I went to bed early...too early it seems. As my mind slowed down from it's normal 'break-neck' pace, I laid restless, trying to focus on some bit of interest to settle my thoughts before sleep came and dreams began. That was my first mistake. I was setting myself up for things yet to come. But I lay there and drifted off to sleep...
It was day, late afternoon so the sun would have me believe. I sat in my chair in front of my workbench like so many other times. I was working on a mask, one of black cloth, leather, clay and feathers. A ravens head, to fit half the face, with golden eyes of some material that I could see through. It was...remarkable! Life size (for a man) and detailed, a real work of wearable art. I sat admiring it, reveling it it's likeness of the creature that it was.
"Shadar." the gentle voice crept into my ears, "Shadar, Druid!"
I knew it came from the mask, yet I tried not to look at it. I wanted so badly that the voice, soft yet like rough gravel on the ear, would be coming from somewhere, anywhere, else.
" Hear me Druid, and know me once more!", it cried out. " You are not yet here, nor asleep even. You lay in my doorway, between now and forever. Your time is soon that you will seek me, and serve me, and behold your future is here, walking the gateways."
Now it is dark, the light only dimly shimmers in short flashes of pale blues and grays. Only a gimps here and there of archways, of arbors, of gated cave openings. I feel damp, yet not cold, and look at myself in a passing reflective mist... I am not old, yet not as young as I know myself to be. My hair all but wisps of what it once was, long though and ghostly white. My beard just a straggle of long gray and white, over skin transparent showing a luminous skull. My eyes sharp and gray, brightly shining in deep set sockets. Gods I am a sight! But I am not afraid of my image, only for what it represents.
I look out into the darkness. " Raven! Raven!", I shout. " Hear me bird! I did not choose this path! This is not my way, this is not how I will be! I am not death, nor do I walk as His companion! I will not serve this gateway as keeper nor guide."
"But my Druid, you have been so kind as to teach others of the gateway that now you WILL become a keeper of it's ways. It is not my choice, though you would be on my lists of names IF I had made one. It is the Goddess who wants you. You who know her well, to show others how to find her arms after they have left your world. So here you WILL walk, and be guide to those who are lost." His voice echos through the darkness, from every direction, and from none. The voice pains my ears and I cringe from it praying he speaks no more.
"Please Raven, I am a teacher, an historian, and a believer in the Ways, but I do not want to be a gate keeper. Not even for Her! I want Her embrace so that I may return anew." Knowing my plea would only bring on that cold laughter even before I said it. And laugh it did, if you could call that cold cackle-cry of the blackest of birds a laugh!I screamed in agony from the laughter, tears rolling down my all but invisible cheeks. Not from fear nor sadness, but from the pain of the coldness it its terrible cry of laughter!
" Hush! Hush now my hard gambit!", this voice was soft and commanding. A woman's voice, yet more powerful, more...everything. "See now what you have done, and disturbed him deeply, his night will be long now, and his thoughts troubled at your visions."
I opened my eyes, stinging from the wash of tears held back for years. She stood there, shrouded in the blackest of black, yet glowing at the same time. I knew at once it was Danu who came to my aide, and standing not to far behind, watching me intently, was Hern, son and lover, hunter and king here. I trembled as She approached me, yet tried to still myself under Hern's watchful gaze. I knew that my safety was not guaranteed by Her being here and defending me, for here was the 'world between' and I was subject to be kept here by a whim of the Goddess, or worse, as prey for the Hunt! I let fear dissolve into something deeper, my love, my respect, my honor of the Gods that were there.
"You see my child, Ravens play nasty games when allowed to, but harmless to you and your kind. You have been a child of mine, so your dreams sometimes are not yours, even when you might think they are." Her voice calmed me even more. "You named yourself as a walker between the worlds, and you have visited here more than most, yet you allowed yourself to be a plaything for such an old bird!" She laughed now, but not too kindly.
And suddenly, without any indication...I lay there awake.