‘Tell me a story, Granny. Not the one
about the little girl lost in the forest,
not the one about the grandmother who turns
into a big wolf and eats the little girl up.
‘Child of grace, look into the flames.
Long, long ago, not in my granny’s time,
nor in her granny’s before her, but further back
in a world you couldn’t imagine, a bad spell
was cast on the whole island. The people lived
in fear and pain. The land itself was hurting,
as were the animals who shared it with the people.
One tribe fought against the next tribe
and at night their dreams were muddy and grey.
One tribe had many, many tokens
and owned all the land and chariots and most
of the things on the island. Another tribe
had some tokens, just enough for food and shelter.
And some tribes had no tokens at all.
None of them could get any peace or clear dreamings
with the worry about tokens, whether they had
any or not. The tribes who had nothing were
broken in spirit. Nobody cared about them,
and nobody listened to them. A terrible silence
stole over them. words were stones on their tongues.
Their children, charmed by strange potions, bad visions,
grew thin and sickened and faded away to death.
Or turned with the tide from the shores to carry
their learning and vigour like makeshift bundles
to the doors of strangers. Some went mad,
the burden of silence too heavy on their shoulders,
and were locked away in dungeons. They could make
no sense of a world that shifted them to
high towers or dumped them in huge encampments
with no tokens, no hope, no dreams for a future.
A little girl like you wouldn’t be safe walking
in the world for there were many damaged people
who had turned into monsters and forgotten
the human way. They were as sharks in the streets
of the city, ravening wolves in the countryside.
And the silence was heavy on the island
like a rnourning shroud; lies were thick
on the tongues of the rulers. Few were the lawgivers
who cared about justice, few were the doctors
who cared about healing, few were the teachers
who cared about truth. But some there were
and they were as shining warriors among the people.
And one in special who came from the Northwest,
near to the site of the Holy Mountain, where
the Great Sea beats the rock to sand under the sun.
The tunes of that place sparkle like salmon curving
upriver to their dark spawning ground. She
was a slip of a girl with laughter in her eyes and just
about your own age when her heart opened
with pity for the people and pity for the women
in special, for back then the women were slaves
and had to do what the men told them to do.
She studied hard at her books and learned
all there was to learn about the Laws,
and she saw that some Laws were cruel, especially
the Laws for the women. She went to the courts
of the island and fought for the women there
with her marvellous gift of speech. When she got
no satisfaction there she went to the big courts
on the mainland. And she was greatly
beloved by the people and they made her chief
among all the warriors. They had begun
to speak again and break the spell of silence.
They laughed at the liars and took away their Powers.
She’d come and stand among the people and listen.
Wherever they organized and struggled she’d be there
to give them courage and bear witness to their
hard work and service. And though her original
name is lost in the mists of Time and Change
we remember her as She-Who-Walks-Among-The-People.
That was the name the poets and song makers
gave her long ago, not in my granny’s time, nor
in her granny’s before her. but further back
in a world, child of grace, you couldn’t imagine.’
‘And, Granny, did the people live happy ever after?’
‘The people will endure. They are scattered
over the face of the earth like those stars
above you over the face of the heavens.
Our dreams are as clear as water from a good well
and we mind each other. But who knows when
a bad spell will be cast on the island again?
That’s why you must work hard at your books,
in case one day you’ll he needed by the people.
If you aren’t a good girl you’ll go down in the songs as