Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chair of Knowledge

Story of Beag Hickory, the dwarf of poetry:

„When I was a young lad, not much shorter than I am now, I lived in a village at the foot of the Devil’s Back, a steep and barren mountain. On early summer mornings I could see the dawn’s rosy fingers turning the water to a shimmering pink. In the autumn swollen clouds hung so low, sometimes almost half the mountain would disappear. In the winter the brine would be a stony grey and the Devil’s Back would be white with snow. With the advent of spring the thaw would swell the rivers and everywhere there would be the sound of the land coming to life. When I think on it now, I swear it brings a tear to my eye.

As I grew older, yet grew no taller, a rumour began that I wasn’t my mother’s son at all but a changeling, a child of the mountain sprites left in place of the true baby they had stolen. The villagers were disturbed by this and wanted proof that I either was or wasn’t such a baby.
„You must go to the Cathaoir Feasa,” they said.

High up on the narrow ridge of the Devil’s Back, there was an old tree trunk. The tree itself, an ancient oak, had been struck by lightning many years ago and all that was left was the charred stump. And the strangest thing was that the stump had burned in such a way as to truly resemble a throne, complete with two arms, four sturdy legs and a high back. And this wooden throne was called the Cathaoir Feasa – the Chair of Knowledge. It was believed that if a person could spend a whole night, form dusk until dawn, on the Cathaoir Feasa and come down the hill under his own steam in the morning, then that person must surely be a sprite’s child and would be blessed with the gift of poetry and a yen for travel.

My parents warned me of the dangers. The last person to sit on the Cathaoir Feasa had returned a gibbering wreck. It wasn’t poetry he was spouting but lunacy and he travelled no further than the madhouse in his lifetime. I will not deny that I was wary. I bade the village goodbye and set off up the Devil’s Back one early autumn afternoon.

The sky was blue and cloudless, the trees already turning as the days grew shorter. There was a nip in the air, but I climbed in a good humour. As I approached the hlafway point the land began to change. It was as if winter had already arrived. The sky turned grey, threatening rain, and the wind was picking up. My confidence ebbed with the setting sun.

As the last ray of light disappeared over the horizon, the edge of my known world, I reached the summit of the Devil’s Back. And what a bleak place it proved to be. The narrow ridge was no more than five strides across and there, in the middle of my path, was the Cathaoir Feasa. I went forward slowly and settled down and hoped for the best.

Well, I’ll tell you now, such a wretched night I have never spent before nor would I wish to spend again.

The cold descended and bit my toes and my cheeks with its razor-sharp teeth. The wind howled around my ears and whispered terrible thoughts in my head that would drive a man crazy. I was shivering violently and clinging on to the arms of the chair for dear life. Then a thick fog crept up the hillside and rolled around me and over me. After that came the rain to drench me.

I had no idea what the time was; perhaps an hour had passed, perhaps four, when the wind quieted and the rain turned to drizzle. I thought I was through the worst of it. But then the noises started. Howling and rustling, barking and baying. Great crashes like giant’s footsteps on either side of me. And I felt things too, stroking my face and pressing their cold lips against my ears. I began to think that I was truly on the verge of insanity. My last memory of that night is that I could feel hands grabbing my clothing and pulling at me, trying to drag me from the chair...

I woke to the sweetest tune in the world. Birdsong. And with that blessed singing I saw a ray of light. The sun was breaking through the darkness over the sea. I was overcome by a feeling of elation and then utter exhaustion.

It was a sorry sight greeted the welcome party when I finally staggered back into the village. I was drenched and bedraggled, my clothes were in tatters, my shoes had been blown off my feet and I was raw from the lashing I had received all night.

And so let it be know, I might throw potatoes for a living, but in my heart I will always know that I, Beag Hickory, survived a night on the Cathaoir Feasa and poetry was my reward.”

(F. E. Higgins - The Bone Magician)

Lovely, isn't it? :-)

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