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The Silver Hand
By Stephen R. Lawhead
Zondervan Copyright © 1998 Zondervan
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-310-21822-5
We carried the body of Meldryn Mawr down from high Findargad to be buried in the Hill of Kings. Three horses pulled the wagon: a red and a white to draw the bier, and a black to lead them. I walked at the head of the dark horse, guiding the great king's body to its rest.
Six warriors walked on either side of the bier. The horses' hooves and the wagon's wheels were wrapped with rags, likewise the spears and shields of the warriors. The Llwyddi followed, each man, woman and child carrying an unlit torch.
Burial of a king has been observed in this way from time past remembering. The wheels and hooves are muffled, so that the bier may pass silently through the land; the weapons are covered and the torches unlit, so that no eye will mark the passing procession. Secrecy and silence are maintained so that the gravemound will never be discovered and desecrated by an enemy.
As night drew its cloak of stars across the sky, we arrived at Glyn Du, a narrow valley tributary to the Vale of Modornn. The funeral procession entered the black glen, moving beside the still, dark water. The deep-folded valley was darker even than the sky above, which still glimmered in blue twilight. The gravemound loomed on its hill as a mass of thick-gathered shadow.
At the foot of Cnoc Righ, the Hill of Kings, I kindled a small fire to light the torches. As the people took their places, forming two long lines on either side of the path leading up the hill to the entrance of the cairn, the flame was passed from torch to torch. This is the Aryant Ol, the radiant way along which a king is carried to the tomb. When the people had assembled, I began the funeral rite, saying;
"The sword I bear on my thigh was a wall, high and strong-the bane of marauding enemies! Now it is broken.
"The torc I bear in my hand was a light of keen judgment-the beacon of rightwise favor shining from the far-off hill. Now it is extinguished.
"The shield I bear on my shoulder was a platter of plenty in the hall of honor-the sustenance of heroes. Now it is riven, and the hand that upheld it is cold.
"The pale white corpse will soon be covered, under earth and blue stones: Woe my heart, the king is dead.
"The pale white corpse will soon be covered, amidst earth and oak: Woe my heart, the Ruler of Clans is slain.
"The pale white corpse will soon be covered, under the greensward in the tumulus: Woe my heart, Prydain's chieftain will join his fathers in the Hero Mound.
"Men of Prydain! Fall on your faces, grief has overtaken you. The Day of Strife has dawned! Great the grief, sharp the sorrow. No glad songs will be sung in the land, only songs of mourning. Let all men make bitter lament. The Pillar of Prydain is shattered. The Hall of Tribes has no roof. The Eagle of Findargad is gone. The Boar of Sycharth is no more. The Great King, the Golden King, Meldryn Mawr is murdered. The Day of Strife has dawned!
"Bitter the day of birth, for death is its companion. Yet, though life be cold and cruel, we are not without a last consolation. For to die in one world is to be born into another. Let all men hear and remember!"
So saying, I turned to the warriors at the bier and commanded them. The horses were unhitched, the wagon was raised and its wheels removed. The warriors then lifted the bier shoulder high and began to walk slowly towards the cairn, passing between the double line of torches, moving slowly up the radiant way to the gravemound.
As the bier passed, I took my place behind it and began the Lament for a Fallen Champion, singing softly, slowly, allowing the words to fall like tears into the silence of the glen. Unlike other laments, this one is sung without the harp. It is sung by the chief bard and, although I had never sung it, I knew it well.
It is a strong song, full of bitterness and wrath at the way in which the champion's life has been cut short and his people deprived of his valor and the shelter of his shield. I sang the lament, my voice rising full and free, filling the night with harsh and barren sorrow. There is no comfort in this song. it sings the coldness of the tomb, the obscenity of corruption, and the emptiness, waste, and futility of death. I sang the bitterness of loss and the aching loneliness of grief. I sang it all, driving my words hard and biting them between my teeth.
The people wept. And I wept too, as up and up the Aryant Ol, and slowly, slowly we approached the burial cairn. The song moved to its end: a single rising note becoming a sharp, savage scream. This represents the rage of the life cruelly cut short.
My voice rose to the final note, growing, expanding, filling the night with its accusation. My lungs burned, my throat ached; I thought my heart would burst with the effort. The ragged scream burst and faltered in the air, dying at its height. A truncated echo resounded along the sides of Glyn Du and flew up into the starry void-a spear hurled into the eye-pit of night.
The warriors bearing the king's body halted at the sound. Strength left their hands, and the bier pitched and swayed. For an instant I thought they would drop the body, but they staggered, steadied themselves, and slowly raised the bier once more. It was a dreadful, pitiful moment, speaking more forcefully than the words of my lament the anguish and heartbreak of our loss.
The bearers moved to the entrance of the cairn, where they paused while two men with torches went ahead of them into the tomb. The bier entered the gravemound next, and I followed. The interior was lined with stone niches, small chambers containing the bones of Prydain kings whose shields covered the openings.
Meldryn's body was laid in the center of the cairn, on its bier, and the warriors saluted their king, each man touching the back of his hand to his forehead, honoring Meldryn Mawr for the last time. Then they began filing out one by one. I lingered long, looking upon the face of the lord I had loved and served. Ashen white, sunken-cheeked and hollow-eyed, pale his brow, pale like bone, but high and fair. Even in death it was a noble countenance.
I considered the shields of other kings on the walls of the cairn: other kings of other times, each a lord of renown who had ruled Prydain in his turn. Now Meldryn Mawr, the Great Golden King, had relinquished the seat of power. Who was worthy to take his place?
I was the last to leave, consigning the king's body to its long sleep. One day, when death's handmaidens had finished their work, I would return to gather the bones and place them in one of the empty niches. For now, however, I bade Meldryn Mawr a final farewell and stepped from the cairn. Passing slowly down the shimmering pathway of the Aryant Ol, I raised my voice in the Queen's Lament.
As I sang, the women joined in, blending their willowy voices with mine. There is a measure of solace in the song and as I sang I became the Chief Bard in more than name only. For I sang and saw the life of the song born in my people; I saw them take strength and sustenance from its beauty. I saw them live in the song, and I thought: Tonight I grasp Ollathir's staff, and I am worthy. I am worthy to be the bard of a great people. But who is worthy to be our king?
Gazing upon the faces of all those gathered on the slopes of the Cnoc Righ, I wondered who among them could wear the torc Meldryn Mawr had left behind. Who could wear the oak-leaf crown? There were good men among us, fine and strong, chieftains who could lead in battle-but a king is more than a war leader.
Who is worthy to be king? I thought. Ollathir, my teacher and my guide, what would you have me do? Speak to me, old friend, as you did in former times. Give your Filidh benefit of your sage wisdom. I wait on your word, Wise Counsellor. Instruct me in the way that I
Excerpted from The Silver Hand by Stephen R. Lawhead Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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