We regained the village in the grey light of pre-dawn, with no unwelcome shouts of challenge to embarrass us. The door to the hall once again yielded without sound, and swiftly, for we were cold, we found our bed and unashamedly entwined each other in our arms, shivering as we did so. The human body is a wonderful thing. Alone it can be cold and uncomfortable, whilst given the same outside temperature two together can swiftly become warm. That is how we encouraged sleep to overtake us.
All too soon, it seemed, the stirring of the others woke. We heard the blacksmith’s voice boom out.
“No one is to leave until all are ready. They had a long and cold day yesterday and need their sleep.” How he thought we should ever sleep through his instructions I have no idea. We stirred, remembered we were still hugging each other for warmth, and instinctively separated swiftly. Looking around rather anxiously I noticed that Steve was eyeing us with a smirk, and I immediately felt myself blushing.
It was obvious that everybody wanted to leave, and were waiting only for us. Many of them were in various states of dressing, and suddenly the one thing I wanted to do was to avoid being naked in front of them again.
“Where are my clothes, please?” I asked the blacksmith.
“All in good time, boy. You are to be the last to leave. Your friends have to leave first and go to their homes. Come here and stand by me.”
He was himself dressed. I was once again shrinking into myself, knowing that I had to watch as everyone dressed and see me, alone, the only one naked. Ben turned to me. “I’ll wait for you outside.” I just nodded dismally, once again shaking, and his hand touched and squeezed mine under the covers. Well, he was leaving the bed naked, so I might as well use his company in that state while I still could. I went obediently and stood by the smith, hands held strategically in front of me.
At last they were all dressed, had folded and put away the bedding and were waiting. This was the worst moment. I was one side of the room, everyone else was the other. I was the obvious thing to look at. I may have been standing still, but inside I was still squirming.
“Very well, all of you. You have achieved what we set out to do, although what we have done is only the first part. We now need the Spirits on our side so that what we have done will produce the Village’s future. You may go.”
Silently they filed out. The only ones who looked back at me were Carl and Ben. The door closed. The smith turned to me, and once again looked at me searchingly.
“You know, don’t you, that you now have as much right as I to go to the Grove?”
More than you think. I know more about it than you do. “Yes sir.”
“And you should go there regularly — once a week, I suggest.”
“You do not have to take anyone, but you may take a friend.”
“Yes, sir.” So he knew that, did he?
“I would like to be that friend, if you will accept me as such.”
This was awkward. Here was a figure, feared since my infancy, of great influence in the Village, whose word was law, who was noisy, authoritative, overbearing, wanting to be my friend? And by appearances his ‘friend’ was actually Steve, if friend he was. And if that was the case he was welcome to him. I remembered with disgust having my face over his genitals, massaging him and having to take his penis…
“Sir… sorry… but the Spirit has told me that my friend must be my own age, someone I really like.”
I hadn't intended the last four words and regretted them as soon as they had left my mouth. His eyes bored into me, anger igniting in them as I watched, anxiously.
“Your age? Someone you like? After all I have done for you? And who do you think you are to say what the Spirit has told you? How dare you?” He paused, gathering breath.
“Sir…” I said desperately, “do you think a friend of mine would talk to me like that?”
As if it were stuck by lockjaw his mouth gaped open at me, and for the first time I knew that I had dared to argue with an adult and had won. My clothes were on the chair behind him. I walked to them purposefully and he moved out of my way, seeming to diminish in my sight as he did so. Without looking at him again I dressed, and only when I had the odd, comforting sensation of wearing clothes for the first time in over twelve hours did I turn to him.
“Sorry…” I said it directly to him. “Sorry I can’t. But I will visit the Grove with a friend, if he’ll come. But I think it would be best if it were the two of us, don’t you?”
His jaw dropped again, and emboldened by my apparent double victory, I left the village hall.
Outside, as promised, was an anxious Ben. I assured him that I was all right, and when we had put some distance between us and the hall I explained. So busy were we in exchanging stories and what we had and hadn't seen we ignored the few passers by who looked curiously at us… well, at me, really. It never occurred to me until later that they were seeing me as the boy who had walked naked through the midst of a crowd, on my way to coax the semen from my body for the first time for the good of them all. To me, although the subject of our conversation was about what had happened, the reaction of those around us was of no consequence.
We came to the conclusion that as he had seen what I had seen, heard what I had heard, he must be a chosen one as well. That cheered me, because I knew that he would be the companion of my choice when we went again, just as he would be the companion of my choice whenever we could be with each other.
As my home came into sight the reality of other people kicked in to my tired brain. I began to worry about how my family would view me now. I asked Ben if he would come with me and introduce himself as another of the Chosen, so that I would have some support with the rest of the family.
My father saw me coming and came out to meet me. “Aidan… and Ben. Ben, thank you so much for bringing him home. I think I need to talk to him, don’t you?”
“Er… yes… er…”
“Dad, can Ben come as well, please? We went through it together, you know.”
“Yes… yes… but I need to talk to you alone first. You’re my son, after all.”
He had a point. Ben looked disappointed, but turned away obediently. “I won’t be long,” I called after him.
I followed dad indoors, into the deserted living room, and we stood awkwardly, facing each other.
“Oh Aidan… please, just sit here, will you?” He pointed to the sofa where he had already started to sit. I didn’t know what was about to happen. Would I be punished for what I’d done, even though it was for the Village? Sometimes, at home or at school, I’d been punished for things which weren’t my fault, or that I couldn’t avoid. Adults! There were times I despaired of ever understanding them. They lived in a world of their own…
I sat down beside him and was immediately aware of his eyes boring into mine. I looked away, hurriedly, wondering what I could say to avoid the oncoming punishment. And then his arms went round my shoulders, the face softened, and he pulled me toward him in a hug. And this was my father, who never had done anything like this for me since I was seven and had stopped crying at every small pain or nuisance. I looked straight forward, still avoiding his eyes.
“Aidan,” he said at last, in a voice that sounded vaguely choked. “If I could have avoided that happening by doing anything myself I would have done it. I’m so sorry. Sorry that it had to be done, sorry it had to be you. Sorry you were treated like that. Sorry you had to learn that way, do all that, just for something that’s probably a superstition. But If you hadn't, we’d have had to leave the Village, and the Island, and we’d have lost everything we have here. It’s not just a question of selling up, else I’d have done it. But we’d have lost all we own, and been destitute. The family would have been split up, I’d have been unable to support any of you, and it would have meant living in a city. I had no option but to let them go through with it and say nothing to you.” He paused for breath.
This brought a new dimension to it, for me. If he’d said nothing, just regarded it in his usual ‘well-it’s-happened-don’t-worry-about-it’ sort of way and carried on as if nothing bad or out of the ordinary had happened, I’d have just accepted it and carried on myself. But to hear him say that we could have avoided it, and he was sorry, as if it was something evil… well! It confused me.
“But Dad… I mean… it’s for the Village. I mean… it wasn’t particularly nice, especially walking through all those people…” I couldn’t somehow bring myself to say the word ‘naked’, as if not saying it would make it not to have happened.
He looked at me strangely. “It’s not that that worried me. It’s the way you had to learn about… about…” He tailed off. Odd. Looking back, perhaps he was as worried about saying the word ‘sex’ as I was about the word ‘naked’, and for the same reasons. But at the time, I just waited for him to finish, probably embarrassing him the more in the process.
“But Dad, that was all right,” I said unthinkingly.
“No it isn’t!” He had some of his old authority back. “There’s only one place for sex and that’s when you’re married.”
I just looked at him. This was different from what had been required from me a few hours previously. But what I’d done wasn’t sex. I’d just made my seed. To be sex and dirty it would have had to be with a woman. And I knew that was wrong. And I wouldn’t want to go with a woman. The only person I knew who was good looking was our English teacher, and she was at least as old as thirty, and although she was nice I wouldn’t want to be close to her, or take her to bed.
But what I’d had to do with the other boys and men it was just… well, duty in most cases, but really nice with Ben. He and I understood each other. And needed the same things. And he said he loved me, and I thought I loved him, as if we were boyfriend and girlfriend… no, that can’t be right… just two friends who enjoyed being with each other. There was nothing wrong with having friends who were boys too, it was just when you went around with a girl people started talking and shaking their heads.
“Yes, Dad,” I said.
“So don’t go getting any ideas about girls, you’re too young. And I don’t want any of that playing with yourself here, you understand?”
It was all right for me to do it with boys, then, and somewhere else. Fine. “Yes, Dad.”
“You’re sure, now?”
“Yes, Dad. I thought you were sorry for me having to do it at all.”
“I am, Aidan, I am… ” A change of tone from the harder one that had crept back. “… but it’s not to happen again. Understand?”
“Not even if the Elders and the blacksmith tell me?”
A long pause.
“Er… why, Dad?”
“Don’t be silly, you know perfectly well why.”
“But why is it different if I do it for them when you said just now it’s not all right, but if I do it for myself when it must then be all right, it’s still wrong?”
There was a silence as we both tried to work out what I’d just said.
“Look,” he said at last, “If they tell you to do it then you’ve got to do it. Right?”
“Yes, Dad. It’d be for the Village. But when you started, you said that it wasn’t right.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“But then it must be all right if I do it on my own when I want to.”
“No!” He almost shouted. “Sex is wrong unless you’re married. Haven’t you learnt that in Church?”
“Yes, when they talk about adultery. But that’s a man and a woman, not a boy and… well… you know. And I don’t want to do it with a woman.”
“The only women in the village are old and most are ug… I mean, they don’t appeal to me. I don’t want to er… you know… with them.”
“Don’t be silly, Aidan. I’m talking about a girl of your age.”
Well, if he’d set out to confuse me, he’d succeeded. I no longer was certain whether I was allowed to do it with a boy, a man, a girl or a woman. No, not a woman, he’d said that. And that was fine. It seemed that so long as I didn’t do it at home, either on my own or with anyone, it’d be all right. And as I shared a bed with my brother in a room with most of the rest of my brothers it was a bit unlikely I’d want to do it there either.
I rejoined Ben outside and told him what Dad had said. He was quiet for a long time, and we walked aimlessly for what seemed like ages before he spoke. I didn’t feel like saying anything in the meantime either. I was still trying to make sense of what Dad had said.
“Last night… ” He blurted out suddenly. I looked at him, startled. “Last night… I know you had some sort of call to go, and I know what we saw when we were there, and what we did. But did you… I mean were you… What did you… Oh hell.”
We had all been told not to swear by hell as it was nearly blasphemy. If he said it, it must be important. He stopped and looked at me; well, past me, really, then at the ground at my feet. He swallowed, and in a rather quavery voice he continued.
“I mean, did you enjoy what we did?”
If he hadn't already proved to me that he really liked me, that he was more than just a mate or school friend I know that I would have hedged around the answer, been non-committal in any way I could to avoid showing my feelings. As it was, I trusted him completely. I hardly had to think about the answer. “Yes. It was… wonderful. I liked being close to you, and being really… close to you, and being able to make you… happy, and have you doing it to me too.”
“Did you…? Did you REALLY?” He ended in almost a shout, and now his face was looking at mine, his eyes boring straight into mine, his face shining and amazed, happy, incredulous. I laughed at him.
“Didn’t you know? I thought we said it to each other!”
“Well, we did, but at the time we were… I mean… you know…”
I felt a pressure on my penis, and knew what was happening to me. If it happened at school, in class, when I had to stand up and answer a question, it was embarrassing. Even though the only person who was looking at my front was the teacher, who was probably old and wouldn’t notice, I would feel hot and started getting confused. But here, with Ben, it felt as though it was right; it was readying itself for something unknown, and was in itself an answer to his question. I thought the only thing I could really do was put an arm round his shoulders, so I did. He looked at me, questioningly, then relaxed.
Our feet took us through the village, and by now one or two people were about. I think we were both quite tired, not having had much sleep, so it never occurred to either of us that people were looking our way. Until, that is, we met up with one of the officials from the Village’s church. She looked at me, her eyes blazing through me with such dislike that I almost took a step back.
“I’m surprised you have the nerve to show your face around here, boy.” The word ‘boy’ was said in the sort of tone that wouldn’t have disgraced ‘dog’s mess I’ve just stepped in’. I looked at her, open mouthed.
“I’m sorry?” I quavered, wondering if she, alone of the Village, had no idea what it had all been for.
“Showing yourself off like that, in public. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
I looked at her, still in astonishment. But there was no trace of the embarrassment I thought I would feel when the first person talked to me about it all. At last I found my voice. And, for the second time in my life I found a strength to argue with an adult, one who I’d always been taught to obey without question.
“But Miss Flude, you know why it was necessary. The village elders told me I had to.”
“But you didn’t have to. Nobody can insist you show off your nakedness in that ungodly way.”
“But I’ve always been taught that I must obey my elders and betters.”
“But not when they are misguided enough to tell you to prance around with nothing on.”
“But Miss Flude, are you telling me that if I think an order is wrong, then I shouldn’t obey it?”
“Don’t be cheeky, boy. Of course I’m not.”
“But what should I have done when I was first told what I had to do?”
“Refuse, and tell someone in authority, of course.”
“Like a Village Elder, you mean?”
“But it was the Elders who told me to do it. The only other person I could have gone to was my father, and he had no choice either ’cos we’d have had to leave the Village if I hadn't done it.”
“Nonsense. No one can make you leave. Anyway, leaving would have been better than doing what you did. I never saw the like…”
“But I can only believe what the Elders and my father tell me. I can’t be responsible for reducing my family to poverty. I’d rather go naked than do that.”
“And what about your religion?”
“There was probably more nakedness at the time of the Bible than there is now. And anyway, what’s wrong with it?”
“Where’s it say that?”
“Don’t be cheeky, boy.”
“I’m not, Miss Flude. If you can tell me where, in the Bible, it says that nakedness is a sin, I’ll come and apologise. But in the meantime, all I know is that I was naked when I was born, and that was no sin. Goodbye.”
And I dragged a dumbfounded, aghast Ben off down the road, leaving the old lady to glower after us.
When we were out of sight and earshot Ben turned to me, his face shining. “That’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone get the better of Miss Flude. I didn’t think anyone would dare!”
“She’s just talking rubbish, that’s all. Either that or she’s not been listening to what was said in the meeting.”
“What was said in the meeting?”
“Weren’t you there?”
“No. I was kept outside. With the others. We knew what we had to do. I don’t know why they didn’t want us to hear what everybody was being told.”
“Nor do I. Perhaps they were all told something different. Although Dad knew.”
“Perhaps they told him separately.”
“Yeah… Could be.”
For some reason our steps were taking us back, yet again, out of the village and on the way to the wood. It wasn’t until we reached the spot where Ben had left his clothes with everybody else’s the previous evening that we realised. We were too busy with our own thoughts.
“What?” he asked.
“D’you know where we’re going?”
“What?… er… oh, I see what you mean.”
“Want to… oh… yeah… yeah. Nice.”
For some reason our hands reached for and grasped each other’s, and like two lovers we walked toward the wood. At its outskirts we stopped.
“Where do we strip?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
“Dunno,” I quavered, my own emotions jangling. “P’raps we should leave it until we get to the tunnel.”
And, still hand in hand, not really intending to be, but finding it more comforting that way, we walked through the dreary wood until something told me the tunnel entrance was nearby. We paused, and looked at each other. I was aware of a pressure being exerted by my underpants on my penis, and I wondered if his was the same. It looked as though the front of his trousers were… well… full. We looked warily at each other in the gloom of the surrounding trees for a while, neither of us wanting to make the first move, to be the first to expose his nakedness first. After a moment my brain made a connection. I’d been naked with Ben all the previous evening. He knew what I looked like. He’d even had my little — well, not so little any more, perhaps — penis in his hand, as I’d had his. And he’d done the most private thing with me that two boys could do for each other (or so I thought at the time). And I’d done the same for him. I tore off my T-shirt impatiently.
As soon as I had started, so did he. We undressed quickly, and who was first to be totally exposed to the air and to the sidelong glances of the other one, I don’t know now. What I do know is that I was right about his being affected — he was as erect as I. We hid our clothes in the nearby undergrowth; I ducked down into the tunnel and was glad to hear him come after me. Knowing that he was watching my bottom made me nervous, although why it should I don’t know. I just felt more naked like that.
That and the beckoning of the light on the Grove made me hurry, and I was glad to enter its warm, welcoming stillness and warmth. As usual we crossed straight through the centre, through the little saplings, and made our way to where we knew our special place would be waiting. It was. There were no welcoming stags there, though.
As before we slowed down and sat there, looking around and at each other, to see if any special changes were evident to either of us. Apart from our erections having subsided, nothing was. I yawned, which set Ben off. I laughed at him, and he grinned back. He worked himself round to sit beside me, and simultaneously we laid back, aware only of the peacefulness of the place, the warmth, the gentle air, the comfort. And of each other. Increasingly as minutes ticked away I knew that he was aware of me, of my thoughts, of the way my mind was wandering, and that it was wandering to him.
To know the thoughts going through the mind of another person is a privilege. To know their mind is aware of your own thoughts is astonishing. To be able to see and take part in the circle of awareness between the two people is a gift given to few, and rarely. It is the ultimate in mental intercourse. And all through our mutual exploration of each other’s thought processes we were aware that when we wanted to start it, there was a world of physical pleasure to be explored, and that we had all the time in the world…
I have no idea how long we laid there. We were not tired of doing so; we were not cold. But we were aware of movements near us. Or were we? Nothing seemed changed, yet we knew another mind was nearing where we were. It was not until the sound of a grunt was heard, and stumbling footsteps, that we were certain that our peace was about to be disturbed. And I knew the owner of the grunt, and as soon as I recognised it, Ben knew, and we looked at each other in distaste.
The blacksmith unbent from his journey through the low tunnel. Although hidden by the central saplings, we knew he was there. We knew he was naked, because he was wary. I was glad we had hidden our clothes well. But all the time we lay there. I had been told by the smith that I was entitled to be there and Ben had been told the same by the Spirit.
“Aidan?” came the commanding voice. “Aidan? Are you here?”
I was about to call back, although reluctant to break what was left of the spell. My hesitation communicated itself to Ben, and his to me, so neither of us spoke. And then there came another voice, a Command of gentleness which nevertheless could not be disobeyed.
YOU SHOULD NOT ANSWER HIM.
We needed no second telling, and just laid back again. But our hands sought and held each other’s.
The man appeared, walking carefully round the saplings, looking at every inch of the Grove and its surrounding foliage. Any minute now, I thought, he’ll see us. He’s getting closer, walking nearer, seeking any gap we could have crawled through; he’s looking at the bush next to the entrance to our dell, he’s…
…missed seeing us, has looked further. He’s walking right past the entrance as though it wasn’t there. He can’t see the Dell at all.
I remembered from last night, our first time there, how we looked back from the tunnel mouth and saw nothing of where our love had been sealed. It was sealed from him, too. Why?
BECAUSE HE IS NO LONGER TRUE.
The answer landed in our heads. But what sort of answer was it? Quaveringly I asked the question.
“Please, help us to understand.”
But there was no answer.
We waited for something else to happen, but apart from a muttering from the blacksmith and his stumbling departure into the tunnel, nothing did. We laid back, heaving a joint sigh of relief at the inflow of that air of privacy that is so necessary for real love to blossom. And we were still holding hands.
We turned towards each other, and our clasp rode naturally toward that area between our legs. And once there the hands separated and tentatively touched the soft skin, the hardening organ, the beating, increasing excitement of the other’s secret body. There was none of the anxious speed I have heard senior boys talk of as being the norm for their first inexperienced fondlings in semi-private with a girl. We had been forced into that, me with him, the first time we had been naked together. And we knew it to be no way to induce anything but a mechanical pleasure into the other one. So our hands were gentle, and slow, and massaged and toyed and stroked and carefully kneaded, and explored… And what I experienced was not a mountain of pleasure that one climbs up, only to fall down the other side, but rather the slow ascent to a high plateau, a long, carefree, wondrous plateau of delight brought to me by my constant companion. One that continued on, and on…
At some point I knew I wanted to be more intimate with him, to do for him as he had been made to do for me that first time. But my inner self knew that when our seed flowed again it needed to be once more for the impregnation of the Earth Mother. I knew instinctively that what there was between Ben and Aidan was pleasure and love, but its product were for the good of the Spirit and of the Village.
So it was, as our journey along the plateau started to rise towards its summit, that our free arms would round shoulders, our lips met and opened, and tongues met and tasted and felt and explored, and saliva flowed with the love that passed between us. We each climbed the final rise to the peak of emotion and reached the top nearly simultaneously, the shout as the orgasm hit each of us as we still kissed were soundless. And from us burst the precious white seed, dropping to the belly and chest of the other one, and running down to be drawn into the soft, fertile Earth.
Even as our bodies recovered, and despite the need to fill our lungs repeatedly, our lips were still together and our eyes never left each other’s face. It was not for some time that we disengaged, and just looked at each other, smiling weakly, each still aware of the thoughts going through the other’s head, and very happy to know the depth of love in the other’s heart. At last we knew that it actually was love, this feeling. We each knew we had never experienced before anything so deep, so imperative as the attachment we now felt. We knew that whatever the world — the Village — threw at either one of us, the other would know and would come to the rescue, and that as we grew older and more sure of ourselves and more able to grasp our independence we would become invincible as two together.
YOU NEED TO RETURN HOME… The voice echoed round us. We started back from each other, wide eyed.
FEAR NOT. NO HARM WILL BEFALL YOU HERE. EVER. YOU ARE WELCOME, YOU WHO ARE SIRES, WHERE NO OTHER PERSON IS WELCOME.
I once again plucked up the courage to ask. “Please… who are you? What do you want from us?”
WE ARE THE WILD, THE UNTAMED. WE ARE THE TREES, THE STAG, THE GRASS BELOW YOUR FEET. WE ARE ALSO YOU, FOR YOU TOO ARE PART WILD. THE REST IS AS YOU HAVE BEEN TOLD.
“So will we really have started a… mandrake?”
Silence. But a peaceful silence that said that we had learnt all we were going to for the moment. We raised ourselves from the ground, and silently left the Dell and the Grove.
Once clothed we made our way in silence back to the Village. In silence, yes, but we still spoke between us. There was no need of words.
This time, our passage through the Village drew some looks. Some were pitying, some were curious. It was starting to become annoying. All thoughts of shame, of embarrassment had been banished from our minds by the events of the night and the morning.
I had thought that parting from Ben so we could each go to our homes was going to be awful. In fact we just said matter-of-factly, and out loud for a change, “see you later.” And even as we separated he was talking in my head, saying how odd it was to listen to my voice with ears again. Increasing distance made communication harder, until the only way I could find him was to ‘shout’ with my mind, and really concentrate on the ‘answer’.
At home I found the blacksmith deep in conversation with my father, who I could tell was less than happy to be his host. Unsummoned by either of them, I went to my room. Our room. And tried to think. After a period during which nothing whatsoever came into my brain I heard footsteps on the stairs. My hand moved away from my trousers where I was suddenly aware it had been lying.
“Were you in the Grove today?”
I thought. “Well, the smith told me I could go there when I wanted. I’m one of the chosen ones now.”
“So he said, although I’m not keen on the idea. But why today?”
“I just wanted to see what it was like in the light.”
“Did you hear him when he called you?”
“Did he? I thought he was talking to you.”
“Not just now, when you were in the Grove.”
“Oh. Well, sort of, but at the time…” My mind worked furiously. How could I think of something to explain what had happened. Dad wouldn’t understand what the spirit said or wanted. “… I was some way away from the Grove, and although I heard a voice, I didn’t know who it was, and when I got back there was nobody there.” Well, it was nearly true.
“I see. Are you sure? The man’s quite sure you were in there somewhere.”
“There’s nowhere to hide in there, nowhere obvious anyway.”
“All right. Come down and tell him, then.”
“Is he still here?”
“Yes. He wanted to come up and ask you himself but I wouldn’t let him. I said you were resting, that you got wet last night and I thought you might have a cold coming.”
“I’m all right. But… thanks, Dad.”
“Don’t you like him?”
“Not much. None of us do.”
“Hmmm. You’re not alone in that, but don’t tell him I said so.”
I looked at him. Would he understand? Then I remembered about what he’d said about sex and making my seed, and knew that he wouldn’t. Well, he might understand some of it but not the important bits. I followed him downstairs, to find the smith walking up and down the room like a caged lion.
“Well?” he snapped as soon as I appeared. “Where were you?”
“Just a minute,” my father said before I could stammer out an answer. “You’re in my house. You may be a village elder but none of the others that I know would speak to me like that and in front of my own son too. And Aidan says that he was nowhere near the Grove when you called him.”
“Nonsense. I could feel him.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said I could sense his presence.”
“He said he was in another part of the wood, that he could hear you, but that when he got to the Grove you had gone.”
“I don’t believe him.”
My father drew himself up to his full height. Although a lot slimmer than the smith he was just as tall, and could look imposing too. Imposing in a different way. Where the smith’s power lay in fear, in scaring the kids of the village with his temper and volume, and occasional cuffs of the hand to your ear, my father had a sort of presence about him when he wanted. When he had been telling me about not playing with myself in the house earlier he had shown some of it, but now when he had been so insulted by the smith that his temper was nearly at and end, he exuded a kind of power of his own, one I couldn’t fathom. But it was wholesome and good, and better still it was on my side.
“Aidan has been taught my me, by his brothers, at school and at church not to tell lies. I believe him. That is enough for you, for what he says is the truth. He has nothing to gain from lying except a punishment from me if I discover it. You have outstayed your welcome in this house, elder or no elder, and we wish you to leave.”
The man stared at him in anger, but knew that he was away from his own territory and must do as he was asked. I could not meet his eyes. I didn’t know what he would do or say the next time I saw him, yet see him I must. He would expect to go to the Grove with me at some point to look at the fruits of my labours.
He left. I breathed a sigh of relief. Dad looked at me strangely.
“What has he done to you?”
“Well, don’t let him. I’m not happy about you seeing him, but I suppose you have to so as to carry on with what’s been started. Just spend as little time with him as you can. All right? And if you go near his forge it might be as well if you weren’t alone. Why not spend a bit more time with that Ben? He seems a nice lad who won’t get into mischief.”
“Yes dad. I like him.”
“Good. That’s settled, then. And he’s welcome here any time he wants, if he’s going to help you keep out of that man’s clutches.”
Was the spirit working for us?