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Wyrd # 01

By Alexandre Mandarino

Pass along the sword's edge their resilient thumbs.
... clasp in faithless arms their sobbing wives
Tasting even in their salt kiss the bliss pricking point of knives.
... clip on armour and see in their children's eyes
Their swollen images, their godlike size.
... assemble together, create a new sea
That floods into battle. Men become free
Of the dull bonds of life, become locked in a fight
In love in league with Death, lost in icy delight.

In such frenzy I slaughtered my sister's son.
My sword cut open his face and I screamed as though I had won
Glory to nurse in the night, until I turned and saw
The flesh of Gwernddolau, the young king who loved me, raw
And Rhydderch's sword dull with Gwernddolau's blood
And his great mouth trumpeting joy. Ah then I understood
That rooted and nourished in my own affectionate heart
Was the spitting devil tearing out world apart. (*)

Diabhol (**)

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Southeast of England, Somerset, near the border to Dorset, at the city of Camelot — 560 A.D.

— By the magnificent roman baths of Aquaemann, to the north; by the 460 noblemen murdered by the Saxons during the peace conference and that today, thanks to me, lie under the shape of stones at the monument I made them built at Stonehenge! The walls of the city tremble like the skin of a wolf in heat.

The words fly like arrows out of the mouth of Merlin, the counselor of the court of Camelot. To some people, wizard; to others, druid; to others still, son of the devil.

The tall and slim figure is flanked by Sir Din. The Knight looks startled to the old man:

— They are the Saxons! The children of a mercurial dog!

— No... not this time, no.

The elder, led by the trio of rotting weavers who knows everything, walks in his mind to the land that is prohibited to all: the past. Once there, he sees the dawn when lightning without rain and a strange kind of luminous fog told him the truth about what was coming: the day that Camelot would fall and only uncertainties would arise, unbeatable, from its wreckage.

Since that day, he always knew what was in store for himself: inertia and paralysis, a left-handed Prometheus thrown to the limbo. And to Arthur dissipation, taken by the fairies of Avalon to the territory of the myths. Camelot would become a mere ruin, that in the coming centuries would attend by the humble name of Cadbury Castle, in that same land of Somerset. Humility and pride do not walk hand in hand, as well knew the Picts?

Well, since that tanned white night, Merlin knew that would not be the Saxons who'd wage the final blow with the lance that'd rip the kidneys of Camelot; nor the gone and now friendly Romans; and not even the strange religion of a child from the skies brought by them, that the king and Guinevere embraced so ardently. No, the maelstrom would be her gift.

Confirming the prophecy of ten years ago, Merlin puts his head in a window at the Camelot pavilion and observes a furious feast of violence. Black arrows ascend to the heavens, leaking the eyes of the proud towers of Camelot. An orgy of black beings — he knew they were not, could not be devils — dance and howl in the clearing of Cadbury, weaving dark homage to their queen. Morgan Le Fay, at the center of everything, watches the spectacle of grotesques, paralyzed and mute, like a statue of Epona. Haughty, sexual, equine, the anti-queen keeps her pleasure for the destruction enslaved under her face.

Merlin knows this is the end. The best knights are long gone. The king is old and tired, betrayed by his queen, his friends, his land and even the magic of Merlin. To Camelot the final option is to be put down like a boar, a proud Cornwall animal.

But the son of the demon loves to show his latest exploits, even when he knows they will not take effect. The certainty of defeat gives Merlin a potent happiness, like the actor who rises to the scaffold, spits and laughs before stepping into the abyss. The counselor of Camelot rehearsed his final act for years and now is his big chance.

In the citadel within the fortified walls of Camelot, the Breton peasants and villagers scream and run in panic. Mailoc, the blacksmith, bellows in tears, announcing to everyone that the walls will soon fall down. Owain puts Addiena and the small Siān on his only horse. He slaps the back of the old animal with all his strength and it takes off sprinting, joining the crowd of bipedal and quadruped animals that squeezes by one of the escape routes of Camelot.

— May Epona guide your steps, animal. — murmurs Owain of Camelot seeing his wife and daughter depending on the four legs of the brown creature that he had found at the edge of a lake, on the border of Devon. Soon, the two beings who are his meaning, for whom he worked throughout his brief life in commerce in the towns and neighbors, disappear from view.

In one of the towers, Merlin raises his arms and looks to the sky. He's alone; the knights and the king himself battle his blood in the clearing. But the grotesquerie cast by Le Fay is strong. They have no chance. And, after all, does not the old man know this is the end? Yet he maintains his role. With excited anticipation, he whispers to the wind the words that for years and years he knew he would say, even knowing that he couldn't extract success from them. Using the language of Cuchulainn and the ancient conquerors, he mumbles; true hybrid of priest and druid:

"Zeugma Jugum yoke
Abi in malam rem
Elleborum hell eborum
Salus castrum diabhol"


The villagers tremble with the arrival of a thick black cloud. Horses prance and neigh. A terrible noise echoes throughout Camelot; Christ, Apollo and Epona are distant now. Only Mercury remains, looking from afar. The fate of more than one will be sealed today. In the clearing, black beings from another era chew the knees of the fallen knights. Arthur can hardly be seen in the midst of all barbarism. Le Fay, under the shade of a tree, looks hypnotized, contemplating their creation. The interior of the citadel is also witness to dark events. The few survivors of Camelot — all villagers — for decades and decades will speak about how Merlin used the unspeakable, painting of limbo, to defend the walls. In the battle between the fallen and the damned, there is no winner. Only death rises itself at the end. The foundations of Camelot begins to crack, shake and moan like a bastard offspring. Merlin knows it's late. The last act.

Outside, the villagers hear terrible noises, as if the trumpet of Odin played in reverse. To the deafening sound join the shouts of soldiers and dead creatures. The thing conjured up by Merlin makes many victims, stretching itself through the battlefield. The magician knows he did what had to be done. But the strange situation that he conjured, alone, cannot prevent the unveiling of what is already written. Sons of harpies and gargoyles already embrace the old wizard; the demon-druid will fall today, along with the city that adopted him. Foreseeing his eternity as a prisoner, Merlin knows he has only a last charm. The wizard cannot let that wander aimlessly through the earth. Before being taken away by the harpies, he only has time to cast a final spell. Recite it with magic, but without charm: haste makes his last act pathetic and with few merits. What Merlin had conjured up, to not harass the land, will also be a prisoner — inside the closest and more appropriate human body.

Having just sealed the sad fate of a peasant and the entire wrath — of whom? — took over the scenario: Merlin is taken prisoner. Camelot falls, the roar of its wailing walls echoing through the centuries. Under the tree, Morgan finally cracks a smile, more deafening than all the shrieks of history. And, inside the citadel, while his friends are crushed by rocks and debris, Owain of Camelot mutates.

In less than one second, twelve different musical notes play at the same time; an eternity of dissonance, summarized by divine mercy, in order to fit the skull of a villager. Quick visions — Mercury is not there, anyway? And this? It is Odin? — of endless pits cycles, all of them black as a tea from Hades, the venom of a serpent of Hel, the huge wheel that moves up and down and up and down and spins, all within the poor head of Owain — in a second. Our heads are universes and everything fits into them. For happiness or misfortune. To Owain, the terrible death of his friends, the fall of his hometown, the memory of his wife and daughter lost in the wind, the abysmal visions and terrible sounds — the sounds! — compose a dungeon of mazes, filled with torture, cries and hues. Finally, the darkness. Owain's body falls to the floor, next to pools of blood and scattered guts.

Three days have passed, time enough to the truth turns legend and the legends that really happened be forgotten. A bright light affects the eyes of Owain. It is Addiena, Addiena of the dark brown hair like the old oak. His wife opens the door of the hut and the clarity of the spring air blind him. Uncomfortable?

— Oh, Owain. Owain. You woke up. Everything was lost.

Owain try to sit and mumble:

— And Siān? She ...

— She fell from the horse. She's fine, resting in Anwir's hut. His wife is taking care of our daughter. She just hurt her arms a little in the fall.

— But at least you escaped, thank God! — after finishing the sentence, Owain feels a sharp pain in his chest, an echo comes to his head. A laugh? Stunned, he looks to Addiena and, without control, falls back to sleep.

Owain awakes at the next day. He's in another bed, another hut, which he does not recognize. The smell of stewed meat animates him. He sits in the bed and recognizes the figure before him. It's Padrig, the Madman. Padrig's cabin is at the end of the village, just outside the Camelot walls, now fallen. Scratching his white beard, the old man says:

— Nothing else is. Camelot, as I already knew, no longer is. A village cannot survive without its city, without its king. We no longer are.

Owain looks to the old man, his disgust and fear growing. The old man continues:

— And you, my son. Owain. Because you have only one name you are called Owain Derwydd. Owain of Camelot. You are the one who will most remember this, you'll see.

Owain opens his mouth to speak but is interrupted.

— No, no. It's time to Padrig do the talking. Padrig it's me, you know? I know many things because Padrig knows many things. Have you been to Aquaemann? No? The Romans gave it this name, but in centuries to come the city will be known for what it has. This happens to all cities. As Camelot has nothing and never more will own anything, Camelot will be not forgotten, but twisted, truncated, torn. Camelot will not be known anymore; another Camelot will take its place in people's minds. And you, my son, more than anyone should know about things that take people's heads.

Padrig pauses and looks carefully to Owain.

— But you do not know yet. Well, you won't know from my mouth.

Owain interrupts:

— What I do not know?

— No, no. Do not make me forget what I'm talking about. Aquaemann. Let's go back to it. Have you been in that town?

— No. In my twenty-nine years of life, I never got out of Camelot. I have visited the neighboring towns and villages, selling goods, but I never saw other big cities like Camelot.

Padrig observes Owain and a strange smile forms on his mouth.

— Yes, yes. Listen carefully. Bladud, son of Lud Hudibras, king of the Britons, was taken by leprosy. The disease makes his pieces fall, as if the wind were eagles and his whole body was the liver of Prometheus. As if the ether was the poison of a snake and his body was the eye of Epona. The fear of leprosy was so big and Bladud was expelled from the court of his father. Disguised himself as a beggar and started to live like a pig farmer.

"Pigs." — expressed a burning breath in Owain's brain.

— But soon the animals also became infected with the disease. Leper pigs, not even the Saxons would want to eat them, eh, eh, eh, nor delight them through their asses as their kings do with horses. But yes, Bladud. One day, he was delighted: one of the piglets was cured. No marks, no wound, no cut. Only pig, nothing more. The prince of the poor saw that the animal used to bathe in a given pool. He went to the pool and realized, to his surprise and of the very Llyr, that the waters were warm. He bathed in them and also got cured.

Padrig became silent.

— Continue the story. — Owain says.

— What story? This is where the story ends, you know? The Romans later realized the power of the waters there and founded the city of Aquaemann, famous for their baths. Everything has its cure, Owain Derwydd. But later you'll understand what I mean.

Padrig rises, goes to the table and returns with a mug, which offers to Owain. He takes from the beverage and feels a strange taste of figs, mixed with bitter herbs.

— The Dancers of Stanton Drew. Years ago, the summer solstice, October 31, fell on a Saturday.

"Mmmmm." — the icy breath again shatters Owain's mind.

— A celebration was organized and endless dances were celebrating the happy occasion. The day gave way to night and night gave way to midnight that, as you will discover, is neither night nor day. As happens to everyone in these strange times we live in, the musicians also had divided beliefs: while they sang, as if blessed by the Maelgwynn, they were afraid to continue playing after midnight. "We have to stop, since it is the Day of the Lord," they said.

Owain feels something inside your head smiling.

— But the bride did not want to stop dancing. She said she would be able to go through hell in search of a musician.

The something in Owain's head now laughs.

— Right at that moment, a musician appeared, dressed so gay. He began to play. And he played until dawn and beyond, when the nine o'clock Sun already watched them from the sky. They asked the musician to stop, but he did not. He continued playing. The tune crossed the noon, afternoon, and the second night. Everyone continued to dance. On the morning of the second day, other people decided to leave in search of the participants of the festival. But they do not found them. In their place, they found only a stone circle, each of the rocks in the exact spot where the dancers were. The circle of stones of Stanton Drew.

Owain closes his eyes and a strange music fills his ears. He falls asleep again, but awakes in the middle of the night, drowsy, so Padrig makes him drink a little more of his curative teas. The next morning he is already in his own cabin. Addiena watches him. He gets up, feeling healed, and kiss his wife.

Three more months pass. The survivors of Camelot now think of moving to the shelter of some other city. Preparations for the trip are being made, while the children play innocently among the huge blocks of rock and dust that had once been the great castle of Arthur. The beginning of the trip is scheduled for the next week. But something above, or below, do not want this to be the fate of Owain.

The laughter in his head gets stronger. The innkeeper, Ilar, will swear for years that he hears something laughing when he approaches Owain. One night, a hungry Owain, who always feared Mercury, Epona and the good God brought by the Romans; who always said the son of God was his druid, this same Owain rises from the chair and slaps Addiena. The next morning Owain chains the little Siān, four years old, keeping her imprisoned for four hours. While the girl cries in the distance, he takes the love of Addiena by force, forcing her to offer the anterior side of his body. The hands of Addiena scratch the desk of the hut and these scratches strangely seem letters.

The days pass and Addiena increasingly prays for the departure of the group. The young woman, brown-haired as the old oak, believes that the blame for the change in Owain is Camelot and that the farther they are from the ruins, more Owain will return to be the calm, loving and peaceful man he was before. But there are still three days until the departure. Three days enough for the neighbors, and finally the whole village, realize the black and humid eyes of Addiena; the scratches on the girl's left arm and legs; the burn on Siān's right knee; the cries of horror and the infernal laughter by dawn.

Owain walks through the village like a sleepwalker. He beats his friend Ithel, the herdsman, when he asks if everything is fine with him. Finally, Iolo, the pig farmer, chafes at Owain and gives him a punch in the face. Owain does nothing except laugh at the mud in which he remains fallen. And he never comes to know when Iolo dies soon after the departure of the group, giving a false step and falling into an abyss.

Addiena wakes up on the last day, day of the long awaited trip, and without making noise, get out of bed. Owain sleeps, drowned in bum wine and pork. He had made love with Addiena eight times that night and all the girl's body burns or hurts. In half an hour, she joins the few clothes and pots she has, puts Siān on his lap and watches the road ahead of her, as tears rolled down her face like the Acheron. A first step leads to the walk, and after that, the two are never seen again.

Owain wakes up, drunk, awakened by the smell of something burning. His hut is on fire. Outside, his friends, neighbors and even Gwili, the innkeeper's brother, with whom used to swim and fish when they were children, all growl and cry out for the death of Owain. The old Disgleirio laughs hysterically, waving a torch, and screams:

— Adienna and Siān are nowhere to be seen. For certain, which took possession of this pig killed and buried them in the pit behind the hut. Burn the bastard!

The mob breaks down the door of the hut already in flames and some come in search of Owain. What they find is the purest material used by bards and singers: Owain, in the middle of the fire, laughs and spits blood. A spurt of blood reaches Gwili in the chest and he exits the cabin, disgusted. Everybody starts to run, but two,that progress towards Owain. At this point, the roof of the hut falls down on the trio. The next minute, Owain drags himself out, by the back side of what had been the cabin. He wonders if he really had killed Addiena and Siān, the little Siān of the hair black as a branch of oak. At this point, a hand reaches out and pulls Owain arm. It's Padrig, which says:

— Yes, yes. Run. All of them are hampered by the fire. Run up to my cabin and hide there.

This does Owain. Minutes later, Padrig joins him in the cabin.

— You cannot stay here or they will kill me too. Your ... your hair. It's darker. What was already black seems to have given rise to a multitude of pitch, almost bluish. I can even see blue glows, like the ink of war extracted from woad.

Owain rubs the side of his head. His hair is dark-blue, those hair that before had the color of pitch. He laughs, tearing, and launches a punch at Padrig. Laughing nonstop, Owain says:

— Damned be me! Damn you, Padrig! Damn Camelot! This is what humanity is? Mere company at the journey to hell?

And laughs even more. Then run to the entrance of the hut and climbs on Padrig's horse. North. To the north. Or is the south better? Doesn't matter. He could go sideways, but knew that in the end he would eventually go down. As Owain stirs the horse to start running, Padrig, hand on the sore chin and eyes wide open, goes to the front of the cabin. He sees Owain from a distance, leaving. He just has time to scream:

— Owain Derwydd? Ah! — and spits on the floor. — Owain of Camelot? Will continue to call himself like this? Camelot does not exist anymore and neither are you Owain anymore!

Owain stops the horse and, without turning, listens.

— The fate! Is it to it that you belong! Owain bastard son of Angles!! Owain from the North! Son of a bitch pregnant by the chance of the Saxons! Owain Wyrd!

A blow with the heel and the horse, black, throws himself into the wilderness. Yes, Owain Wyrd. Let the horse decide your fate.


:: Author's Notes

(*) These are the first two verses of the poem "An Apple and A Pig", dating from the sixth century. It is authored by Myrddin, who is often identified as the inspiration for the Merlin of the Arthurian legends. Myrddin was a poet warrior who lived in the region now known as Cumberland, in the sixth century. Around 575 A.D., King Rhydderch Hen beat another Briton, Gwernddolau, at the battle of Arfderydd (probably Arthuret, near Carlisle). Myrddin fought alongside Gwernddolau, but his sister was married to Rhydderch Hen. The legend that grew around his name tells us that Myrddin went mad during the battle and then went to live in a mysterious forest in Scotland, called Coed Calydon (the name still lives through the word Caledonia). There he lived alone, and thanks to his folly, he acquired the gift of prophecy. The original poem in English was translated from Celtic and you can access it by clicking here. back

(**) "Diabhol," the word of the Celtic language that titles this story, means "devil." back





 
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