It was a dark and dingy night that kept King Arthur alive in those fretful hours between losing a battle and being about to lose a war. Through miserable flooded fields did they make their way with precious hedgerow as their cover between them and certain oblivion. It was devilish work of the most tortuous kind and the King, though wounded in battle, did set his face like stone to the task of escape. Time hidden would buy them time to think and perhaps more importantly their supporters time to believe once more.
To a copse of trees did he lead his faithful few, their lives now hidden on a tall Wessex hill that surely would give up its precious treasure before the night was done. Above them a fearful storm was brewing, flashes of the gods anger shooting across the midnight sky.
‘And now my lord?’ asked Tristan loyal and true.
‘We wait,’ replied the King, ‘see what the gods will do with our fates.’
Genovefa stood calm, her bow kept ready. Behind her Iudocus and Taliesin debated what best to do. The King, arm broken and neck severely strained, spoke to his small group.
‘These days, these very days are the best of our lives for at this point we feel more alive than we will ever feel.’
‘But how, my liege?’ asked Taliesin, his renowned poetry having deserted him as the horror of war had taken its toll.
‘Ah, dear man, you have the voice of an age, do you know that? People will speak of your work for generations upon generations and your work will be richer for this truth that you learn today. You see right here you are aware of the very beat of your heart, you hear the wing of the bird, you see the movement of the blade of grass that moves but simply in the breeze, yet you watch it with the look of a hawk. You do so because you know your life stands on the precipice of death and never will your senses be more alive than they are right now.’
Genovefa, who had heard and been soothed by the words of the man who she would happily follow to the throws of death, now spoke,
‘They come my Lord.’
And they were. Hoards of invaders from the west were now steadily climbing towards the circle of trees high above them.
‘Come my Lord, we must make haste’ said Tristan, keen to keep his King from the brood below. The words sat in the air, as they always must, before dissolving into the ears of those that listen.
‘We do no such thing,’ spoke Arthur, clear and true.
‘But sire, within an hour we will be encircled and by this time tomorrow will have been fed to the birds!’ declared a startled Iudocus, her bravery never in question, but her desire to live now biting into her resolve.
‘Child,’ said the King, his voice soft, yet firm and true, ‘if we die here this night we do so for the gods will it, yet if we live, and I believe we will, we will rise and conquer all. See they that approach?’
The King glanced towards his pursuers, his look one of nonchalance, not fear.
‘They will fear these trees. Wait and see.’
And it began.
As the marauding group of blood thirsty assailants reached the clear land that would lead them to the copse above, the raging cold and driving rain hit them head on. Yet still they came.
A third of the way up the hill the sky released fire that was accompanied by the howl of thunder that made unease in every soldiers stomach lurch towards fear. Yet still they came.
Half way up the trees ahead of them blew wildly in the gale force wind that was now pushing against each and every muscle of the approaching intruders. Yet still they came.
Painfully close now, the trees in close proximity, fear began to subside as the thought of catching their sort after quarry came to the forefront of each attackers mind. To catch Arthur would make a man richer than he could ever imagine.
At this point the trees began to speak. They did so with such a loud squeal that men literally dropped weapons to place their hands over their ears. The noise just kept rising and rising, a fearful piercing bite that caused men’s ears to now quite literally bleed. Slowly at first, soldiers began to rise and run down the hill, the first few being cut down by their colleagues for a lack of courage, yet soon enough one after another arose before all were in rapid retreat as the cry of death broke men’s skulls wide open.
By early morning the storm had gone and a bright blue sky confirmed that the enemy had left. They said the Devil had come to the aid of Arthur and their priests declared the western lands of no Godly value.
‘Tristan,’ asked Arthur, strength returning to his bruised and battered body, ‘will you go and count the number of these trees, our friends.’
‘I will my liege.’
Tristan, a man of great honour, his love and respect for his King the most important thing in his life, worked his way through the copse fastening a small piece of golden cloth to each one so as not to double count. He returned to his King, his mission complete.
‘495 noble trees sire!’ he declared.
At this King Arthur, aided by Genovefa, stood and addressed the small group.
‘For now and ever more this copse that saved our lives will be known as ‘The 500.”
‘But sire, there were 495?’ said Tristan wondering if he had been misheard.
‘Last night 500 warriors,
these trees and us 5,
stood as one.
Ever thus and ever will be,
the power of truth,
For man can kick
and man can scream,
but nature is true
and at its heart serene.
You can kill my heart,
you can attack my soul,
but these trees attest
that they keep me whole.’
Subscribe to Journal
The Birthday Gift
The Birthday Gift is a novel that sweeps through issues of love, of hope, of sorrow and of destiny. It spans across Europe, from Cornwall to London to France to Germany and then to Poland.
Available to pre-order now
On Ashover Hill
On Ashover Hill travels across Europe, spanning generations of the McTeer family and the love, hurt, pain and redemption that follows.
Available to buy nowBuy