Athens, December, 332 BC
“We must take this man chained before us to the edge of the world and drop him! He has too much power!” shouted one of the council.
“Take him to the edge? But he has done no wrong!” shouted another older member in a voice, which shook the dust from the pillars of the Areopagus in Athens, and summoned the attention of the audience surrounding him. He stood on a platform, dressed in a white toga, sporting a long white beard and an upright carriage. His stance was as solid as his irresolute opinion. He continued.
“Why? What fear lurks in the shadows of your hearts regarding this man? Is it the truth, he speaks? His morals? Or is it your lack of morals he disturbs by his mere presence?”
He waved his arms at the crowd as he showered them with more questions.
“The fear of what is right my friends means letting go of what has implanted its nature in all, growing only if allowed from the weakness of will. Somehow, the overwhelming prospect of some great pleasure seems to obscure one’s perception of what is truly good. But this difficulty need not be fatal to the achievement of virtue. Who among you deliberately chooses to develop vicious habits? The great enemy of moral conduct is precisely the failure to behave well even on occasions when one’s deliberation has resulted in clear knowledge of what is right. If you do as such with this man you will be letting the fortune of fortunes slip through your hands. Casting him over the edge is a fool’s deed, for this man, who kneels before you chained to the floor, has an abundance of knowledge at his fingertips, touching hands, as he does, with God. My observational science, he has shown me. The weather, the…”
“Silence, Aristotle! Sit! You speak in riddles. You’re old! Your theories have outlived their time, proved wrong by our scholars! I vote we take this prisoner back to Persia before we’re all destroyed!” declared yet another member. His face was etched in fear even with the support of the majority of the crowd.
“Have you all gone mad? You have no idea of what he holds! You cannot do this!” Nearly crying and with his toga gathered in his left hand, Aristotle walked down a few of the marble steps before stopping just above the main floor and pleaded.
“Where are your hearts and ethics? Did you lose them in battle? And for what? For power? The power of an empty hand is all that will be left! For life consists in action, and its end is a mode of action, not a quality. These improprieties of conduct will cause our decline, that is if we continue eroding morality. Persecution is not necessary; free him!” stated Aristotle.
Delegates from every Grecian state were assembled before Alexander, whose abilities, as a leader, were beginning to wane. The visions he once held, blurred by drink and his insatiable appetite for power, no longer revealed themselves to him. The question of what to do with this man, who threatened his authority and made fools of his scholars by calling them “educated donkeys”, lay before him with no easy answer. The prisoner had performed feats of strength and demonstrated abilities beyond imagination. Yet this man, chained to the floor, still sat silently with his eyes closed.
“No more talk, Aristotle! The will of the council will be done! Take the prisoner and deliver him to the edge, this very night!” commanded Alexander. His words put an end to the debate and were supported by the boasters, who held the strings of many, like so many puppeteers.
The prisoner, chained and guarded by hundreds, raised his head and spoke.
“The blessing and wisdom of God, speak through your actions Aristotle, and you, my dear friend, now hold what I was given. I will greet you there, where the wanderers pass into the heavens.”
That said, his chains broke, like they were just made of fine porcelain, and fell to the ground as he stood, looking around with an angelic smile and supreme power. Some felt his eyes pierce theirs, striking them as their emotions and passions were stirred from deep within, while others, with souls of charcoal, stood like statues afraid to even breathe.
The prisoner began to spin slowly in a small circle, with each rotation becoming faster and faster. This speed became so intense that, from every angle, he appeared motionless, while surrounded in a blue-green aura.
Alexander commands his archers let fly a rain of arrows, but their arrows turned to plumes of dust before reaching their target. His swordsmen then advanced, but were frozen in fear and fell to their knees. Everyone stood back when Alexander ordered his cheetahs to be released, however, all six cheetahs disappoint as they end up sitting and purring at the prisoner’s feet.
Complete silence followed.
The prisoner, waving his arm and pointing in the direction of the entrance to the great hall said, “We must go. The sea awaits!”
The cheetahs opened up a respectful path, then accompanied him, as he strode away and made for the waters of the Mediterranean.
All that evening, thunder rolled over the grey reaches of the sea, while a fleet of thirty vessels left Greece and sailed towards the Pillars of Hercules, making for the great Atlantic. Their passage through the Mediterranean was calm and steady. Once inside the boundaries of the Atlantic however, storms raged as they ran north towards the cold and misty isle of Britannia. Straight towards the edge of the known universe, they headed, and it lay just beyond the horizon. Each night, two ships were ordered to turn back for Greece.
The ship’s timbers creaked with each crest of a wave, as oarsman continue their hypnotic stoke heading towards their destiny.
Below deck, in a cage bound in chains, the young man with long blonde hair lay resting, his mood calm. The vessel’s commander feared him and stood well clear, any time he visited, never letting this prisoner look in his direction. One night, eight days out from Greece, the commander crept below deck and peered into the cage.
The young man, with his back turned, said, “What do you seek, Captain, life or eternal death? I hold the keys to the everlasting, as I am he, who sounds the horn. I can help you overcome your demons?”
The commander turned and ran and, for the rest of his life, these words would echo unceasingly in his head.
Crashing through heavy waves, the ship’s bow began to plough along the coastal waters of Britannia. Where lost to its bleak days, fear tore at the crew’s souls when the night of a single star came upon them.
The crew had whispered to each other for weeks about what must lie ahead. They knew their fate already, and if falling off the edge of the earth was not bad enough, other worries disturbed the men.
Rumours of the sea hag, and of sea serpents which could drag the ship into the deep caused many a frantic eye to search the waters. On several occasions, men swore they saw a great beast breast the waters, with its humps and neck, stretching high over the sea. As the days past, more and more were seen coming ever closer to the vessel.
The ship’s navigator, Pytheas, reported a dragon had flown passed one moonless night while he was relieving himself at the stern.
“I felt no fear though.” he added, “The gust from its wings blew over me as it stared into my eyes. It could have snatched me, but it just… just hung there in the fog. Blue it was; a blue dragon of the sea, gone quiet, way before my father and his father’s time. But it was blue alright. Brilliant and glowing like turquoise. It was not a dream. I was held, timeless, in its sight. It spoke to me without a sound, saying the serpents mean us no harm. And in the time it took me to swallow, it was gone!”
The men took comfort from his words, as they knew Pytheas told no tales and, in time, they began to feel at ease with the serpents. But, they were still afraid of being eaten by “the one that calls out;” the sea witch. With a dragon or serpent there was a chance, if your blade was placed just right and, with their size, you could hardly miss their approach.
But, when it came to attacks from blackest evil, you would never know until it was too late and she rips your tongue out and cackles. Yes, that topped their fear list, alright!
The old hag, the sea witch, was the dread of the seas and the stories about her had been passed down by travellers from neighbouring lands and beyond. She spoke in many voices, while her warm tones could caress and soothe the weary.
But, it was the mother’s milk of the devil they drank before dying.
Pits and crags, hollowed-out logs, caves and chimneys black with soot, suited the hag just fine.
The old tale of a witch being afraid of water was just that, a tale. She flourished on it. Water wells, with their deep shafts travelling down into the darkness, was her favourite place to snatch a life. Any place out of sight was her haunt.
Born in the southern regions of Portugal along the Mediterranean Sea, amongst its jagged rocks, lived the old hag before drifting north with her eight-sisters. Not born to earthly parents, she was the ‘prick of confusion,’ sent by the devil.
Reaching up from the bowels of the earth, he moulded them from maggots and slime. Then he planting her and her sisters, in the swamps of the southern lands to grow and practice her deception. Their putrid stench could foul the air for miles around. Their chins jutted to a point and with teeth sharp bitter and broken; as rotten as their soul. Praying on the helpless and the unconscious was their art.
On this night number-eight began to draw them into her dream with a nightmare of spells.
Call her, Hagakulla Puitlootta! She stood tall, when not hunched and bone-thin before she ate her victims. Her hair was manlike and sprouted from odd places. Her toes curled and were covered with warts. Her eyes were offset, one blue, one black, with red pupils and lay under a hedge of eyebrows. Her clothes were tattered, ill-fitting, red rags, and a flowing black cloak. Her hands, though, were unusually soft, graceful, caressing and warm to the touch. They were bait, mesmerizing, enticing, seductive, hypnotic, with nails so sharp, a nick would never be felt.
Changing into a revolting creature form like a rat or scorpion, she could do with just a thought. Piercing a soul past the flesh, was her food. Discarded bones lined her walkway, buried beneath, decaying flesh and weathered clothing.
In the year 332BC, her home was a thatched hut, with a fireplace built for three, placed high on a cliff overlooking Holy Island. But it was there, high above the sea, she sang her last hag tune.
On a night when rain and fire blades of lightning fell in a constant assault upon the living, the seas began to stir, boiling in a froth of whitecaps and deep valleys of water.
And then she began to sing.
Nine witches were there since the beginning of time. One through seven is long departed since, while number eight, Hagakulla, choked on a beam of light, thrown by an angel who swam on a bitter and chilly night.
Then she began to howl.
“We need to let him go, or we will all perish!” cried the crew as the storm intensified. “The gods are angry and come with swords of fire!”
And wail, she did!
Held captive below deck, he stayed calm and focused through the pounding and relentless waves and the screeches of the siren. “Your strength is with me. Thank you, God.”
And men began to cry.
The aroma of death made her mouth water. She drew her broom close and spat on her hands. In a gargling tone, she uttered a spell. “Boiling seas, whispering pleas, come to Mother, suckle and rest. I will comfort thee. Come to Mother. Come to me.”
Thirty-three of the crew mutinied, over-powered ranking officers by holding gaggers to their throats, then freed the prisoner and brought him up on deck. And all the while, they headed towards the rocks of Holy Island; home of the witches.
Standing on the bluff, silhouetted by a distorted moon, she drew them in: “Come to me.”
Blinded by fierce wind-driven rain, the ship floundered on the rocks and the Captain cried, “Abandon ship!”
Like a spider to a fly, the old hag flew from the cliff’s edge, dropping to the sea below and sped across the waters snagging what she could of the living and eating their hearts and swallowing their souls. In an instant, their lives were no more. Their bodies littered the rocks as she came to roost and her toenails dug into a barnacle-covered boulder.
Only the ship’s prisoner and thirty-three of her crew survived. The witch shook her broom at the night for those who got away; casting spells and curses upon them, as she spat her rank saliva everywhere. Then, to her regret, she looked up and into the eyes of an angel.
Once on shore, the young man shouted with such a voice that it blasted the rains apart and a beam of light pierced the eyes of the sea witch, who had dared to look his way.
“Why, bless you, kind witch. It’s by your doing I am now free. Your evil has saved me. Ye are not of this earth, so ye will not rot. Return instead as a rock. Ye old hag, frozen by thee, hag I say, hag it be. And for all time, you will breathe no more, as pelican’s roost, a white bonnet you will wear old witch, not black like before: beautiful, just beautiful!”
The rain stopped. The clouds parted and the sky became brilliant with stars.
He then turned to the men. “I thank you. You shall be rewarded with the blessings of God. You shall have long lives. Tears will not flow from your loved ones, for they will be with you soon. You will become rich in spirit and grow as oaks, solid from the ground. Be steadfast in your ways, then, by the grace of God, this will be done.
You and I, we have work that must be done. This is where we will build a foundation and a horn of plenty will overflow from its walls. And we shall call it, Goosenham.”
The sea hags sister Bultas, who was uglier and more powerful, awoke from a gorging and having seen what happened to her beautiful sister, began hiding in the shadows then crept away in fear. She was pissed and places a curse on the angel.
“Revenge will be mine angel swine, your heart I will eat, along with your feet and use your hair as twine. All in due time. All in due time, swine! I will wait. I will… wait.”
And so the story begins…