Brendan: A Novelby Frederick Buechner
An acclaimed author interweaves history and legend to re-create the life of a complex man of faith fifteen hundred years ago. Winner of the 1987 Christianity and Literature Book Award for Belles-Lettres.See more details below
An acclaimed author interweaves history and legend to re-create the life of a complex man of faith fifteen hundred years ago. Winner of the 1987 Christianity and Literature Book Award for Belles-Lettres.
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The Fire in the Woods
Erc said the night the boy was born he saw the woods by the boy's house catch fire. It wasn't any common kind of fire either. It didn't burn bright here and not so bright there. It didn't have the higgledy-piggledy colors of a fire or a foul smoke to choke off your breath and set your eyes weeping. Erc said no. It was in no way like that at all indeed. There was no higgledy-piggledy about it. There was no smoke. The whole woods went up in a single vast flame behind the house, and the color of the flame was such a fiery gold clear through that it turned the house gold and the eyes of Erc gold as he stood in the dark watching and waiting with the tide scudding in among the monstrous hills behind him. For a greater wonder still, Erc said, by the time dawn come and the boy was fully born out into the world and wrapped up snug as a badger against the chill, there wasn't so much as one dry twig blackened or the delicatest feather of a bird's wing singed.
Finnloag was the boy's father and Cam his mother, free born and of the new faith both of them. They say Finnloag had kingly blood in him trickling down from Niall of the Nine Hostages or one of them, though if you travel upstream far as that, there's not a dung-foot cow-herder couldn't find a kingly drop or two of his own to crow over if he felt like it. The name they give the boy was Brendan, and Brendan is the name he carried with him to the grave where he's no likelier to need a name any longer if you ask me than any of the rest of us when our time comes. Save for life itself and a few small gifts along the way, his name was about the only thing he had from Finnloag and Caranearly. Not that they wasn't ready for all I know to pluck down the very stars from heaven if he'd ever cried out for them, but it was a cry he never got a chance to make because before the cord was tied off and snipped almost, this same Erc that had been biding his time in the dark come lumbering in and claimed the boy.
Erc was a great cairn of a man. His belly was where the stones buckled out under their own weight. His feet was where a pair of them had tumbled to the ground. His head was a boulder on top that was cracked straight across. He could open this jagged crack of a mouth wide as a stone cave and bellow out of it all manner of wild flummeries he'd learned from the days he was a druid.
"Ah-h-h-h! Yah-h-h-h! God is the wind that blows over the sea ... the wave of the deep ... the bull of the seven battles ... the tear in the eye of the sun."
His breath had the musty moulder and damp of caves to it. The words rushed forth thick as bats but more of them got left within than ever come out because there's never been the likes of druids for secrets.
"A bear for courage he is ... a salmon in the water ... the head of the death-dealing spear!"
Erc loved telling how he was weaned from druidry by no less than the sainted Patrick himself at the mere sound of whose name the high angels wet their holy breeches, so they say. Patrick was long since dead by the time Brendan was born though, and Erc was by then turned into mighty Bishop Erc. He was high cockalorum over all Brendan's kindred that lived in squat stone houses like Finnloag's. They stood ringed round with a ditch and a bank and high palings to keep out lunatics, gentry, and all such workers of mischief.
Erc had more cows than all of the kindred together. He would stand holding a stick to count them as one by one they shoved through the gate at day's end with their big bags swollen and leaking as they went and him making such a clamor out of his big mouth the very leaves on the trees shook. He was a great one for singing and shouting even when there was none but the beasts to hear him.
"Three slender things there be that best hold the world together," cries Bishop Erc. He wears a brown coat that's long before and short behind. He thumps each bony rump with his stick as the herd crowds through.
"The slender blade of green corn upon the ground," he cries. Thump. "The slender thread over the hand of a clever woman." Thump. "The slender stream of milk from the cow's dug into the pail." Thump.
One of his baggy ladies starts to moo so deep she could be fetching it out of the world's deepest well. She raises it shriller and shriller then, her snout in the air, till it comes to a squeal so sharp even Erc's shouting can't drown it.
He would never have shouted to Finnloag and Cam that first still dawn the boy was born that was to be Brendan though. He whispered more likely. He laid his hand on the damp small skull and said what he'd come to say. He said the boy was not to be raised by them. Best they know it from the start. His words was as hushed as the day just breaking and not even the waves riled yet. The boy was to be raised to the glory of the new and true grand God that Patrick had brought them from over the water.
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