Lost Dog 10
His car was parked beyond the driveway in one of the barns, as he suspected. “Morwenna took your keys while you were sleeping. When she had put your car in the barn the keys were replaced on your bedside table" said the youth.
Morwenna came out to greet him. She wore an ankle length white dress as if she had just returned from an important engagement and opened the barn to reveal Richard's car. "I put it in here so that it would be safe. Unfortunately you decided to leave us without so much as a farewell."
Richard got in his car and turned the ignition. He checked to see if anything was missing and, when he was satisfied that everything was where it should be, he killed the engine and got out. "I don't understand why you decided to park it in one of the barns. Millions of cars are left standing on roads and driveways every day of the week."
"It was a friendly gesture, that's all. You seemed tired and disorientated and wanted to sleep. I apologize if I offended you in any way."
It was difficult for him to be angry with Morwenna. "The tea you gave me" he said "that's what made me feel sleepy and disorientated."
Morwenna swept back her hair with her hand. "The tea I drink is a herbal blend containing ginseng. Perhaps you had a reaction to it. Ginseng is a natural root so you can rest assured that isn't harmful."
"I know what ginseng is" Richard said sharply. And then: "Look, I'm sorry. Perhaps it's me, perhaps I'm the one who is out of order."
Morwenna smiled. "You've experienced shock - shock at discovering the secret life of your mother, shock at seeing her art work. It's entirely understandable if you feel confused, disorientated."
They stood in silence for a moment before she suggested they go inside. "There's a lot for us to talk about" she said.
This time, in order for him to remain alert, she brewed some filter coffee. They sat once again in front of the open fire. Morwenna had lit candles. " Your mother experienced a great awakening" she said as she poured the coffee. "She was unfulfilled throughout the greater part of her life but decided to break out of the bounds of convention and seek her own truth."
Richard took a sip of coffee. "I suppose you're referring to the time when she cut herself off from my father, brother and myself."
Morwenna nodded. "Were you angry that she left ?"
"Yes" Richard said. "More so for my father, I suppose. Their marriage wasn't the happiest but he didn't deserve to be left high and dry like that. He died within a few months of her leaving."
"Yes, I know. She regretted that very much. Your mother was not an ogre, Richard, distant and unfeeling, but the impulse to go in search of her own truth proved too great."
Richard said he had thought about his mother’s motives for leaving many times. He said her decision was still difficult for him to understand. "She could have remained where she was and still found 'truth' or whatever it was she wanted."
Morwenna disagreed. "Some people are lucky - they can find a satisfying path wherever they may be. For others it isn't as simple. Your mother needed to travel, explore. Only then could she understand."
"Understand what ?"
"Understand who she was." Morwenna stood up. "Do you know where she went to, what she did, when she travelled ?"
Richard said: "There are journals - I found them in the house. They detail all the places she visited."
"The places correspond to another traveller, a female, someone who made the same journey over seven hundred years ago."
She took a slim volume from the bookshelf. "The woman's name has been lost in history. But she too left a record of her travels. Your mother imitated her journey."
Richard flicked through the volume Morwenna had handed to him. The document was written in old English and Richard struggled to decipher the text. "The introduction and study of the text gives you a brief outline of the woman's travels. It's a remarkable document."
Richard turned to the introduction. The heading was: Travels of a Medieval White Witch.
"A witch ?"
Morwenna smiled. "Yes. Don't look so aghast. White witches exist today. In the medieval period they were also known as wise-women, women who helped with everyday problems in their community, who connected with the spirit world."
The introduction claimed the unknown woman visited different countries to study the role of the white witch. She returned to Cornwall and began to practice witch craft, constantly moving between towns such was the demand for her services.
"And this” said Richard “is who my mother modelled herself on ?"
Morwenna nodded. "Of course, it was a dangerous period for common single women, especially women who were held in high esteem and therefore were seen as a threat to the church."
"What happened to this woman ?"
"She was condemned by the church. It was common practice for charges to be brought against such women. There was a lot of hysteria during the period – inquisitions, paranoia. She was hanged. Her remains were supposed to be scattered. But, such was her standing, she was secretly buried by her followers. It had never been established where precisely she was buried. However, your mother, soon after she settled here, discovered the place. The remains were recovered and tests have shown that they correspond to a female from the period."
"But how could she be sure that it was the same woman who wrote the travel document ?"
"It would, of course, have been impossible, except for one thing: the medieval document describes a ring that the woman wore throughout her life. The ring was found, intact, on the skeleton."
Richard looked at one of the photographic plates that accompanied the text. There were four images of the ring - a silver band with an embossed symbol of a pentacle.
"The silver has been traced to Italy and confirms the story within the text that the ring was given to the woman by her mentor. She tells of how she was taken under the wing of an Italian witch. There are too many coincidences. Everything fits together."
"My mother – I don't understand: how did she know where to find the grave ?"
"Your mother believed that she was a re incarnation of this woman. That's why she chose to settle here, in Cornwall."
Richard had heard enough. Yes, perhaps it could be argued that the story Morwenna had just told him 'added up' and that his mother had experienced some kind of psychic insight to discover the whereabouts of the grave, but Richard was a rational man. He didn't believe in religion - pagan or otherwise - and certainly didn't believe that by casting spells a persons’ health or life difficulties could be improved. He snapped shut the book and was about to place it on the table when, for the first time, he saw the name of the editor and author of the introduction: Morwenna Carstairs.
"This is how you came to know her" Richard said, indicating the book.
"It was something I'd been working on for quite a long time" Morwenna said. "I had been commissioned to write the introduction for the text when I met your mother. She had only recently moved to Cornwall and I couldn't believe my ears when she told me about her interest in witch craft and her travels abroad. I immediately recognized she had taken the same route as the medieval witch. And when she told me she knew where she was buried I could barely contain myself. As an academic, you're lucky if research like this appears once in a lifetime."
She took hold of the book and opened it. "The medieval witch reports that, in Verona, she was taught art by her mentor. This mysterious mentor also believed in forms of re incarnation. The mentor, it is reported, saw dogs not as a sign of the devil, as many thought at the time, but as a sign of mother nature, embracing such qualities as love, loyalty, and harmony within their surroundings. She says that her mentor encouraged her to paint animal portraits, especially dogs, and to meditate on the qualities of the dog in preparation for the afterlife."
Richard asked: "Who was this mysterious mentor ? Do you have any idea ?"
Morwenna said, no, there weren't any clues to his or her identity in the text although many academics have speculated. "One theory is that she was mentored by Leonardo, but I think that's just wishful thinking."
"I'd like to see the paintings again, if I may" said Richard. Morwenna smiled. "Of course. Give me a minute. Let me get my cape."
She left the room and Richard tried to digest everything that she'd told him. The story sounded preposterous. And yet, his mother’s art work seemed to convey a secret knowledge the nature of which he didn’t fully understand.
Morwenna returned and led him outside. They entered the barn that stored Richard's mother's paintings. He walked over to the portrait of the black mongrel dog and stared at it intently.
"What are you thinking ?" said Morwenna.
"While I was stripping the walls of my mother’s cottage I discovered a mural depicting the same dog. Why did she paint it so often ? What drew her to this particular dog above all others ?"
"Perhaps she felt an affinity with the animal" she said. "Perhaps, like the medieval witch, she was able to contemplate the afterlife."
He would not have believed that his mother, with whom he maintained a cordial but unaffectionate relationship throughout his childhood and youth, was capable of such thoughts. He looked closely at the painting. So much was going on in the background, other things he hadn't noticed on his first viewing - images hidden in the clouds, another set of lovers in the forest engaging in sex, a man sitting alone in a cave, a man who Richard now recognized as his father. Scanning the painting again he saw that Peter and Jackie were also depicted, not as they were today but as they were during the early period of their marriage, carefree and very much in love. Richard took a step back. He gazed at the black mongrel dog which he now acknowledged as a depiction of his mother. He also realized that a second dog, also black, also a mongrel, was a depiction of himself.
Morwenna stood by his side. "She included you in the second most prominent position. She is trying to tell you something, Richard."
He wasn't precisely sure what Morwenna meant but saw the second dog as a statement, a declaration of responsibility which he was expected to embrace.
Morwenna took his hand. "Will you follow me, Richard" she said. "They are waiting."
She led him out of the barn and along the pathway towards the geometrical garden. It was an hour or so from dawn now and dark clouds shrouded the landscape. He understood that Morwenna had dressed for a ceremony, her long white dress complimented by a crimson woolen cape and silver necklace depicting the pentacle. As they approached the archway he became aware of flickering light - fire torches had been set in the ground, illuminating the pathway into the small building that reminded him of a church. Now he saw others, including a man with silver hair, also dressed in white, also wearing a cape. He took Richard's hand and kissed it. "Welcome" he said and offered the same greeting to Morwenna.
The congregants, numbering twenty or so, stood either side of the door before following Morwenna as she entered. Inside a throne and a large depiction of a pentangle dominated the floor. Morwenna made her way towards the throne, taking her place beside it. Richard stood alone, facing Morwenna, the symbol between them. She extended her arms and at first Richard thought she was inviting him to join her. But her gesture was not for him; the youth entered, accompanied by the two black dogs. He led the older dog onto the throne where it sat, ready to observe proceedings.
Morwenna spoke: "Richard, please - take your rightful place amongst us.”
He stepped forward and knelt on the pentangle. The congregation began to whisper the fellowship’s sacred orders, invoking peace, healing and justice for mankind. Their recitation gave way to songs and chanting, all building to a rapturous calling for a lost world – a world from pre history - that mirrors the spirit realm to which every life on earth ascends. Throughout the ceremony Richard, despite his tears, focused his eyes on those of the old black mongrel. And for the first time in his life he felt at peace - at peace with everything in the world, and with everyone around him.