I stand with a friend and his friend who is on the edge of time. She is about to leave it, extraordinary women that she is. I spent two hours yesterday in the land between the living and the timeless, watching her place her foot on the road to infinity, seeing her joy as she contemplated leaving a tired old body behind.
I wonder if I shall see her again before she leaves.
I came home last night and delved into research on local myths, devouring an old book About Herne the Hunter who haunts our forests, and found an old story about a king of the Britons. His name was King Herla.
One day he was out with his men in the forest and a very small man indeed emerged from undergrowth. He was short, swarthy and charismatic, like Pan himself. And there was something unearthly about him. He was clearly a man of status, one who led many men, and he spoke to the king thus:
‘Herla, you are exulted among men as I am amongst my race. This very day you will receive an emissary from a powerful ally, asking for the hand of your daughter. I shall be at the wedding as your guest; and a year later, I ask that you are a guest at mine.”
After saying his the man faded away to nothing. And the king went home and it was just as he said: a most advantageous union was brokered that day and a year later the wedding took place.
The celebrations were just about to get into gear when the small man appeared again. I promised, he said: and I have brought my people. There was no room inside th a castle, and so beautiful little jewel-pavilions were set up effortlessly outside. None of King Herla’s food was touched because his visitors had brought more than enough mouth watering food for all. The visitors were courteous, refined, humorous and graceful, and all who met them loved them. It was the most fabulous occasion.
A year later King Herla received his invitation to the small king’s wedding. He was careful to gather resources to pay in kind, and travelled up to a high cliff to meet emissaries who would take him and his men to the wedding of the small people.
The emissaries took them through a great long cave , and then a forest. When they arrived the wedding was sumptuous, and the hospitality lavish. The men had a wonderful time and paid gracious homage to the small king . And when the wedding was over, the small king gave them a parting gift ; of a small dog.
He gave a strange piece of advice to the king and his men. Do not alight, he advised gravely, until the dog has jumped down.
The men travelled back through the forest, and the long, long cave, until they arrived back at the cliff.
And there sat a shepherd with outlandish clothes. The king had much missed his love and enquired of the shepherd how his queen was.
The shepherd was startled. ‘Sire, there is no queen here of that name'” he told the king. ‘Once there was, but that was hundreds of years ago before the Saxons came. She was the queen to the Ancient British King Herla, who disappeared with his men two hundred years ago in this very place. They never reappeared.”
A few of the men jumped down from their horses, forgetting the small kings’ advice. Being the stuff of centuries before, as soon as they hit the ground, they turned to dust.
Herla forbade anyone else to alight and they waited for the dog to jump; but alas, it never did.
The story goes that Herla and his men have never made it to the ground. They wander time, waiting for the little dog to jump, that they may alight and have peace.
Time seems as if it always has the last word, and some of us feel soothed by its regularity.
It is only the greatest of adventurers who chooses to step outside, and know what lies there.
When I began writing this post my dearest friend had not yet taken the step to go adventuring.
Now, she has. No waiting for the dog to jump for her: she is free to travel in ways we cannot imagine, no longer bound by the confines, visible and invisible, of this little blue sphere held in place in orbit around a star. She is an explorer, an adventurer outside time.
Why do Walt Whitman’s words ring in my ears?