The Bard took me from The Denizen. I was to leave Golden Lane and my Taylor Wimpey home for a ritual procession through Wales. We went from Newport to Cardiff and then Port Talbot. From there we walked for days and days heading north. We stopped along the way so that the Bard could address gatherings of Druids.
The scenery was magnificent and I was very, very happy amidst the Welsh hills, despite the hard walking. There was great charm in travelling through valleys and up hills. There was delight in inhaling cool clean air, and leaving civilization and its tyrannies far behind, caring nothing for elaborate meals and the paraphernalia of everyday social life.
Our hosts often gave me Dà Mhìle, Seaweed Gin, and though the Bard lapped it up greedily with much smacking of lips, I could not touch it. The mere idea of gin made me feel very sick. When I asked for beer, instead of gin, there was much laughter on all sides. But after being mercilessly ribbed I’d be handed a bottle of Tiny Rebel, Cwtch, which was brewed in the Bard’s home town of Newport.
The Bard made a sermon on my preferring beer to Dà Mhìle, the essence of Wales, comparing my attitude to that of the worldly man who not having found the essence of life — druid spirituality — asked for the inferior part.
Was he serious? Was he sincere?
I watched him carefully, wrapped in his Bard’s robes, seated above the multitude, on a special seat which two disciples carried for him.
He always sat above the crowd and I remembered how a famous Communist Party official had told me that in questioning a person, the surest way to make him feel at a disadvantage was to seat him at a lower level. The Bard dwelt long on virtues which I, who knew him well, knew he least possessed.
Yet, he spoke with fervour, and I knew that he impressed his followers. Had they vested him, as I had, with the power of their own imagination? Or, was he really great?
And I, alone, now incapable of appreciating the greatness?
I saw little or nothing of the Bard during this journey into Wales.
I remained exclusively with the women and he with the men.
Only when we reached Harlech in the north did he send for me and tell me that my room in the castle was adjoining his. He commanded me, somewhat roughly I thought, but no doubt for the benefit of a few of the curious who were listening, to prepare him some food as he was hungry.
Janet Jones and I, together, did our best.
I was to meet the Grand Magus the next day and the Bard bade me be prepared for the great honour in store.
He suggested too that I should shave my pubic hair but this I refused absolutely.
I had a lovely full bush. It is lovely even now and I curl a strand over my finger as I write, and watch its shining silkiness fall, and find, still, some faint weary pleasure in the sight. So hard does vanity in a woman die.
The Bard to my surprise spent part of the night with me but he appeared different. I found him harsh, felt him restless. He said he was not prepared to lose me as a wife but here I must realise that my place as a Druid wife was not higher than a slave or chattel.
I accepted his decision, falling into my usual heavy slumber till dawn, when the bells for chapel rang, and what seemed like a thousand Welsh voices burst into song.
The scene outside was beautiful. The tall trees throwing cool shadows, the sun filtering russet, yellow and brown patches on to an emerald-green shadow, and sometimes peppering it with bright gold. Had I discussed my upliftment of soul, due to the beauty around me with the Bard, he would certainly have ascribed it to the ‘oxygen’ and the virtue of the the soil and soul of Wales.
There was a pungent smell of the sea that made me draw in long breaths of refreshing sweetness. The pine cones under my boot clad feet gave forth a cracking sound, augmenting the same strange exhilaration that I have since learnt is associated, always, with a first visit to north Wales and to the pure air of comparative solitude.
I drank my morning tea and ate with relish the dry wheaten cakes prepared by Janet Jones, with a chutney made from some sour herb of the valley. After this meal I was told I was to meet the Grand Magus.
I neither dreaded nor looked forward to this visit.
Subconsciously I knew I had earned his disapproval. Yet he had sent for me this Bard of Bards and though my husband was nervous and restive, I felt strangely at ease.
I was ushered through an ancient courtyard and out of the castle to a Druid grove. I saw on a pulpit, at the very end of the long row of trees, lighted by a pale ray of fight falling on his head — the Grand Magus. How shall I describe him? As I saw him that day or in the light of the days that followed when I saw him differently?
He was very old. They said he was at least eight hundred years of age.
Nothing of him however was old except his eyes and they were, indeed, old, terribly old, slits in a cold face — burning, bright eyes. He was — felt — uncannily old, weary and — indifferent.
He bade me be seated and after the usual obeisances, I sat. I had learned a little Welsh, and this is what he said to the Bard, word by word, imprinted on my brain for eternity.
“Yes, she is young, strong and beautiful. Use her for the elixir of life and give me to drink. The time is near.”
And the Bard replied sullenly: “It is impossible, for she is already my wife, and has borne me several children.”
Where had I heard this before? In romantic nineteenth-century European novels? I swear I heard it again under those Welsh trees.
The Grand Magus said in his penetrating whisper: “You are a criminal. You have forced me into death. You — you — most vile_______ ”
The Bard replied: “Take a new birth in one of my children. I won’t have her used thus for the present. Later on when I need her less— try: but she is too much involved now for your purpose. Find a new woman, a virgin, or one who has but one or two children. Leave her alone. She is now no good for you.”
This conversation frightened me considerably.
Later I knew the meaning. I was not to be killed but — keep away from druids, my sisters — druids, especially whose lips have turned black.
For you shall know later why those lips have changed colour and you shall — beware.