In my dream, there is a large gathering, made up of peasant folk, who are dressed simply, in coarse woven clothes, leather sandals on their feet. They are surrounded by their goods and chattels, and move awkwardly amidst the general preparation for a long journey. There is a buzz of expectation in the air, together with the various sounds which accompany such an undertaking. I surmise, that a journey of migration is underway, from a home land, into the unknown.
There is a leader – a tall well-built fellow, dark and handsome, who’s ebullient and forceful personality commands easy attention. What might I say about this man? He is about thirty years old, his movements are large and magnanimous, giving directions and advice here and there amongst the crowd. When speaking, he is direct and to the point, certainly no frills, yet not without tact. Occasionally however, I note a hesitancy; a slightly less confident moment, as if a doubt or small sadness has been remembered. On these occasions he appears to turn to humour, or become more aggressively active – to rally, and carry on.
A woman stands near him, she too is a commanding figure, with a resolute and natural confidence. Her gaze is steady, her stance statuesque. Although average hight, she somehow matches the man’s presence. They are indeed a well matched pair, both absorbed in the task to which they would appear to have been assigned. This must be a massive undertaking for most of the people, and the couples leadership seems to act as an incentive for each member to be equally active; to get on with leaving behind and sacrificing the unnecessary items that clutter, add weight and take up much-needed space on the vehicles and backs of the wanderers. The couple have a child, who looks about eight years old. Being slight for his age, he reflects neither parent in build or complexion. He is rather a nervy child and a little clingy, yet an intelligent stare looks out from the straight fair hair that falls across his pale face.
The journey is underway and people settle into a slightly torpid and monotonous line, which curves in and out along its edge, as the number in each family group varies. People move with a rather glazed and far away look in their eyes, as if none dare think too much about the uncontrollable consequences of the journey, that fate may have in store for them.
Late into the afternoon, the travellers are showing signs of weariness. The babies are fractious, the children and old lag behind. The leaders decide that camp must be made at the next appropriate spot, and after a while they arrive at the edge of a farming village. As they move into the heart of the village, the villagers begin to creep out of their dwellings to meet the oncoming strangers, and seem pleased rather than otherwise for the massive invasion. Being of humble means, in order to boost their income, they are willing to negotiate accommodation for their surprise guests. Open fields and barns are made available, with straw, hay and sacking for bedding. Large stew pots are provided to add to the travellers basic cooking equipment. These are placed on open fires, with vegetables and local fare added to their provisions by the villagers.
The couple that lead the people, are housed with their child on the top floor of a grain barn. An uncovered window looks down upon a field of mainly scrub land, with a narrow patch of vegetables growing at the far end of the field against a tall brick wall. The vegetables are too distant to be recognised as such, viewed from the family’s window, but they are mainly onions, rather dissolute with their drooping green tops – past their best.
As dusk falls, a woman appears and moves towards the vegetable patch. Her features are small and precise, her hair short and sandy coloured. She is dressed as many of the others are in the travelling crowd; wearing a rough shift , tied at the waist with woven wool. Her sandalled feet are small and dainty, as is the rest of her. Considering this fact, she moves rather clumsily amongst the vegetables, and constantly casts furtive glances up and across the field to where the couple and their child are housed. She is not a woman who draws attention to herself, giving the appearance of being a rather retiring personality, that might seek anonymity. Yet, there is in her expression a determination, resolution, call it what you will – that upon recognition, might cause you to hesitate, take stock, before taking anything about her for granted.
At this moment she is purposeful – no doubt about it; she is looking for something. Ignoring the more visible vegetables, she bends peering closely around the wilting leaves. The little light that was available has faded further, yet she appears to have found what she seeks. Kneeling, she slowly and carefully uproots what seem to be small in offensive weeds. Placing the tiny collection under her belt, she moves out of the field, staying at the furthest point from the distant overlooking window.
The couple asleep in the barn, are awoken during the night by their child’s cries, who, unbeknown to them has been poisoned. They both rush over to where he thrashes about on his makeshift bed. The child is sweating profusely, his garment is soaked through, and his skin feels hot and clammy. The terrified mother rushes to find help, whilst the father douse’s his son with cold water from an earthenware jug that stands nearby. In alternative states of distress, the man both murmurs and shouts his concern and would be comfort to the boy.
Help arrives in the guise of a travelling physician, who is hardly a physician in the true sense of the word, but a necromancer, a sorcerer, a teller of runes and would be healer – with a great knowledge of the herbs and potions of his trade. He examines the boy, whilst attempting not to alarm the parents further by showing his own concerns. He then orders the father to carry the boy to the place where he is camped, and his medicines stored. Resources are extremely restricted, but he instructs the parents to help unpack, fetch, mix and heat the ingredients, to make the necessary antidote that may save the child.
Meanwhile, the child has sunk into a stupor. His eyes are half closed, revealing the egg white of his eyes. The mother frantically shakes the boy, but this merely causes his head to flop listlessly sideways. The healer gently moves the couple aside, and administers what seems to be a magic potion, for the boy immediately coughs, splutter’s and starts to vomit. The parents wash and make the child comfortable, as he falls into a deep and peaceful sleep. Knowing that the healer has saved the child’s life, they attempt payment as well as thanks, but he will not hear of it, and he merely begins to pack the herbs and potions, making mysteriously little packages.
At night a mist envelopes the family as the child is carried back to the barn, and through the mist, the figure of a woman gradually moves towards them. She points up to the barn, and follows the trio up the stairs to their quarters. Secrets, confidences, intentions – are not easily kept unknown in such a large group, who share a collective past, and a future objective. Everywhere eyes look, ears listen and tongues report. The woman has news to tell the couple. She spied the shadowy shape of a woman stooping near the far wall, pulling something from the earth and secreting it in her belt. It was obvious that this was a furtive act the woman explained, and so followed the perpetrator. Hiding herself, she witnessed the woman transform the weed into a liquid substance, to which she added sweet tasting herbs.
The woman went on to say, that she saw the child wander down from the barn earlier, seemingly to discern what he might of his surroundings in the fading light. Whereupon, the figure that she had followed, approached the boy, and holding out a beaker to him encouraged him to drink from it. The boy was wary at first, but he obviously knew the woman, and she was persuasive. Eventually, he grabbed the beaker, sipped the liquid and returning the beaker to her, ran up the stairs to join his parents, but apparently said nothing about the encounter.
All this, the informant said she had witnessed – and in the light of what had occurred, felt it must be relevant to the boy’s sickness. At the news , the father pales and suddenly looks exhausted. The mother turns to the woman speaking softly, whilst ushering her down the stairs. Returning to where the boy sleeps, the pair look down on him, breathing regularly and at peace. They embrace, comforting each other, and move towards the bed where they are to rest for the night. The mother falls into a fitful sleep, but the father stays wide awake, staring into the rooms darkness.
The next morning, he is up before dawn, slyly watching the field from the barn window. Sure enough he sees her, the small figure of the woman whom his suspicions centre around – he is sure now, that it is her who administered the poison to his son. She has returned, seemingly with the same intention of seeking out the dangerous weed, but now her movements are anxious and hurried, whilst continually glancing up at the barn, yet she does not perceive the man who watches her. Suddenly he bolts down the stairs, across the field and confronts her, shaking clenched fists and angrily accusing her of the misdeed. She attempts to back away from him, but he catches her shoulders fiercely. She looks both trapped and futile, yet suddenly appears to recover a sense of what she must do.
To an onlooker, a stranger to this dream sequence of long ago, the woman maybe understood to be expressing her anguish in a language of gibberish – her voice rising and falling over itself, unintelligibly. In response the bewildered man hesitates for a moment, but then begins to shout back, whilst shaking her roughly – yet his words are equally mysterious and unintelligible. The noise brings the mother and child to the scene, whereby the entangled couple slowly part and turn towards them. The guilty woman, her eyes cast down, is now silent. Looking at the small forlorn group, perhaps it might be observed how much the child resembles the small woebegone figure, with her eyes cast down? A perceptive onlooker may just recognise in her demeanour, a woman who knows that she has lost every thing.