© M. E. King, 16 Feb 08
As Harkin shivered in her cavern at Nab End Quarry, the humans were embroiled in a
terrible war against themselves. Some of their most brilliant minds were engaged in a
desperate race to discover how to release nuclear power. Few, if any, humans realized that
the resulting explosion could be worse than the war itself. Through a haze, Harkin was
remembering some of the strange and foreign things that Faraken had
passed on to her. How one of the humans had proved to the rest of them, that the tiniest
particle of matter was hiding immense energy. Before that time, said Faraken,
the humans tended to be impressed only by the big and the visibly powerful. Not
surprising that many of them believed that because birds were small, there could not be
much intelligence in their heads indeed, humans who were a bit slow in their
thinking, were sometimes called a bird-brain. The Starminders tell me, Faraken had
added, that the man Einstein has now demonstrated to the other humans, how blind
their minds can be to so many things, and that no longer can anything - or even anyone, be
called ordinary. They know that we have some abilities which are beyond their own, such as
navigation and flight. Yet, said Faraken, lowering his old head, so slow, so
terribly slow are most of the humans to show respect for any form of life that
doesnt walk or talk or look, or even believe, as they do. Then Faraken had
gone on to explain that so much about the nature of mind and consciousness
throughout the universe, had only been glimpsed faintly by a few of the deepest thinking
of the humans. Tarnlight was such a thing, and little was known about it. Somehow it
seemed to link the kind of navigational skills which birds already possess, with an
intuition of the future. Yet its origin was quite independent of the mind which receives
it. It dawned on Harkin that it could be Tarnlight which was now trying to signal to her
that something outside of all lark experience was happening in her nesting meadow.
From regions completely unknown to her, which her hithsense
told her were beyond even the frozen specks of yellow light which patterned the night sky,
a vision was breaking through into her consciousness. It was surrounded by a warm glow,
from splints of burning pinewood held by hundreds of the human children. This was the
image created by the tarnlight flashing through the neurons of Harkins brain,
seeking a way to be understood. The vision was the closest her mind could get to interpret
something she could neither know nor even imagine. Would humans have believed Einstein if
he had not been able to map out his incredible intuitions, with the clear track marks of
mathematics? Likewise, few humans would have believed that Harkin was being told of a link
between a bygone age of the first great Arthur, and a future which even now was unfolding.
Little did she know that at this very moment clear evidence for it was being imprinted in
her nesting meadow. But how could Harkin, or
any of the teeming life forms of earth, based on mere compounds of carbon, possibly
perceive what was happening out beyond the galaxies? The Starminders were attempting to
repair the endless damage caused when one twisted strand of a rogue DNA, carried by a
meteorite, had broken loose in a primitive form of life on earth, more than a billion
But Harkin was weary. Was it not likely, she
wondered, that her fears, and the cold darkness of the cavern, were playing tricks with
her mind? What leap of faith it would take to believe it possible that a human breaker of
walls, stabbing rocks down over a birds nest, could in any way spell good for the
future of life on earth. But faith had long been going out of fashion, and she was
reaching again for the comfort of unconsciousness, when she was prodded by a spark of
memory. She realized that her hithsense of the invader had been completely blocked by her
panic. And there was something unusual about him, which did not fit any pattern of danger
given during her training. She decided to face her worst fears head on, and struggle back
against the south-west winds gusting over the dark heather of Blackwood Common. She would
try to make sense of what was happening both inside and outside of her mind.
The drizzle was now drifting away to the east,
towards Standing Stones Farm. She came out of hiding at the same time as the shy April
sun, and set off back to her meadow. As she approached her nest, an amazing sight came
into view. It was beyond anything that any lark had ever seen. With each beat of her
wings, she saw more clearly, not the expected desecration, but a haven! It seemed to come
straight out of another age, long before the first great Arthur guarded Britain.
Three tall rocks, thrust into the earth, now formed a standing henge around her nest,
and guarding her tiny hopes. Not only was her nest unharmed, it was protected as never
before. The wall breaker seemed to have had a complete change of heart, and had turned
into a wall mender, for now he was picking up the stones he had cast down, and was putting
them back into the wall.
Harkin returned to warming her eggs. She felt so much
relief and thankfulness, and felt so safe, that she paid little attention to the figure of
a gnarled, weathered human being, wending its way along a distant track on the steep side
of Crow Hill. An old drystone waller, whom Harkin had often seen moving about on the far
side of the hill, had found a new purpose in his life. As he approached the newcomer to
Wildwood Farm, he was going over the words he would be using. He knew that educated people
had difficulty in understanding his rough way of speaking. But not
knowing their big words, and being too honest to ever dream of imitating their accents,
all he could do was to speak more slowly. Little did he know that slick city dwellers
already joked about how one could fall asleep between the words of a Yorkshire land
worker. He was deciding that today he would teach his new neighbor how to put all
the pieces of small and broken stones into the centre of a wall which
was being repaired; this to stop it from gradually caving in on its self. But the old
craftsman spoke in such an ancient dialect, that what he actually said was:
Ahll githee a and withet, Mester King. Tha nayds te puit all
yon bits oscrap stoowans inter thheart o twahl, else
itll collapse from thinside.
Such were the welcome words heard by the wallbreaker, as the man who was known
locally as Donkey Robinson, arrived out of the mists swirling about the summit
of Crow Hill. Ernest Robinson had begun to pass on to this new owner of Wildwood farm,
everything he knew of the ancient art of walling dry, which meant without
cement. Robinson was already old when he began this task, but never had he had such a keen
pupil, and he never imagined that he would meet a young man with the passion and drive to
repair all the boundary walls of the farm.
Ah, good to see you again, Mr. Robinson. said the newcomer, You must
have been soaked to the skin by the time you got home through last Thursdays
Nay, Arthur said Robinson, thrain turned te snoowa as Ah wor
climbing Crow ill. Onnyway, yon Freysian calf A wor cartin oer mi
shoulders kept mi wahrm.
You mean to say, said the newcomer, letting go of his work to look again at
this weathered relic of rustic England, that you carried that hundred pound calf all
the way over Crow Hill?
Wat ither way is thu te git a blaytin elpless crayture through a
snowstoowam? asked Robinson. Mahnd thee, we sat dahn naw an then. It wor
grand, tha knows, settin there int heather avin a bit of a natter wi yon
calf. The old man then moved closer to his apprentice, as if to impart a piece of
special knowledge: Tha knows, thi nivver argue, dont onimals. He paused,
and there were a few tears in his eyes. Was it at the memory of cruel words he had been
dealt by people who mocked the old ways of a simple country laborer? Or was it because all
the local farmers had started using barbed wire as a quick and cheap way of mending the
holes in their walls? Robinson had seen an animal bleed to death on the spikes of barbed
wire. Some people laughed at the old man for being stuck in the laborious age of stone. As
Robinson looked at the kind and thoughtful face of his pupil, he was feeling a strange
pride he had never before known. Here before him was a man, young and strong, who believed
in the best of the old ways, and was willing to learn them. Never had anyone in Cragg Vale
heard of an educated person wanting, yes, actually
wanting, to do rough land work.
Robinsons nickname of Donkey had been earned from the enormous amounts
of rock he had moved by hand throughout his lifetime. With those local stones, he had
constructed or repaired countless miles of walls, without any cement or machinery. His
helpers were a hammer, and a three foot long hickory-handled pick which he had got from a
railroad auction. Sometimes he used a more recent invention which was an oversized bucket
with two legs and one wheel. To the wild ones it was a mobile perch for the robin, but the
humans called it a wheelbarrow. Now the old stoneworker was gazing at the rare sight of a
wall being repaired by someone else. A sees that thas managed ter pull dahn
all tbrocken part. Nah thes a firm base te start raybuildin it. As
he spoke he found himself lowering his voice a little. Being close to nature, the unusual
peace which was beginning to encircle Wildwood farm was reaching into him. He had even
forgotten to light up the broken clay pipe which hung out of his tattered top pocket. It
seemed that something was happening around this farmstead which was even more precious
than the re-awakening of spring. The
carefree teasing of the April breeze through early coltsfoot flowers and over the dead
winter grasses was broken only by a tapping sound as each gritty black stone was fitted
into the wall. In the background could be heard the song of those skylarks who were not on
their nests. They sang out their soft choruses, which were interwoven by the swooping,
sweeping cry of the lapwings, and punctuated by the coarse caw of the rooks.
There and then, Robinson decided that whenever Arthur
might be walling, he would happily hobble over the high road around Crow Hill, all the way
from his tiny homestead at Sand Beds farm, to help Arthur rebuild the walls of Wildwood
From the nearby hamlet of Hubberton, a keen seventeen-year-old now joined the two men, and
from the renewed seclusion of her nest, Harkin heard the sounds of friendly greetings
between the humans. How's it going Mester King? said the youth.
Yere tayking ter land work lahk you were born to it. He spoke with the
Yorkshire accent typical of the local town and village dwellers, whose speech was falling
away from the older dialect used by Robinson.
Thanks Cyril, and it's going well, replied Arthur, as he shook hands with the
lad. Then they went into a playful jousting, wrestling in their handshake grip, just as
Faraken had described Robin Ahood and Little John doing, so many years earlier in
Sharewood Forest. Though he was a strong and street-wise lad, Cyril soon found himself
laughing as his back was forced playfully down over a clap of dried cow dung. Then, as
Arthur turned, and flipped Cyril past it, into a bed of bilberry, he continued: Yes,
if you think about it, nature and the countryside is in the
blood of every man, woman and child on earth. It just needs re-awakening. If you consider
the length of our ancestors journey through time, it was only a breath ago that
every human being grew up amidst greenery and wildlife.
Well, appen that explains why Ah so likes cumin up ere,
replied Cyril. Then he saw the newly formed gap in the wall, and the scattered stones.
Hey, oos bin pulling all this wall dahn? he continued, sounding as if
someone had stolen his boots. It looks a right mess. Has one o them drunken
motor car drivers crashed into it?
Then, from the topstone on which he was sitting, old Robinson rose up like a long
forgotten volcano, ignored at ones peril. Nay lad, he thundered,
were ta born yistady? Tha cant stand a guid wahl on rotten legs. Tha
nayds ter hexcuvate fer som rayt fahnditions.
Cyril then turned to Arthur for his next question, for he knew that a villagers lack
of country knowledge would be better understood by the newcomer. But Mester King,
what are yon three stoowans for, sticking up in tfield?
As the three men turned to face her nest, Harkin had to combat her usual instinct to flee,
but her hithsense and the tones of voice told her that all was safe and she could rest
back onto her three eggs and the one hungry nestling.
With a knowing smile to Robinson, Arthur then revealed the mystery to Cyril: In a
couple of days I shall be harrowing this field, to level the old mole hills and spread the
cows dung. Those rocks which Ive rammed into the ground mark the nest of a
skylark, so that I can steer round it, and save her young from being crushed.
At the time, Harkin was only able to sense the good news of what the newcomer was saying,
but later, when the roaring chains of the mechanical harrows cleared each standing rock by
half a wingspan, she understood. Those stones, set into the earth by a new Arthur, gave
her hope that a new caring for the wild creatures could awaken in the humans. She never
forgot that day, for she had seen with her own eyes the foundation stones of the
newcomers plan for a refuge for all the wildlife of the hillside, and she began to
realize that this man could indeed be the long
promised return of Arthur. So it came about that the wild ones began to call him Nuwarth.
As soon as her young were fledged and had flown the nest, Harkin paid a visit to Faraken
to thank him for the guidance and light he had imparted to her. All for a reason,
all for a purpose, my dear Harkin, came the old birds reply. This new
owner of Wildwood farm has been given the vision to build what we wild ones call a pilot
Camelot. There are signs of an awakening in the human spirit, and the beginnings of a
respect for wildlife. The Starminders tell us that within fifty of the humans years,
the hunting, killing and trapping of wildlife could go out of fashion. They say that some
of the humans will even form groups dedicated to protecting us. Thatll make a
change, since theyve been shooting at us for three hundred years! It seems to us
that this new Arthur has taken on a task that is almost impossible.
Then Faraken looked down at the rock, and an immense sadness came over him. He continued
in little more than a whisper: Meanwhile the darkest age of all is about to descend
on the animal kingdom. It will bring a suffering beyond anything we wild ones ever knew.
The humans have invented an artificial way to force birds and mammals to bear offspring.
But the young ones are to be taken from their mothers at birth. In the case of the birds
they are being held as flocks without flight, never again to see a tree or a flower, the
earth or the sun. Each flock is being compressed into what looks like a monstrous nest of
steel and stone, without even an opening to the sky. These are the lost ones, and most of
the humans neither know nor care what is being done to them, for they are mostly kept far
away from where the humans live.
Then what hope is there? pleaded Harkin. And what can I do to help, or
should I hide to make sure they dont capture me?
Theres no danger of that, replied Faraken, were not big
enough for them to bother with. But you will be needed to help bring tarnlight to a child
who is to be born to Nuwarth and Imogen at Wildwood farm. I have been told by the
Starminders that with others of the caring humans, this child is to play a critical part
in ending what their historians will one day call the age without conscience.
To Be Continued