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Authors: Morgan Llywelyn

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Druids

BOOK: Druids
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Druids By Morgan Llywelyn

PROLOGUE

HE HAD BEEN dead a long time.

H;

With a profound sense of shock he realized he was no

longer dead.

Beyond an increasingly vivid sense of self he was still aware of the tender network from which he was being separated. From its fabric those who were dear to him reached out, calling to him, seeking one more communion.

Do not abandon me! he cried to them. Follow me, find me!

Tightening around him, existence throbbed with the pulsing of a giant heart. He was expelled into lightlessness, he was tumbled into the unknown.

Down and down he spun.

Gradually he began recalling long-forgotten concepts such as direction and distance and time. Concentrating on them, he found himself spiraling amid stars. Constellations bloomed around him like flowery meadows.

He reached out, hungry for the suddenly remembered sensation of touch … and slipped and slid and came to rest in a warm chamber lit by a dim red glow.

There he lay dreaming. Sheltered and content, he was suspended between worlds, floating on tides regulated by the rhythms of a universe. In this building-time he sorted among his memories, deciding which to keep. So few could be retained and it was hard to anticipate which he might most need. Yet a voiceless command urged him to remember, remember… .

He drifted and dreamed until the pounding began. Shocked, he tried to fight back, but he was seized and squeezed and ultimately ejected into a place of hard surfaces. A burning flood poured into his nostrils and open mouth.

The infant used that first breath to scream his outrage.

CHAPTER ONE

AWOKE TO terror because I heard them singing. Yet we were a people who sang. We were of the Celtic

I

.race, that tall people famed for their fierce blue eyes and fiercer passions. Most of my clan, my blood kin, had fair hair, but in my youth mine was the color of dark bronze.

I have always been different.

Nine moons after my birth our druids gave me the name of Ainvar. I was born of the tribe of the Camutes in Celtic Gaul;

free Gaul. My father was not considered a prince, as he had no swords sworn to him personally, but he was of the warrior aristocracy and entitled to wear the gold arm ring, as my old grandmother frequently reminded me. My parents and brothers were dead before I was old enough to remember them, so she raised me alone in their lodge in the Fort of the Grove. I remember when I believed the fort with its timber palisade was the entire world.

The air always rang with song. We sang for the sun and the rain, for death and birth, for work and war. Yet when I was startied awake by the druids singing in the grove, I was badly frightened. What if they had discovered me?

I should not have slept. I had meant to stay alert in some hiding place until dawn, watching until the druids came to the grove. But I was raw with youth; the events of the night had exhausted me. When I finally found a refuge, I must have tumbled into sleep between one breath and the next. I knew nothing more until I heard the druids singing and realized they were already in the sacred grove. They must have passed very near me.

Spying on them was strictly forbidden, subject to the direst punishments, unnamed but whispered. y My mouth went dry, my skin prickled. I had not expected to ^ be caught. I just wanted to see great magic done.

4 Morgan Llywelyn

With agonizing slowness 1 got to my feet. Every dead leaf rustled my betrayal. But the druids continued without interruption until I began to think they were unaware of me.

Perhaps I could creep close enough to watch them after all, I told myself. My fear was not as great as my curiosity-It never has been.

My refuge had been a depression between the roots of a huge old tree, a hollow filled with dead leaves. As I eased out of it, a winterkilled twig snapped beneath my foot and I froze. If the druids had not heard the twig, surely they could hear my heart pounding. But their singing went on. And so, in time, did I. Very

cautiously.

Everyone in the fort had known our druids were going to try to force the wheel of the seasons to turn. The traditional ceremonies for encouraging the return of the sun had failed, and the druids had devised a new and secret ritual said to be of great power. Only initiates were to be allowed to see the attempt, bom

of desperation.

We were suffering a winter without end, a season of blowing

granular ice and icy granular wind. Gaul was cloaked in clouds.

Livestock was emaciated, supplies exhausted, people frightened.

Naturally we looked to our druids to help us.

When I was only a knee-child my grandmother had caught me staring, finger in mouth, at several figures swathed in robes of undyed wool. The robes had hoods like dark caverns from which

eyes glowed mysteriously.

“They are members of the Order of the Wise,” Rosmertahad said to me as she took my hand and led me away, though I continued to look back over my shoulder. “Never stare at them, Ainvar; never even look at them when their hoods are raised. And always show them the greatest respect.”

“Why?” I was always asking why.

Knees creaking, my grandmother had crouched down until her face was level with mine. Her faded blue eyes beamed love at me from amid their network of wrinkles. “Because the druids are essential for our survival,” she explained. “Without them, we would be helpless against all the things we cannot see.”

So began my lifelong fascination with druidry. I wanted to know everything about them. I asked a thousand questions.

In time I learned that the Order of the Wise had three branches. Bards were the historians of the tribe. Vates were its diviners. Though all members of the Order were usually called druids for the sake of simplicity, in truth that tide belonged to the third

DRUIDS 5

division, who studied for as long as twenty winters to earn it. Druids were the thinkers, teachers, interpreters of law, healers of the sick. Keepers of the mysteries.

No subject was beyond the mental scrutiny of druids. They measured the Earth and the sky, they calculated the best times for planting and harvesting. Among the practices attributed to them, in avid whispers, were such rituals as sex magic and deathteaching.

The learned Hellenes from the south called the druids “natural philosophers.”

The principal obligation of the druids was to keep Man and Earth and Otherworld in harmony. The three were inextricably interwoven and must be in a state of balance or catastrophe would follow. As the repositories of a thousand years of tribal wisdom, the druids knew how to maintain that balance.

Beyond our forts and farms lurked the darkness of the unknown. Druid wisdom held that darkness at bay.

How I envied the knowledge stored in those hooded heads! My young mind was as hungry for answers as my belly was for food. What force pushed tender blades of grass through solid earth? Why did my skinned knees ooze blood one time, but clear fluid

another? Who was taking bites out of the moon?

Druids knew.

I wanted to know, too.

Druids instructed the children of the warrior class, who comprised Celtic nobility, in such skills as counting and telling direction by the stars. We met in the groves and sat at our teachers’ feet in dappled shade. Sometimes there were giris in the group. Celtic women who wished to learn were allowed the privilege. But our teachers never shared any real secrets with us; they were only for the initiated.

/ wanted to know.

So of course I found a secret ritual of sufficient power to change the season irresistible.

The diviners had declared the fifth dawn after the pregnant moon to be the most auspicious time. The ritual would be conducted in the most sacred place in Gaul, the great oak grove on the ridge north of our fort. The fort itself had been built to garrison warriors like my father who guarded the approaches to the grove, which must never be profaned by foreigners.

Other fortified villages and towns m Gaul were the strongholds of princes, but not ours. Ours was the Fort of the Grove and the chief druid of the Camutes was its supreme authority.

6 Morgan Llywelyn

On the night before the secret ritual was to take place I had lain in a froth of impatience, waiting for my grandmother to fall asleep. I had always lived with Rosmerta, who tended to my needs and scolded me as she saw fit. She would never allow me to go out on an icy night to spy on the druids.

Of course, I had no intention of asking her permission.

On this night of all nights, unfortunately, she seemed wide awake, though usually she was nodding by sundown. “Aren’t you tired?” I kept asking her.

She smiled her toothless smile at me. Her collapsed mouth was as soft as a baby’s. “I am not, lad. But you sleep, that’s a good

boy.*’

She hobbled around our lodge, doing little woman things. I lay tensely on my straw pallet, burrowed amid woolen blankets and fur robes, letting my eyes wander from Rosmerta to the faded shields hanging on the log walls. They had been untouched since my father and brothers were killed in battle shortly before I was born. My mother, who was really too old for childbearing, had given birth to me and promptly followed her men info the Otherworid.

The shields were a constant reminder of my warrior heritage,

but their dimming glories did not excite me.

I wanted to see the druids work great magic.

My supper lay in my belly like a stone. Rosmerta glanced in my direction occasionally, but she seemed preoccupied. At last she pulled her three-legged stool close to the central firepit and sat down, gazing into the flames.

I waited. I feigned a yawn, which she did not echo. I closed my eyes and made snoring noises. Old woman, go to bed! I thought, peeping at her through slitted eyelids.

When I thought I could stand it no longer, she finally got up, joint by joint, in the manner of the very old. She took a small stone bottle I had never seen before from the carved wooden chest that held her personal belongings, and drank its contents in one long swallow. Her wattled throat trembled. Then, with one hasty glance at me to be sure I was asleep, she took her heavy cloak from its peg and left the lodge. An icy blast of air eddied through the briefly opened door.

I assumed she had gone outside to relieve herself. The bowels of old people are unreliable. Seizing my chance, I bunched my bedding to resemble a sleeping figure, then grabbed my own cloak and hurried from the lodge.

The fort was asleep. The only living creature I saw was a cat

DRUIDS 7

hunting rats near a storage shed. The moon was shrouded in cloud, but the wintry night had an icy luminosity that allowed me to see well enough to make my way to a section of the palisade concealed by the sheds of the craftsmen. The lone sentry at the main gate was dozing at his post in the watchtower.

With a run and a leap I scrambled up the vertical timbers of the wall, a forbidden feat that every boy in the fort, and not a few of the girls, had mastered by the time they had all their meat-eating teeth.

We were a people who dared.

The palisade was built atop a bank of earth and rubble with a considerable drop on the far side. Though I landed with bent knees, the shock of impact took my breath away. As soon as I recovered I set off for the grove.

Camutian tribeland included much of the broad plain traversed by the sandy-bedded river Liger and its tributaries. Beside one of these, the Autura, a great forested ridge thrust upward from level land, dominating the landscape, visible for a day’s march. This ridge, which was considered the heart of Gaul, was crowned with the sacred grove of oaks that was the center of the druid network.

Sacred sites are not chosen by Man, but revealed to him. The earliest settlers here had felt the power of this place. Anyone who approached the oaks was gripped with awe. They were the oldest and largest in Gaul, and Man was nothing to them. Through their

roots they fed on the supreme goddess, Earth herself, while their uplifted arms supported the sky.

The clamor of human habitation must not be allowed to disturb me atmosphere of so sacred a place, so the Fort of the Grove had been built at some distance from the ridge, but close to the river which was our water supply. Upon leaving the fort I fixed my eyes on the dark mass of the ridge against the slightly paler sky and settled info a ground-covering trot.

I had gone over halfway when I heard the first wolf howl.

In my excitement I had forgotten about the wolves.

The terrible winter had deprived them as it had us, making game scrawny and scarce. The wolves were hunting closer than ever to the settlements of men, seeking meat.

I was meat.

I began to run.

Only an idiot, my head tardily informed me, would have left the fort in the middle of the night with no weapon and no bodyguard. But youngsters hold only one thought at a time. Years of

8 Morgan Llywelyn

study are required before one can think, as druids do, of seven or nine things at a time.

I might have no years left me.

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