(With thanks to Beryl Baigent)
He stood at the top of Nineham’s green valley,
in the very last dip of Beagley’s field.
The scarp was before him but still lay quite hidden,
but a spring at his feet was newly revealed.
And the land was all tundra, still fresh from the glaciers,
cold but not frozen, the beginning of thaw.
Everywhere mosses, then grass, a few birches.
A pale wintry sun was all that he saw.
And he bent to the water, where something was shining.
It gleamed in the bubbles, a shape caught his eye,
put his hand in the fountain, where it came to the surface
and drew out a flint which he raised to the sky.
The flint was well fashioned, still wet from the river
and created to fit in the palm of his hand.
A craftsman had made it, had used it and lost it,
perhaps when the snow still covered the land.
And he looked at it closely, saw the maker had picked
a stone that was marked with the print of a shell,
knew that the flint had therefore been sacred,
that for some secret purpose the maker chose well.
Then into the water, right up to the elbow,
he buried the arm that was empty and bare.
The water was freezing, but still he was probing,
till he caught on some weeds he felt growing there.
And he pulled, and they came right up to the surface,
but there in the light he saw they weren’t green.
Instead it was fur, and as brown as a berry,
the darkest and longest of fur he had seen.
And after the fur there came out a creature,
tall as a house as it stood by his side.
All its face was extended, its nose elongated
and two mighty teeth thrust forth from inside.
He blinked as he looked, confused but delighted.
He knew that here was a mammoth of old.
One of those creatures from a time before history,
of unanswered questions and tales to be told.
But the mammoth surveyed him, calmly stood watching,
the water still dripping all down her right side.
And there in the sunlight, both their breath coming cloudy,
the two of them waited till one might decide.
And then she was speaking, but not even whispering,
the words in his head, his ears full of wind.
“The knife in your hand was the one that destroyed me.
Here in this valley your ancestors sinned.
“I was the last, the last of my nation,
here in this valley I wept for my kind.
This blade on a spear put an end to my weeping,
brought me, in dying, some small piece of mind.
“But he who eclipsed me, took me out of my sadness,
knew what he’d done with the blade that he made,
decided to offer the flint as a sacrifice,
the flint with the shell, where you hold it, inlaid.
“Out of the depths of the earth sprang the water
and into the flow of the spring fell the knife,
but though he made peace, so he thought, with the underworld,
he never knew peace for the rest of his life.
“And now you have found it just as he left it,
have brought it once more all into the light,
my spirit must follow wherever you take it,
or the sacrifice made can never be right.
“Don’t worry, my friend, I won’t cause you a problem,
you’re not stuck with a mammoth wherever you go.
I shall alter my form, you shall find me invisible.
But keep the flint handy as something to show.”
Then out of her mouth there came a black raven
that flew in a circle all round his head,
while the mammoth grew small, as small as a chicken,
then smaller again, like a spider instead.
The raven flew down and sat on his shoulder
as the mammoth, so tiny, now scuttled away.
And there as they stood, man and raven together,
he waited to see what the other might say.
“I am the bird that fed on the mammoth
there as she lay with the wound in her heart.
Her flesh is my flesh and so I must follow.
However she wants me that’s where I must start.
“She is not in the water, she’s not gone forever,
but still she is with us, wherever we go.”
Thus spoke the raven that stood on his shoulder,
its voice not a croak, but clearly and low.
“I am the raven, the bird of creation,
so say the people who live on the ice.
As the glaciers receded, in the birches I settled.
The living I make in this land will suffice.
“I am also the bird that gives name to this river,
the River of Ravens that flows to the Thames.
The river that started from out of this fountain
but now only flows in the deepest of dreams.
“As all the ice melted, so the chalk became porous.
The water then sank to the clay underneath.
That left all the valleys as dry as you know them,
to be covered in downland, in beeches and heath.
“So the river came out much nearer the city,
but long before city was thought of, of course.
The land was all forest and full of wild creatures
where I and my tribe were clearly a force.
“So the water at Keston was known as our river
though in truth we were everywhere here in this land,
but just like the mammoth our numbers have dwindled
as people destroyed us, and our woods, out of hand.
“There’s only one place you’ll now find the raven,
at the tower of London, our sanctuary home,
And they say if we’re gone then all London will follow,
so they make sure we stay, there never to roam.
“The flint in your hand with the shell marked upon it,
this is a sign of things yet to be,
things that might happen if people aren’t careful,
and don’t have the sense to learn what they see.
“This spring is an image, the water a phantom.
As soon as you leave all this will be gone.
But the flint in your hand will remain with you always.
Keep it forever, now this time has begun.
“As the earth grows the warmer from all your endeavour
so water shall rise to the top of the chalk,
and then when it’s ready it will break through the surface.
All through the fields you will see a new brook.
“So the rivers again shall return to the valleys,
valleys that once were of downland and dry,
and the mammoth that sleeps in the land of the beeches
shall wake from her slumber, shall rise by and by.
“And this is a warning for all human beings.
When the water breaks through you’ll have traveled too far.
The mammoth returned is there to remind us
of all you’re destroying here under the star.
“You think you are safe, that there’s no-one to stop you
with all of your enemies routed and gone.
But Gaya herself, Mother Earth, she is waiting.
She lies there and witnesses all you have done.
“She lies there and watches. You’re just like the mammoth.
You’re strong and you’re many, most powerful of all.
But you still need to breathe, you need food, you need water.
Compared to our Mother you’re still very small.
“Take the flint with the shell and show it to others.
Speak, if you can, of all you have heard.
Out of sight, out of mind, I’ll stay with you always.
I’ll speak to our Mother. I’ll help spread the word.”
And he stands at the top of Nineham’s green valley.
In his heart he is altered, is not what he seems.
Now what he sees are the mammoth, the raven,
the flint in his hand, and magical streams.
And he knows he must turn, go back to the village,
discover once more the life he knew well,
must seek out the others most likely to listen,
and keep with him always the knife with the shell.
Must keep with him always the flint with the fossil
that was placed in a spring as an object of power,
then to be saved for the whole of humanity,
as a guide for humanity’s darkest hour.
So he knows he must turn and go back down the valley,
find others to share in all that he’s heard,
must tell what he knows and deal with resistance.
He will take a deep breath and find the first word.
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