Part 2 of Patrick's story. He and his companions begin their mission-meeting the High King
| Everything was just as I remembered it in my mind’s eye: from hill, to glen to tree. Sheep bleated in their various fields, bird song filled the grey skies and even a distance from the village, we could smell peat burning from the fires. The rain had continued to fall softly throughout the day and now, with the last of twilight, we stood atop the hill looking through a break of trees. Below, at the base of Tara hill, sat the village of the High King. Firelight and smoke mingled together around the homes of thatch and wattle. The great hall where the High King resided sat amidst smaller dwellings and from it voices coupled with music drifted to us.
“There” I pointed to the rude hall, “is where we will find the King.”
“How do you feel?” Brutus asked as we walked to the tuath.
I inhaled sharply, “words cannot express my emotions…I have many memories and it all comes to me in bits and pieces.
‘But I tell you, brother, never have I been so sure of God’s will on my life-I am confident that I am where I am meant to be.”
He went quiet, mulling my words over in his mind as we approached the hall. A man stepped out of the hall just as we were approaching the doors. From the silver torc around his neck and the weapon at his side, I gathered he was one of the King’s warriors. He cast a wary eye over us and, for once, I thought about how we might appear to Érin’s people.
“Dia dhuit” I said to him, finding the language hard to wrap my tongue around after so many years of disuse. Somehow, it came fast to my mind. The warrior titled his head to one side, giving me a puzzled look as to ask how I knew their language. After a moment he grunted a few words and sluggishly my mind translated ‘who are you?’
“We are from the across the sea and wish to speak to the King.” I stumbled over my words and began to wonder just how I was going to word my request to the King himself, in a way he could understand. I certainly didn’t want to look a fool. The warrior scrutinized the four of us and I desperately hoped I looked more confident than I felt; I wanted to be friendly and gave him to a light smile before gesturing to the others, “mo chara” I said, ‘my friends’.
He grunted again and then opened the door for us to go in.
The smells of ale, meat and smoke assailed my nose as we walked into the great hall. A long board sat in the middle of the room, with lanterns situated along the walls. Many sat at the board taking meat and, off to the side for extra light and warmth, a great fire blazed, with a hole in the roof to allow smoke to escape although it didn’t seem to have much effect.
Otherwise, the hall was warm and comfortable. Looking down the board I noticed the King at the head; his gold torc gleamed in the firelight making him unmistakable. Several gold armbands around his upper arm led me to believe him a great warrior and from the strength in his arms I knew I wouldn’t want to face him in battle. He stood with ale cup raised as if making a toast, although from the quickness of his words I found it hard to follow. After his speech, all the men roared and clamoured and followed his example in drinking deep from their cups. Although his beard was long, the King somehow managed to not spill one drop on himself and when his cup was drunk, another great cheer went up and a roar for the servant to bring more.
“That’s him?” Brutus partly whispered, not that I was sure why. With the amount of noise in the room I was sure no one even noticed us.
“Aye” I affirmed and, inhaling sharply, I walked past all the men and their cursory looks and went straight to the King.
‘Lord give me strength’ I breathed, feeling the fear quake inside me. By the time we approached him, the room seemed to still. It was only when I was a few feet away that I recognized a druid standing behind the King’s shoulder. Recognizable by their tonsure at the front of the head, from ear to ear and the rowan staff that was commonly held, the druids were the spiritual and learned backbone of Érin. Many of the Irish kings made sure to have their support and the people both feared and respected them.
A shadow seemed to pass over his face at the sight of me, as if he somehow knew who we were and our purpose for being there. The King ran a speculative gaze over us before meeting my eyes. My mouth suddenly became very dry: “I am called…Pádraic” I began and then paused, searching my mind for the right words and correct language.
“I see you are the King” I stumbled. Lord help me!
The man before me grunted; “I am Lógaire.
“I can see you are strangers, but you are welcome to my hall. Sit! We are celebrating a great victory over an enemy tribe! Sit and eat-and tell me of yourselves.”
The King’s sudden benevolence surprised me, taking my sluggish mind a moment to register his words but when I had, ale cups were already being put into our hands. My friends accepted the cups, bewildered, but thankful for some refreshment after such a long walk; and we sat at the King’s insistence. Quickly I repeated the King’s words to my companions and all of us were amazed at his unexpected generosity.
I sat nearest to the King but was quick to make sure I didn’t take the place of druid or champion; I did not wish to insult before I had a chance to make my request. He asked me who we were, where we were from-and quickly found out how rough my Irish was. But he seemed even more amiable when he discovered we were from far away. When I thought the time right for me to give my request he waved a hand to stop me.
“Tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow you can give me your request.” And so, I complied. We were given places in the hall to sleep “because you are my guests” Lógaire added, and we praised God at the kindness shown.
“I expected many things” Tómas told me quietly when we were given our pallets, “But never this!” I think we all echoed that sentiment.
The next morning, I was the first to rise. With many still slumbering nearby I decided to take a walk outside lest I disturb anyone. The light of dawn was only breaking through the clouds, casting a deep orange and red and the breeze was wet with rain. Birdsong filled the treetops to greet the morning, and I thought it a glorious day.
I remembered many such mornings, though I had only been a youth at the time there were many mornings of gloom and uncertainty. My situation was different then, and yet even when I was ignorant, I knew when to appreciate a beautiful morning. Slowly I meandered around the tuath interchanging between prayer and humming a hymn. Smoke still rose from a few fires and several chickens roamed freely pecking here and there. All around me hills seemed to gently roll, and trees carried the gentle whistle of the wind.
I don’t know how long I walked but wen I returned to the hall, my companions were awake, sitting at the board and talking quietly with several others, making motions in trying to understand one another. Bread and soft cheese had been laid out with watered ale and I joined them, suddenly aware of my own hunger.
“Pádraic! Where have you been brother?” Brutus asked as I sat next to him.
“Walking and enjoying the fair morning” I answered easily, breaking off some bread.
“Indeed!” he said looking at my hair wet from the rain. “I had such a good rest: I do not know when I have slept so soundly.”
“Wish I could say the same” Aquila muttered.
“All that ale…” one of the other men said slyly, his English broken but understandable. I sipped my watered ale and turned my thoughts to what I would say to the King. I prayed he was still in an amiable mood. As I was turning the foreseeable conversation in my mind, the King appeared: his face was red from too much ale and his expression haggard. He sat at the board and all respectfully greeted him. He grumbled his response and called for more ale and bread. He seemed a man who had slept an ill night-or rather one who had drunk too much and slept little. My friends and I exchanged nervous glances, but I pushed away my concern. We dare not turn away now.
I waited until he broke his fast and bided my time; afterwards, Lógaire’s mood seemed to slowly improve. When I thought we could wait no longer, I decided it was time for us to discuss our purpose in being here with the King. Tentatively I approached him; his expression became unreadable.
“King Lógaire” I began, “my friends and I have greatly appreciated your hospitality-and now that we have rested, we would like to speak to you about why we are here.”
I knew the direct approach was not the irish way, but I didn’t want to mince words. The King accepted my words with good grace and a light chuckle.
“I can see you are a man of decisiveness. I like that” he stood and took his cup. “Come, we will go to the other room”
He led us to the back of the hall, to a small opening where a room had been added on for the King’s privacy. The relief I had of his private audience was short-lived as his druid entered the room.
“Rian will join us” the King said taking a seat on a wooden stool near the firepit. The King’s tone brokered no argument and so we had to oblige. It wasn’t until we were all seated and his cup was refilled that we got to the matter at hand.
“You are the leader” he said to me in observation.
I hesitated, “my friends do not speak your language. But what I tell you is what we are all in agreement on.”
He nodded, “and how do you know my language? You aren’t a son of Érin”
“Years ago, I was a slave here” I replied amicably, “I befriended a man named Victor who taught me.”
In that moment I saw Victor’s face, his brown beard well grown, eyes sparkling with both kindness and mischief. He had been my one true friend in this country. He visited me in the fields when he could with his flocks, and shared what food he had. When I escaped, I had lost contact with him and now wondered where he was.
“A slave?” Lógaire repeated, breaking my reverie.
“Aye, but no longer. I am here now because of my own choice”
“And why is that?” he finally asked, brining us to the crux of the matter. Just over his shoulder, Rian stood on edge, dark eyes sparking danger. He clearly didn’t want this conversation to happen. Doing my best to ignore his presence, I started at the beginning with my encounter with the One true God when I was a slave, to my vision of victor and learning in Auxerre before finally making it to Érin’s shores.
The King seemed to take it all in, not interrupting once while the druid scowled behind him, looking as if he was ready to cast us all out. When I finished, we all sat in wary silence and I quietly prayed for favour.
“So your God called you?” Lógaire summarized, his words breaking the silence so that the very room seemed to breathe. “Are you a druid?”
“Nay. I am simply a man. The Lord can speak to and through an one who follows Him. This is because His Son Jesus took our sin on the cross so we can have a relationship with Him.” I wanted to keep my words simple and yet I felt as if I was making a mess of it.
“Interesting” the King replied seeming deep in thought. Then he asked what I dreaded, “Rian, what do you think of it all?”
“It sounds like a bard’s tale” he sniffed. “We know from nature who the gods are and how we are meant to serve them. These men” he waved at us, “are foreigners. They come from another land and do not know our ways or our gods. They seek to usurp our beliefs and confuse the people!”
“Aye but the fact that they are foreigners makes their story all the more intriguing!” Lógaire paused and took a drink from his cup. How it still had anything in it was a puzzle as he had been sipping from it through the entire discourse. “You respect me enough to ask my counsel, so I will give it. Despite what my wise druid says, you are free to teach the people.
‘But” he held up one finger in warning, “if you seek to force the people to your God, or cause any trouble you will be cast out. We will let the gods decide if yours is the greater. If your God is as powerful as you say, the people will listen.”
Behind him, Rian sputtered, “you will surely anger the gods in allowing this!”
“Then let the gods deal with him!” Lógaire replied, sounding almost irritated. “Come” he said to us, “take your leisure and leave at will.”
I put my hand to my head, palm outward in the old Celtic sign of respect, “we thank you.”
We put our departure off until after the midday meal, then said our goodbye’s and went on our way. The King had mentioned a nearby village to the west of us called the ‘Ford of Quern’, over Tara’s hill and I thought that the next best location to go. The sky was still overcast and the rain fell softly, but became a torrent later on. I breathed in deep the air and feasted on the sight of fields of gold and green, rolling hills and forests of trees as far as the eye could see. Laden with extra food graciously given us from Lógaire and began our climb and subsequent descent over Tara. Despite our cloaks, the soft rain coupled with the wind and soon soaked us through so that by the time we reached the settlement we were shaking with the cold,
The ‘village’ consisted of a few thatched roundhouses that were cloistered together next to the inlet.
“Do you think one of those people could look kindly on us and shelter us for the night?” Brutus asked, teeth chattering.
“I surely hope so” I responded. Just as the words were spoken from my mouth a child stepped out from behind one of the homes. Her hair was soaked with the rain and she carried a pile of wood in her arms. She paused when she saw us and looked almost ready to flee before I called out to her:
“Please, we are friends” I hesitated finding my gaelige lacking, “we need shelter.”
Her head titled to one side as if that would help her see us better and then motioned for us to follow. We were led to the roundhouse closest to the river: it’s had a deerskin covering its entrance and the inside was filled with smoke. A firepit was dug in the middle of the earthen floor and was lit with meat roasting above the open flames, where one man was crouched, presumably her father, watching the meat. In one corner sat two children on a pallet of skins and I wondered where the mother was.
He looked up at our entry, and puzzled at our foreign appearance stood, whether in greeting or in warning, I wasn’t sure.
“I found them” the little girls shrugged, as if that was all the explanation needed.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
I held up my hands to show we had no weapons, “we are friends, needing shelter for the night. Do you know someone who can help us?”
His eyes narrowed in response, “I do not know you.”
“I am Pádraic” and hen motioning to the others I introduced them as well, “this is Brutus, Tómas and Aquila. We are just passing through.”
The man grunted, “I am Darragh. You can’t stay here” he paused, “come. I will take you to our Chieftain.”
“Thank you” I said following him back out.
“Don’t thank me yet. Out settlement is small and we are not use to guests.”
The village chieftain was a small hardy man with a long brown beard and moustache which curled downward around the lip. At the sight of us his gaze became wary and a scowl crept upon his face.
“These men need shelter for the night” Darragh told him and I quickly explained who we were and that we meant no harm.
He seemed to think about that for a moment, gaze moving around the room and then he pointed to a corner of the dirt floor, “you can spend the night, but no longer.”
“Thank you” I said, truly appreciative for shelter from the rain, and then explained to the others.
“One night is not long….” Tómas began.
“But anything can happen” I quickly finished. Then I turned back to our host, “what is your name?”
“Cain” I repeated for the sake of the others, “we are in your debt. How can we help you?”
He frowned, “there is nothing. What I have, I share…I will get you some skins”
It was then I realized Darrah was still with us, silently observing the scene unfold.
“Thank you” I told him, “if there is anything we can do to help you, tell us.”
He seemed to soften somewhat, “where are you from?”
“Britain” I relied, “we came here to bring a message of hope to the people.”
“Hmph! Nothing good has come to us from foreigners. Why should you be any different?” he left before I could answer, but in his words I sensed bitterness and hurt.
“Brothers” I said to my companions, “we are meant to be here.”