The Lion And The Dragon By Greg Patrick
Written in Wales. Owain Glyndŵr Day
“Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? Where is the helm and the hauberk and the bright hair flowing? Where is the hand on the harp-string, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow; The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning? Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?”-J.R.R. Tolkien
There is a time when shadows lengthen across the land and before the last light dwindles and the darkness falls. When the crimson immolation of the dying sun flares with a sudden intensity that leaves one lingering and dreaming anew. A shadow of the twilight, a figure astride a horse appeared. Those of the old blood still watch for him…
It was by that light of the duskfire that he rode forth at last past silhouettes of warriors waiting by the setting sun as if standing at the portal of Valhalla. A chill gust of moor wind like an apparitional caress stirred the fields of barley, like a dark sea’s waves forming a trail of fire into the twilight. He lingered, a lone horseman in the dusk and as the crimson orb of the sun descended allowing night to cast its dark spell, the shadow of the looming castle towers cast its shadow long and cold upon him.
In his guise he seemed an itinerant bard seeking a lordly patron in yonder castle yet his gaze implored yet higher than the kings under the skies. But his words seemed like a caroler to a darkened window as the snow began to fall, a world-weary pilgrim in his aspect. Being a prince of these lands was to court a dangerous beauty and suitors.
No bard, but one in whose dark eyes was the promise of songs unsung in a land soul-starved for heroes. When will King Arthur and his knights ride from the hollow hills to champion their people again?
“Never,” the usurper king said.
His body was found in Glastonbury with Excalibur, your king will not come back for you.
Yet beneath the humble tattered garb of a wandering minstrel was chain mail in the stead of chiming coin pursed in the robe and at his side was scabbarded his own sword. And the castle’s turret seemed a dragon turned to stone by a gorgon’s head brandished by a returning hero. What song then?
He whispered a name like the title of a song, like a promise to the sky and hills, a vow to himself. The sentries at the tower almost cried out at the sight of him yet he seemed only an apparition in the twilight of a legend-haunted land, dematerialising like a ghost that had lingered too long past the dawn and was dissolved in immolation.
Like a lion pacing the barred confines of a cage amid the colonnades of ancient oaks, he rode back and forth in the shelter of the greenwood, the final bastion of rebels. His own besieged tower stood in aloof solitary fortitude like a bard’s hermitage, like a faithful grey retainer waiting in the dusk amid the ancient oaks like arboreal guardsmen, tower like the last chess piece remaining to thwart a king’s moves. And the canopies of the ancient oaks like the dark undulant waves of the night sea sweeping at a sandcastle built by young dreamers only to be swept away by the tides of change.
It was as well that the moor was mist-enshrouded for there are some ways known only by heart like words known by heart in memory and he knew his way back to her as if one in a thronged room ceases in mid-speech for his drawn as if in a somnambulance to the allure of a bewitching song beckoning. Hers was a smile that was silence set to music, a song that one could not get out of his head.
Like a lion pacing a cage’s bars he rode back and forth in the greenwood glaring through the colonnade of palatial oaks and the torches on the castle turrets like candles on a devil’s birthday cake smoldered in his eyes like a Maharajah’s pavilion flame in a tiger of Bengal’s eyes of balefire microcosmed, baring its fangs.
The three-lion banner of the Plantagenets undulated with a matadorian flourish and the crimson dragon borne on his surcoat seemed to gleam in reply in screaming red. He observed with a vulpine look as knights rode across the causeway.
He closed his eyes to be with her again, the memory of that radiance that cast it’s bright spell like the Midsummer’s sun that made landscape be dreamscape. Haunting recollection like the bright ghost of the Irish sea’s coast haunting every place he had a memory of her. And it seemed that all the legends immortalised in song and storied land arose as if conjured by his presence amid trees like green banners of a sylvan court and they beckoned to him with skeletal hands and hailing him holding a crown like an offering… and the spirits of woodland, wave, and stream materialised and raised limbs of talons, claws, and wings with human eyes looking out from the faces of bird and beast, imploringly.
The blood-chant of his heart pulsing like an old wound in the cold as the iron-shod hooves smote the flagstones in synchrony with his heart, as he imagined himself once more riding before his knights.
“There are too many, My Lord. We must fall back.”
“Unhand me! No!”
He cried out her name but it was as a battle cry lost on the wind.
It was said that wild hearts cannot be broken but they are the only ones that can be, really. His heart melted when she had made entrance into the bardic hall and the bard’s song ceased for she was song itself as no soloist wants to play next to a master of the art. It broke when she was captured and the wind that stirred the dark manes of horses and fallen banners in aftermath of battle seemed the battle cry of the land itself roaring in his ears with almost human mourning for a land bereaved of heirs when he sought her tirelessly. And only in his dreams were they reunited when he fell at last to sleep under the oak canopy and stars lulled at last to slumber by the bard’s harp and hand clutched the hilt of sword like a talisman.
The harp of the bard that followed him into exile that lulled his heart in waking hour to some measure of repose if not solace. And he remembered his usurped house as if haunted by a ghost of Christmas past in chains.
He envisioned her as she stood against a background of the bardic hall’s hearth flames cheeks flushed with dancing and laughter and the flames like serpents charmed by the harpsong rendered her in a bewitching way that made her seemed crowned by the Northern lights.
Like a portal to an Elvish realm it seemed as she made her entrance and like heart-uplifted her song he arose to his feet at the sight of her. And the land had not seen her like since Queen Guinevere passed into the mists of legend. A garland of Welsh heather like a floral enhaloment adorned her brow as ever she was on the mind.
Her gaze was startingly, impossibly green, voluminous as the library of poetry it would take to do her justice yet ever understated. Eyes like sequestered tidepools of Irish sea or dream-differed, never to be reunited with the ocean or dreamer, an oasis in which nomad or mariner would blissfully drown in bright fathoms as if drawn down by siren’s hands.
And her smile cast it’s maleficence like moonlight’s spell over the dreamscape of castle-adorned land that he beheld with her from the panoramic glory of his keep’s battlements… parting ways on eve of battles. They had pulled away from the reels and with her face flushed from laughter and the dance into the chill rain and their laughter was visible, steaming like duelist’s pistols, waiting to see who would fall and because they were home their voices were visible and they laughed their eyes bright. Her colours requested to bear on his Chapelle and he thought dreamily…
Had you debuted in the court of Prince Llewellyn of Wales, the harpsong would have ceased for the bards would have been struck dumb and the most gifted unable to do justice in song. The last warrior prince of the free Cymry would have doffed his helm and said respectfully:
“My Lady welcome home. We missed you.” gesturing to a throne.
He remembered how a knight fell unhorsed during the anarchy of battle when they closed with the enemy and a cascade of red hair like molten amber fell from the helm as if wine from a chalice. He tried to cut his way to her, casting aside his shield and taking the sword’s hilt in two gauntleted fists. He was pulled back by his retainers.
“There are too many, My Lord. We must fall back.”
“Unhand me! No!”
He cried out her name but it was as a battle cry lost on the wind.
Now he was seated astride his warhorse like an equestrian enthronement looking down from a high crag overlooking the field of battle like a lion watching a herd from a lordly vantage point. His gauntleted fist rested on the pommel and slung at his side, his shield bearing the insignia of his rightful house usurped. Waiting for the moment he could enfold her hand in his own and say on bent knee.
“My Lady you are free as the land…as free as the red kites that soar around the towers of our castle…Come hither and let me return you to the greenwood of our land where we can laugh again amid the trees green in spring of red as your colours in the Autumn.”
But now there was fighting yet. Nightmare before dreams. Sword strokes would glance sparkingly off his armour-clad form and blades parried by his sword before falling from limp fingers when his own would blaze in reply.
“Tempest coming, Sir,” advised a retainer of the Anglo-Norman lord whose army marched on the range of hills far below.
The rising wind almost tore the three-lion banner from the lance it was pennoned upon. The brooding clouds, dark and cauldrenous massed above the ominous range of hills like parapets of a last bastion in the dusk.
“I know,” his commander answered with a distant brooding tone, his eyes locked on the cloud-darkened hills.
“I feel that old wolf’s eyes on us.” he cursed. “Here’s here.”
He drew his sword brandishingly as aloft a high windswept vantage point where snow yet lingered, one stood impassive like a guardian of the hills upon a besieged castle’s turret, keen eyes observing the movements of armies in maddening languidity like chess pieces. Eyes cold as the blade he wielded and breath held in expectation and drew as taut as the bowstring and swords around him averted his gaze to the lone apparition of the native raptors that haunted the skies of his land, a magnificent red kite.
The flock of ravens that followed in the wake of armies on the march for battle’s aftermath dispersed at its approach. Scavengers yielding before a huntsman. Like shadows before a flame.
Its crimson feathers fell like dragon’s tears of fire upon him as if hailing him and he closed his eyes remembering when leaves fell red around him and his lady in the Autumn forests. Its shrill cry swept through his soul sonorously the way a bard’s harpsong would like an aerial heraldry. To him it seemed an aerial banner and he felt up-lifted by its majesty, like a warrior’s emissary to the gods it seemed.
“Remember my name then to the skies and announce my coming to my forefathers in celestial halls if I should fall. And may another rise as greatly from the ranks to take up the battle if I am slain this red twilight.”
He nodded to his standard-bearer, who imitating the call of a wild bird, a ghost army was seemingly conjured by a resurrected lord of the forest from amid the standing stones of ancient rites. He raised a gauntleted palm in the air and those behind him, haggard, disheveled, and gaunt faced. Yet in their eyes was a vengeance whose poignancy no armour forged or donned by enemy knights could withstand. The fires of burning homesteads never left their eyes or hearts. Warriors in exile raised their bows fitted with arrowheads on sword blade length arrows from quivers bristling with dark-feathered shafts.
He did not exhort his warriors but remained aloof alone before the throng with his own thoughts and vision, as if beholding a mirage-like vision on the heights more bright and inspired than an illuminated manuscript of Kells.
And it seemed that chess pieces of pawns and knights were scattered by the angry hand of an impatient player as a flight of arrows arced over the land like a dark wave rising and breaking over a dark armada.
To his disgust the Anglo-Norman archers tried to bring it down mid-flight yet their arrows fell short as it ascended higher, circling, its cries carrying far, as if calling out to distant ears.
Another archer took aim with a superior bow favoured by the Welsh archers only to fall with three arrows quivering in his chest.
“Within bow-range, Sire” an archer commented. “Just confirmed.”
“I’ll flog you later.” a retainer said.
“No. I’ll knight you later” their prince corrected.
You know you are back home when you see your own battle cry in the air steaming from your lips and your enemy’s last breath before he falls to burning depths. The eyes of rebel prince and invader’s commander locked like two blades sparkingly.
The prince drew his sword that shimmered in the last light of the sun as if taken hot from the forge it was made… gleaming with metallurgy and alchemy. He raised as if commanding the deluge to fall from the clouds and lightning gleamed tri-furcatingly behind him threatening to strike down the armoured knights arrayed below. His eyes seemed to mirror the sword’s glacial sheen. The bowmen averted their gaze from the vast horde of armoured knight lumbering up the slope, lances poised for the kill.
“Edward’s men. That name means death,” a retainer quailed.
“With a Welsh longbow it means target practice. Archers! Loose!”
He swept down his sword. And it seemed that chess pieces of pawns and knights were scattered by the angry hand of an impatient player as a flight of arrows arced over the land like a dark wave rising and breaking over a dark armada. Having reached their zenith the mass of arrows seemed to hover like the wings of a great dark dragon over its quarry cowering in its shadow far below before descending.
Warhorses reared and shrieked throwing their riders. Like a lion baited beyond endurance a reckless advance was called by the NormanoEnglish commander. Stumbling over the fallen knights and horses strewn before them.
The Prince raised his sword and spurred his horse forward down the sheer slope to counterattack. The master of the archers looked calculatingly, detachedly from the great sight of his master leading, yet he emotionlessly counted silently.
“Bowmen! One last volley!”
Just before lances collided and swords crossed.
“Bowmen! Cease! Now!”
The ranks of rebel and invader clashed in the shadow of the mountains. His rival commander crossed blades with the rebel prince at last and smote the insignia on his armoured chest.
“The cross of St. George the patron saint of dragon slayers. ”
“Not this Dragon. It was parried.”
Rallying on the anger of the ordeals suffered in exile he rained two-handed blows of his sword as the warhorses wheeled around each other and struck aside intervention from his adversary’s retainers.
Then the iron-shod hooves of the prince’s stallion trod the fallen enemy down as he fell unhorsed and the battle swept around them like a red maelstrom raging, he lifted his visor and glared down at the fallen enemy. He raised the sword and using his gauntleted fist like a hammer and the blade like a cross-hilted stake thrusting into the heart of an aristocratic vampire that had for too long fed upon the land and the innocents, struck home with grim finality… And his own battle cry merged with the thunder like a dragon over its kill…
“My Lord” a faithful retainer cried out aghast at the red knight… covered in the gore of battle…
“Art thou wounded?”
“No good Sir…” Looking at the sanguined armour with only the red dragon’s head showing as if submerged in blood.
“It’s not mine.”
That eve from the battlements of a Norman castle a sentry cried out as riderless horses returned to their stables at the bonfires lit on the hillsides by torches weaving over battlefield’s carnage and songs were heard and silhouettes of dancing figures were seen and one figure remained alone and aloof with dream arms across the chest looking down from the mountain and those on the battlements all but felt his cold eyes, a wolf’s eyes amid dragon’s fires.
And one curled against the cold in a cage suspended from the battlements looked up feverishly for shooting stars in the sky saw one and dreamed and wished on it then looked in wonder as more falling stars seemed to streak around her and then men on the battlements fell around her.
“Fire-arrows!. The castle is under attack! The enemy is upon us.”
The cage swayed as an axe struck the chain only for a guardsman to fall after the axe from the ramparts with an arrow in his forehead. Knights clad in black night-attack armour rode through a breech in the castle walls, one paused in mid-stride looking up and lifted his visor…cried out her name like a battle cry. Her voice was too frail from captivity to reply. The chain above was severed vengefully and he dismounted and waded into the moat, raised his sword and cut at the lock and strained to keep it afloat.
“No…the dark waters won’t have you.”
His warriors ceased in the combat watching aghast as the sinking cage drew him down. Moments measured in eternities transpired. Before he emerged holding her as if enveloped in a rebel angel’s wings. Red arrows fell around them from the towers sizzling in the water or glancing off his armour as he grabbed a rope thrown to him. Mounting his dark warhorse again he pulled her in front trembling hands gripping the mane and coat thrown over nearly emaciated shoulders.
“Tell the knights to fall back.”
“Sound the horn.”
The dark horsemen emerged from the castle again as if reclaimed by the night. He turned with a pull of the reigns as they streamed past him and held aloft his sword crying out.
“Unleash the dragon!”
As if ignited by his words, incendiaries were lit upon great siege engines that had been pulled groaningly by straining arms under cover of darkness and he was illuminated grandly, a Celtic High King astride a horse with his lady, surcoat and flourishing robes emblazoned with red heraldry and insignias and the water still rivuleting from the moat seemed a trail of blood, like the encrimsoned moat that seemed a pool of blood around the castle that was shattered and consumed in immolation by the barrage of burning artillery and volleys of fire arrows.
His horse reared and he steadied it in concern for the other rider, falling back into the night and the shroud of mist as if the ghosts of great warriors reclaimed their own.
Randi Thorneau loves to write product reviews. Reach out to her through the main submissions email for Celtic Nations Magazine – firstname.lastname@example.org