A piece of fiction about Gildas, the alleged author of ‘On the Ruin of Britain’ in sixth century Britain
When my Lord calls me to him, to read to him from my youthful work, I rush, as much as an old man can, to do his bidding. His fire is always high and warms me for the first time all day. Sometimes the wood is wet and the fire smokes, or the wind blows down the small chimney and forces the smoke to spread throughout the cold and drafty woody hall. It can make it hard to breathe and speak the words my Lord wants to hear.
I used to fear that my Lord would grow tired of his game and banish me from the great hall, forcing me to shiver in my room, no more than a damp cell in the cellars. I know better now.
He feeds me, clothes me and keeps me warm. Few would think to keep an old, nearly blind man from his death. Quite often I fall asleep before the fire so that I can stay warm all night long, only stumbling back to my cell by the grey light of dawn.
My lord is a hard man and yet he seems to understand his role and perform it well. I’m no longer surprised by this. He’s a great man and can speak the Latin of my youth even if no one else in the hall can.
He’s much less a barbarian than I expected. He’s clever enough to know who I once was and to have read my work and understood its significance. Whilst I didn’t write under my own name, my friends and colleagues knew that it was I who’d written the words and that it was I who lambasted all the tyrants in my land. Worse, they knew that it was I who criticized the vilest of them all by failing to mention him at all, damning him more with my silence than with my words.
In my youth I rebelled against the changes that were infecting my land and I wrote a sermon. I feared for my people and called for them to redeem their ways: to let God back into their lives so that the Saxon raiders could be defeated with God’s help. I meticulously researched my sermon, writing it in my God’s Latin.
Every night my Lord makes me read the miswritten words of my youth. I start at the beginning of my sermon and by the end of a few weeks I’m finished and must start again.
Sometimes my lord doesn’t really listen to my words. He’s too busy drinking and laughing with his friends and underlings. Yet, whenever I reach my descriptions of the weak and twisted former tyrants of my land, I know that he’s quiet and listening to my words, his intelligent eyes, laser like and penetrating. I once puzzled over this but now I understand why he listens so intently.
Whilst he may not be the sort of leader I demanded in my youth, I think that he does his best to live up to the ideals that I described. He doesn’t debauch himself or look for an easy way out of the difficult situations he finds himself in. I think that he’s listening to me because he wants to ensure he doesn’t become one of those tyrant’s I speak of.
Whilst everyone else thinks I was a youthful fool and an idiot, he hopes to live up to my archetype. He wants to be the person I called for and asked my God for. He wants to be better than all who’ve gone before.
I’m not one of my lord’s advisers and I’m never called upon to give my counsel. I’m old and shabby and though loath to say it, smelly. Yet in my own way I think I counsel my lord every night. It’s better than being one of his advisers. I’m safe in the knowledge that he listens to me and heeds my warnings, unlike his warriors who shout in vain to be heard.
The land of my birth is changed. The Saxon raiders wanted our wealth but took our land. They robbed the native British people of the lives they thought they’d have. There are no longer flourishing towns where the wealthy and well educated converse in Latin amongst elaborate stone buildings.
Instead there’s a new language and Latin is only preserved amongst a few wondering priests. The towns are busy and bustling but lacking in stone buildings. There are no longer any lawgivers who need to speak the language of the Empire of the Caesars.
There’s a new world and nothing is as it was meant to be when I was a child, when I watched the soldiers with their head gear and hooded visors march smartly throughout the land.
It‘s taken me many years but now I see things so much more clearly than when I was first brought here, against my will and screaming my innocence. I see that my Lord is right to do what he does and to rule the way he does.
I’m honest enough to admit that in the grand scheme of things nothing fundamental has actually changed under the Saxon overlords.
My lord’s father, the man I besmirched by not writing about him so long ago, was little different to the men in Rome who used to send their written orders. He had the same needs and wants. On balance, he was a better man for his ambition was smaller and easier to achieve.
I realise that I’m honoured. I may live in the cold and the dirt and be filthy and smelly, but I’m witnessing the beginnings of something good and new.
My Lord understands this and I hope that when my body is too tired to go on, he’ll remember the passages I read to him and continue to be a good and just lord as the Roman England of my youth becomes the Saxon England of the future.