Woodwose, Blackheath 1381 (super rough draft)

Note: This is very much a work in progress, part of a much lonnger piece that will eventually be a whole string of collected short stories or a novel. Feedback encouraged.

What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
following a faint stain on the air to the river's edge
I enter water.

-       Ted Hughes, ‘Wodwo’

Bright as iron, swift as arrow, strong as oak. I am the land.

-       Robert Holdstock, ‘Mythago Wood’

The human-males are gathered and huddled on the green grass-ground, looks of scorn, fright and anger bending their brows. They had been increasing in numbers year on year on year, as their women pushed screaming clammy infants into this world that doesn’t want them. Now, they are lessened. The blackness of thirty years ago took many of them, their deaths brutish and short. We were immune, forever untouched. Ideas are hard to kill and they need us. The prouder ones, with finer robes and paler complexions, who claimed to own the land, their buildings lay vacant. The ones who worked their lands, tilled their fields and did their bidding, their numbers were much reduced also. They had become aware of some nascent power within themselves. For a while we had hoped the Green would take back their clearings, re-conquer the structures they erected, with ivy tendrils, creeping moss, sprouting sapling. Hope in vain.

They took our images and scrawled them on their temple walls in the city to the South East where the chain-mail men cut down one of their endless Saints in their year eleven hundred and seventy. They measure it, now, in relation to the death of their Christ God. We were there, watching from the walls. They only half see us now. When they do, the eyes blink and squint, senses crippled by the Jesu who forces them to unsee what they have seen. We have become their dirty secret, a hidden shame, as false temples grope toward the empty skies, reaching for a God who was never there. There was only ever the Earth, the Green, which gave them their life. They used to worship it, respect it, and we were closer to them. Happier times, when the Horned God would walk the forests. The wudewasa we were called in their old tongue, the mangled language they derived from the Northmen who pillaged their lands. The times have advanced and their memories have become weak, as has their language which bastardises our name to wodewose. We struggle to understand them now even as we enter their lexicons and their stories. Wodwo they now know from their story of the gallant knight and his Green adversary. The colour of the lands that gave them life now given to that of the fallen one who does not exist, their demon. Their devil who imbues them with a guilt that cripples them. We are being consigned to the graveyard of their literature, pinned down to their pages by the scribes who refute our existence. They call us incubi, sylvans and fauns, yet we were here before the Mediterraneans came here. Before Pan. Before the woad tattooed chieftains and their druids, before the temple in the South West was erected by the ancestors they have forgotten. Of our own origins we know nothing. Some of us believe that they, the people gathered on the heath and their kin, created us. But even the Green Men, now largely gone to seed in the sighing forests, do not remember.

In generations past they would capture some of our number, tie us rough like beasts to wooden posts they hewed from our forests, force us to imbibe their liquors in exchange for what they perceived as our wisdom. They used to know the things that we know, but even in those distant times they had forgotten but were, cruelly, aware of their loss. Now in these modern times they have even forgotten that they have forgotten. Such sadness hangs in the air.

Some of them even walked among us, in their time of legends. In their year five hundred and seventy three, Myrddin Wylt whose senses left him, walked the forests of the Northern land the Roman-men named Caledonia, as one of us. In those lands they call us Am Fear Liath Mòr, in their own ancient tongue. We know they will forget us.

We took him in as he remembered what his brethren could not. He would ruminate on his former life, a half-memory now obscured by bud and briar and damp birch. He gained a gift of foresight, accurately saw his own death as he fell, was stabbed and drowned. No one learned from him. His knowledge died with him.
The crowd on the heath is swelling. One of their holy men addresses the gathered mass, as we watch from the Green.

We hear it as this: 

“"When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?"

We whisper among ourselves, furred bodies mottled with mosses and lichens, attempting to decipher the holy man’s pronouncements. Some of us recognise the names of the original human couple who were birthed shrieking into an indifferent Green. We watched this unhappy birth as they left behind their ape-like forbears and groped blindly through a part of our world that they dubbed in their childish insecurity as a Paradise. In one way, their myths are correct. They had at their disposal a natural world that provided for them, that they were a part of. The world that is us, that they now fell for timber, burn to keep themselves warm and ward off the dark spirits their Christ-God tells them do not exist.

The Heath gathering increases in pitch and tension.

Archetypes, like ourselves who we recognise as possessing a kind of immortality, stand like beacons in the crowd of stinking humans. The wind buffets them. Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball. They will be remembered even as they are forgotten. 

Tyler has led his men from Kent to join the Men of Essex, swelling their numbers as they prepare to march on the Great City that we have never seen. Their motives are opaque to us. 

The crowd mutters hateful and bitter recriminations about a young king Richard and a poll-tax. Anger fills the air, their hearts, their lungs, their minds.

We watch them as they go, into the future.