I Hear a Raven Sing
It was not a village as it had no church; nor a hamlet for it had no well; nor was it a settlement, for the people there came and went like mist upon the meadow. For all of that, the glade had a name – “Emurlia,” which meant ‘place of the unfree’. Thus it was haven to those wandering from far lands, disposed by turbulence of another’s greed, Mother Earth’s caprice, or restlessness of spirit. By local disposition and law of the land, such strangers were welcome – and afforded the courtesies and expectations of citizens of long standing – no judgment made of possible past laments, nor any claim on future status placed on right of birth or passage. However, they had no right to ‘free-hold’ any land – and in turn no man could claim their service or bondage. Such was the state of time and place along the river routes of old — after the years of darkness.
Strangers clumped naturally to bonds of common tongue rather than culture; though language has never been a barrier to trade – or friendship – physical attraction. Yet, even here learned customs held sway, and many were drawn to known shaman, crones and medicine-men for comfort and solace. As many practices were hidden in smoke filled huts there was little chance for a blending of practice and belief. Each day’s end might see shared meals and fire-side performance. As hunting groups forged kinship based on skill and experience, so was the game felled and trapped shared willingly – yet, in matters of the spirit, each person hunted alone, and thus had little to share. Rituals and mystic practices provided a foundation for ‘fencing out’ rather that ‘enclosing within’. Such was the time and place in the hearts and fears of men.
All heard the cries of anguish and excitement from the returning hunters. Shoulder to shoulder, strangers of the morning looked upon the crumpled form on the palanquin. Comrades of the clouded sun dashed to bring healers from their sacred lairs. New friends of the evening embers joined in prayers and songs of hope. All listened as the hunters told their tale with signs and pantomime, and tumbled words whose passion transcended form and meaning.
“The one called Dellar suddenly collapsed for no reason known– one moment leading the hunt, the next moaning upon the ground. He had eaten nothing not shared – and encountered no peril or beast or fall. We built this litter and would have quickly brought him here, but were quickly lost. Even experienced hunters can lose their way when landmarks loom strange above the trees and faint trails lead to blind ravines – or worse. We feared that we might not return in time – to seek aid from those here with secret knowledge and wisdom. Then it happed!
Wheeling birds gave out strange cries and the breeze carried whispered rustlings of movements unseen. Ravens perched on low branches and all sorts of beast stalked our passing. A bear rose up to block our chosen path, while a mighty stag charged through the brush to forge an easy trail. Some of us might have broken from the band to seek a different way, but a thousand eyes gleamed from the forest shadows. We hesitated in confusion and not a little dread. But then a fox came to the trail’s branch and we followed. A tinkling sound like that of pleasant waters gave comfort and a giant owl – yes even in the day – drifted slow and sure above our dash for home and found…”
and of these happenings the people had no doubts – needing no understanding save what they knew beyond belief born of instinct and whispers of blood and ancient claim. Shaman and crone worked hand by hand – herbs and potions shared and mixed – chants and songs finding rhythms of common drums – and the strangers became as one.
A figure stood in the quiet shadows – presence masked by tricks of shifting leaves and filtered light. He had done what he could – called to help because he could – choosing to help because he must. He was the Given, nothing more. He could have saved the stricken hunter with a wave of hand or secret told – but that was not his way. He could but offer an invitation to the strangers in the glade. The future was for them to claim. And so it was in time and place, when men occasionally remembered what they really are – when a single life could be saved by common will – and was; or all men saved by the will of a single prayer.