Last Light of Midsummer's Eve
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream"-William Shakespeare
Like ghosts created by broken hearts or warriors left unsung and nameless by the scribe's pen, our presence haunts the dreamscape of moor by shroud of mist and twilight...like an elusive muse to a bard composing in isolation...like a knight's soul fallen short of the angelic and bound then to the land of mortals. Dimunitised, caricatured, like the phoenix become the firefly or the great dragons of sagas become cold-blooded monsters to slay. That is the best way for them to remember us, the only way for the yearning to heal…To believe of us "they were not so great”.
Shorn of our bright armour and crowning silver of hair, reduced to mere weaving bright lights of Midsummer's eve that leaves the shepherd watching in wonder at the vision, feeling somehow a prince and the noble huntsman pursuing the mirage of a white stag feeling profoundly poor by the spell of those lights. Our majesty, they thought was humbled.
A lost society we were, a tribe in exile...but the moon draws us forth like moths rising to the immolation of light, inexorably, the song of a bard in solitude. The chords played in the greenwood beckons to us. In its haunting echoes we remember our grand palatial halls presided by king enthroned with high queen and court. We remained a people apart, relegated to the shadows eyed uneasily by the mortals though we were called upon to aid in the land's darkest hour…No cup nor smile nor kiss shared among their people in the revels after the battle.
When we answered the call of a haggard prince who fell to his knees at the ancient rings of stones and cried out...
"Help us! Guardians of the land".
Something in his features betrayed a shared blood, when a prince of our kind stepped from the sanctuary of stones to a song in the greenwood by one crowned as if in twilight and garland and to a forbidden embrace. And we answered his cry for we were bound to as a knight of their kind is bound to answer his lord's warhorn afar.
Upon the red moor when battle seemed lost when the land was to be usurped by men who bore the raven banner over the sea. Had their eyes been raised beyond the flowing dark banners hailed by their brandished gored sword, they have would have seen the flocks of circling ravens that followed their march like a dark wake then disperse in a great dark wave formation breaking to disarray in mid-air and pacing wolves in the dark pillars of ancient forest cease and their eyes betraying bewilderment, then recoiling as they fade back into the shadowed depths of woodland as if they with their keen senses felt the presence of a greater hunter approaching. They would feed later on the warriors of the north like ranks of dark knights making way for a great warlord. But the great pale alpha she-wolf turns and sounds a cry to the air darkened by burning trees and homesteads as if sounding a warhorn in heralding the coming of a lord of battles.
The aerial cries of the falcons soaring the fortress-crowned heights of those realms seemed to merge in choir like emissaries announcing the warhost of a fighting prince in a shrill cry that changed to the silvery strain of a clarion. The voice of the bard playing the harp to rally the last stand of defenders as swords cross turned dreamy, prophetic, his eyes growing distant and transfixed.
“They’ve been called forth.”
His hands pass like a shudder along the harpstrings and it seemed the fabric of earth and sky shuddered with it as if a warrior tossed under a blanket in throes of nightmare-haunted sleep before awakening with sword drawn and threw off the covers and nightmare banished.
We appeared not in ranks of horse or of footsoldiers to their eyes but it seemed the northern lights of their lands. We appeared with the famished hunger of the winter that seemed given voice in a battle cry of hunters over their kill, the eternal battle of light and dark waged. And by the last light of the gloaming, the midnight sun, we appeared to the eyes of the living as if lights in the sky, mariner's sigh were granted form and face. We were a terrible sight to behold. Knights clad in pale armour as if forged from celestial gold in the smithies of ancient gods.
Before the sun was to set on a field of the dead and bonfires lit by victorious armies of axe and torch, the last light of the twilight embraziered the hair of a warrior woman who fought in the custom of the clans as one with the High King's warriors. She raised a gauntleted hand to ward off a rune-engraved sword poised to fall. It was caught in mid-stroke and the thane looked into laughing irisless eyes.The blade glowed as hotly as the eve it was forged and melted to the hilt. A dagger flashes and he expects me to fall. No blood spills. He draws back.
The name of one of his gods.
I laugh and it is a terrible sound to his ears, maddening...He falls to his knees clasping his ears against it. I lift him by his neck and he dangles like quarry in a falcon's talons...the faces of all who fell to his blade appear before him, pale hands beckoning him to darkness. Spears of his warriors glance sparkingly off my armour as I cast him like a mortal rider thrown by an Elvish horse.
The battle has strayed into the standing stones. They have trespassed. They have profaned our realm with blood and iron. Hands rise from the ground as if the very land they sought to desecrate rose against them and grasp the warriors of the north and pull them down as if consumed by the earth. "Rise daughter of the Celts" I bade her. Yet she recoils from the faerkind's touch. I understand. And in the silence that falls...The moorwind alone gives voice to a breathless sigh of an immortal, stirring the dark manes of horses the hair of lifeless men and fallen banners.
That evening when the prince held court. Even the hearthfire seemed to recoil at the presence of us.. the pallor of our faces, refined striking angular features distinguished us as the faerkind. And yet when their court bard of our mortal allies in battle rose from the harp to the applause of their people, I approach the instrument. They make way...out of deference or recoiling from fear I know not.
My eyes that bear kindred quality to the far-seer falcon and those blessed or cursed as oracles close as I lean to the instrument like a wounded knight trusting his horse to bear him back from the aftermath of battle, so too did the music seem to take course and life of its own...all living things that stirred in the greenwood, bird and beast seemed to give voice to its life and cry, the hunters and the hidden, the wind that was sonorous in the warrior's ears as the last sight of the castle and those watching their passing from the towers, left in the march to battle vanished from sight beyond the green banners of trees and only carnage romanticised as glory awaited the bardsong.
Scenes of chase in the greenwood… of huntsman after phantom stags and scenes of battle immortalized in tapestries are illuminated by firelight cast by the hearth and paid homage by the echoes of the harpsong played by a conjuring hand. My finger's hovered before the strings like moonbeams coursing over the surface of a loch. I touch not the strings in caress but their hearts tangibly, drawing banished ghosts of memory...of heartbreak...loss. Like a warrior crying in the dark heard through castle walls…all that reminds them they are human.
Memory and present like a people apart…yearning as the nomad craves the oasis for the mirage to bear substance. Like the writhing throes of a moth ensnared in a spider web then feeling the wind tear the web asunder so too does the music draw at the restraints of the thought of their time. The harpsong calls upon the restless wonder of the youth to understand our kind by song...to know the immortal way.
All were spellbound but the shadows cast by those present strayed from their hosts and danced and mingled with our own as if escaping from the restraint of their elders for a forbidden last dance of the night. Dancing like disembodied lights weaving on Midsummer's eve by the standing stones before returning to their wearers. Ghosts of those that had fallen in battle seemed to revisit those that wore the dark of the bereaved and seemed to whisper farewell in sad valediction as the song ceased and others began anew.
“What are you..?”
The words hovered in the air…
As if replying to a song request, the music became darker-toned, as
he played with a conjuring hand, as if with a stage illusionist’s flourish a flight of ravens
appeared...their feathers altering colour in mid-air and as the fire in the hearth swayed and
whispered like charmed serpents...
It was written that “moonlight was sculpture” but harpsong is like the art of a tapestry-maker. A storyboard of battle and chase seemed to be woven before spellbound eyes in phantasmal procession. Scenes and shapes seemed to be granted form as if haunting memory was seanced...the way one would look intently into a fire in bereavement or brooding and behold images of dreams and nightmares morph from flames only to disperse like a vexing mirage of red appearing before a lost pilgrim’s gaze one that could not be extinguished by all the oases before them, visions like sandcastles built by young dreamers only to be swept away by sunset waves or a nomad’s footsteps on red dunes swept away by the ageless wind. Some exorcised ghosts others conjured them. I was a conjurer among ghosts and haunted ruins that were once castles.
Like molten gold and silver, the strains seemed, so rich and flowing the chords played...a nocturne of rare bewitchment, like the first belated stars casting their pale spell over the vales. The music ceased. I rose from the harp. They avoid my eyes. I understand. They are not ready to abstain from unjust fear that divides men to banners and opposing ranks of warriors...the kind that turn the innocent midwife to a witch before chanting crowds.
They are not ready. We take our leave of them as the bells toll the hour and we cringe at the sound, not because we are an unhallowed kind but because we know it is not our time and place any longer. Moved to do so the prince runs to the threshold like a boy roused from nightmares when his father is absent at war and looks through the windowpane as snow falls as softly as we disappear into the night…so our forms diminish like a song or embrace of dreams back to the stone ring. He lingers yearning to follow for apart of him remains between worlds yet.
As green leaves become red, as black hair becomes grey, as first cry becomes last words and breath it will his time to rejoin us...for now he feels the soft touch of his betrothed and is drawn back from the call of our kind. And as we pass through sentinels of ancient oaks as if back through portals and mists of legend…It is our hour.
By the last light of the Midsummer's moon's vexing spell we call to the ghosts by name...the ghosts of those who fell to the swords of tyrants, by their own hands from betrayal, by the torch of the witch-hunter and the knife of sacrifice for men did not understand that gods had no need for blood- shed and by that light and the echoes of the song of the Elvish harp we danced with those shadows till the red dawn and only a soldier returned from wars in the desert and the youth who knew first love saw us for what we are by gazing at the lights.
A dual citizen of Ireland and the states, Greg Patrick is an Irish/Armenian traveller poet and the son of a Navy enlisted man. He is also a former Humanitarian aid worker who worked
with great horses for years and loves the wilds of Connemara and Galway in the rain where he's written many stories. Greg spent his youth in the South Pacific and
Europe and currently resides in Galway, Ireland and sometimes the states.