In the late 11th century there lived in Ireland a young man who started life in a very difficult environment. He was living in a district in what is now County Meath in the Kingdom of Elfereth. This kingdom existed in a constant state of war with the neighboring Kingdom of Tissus. The young fellow was known as Edwin the Younger. His namesake was an uncle named Edwin who had had a reputation as a hard man full of revenge and great bitterness. This had unfortunate ramifications for the younger Edwin. The elder Edwin had now been dead for several years, having suffered the inevitable ending to his life. His final showdown was when he led a raiding party to a village just across the border in Tissus. The locals captured him and being well aware of his reputation as a ruthless raider, dealt with him in a most brutal, vengeful manner. They pulled his arms out of their sockets by putting him between two horses. They then stabbed him to death with a red hot poker. His screams were a most blood curdling pitch that gave the children in the village nightmares for months to come.
The reputation of the elder Edwin was so acrimonious it left a perpetual pall around Edwin wherever he went. This caused people to treat him with a combination of fear and disdain. At first this resulted in him responding with an unfriendly and even harsh way with people. This tended to create even more negative events for him because now he was creating his own history of conflict with people, which further deepened their perceptions of him being like his uncle. The association with his uncle was closer than normal because Edwin’s own parents had died in a raid from Tissus when he was an infant. Edwin’s mother was his uncle’s youngest sister and so the elder Edwin took on the responsibility of raising his sister’s child.
While the younger Edwin was grateful for being adopted by his uncle it was a mixed blessing. The elder Edwin was as you would guess a hard task-master. Love and affection were in short supply in his household. His aunt died of a broken heart when Edwin was only four years old. With no other children in the home and just his uncle it made for meager pickings as far as family presence. The other relatives of his mother and those of his father lived almost a two hour walk away, as his uncle wanted his own space. The only times Edwin saw his relatives was when his uncle went away on raiding parties. The rest of the time he was frequently alone. When he turned eight his uncle considered him old enough to stay by himself for up to a number of days at a time. Sometimes he would walk the several miles to his relatives or to other neighbors just to break the painful loneliness. He had trouble connecting because he just didn’t fit in. So it wasn’t always pleasant to try and be relational with the other kids and adults. This led to Edwin being more and more a loner and becoming more and more self-reliant in his day to day life. When he turned fourteen, his uncle took him on his first raiding party. He was given a sword, some rudimentary training in its use, and told to go at it. Raiding and war seemed to agree with the younger Edwin as it became an outlet for expressing his pain of life.
Edwin’s prime means of survival and providing for himself was from booty from the raids. He had little inclination to engage in other activities such as farming or some sort of enterprise which created value for the community. He did hunt however and it became another area where he could excel and provide for himself. By the time Edwin was sixteen he had become in many ways like his uncle. Shortly later his uncle died. Now at age twenty Edwin started to get nightmares of what his future was going to be if he continued on his present path. He would wake up with cold sweats as he experienced the desperation of a life dominated by pain, and the desire to get revenge because of the pain.
One morning after a particularly fitful night’s sleep and almost non-stop nightmares, Edwin decided he needed to do something different. As hard as it was to imagine life being any different or somehow better than now, he determined he had to at least try.
Edwin then recalled, not only were there nightmares but also pleasant dreams. But he couldn’t remember any details. As he considered this, the thought came to him to go to the local monastery. He didn’t have any connection with the monks or the people of the Church as his uncle had said it was a waste of time. However, something inside said he had a chance for change by going to the monastery and asking for help. He knew the priests were called Father and deep inside he wanted a father. Someone who would nurture and nourish the little boy inside him. He desperately wanted to be loved and even celebrated just for being alive. These thoughts and feelings were very strange for Edwin; he didn’t know where they came from. But he decided to go with them and see what happened. It couldn’t be any worse than where he was now, which felt desperate and painful. He knew there had to be something better than this. His only other option was to keep going on more and more dangerous raiding parties until he got killed or captured. The latter would probably end up with him suffering an ignominious death like his uncle.
As Edwin lay on his bed of straw contemplating these things, a Grey thrush with brown specks on its body came into his hut. The bird seemed not to be afraid at all of Edwin but rather curious and even friendly in his demeanor. Fascinated, Edwin watched the bird and threw it some bread crumbs. The bird pecked away at the bread and chirped in gratitude. Something in Edwin switched on as he experienced warmth in his heart he had not felt for a long, long time. An emotional shift occurred inside him as he realized his act of kindness toward the bird had done something in him as well. He threw the bird some more crumbs and again the bird chirped a happy song of gratitude. The warmth in Edwin’s heart became more intense. It startled him for it was so foreign. Then the bird came closer to Edwin. As Edwin slowly extended out his right forefinger to the bird, the bird stopped and watched in silence. Then it hopped several times and landed on the outstretched symbol of friendship. Edwin had made a friend, his first true friend in many years. Edwin noticed hot tears rolling down his cheeks. This was strange, for warriors do not cry and Edwin was in many ways a consummate warrior. The bird remained on his finger with his head bent up looking into Edwin’s eyes. He seemed to relax and quite enjoyed being on this unusual perch. Then something unexpected happened. The bird spoke. Or at least it seemed he spoke. Edwin started to get thoughts in his head as though the bird was indeed communicating with his mind. Now in that time of Irish history there were often tales of spirits inhabiting animals and communicating to people. This was different though; this bird was ‘’talking’’ to Edwin not to someone else. It didn’t seem to be a spirit and certainly not a malevolent spirit.
“How would he know the difference?” Edwin thought to himself.
He didn’t except he had this inner knowing.
The bird was telling him his thoughts of going to the monastery were good and he was to ask for a particular monk called Percival. As Edwin pondered what was going on he started to experience something else he had not felt before. He believed it must be what is known as hope.
As he considered this new hope growing in him, the bird seemed to say goodbye and flitted away through the opening in the door. At first Edwin felt a twinge of regret about the abrupt departure. However, he knew what had happened was good, indeed very good.
Edwin gathered his paltry belongings, for raiding never seemed to bring enough after divvying up with everybody in the party. The chieftains got the lion’s share even when they didn’t accompany the raid. Edwin walked out of his hut without looking back and with a sense he wouldn’t be coming back. Something inside Edwin had changed and he wasn’t going to live the old life anymore. He had a growing sense of anticipation of a new life of love and adventure. Not that raiding wasn’t an adventure, but a newly awakened part of him craved new adventures which didn’t always require killing people. Not to say Edwin was now a pacifist. The Ireland he lived in required its men to be warriors. There was no other way to be a man except for those strange monks and priests, which now Edwin was going to visit. The nearest monastery was almost fifteen miles away. He went with a spring in his step and an expectancy of something very different but good awaiting for him there.
Edwin started on his way with the wind behind him and the sun in his face. It was one of those rare Irish mornings which had more sun than cloud. It seemed to Edwin like even the weather was cheering him on in his decision to change his life. After walking for four miles he came by the house of one of his mother’s brothers. Two of his cousins saw him and yelled at him to stay away because he wasn’t wanted. Edwin grinned at them and kept walking. A couple of miles later he came by the home of a man who’d had a bitter feud with Edwin’s uncle. He swore at Edwin and told him he’d kill him if he had the chance. Uncharacteristically Edwin wished him a top’o the morning and briskly kept walking.
Edwin thought to himself, “What has happened to me?”
It all seemed so strange. Yesterday he would have been enraged towards his cousins and at the least would have yelled some disparaging words back. And with the man who threatened to kill him, if that had happened yesterday he would have challenged him to sword play with the full intent of killing him.
Edwin took out his sword and looked at it. This was his symbol of manhood and sense of self-value. He had become renowned for his ability to handle a sword with deadly results. He put it back in his scabbard wondering when he might use it again.
Up ahead he could see two men standing by the side of the road. They looked menacing. One of them stepped in front of Edwin and asked him if he had some change to spare. Edwin reached into his bag and brought out a couple of coins. The man then grabbed for the bag while the other man pulled out a knife and lunged at Edwin. Dropping the bag, Edwin grabbed the first man and pulled him around in time for the robber to be stabbed in the back by his accomplice. Down he went. Then Edwin pulled out his sword and skewered the second man through his heart. Both men lay at his feet dead or dying. Spinning around, Edwin looked to see if there were any other robber accomplices. None sprang forth. This surprised him because it was uncommon for only two men to take on one armed man, especially someone known as a mighty warrior like Edwin. Neither of them looked familiar so they weren’t locals who would have known of his reputation. While picking up his money bag he noticed the first man had a tattoo on his arm showing him to be from Tissus. Edwin mulled this over and came to the one conclusion which could be made. These men must have been scouting for a raiding party, probably only minutes away. Unfortunately for them they must have believed their own lies that the men of Elfereth couldn’t fight. The nearest clump of huts was about three quarters of a mile away. It was just north of the road he’d come on. Some of the people there were kinsmen. He needed to warn them and get the men assembled for battle.
Running with all his might he cut through a small forest following a well-worn path used by the women of the area to fetch water from the nearby stream. When he was almost to the huts he met one of the young ladies on her way to the stream. He stopped her, telling her of the danger and taking her hand continued to run toward the huts. Upon his arrival at the village, he informed the chieftain and his two sons what had transpired. The two sons went out to the fields to bring the rest of the people in for assembly. In the meantime other men in the camp also came to where Edwin and the chieftain were standing. Even though he was kin to some of them, the people of this camp were not too friendly with Edwin. They did have a grudging respect for his abilities as a warrior which they appreciated when he saved their lives on raids. Funny people, you would think that would win them over, but the people in these parts were strange, quick to hate and slow to forgive. However, one person did ask how it came to be that Edwin was in these parts in the first place. Edwin wasn’t sure at first how to respond. They would never understand why he would want to go to a monastery. So he said he felt like walking on such a beautiful day and had walked an extra long distance.
This seemed to satisfy the questioner, but he looked at Edwin with a look of not knowing for sure whether to believe him. The man did not press the issue for now the more important matter was to get organized for the defense of their camp. First the discussion was whether to stay there in the camp or whether to leave en masse leaving only a few men behind. It was decided the wisest course would be to abandon the camp and have the women, children and several of the men, including the oldest, go to a nearby hilltop surrounded by a thick wood. Then the rest of the men would head back to the road and see if they could pick up the trail of the men from Tissus.
The chieftain did a surprising thing, which was not without controversy, but his word was law. He appointed Edwin as his second in command. This was a position traditionally held by one of his sons or some other valiant experienced warrior in the camp. This both surprised and pleased Edwin at this acknowledgment of his skill and bravery as a warrior. As they walked forward Edwin and the chieftain started to discuss strategy. They decided the force should stay together. Also they determined the most likely trail to be used by the men of Tissus. The path lay not more than fifty yards from the stream which was their chief water supply. Just prior to the road the men stopped to listen for sounds of a raiding party. They could see where the men were killed by Edwin had lain, but the bodies themselves were gone. This created alarm because it meant the raiding party must be quite close or else had moved on down the road further west. Two of the best scouts went out and found signs indicating the party was a large one and headed west.
Edwin realized they were proceeding in the direction from where he had come and the people he had seen earlier were now likely in great danger. There was also another assembly of huts south of the road several miles away.
The chieftain started to talk over with some of the clan’s leaders whether it was wise to risk their lives for people down the road. They would be against a party far superior to them in size. Edwin interrupted them and said it was the only right thing to do. He encouraged them to consider that next time it may be their turn to have the people down the road help them. Several of the men told Edwin to mind his own business. The chieftain said his first priority was the safety of his village. He did not think it wise to endanger his people when the odds were so against them. Edwin argued the party could be aware of their little settlement and come for them on the way back. The chieftain said they would prepare a defense along the path toward the huts. There existed an ideal spot for them to ambush the invaders. They could hold a spirited defense even against a vastly superior force. Further imploring was useless. Edwin decided he could not stay with them. He left choosing to take a path through the forest, which ran more or less parallel to the road headed west.
At first Edwin couldn’t hear anything, but after about two hundred yards he started to hear the rearguard of the Tissus party. The raiders were unusually loud, which indicated they must be extremely confident, even to the point of being overconfident. Was it because they had an extra-large number of men or was it because of something else which gave them an advantage?
As he continued along, the sounds became more distinct even to the point of hearing the conversation between the warriors. He repeatedly heard the name, Alwyn, mentioned with a sense of: we have them now.
Edwin thought to himself, “Alwyn, hmm, isn’t that the Druid priest from the Kingdom of Randar? What would he be doing with the men from Tissus?”
The reputation of Alwyn was bigger than life because the renown of his power as a purveyor of evil Druid magic was widespread. In predominantly Christian Ireland of the eleventh century, there were few people still carrying on Druid magic and practices. Alwyn however was a big exception. Fiercely defiant of the Church he practiced magic on behalf of whoever would hire him. Though few people would openly acknowledge their belief in Druid magic, Alwyn had a steady demand for his services. The people of Ireland still had a profound respect for the old ways. Much of their spirituality consisted of a mixture of Christendom and the old ways, including Druidism.
Edwin continued to gain ground and wondered how he could make a difference with such a large force. A thought came to him. He had his bow and a full quiver of arrows with him. With one arrow he could take out Alwyn and the whole Tissus base of confidence would be gone. With this insight he started moving faster and faster until he got alongside the mid part of the war party. He inched along the ground until he could see the group passing by him about fifty yards away. There he noticed the one who must be Alwyn for he was all done up in Druid fashion and looked very confident.
He would have to get ahead of him and find a place for a clear shot. Ideally it would also enable him to make his escape for there would be a horde of Tissus warriors looking for him. Another forty yards ahead Edwin found the place which looked like it would fit both requirements. Again he inched himself along for a clear sight line of Alwyn. Here he came looking sure of himself. With great care and self-assurance Edwin drew back his bow and aimed at Alwyn’s heart. Then with deadly accuracy the arrow went straight into Alwyn’s heart. He looked stunned and even had a look of disbelief, but nonetheless he went down and stayed down, very still.
The Tissus party around Alwyn stopped abruptly and stared at the demise of their hopes to rout the people of Elfereth. Then a release of wild rage went out among the warriors as they started to look around for who could have done this.
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