Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Varou: The Squall

A full text version can be found at the bottom of the illustrated pages.


The Squall

Far from the care of the sheltering shore,
From a currach a man cast his lines.
The fish were quick rising, the man was intent,
So that tardy he noticed the signs that a squall did approach,
With a belly of black, and the ice of the North in its teeth.
It stabbed down with claws that bedazzled his sight,
And snarled as he cowered beneath.

The squall then it hurled forth a punishing rain,
That bruised him & drenched him & chilled him.
He cried with dismay as it bore him away,
For he knew it would sport ere it killed him.

The squall screamed its taunts in his half-deafened ears,
As it pummelled him far out to sea;
"Thence you are bound for the foulest of fates,
For the Doom Of The Deep waits for thee."

"Your currach shall founder by rain & by wave,
To be claimed by the clamouring swell,
Where the grindylows wait with their cold, snagging claws,
To drag you swift-down into Hel."

"Think you that death shall await as release?
O tiny man you are mistaken!
For then you shall taste of the Grindylow Kiss,
As into the depths you are taken."

"Lungs seared to bursting & blind in the dark,
The Grindylow Kiss shall preserve you.
In exquisite terror, an instant from death,
A black foetid breath shall conserve you."

"So snatch your last shallow & shivering gasps;
At the Kelp-Fields ere long we arrive,
Where Old Mother Grindylow marshals her shoal;
O such torments that hag shall contrive!"

The fisherman lay in the hurtling craft,
Curled up in a shuddering ball.
He prayed to his gods with a last thread of hope,
And endured the spite of the squall.

Then he cocked up his head in confused disbelief,
For a howl he had clearly just heard.
'Twas the howl of a wolf,
But surely at sea to hear such a sound was absurd!

Again came the howl. The man clutched at his head,
Feeling sure he was rendered insane,
Then shrank back with eyes wide,
As the prow of a longship did pierce through the curtain of rain.

A huge craft she was, and pitched unto black.
Her oars they did bristle like spines.
Her prow was becarved as a sleek winged stag,
With antlers of brightly gilt tines.

The end of a rope was thrown down to the man;
To grasp it he loud was exhorted.
"Come aboard fellow mariner! I bid you make haste!
Ere long we shall have the squall thwarted."

"Heave away!" a voice boomed as they hauled him aboard.
"Let us put to a race with this squall.
Heed not its screeching & bend to your oars;
Full-soon we shall feast at my hall."

The trembling who-man was laid down to rest,
'Neath an awning stretched out in the stern.
He fought with the weakness that plucked at his limbs;
With the fever he felt start to burn.

He dragged him to sitting & gazed at the crew,
Each pulling full-hard at his oar.
In the sear of the lightning he saw they were huge,
Their heads like to bears, and to boar.

A heavy-tusked crewman did come to the who-man,
With bread & thick stew & with ale.
He coaxed him to sup as the squall fell to aft,
And the captain howled out for the sail.

"What is the name of this longship good tar?"
He asked as he spooned up the stew.
"She is the Peryton" came the reply,
"And that is our captain, Varou."

The tusker did point to the Peryton's prow,
Where a long-muzzled giant did stand.
"Wolven Varou, the Cur Of The Waves,
And we are his beastly-faced band."

'Neath a cloud-tattered moon, before spume-spattered gusts,
The Peryton clove to her port.
Her brass-thwarted keel did sunder the swell,
As she ran with her sail snapped taut.

Ere long loomed their landfall; the Isle of Guernr,
Of which Wolven Varou was the lord.
They slipped to the jetty & sent out the ropes;
So thus was the Peryton moored.

The who-man, the crew & Varou did alight,
Then made they high-spirited track.
Howling & mirthful went Wolven Varou,
And all of his beast-headed pack.

The hall of Varou was a sight to behold,
All carven with knotwork & rune.
Set over the door was a great glowing stone,
That was like to a full-bellied moon.

The great hearth was kindled, the braziers lit.
The benches & boards were laid long.
The door was full-shut 'pon the chill of the night,
And merriment spread through the throng.

Varou howled for ale; a tun was rolled forth,
Which he broached with a punch of his fist.
When his warriors' flagons were foaming & charged,
He sought for the man in their midst.

"Ah, there is our guest." spake Wolven Varou,
As he lounged with a goblet in hand.
"We must raise him a toast!" quoth he with a grin,
And the man was exhorted to stand.

"Come my Bears & my Boar! Raise your cups to this who-man.
He comes to us salted yet fresh.
Then despatch him full-swift, and prepare him for roasting,
The sooner to feast 'pon his flesh."

"But why?" cried the who-man. "My rescue you made!
As an equal you saw fit to treat me.
What has changed from the kindness you showed 'pon the sea,
That now you would so choose to eat me?"

"Out 'pon the main we are mariners all.
'Pon shore we are most, you are least.
'Pon sea you were comrade, a brother afloat.
'Pon shore you are Meat For The Beast."

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Badger & The Wild Man

An enduring and well-known figure in English folklore is the Green Man. You'll find his leafy face among the architecture of many a country church, on pub signs, and in folksongs and tales. Less well known is his wild and hairy cousin, the Woodwose. I recently had cause to investigate him closely when I entered a competition held by Badger Ales, my favourite British brewery. They have just opened a new brewhouse, and to celebrate, they've created a very limited-edition beer named Woodwose. To win a few precious bottles they wanted to know how the woodwose relates to Dorset.
After consulting one of my essential tomes, The Lore Of The Land, I came up with what I hope is the right answer. Also, the entry had to be in less than 100 words. So (in 99 words) I came up with this.
(And to top it all, TP made an amazing folk song out of it!) I hope it wins!

The Woodwose

She stole away when the night was still,
Wearing her prettiest clothes,
Up to the beeches on Yellowham Hill,
To meet with a wild wose.

Fierce he was, and covered in hair,
With a gleam in his ancient eye.

He beckoned her into his leafy lair
With a smile that made her sigh.
At morn she rose with blushing cheeks,
And fled home to her father's mill.
She tarried there some forty weeks,
Then went back to the woods on Yellowham Hill.
Up she climbed with a green-haired child,
And came down alone from the wose's wild.

All images copyright their respective owners

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Lady Hew

Please click on the first image to enlarge.

Odin's Bastard, with Lady Hew in hand, is set to weigh anchor on the 25th of this month in a four part saga.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Russell's Curio Corner #4

As an American living in England, I get asked all the time about life in the U.S.A.  Since it's the 4th of July, and time for another one of my Curio Corners, I thought I'd take this opportunity to cover a little bit of Americana.

Now, lots of people have asked me about the people printed on US dollars.  The figure most often asked about is Benjamin Franklin.  The question most frequently asked is this:

Q:  When was Ben Franklin president?
A:  He wasn't.

Often that answer will engender the following question:

Q:  Then why is Franklin on the 100 dollar bill when all of the other portraits are of presidents?
A:  Because he's Benjamin "America" Franklin.  Let me tell you a little bit about ol' Ben.

Benjamin Franklin was a mighty man, the mighty man.  Being elected president would have been a step down for ol' Benny.  Franklin was the true renaissance man.  He invented, legislated, participated and instigated loads and loads of impressive and important stuff.  The real question is, why isn't he on all of the US notes?

To further emphasize the awesomeness of Mr. Franklin, I've compiled a "greatest hits" list of some of my favorite moments/traits.  In no particular order:

1.  Invention of the Power Cube.

 Benjamin Franklin and the Power Cube

2.  Dreamt the Ancient Greeks into Existence.
Young Benjamin Franklin Dreaming
3.  Thwarted the Assassination of President Washington.
Benjamin Franklin thwarts an assassin

4.  He Spoke French.
Randy Benjamin Franklin

5.  Liberated Rhode Island from Prussian Occupation.
Benjamin Franklin gives Prussia the boot

6.  Invented the Robot Postman (and Taught Him to Love).
A Ben and his Robot

7.  Negotiated the Peace Treaty Between the Two Great Miniature Ocean Peoples.
Benjamin Franklin and a wet treaty

8.  Solved the Case of the Lizardmen of Lyon.
Benjamin Franklin and the Lizardmen of Lyon

9.  Gave Birth to Abraham Lincoln and Elvis.
Benjamin Franklin pregnant with Abraham Lincoln and Elvis

10.  Destroyed the Power Cube after it had Fallen into the Wrong Hands.
Benjamin Franklin destroys Hitler's power cube

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

In all seriousness, Franklin was one of the most influential and important figures of the 18th Century.  For more info, check out Wikipedia.