By Greg Patrick
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” - W.B. Yeats
Night cast its dark spell over the dreamscape of mist-crowned ruins haunted by ancient rallying harpsong, like a muse seeking a bard to give it's echoes of battle and lover's sigh voice and standing stones, like glowering guardsmen under weight of sky stand in the austere ranks of their lost mystery.
From a circling raven's aerial perspective, the shadows of the standing stones realigned as shadows drew in dark array like sentinels in anticipation of a dark lord's arrival...
It is the vision of mortal man not their sight that surpassed that of the hunting beast, a solitary figure reflects, meeting the eyes of a wolf trailing red deer through the labyrinthine glade, pelts lit in twilight like dispersing flame as they melt like a black knight's heart before the ravenous cry of the wolfpack like a heraldry ushering in the night.
What dreams do you behold then, sage of the oaks and highlands?
He sighs as red maws are raised in thanksgiving over a kill, antler-crowned head fallen like slain king sacrificed.
What nightmares walk this eve, masked to beguile mortals?
Where does nightmare end and dream begin?
He closed his eyes in pale cowl as if averting his face humbly before a passing red queen as the sun sets in last flaring splendour. He raises his arms as if beckoning darkness forth, as if challenging their appointed champion in an age-old battle, a ritual, a sacrifice. Arms splayed as if to embrace death like an old friend.
He is silhouetted in that pose against that setting sun and the living shrine of trees.
Like a haggard scarecrow in vigil over swaying fronds of harvest, like the waves of a dark sea.
He stands before the fall of night, as the others arrive, soundless as ghosts..and between his spread arms the bonfires are lit.
Only then the war horn sounds like a challenge to darkness itself. Its bray heard across the land, trailing off with the last light of the dying sun…enough to wake the dead.
And before the harvest feast of the dead was borne across the dark sea, the red wakes of ships from the greenest shore, the wakes of men in the new world fallen as if to the scythe as they fight and die for a maddening word called "freedom" to the haggard souls issued guns and uniforms to fight for a cause they didn't understand, uttered by statesmen, as hollow as carved lanterns from hollowed orbs, set to hold evil at bay. The fields of mist-enshrouded moor cast in red mystery by the dusk the sun reduced to a knife-like slash upon the horizon as if in offering to the rising dark. As if lit by the red flourishes of a druidic bonfire the faces of men in blue and grey and banners of green, the blood-chant of hearts, the battle cries of the bloodline of the Gael as they march into the immolation of fire, as if oblivion was peopled by angels, as if freedom was known a legless man before blood sacrifice, as if a druid beckoned as of old for youths to step forth to the fire and blade, for the survival of the people.
A new land, old blood, a timeless evil on this night. The old customs of the land forsaken in the great hunger, haunt still.
A lone figure rises from among the fallen, whispers their names…yet only the chill wind of fall replies in ghostly echo.
He stands swaying before a sea of bonfires lit on the heights, like a youth who had eluded the demand for sacred sacrifice.
He staggers, each step agony, but a beautiful agony, alive. The knowledge a battle cry, a luxury.
Hands raise groaning from ashen faces as if the palms crave a treat from his sack..anything, hands reach for him, each face a ghostly mask as he pulls away, as if they seek to pull him down to their dark world.
He sees a horse like a raft in a dark maelstromic sea as he struggles to remain conscious and standing, knowing if he falls, allows himself to. He won't rise again. The horse strains against the fallen forms that tether it. Two men dead, grappling over a regimental banner.
He raises his hand, caressing the heaving flank of the horse as if in some reverence, the only other living thing in some ancient bond between horse and warrior.
The stallion shies from the bloodied sabre he steadies his hand to wield, to sever the bindings to death.
He soothes the fine beast, croons to it in his ancient Gaelic tongue, like a song to the night.
The wind swept through his hair like a ghostly battle cry. He closes wind-stung eyes as he feels borne from field of battle on dark angel's wings to angelic arms.
He never felt so much a rebel as when he chose not to die. A belle waiting under cover of darkness for tidings of battle. The wind sweeps her hair like a bonfire's flame burning through the rain.
She awaits one among those who marched into the sunset. A stranger from across the sea. One of many that had tripped to the shores of a new land from coffin ships, escaping the famine, sunken cheeks and haunted eyes that betrayed a deep mourning in stone-set features.
"Expendable labourers" to be exploited on plantations or marsh construction..one far below her station it was thought. Yet when eyes raised in an act of unashamed rebellion held her eyes and did not look away as the sun set over the cotton fields.
Something phoenix-like in its enchantment borne in gaze that still burnt with the fires of thatched cottages that still burnt with a lad's dreams of warrior heroes and princesses to fight for, something touched another soul tangibly as a ghost granted form and face to dance with his bereaved lover before dawn..They were to elope if the valour by which he distinguished himself in battle did not win him standing in the proud society. She lingered even as horses returned riderless. Even as the bugles of the Yankees shrilled like a banshee bemoaning the fallen of the clans.
A horseman approaches, a messenger reigning in. He does not pass
her to the belles thronging the balconies and terraces of the manors
overlooking the countryside, frightened eyes and faces lit in flashes of distant artillery.
The man is slumped over the horse’s neck, slain surely. Head bowed, lips moving in soundless incantation. She looked up only as a hand cold as the valediction of Orpheus' song to lost love, caressed her soul, eyes looking through streaks of red like crimson warpaint
gazed into hers like a thirst-maddened nomad intoxicated by the oasis..
"Your hand is as cold as a ghost's."
"Yours as well."
In some rapture haunting the night, heart and soul he bows formally and sweeps her into a waltz, dancers lit in the eerie crimson splendour of the cannon and rockets. Some chant in the old tongues, songs of cheer or love, or marching songs of their adopted land.
The eve seems haunted as the surviving soldiers of other regiments return, bearing candles and lanterns. The lights weaving eerily as cries of recognition greet them, eyes frantically scan the faces for a loved one. Brogue and drawls mingle, any sense of divisions abandoned.
As if ghosts seek to be reunited with the light and past lives the soldiers, wounded, or shaken by the ordeal of battle, return.
Cradled heads weep into chests, laughter, mingling with sobs.
Names cried out searchingly into the dark at the approaching ranks of shadows.
As if in a ring of fire the rebel and his lady dance, unchallenged, the others cease and watch in silent wonder, till he bows and raises gloved hand to his lips.
Eyes lit as if of its own fires as if something of death was overcome
that All Hallows Eve and in tear-blurred eyes the figures thronging and applauding seemed the crowds of the clans of the mist-enshrouded hills of Connemara amid the bonfires of Halloween, faces long gone to hunger seem to be seen in fleeting recognition, as if the dead wished the living a fond farewell before the dawn, and as if a portal in the hollow hills opens for the wandering dead to return till next year's revels the sun rises as if in promise to the living. As souls find their way back to bright threshold by dawn with a wistful look back, before turning again back to the light. Too late to go back. The doorman will no longer allow those with masks. Shadow and light go their separate ways. Doors close till next year.
He pulled her onto the horse and turned away as if holding onto a dream, fearing it will disappear with opening eyes.
Night of dreams and soldier's nightmares., where death mingles with life and dream with nightmare in a great masked ball by the fires of sacrifice raised to keep the dark at bay.
Greg Patrick - 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.
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