Purple heather crackles under my mud-crusted feet as I tramp downwards towards the small, grey dwelling. And the rain begins to fall, thunder booming from some distance away, but I know it will be with me soon. I must make haste. I’ve no fear of the weather but I’ve fear of the people who I’ve been told are following the storm to be in my village. Bad people who want to take all that’s good and turn it into all that’s not. I pick up speed now, almost stumbling over stones and bumps in the ground. Without realising, I come upon a sheep, forlorn and unusually friendly to me, but having no time to pet it, I shoo it back to its herd. And, looking up, I can see the beauty of what lies below me in this summer-green valley, framed by hills and mountains of such splendour. I’m proud that this is my home and I will defend it, my family and my kinsmen, with my life if need be.
As my feet kick against something hard, I look back at the intrusion: the hilt of a sword, plunged deep into the peat-topped land. Is it a trap? Are there enemies at hand? I am Ewan, my father’s son, my mother’s mischievous spirit child and my wife’s lover and support in all times. Ewan Armstrong. Strong of arm but not of head, my father would say. But many would disagree. It is of no matter. We are all strong in this small part of the clan. But enemies we have aplenty amongst those who covet fertile valleys and water that sparkles come rain or shine.
It is a simple sword; simple and strong – as I am – and I can see the sharpness of the blade as I slide it from the flesh-like peat. The handle is plain with the exception of two small carvings, and it is a long blade also: long and heavy. But when I fully extract it from the ground it lightens in my hands. I was made to hold this sword. One hand. Both hands. I was made for this and it was made for me.
I examine the blade and see how it hadn’t been found before now – it was definitely not newly placed. Moss and lichen touched the blade and handle and the seasons had changed the metal’s colour a little, blending it in with the heather and peat. Off the path in rarely travelled land, I was truly fortunate to have found this magnificent thing.
Or was it meant to be? A destiny of sorts? Was this sword something to me? I wasn’t usually given to such meanderings of the mind, but the moment I’d stumbled over this I felt it deep in my bones that I was to have it, to take it back with me and to use as need be.
It wasn’t comfortable to run with the sword tucked away deep underneath my cloak, and I knew I ran the risk of again stumbling and injuring myself. But I had no choice. I could not leave it. This sword was already speaking to me, instructing me, strengthening me… As I ran I knew the thunder was nearing, almost like drums of warning banging and banging to alert village and crops and livestock of what catastrophe lay ahead brought in by the storm.
I ran, with no concern for anything other than my return home. I ran with the sure feeling that if I didn’t there would be blood on my hands and pain in the heart of all I knew.
As I neared the village, there were calls to me. I ignored all sounds and objects in my path – till I arrived home to Fionna. Her usual welcoming expression transformed to shock as I searched for a hiding place for the incredible sword. As I hid it, I told her hurriedly all I knew about the weapon and its placement, and about the clan wars soon to be brought by the wind.
‘We’d better do something then, Ewan. When you get a bad feeling it usually means something. And that storm is stronger than it was. It is a difficult one, Ewan. I sense something also, but…’
We hugged because there was nothing more to do.
Our ‘better do something,’ had become ‘nothing can be done just yet,’ because we didn’t know our enemy and we didn’t know when the enemy would arrive.
We ate barley and mutton broth and nettle tops. And shortly after, dried apples and herbs with honey and roots from the fields – a sustaining meal to strengthen us for the battle we were sure was approaching.
And we were right. The rumbles came upon us harder and faster. Louder with every passing moment. And out of the mist that was gathering with the strengthening of the rain came a shout or two. It was impossible to tell who was shouting and from where.
‘Do I use the sword?’ I asked the air. Both the Gods in my head and my Goddess wife answered ‘Use it’. I scrambled for the sword as the noise came to me more clearly now, horses’ hooves accentuating the crash of the thunder, and out of it, the sound of men’s voices bellowing like wild pigs. Loud and deep and rough, the noise was. Shouting sounds of fear and devilment.
Fionna grabbed her own sword as she made her way out of the door. My hand felt for her waist as she passed and I pulled her back just for a moment. ‘Be strong,’ I said. ‘I know,’ she replied as I kissed her long auburn hair, filled with straw and dust from the fields. ‘Be grand,’ I said. ‘Be grand,’ she replied as she ran, unbending and uncollapsed into the throng of kinsmen we loved and who we would protect with our lives and our dignity.
How I wished now for heather under my heels and the soft trickle of a mountain stream in which to take my fill of life-giving liquid; how I wished for peace and harmony and whispered conversations of love in woodland clearings. But this was real. Conflict was real and as necessary as air to breathe and water to drink. Peace was merely a lull between times of conflict, a time to rest and to re-gather strength. The sword had appeared to me for a reason – and if I was to die that day then so be it. I would die with sword in hand and honour in heart.
My wife three paces ahead of me I left our home behind, running into the mist as she had, unknowing who, if any, might return.
Ahead were, oh yes I could see them now, the enemies – the tribesmen without honour. I knew that, maybe not today, but some day, our kinsmen would return here in glory in the knowledge that we were coming back to our ancestral home. In our native land and with sword in hand, I was imbued with a power I couldn’t explain.
Fionna shouted ‘Ewan,’ and I ran to catch her up, sword raised, heart pumping, fearless, even of death. And I wasn’t mistaken, but a green gold light glowed from the tip of this weapon. I closed my eyes, lifted up my arms in simultaneous submission and attack and shouted to the skies – ‘Protect. Honour us. We will be grand’.
We would be grand.