Read author John Orlando’s fantasy story below A Midsummer’s Night Gathering and then check out his work at Legenderry.com.
A Midsummer’s Night Gathering
By John Orlando
I appreciate the chance to tell a true story that happened to me many years ago. Although not a poet myself, I’ve met numerous great ones over the millennia, but I’d like to tell you about my first encounter with an English poet and playwright from a village called Stratford-upon-Avon. I’m sure you guessed that I am talking about the famous bard named William Shakespeare.
During a visit to England in the late 16th century, my brother and I were preparing for a gathering of forest beings in the deep woods near the village of Stratford. It was a full moon evening; because a fog had shrouded the gathering place, my brother Shaedo dismissively waved the palm of his right hand toward the sky. Using one of his magical powers that can manipulate clouds, he quickly dispersed the hazy mist. He wanted strong moonlight so he might cast and play with the evening shadows.
Shaedo and I had just removed brush and branches to create a clearing in the woods for this evening’s elfin and fairy gathering. We were busily rolling heavy stones about to arrange as seating around the fire pit when we heard footsteps rustling toward us. They were loud and heavy, like a human, different from the soft steps of us elfin-kind.
Before lighting the fire, Shaedo and I quickly tiptoed into the nearby darkness and hid, just as a tall, thin man fumbled into the clearing. He had a dark mustache that blended into the pointy hair on his chin. The long hair on his head was beginning to recede from his youthful face; he appeared to be in his early twenties. I wondered why he was roaming through the forest in the dark, and was even more curious to know why he was crying.
Forest beings are invisible to most humans; however, certain people with the special sight may see us. We weren’t sure about this person. He was mumbling between his tears, so we listened. “I’m ruined as a poet and playwright. I have a gift with words, yet I have naught to say. I have been nowhere and had experienced nothing in my life worthy of putting plume to paper.”
Elizabethan English, of course, had a much different sound than what is spoken in England today. As I visited the British Isles over the centuries, I needed to keep adjusting my ears to different word usage and expressions.
The visitor continued his lament. “Now that the fog has lifted, I see that, indeed, from the trail I have drifted. My way is lost in the woods, as well as in life.”
Just then, other forest beings began to arrive for the festivities. Apparently not noticing the human standing along the forest edge, they ignited the fire and readied to dance. Shaedo and I joined the others but kept a watchful eye on our visitor as events unfolded. Some of us had brought drums and tambourines, and soon, the wooded circle was percolating with lively music and an elfin dance.
We were a cluster of male and female spirits, some of us androgynous, who blended with the glow of the fairy fire, but not all of us resembled humankind in appearance. One attendee had the mythical body of a human and the head of a donkey. Since he couldn’t speak, the half-beast would whinny and hee-haw now and again. The forest being Pan, with his goat-like legs, pranced about while playing his flute. He rarely missed fun gatherings such as we were about to have.
When Shaedo and I noticed the surprised look on the human’s face, we knew he was able to see us elfin-kind, so we approached the bewildered, young man. My silver vest glowed with the moonlight, and my power of illusions gave me the appearance of being tall, short, or both at the same time. Shaedo’s black and gray outfit made him as elusive as his ever-changing shadows, influenced by the flickering of the campfire.
Shaedo introduced us to the visitor. “Welcome, young man, to a gathering rarely witnessed by humans. I am Shaedo and this is my brother Jocco. We’re from a village called Legenderry.”
“Oh really? And just where might that be?” He nervously backed away as he bowed. “By the way, my name is William Shakespeare. Your acquaintance is my pleasure to make.”
“Legenderry is a far distance south, upon the main continent, a week or more by horse north of Rome. May we call you William?” All the while, Shaedo humored himself and the others, by making William’s shadow dance around the campfire like a marionette.
Shakespeare’s eyebrows lifted, and he turned his head as if he was looking for a quick exit. “Of course you may, and your company would be divine were there not a peculiar magic in the air. I should like to make my way away from here. I bid thee a good night. This evening bird must take flight.” Yet he didn’t leave; curiosity most likely glued his boots to where he was standing.
“If we shadows have offended.” I grabbed William by the arm and coaxed him to a rocky seat. “Pardon us for overhearing your sad lamentation when you first arrived, but want you not a story to plot? Please accept our invitation, for tonight you might discover a lot.”
I offered him a taste of my homemade mushroom wine that Shaedo and I had brought with us all the way from Legenderry. With a little coaxing, he took tiny, suspicious sips of the bitter drink. Gradually letting go of his anxiety, he removed his long coat, loosened the lace on his white shirt, and joined the circle dance. Before long, he was throwing his hands skyward and laughing as he kicked his long legs about.
Eventually, everyone except the young man tired of dancing and had either departed or fallen asleep on the hard ground while listening to our conversation. Our visitor plopped beside me and softly asked, “Who are these incredible beings? Might you tell me some stories about them? And since you live near Rome, how about a true story about the ancient empire and its rulers?”
“It would be my delight,” I said, always eager for my own audience. “I will tell you about some important people I have known and events I had witnessed, like the murder of Julius Caesar.”
“How is that possible? Just how old are you, Jocco?”
“I’m older than the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians combined.” I confessed, “The truth is that I only observed Julius Caesar from a distance; he didn’t see me, because I was invisible to him, but I witnessed the dagger being buried in his chest during the Ides of March.”
During the rest of the evening, I retold the tragedy of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony and made William laugh with funny stories about my fairy friends. I told him about special powers. “All forest beings are gifted with their own magical power. I command the power of illusions. With this power, I made the first mirror, created the first magnifying glass, and invented spectacles for the eyes. I can bend the sun’s rays and make them appear as I desire and can easily make someone see what really doesn’t exist.” I should have been embarrassed with my bragging, but I wasn’t.
I quickly noticed that William had a unique ability with words; Shaedo and I strongly suspected that he was endowed with elfin ancestry. The tales and tragedies I eventually taught him that evening only became the medium through which he used his magical gift. I had no idea that someday he would become world-famous.
To my amazement, William taught me something about my own power. “Words themselves are nothing more than illusions. As a mirror is nothing more than a reflection of an image, a word is only a verbal expression of an idea. Often there are several different words for the same image and in many different languages. Their various sounds can invoke different feelings and tastes. A word might be as smooth as butter or as crispy as dry, autumn leaves. It can taste as sweet as honey or as salty as the sea. A poet could arrange their sequence to be choppy like the sound of a knife on a butcher block, or as breathtaking as a lively dance.
“I can amuse myself with images that I bring to life by my choice of vocabulary. I know how to arrange words into elegant phrases of beauty or sorrow, just as you can bend the light to make something look as you want it to be seen, and like Shaedo can stretch or shrink a shadow as he fancies. My knack with language makes clever writing, but one mostly needs a great story, and for that, I am eternally indebted to you.”
With the arrival of the dawn light, we felt like we had spent the evening in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. William’s tired eyes squinted in the morning sun. “Your stories of afar, a treasure indeed they are. To home at once I must return, with sweet sorrow to my nagging wife. May we meet again tomorrow should the overbearing woman spare my life?”
I honored his request over the following few days. Together we wept as I retold the tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet along with several silly stories that, at the time, seemed like Much Ado About Nothing.
More memoirs of Jocco and Shaedo, their elfin friends, and family appear in The Drums of Legenderry by John Orlando. Visit www.Legenderry.com to begin your journey to the mystical village of Legenderry and its nearby woods still inhabited today by these forest beings.