Robinson Arrives

M. E. King, 16 Feb 08

As Harkin shivered in her cavern at Nab End Quarry, the humans were embroiled in a terrible war against themselves. Some of their most brilliant minds were engaged in a desperate race to discover how to release nuclear power. Few, if any, humans realized that the resulting explosion could be worse than the war itself. Through a haze, Harkin was remembering some of the strange and foreign things that Faraken had
passed on to her. How one of the humans had proved to the rest of them, that the tiniest particle of matter was hiding immense energy. “Before that time,” said Faraken, “the humans tended to be impressed only by the big and the visibly powerful. Not surprising that many of them believed that because birds were small, there could not be much intelligence in their heads – indeed, humans who were a bit slow in their thinking, were sometimes called a bird-brain. The Starminders tell me,” Faraken had added, “that the man Einstein has now demonstrated to the other humans, how blind their minds can be to so many things, and that no longer can anything - or even anyone, be called ordinary. They know that we have some abilities which are beyond their own, such as navigation and flight. Yet,” said Faraken, lowering his old head, “so slow, so terribly slow are most of the humans to show respect for any form of life that doesn’t walk or talk or look, or even believe, as they do.” Then Faraken had gone on to explain that so much about the nature of mind and consciousness – throughout the universe, had only been glimpsed faintly by a few of the deepest thinking of the humans. Tarnlight was such a thing, and little was known about it. Somehow it seemed to link the kind of navigational skills which birds already possess, with an intuition of the future. Yet its origin was quite independent of the mind which receives it. It dawned on Harkin that it could be Tarnlight which was now trying to signal to her that something outside of all lark experience was happening in her nesting meadow.

From regions completely unknown to her, which her hithsense told her were beyond even the frozen specks of yellow light which patterned the night sky, a vision was breaking through into her consciousness. It was surrounded by a warm glow, from splints of burning pinewood held by hundreds of the human children. This was the image created by the tarnlight flashing through the neurons of Harkin’s brain, seeking a way to be understood. The vision was the closest her mind could get to interpret something she could neither know nor even imagine. Would humans have believed Einstein if he had not been able to map out his incredible intuitions, with the clear track marks of mathematics? Likewise, few humans would have believed that Harkin was being told of a link between a bygone age of the first great Arthur, and a future which even now was unfolding. Little did she know that at this very moment clear evidence for it was being imprinted in her nesting meadow. But how could Harkin, or
any of the teeming life forms of earth, based on mere compounds of carbon, possibly perceive what was happening out beyond the galaxies? The Starminders were attempting to repair the endless damage caused when one twisted strand of a rogue DNA, carried by a meteorite, had broken loose in a primitive form of life on earth, more than a billion years ago.

But Harkin was weary. Was it not likely, she wondered, that her fears, and the cold darkness of the cavern, were playing tricks with her mind? What leap of faith it would take to believe it possible that a human breaker of walls, stabbing rocks down over a bird’s nest, could in any way spell good for the future of life on earth. But faith had long been going out of fashion, and she was reaching again for the comfort of unconsciousness, when she was prodded by a spark of memory. She realized that her hithsense of the invader had been completely blocked by her panic. And there was something unusual about him, which did not fit any pattern of danger given during her training. She decided to face her worst fears head on, and struggle back against the south-west winds gusting over the dark heather of Blackwood Common. She would try to make sense of what was happening both inside and outside of her mind.

The drizzle was now drifting away to the east, towards Standing Stones Farm. She came out of hiding at the same time as the shy April sun, and set off back to her meadow. As she approached her nest, an amazing sight came into view. It was beyond anything that any lark had ever seen. With each beat of her wings, she saw more clearly, not the expected desecration, but a haven! It seemed to come straight out of another age, long  before the first great Arthur guarded Britain. Three tall rocks, thrust into the earth, now formed a standing henge around her nest, sheltering
and guarding her tiny hopes. Not only was her nest unharmed, it was protected as never before. The wall breaker seemed to have had a complete change of heart, and had turned into a wall mender, for now he was picking up the stones he had cast down, and was putting them back into the wall.

Harkin returned to warming her eggs. She felt so much relief and thankfulness, and felt so safe, that she paid little attention to the figure of a gnarled, weathered human being, wending its way along a distant track on the steep side of Crow Hill. An old drystone waller, whom Harkin had often seen moving about on the far side of the hill, had found a new purpose in his life. As he approached the newcomer to Wildwood Farm, he was going over the words he would be using. He knew that educated people had difficulty in understanding his rough way of speaking. But not
knowing their big words, and being too honest to ever dream of imitating their accents, all he could do was to speak more slowly. Little did he know that slick city dwellers already joked about how one could fall asleep between the words of a Yorkshire land worker.  He was deciding that today he would teach his new neighbor how to put all the pieces of small and broken stones into the centre of a wall which
was being repaired; this to stop it from gradually caving in on its self. But the old craftsman spoke in such an ancient dialect, that what he actually said was: “Ah’ll gi’thee a ’and wi’thet, Mester King. Tha nayds te puit all yon bits o’scrap stoowans inter th’heart o’ t’wahl, – else   it’ll collapse from th’inside.”
Such were the welcome words heard by the ‘wallbreaker’, as the man who was known locally as ‘Donkey’ Robinson, arrived out of the mists swirling about the summit of Crow Hill. Ernest Robinson had begun to pass on to this new owner of Wildwood farm, everything he knew of the ancient art of walling ‘dry’, which meant without cement. Robinson was already old when he began this task, but never had he had such a keen pupil, and he never imagined that he would meet a young man with the passion and drive to repair all the boundary walls of the farm.
“Ah, good to see you again, Mr. Robinson.” said the newcomer, “You must have been soaked to the skin by the time you got home through last Thursday’s storm.”
“Nay, Arthur” said Robinson, “th’rain turned te snoowa as Ah wor climbing Crow ’ill. Onnyway, yon Freysian calf A wor cartin’ o’er mi shoulders kept mi wahrm.”
“You mean to say,” said the newcomer, letting go of his work to look again at this weathered relic of rustic England, “that you carried that hundred pound calf all the way over Crow Hill?”
“Wat ither way is thu te git a blaytin ’elpless crayture through a snowstoowam?” asked Robinson. “Mahnd thee, we sat dahn naw an’ then. It wor grand, tha knows, settin’ there int’ heather ’avin a bit of a natter wi yon calf.” The old man then moved closer to his apprentice, as if to impart a piece of special knowledge: “Tha knows, thi nivver argue, don’t onimals.” He paused, and there were a few tears in his eyes. Was it at the memory of cruel words he had been dealt by people who mocked the old ways of a simple country laborer? Or was it because all the local farmers had started using barbed wire as a quick and cheap way of mending the holes in their walls? Robinson had seen an animal bleed to death on the spikes of barbed wire. Some people laughed at the old man for being stuck in the laborious age of stone. As Robinson looked at the kind and thoughtful face of his pupil, he was feeling a strange pride he had never before known. Here before him was a man, young and strong, who believed in the best of the old ways, and was willing to learn them. Never had anyone in Cragg Vale heard of an educated person wanting, yes, actually
wanting, to do rough land work.
Robinson’s nickname of ‘Donkey’ had been earned from the enormous amounts of rock he had moved by hand throughout his lifetime. With those local stones, he had constructed or repaired countless miles of walls, without any cement or machinery. His helpers were a hammer, and a three foot long hickory-handled pick which he had got from a railroad auction. Sometimes he used a more recent invention which was an oversized bucket with two legs and one wheel. To the wild ones it was a mobile perch for the robin, but the humans called it a wheelbarrow. Now the old stoneworker was gazing at the rare sight of a wall being repaired by someone else. “A sees that tha’s managed ter pull dahn all t’brocken part. Nah the’s a firm base te start raybuildin’ it.” As he spoke he found himself lowering his voice a little. Being close to nature, the unusual peace which was beginning to encircle Wildwood farm was reaching into him. He had even forgotten to light up the broken clay pipe which hung out of his tattered top pocket. It seemed that something was happening around this farmstead which was even more precious than the re-awakening of spring. The
carefree teasing of the April breeze through early coltsfoot flowers and over the dead winter grasses was broken only by a tapping sound as each gritty black stone was fitted into the wall. In the background could be heard the song of those skylarks who were not on their nests. They sang out their soft choruses, which were interwoven by the swooping, sweeping cry of the lapwings, and punctuated by the coarse ‘caw’ of the rooks.

There and then, Robinson decided that whenever Arthur might be walling, he would happily hobble over the high road around Crow Hill, all the way from his tiny homestead at Sand Beds farm, to help Arthur rebuild the walls of Wildwood farm.
From the nearby hamlet of Hubberton, a keen seventeen-year-old now joined the two men, and from the renewed seclusion of her nest, Harkin heard the sounds of friendly greetings between the humans. “How's it going Mester King?” said the youth. “Ye’re tayking ter land work lahk you were born to it.” He spoke with the Yorkshire accent typical of the local town and village dwellers, whose speech was falling away from the older dialect used by Robinson.
“Thanks Cyril, and it's going well,” replied Arthur, as he shook hands with the lad. Then they went into a playful jousting, wrestling in their handshake grip, just as Faraken had described Robin A’hood and Little John doing, so many years earlier in Sharewood Forest. Though he was a strong and street-wise lad, Cyril soon found himself laughing as his back was forced playfully down over a clap of dried cow dung. Then, as Arthur turned, and flipped Cyril past it, into a bed of bilberry, he continued: “Yes, if you think about it, nature and the countryside is in the
blood of every man, woman and child on earth. It just needs re-awakening. If you consider the length of our ancestors’ journey through time, it was only a breath ago that every human being grew up amidst greenery and wildlife.”
“Well, ’appen that explains why Ah so likes cumin’ up ’ere,” replied Cyril. Then he saw the newly formed gap in the wall, and the scattered stones. “Hey, ’oos bin pulling all this wall dahn?” he continued, sounding as if someone had stolen his boots. “It looks a right mess. Has one o’ them drunken motor car drivers crashed into it?”
Then, from the topstone on which he was sitting, old Robinson rose up like a long forgotten volcano, ignored at one’s peril. “Nay lad,” he thundered, “were ta born yistady? Tha can’t stand a guid wahl on rotten legs. Tha’ nayds ter hexcuvate fer som rayt fahnditions.”
Cyril then turned to Arthur for his next question, for he knew that a villager’s lack of country knowledge would be better understood by the newcomer. “But Mester King, what are yon’ three stoowans for, sticking up in t’field?”
As the three men turned to face her nest, Harkin had to combat her usual instinct to flee, but her hithsense and the tones of voice told her that all was safe and she could rest back onto her three eggs and the one hungry nestling.
With a knowing smile to Robinson, Arthur then revealed the mystery to Cyril: “In a couple of days I shall be harrowing this field, to level the old mole hills and spread the cows’ dung. Those rocks which I’ve rammed into the ground mark the nest of a skylark, so that I can steer round it, and save her young from being crushed.”
At the time, Harkin was only able to sense the good news of what the newcomer was saying, but later, when the roaring chains of the mechanical harrows cleared each standing rock by half a wingspan, she understood. Those stones, set into the earth by a new Arthur, gave her hope that a new caring for the wild creatures could awaken in the humans. She never forgot that day, for she had seen with her own eyes the foundation stones of the newcomer’s plan for a refuge for all the wildlife of the hillside, and she began to realize that this man could indeed be the long
promised return of Arthur. So it came about that the wild ones began to call him Nuwarth.

As soon as her young were fledged and had flown the nest, Harkin paid a visit to Faraken to thank him for the guidance and light he had imparted to her. “All for a reason, all for a purpose, my dear Harkin,” came the old bird’s reply. “This new owner of Wildwood farm has been given the vision to build what we wild ones call a pilot Camelot. There are signs of an awakening in the human spirit, and the beginnings of a respect for wildlife. The Starminders tell us that within fifty of the human’s years, the hunting, killing and trapping of wildlife could go out of fashion. They say that some of the humans will even form groups dedicated to protecting us. That’ll make a change, since they’ve been shooting at us for three hundred years! It seems to us that this new Arthur has taken on a task that is almost impossible.”
Then Faraken looked down at the rock, and an immense sadness came over him. He continued in little more than a whisper: “Meanwhile the darkest age of all is about to descend on the animal kingdom. It will bring a suffering beyond anything we wild ones ever knew. The humans have invented an artificial way to force birds and mammals to bear offspring. But the young ones are to be taken from their mothers at birth. In the case of the birds they are being held as flocks without flight, never again to see a tree or a flower, the earth or the sun. Each flock is being compressed into what looks like a monstrous nest of steel and stone, without even an opening to the sky. These are the lost ones, and most of the humans neither know nor care what is being done to them, for they are mostly kept far away from where the humans live.”
“Then what hope is there?” pleaded Harkin. “And what can I do to help, or should I hide to make sure they don’t capture me?”
“There’s no danger of that,” replied Faraken, “we’re not big enough for them to bother with. But you will be needed to help bring tarnlight to a child who is to be born to Nuwarth and Imogen at Wildwood farm. I have been told by the Starminders that with others of the caring humans, this child is to play a critical part in ending what their historians will one day call ‘the age without conscience’. ”

To Be Continued