stepped two figures, unmistakable female, one wreathed in flame, the other cloaked in flowing, shimmering ice. The figures spoke in unison, or at least seemed to, it felt as though the words were flowing directly into Warts head:
YOU DARE CALL US, YOUNG SHAMAN?
WE ARE THE SIDHE,
EMBODYMENT OF THE SEASONS
Myrrlin did not look up but sang a response in his strange language.
SO, YOU WISH US TO BEAR AWAY THESE MEN
TO HONOUR THEIR DEEDS
WHAT DO YOU OFFER IN RETURN?
Again, Myrrlin sang a response
WE WILL NOT TAKE YOUR LIFE YOUNG MYRRLIN.
Taliesin slumped in defeat
DO NOT FRET CHILD, WE WILL BEAR YOUR DEAD
BUT WE SHALL TAKE OUR OWN REPARATIONS
The figures then appeared in front of Wart.
YOUNG ARTORIUS, YOU ARE NOW IN OUR SERVICE
YOU WILL DIE AT A TIME OF OUR CHOOSING
TO SAVE THIS WORLD FROM THE UNSEELIE
The flames then reached up and covered Wart and a searing pain seemed to burst from every part of his body. Wart writhed in agony, screaming in torment without end, it seemed as if his very soul was on fire. Just when he thought he might die from the pain, it stopped, and Wart began to retreat from consciousness.
SLEEP WELL YOUNG ONE
YOU ARE NOW PENDRYGON
KNIGHT OF THE SIDHE
When Wart woke, he was still on the battlefield, surrounded by the men of the Castle Guard who were staring in wonder. Not at the field, now empty of corpses, nor the flowers that had sprung up in the wrong season, but at the sword that stuck upright beside the prone Wart. The sword was a beautifully crafted, silver hand-and-a-half broadsword with an engraved Dragon, head at the point, tail at the hilt, with scales of alternating blue and red. Taliesin pushed his way to the front and whispered one word reverently: