Votan and Other Novels (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) (104 page)

BOOK: Votan and Other Novels (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
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‘Aye, we knew it.’ The Hall of Eiddin was as silent, as dark as the streets of Cattraeth. Men had died there; had we been more alive here, in all our feasts?

‘Owain was arrogant and proud. The man who will gather together a Household from all the Kings of Britain can have no such spirit. He must be a man who is used to rejection, who will be surprised to find anyone who will follow him, who will never quite expect the love men feel for him. A man who all his life has been pushed, passed from one host to another, always a stranger, never in a land or a Hall of his own, he will be willing to explain humbly, simply, what he wants men to do.’

‘There is no such man.’ I too looked into my cup as I spoke. My anger now was gone. That
was
how we had followed Owain, blindly, suspending our senses, as we went on a hopeless, useless ride. ‘Owain
could
have done it. Any man would have followed Owain, once they had heard him. But for this dream of yours, this desire to prove that Owain’s way was wrong, you destroyed him. And you have destroyed your Kingdom. Where now are the arms that should have defended Eiddin? Who now wear those suits of mail? Who now wield the swords your smiths beat out with such patience? Who but the crows benefit from the food your farmers raised and brought in to you? And where now are all those golden warriors, scarlet cloaked, who sat once with me here at table? Where is Precent? Where is Aidan? Where is Cynrain? Where is Bradwen the wisest of all women? And where, above all, is Owain?’ I looked around the gloomy Hall. ‘Where, now, is Gwenllian? And where, where, is the little boy? Mynydog, where is Arthur?’

‘When the Household of Eiddin rode South to fight,’ and Mynydog was calm in speech as if he were pronouncing judgement in some case of chance murder between relations or a dispute over land or sheep, ‘the host of Bladulf was told. And they were told that the host of Elmet, too, was on the road. They received their challenge, and they came out to meet it. Then, as never before, they faced a threat that might well have driven them into the sea, if Elmet had indeed marched, if all my nation had been faithful, as you were. The Saxons marched, first, to meet Elmet. But when they saw that Elmet was not going to war,
they turned to meet you. They expected to fight great battles, and, indeed, even though Elmet did not march, at Cattraeth they fought a greater battle than they would have expected, when only three hundred men faced them. They did not know that our army would be so few. To meet you, they brought back out of the hills their roving bands. There was not a Saxon warrior between the Wall and the Humber who did not face you. All the hill-country, between the Road to the South and the Irish Sea, was empty of them.

‘For the first time for four years, a woman and child could travel by land, from Eiddin to Wroxeter, from the House of Mynydog to the House of Uther Pendragon. Gorlois Ygraine’s husband is dead; they are gone who sought the child’s life. Now, he can be fostered in his father’s country. He will be safer there; here, how long can we hold against the Irish who come in from the West and roundabout from the North?’

‘For that you spent the Household? To clear the hill-country so that your grandchild could be safer, a little safer, for a few years?’

‘For that, Aneirin, for that. This is he, I tell you, who will have the humility to lead the Household of all the Kings of the Island, and the wisdom to know when to fight, and the calmness to command.’

‘He alone, of all the Romans in the Island?’

‘He alone, to have all that, and be also of blood to attract attention, but yet, by birth, barred from any throne of his own. Syvno saw this, he read it in the stars, Gelorwid knew it, the Virgin told him in his prayers. Even Owain knew it, Owain the Proud, the unteachable, he recognised majesty.’

‘And I …?’

‘An astronomer may talk of the future, Aneirin, or a Priest, or a soldier. But not a Poet, because a Poet talks only of what is true, what is fact.’

‘But am I still a Poet, blood-shedder, steel-bearer?’

‘Go out, and ask a holier man than I am.’

Epilogue

Mynydog, then, sacrificed us all, the Household of Eiddin, the three hundred picked warriors of the Isle of Britain, so that, though Eiddin fell, and Dumbarton, yet Britain should live, and Rome live in Britain. I did not believe him then. Since then, I have seen it come true.

My little Arthur rode out as the Captain of a Household of all the Kings of Britain. He led warriors from Cornwall and from Orkney, as Owain did, from Cardigan and from Elmet and from Little Britain beyond the sea. Arthur killed Bladulf beneath the Rock of Eiddin. But no dead Bladulf could bring again to life Mynydog the Merciful, the Wise. Even Bernicia is ours again. Mordred governs it for Arthur and all the kings of Britain. And after Arthur, Mordred will lead the Household.

Still, though, the men of Arthur’s Household must ride out in pairs as I did with Cynon. Still they must fight Savage giants in their wheatfields. Still they must find the dragon ships drifting to shore, and destroy them with iron and fire. All we did, they do.

Yet, I have never seen Arthur since, nor Gwenllian. They tell me that she still lives in Arthur’s Court, in Camelot, and even Guinevere gives her precedence. Wise she is now as Bradwen ever was, and they say, more beautiful. But she has never married.

I went out that night from the Hall of Mynydog. I walked out across Eiddin and across Strathclyde, and at last I came to the island of the monks. I stood before the Bishop in his cell, silent, and he knew my wish without words and shaved my head in front from ear. I paddled the skin boat across the warlike sea to Dalriada in Ireland, and I walked to the Monastery at Bangor, founded from that older Bangor in my father’s kingdom. And for my father’s sake the monks took me in. There the monks taught
me to read and to write, and there I followed the worship of the Virgin and her son, who likewise went to their Cattraeth.

Seven years after I came to Bangor, the Virgin drove me out again in a dream, to seek a tree which bore three fruits. I wandered till I came to this place, where there was an oak, with acorns on the branches, and a dove’s nest in the leaves, and a sow and her litter among the roots. Here I made my llan. I cleared the ground for my garden of beans within the wattle fence. I hung my bell on a branch of the oak tree, and ever since I have remained in my little hut of withies and clay. Here I will stay till I die. And in that time, I have done my penance to the Virgin for my own sins, and for the sins of all who rode with me to Cattraeth.

I am a spoilt warrior, that I returned from a field where my Captain died. Therefore, I cannot work as a man, but only as a hermit. I am a spoilt man, and I cannot be a priest. I am a spoilt poet, who cannot sing, and therefore I must write. That was my penance. I have written down the death songs of all who died at Cattraeth, as I could find vellum. Perhaps they will come at last into the hands of someone who will take them to Arthur, or to Cynrig in Cardigan: perhaps not. Now the three hundred and three songs are ended. I am ready for my own death, so long postponed.

This was the Goddodin, the song of the Household of Eiddin. I, Aneirin, wrote it.

In Memoriam
Roger Berkshire

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John James (1923–1993)

David John James studied philosophy at St David’s University College, Lampeter, and also read and completed an MA in psychology at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He became a psychologist for the Ministry of Defence, lecturing on the selection and training of air crews for the RAF at Brampton. In addition to writing he also worked as a teacher and later for the Scientific Civil Service working on aviation problems. He is known for writing four historical novels set in Roman and early medieval Britain and Europe. He is buried in the graveyard at Strata Florida Abbey in Wales.

Copyright

A Gollancz eBook

Text copyright © John James 1966, 1968, 1969

Introduction copyright © Neil Gaiman 2014

All rights reserved.

The right of John James to be identified as the author of this work, and the right of Neil Gaiman to be identified as the author of the introduction, has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This eBook first published in Great Britain in 2015 by

Gollancz

The Orion Publishing Group Ltd

Orion House

5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane

London, WC2H 9EA

An Hachette UK Company

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978 1 473 21404 0

All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

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BOOK: Votan and Other Novels (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
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