Sunday, 8 February 2009
On Brightstone Crag
As a collector of old books, I had not expected to find the loose papers in my newest acquisition. They were written in an old Copperplate hand, elegant and the ink slowly fading. Fearful of losing these words written in another age, I typed them up and kept them. They were written in the year 1827 by an unknown person and this is the account they describe:
"The rain had stopped yesterday, but a cold wind came up from the passes below and I decided to stay in the little pension before going for a walk when the weather cleared. Here, far from the royal court and the city the mountains and the passes are themselves majestic, clad in dark green firs and snow that is whiter than any ermine. I sat and wrote to my friend Henry back in London, for we were both followers of the Romantic school even if it was going out of fashion.
My host, the landlord of this charming little hostelry, knowing that I am interested in walking among the firs and the hills has come to let me know that a guide is available to take me to the old ruin of a church near the top of Brightstone Crag. I could go up there safely tomorrow, he says and the guide will come for me at breakfast. I thanked him profusely and asked if the guide would have breakfast with me, for which I would gladly pay. He smiled gently and said that it was unlikely for she was a most self-sufficient woman.
I admit to some surprise, tho' I know not why. The women here are sturdy, strong and slender with the work they do. They remind me of nothing more than the finest hunter of a horse. Slender legged, but strong and very capable. On reflection I believe many of them would put a city woman to shame. There is nothing fussy about them and they have a certain proud fierceness to them also.
I thanked my host again and asked if I might have food prepared for the walk, for two. He nodded and said he would find me something to help me keep up with Lise, as the guide was called. I was not offended, for I was quite sure that she would be much stronger than I - and I am not so weak as all that. Despite working in the city.
The following day, I ate breakfast alone and was taking coffee when a tall, slender being entered the dining room. She had long dark hair bound up in a chignon and eyes that were as startlingly blue as the clear skies. There was a pride in the way she walked that made it clear she would brook no disrespect from anyone. She approached my table and I blushed a little to realise that she was sizing me up. Apparently she found nothing to worry about, for she gazed directly into my eyes and asked if I was the gentleman who wished to walk to Brightstone Crag. I said I was and that I believed her name was Lise. She nodded curtly and sat. I asked if she would have some coffee and she said that she had already broken her fast. I assured her I would be ready very soon and she shrugged.
"You are paying me to guide you to Brightstone, so take as long as you like," she answered.
I finished my coffee and under the cover of my cup I examined her. She wore a long, capacious thick wool coat of bright red and long boots such as woodsmen here wear. Beneath her coat, she wore a long jacket of wool also and a cape with a hood. Beneath that she wore a wide skirt that came down to her shins. Unlike a city woman, she wore no make up, but then she did not need it. She was quite beautiful and I found that my admiration for her was for her strength, which was not physically evident directly, but about her as a cloud. Having seen what she was wearing, I excused myself and went up to my room. I put on my long boots, a thick knee-length coat and over these put on my Spanish cloak with the shawl I had picked up some time ago in Kashmir. This done I went down to collect our supplies, but it seems that Lise had already thought of that. All that remained was to pay my host, which I did.
At first, the walking was easy enough. We went at an easy pace as if in no hurry and I appreciated that Lise did not intend to expend our collective energies too quickly when we would need them later. The sky was clear and pale, the sunlight bright upon us. Everything seemed fresh, crisp, cold and clear. The scent of the firs was invigorating. We walked through the trees and only when a sort of coughing bark was heard faintly did Lise reveal that she carried a gun. She also it seemed carried a bow and tho' I had not noticed at first, four quivers of arrows. I was a little nervous that in her red coat any wild beast might see us faster than we would see it, but Lise continued unafraid and her courage made me less fearful.
It was a little after noon when we reached Brightstone Crag and there we stopped at Lise's direction for lunch. I should describe our surroundings. The Crag was a large pinnacle of rock that thrust out like a lip over a steep drop. It's thickness was such that many years ago a great church had been built on the crag. Now, it was a ruin, the stained glass gone from its windows, the vast chambers roofless and birds nested within where they might find shelter from the elements. On the approach to the church was a flat plateau, the top side of the crag. Trees had grown upon the plateau, but the ruin was still accessible.
We sat in the great open nave of the church ruin upon the floor and using what might have been the ruin of the old font as a table we ate and drank together. Before we could touch the food, Lise insisted upon saying a prayer. I am not a religious man, but it seemed somehow appropriate to respect the beliefs of those in whose church we sat. I let her say the prayer without a murmur for I had gained much respect for her.
I asked her what she knew of the church and she poured a cup of wine before answering,
Many years ago the abbe De la Cour who had raised a great sum built this church here. He believed that the people of the mountain needed spiritual guidance. To minister to this flock, he appointed a young man who came to this area and did well. He loved to ride and to collect books on religion and theosophies. What nobody suspected was that he also collected books on magicks and the like. I do not know if he collected books on black magick, as was often said after, but then some people will say anything.
Six months after he had arrived, it is said that he had fallen in love with a mountain woman and wished to impress upon her his superiority over her countrymen. It is said that pride leads to a fall and I believe the Bible also frowns upon pride as a sin. However, he took his books of magicks it is said and sought a spell or charm that would prove his greatness. From one of these books he summoned a very old dragon, whom we mountain folk call Stone's Heart, for the heart of the mountains is hot as fire. The spell was done during the day and by night he had despaired of it. For no dragon came winging across the valleys or the passes. But that night, he sent word to her to come to the church. She, in all goodwill took her rifle and a lantern and rode up to the church.
It is said that halfway up, where we saw the crag through the trees, she saw something flying towards the church. It was something she had never seen before, its wings were like the vast sails she had once seen on the boats along the river. Its body was long and sinuous and it was vast. She felt a strong sense of foreboding and spurred her horse up the pathway to the church. When she arrived, she saw only an enormous dark shape perched upon the spire, it's tail curled around the spire, it's great wings folded and it's great head looking down towards the nave. The beast ignored her, it seemed to be searching for something in particular.
She dismounted and opened the doors and demanded of the priest what he had done. He stood at the pulpit his book upon the lectern, a travesty of a sermon. He told her that he had summoned the Dragon of the Mountains to do his bidding and that for the love he bore her. He would command the mountains with the dragon and she would be his bride.
She called him a fool and turning, she left him. She had remounted her horse when suddenly she heard a cry and a terrible splintering of wood. Turning she saw that the great head of the dragon had thrust itself down into the nave of the church. She fought to control her horse and strove to return to help the foolish priest, but was too late. The dragon had unfurled his wings and his tail seemed to crush the spire into splinters. Then a ball of flame seemed to burst through the church and she rode away in terror. The abbe De la Cour was sent a report and travelled to the mountains to see what could be retrieved, but nothing was left except the ruins we now sit in. The abbe left and the church was never rebuilt. The Dragon of the Mountains was never seen again, but you may be sure he still lives. Dragons are older than we are and live many years longer than we can know.
We sat silently and I thanked her for telling me this tale. She assured me it was no tale.
"The woman whom he loved was my grandmother," she said quietly.
"She married a man from Angen on the Water some years later. A steady man with a herd of sheep and cows of his own. We mountain women are not impressed with grand foolish things. We know what good men are and our love is not won through follies." she added. "
We walked down the mountain after our lunch and as if telling her account had made her warmer to me, she questioned me as to my work and my life. I was glad to answer, to talk with this quietly strong and beautiful woman. Ten days later when my holiday was over and I was back at work, a lady was announced in my office. It was Lise; she had come to ask me to marry her. I asked her if she was sure that I could match her expectations and she smiled for the first time.
"I should not ask you if you did not," she said softly.
I thanked her and accepted her. She is not merely the mother of our children, but I have found that she is my dearest friend and love and I cannot wish for anything more than that."