Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Sovereignty of Wessex

The King

The King and the Land are One. These old words had depth and strength. They endured; like the land. They focused and settled his mind and described his duty and his life. They had replaced the Dieu et Mon Droit, motto of the old English monarchy, and said much about the people and their ruler in the Kingdom of Wessex.The cities of old had died, and most of their civilisation with them, but the Land lived on.

King Harold III contemplated them inscribed under the flag of Wessex on the wall in front of him. They appeared thus on all courts and public buildings and on the ensigns and liveries of royal officers or state servants. This one was the one whose letters he had filled with his own blood when he had made his oath of kingship and been accepted by his people as their king. He expected that it would be buried with his body. It was not an ornament. It was not only a statement of the social, political, legal and religious constitution of the land, it was the binding force constituting a People and a Land into a Kingdom. It was not an assertion of personal despotism, even his rival Ragnar Redbeard of Mercia, his neighbor to the north, knew that.  They were a link to his predecessors and to the powers of the land, which could be a surprising source of wisdom and inspiration. The golden Wyvern or two-legged curly dragon on a blood red background had long been an emblem of Wessex, perhaps derived from a Roman cavalry standard, and had flown over the armies of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Harold regarded it as a representation of the spiritual life force that moved within the blood of the people of the Land and united them.

He considered the situation of Wessex and the main problems it faced. It was King Ragnar of Mercia and Count Dieter the ambassador from His Imperial Majesty Wilhelm who occupied his thoughts at the moment, because they it was who were pressing upon the Sovereignty of Wessex, and Wessex did not like it. He knew well enough that Redbeard, a very shrewd and effective ruler in a tradition of warrior kings, despised him as an effete milksop and would gladly have split his skull. He made no secret of that. Dieter was a different matter and probably a greater danger.  

Harold meditated deeply, in silent, wordless touch with the spirits of the Land. In the peace an image arose. It was of an enormous snake which coiled and writhed along. As he regarded it with alert but unemotional concentration, the King saw that the serpent had coiled around and crushed a man and was slowly swallowing him.

The Lady of Avebury

 Dame Sally Arbuthnot, Lady of Avebury, was Custodian of this most ancient and holy site. She was responsible for the organisation of festivals, particularly the great Midsummer Festival and Fair  which was the most popular gathering and holiday in the country, as well as central to the religious and secular ceremonies which gave focus to the people's sense of identity every year. Avebury, along with Silbury Hill, West Kennett passage grave, Windmill Hill and Stonehenge - it's midwinter counterpart, and Glastonbury not so far away, provided a megalithic skeleton protecting the heart and soul of this ancient land, which once before and now again, was named as Wessex. No one knew what the very old ones who had raised these structures had called them or their land, but this no longer mattered, they had formed the basis and been subsumed into the soul of Wessex. This secular responsibility required considerable organisational skill, as well as a certain amount of tact and diplomacy to deal with the various and sundry people and interests who and which had to be managed, cajoled and placated to ensure that events ran smoothly and activities involving other places and groups were co-ordinated with the minimum of jealousy and ruffled feathers.

In addition to her secular responsibilities she was the current chairwoman of the Green Ladies, those who had cultivated the capacity to make contact with nature spirits and were able to secure their co-operation and hear their complaints.(This involved a certain amount of weeding out of over imaginative women who fancied themselves the central figures in cosmic dramas. This was an Order of people who could perform a function, not an association of lady novelists.) In this capacity she reported to the Archmage and to the King, who wanted to know that the country was adequately covered by such contacts and to be informed of any major problems or significant information gained, such as predictions of unseasonable weather or natural disasters.In a time and place without chemical fertilisers or fuel for agricultural machinery or bulk importation of food for people or animals, or refrigeration, this ability was important. It kept crop yields high enough to support more people and livestock through winter than would have been possible considering only their level of material technology; and  beyond the gains which might be counted, the intangible gains to health and happiness and alertness, of better quality food may have been even more important in helping to produce better quality people.

The Green Ladies, in addition to their psychic work, busily promoted - and demonstrated - organic gardening and farming. (Well, there were no longer the industrial products to perform any other sort!) Findhorn had been far from Wessex, but books about it and about Viktor Schauberger had survived the winnowing of fate which had discarded so much else from the Old Times.People lacking psychic abilities were interested in these as well as in what their local Green Ladies had to say, and it may be that there were selection pressures slowly increasing the proportion of the population with such abilities, and giving incentives to develop them. Most people were happy enough to pay a small fee to a Green Lady to put in a good word for them with their local nature spirits and to leave small offerings to the spirits in appreciation of their work, as well as to protect certain trees or rocks or streams or banks or heaths that the spirits especially valued. Few were so bold as to be willing to risk the wrath of the King, his officials, the Green Ladies and a jury of their neighbours by violating such well known agreements. It was generally appreciated that in such circumstances the spirits had a taste for blood. Green Ladies could initiate prosecutions and present evidence in court on behalf of nature spirits. No appeal against conviction for offences against Nature had ever succeeded. How could it, when the King and the Land are One?

The midsummer festival was a time when people from all over the country gathered to meet friends, exchange news, make business arrangements, attend ceremonies and make merry. The Green Ladies would not be the only group meeting formally and informally. This year Dame Sally would be too busy with other matters to spend much time with her Ladies, but her deputy Maisie Higgins would see that they were well looked after and hear anything which they had to say. She would tell Dame Sally if there was anything which needed to be passed on to the King.

On Imperial Service

His Excellency Dieter von Born enjoyed life. He enjoyed being the ambassador from His Imperial Majesty Wilhelm IV of the Second Holy Roman Empire of the German People to the court of His Majesty Harold III King of Wessex. He enjoyed living in Wessex. This morning he derived particular enjoyment from sitting in the beautiful garden of the German embassy outside the capital, Winchester. As he sat in the sun admiring the flowers and foliage, listening to the song of the birds and the buzzing of the bees, sipping a glass of his favourite white wine from his Rhenish homeland, he glanced at the plans for his next dinner party to entertain those who were prominent in local social and economic circles. He enjoyed being the only permanent ambassador to Wessex - a measure of the preponderance of power and prestige of the German Empire in the affairs of the world of the present day, and he enjoyed the process of acquiring influence in the affairs of Wessex, just as he would enjoy making use of that influence to encourage change in directions favoured by those who ran the Empire, amongst which illustrious company he claimed a modest place.

Sir Peter Conyers, friend and advisor to the King, present at many of the social events which Dieter organised, attended or dominated, saw all this and he was much less happy about it. When Dieter and Sir Peter looked at each other, neither liked what he saw. Dieter saw a lean and hard-faced man with quick eyes, who had 'Security Service' written all over him. Sir Peter saw, if not a man-who-would-be-king, at least a would-be kingmaker.

Dieter had found that amongst the most appreciated treats which he could offer his guests was a simple cup of tea. Long ago this semi-legendary beverage had been the favoured drink of the masses, crassly adulterated with milk (and sugar, whatever that was.) Now it was a rare luxury brought by rail across the whole world from the mysterious land of the rising phoenix, to delight the vanity of the rich and  the palates of snobbish connoisseurs, rather like rare but non-alcoholic wines. Dieter had been amused to discuss the tea trade with some of his guests. They had such romantic ideas for re-creating the era of the tea-clippers and tall ships racing each other to be first home from Shanghai to the English Channel seeking premium prices for the first cargoes to land! Gently he pointed out to them that the economics of transcontinental rail transport prohibited any such notions. Never mind, it just went to show the value and importance of having a railway, didn't it? Not that Wessex was short of food or drink. Quite the contrary. Dieter would die before he admitted a preference for any beverage before his beloved Rhineland wines, but he had to confess a growing fondness for the mead and even the cider of Wessex. Their abundance of orchards, flowers, bees and honey meant that here were a couple of potentially lucrative exports which could sell very well in Europe. The local beers however, were more of an acquired taste, and one moreover not likely to be acquired by a German.
As he relaxed in comfort he let his mind drift over the current state of the world and some of the history which had brought them to this point.  He was happy that the German Empire -its full title was too cumbersome for even its officials to use on other than official occasions - was the strongest power in the world. Its double eagle might be said to soar over all the others. This was literally true since it was painted on the sides of the great airships which only the German Empire commanded. The golden images within circles of black on the white fabric were very striking and most impressive as they floated almost silently in the skies over Europe. Yes, there was another empire, that of the Russians, which also claimed the double eagle as its emblem, but although mighty, they were less so than the German Empire, and as yet had no airships. Curiously, the third empire also had a somewhat similar emblem. That was the Phoenix Empire of China. Happily all three were much in agreement, even alliance, with lucrative trade between them, linked by the Trans-Siberian Railway; they formed the bulk of the world economy. India and Pakistan had used to be moderately powerful, and extremely populous, but they had had a nuclear exchange and any survivors were probably eating or beating each other to death with bones and stones. A vague thought occurred to him that the eagles had been derived from Rome, and then that there had once been another great power which had used it as its emblem - but the Americans had long ceased to exercise influence in the world. Indeed, it was not clear whether they still existed, and no one cared to find out.It was a 'reverse Columbus' situation he mused. Everyone now knew that America was there, but no one wanted to go there. After all, everyone knew there was no gold there any more, it had all gone to China long before.
 Unfortunately, the ointment of world happiness contained a rather large, angry, and aggressive fly. Islam. That brought a worrying thought to mind. He had not heard from his son Pieter for some time. He was an officer serving with the Imperial forces in the Balkans, and Dieter hoped that he was well. The campaign appeared to be progressing successfully, according to both his own sources in the High Command and the official propaganda, but casualties could be heavy. Fortunately superior German skill at arms, organisation, discipline, and technology ensured that most of them were borne by the Turks, Arabs, Albanians and assorted Islamic riff-raff who opposed them. Still, it was a worry. It brought his reverie however to one of the objectives of his embassy, to obtain more recruits to supplement the auxiliary forces of the Empire. Wessex, and the rest of Europe had their own bloody and unhappy history of Islamic aggression. They were one of the three kingdoms, named after ancient precursors , which had emerged on the island which had been Britain, from the bloodshed and chaos after the Old Times ended.  Now that after so much struggle the island had overcome Islam on its own  territory and had achieved some stability, the three kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and York were willing to allow recruits to join the Germans in helping to free Europe, and what had been the territory of the Roman Empire so long ago, before it had been overrun by the first outbreak of this curse on humanity. Wessex was the least militarised of these kingdoms, but it did produce some recruits. His task was to produce a lot more.

Wessex was quite a strange place in some ways. Mercia on the other hand was much easier to
understand. Their king, Ragnar Redbeard, had served with distinction in leading the British
contingent of auxiliaries, most of them from Mercia. His military capacities and ruthless ambition, which had led to him seizing the throne from his uncle, were well known to the German High Command. His country was efficiently administered and produced a good flow of recruits for the German forces and quite a lot of trade and investment opportunities. If he was allowed to take over Wessex, as it was known he wished to do, he would undoubtedly make it more productive, fiscally and economically as well as militarily. Nobody who knew Ragnar believed that his ambition would be sated by the acquisition of Wessex. All believed he would then make a bid to take York and unite England and even the whole of Britain, as a second Aethelstan. This prospect worried the Imperial Court and High Command because he would probably not be content to remain a loyal and reliable vassal-king, and suppressing him would be a considerable nuisance and distraction from the struggle with Islam. Hence the need to encourage the modernisation of Wessex,whether it remained independent or whether Ragnar was allowed to take it, but under some curb. Dieter' assessment of Wessex's political leadership and military forces was that they would have absolutely no chance against Ragnar; but if he could instigate sufficient change in Wessex to make it better able and willing to contribute to Imperial military and economic strength, that might inspire his own superiors to exert sufficient pressure on Ragnar to keep him in his box, before it became necessary to put him into a much smaller box.

Dieter liked the people of Wessex. He found them very 'gemutlich' and 'volkisch'. They were
generally cheerful, hard working, honest and friendly.They often sang or whistled as they worked and had a vigorous culture of home made art, folk music and tale telling.They admired the Germans, in a distant way, for their successful leadership in the great fight against Islam, even though few were so dissatisfied with their own lives as to be willing to go abroad to join this historic struggle. He knew that they would be far less happy under the iron rule of Ragnar or someone like him, but sadly, Imperial omelettes could only be made by breaking heads as if they were eggs.

One of the oddities about Wessex was how lush it was and how healthy and well fed its people were, despite their lack of large scale farming and chemical fertilisers and weed killers. Plants, insects and animals seemed to thrive. He had never seen so many beautiful flowers, or so many buzzing insects and singing birds. Gardening was a passion with the local people, both to grow food and to produce flowers, and to compete with their neighbours and other villages in local contests. Anyone who took a walk or a ride in the countryside was equally struck by its beauty and the busy cheerful proliferation of nature in hedgerows along the roads and around the small fields. There were many trees and bushes and no areas of clear-cut monotonous monoculture. 

Dieter thought that he and his assistant Heini Schultz had built up a more comprehensive and accurate assessment of local capabilities than the King and his Court probably possessed. In part this was because of their observation and enquiries into the economy and society of Wessex. In part it was because of what Dieter jocularly called his 'Domesday Book', derived from aerial photographs of the whole country, made from the airships as they had passed back and forth and had taken him, and the Wessex notables, even the King, on goodwill visits around the land, to show if not the flag, then certainly the Double Eagle to the admiring gaze of the local people.

Wessex had no oil of course, no electricity was generated, they imported a little coal and iron from York or Europe, but had few if any steam engines. They mined no minerals apart from a little lead. They didn't even make much use of iron, except for the most crucial parts of machines and implements. He'd even been proudly shown a wooden printing press with movable lead type with which Gutenberg himself would have felt at home! Their ploughs and spades were wooden with iron cutting edges added. They had lots of windmills and watermills, mainly for grinding corn and fulling cloth. They made colourful stained glass for lovely windows, whose small panes were held together by lead. It was almost a wooden world where carpenters and their derivatives such as cartwrights, millwrights, wheelwrights and shipwrights were common occupations and common names. Their buildings were mainly stone and wood.They had flourishing traditions of architecture and carving in wood and stone. Brick was an expensive and swanky building material. Their ancestors had not needed steel reinforcing bars or concrete or powered cranes or elevators to build the medieval cathedrals - which still stood, all the more gloriously for again being the tallest buildings around,- and they had no need for such things, nor any intention of building skyscraper temples to commerce or bureaucracy.

Their roads were terrible, muddy rutted tracks - apart from a few which seemed to have been made and maintained in imitation of the ancient Romans. Plants and animals throve astonishingly and the people were sturdy and healthy. There were of course no big cities, but many villages and market towns. Sheep were again an important part of their economy, as they had they had been in the middle ages, the green hills were dotted with them and their fleeces enabled widespread local manufacture of woolen cloth and an export trade in wool and cloth, carried by trains of pack animals to the coast and then to the continent in their small but numerous fishing boats. They produced excellent rugs, tapestries and embroideries - some almost up to the amazing standards of the medieval Opus Anglicanum, those richly decorated ecclesiastical vestments so prized by the Church. Dieter had every expectation that the introduction of silken and silver-gilt thread, brought by rail all the way across the world from China, would enable them to produce fabulous fabrics which would be sold very profitably to both Church and Court in the Empire, and indeed in all three empires. He had obtained samples for experimentation by some of the manufacturers, and he intended to participate in the eventual profits.

Militarily they were not up to much. They could make black-powder, but had only a few antiquated muskets and fowling pieces. Archery was popular, although they were hardly up for a repetition of Agincourt or Towton. A hardy people, devoted to rural pursuits including hunting, wrestling, and horse racing, many of them would make excellent light troops, especially if a bit of German discipline overcame their vague and tardy attitude to time. Few, even of the affluent, possessed clocks or watches. Sundials and stomach rumbles seemed their main guides to time - they found punctuality a foreign notion.

 Dieter estimated that the population did not exceed one million. He thought that a considerably greater population could be sustained, at a lower standard of living, and supporting a much stronger state. "I ask you Heini," he had said in amused amazement to his assistant as they had pored over their evaluations and assessments prior to summarising them for his despatches to Berlin, "what can you do with a people who think that ten percent of their income is more than enough to maintain a Royal Court and an efficient state! Their so-called army is little more than a palace guard."

"Their king is also a little strange, don't you think, mein herr?" had asked Heini."Strange?" repeated Dieter. "He seems to be some sort of trance medium who bases his decisions on messages from the dead! I'm embarrassed to even tell Berlin in case they ask me for the news from Fairyland. I tell you Heini, with a king who's away with the fairies most of the time, I'm surprised Wessex still survives. If somebody pretty heavy in Berlin doesn't stand hard on Ragnar's toes, he'll be here in a flash."

 Heini had paused in his work and asked another question. "That's something else which seems strange, doesn't it sir? What's happened to Christianity on this island? Why is it that here in the south we hardly meet any Christians. In Mercia their king thinks he's a Viking and promotes Odinism, without any obvious Christian resistance.They're not persecuted or anything, just rare somehow. Most of the people seem more devoted to a vague sort of ancestor worship combined with enthusiasm for popular seasonal festivals. There's a few mystics or druids or something, but very few people and activities which we would regard as religious. Why is that?" Dieter scowled. "Thank God the place is no longer infested with mosques! Maybe freeing themselves from the Muslims gave them more than enough of religious fanaticism. Anyway, it seems Christianity wasn't much help to them when they needed it. After the destruction of Rome and the relocation of the Papacy to Koln, our ancestors got a succession of crusader Popes who put fire in their bellies and turned them into Christian soldiers able to withstand and repulse the Muslim assaults without wasting time and effort squabbling with other varieties of Christian. Here I think the Church was too busy buggering around to do anything serious to defend itself or the country before the Muslims nearly killed them." "That could be it, sir" said Heini."It's strange to think that missionaries from the north of England did so much to bring Christianity to Germany. Will we now have to return the favour?" Dieter had pulled a face."That's not currently Imperial policy.We need to concentrate on the Muslims. That means we need to get more soldiers and more supplies from this island. We don't need to stir up any more religious trouble here, that wouldn't help. I've got a better idea."     

Dieter awoke from his reverie with a start. It was time to do some more work on his 'better idea' - a railway.

King of the Birds

'Wren' or Robin Blackmore, was the King's Falconer, his 'King of the Birds'. (According to ancient lore the tiny wren had become King of the Birds by stowing away on the eagle's back until it had flown as high as it could, before itself flying higher.) When they hunted, it was sometimes more than sparrows and pigeons which were their prey. Robin was a quiet unobtrusive man in greying middle age who attracted little attention, even though he was one who had the ear of the King. A solitary taciturn man, he seemed to prefer the company of his avian charges to that of other people. Although few but the King and the Archmage knew it, he had spent many years training in Ireland with their druidical bird-men who could perform astral-traveling or out-of-body experiences and travel in vision wherever they wished. They could also identify with an actual bird and experience the world through it's senses. To see the earth from far above was a very different thing from walking or riding over it, and it gave views such as those of the White Horse of Uffington or much more spectacularly,the Nazca outlines in South America, which could not be appreciated at ground level. He often soared with his falcons and other birds, and saw and heard much that was unexpected, some of which he reported to the King.

It had been mildly interesting for 'Wren' to note the network of people who met with Count Dieter and his servants, and who met with whom when they went for walks or rides. People who behaved as if walls had ears spoke more freely when they met as if by chance in the countryside and knew that no human had followed them and no one was watching them. Most of these conversations were in English. It would be interesting to know what the ambassador and his senior staff discussed in their own language, seated in the privacy of his garden. His Excellency's laudable efforts to promote cultural understanding, including organising classes in the German language, might prove beneficial to a certain wren in the foliage of his garden, and oh to be a fly on the wall of his study when he was writing reports or reading despatches from home!

The Wessex Rail Way

So, the German ambassador and many of his backers and supporters, men of wealth and power in both Wessex and the Empire, wanted to 'open Wessex to development' by promoting a railway. Initially that idea had not been received well by the King and his advisers. They considered that 'the men of wealth and power in both Wessex and the Empire' might be getting a bit above themselves - 'tall poppies' who had developed rather too much wealth and power in their own hands, and whose further acquisitions and developments would probably not develop in the best interests of the Land and its people. Naturally it would not have been diplomatic to have bluntly told His Excellency so, but the lack of enthusiasm from those whose permission and support were required had given him a sufficient response.

Thus mused Sir Peter Conyers, friend and adviser to the King on more matters than most people were aware. He stood on the hill of Uffington, listening to the birds singing above and the breeze ruffling the grass at his feet as he gazed across the tranquil farmland below him. "That wasn't all", he said to his companion, Archmage Arthur Brown. "The basic idea of a railway to carry goods more cheaply and expeditiously to market and to speed travel was quite attractive, especially to the merchants who expected to benefit thereby. After all that had been the idea when railways had first been developed so long ago - and on this island! We don't really need the Germans to take our ancestors' ideas and sell them back to us, do we?" "Of course not", said the Archmage, "But you're now saying that there's more to it?"

"Oh yes, Dieter's pretty shrewd, his fingers are in many pies and he hopes to pull more than one plum from this one." Sir Peter glanced at the Archmage and said, "my sources and my own inquiries tell me that the merchant community accepts that the railway would be feasible and profitable. They're naturally in favour of it. Those who won't make much use of it for their own businesses see it as an opportunity to make a nice investment. Seeing the Archmage purse his lips in distaste, Sir Peter hastily added, "No, not a revival of those 'get-rich-quick', 'pump-and-dump' paper scams from the past. They think this will be a profitable, useful, long term business, something whose value will increase over time and whose shares will be worth inheriting and passing on to one's descendants." "Not a South Seas Bubble, more like the East India Company, in a small way - but with us as the Indians" he added wryly. The Archmage shrugged. He was not concerned or impressed by commercial considerations. Sir Peter continued, "So far so good for those involved; and make no mistake, Dieter and his pals will be up to their elbows in it. Already they're making loans and buying into businesses which they expect to benefit - and taking the chance to spread the word that Wessex needs to become more Progressive, to move with the times and not let antique traditions stand in the way of making a profit."

"Now it starts to get more interesting", said Sir Peter. "I happen to know that Dieter has very good connections with the bankers of Frankfurt. They're no more than mildly interested in the prosperity of wool growers in Wessex or the tapestry weavers of Flanders, the Ruhr's increased sales of iron rails or the prospects for shipping coal to Wessex from York or Poland. No, what really interests them is the juicy prospect of issuing, underwriting and trading in large loans to governments and companies, and in extending to more moderately wealthy persons the prospects of speculating in rigged stock markets."

The Archmage stared at him. "So, it's back to Boudicca," he said. "Updated of course, but reminiscent of how Seneca and the rich of the first Roman Empire, pressed loans upon the unwary Ancient Britons, and then demanded immediate repayment once they'd squandered the money. We know what happened after that; a lost legion, three Roman cities burnt, and then no more Iceni." "No more Druids either," added Sir Peter. "That's when the King got seriously involved; it's a direct challenge to the Sovereignty of Wessex." "We were both there", said his friend, "when the Land responded through the King,'Go to the Horse, learn wisdom at it's mouth. Consult the Dragon.'"

That was what had brought them, riding the old Ridgeway along the top of the Downs, first to the  village of Uffington to meet the Guardian and his coven of Horsewhisperers and then to this hill which for so long had borne the sinuously elongated and disjointed image cut through the turf and into the chalk, long known as the White Horse of Uffington. They had sat for a couple of days with the Guardian, George Jenkins, and his circle at the Horse's mouth in deep meditation to contact the genius loci and learn what they could. Then they had gone to the strange flat topped hill beneath the Horse, known as Dragon's Hill, and had done the same. They had shared and discussed the images and intuitions they and the Guardian's Circle had had. Now they knew what to do.

"It'll be a major project" said Sir Peter thoughtfully. "The Land has accepted it, and that's the main thing," replied the Archmage. "Dieter will eventually get his railway, one way or another, from Dover to Bristol via Winchester, if he and his backers keep pushing, keep intriguing and keep paying. We expected that," said Sir Peter."It's better this way. The country won't be torn apart, the Land disregarded and degraded again. It'll still take time and a lot of effort to make the preparations, and the railway enthusiasts will have to keep encountering and appearing to overcome obstacles and resistance until they think they've won, without needing a coup d'etat." "They'll get their railway," said the Archmage, "but they won't know and won't care about the Rail Way."

"I like the idea of engines looking like dragons' heads, snorting steam and flame, and pulling wagons and carriages like the body of a dragon or wyrm. An Iron Wyrm. There could be a red one and a yellow one, a green one, a black one or a blue one," remarked Sir Peter dreamily. "Perhaps we could insist on a Royal Golden one. Rail Dragons or Iron Wyrms - whatever we call them, they'll be popular, provided they preserve some romance and don't become merely and drearily utilitarian and commonplace." 

"Yes," said the Archmage, "they can be colourful, useful, profitable and popular. Best of all, with the Rail Way they can avoid the socially subversive effects that would otherwise be the case, and actually help to strengthen the People and the Land."  "You know Peter" he continued,"  a way of life used to be regarded as a spiritual path. Each craft could make it's tools and operations into symbols and meditations. The Japanese even had a Way of the Warrior. In Europe we had Freemasons and Cathedral builders as well as Chivalry. The founder of Christianity and his earthly father were supposedly carpenters. That was before the curse of materialistic modernity blighted the spiritual connection between people and their work. Now that's over we can have a Rail Way for those who use and those who work on the railway. Even better, the Land will contribute to its effectiveness."

  "It's more than that Peter," said the Archmage. "You saw and experienced the vision of the White Horse shimmering and quivering with movement, and felt it expand to cover the whole Land of Wessex. We all saw it filled with a tracery of lines of golden light appearing as fire at its feet and nostrils. That's an image of the energy-body of the Land, its life force and fire of consciousness. Remember that we saw the little dragons moving over it and strengthening the links between the parts? That shows that the Land is willing to help the Rail Way and its Iron Wyrms and those who ride in them, and that in turn their live force and movement can strengthen the flows within the Land and the connections between them."

"Yes" murmured Sir Peter. "Its the Grail Question 'Whom Serves the Grail?',isn't it? The Grail serves those who serve the Grail, and the Land helps those who help the Land, for the King and the Land are One." He laughed and said "As to Dieter and his enthusiasts, if I may misquote Milton,'They also serve who only agitate'. Without them this wouldn't be happening." 

 "Of course, Peter. Now the exciting thing is that with the co-operation of the Land, every rail journey can be an initiation. Wessex people already accept the dragon or wyvern as a symbol of their identity, and will be happy to board it and remain in a comfortable relaxed state as they journey through their landscape, their history - and their souls. The Land will re-arrange its energy currents a bit so one will enclose the route of the railway. Our dowsers will check that and you and I will then plan the actual route. Greedy people may hear rumours and buy in the wrong places." They both laughed."As I was saying, Peter, with the co-operation of the Land, I and some of my mages or druids will be able to summon dragon spirits and have them take the passengers into their consciousness. Iron Wyrms indeed! They'll be able to induce dreams, visions, feelings of joy or terror, nightmares or hallucinations in the minds of those appropriately prepared." Sir Peter interrupted. "Especially those who've 'quaffed the soma bright and are immortal grown' or whose 'railway tea' contains the kykeion or an infusion of magic mushrooms! The herbalists and Green Ladies should be able to advise on that." The Archmage nodded thoughtfully. "I'll speak to Sally about that."

Sir Peter said slowly, "It may not be desirable for every Tom, Dieter and Harry to delve too deeply into all the Mysteries of Wessex, and it may not be good for them. We wouldn't want their corpses to contain any evidence of what might be regarded as poison, or to show any sign of violence."

The Archmage looked slightly startled before he said, "The dragons may be a bit rough. They've Wessex of course, so foreigners will not be attuned to them. People in whom they detect ill intent towards Wessex will receive a very rough time, but it will be mental rather than physical torment." Sir Peter nodded. "A few heart attacks or cases of sudden insanity in people who were up to no good will just serve to maintain awe and respect for the Iron Wyrms of Wessex." He added "The public can be advised that they travel at their own risk. Railway travel may not suit everyone, but most people will find it interesting and enjoyable. That'll be true. I hope we can have the dragons exert a bit of emotional pressure at the railway stations, scanning passengers and idlers, frightening off those who should not be there, welcoming those who should, and putting the fear of fiery dragon's breath into layabouts or potential criminals."

Satisfied with the progress of their work, the two men mounted their horses and began their ride back to report to the King.


Only about ten miles from Uffington lay the village of Lambourn in a valley nestling into the Berkshire Downs. As might be expected from its proximity to the White Horse, this area had been famous for horse rearing for a very long time. In the Old Times it had been the centre of the British horse racing industry and the Royal horse herd were still stabled there. The 'sport of kings' continued, even if there was less money and fewer kings involved, and other people also had stables in the area where racehorses continued to be bred and trained. Nowadays however, horses were raised for more mundane purposes than racing. Unless and until a railway was built they remained the fastest and most convenient means of transport for anyone who was not obliged through poverty or circumstance to rely on 'Shanks' Pony'. Anyone with an interest in horseflesh might therefore be expected to be seen in the vicinity of Lambourn, so it attracted no special interest if Sir Peter or the Archmage were seen in the area.

On some of those occasions when one or other of them might be seen there, their interest was not in the purchase of a new horse or in the racing prospects of some favuorite, or even in reviewing the business arrangements by which the Royal herd was managed and the profits made from sales of its horses. Sometimes when they stopped in passing to greet and gossip with John Daly, one of the trainers, more than business and racing prospects were discussed. Somewhat as 'Wren' was 'King of the Birds', Daly was a 'Horseman'. He had the gift of understanding horses and quietly but firmly getting them  to do what he wanted. Now, under the tutelage of the Archmage, he was developing the skill of identification with a horse and experiencing its perceptions. So were some of his apprentices, who were now on detached service in Winchester, where they were eager participants in Dieter's German classes.

 Sir Peter smiled happily when he thought about it. Wessex horses were well regarded. Closer involvement with the Empire would certainly lead to an expanded and more profitable trade in them. Some of the best would be suitable diplomatic gifts to Exalted Personages. Others would be bought by influential people. These people would go riding on horseback or in horse drawn carriages. They would meet and speak in German with other influential people about important matters, in the quiet confidence that no human could overhear them. Sir Peter laughed so much his horse wondered what had happened to him.


Ragnar would not bring down the wrath of the Empire on his head by flouting a direct and vehemently expressed order not to attack Wessex, but he thought that an indirect approach might well succeed. If the 'feeble and mentally unstable' Harold were to 'lose his head' - perhaps they'd need to look for it in Fairyland, he snickered to himself - the Germans might have a very good idea who was responsible, but if he ostentatiously avoided open military aggression, and instead pleaded with the Imperial Court to be allowed to 'restore order' in Wessex , they might well accept for lack of a better alternative. Even if they didn't, he intended to make a silver plated drinking cup out of Harold's skull, so that at last it would be useful and contain something helpful. Thus when news reached him that Harold would be spending a few days with only a small escort at a place just south of their border, the Thames, Ragnar scented opportunity.  

It was an overcast night, starting to rain and with a distant grumble of thunder, as Redbeard led his household troop of a couple of dozen of his most loyal and effective fighters, down to the river. This was good, they were less likely to be noticed, and if anything went wrong Redbeard was confident in the ability of himself and his men to out-ride and out-fight any opposition.The fools were not expecting them and he looked forward to returning with Harold's severed head tied to his saddle. Smiling happily he drew his sword and flourished it to signal his men to follow him as he urged his horse into the river.

No one afterwards could quite explain what had happened. Some speculated that the king had had a heart seizure and that his legs had convulsively gripped his horse or that he had jerked the reins. There had been a splash and a scream of pain from the horse as it lost it's footing, broke a leg, threw Redbeard and collapsed on top of him with his foot trapped in the stirrup. When his horrified men had recovered the king's body after killing the horse to end it's thrashing and it's screams, they found that he was quite dead, but whether from a heart attack or from drowning or from the way in which his sword had penetrated his neck they could not tell and did not care.They simply took the body of their king back to Tamworth for burial.

When news of this strange event and lucky escape reached King Harold and his people they were unmoved. They already knew that the King guards the Land, and the Land guards the King; for the King and the Land are One.  


Some weeks later when the next airship arrived in Winchester from Berlin, it brought unexpected passengers and news and left with several other passengers. There had been a shift in the current of political favour at the Imperial Court in Berlin, quite unrelated to events in Britain. Some previously influential people had lost their positions and their replacements had naturally replaced many of their appointees to create rewards for their own supporters. It had been no reflection on the excellent service which Count Dieter had rendered His Majesty, but his successor had arrived bearing official instructions, and much to the surprise of the Count and his family, after a hasty visit to the court of King Harold to announce his recall and introduce his successor, they found themselves waving farewell to Wessex from the airship as it serenely floated on it's way back to Berlin and feeling astonished to note how alive the land appeared.