This is the second part of the prologue of my work-in-progress and Patreon project, as promised yesterday when the first part was posted here.
“Ah—it’s the fierce wee devil y’are indeed, but I’m too big for your supper, and you, brother Crab, are a deal too small for my own…”
The wet hem of my cassock that slapped heavily about my bare shins and from the weight of water and the crab, it dragged, I hiked it again and tightened the cincture. A rare good grip the creature had got on it indeed. The next surf rolled up and I dunked him: He dropped the natty old fustian and fell into the swirl about my feet. Back towards the sea, he rode the receding foam until the next wavelet came in over the top of him, flipped the little bugger heels over elbows a couple of times, and carried him away.
I noticed then I was not alone in my foraging along the beach, and smiled: there was Bridey, my friend, strolling down the sand and shingle, her apron full of winkles and cockles and such, and trailing the bright green sea-wrack. A woman in full she was, not a girl, but though moonlight touched her hair, sunlight was in her eyes, and in the bright smile she beamed at me now. For some reason she was fond of me. And I had more of a liking for her than for most other folk I ever knew.
I saw her mouth and knew she was calling something out, but the wind off the ocean blew away her words. I made a big shrug and cupped my hands behind my ears. She laughed merrily, and that I could almost pick out of the gale.
We met by a sea-bleached snag half buried in the sand and rocks. Short as I was, she scarce came to my chin.
“God and Mary to ye,” I said, “and Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Joseph!”
Sure, it was an extravagant greeting, but that was the game between us: Which ever of us got in the first list of Holies, the other had to add at the least one more.
She didn’t bat an eye, nor hesitate: “And the grace of God and Mary to yourself, Brother, and the Saints Peter and Paul and Joseph and Patrick and Columba!” I winked, acknowledging her win. Not that my own kit was so easily emptied, but I was in a mild good mood, and so let it rest.
That ritual well-satisfied, we walked along together, good friends in a companionable silence. Then, after a time, she said, “Come, there’s a thing I’m wishing ye to see.”
I went along by her side and we came to a hollow in the cliff-wall. Washed and filled twice daily by the tide, the rock within was worn smooth nearly all the way up to the rough ceiling which itself was a roost for barnacles and weeds. The floor was uneven rocks rising like little islands from a sea of sand and fine pebbles. Shallows scooped in the stone brimmed with tide-pools where anemones and crabs waved and danced. Sunlight off the moving waters fluttered on the walls; the sound of softly lapping waters within and the thundering surf and piercing cries of gulls made a sort of mystic music for the dance of light.
Bridey took a thing from the pocket of her skirt, and in the dim of the cave, she offered it to me.
I took it from her gently. It was round and flat, and after that, it was something rather different from anything I’d ever found washed onto the beach before. It had a soft green color, and was smoother than any stone I’d ever seen. Soft, it felt, though it was rock. It had a hole in the center, and there were angular symbols etched around it.
I looked up at her. “You found this here?”
“Aye,” she nodded. “’twas washed into the larger pool there,” she said, “And the wee nippers were after playin’ handball with it.”
I looked again at the stone n my hand. A peculiar thing happened. Although I saw clearly, it lay as still as still as any rock, I felt the thing quicken against my palm. In the same instant, a dizziness washed over me, dimming the sunlight, and blurring the shadowed interior to a mist. Only Bridey stood definite and crisp, the lift of an auburn eyebrow etched clear against her fair skin. Then, just as suddenly, all was as it had been: the moment was fled and fading as if I’d stumbled in and out of dream, and it meant no more than that.
Wordless, I offered the stone back to Bridey. She closed my fingers over it. “I’m thinkin’ its after bein’ yours more than mine,” she said.
So I kept the stone, slipped it into a pocket, and we left the cave to its soft sounds and skittering crabs.
Bridey and I strolled on to the end of the beach, and parted without words, she striding on up the path towards the village and I clambering up the steeper way to the Abbey. The basket of my gleanings I left off at the refectory, and retired to my own small hut for a time of quiet contemplation. But what came could only by the greatest stretch be called quiet contemplation.
I was settling my mind for a quiet communion with Himself, on my knees before the small shrine upon the wall, but abruptly, I felt for the disc of stone in my pocket and drew it out again. It lay upon my left hand and my gaze never wavered from it—yet though the hand I saw was mine, still again it was not: I knew it just as I knew without looking up that pink and white petals of an ancient cherry tree danced in the swirling breezes about me, and knew the stone itself for a token of love… My heart in my chest pounded quietly, but in an older heart, I felt the dagger of present grief; and as a bitter salt-sea pulsed in that other time and place, in that other life, so it beat upon my own ears here and now, the tang in my nostrils of Irish waters and tears… The feel of a sword’s hilt pressed into my right hand that hung at my side…
I sat back on my heels then, and with a certain alarm, I considered the matter. Then, finally, finding I had no answers, I addressed a word to Himself: “So, Lord, I’m after thinking You’ve something on your mind…?”
Perhaps it would have been better in that moment to have kept my tongue still behind my teeth.
For that was only the first, that vision, of many visions of many lives, all utterly unknown and yet with not a doubt at all my own, that came to me in the next months. They still come. I know with both wonder and dread, that they will never let me be. I can feel them, pressing like a brook in spring thaw against the winter’s dam of leaves and muck.
They flow with lives and deaths, sweet affections and bitter sorrows, all belonging to a parade of men walking down through the agee: soldiers and priests, scholars and farmers, fishermen, knights, lords and villeins— and every one of them: me. They raise in me knowledges I never learned along this stony coast, of peoples and times, and the skills in me of a fighter much beyond any brawling talents I’d ever learned from the bag of loose guts my mother’d wed. I find languages at home in my mouth that not a living soul speaks today; I know lands and roads and maps of places not even known by folk in this world. I know possessions, dearer than life, I have never set these eyes upon.
A certain sword there was that filled my hand in life after life; and a precious book recalled: sometimes fresh and compact, but in other visions it is thick, and warped and worn. From the first vision, there rose in my hands a yearning to hold these things, like an old man yearns for the dearest companions of his youth, and almost I knew where these things lay, hidden and waiting… I knew I would not be whole until they were in my hands again.
Many things were revealed in these unaccountable visions, but two things I wondered much about, they never showed: What I was, to have this terrible gift; and how I’d come to lose the green stone.