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Restless at the royal court, the young Prince Bladud sets off to consult an oracle in the west country - a wild wooded place near a mysterious hot spring that gushes from a cave. There the priestess ...
Restless at the royal court, the young Prince Bladud sets off to consult an oracle in the west country - a wild wooded place near a mysterious hot spring that gushes from a cave. There the priestess tells him that he will be a great king, and that one day he will fly like an eagle.
When he returns to his father's hill-fort at Trinovantum, ancient London, Bladud's head is full of magnificent dreams... until trickery entraps him in a loveless marriage. His unquenchable thirst for knowledge, sharpened by a mysterious experience at the burial mound of his forefathers, takes him away from his home and wife on a dangerous journey to faraway Greece. There he meets and falls in love with a woman who has appeared to him many times already in dreams and visions.
On returning to his own country, he finds his father dying and his wife conspiring with his brother to disinherit him. Then, found to be suffering from a disease believed to be leprosy, he is driven from the court and shunned by his people. In this dark time he becomes a swineherd. One day, he notices his pigs are free of sores after wallowing in hot mud. He tries the healing waters of Sul himself, is cured, and returns to claim his throne...
His was a golden age of wisdom and magic, where Otherworld beings mingle freely with the people of this world, and where swans and ravens and owls take on their own special mysterious significance.
Full of brilliant imagination, this colourful fantasy draws its strength and inspiration from the strange and beautiful realms of Celtic and Greek myth and legend.
The night was drawing closer. The birds winging home in flocks alerted the prince to the danger. Soon the western sky would be fired with glowing gold as the sun left the Lands of the Living and, in a blaze of regal magnificence, visited the Lands of the Dead. Left behind would be a cold, dark world where only malevolent beings, murderers, robbers, wolves and owls – the scavengers of the night – dared move about. All others would gather close against the hearth, with wooden doors made fast against unknown terrors.
Prince Bladud urged his tired steed forward, anxious to reach the hill-fort before nightfall and before the gates were locked and barred. He could see the hill now, rising high above the plain and topped with steep, smooth, man-made ramparts. The forests had been cleared in the immediate vicinity so that the watchman on the ramparts had a long, clear view of any enemies approaching. Bladud had no doubt that at this very moment he himself was being observed, the summer dust from his horse's hooves drawing interested attention.
The shadows of the trees on the plain were stretched dark and long across fields unnaturally bright by contrast. He could hear the herd boys shouting to the cattle as they drove them in to shelter for the night. The first hearth fires were being lit, and thin plumes of smoke rose from one or two of the clustered homesteads on the plain. The lord of the fort, Keron son of Mel, was obviously not anticipating any attack or the alarm would have been sounded and these homesteads would have been deserted, their inhabitants already clustered in makeshift tents within the safe confines of thehilltop fort, their animals lowing uneasily in unfamiliar pens.
The strangely intense light of the evening seemed to isolate every blade of grass, every flower, every rock and bush. There was a splendour and a glory about more precious than the gold so coveted by kings and so laboriously won from the earth. At this moment of transformation from day to night, it was as though all things had paused – poised – breath-holding in awe at the delicate, fragile balance of mystery on which our lives depended. In this light small men were giants, birds were harbingers, and all were suddenly uncertain of their own role in the universe. Bladud wondered at himself. What was he doing so far from home? What was he seeking? Who, indeed, was he? A man awakened – or a man dreaming?
The watchman called to him from the tower beside the great wooden gate. Bladud felt it all unreal – and unreal his reply.
'Bladud, Prince of Trinovantum, son of Hudibras the High King,' he called back. But who was he really – and why did he feel that the name he gave was that of a stranger?
He was now on the steep incline rising up to the gate, and armed men were coming out to meet him. He was surrounded, challenged, greeted and accepted. Bladud of Trinovantum, son of Hudibras, rode in to the hilltop fort of Keron son of Mel. The huge gates of oak crashed closed behind him. The bolts were drawn against the night.
The prince noted the jumble of little hovels of twigs and straw that lined the streets winding up to the great house, the sullen people who drew aside and flattened themselves against walls to avoid his horse's hooves. The place had none of the grandeur of his father's rath. There seemed no order to it. Smoke rose through ragged and rotting thatch and hung in the air unwholesomely. The smell was foul. Goats and pigs and children ran in and out of the huts – occasionally pursued by an adult wielding a stick. What kind of master is this who allows such filth and disorder in his realm? Bladud could not help wondering, comparing it with his father's fortified town where every house was in good repair and there was separate fenced space for the animals. The children back home would greet any strangers with bright and curious eyes, and the smoke rose in neat columns from well constructed hearths to dissipate far above the town.
Leading his horse by the bridle, the young man plodded on, looking neither to left nor right. A woman leaning in the doorway of a hovel shouted something to him, and Bladud glanced with disgust at the creature, her hair a dirty tangle, her clothes stiff with muck. She made a rude gesture after his retreating back. Three children, so thin they looked ready to die of starvation, emerged from the darkness behind her and clung to her skirt, staring after him with hollow eyes. He began to wish he had not made such haste to reach this fort, but had instead spent the night in the fields or the forest. Wolves and night hawks would seem preferable companions, and one would as likely risk attack by robbers here as there.
Rounding a corner of the mean street, he found himself for the first time in an open space – and before him stood the house of Keron. What a contrast to the rest! Its walls were solid oak like the main gate, and it rose high above the untidy, sprawling village at its feet. Guards stood at the door and torches were already lit on either side, though the darkness of the night had not yet fallen. This place feels as though it would be dark – even on the sunniest day, Bladud thought, and glanced up at the sky. It was the colour of blood.
The guards exchanged words with his guide as he dismounted. He looked anxiously over his shoulder as his steed was led away, wondering if these men knew how to care for such a noble horse. But before he could intervene, a tall, thickset man appeared – the lord Keron himself. Clad in fine linen and well decked with gold and jewels, he extended his hand in greeting. Bladud had met him before at his father's court, for he was one of the many vassal lords who came to the High King's castle to deliver tribute. Was that torc of slender yellow gold around his thick red neck the same one given to him only last year by King Hudibras? Bladud had not paid him much attention then – he was only one of the many who pitched their tents around his father's rath at festival.
Copyright © 1993, 2000, Moyra Caldecott.