the extent of the marshland of Annwn. Some cross it in a day. For others it goes on forever like the mist that obscures the musical birds, the shriekers of the mournful shrieks, the droners of the ancient drone, the players of the carnyxes that gurgle beneath the waters. You never know what is splashing behind on countless feet until it is too late. Sometimes you get lost following the will-o-wisps like lost hopes to where all hope fails. Sometimes you make sacrifices or become the sacrifice see your bog body your ghost flying free like a lonely bird. You become an inspirer or a guide only to bring doom to the unwary. When you think you know the way you slip. When you think you have found the awen you find it escapes words, that the sigh of its name is already escaping your lungs, that breath is not yours to keep forever and must return to the gods.
Awenydd of the Marsh
“You have not yet crossed the marsh.”
No, I’ve got lost again, led round on splashing circle feet to the village where there is a wooden pole and on it a woman seated cross-legged on the head of a bull a crane with wings spread above her.
When she’s not on the pole she’s in the central hut a cord of light down the centre of her spine surrounded by worlds that flicker in and out of existence whether at her will or not I am uncertain.
I’ve never heard her speak, seen her eyes blink, perhaps she dare not for fear of unseeing the realities she holds within her gaze. She doesn’t even breathe. Without her things would fall apart.
My eyes are tired, I’m out of breath, my worlds are out of reach, and I’m missing something.
An Abandoned Sea-Dragon
A blue watery dragon is snared by a weak rusty-looking metal chain around one leg, like a ship at anchor, like an abandoned boat, where the tides come up and wash over her body then back down again. She is ridden with fleas. She is one of the dragons that have been forgotten. I know I could easily break the chain but am told that it is not the chain that binds the dragon there. She has forgotten how to leave. The knight who chained her has fled from his fear of her death. The people do not feed her. She just lingers. It’s an awful story. A terrible mess. There’s no resolution. It’s embarrassing.
Nine towers of stone. Around each coils a wyrm. No way in – no door, lock, key, but a single row of windows at the top where I think I glimpse the face of a madman. They are old as the grey mountains. I want to claim they were built by the haulers of scree, the wyrms summoned and bound by the might of magicians or that they came of their own free will raising the towers from some secret land underground that has never been seen. Share rumours of a sibylline prophetess who consulted the wyrm’s heads but whose words are not recorded in dusty books in an arcane language eaten by bookworms. But no explanation rings true or exists. I feel like banging my head against the stone demanding an answer from the inexplicable unblinking eyes and long stony tongues silent as the purple
In the Shadows of the Ogres
There is a village in the Shadows of the Ogres – Orius, Oron, Thoronius – whose march through the mountains clubs in hand wading through stone was put to an end to by some unknown magician countless years ago. Now the time is told by their shadows as they loom across the village as the sun moves from east to south to west then sinks back down again and at night they are shadowier still. There is a village fifty miles away in the shadows an ogress. I tend a small garden, growing rosemary and thyme where one by one the clubs fall but no damage is done to the tender leaves.
A Sword in a Stone
I travel as a breath over a land of dark rock until I see something silver glint, sweep down, and see, to my consternation, it is a sword. It’s a tall sword, nearly as tall as me. It’s impossible to know whether someone plunged it into the stone or the living stone claimed it. The pommel is embroidered with a a pair of intertwined serpents and on the blade are runes in the language of an unknown culture. Tied around the hilt there is a lock of hair – the hair of a dead man.
It’s like an adolescent boy’s dream and it makes me uneasy although I’ve never prayed for peace on a full moon. I know what you do with swords stuck in stones and what happens afterwards. I don’t want to be King or Queen and I don’t want to reduce it to a symbol of my own sovereignty. Whereas others would either try what is begging to be done or simply walk away I circle around it like a mill horse, try to philosophise it away, wonder if I can get away with just writing a poem about it.
“If you don’t pull it from the stone another will – you can’t just leave it lying about for another Arthur.”
I don’t know whose voice that is, most likely Temptation’s, that of a secret part of me that wants a sword.
“Ok, whoever you are,” I know if I don’t do it now I’ll be back and utterly furious with myself if it’s gone. Like all the other chances I got that I failed to take, like all those missed opportunities.
A part of me is laughing at myself for assuming that I might be able to pull it out at all. What a relief that would be – another proof that I’m doomed to fail, might as well stop trying, return to the supermarket. Another part has already guessed it will slide out as easily as if from dark magma.
It’s astonishing light, easy to wield, as if I’d wielded it in another life. When I sit down cross legged with it across my knees and run my hands over the runes I realise each marks a life taken and I weep.
The Soul Watcher
A land of stone. A giant’s sword abandoned. A stony citadel lit by cobwebs of pulsing green light. Inside I find a work station with a gigantic swivel chair in the middle. There are billions and billions of monitors, only a quarter of them working, tracking graphs in countless glowing colours. Frequently one flickers out and occasionally another one flickers on. A machine that reminds me of a fruit machine has either broken or been smashed. The screen is shattered and it gapes black behind. At the work station there are databases with flashing figures and I see the names of various species: Acetobacter aurantius, Acinetobacter baumannii, Actinomyces israelii… Lycaena boldenarum, Lycaena epixanthe, Lycaena rauparaha… Vulpes velox, Vulpes vulpes, Vulpes chama, Homo sapiens… for one the figures are rising and most of the rest are rapidly going down. On a stone plinth is a book with a last scrawled note: ‘steep decline… can’t reboot the machine… the well.’ As I depart I notice the green light is fading and know soon the citadel, the sword, we will be gone.