I fear that I am not long for this world. The physicians assure me that I shall live for months, maybe years, but I feel in my bones this will be the last time I am able to write in this journal. Even now, my eyes are strained to see my own words, and my hand struggles to form the letters with my quill pen. I sense I may soon not be able to rise easily from my bed in the mornings, and this summer - nearly autumn already, will be my last.
Many years have passed since I first wrote in this book, following the direction of dear Maman>, God rest her soul. She read that letter, the one I wrote describing my discoveries in the Champagne tunnels. She immediately wrote back to me, enclosing my original letter and demanding many more details, things I was not sure at the time I could remember. We wrote to each other many times over the decades. Her letters sometimes took years to find me, travelling as I was across the countryside first of France and then of England. Miraculously, they all found me eventually, as far as I know. I have them all, still, in the folder which is formed by the back cover of this book.
In her letters to me, Mamans instructions were clear: to write everything that you have seen or heard or been told, in as much detail as I could remember, about the mysterious land of Faerie. These instructions I have followed carefully. My letters to Maman and her replies I have transcribed carefully in these pages, and translated into English to the best of my abilities. In between, I have made notes on other aspects of my life, for my own amusement and, it now seems to me, for the edification of my progeny. So, perhaps this book is a diary, a history of my life, and it may be that is the way I should present it, when the time comes.
Now, I prefer to write in English, my adopted tongue. Somehow, the words in French do not seem to come as easily as they once did. Perhaps it is just old age, but I do not seem to be able to shape my thoughts into words as I used to, or perhaps it is that my thoughts follow the same paths that I cannot find new words to express them.
I have lived a long and productive life, I believe, living out my allotted three-score years-and-ten, and I hope my Maker - when I join Him in the near future - will approve of my thoughts and words and deeds. I have worked hard all my life and brought up a family who are uniformly a credit to God and society. I myself have led a nearly blameless existence, helping friends and neighbours when they needed it, and giving more than the bare minimum to church and charity and beggar. I have saved money were I could, and now I want for little, save for those things that money cannot buy.
I will soon leave behind my beloved wife Milly who is even now determined that I should want for no comfort or aid. I am attended frequently by my fine sons and dutiful daughters, now all grown up and with families of their own. My family have been spared the worst of death and disease and disfigurement, and are as healthy as anyone could expect. My life has been a blessing.
My one vice, if it is a sin at all, has been my continued fascination with the Faerie world, a secret I have held to myself across the decades, not disclosed to family or friend or priest. I have even hidden my absorption from my dearest Milly, although why I feel it necessary to conceal my interests I am not entirely sure.
I find myself reflecting on what I have learned, over the years, about a world so different, and yet so similar, to our own. I do not, in my heart of hearts, believe that the denizens of the Faerie world are evil demons, nor are they angels of light. I sincerely believe that they are people, men and women like us, making their way in the world, although I suspect the parish priest might not agree with me, were we ever to discus the subject. No, as God’s children, the people of the land of Faerie all have the capacity for both good and evil, and it is the will of each of them, as it is for ourselves to shine in the light or languish in the darkness.
Elsewhere in these pages, I have written as Maman directed. I have transcribed the tales and stories I heard when working on the Lyndesfarne bridge, as well as my own observations in the Caves of Champagne and on the site of the bridge of stone and magic itself. I have even described, in as much detail as I can remember, the exact movements of hands and arms that those mysterious monks used to conjure the explosion which collapsed the tunnels. Perhaps all these things are important, perhaps everything is trivial and insignificant. I cannot know.
As it was, Maman was convinced that the Faerie world was real enough and was genuinely accessible, but only to those trusted with the secret knowledge. I myself was never one of the inner circle and could only look upon the wonders at their most fleeting.
But my interest must have been noticed, perhaps by the Faerie folk themselves. I had a strange visitor some months ago. He was a tall thin man, in the later part of his middle years, wearing a long old-fashioned cloak, carrying a pack and supporting himself on a stout staff. At least, he walked with the staff, although I did not get the impression that he really needed its support. He looked like a traveller, a wanderer, one who walks the highways and byways of the world, and perhaps the Faerie world too, on errands no-one must know and nobody can guess.
The traveller also seemed somehow familiar, although I could not place my finger on what or who he was. Perhaps he was someone I had glimpsed while working on the stone bridge all those years ago. In any case, the stranger did not claim any kind of acquaintanceship. I got the strangest feeling that this man was actually a Visitor from the world of Faerie, despite the fact that he displayed none of the characteristics I had heard tell marked out the Faerie folk - no pointed ears, no direct and inescapable gaze, no pointed chin and high cheekbones.
The tall stranger had accosted me, calling out as I pottered in my garden during a fine spring day. He leaned on his staff and eyed me strangely, so that I came across to the garden gate where he waited. He then spoke to me in English, in a rambling whisper that seemed disjointed and incoherent but, as I listened, his cryptic remarks began to make some kind of sense.
It seemed that somehow he knew about this book, my secret journal, the volume whose existence I had hidden from everybody. He did not want to see it himself, but he seemed to be suggesting that is was important that it I should keep it safe. He said that there was a destiny was attached to this volume. It would be not in my children’s time, nor in my children’s children, but there would come a time when this very book would be of vital importance. Finally, he asked me what I wished for the book after my death, into whose hands this volume will fall.
At the time, I did not know. The outlandish stranger bid me think on it as he took his leave. Now, I have decided. I will leave this book with my eldest son. He is trustworthy but perhaps just a little unimaginative. I shall not instruct him to read the book, nor shall I forbid him from reading it. Rather, I shall say nothing, trusting that he will not take it upon himself to pour over the crabbed handwriting in his aged father’s old notebook.
I shall give my eldest son a different instruction, that this book should handed down to his own eldest son on his thirtieth birthday. Apparently, the young man wants to travel, to go to England, to see the world, to explore places beyond the village where he grew up. Perhaps I am somewhat to blame for this wanderlust, encouraging the child with tales of my life there, which now seems a whole lifetime ago.But he has a great curiousity, one which will, I am sure, lead him sooner or later to read his grandfather’s book.
I shall encourage his father to let the boy travel. Perhaps he will return, perhaps he will stay. I cannot say, and do not want to insist either way. The young man has a destiny, I sense, a destiny that he or his own children will bring about. I wish them well.
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