Saturday 20 October 2018

Latest Bardsong: The Rite of Redemption.

Here is an excerpt from "Wings in the Wind (Part 2): Seasons of the Sun" -- soon to be released.
It is an ancient song, supposedly written by the eagle-bards of Mawha, many generations ago, when peace had been established between the eagle-tribes of the Eyri winged peoples.
This rite was a ceremony which would re-establish the balance of nature, once disrupted by the pride and self-centredness of the Eyri, who fought among themselves.

The Rite of Redemption for us is ordained
By the Great Lord of Spirits, Who dwelleth above
To cleanse all our lands and our hearts that are stained
By the dark shades of evil that spurned His great love.

This darkness within us gross darkness will spawn,
For death and corruption is born in our soul.
Pride bringeth destruction. If justice we scorn,
All goodness and love by the wayside will fall.

Then Justice rose up and cried out in her pain:
‘O wing’d folk, shall evil then thrive unimpeded?
The blood of the helpless be shed yet again?
And the cry of the weak by the strong go unheeded?

If rocks forsake mountain-tops, shall they not fall?
The chick leaving mother, it shall become prey.
Forsook we the Great One, the Maker of all!
So fallen and dying are we to this day!’

The first Eyri fathers then saw their great sin
When the sun-spirit grieved and each tear turned to stone.
“Alas!” cried our fathers, “This darkness within,
How shall it be cleansed? How shall we atone?”

Then spake the Great Spirit by ClearEye the Seer:
‘O hearken ye wing-folk, Khan-harahe* speaketh
To hearts that will turn to Him in holy fear,
To the heart that is humbled and righteousness seeketh.

Though there is forgiveness, yet guilt it still standeth.
When justice you cry for, shall you be ignored?
In torment is Earth for what justice demandeth,
And Wrong ruleth Nature ‘til Right is restored.

But mercy abundant hath Khan-harahe,
And will not a father provide for his kin?
So Justice met mercy. The stain washed away
By a sacrifice, chosen to die for our sin.

Dry earth crieth out to the skies to bring rain
That the flow’r and the trees and the beasts may not perish.
The clouds yield their life-blood so we live again
And the streams bring the water of life that we cherish.

The beast yieldeth life that the Eyri may live,
So we eat and in thankfulness sing we in chorus.
The guiltless their blood for the guilty they give.
E’en so the Great Spirit bless’d hope He made for us.

Lo! Deep in the Northlands, the land of Mawha**,
A red altar standeth that He hath prepared.
To Paradise Valley, lords, come from afar!
For this deep, sacred rite with all Eyri is shared.

When the sun at his height shineth down the bless’d vale
All priests and their lords gather ‘round the red altar.
Ev’ry turn of the seasons do ye and not fail
That the blessings of Khan-harahe may not falter.

There find ye a lamb, one that beareth no stain.
Then bring him and bind him upon the red stones.
By the hands of the Priestess and High King ‘tis slain.
The blood of the guiltless for evil atones.

If the hearts of the Eyri-lords truly are humble
The fierce Claw of Judgement will strike from the skies.
The flesh of the lamb it shall burn and shall crumble
And evil shall perish and life shall arise.

Of darken’d lamb’s flesh then all witnesses eat,
As the priests and the WindSingers songs of praise sing.
Then the lords of the Eyri their vows shall repeat
To Khan-harahe serve and obey their high king.

Take heed, priests and lords, lest it all be in vain!
If right be your words and yet good intent faileth,
Then He Who hearts readeth His seal shall retain
Then suffering cometh, and death it prevaileth!

But if all your hearts will repent and stay true,
The hot seal of His hand it shall fall from the sky.
The cleansed Earth shall blossom, the rains shall renew
The dark storm is quelled, and the plague it shall die.

The Rite of Redemption for us is ordained
By the Great Lord of Spirits, Who dwelleth above
To cleanse all our lands and our hearts that are stained
By the dark shades of evil that spurned His great love.

* Khan-harahe - "Lord of Spirits". The deity of the Eyri winged peoples, although some had lapsed into polytheism.
** Mawha -  the beautiful, mountainous land where the most powerful Eyri tribe ( the Mawh'eyri) lived.

Monday 27 August 2018

Move over Miss Muffett!

My next Bardsong is pure light-hearted nonsense.

It arose from a discussion with friends about arachniphobia (fear of spiders) and how one (Angela) coped with spiders in her place.
Must be sung to the tune of "Little Miss Muffett."

This has been reproduced with Ange's permission.
(WARNING: NOT to be sung to your 3yo at bedtime!)

Remember Miss Muffett
Who sat on her tuffet 
With yoghurt, some chips and a beer?
I wonder if Angie 
Would howl like a banshee,
If any big spiders appear?

Though there’s no arachnid
Which can do what Jack did
Who nimbly jumped over the candle.
Will Ange do the same, and flee over the flame?
There’s nothing our Angie can’t handle!

One day Ange was cleaning.
(Her nails she was preening.) 
She heard a clear knock at the door. 
'Twas her neighbour Miss Glossop
Who’d come for a gossip,
Which Ange thought was rather a bore.

But Ange acted rightly, and asked her politely
If she’d like a pot of her brew.
So they sat down and sipped, 
While Miss Glossup’s tongue tripped
Over hearsay both ancient and new.

She spoke of that cupboard
Of poor old Ma Hubbard,
The Lunar launch of a space-cow,
The fiddler so fine – a true gifted feline, 
And the mocking pooch, not so high-brow!

And scand’lous behaviour! 
That scoop from Moravia 
Was courting a sweet china plate!
Far away they absconded
And were nuptually bonded,
But Daddy Dish, he was irate!

One thing we must mention
Got Angie’s attention:
‘Twas the plague of large possums and mouses,
Large spiders so hairy and lairy and scary,
That locals were fleeing their houses!

Just then, right on cue (just as spiders do)
A specimen fell from above.
Miss Glossup ran out with a scream and a shout.
(It happens when push becomes shove.)

But Ange acted nobly,
NOT arachniphobe-ly
Declared she, with firm resolution:
Any spider she finds on her ceiling or blinds,
They shall suffer a swift execution.

First she picks up a cannister of something real sinister:
Her hairspray, and targets the rogue.
It stiffens the creature, who now looks like a feature
In Cosmo or Girlfriend or Vogue.

The next thing she chooses for those hairy losers
It also is quite close to hand.
And what could be meaner than her vacuum cleaner*
(A house system. Dunno the brand.)

It sucks up that beastie so quickly, at least he 
Won’t know which way’s out or is in.
Then if he survives all those tumbles and jives
He will find himself stuck in the bin.

Then, if he can climb through the dust and the grime,
Even find his way up through the system,
Can he simply pop out through the plug-in or spout?
No! Our Angie has way too much wisdom.

Sucked in through the nozzle, he’s in a shemozzle
Coz Ange has a follow-up weapon:
A spray of Mortein sucked right through the machine
Will make sure that come-backs can’t happen.*
And if that aint enough, while he’s lost in the fluff
And with chemical warfare as well,
Then Ange she will seal it with Glad Wrap, he’ll feel it,
Going to Spider-Heaven or Hell.

The fearsome tarantula quails before Angela.
Daddy’s long legs quake with dread.
The Huntsman so hairy thinks Angie’s too scary.
The redback runs back to his shed.

The moral is clear from this nursery rhyme here:
That bold Angie she aint no Miss Muffett.
So spiders, don’t dare to invade Angie’s lair
Or else you are all gonna snuff-it!

Tuesday 7 August 2018

The Lore of the Mother Olive Tree

The latest BardSong is taken from the "Wings in the Wind" series, called "Seasons of the Sun", to be published around Christmas time. This is a song that is sung by an eagle minstrel-maid on the occasion of the crowning of the High King of the Eyri wing-folk. 
It is part of the ceremony where the eagle chieftains lay down olive branches before the high king (the Khanrikhan), crush the olives for the oil to anoint him. They retain the remaining seed and plant it within their own lands.

The Mother-tree olive her head bowed in grief.
She bore us no fruit. She grew no new leaf.
For eyri slew eyri, and kin’s blood was shed 
Which tainted the earth where olive roots spread.

The tears of the clouds then the stains washed away.
‘Twas the grief that brought healing from Khan-harahe*.
The sun-spirit smiled upon Mother-tree’s crown
And bade her arise, no more to bow down.

The Mother-tree Olive now lifts up her green head.
The seasons of war are now past and are dead.
New shoots of bright hope and plump olives she bears
As all eyri wing-folk for peace now prepares.

But the seeds of new life, they must come with a cost.
The shedding of blood redeems that which is lost.
The oil is the blood within each olive’s veins
So let them be crushed until new life remains.

The life-giving oil within Mother-tree’s veins
It must be set free to anoint him who reigns.
The Khanrikhan mighty anointed shall be
To bring forth new life for all the Eyri.

A seed of new life to each chieftain is granted
And deep in the earth of their own lands is planted.
For peace is a burden, it is not born alone.
New life must be nurtured where-e’er it is sown.

*Khan-harahe - the Lord of Spirits

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Latest BardSong: "A Whinge about this Wacky World."

Here's this month's BardSong, fairly light-hearted, but with a heavy-hearted message.
(To be spoken with an Aussie accent.)

So, why does life seem incomplete?
It’s like a bed of roses.
It lets us smell its fragrance sweet,
Then scratches all our noses!

“Let’s end all wars!” (So goes the song.)
“No longer we’ll compete!”
They say we all should get along
But end up as cold meat!

To plant some veggies in a plot
You rake and sow and water.
Then up comes thistles, thorns – a lot!
Right where they shouldn’t oughter!

I work like crazy in the sun.
It’s lookin’ great! (Well, prob’ly!)
Just when I think the job is done,
The boss then chucks a wobbly!

So nature’s goin’ round the twist.
The balance is all shot.
We make big bucks hand over fist
And yet we’ve lost the plot!

We drag the min’rals from the ground:
The oil, the gold, the pitch.
We leave an ugly mess around.
“So, what? It’s made us rich!”

And why do we grow old and die?
Why can’t we live for ever?
To make a Pill of Youth let’s try – 
Now that would be real clever!

My Missus thought that I was once
Her Knight in Shining Armour.
But now she thinks I’m just a dunce,
An I.Q. of a llama. 

Our pollies swear they’ll get it right
“We’ll bring you wealth and peace!”
For “Truth and Justice” they will fight
To get their pay increase.

Rock stars and athletes win their crown.
They think they’ve got it made.
When “Mornin’ After’s” chips are down,
The glory starts to fade.

Now Happiness, I think I’ll find
If I have one more drink.
The Boys in Blue drive up behind
And chuck me in the clink.

I’m feelin’ tired and bored and old
Me house is on the market.
I’ll splash some cash then, when it’s sold,
Live life before I cark it.

It looks like every second bloke
Is now a thug or burglar.
Economies are goin’ broke.
We’re goin’ down the gurgler!

Blind optimists say “She’ll be right!
‘Coz life is Hunky-Dory!”
But see things in a clearer light,
It tells a different story!

Now everything seems out of place.
This world is out of whack.
We try to get back in the race,
The wheels then jump the track.

There’s wars and bombs and droughts and crime
Now everywhere you look.
This world is runnin’ out of time,
It’s lookin’ kinda crook!

The scientists say it’s all because
Of “Thermo-something** Two”
The universe aint what it was.
We’ll end up Cosmic Stew!

What is it with this Universe?
“It’s winding down!” they say.
Well, maybe it’s some kind of curse
That just won’t go away!

They reckon that we’ve all evolved – 
The pinnacle of nature,
And one day, every problem’s solved!
But still yer neighbour hates ya!

Me neighbour, Dan’s a Christian man
He’s got his head screwed on.
He reckons God has got a plan
When all our hope is gone.

“It’s ‘coz we turned our back on Him
That’s why we’re all askew.
But just when things were lookin’ grim,
Christ died for me and you.

He’s comin’ back as King of Kings
And set things all to rights,
He’ll bring us lasting peace and things
And stop these stupid fights.”

He’s hit the nail bang on the head!
My life is just a joke.
I’ll give my life to Christ instead,
Serve Him before I croak.

**Second Law of Thermo-dynamics: When energy changes from one form to another form, or matter moves freely, disorder in a closed system increases. Most think that the physical universe will end up in chaos.

Sunday 20 May 2018

The Lore of the TearStones

An excerpt from one of the great Lays of the Eyri.
It is taken from the not-yet-published sequel to Wings in the Wind, called Seasons of the Sun.

Ere first arose the Spirit Sun,
Ere first the Moon his course did run,
The Spirit-Wind, a song He sang,
And by it, Life and Light first sprang.

The skies, the winds it brought to birth,
And by His Song He formed the Earth.

His songs of beauty then did sow
Into the earth all things that grow.
His glory and his fragrance filled
The flowers, the trees, where’ere He willed.

He sent His living breath into 
The dales and hills, and from them drew
All diverse kinds of bird and beast,
The Eyri wingfolk not the least.

The Eyri-folk with joy took wing.
The Great Wind Spirit was their king.
He taught us flight and gave us voice
That with all nature we rejoice.

But scarcely had all flowers unfurled
When darkness came upon this world.
Some wilful wind-sprites spurned His love
And claimed His realm – the skies above.

And so they fell and so they sinned
And fought with every good white wind.
But at the last all evil fails.
Khan-harahe, His will prevails.

Within the earth the dark storms fled.
In darkened caves they made their bed.
Now great white storms the mountains sweep
The dark away, their prisoners keep.

But when their guards would pass them by
In secret these dark winds would fly
And dark deeds do, and havoc wreak,
Deceive the fool, prey on the weak.

One whispered in our fathers’ ears:
“Lo, nothing is as it appears.
Khan-harahe, His proud will bounds
Your freedom to these narrow grounds.

 To conquer is your destiny!
Come! Reign these wide green lands with me!
And if your claim your kin deny
Then they must fall, and they must die!”

Our fathers hearkened to his rede
Then fell deed followed dreadful deed.
Forsaking Him Who ruled the sky
Upon our own wings we would fly.

Through darkened skies and storms of night
Our hearts were hardened through the fight.
Much blood was shed and hands stained red,
Wing’d hate the path we fain would tread.

By Eyrie’s pride, so Eyries died.
The wisest counsel we defied.
The great deceiver, laughing, fled
The white storms’ wrath, their vengeance dread.

In grief and wrath, Khan-harahe 
Would fain have swept us all away.
His sons, the spirit-winds despaired
That any for another cared.

The Spirit Sun in grief beheld,
And from his fiery eyes there welled
Great tears of gold as liquid stones
That fell to earth amongst our bones.

But Mother-Earth she would not drink
Those Holy Tears, nor could they sink
Into her depths now choked with blood.
So lay they hard’ning in the mud.

War-wearied warriors saw, at last,
Their blessed first paradise had passed.
Repentant tears now fell upon
Those golden stones that ever shone.

“Henceforth,” they cried, “we dwell in peace!
No more the Crows of War release!
A king we choose above all thrones
And he shall keep the Weeping Stones.”

The Peace Accord they carved anon
on Meeting Stones we stand upon.
The Khanrikhan they chose to be:
Good BraveWing of the Mawh’eyri. be continued

© Bardswell Creations 2018

Sunday 29 April 2018

The Lay of ThunderWing: The Deeds of Wonder

Here is a song supposedly composed by GoldSinger, minstrel-maid of the Great Eagles in the land of Mawha.
(Spoiler alert! It summarises all the amazing exploits accomplished by the main character from "Wings in the Wind: The Reign of the Mawh'eyri.")

Of eagles great throughout the Earth
I know of none of greater worth.
So swift of wing and strong of hand,
The mightiest warrior in the land.
Yet humbly with the Mawharh├╣n[1]
He toiled ‘til rising of the moon.
O who is this of whom I sing?
He is our Captain ThunderWing.

For love, for fame he would defy
Mawharikhan[2], and o’er it fly.
Arousing then the Demon Storm,
Pure evil in its darkest form,
Who slew full many an eyrion brave
And sent them to a stony grave.
This nearly was the fate of one
Young ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

He fell before the foe, and yet
Unwittingly a snare he set.
The proud Dark Storm, his prey so near,
Then turned and fled in deadly fear.
The Great White Storm, he was at hand
And cast him out from our fair land.
The Windlord’s Council loud did sing
The praise of fallen ThunderWing.

Full shattered was our warrior brave.
He languished long in Healing Cave.
When all seemed lost in dark despair,
To him came SilverSong the Fair.
Their love was sealed, so healed in soul
His health and strength at length made whole,
He took to hunting ‘neath the sun
With StrongHand, Great HighSoarer’s son.

When painted raiders from the West
Put our defences to the test,
They were denied, their path restrained
By humble hunters, few, untrained!
The raider’s champion who them led
Was swiftly slain. The others fled.
Who did this deed, and vict’ry bring?
HighSoarer’s son, brave ThunderWing.

The wingfolk of Eyries west
The hunters’ valour fully blessed.
StrongFeather, called them to the feast,
The hunters’ captain not the least.
The Council gave him great renown –
A “Champion Perpetual’s” crown.
And SilverSong at last was won
By ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

Now banished was Mawharikh├╣n[3].
The Summit slept for many a moon.
Then from the West the Dark Winds came
The “Raven Spirits” was their name.
Before them hapless wingfolk fled.
They preyed upon our fear and dread.
But one stood firm – our champion!
‘Twas ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

The wingfolk of Mawha they hated,
Middle Eyries desecrated.
Many nests away were swept
The eyrie-mothers hid and wept.
They heard a song midst their despair.
A hundred warriors filled the air.
Repaired, rebuilt, the eyries sing
Their thanks to captain ThunderWing.

Then did fair Mawha dwell in peace?
And wars upon her borders cease?
Alas! A mighty warring hoard
Across the Eastern Mountains poured.
The Eastern warband shattered they,
Windlord SwiftSlayer passed away.
Yet was a glorious victory won
By ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son!

The Mawh’eyri, they deemed their Reign
Was now secure, alas, in vain.
The Ravens were unconquered still,
For spirits mortals cannot kill.
And so our captain did not rest,
Obeyed the Spirit Great’s behest.
Amongst the mountains hear it ring:
The war-cry of brave ThunderWing!

So once again a snare he baited
Came they forth where death awaited.
The white storm struck the final blows,
Then cast him up above the snows.
Upon the peak he found the Stones
That once adorned our ancient thrones.
He dared to do what none had done
Did ThunderWing, HighSoarer’s son.

With failing strength descended he
And rode the tumults skilfully.
StormRider came, his life to save.
They carried him to Resting Cave.
The stone he dropped was caught ere long
By his good lady SilverSong.
For this, the council named him king
Our Rikhan[4] now is ThunderWing.

[1] The name given to the oft-despised hunter-gatherers of Mawha
[2] “The King of Mountains”. The highest peak in Mawha
[3] “Prisoner of the Mountain”, the name given to the Demon Storm.
[4] King of the Mawh’eyri.

Monday 16 April 2018

Next excerpt from "The Poor Preachers." Chapter 5: The Grim Reaper and the Lord of the Harvest

‘For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh he shall reap corruption;
but he that soweth in the Spirit, of the Spirit he shall reap everlasting life.’

(Epistle to the Ephesians 6:8 Wycliffe-Purvey Translation .)

Standing over his family’s grave, Tom took his knife from his belt and grimly slit the length of his hand until blood flowed.
‘By my blood, and that of my father, mother and sister, I swear again mine oath of vengeance!’ he declared defiantly to the surrounding trees. ‘I will relent never, neither will I rest until the blood of my foes flows freely as did my family’s! God and the Devil be my witness!’

Suddenly, as he stood upon the ashes of his past world, his earthly vision became cloudy and misty, and he was looking into the world of spirits. 
To his horror, he saw a black, shadowy chain had wrapped itself around his hands, feet and chest, drawing tighter. 

Then, before his horrified gaze, a large and menacing figure seemed to arise out the earth, shadowy and shrouded in a cloak as black as the darkest night. Its face was partly hidden by the hood, but Tom could distinguish the bony jaw of a skull peeping out from under it. In its skeletal hand was a large and sharp scythe. 
It was the Grim Reaper!

The apparition pointed towards him with a bony finger and gave a ghostly, echoing cackle of glee. Immediately, other horrible apparitions arose out of the ground.
Frozen with terror, Tom could tell, without asking, that these were demons of Violence, Hatred and Pestilence (surrounded by demonic, flea-ridden rats). 
He discovered that the ghostly chain wrapped around him was attached to a loosened length of chain, and Hatred grasped the end of it. Somehow he knew the chain represented his oath, sealed with his blood. 

The horrible apparitions leered at him for a moment, and the Grim Reaper spoke in glee with a harsh, rasping voice.
‘Ha! Out of his own mouth is he ensnared. He reapeth what he soweth. Now we have him.’

Tom realised what he had done. In his folly, he had allowed bitterness to poison his soul and had fallen into the trap of his true enemies, the minions of Satan.

Then Violence came forward and was about to take a hold of him. 
Somehow, Tom knew he had a choice to make:  to give in to the hatred that would possess him, living a destructive life of violence, or repent of his oath and relinquish his mission of vengeance. 
His father’s words, even those the Grim Reaper had uttered, came back to him. He fell on his knees in terror, crying for God’s mercy. 

Immediately, like a bolt of lightning from heaven, the shining figure of a huge heavenly warrior appeared, casting the demons to the ground. 
The Grim Reaper slunk away, knowing his time was not yet, while the others fled in fear. 

The light faded to reveal the great Warrior more clearly. He wore the gear of a great Saxon Thane fully armed for battle, but his face was noble and kind. In his right hand he bore a two-edged sword. 

Feeling like St Paul on the road to Damascus, Tom cried out, ‘Oh messenger from heaven! I have sinned! What must I do to atone?’

In a voice that echoed with thunder, the shining messenger said, ‘Fear not, Thomas Plowman. I am thy guardian and messenger. God hath chosen thee for a far greater destiny than a life of bloodshed. God hath permitted judgement to be executed upon Baldrick by thine hand, but vengeance belongeth to the Lord, and he will repay with far greater justice than thou canst do. Neither is it thine to atone for thy sins, for all thy works of righteousness are as filthy rags. There is a better way.
‘Think not that doom hath come upon thee for thy past sins. God hath seen thine hunger and thy pain. He would fill up thine hunger with Himself, the Bread of Heaven, and would heal thy pain, for He is the Great Physician, and hath suffered greater than any man. Thus shalt thou find thy destiny, if thou wilt turn unto Him in repentance and seek His healing.’

Then the warrior himself fell to his knees and bowed to the ground, as Tom became aware of a warming light behind him. It was as though rays of unconditional love were shining on him, beckoning him to turn around. 
He did so and also fell on his face, trembling. 
For before him, he saw the Lamb of God, suffering on the cross. 

The vision faded as the Lord of the Harvest Himself appeared, shining in splendour. He held out his nail-scarred hands to show the suffering He had been through to secure Tom’s salvation. None of Tom’s own pain could compare to it. Who was he to sit in judgement on his enemies and to presume to execute judgement upon them? Had not his mother told him what the Saviour had said before He died: ‘Father, forgive them! For they know not what they do.’? 

Tom wept tears of repentance.
‘Now arise, Thomas. Thou art My Plowman, My Sower and Reaper. I have need of thee.’
The voice above him was as gentle as the breeze, yet more powerful than a thunderstorm.

In a daze, wondering why he was given the privilege of speaking face to face to the Lord of the Harvest, he timidly looked up and found that He had gone. In his place, a new messenger stood before him.

This messenger was clothed as a great Earl of the time of Harold. A glow and air of authority surrounded him, and in his hands he held a two-edged sword, a great shield and a sickle. He also spoke with a voice of rolling thunder.
‘Thy chain is loosed. But not all.’

Tom looked down and saw that the chain had broken and was lying at his feet. There were still remnants of those chains on his wrists, but his deliverance was almost complete.  Tom closed his eyes and breathed a prayer of thanks.
How could the Lord of the universe have need of him -- a profligate sinner? What was the meaning of those gracious words?

Answering his unspoken questions, the messenger said, ‘It is because He hath chosen thee as a chief labourer in the harvest that is to come to this land. Thou’rt called as a harvester of souls, a sower of the seed of the Word of God. But first thou must plough and sow into thine own life.’

The messenger brought forth the implements he bore. 
‘Behold! I bear the sword that thou shalt wield in great power to defend the defenceless and to strike down the enemy of men’s souls. But thou must be exercised in the use thereof ere I give it thee.
‘Behold! I bear a shield for thy protection. Thou shalt learn to lift the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one. It shall be thine anon. Bear it well.’

He held the shield out to Thomas, but when he received it, with a trembling hand, it seemed to melt into his being and disappear. Yet he felt a new sense of confidence, and that he could face anything that life, or the enemy, could throw at him.

The messenger continued.
‘Behold! I bear the sickle -- thine authority to go forth and preach the gospel, making disciples of many in this land. It shall be thine when thou’rt skilled to fight with the sword and the shield.
‘Now arise, Thomas Plowman! Go thou north unto Oxenford. There thou shalt find thy chosen yokefellow by the name of William Shephard, a worthy man of God. He and others of God’s servants shall instruct thee in the use of the sword and shield. Go forth! For God is with thee.’
And with that, the messenger was gone.

Shaking and wondering if it were all a dream, Tom stood looking around. 
Then he noticed it. The pile of ashes of his home was gone. There was nothing but green growth where once there was death.
He knew his family was safe in the arms of their redeemer. None would disturb their sweet memory. But he had learned his lesson now. He had an awesome call on his life to fulfil.
‘…God aiding me!’ he cried.
Shouldering the last of the worldly possessions he had in his sack, he set off north, on the long road to Oxford.

Tom’s journey to Oxford seemed rather uneventful after the glorious visitation he had just experienced, but he was enjoying himself hugely.
He had never felt so free, now that the guilt and shame of his past life had been washed away, without the need to do penance or buy indulgences.
He had never felt so alive. He felt as though he was born anew, and an exciting new life had begun. A sense of purpose and destiny had taken hold of him.
He had never felt so loved, by a love so powerful that the One who loved him would shed His blood for him and ask for nothing in return for the gift of salvation.

The religion he was taught by Holy Church was pale and pathetic compared to this.
His old joie-de-vivre returned with a vengeance, and the smile that now lit his face came from a powerful fire deep in his heart.
As he travelled, Tom sang snatches of old songs that suited his elated mood, but often reverted to the Song of the Harvest, for he knew that the Harvest of Souls was his calling.

‘Sing Hey for the sickle! Sing Ho for the scythe!
For the heart of the reaper be merry and blithe.
With joy shall we labour through rain or hot sun,
Giving thanks to the Lord when the harvest be done.’

He had a fine, strong, lusty voice, and those who heard him would stop to listen. In taverns along the way, the local men applauded loudly and bought him ale in return for another song.

At other times in his journey, he would meditate deeply upon the things that had been said to him, both in the visitation and also by his parents over the years. He was largely recovering from the grief he felt for his family, gone forever, but an ache would sometimes surface in his heart. This made him feel more for the sufferings of the people he passed.

However, his buoyant spirit could never be submersed for long, and it was not long before he burst into song again. His meditations comforted and cheered him, meaning so much more than they ever had before. 
This was the second experience of the shield that the Messenger had given him.
His money lasted him for most of the journey, but such was the exalted state he was in, together with his new-found compassion, that he gave freely to those in need. 
To supplement his dwindling resources, Tom hired himself out to farmers, and such was the volume of work he did that many asked him to stay. 

Although he enjoyed the roving life, his heart was restless to see what awaited him at Oxford, and to meet this mysterious man, William Shephard, of whom the Messenger spoke.
At first, a little unwisely, he spoke about his visitation to fellow travellers or in taverns along the way. He was naturally gregarious and fell easily into conversation with strangers. 
Many of the simple folk were awed at his experiences, and there was certainly a glow about him that could only come from meeting the Lord of life Himself. 

But some mocked and laughed. They had some cause to do so, for there was so much superstition around, and preposterous, conflicting tales were told, often fostered by the wandering friars. 
Tall tales sometimes generated an extra coin over and above the usual benefice that friars received. Many had long lost their credibility, for times had changed from when the friars first appeared as humble men, fired with zeal and true to their vows of poverty and a simple lifestyle.
Tom had a lot of easygoing tolerance, but if the mocker went too far, that gentry found himself head-down in the nearest horse-trough or miller’s pond. Tom still had a few things to learn.

Finally, he crossed the Cherwell and found himself outside the Bull and Book tavern in Oxford. Entering, he discovered a much more congenial atmosphere than William had found a number of years before.

Much reconciliation had occurred since the riots at Merton College
Many students, mainly Wycliffeites, had approached the townsfolk and addressed their grievances. Friendships had been made, and now the tavern was nearly full with townsmen drinking the health of the masters and students, and vice versa, much to the delight of the tavern-keeper whose business was thriving again.

One man stood up and called for a toast for ‘Doctor Evangelicus, Champion of the poor’. 
Nearly everyone drank and applauded loudly. 

Another, rather reprehensibly, toasted, ‘Confusion to Courtenay!’ which produced loud, ribald laughter. Tom learned later that Courtenay, Bishop of London, was a fierce opponent of Wycliffe and forbade him to preach in his churches.

One group of students, farmers and labourers, mellowed with good ale, hailed him genially, liking him on sight. They invited him to join them, and one bought him a drink.

The one who did this shook his hand warmly and said, ‘I call myself Benjamin Abyngdon, master. A student of Merton College am I. It seemeth that thou’st journeyed long and sore, and a great journey’s tale hangeth upon thy brow. Wherewithal can one be of service unto thee?’

‘Thou’rt abundant kind to a stranger, Master Abyngdon.’ responded Tom, touched and grateful. ‘Thomas Plowman is my name, and I seek one William Shephard, a man of God. Dost thou ken of such an one?’

‘Few that ken him not at Oxenford, Master Plowman. A busy man is Father William, but hath ever occasion to speak to any that hath need of his wise rede. I met him hither as a stranger in this very place, whence he rendered me kindness in return for the churlishness of myself and my companions. A more godlier man have I not found, and his fellowship do I value above all. Haply we will find him anon.’

So it was that the Shepherd and the Reaper finally reached their divinely-appointed rendezvous.
Standing before him, Tom saw a tall, bearded man, with a grave and kindly face, and latent laughter in his grey eyes.

A sense of destiny came upon him.