Back home, my room is on the first floor, off the passageway to the Great Hall. Its not really mine any more though- its now on the market. It was listed after Avalon sold, which was a little after my grandfather died. That was when the Green Knight came to call, and Tristan and Isolde were best friends who’d fallen in love, and gotten married right out of college. But then there was Heather of the White Hands, and the eventual divorce. A hero’s death on the shores of Ireland, and of family legend.
I remember when I was about eleven years old, my grandfather took my family to Scotland. My parents struggled to drive on the left side of the road, and we took rented cars to ruined keeps in rolling farmland littered with sheep like wild bindweed. I remember my father bought me and my brother wooden swords from the little gift shop at one such ruin. There are photographs my grandfather took, of my brother and I climbing across the tumbled walls after one another. The plywood blades of the tardiest warriors late to the fight smacked hard into young wrists.
I found one of the swords when my brother and I were cleaning out the basement . The wood was black spotted with rot and mildew from the damp. The rope cross guard had come unwound and frayed, and the hilt, made from string wrapped around a spot where the wood became narrow, was too small for my hand. I remember the gait of my step, springing out of the back seat after my brother into the air of the British isles, using the belt loop of my shorts as a sheath. In spirit, I followed the old way, and read from the Exeter Book by candle light, copying the text of “The Ruin” into memory. But the exposed masonry of my childhood is not the construction of any giant, and I have no faith in the mystery of the design any more. There is only faith in my brother, who was with me then, as he is now.
He and I have seen modern ruins, castle condos made of linoleum, wood paneling, and appliances from the 70’s. The kind of ovens and refrigerators my father grew up with. That’s what he told us the first time we visited his new place on Harbor Hill, and he asked me to move some furniture around. The new lord of that small place was made king overnight. I was a student living in Ireland, when his former self died in his sleep without a word. My mother probably would have preferred it that way, for him to have gone the way of old kings across the waters or into the earth. My mother told me that my grandfather’s last words were his wife’s name.My father took most of the furniture from the room that was his home office in his departure.
I remember my father in portraiture now, old photographs taken in Cleveland Ohio when he was in high school. Or there are others, often with my mother, taken in Rhode Island at their first house. That was when his face was young, and he wore glasses and was unshaven from time to time. His green eyes are like mine, slightly asymmetrical when squinting into the sun behind the camera. In the great hall the pictures are gone, only sharp pieces in the front yard where acrylic frames were heaped. They were on the mantle behind where the Christmas tree stood in December. They’d collected ornaments for it, like precious jewels for the coffers of a kingdom, since they were married.
I am standing in the great hall of an older ruin far away from home on the boarder of Wales and England. I am finishing school in this country. The city of Bath is nice, but I feel more at home in places where everything is already said and done. Here, in the ruins of blood feuds and filled in chips on the shoulder between invaders and the invaded, the wind moves quiet through the weeds on a rampart. They grow between rocks and gravel like the weeds I once removed from my mothers garden as part of my chores. Like a ghost on a night watch when Denmark and Norway are at war, his voice wanders to me across moss stone. “Ry-de” was what he called me when I was a child. He still does, more than ever, ever since he moved to the next town over.
The gates of his new place are wide open, is what he told me. I can go whenever I want, and maybe help him decorate, and meet his new wife. But to me, and in my excuses, I tell him that the land is blocked and impassable as the wild and untamed hills of Wales. My mother has tossed out the sword in the stone with the weeds and the wedding photographs. In my ceremonial armor, I have no weapon of use in the present, only the past. It is a journey I am afraid to make. His eyes are like mine, and I know I will not win this beheading game. I have seen him shrug off the blow of one life and one family, and walk back into the wild dawning another. I wonder if the sons of such men too, have the same fairie immortality.
But for now, I can feast and dream like Gawain among his fellows before All Saints Day . I’m in the settled rock of Goodrich, where no harm can come to me. There is nothing left here worth drawing a sword from a belt loop sheath over. My brother is not here to chase, I am alone, and I am calm. But I can’t stay here forever, the conditions of a visa say so, and December is drawing nearer again. There will come a time, when I must ride out after a year and one day, and face the green knight of Harbor Hill with a wooden sword pulled from the basement as if pulled from stone.