THE CHALICE WELL
Murmur of voices, and water moving
softly among stones. A cloistered quiet
lies like sweet-scented shadow
on the evening paths. This is the first,
the unremembered garden: aleph, omphalos,
the moment that contains all other moments,
the still centre of the spinning universe.
In last light, the haunted stairs ascend
between the worlds. Where paths meet,
at the confluence of hidden waters,
these mysteries endure:
the inexhaustible spring, the shining roads
across the summer lands; the green
miraculous light beneath the broken tower.
Excerpt from The Alchemist's Daughter (Thistledown Press, 2004)
Towards evening they came to the desolate ruins of the abbey. Standing knee deep in long rank grass, Sidonie gazed at the crumbling ivy-covered walls and shattered piers.. The holiest place in England, she thought. What wickedness can men achieve, and swear it is God's work.
"Had you but seen it in its glory," said a quiet voice. He had crept up soft-shod behind them -- a tall old man in a battered felt hat and shabby cloak. His face, framed by a tangled thicket of white hair, was wind burnt and deeply lined.
"If you could have seen the abbey as it once was-- the sanctuary all a-glitter with gold and brass, the hangings of brocade and embroidered silk. The light through the windows casting all the colours of the rainbow over the high altars, the pillars of the nave lifting their arches up to heaven. All the Lords and knights and ladies, the solemn procession of monks , the organ that played so sweetly you would swear you could hear flutes and cornets in it, and a river of plainsong winding its way to heaven."
His voice rose and fell in a sombre and familiar rhythm. It is a litany he is chanting, Sidonie thought. A requiem for something precious that is lost forever.
"You were a Brother," said Sidonie.
"Aye, that I was. Until King Henry dispossessed us, and sent Thomas Cromwell and his minions to drive us out, and hanged our good Abbot Whiting from the top of the Tor, and fastened his head to the Abbey gate."
He stood gazing up at the gaunt ruin of the Abbey. A small wind had sprung up, with a hint of autumn in it. It toyed with his beard and blew his long white hair into his eyes. Absently he pushed it back. "I remember," he said softly, "how I polished the golden candlesticks and chalices, and the brass on the tombs, and every stroke of the chamois was an offering to the Lord God in heaven. It fair broke my heart to see our treasures carried off, and the walls crumble, and the winter wind blow between the arches."
"And yet..." said Sidonie, looking around the derelict abbey garden. Steeped in the hazy yellow light of evening, there was was a pleasant kind of melancholy about it, and, it seemed to her, a hint of magic. She could almost imagine voices in the pillaged choir loft singing evensong; and the scent of sundried grass was as sweet as incense. "It seems a peaceful place,"she said.
"Aye, that it is," the old man said. "No one comes here now. I'm left to myself, with only the birds in the trees and the hares in the grass for company. We keep our secrets. Now I am an old man, and will take those secrets to the grave. But I dream sometimes of the Abbey rebuilt and its treasures restored. When that day comes, when the true faith returns to England, then I know that peace and plenty will for a long time endure."
He fell silent at last, as though lost in contemplation. Sidonie bade him a courteous goodnight, and received no answer. At last glance, in the fading light, he was gazing up at the broken tower atop the Tor, rapt and far-seeing as some ancient prophet.