And welcome to my newsletter for January, 2014! Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these newsletters regularly, please drop me an email or subscribe online from my website (http://www.JefMurray.com ) or at:http://groups.google.com/group/Mystical_Realms . Notices of events and items of interest are at the bottom of this email.
• I’ve added 3 new painting images to my website at www.JefMurray.com . These include “Pilgrim”, “All Souls’ Day”, and “In the Palace of the Emperor”. The first and last of these can be found in my Narnia->Paintings gallery, the second can be found in the Middle-earth->The Third Age->Lord of the Rings gallery. You can also find them all by going to http://www.JefMurray.com and clicking on the “Newest Works->Paintings” link at the top, left.
• In addition to the three paintings, I have added a full dozen new graphite sketch images to the Middle-earth, Narnia, Fairy Tale, and Soul & Spirit sketch galleries. You can see all of the latest together by clicking on the “Newest Works -> Sketches” link at the top, left my home page, www.JefMurray.com .
• Many painting and sketch originals are available for sale, and all are available in print form. To find out availability and cost for any item not listed, please contact me directly!
• The 2014 Jef Murray – AL3P Middle-earth Calendar is still available and selling briskly! With half of all proceeds going to support A Long Expected Party III (AL3P) in Kentucky in September, 2014, this calendar features painting images from the entire spectrum of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium. To learn details, and to order yours, see: www.JefMurray.com
• For all Narnia fans, the first ever 2014 Jef Murray Chronicles Calendar remains available. The calendar features original portraits, scenes, and landscapes inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales. Each month features one painting image and one sketch; the calendar also includes moon phases, equinoxes and solstices, many major holidays, and visual cues for other dates of significance. To inquire as to its status and availability, please contact Jef directly.
• Seer: A Wizard’s Journal is continuing to be well received, and several very kind reviews have been posted of late. For more about this collection of tales, poems, and illustrations, see: www.JefMurray.com
• A Conference on the spiritual underpinnings of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien will be held in Atlanta on January 18 (just over a week away!) at St. Peter Chanel Catholic church in Roswell. Featuring Joseph Pearce, Phillip Thompson, and myself, this conference will explore many aspects of Tolkien’s works. I am honoured to have been invited to speak on Tolkien’s impact on the visual arts, and on themes of light and darkness in his writings, as translated into paintings, sketches, and other media. Please see http://stpeterchanel.org/adult-education/events for more details, and to register for this event!
• The Urbana Theological Seminary (see http://www.urbanaseminary.org/ ) is hosting a conference on Saturday, February 1, 2014, on the theme “Tolkien and the Arts”. This is their second annual Tolkien conference, and I have been invited as a guest and keynote speaker for the conference. I’ll be speaking on the topic of art, and fantasy art in particular, as a spiritual vocation. Full details on the conference can be found here: http://tolkienconference.com/
• The third great gathering of Tolkien fans in Kentucky is being planned for September, 2014! A Long Expected Party 3 (acronym “AL3P) is completely booked, but you can still be put on the waiting list to attend on-site. You can also still register, and offsite lodging is available. I’m delighted to announce that I will be one of three guests at the event, along with Dr. Michael Drout and Dr. Amy Sturgis. For more information, see: http://www.alep-ky.us/
The storm hit without warning. Felan was by the fireside, piling green logs onto roaring embers when the first gusts of arctic wind rattled all of the windowpanes of his cottage at once. The old man straightened up and glanced out at the darkening sky. Hazel, his huge white cat, stood bolt upright, all her hair on end, and ran into the adjoining room and under the bed. Felan coughed as gusts of smoke, driven down the chimney by the gale, filled the room.
"Noel!" he cried, and hobbled toward the front door. The latch was barely turned before the door slammed open, nearly knocking him down. Snow and ice pelted past the open threshold, and the wind rocketed into the house, flaring the fire and roaring up the chimney. Felan steadied himself against the doorframe and peered, blinking against the wind and ice, out toward the road. Already the snow was falling so thickly that he could scarcely see the front gate.
"Noel! Noel!" His voice sounded feeble in the roar of the hurricane. He managed to grab the door and push it nearly closed, still straining to see out into the blizzard. But all was a deadly swirl of ice, snow, and debris.
Felan had lived at the end of the old Blackharrow road for most of his life. There, he had brought his bride, Maire, when they were newly wedded, and together they had raised three boys in the heavy-timbered cottage that he had built himself. Of these, only one had married and given them a grandchild: Noel. And she was all that Felan had left now that Maire and Noel's father had succumbed to fever five years before.
Maire had delighted in her granddaughter and had begun to teach her many of her own skills, even when she was just a toddler, so that now she was as independent as any boy, yet skilled in sewing, cooking, and healing to boot. She had also been gifted with some of Maire's foresight, and could read aright omens and signs of events that were yet to come, although Felan had always looked at these gifts with suspicion.
But Noel had not been concerned with the weather that afternoon, when the skies had first threatened. She had taken Wolf along with her down to the east pasture to gather the sheep into the barn for the night. More than an hour had passed since Felan had watched them trek down the lane, the border collie coursing back and forth, scenting game under the eaves of the forest. There had been a few snowflakes falling, but none stuck to the last of the fallen autumn leaves. Felan had been uneasy, though, and he had brought extra firewood up to the back steps and stoked the fire against the January chill. "No use tempting fate," he thought.
But now there was little he could do other than to light the lamps in the cottage windows and wait. The blizzard continued, and beneath the buffeting of the wind, Felan could hear the rough hewn timbers of his cottage creaking. Outside, the snow began to pile up in earnest, but whenever he opened the front door, lantern in hand, to see whether there might be any sign of Noel or Wolf, all he saw was the seething wall of white.
By now, full night had fallen, and Felan began to think that Noel must have taken shelter somewhere between the pastures and the cottage, although he knew of no place that could provide much protection.
"I never should have let her go," he said aloud to the cat, who had returned to the fire. "But what can be done now? If I go out into the storm myself, I'm just as likely as not to be blinded and lose my own way back." He stood by the windows, keeping the lanterns burning as brightly as possible and praying that their light might penetrate the maelstrom of snow, leaves, and limbs without.
Another hour passed, but with no lessening of the gale. By now the snow was over three feet deep. Felan tried once to tether himself with a rope to one of the posts just outside the cottage door and to force his way down the lane. When he had played out all of the two hundred feet of hemp, he could no longer even discern the cottage lights through the gloaming. But he stood there calling out into the darkness, "Noel! Wolf! This way!"
He listened for an answer, but none came. He continued calling until his voice was hoarse and his limbs began to tremble with the cold; then, reluctantly, he pulled himself back along the rope toward the cottage. When at last he stood before the threshold, he pushed open the heavy oaken door, entered, and stamped his feet and slapped his numbed hands before the fire until feeling returned to them.
"What am I to do?!" he wondered aloud. "What will I do if I lose Noel?!" Hazel simply looked at him, her eyes glowing green in the firelight. Felan rubbed his forehead and stood before the fire, trying to decide what was to be done.
Then came the knock upon the door.
At first he thought he was mistaken, and that a limb had broken and been flung by the gale onto the front stoop. But then the knock was repeated: slowly and heavily, as if the blows came from the very heavens above.
"Noel!" Felan exclaimed. He opened the door. Outside, the storm was still in full force, but filling the blackness of the open space was a tall figure, heavily cloaked. Felan fell back with a gasp.
"Who are you?!" he asked.
"One in need of shelter..." came the response. The voice was muted, and Felan immediately saw why. The man had a muffler wrapped around his mouth. Frozen grey hair stuck out from his eyebrows and from beneath an enormous pointed hat, which the stranger held in place with one gloved hand. In the other was grasped a tall staff that reflected the light from the fire curiously.
"May I come in...?" asked the cloaked man.
"Yes, of course!" said Felan, stepping aside and ushering the stranger to the fireside. He took the proffered cloak, shook off the snow, and hung the garment on a hook by the door. The man stretched his hands over the fire, warming them.
"Yes, I know," answered the stranger. "My name is Azarias. But, that's quite the storm! I was beginning to think that I'd never make my way out of the forest! It came on suddenly and caught me quite unprepared. You are fortunate that you were at home when it hit."
"Yes. Yes, that's true," said Felan. "But the rest of my family were not as fortunate...."
"What do you mean?"
"My...my granddaughter," said Felan, "She's still...still...."
"You don't mean to say she's out there yet, man?!" The stranger turned from the fire and stared at Felan. "When did you expect her back?!"
"Hours ago," said Felan, rubbing his eyes. "Noel left at least an hour before the storm broke."
"Where was she bound?"
"To bring the sheep back to shelter. She went out with our border collie, Wolf. But we didn't expect such a storm...such a sudden change."
"...Nor did I..." said Azarias, stroking his thawing beard, "And about that, I wonder.... But, first things first. Which way did she go?"
"Down the lane. I tried to follow and to call to her in the storm, thinking she might have gotten stranded or confused, but I could hear no answer. So, I returned; at least if I stayed here I thought I could keep the lights burning to guide her homeward."
"Quite right, too!" said Azarias. "But for that, I'd never have found your house in this blizzard...."
He strode to the front window and peered out into the darkness. Then he returned to the fireside, lost in thought.
"I may be able to help you, Felan," he said. "Just let me think for a moment...." He rummaged through his pockets. "This storm, if storm it is, shows no signs of abating, so we would do well to try to find her without delay. I can provide some light in such a cyclone, but little guidance. For that, we'll have to rely on you."
"Well, I know where she was bound, but with all of the snow, there's no way to track her. Worse still, I fear we'll both be lost if we simply try to follow her path; we'll not know how to find our way back to the cottage."
"You might not, but I trust I'll be able to bring us back here safely once we set out. No," continued Azarias, "it's the finding of her that will take some doing. She might have gone anywhere once she knew she needed shelter. Noel is her name? Yes, I recall encountering a Noel in these parts. A brave girl, and wiser than her years might suggest! But, I think I know of a way we might discover her whereabouts." The tall man pulled a small wooden box from the pocket of his waistcoat and opened it.
"Tell me, Felan, have you any experience with...hmmm...items that some might deem magical?"
"I don't exactly know what you mean..."
"No, I suppose not. Well, no matter. It is worth a try, in any event. Would you do me the favor of putting this ring on your finger?"
"Yes, sorry, I know it's a bit of an odd request, but please humour me."
"We're trying to find my granddaughter, and you want me to try on a piece of jewelry?"
"It does rather sound absurd when you put it that way, but I do have a reason for asking. Would you mind?" The tall man reached his hand toward Felan, a simple golden ring resting in the palm of his hand.
Felan considered for a moment that his guest might, in fact, be quite mad. "Likely it's the storm," he thought, "he may be having some sort of a post-traumatic reaction to over-exposure." But he remained outwardly calm and took the ring from the stranger.
"You just want me to put the ring on?" he said.
"Yes, please," said Azarias.
Felan placed the ring upon his left hand. "Odd," he thought, "that it fits my ring finger so perfectly. Why, I've not worn a ring on that finger since Maire...since Maire...."
Azarias stepped up to him and looked him in the eye. "Felan!" he said, "Felan! Look at me!"
Felan looked up reluctantly from the ring on his hand. It now appeared strangely beautiful to him. "Like my old wedding band," he thought.
"Felan," said Azarias, "I need you to concentrate on Noel."
"Noel…? Yes, Noel..." Felan shook his head and glanced around the room as if seeing it for the first time. "Where is she?" he asked.
"That is what I need you to tell me. Now, we must get you out into the storm to find her." Azarias helped the dazed man into his coat, and then led him toward the door.
"She's out there, Felan," Azarias said, "Do you understand me? Think now; you'll know where to look if you can just concentrate. Can you think where she might be?"
Felan rubbed his forehead. "Yes...yes...I seem to see her…in my mind, if you follow me…." He reached for the door. Azarias followed him out into the night. The snow was drifting now into banks nearly six feet high, and it was showing no signs of abating, but the two men linked arms and pressed forward against the gale. With each step away from the cottage, there was less and less light with which to find their way, but they moved steadily, Azarias using his staff to feel the ground before them with each step.
Felan kept tugging them forward, and over time became more eager and more certain of the direction they must take. Azarias let him lead once it became clear that, by some virtue of the ring that he had given him, Felan seemed no more lost in the blizzard than he would have been on a clear sunny day in the springtime.
The two continued to fight the winds and the pelting of the ice and snow, however, and it was more than an hour before Felan stopped. They appeared, through the dim and uncertain light, to be standing at the edge of a large cluster of cedar trees. Felan dropped onto his gloved hands and knees and began shoveling the snow away from the thick white bank before them. Azarias joined him, and soon they had moved enough snow away to crawl forward.
Within the ring of cedars, they could feel bodies in the snow before them, and they soon found that they had come upon the flock of sheep, all of which had been herded by Noel and Wolf into the copse for protection. They shouted for Noel, and soon a sleepy voice answered them from the center of the frozen nest.
Once they had shaken Noel fully awake, they tried to rouse as many of the sheep as possible, but soon abandoned the effort, as none seemed willing to leave the comparative warmth of the cedar copse. Wolf, however, was eager to stay with his mistress, so the four of them crawled back out into the open snow.
“Where now?” asked Felan, yelling into Azarias’s ear to be heard against the Banshee screeching of the gale.
“Follow the light!” Azarias yelled back. He struck his staff upon the ground, and a bluish glow appeared above it. He pushed his way forward, stopping every few feet to make sure that Felan and Noel were still with him. Wolf followed up behind all of them, barking if Noel or Felan lost their footing.
In this fashion, all four returned to the cottage just as the winds began to subside and the final flakes were settling from the passing storm. The first hint of dawn glimmered through thinning clouds in the east. Once inside the cottage, Azarias built up the fire and put the kettle on, and they all huddled as close to the warmth as they dared. Soon all but Azarias were sound asleep, exhausted by their ordeal.
With the coming of daybreak, Azarias rose slowly, checked on the weather, and then quietly knelt beside Felan, who was snoring softly in his chair. Hazel came up to his legs and rubbed against them, purring. He lifted Felan’s hand and slid the golden ring from his finger. Then he held it aloft and looked at it closely in the morning light.
“Is that a ring?” Noel had stirred and was looking at him.
“Ah, you’re awake then! And unharmed? Good! Do you by any chance remember meeting me before?”
“Yes, I think so. I was a little girl. We met in the forest and had a lovely chat. It was when grandmother was still alive, and I told her all about it. She seemed to know you, too.”
“Yes, she did, and some day I would like to speak more to you about her. But…you were asking about the ring.” Azarias held it out for Noel to see. “It is a very unusual one. In fact, without it, we likely would never have found you in the storm.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the ring has a certain power to, well, amplify one’s abilities in some cases, but those cases are very specific.”
“Ah, then it’s what grandmother used to call draíocht...”
"Yes, that is what it was called in olden times...magic. But this came not from the old country, but from these very hills. Running below us, and spreading web-like throughout the most ancient of all the world’s mountains, the Appalachians, there yet run veins of gold that were prized many thousands of years ago. Great civilizations were built upon the treasures that lie in those earthen depths, and this was but one of the many talismans crafted from that hoard."
"How did it find its way to you?"
Azarias looked at Noel sharply. "Maire taught you well. Truly, such things come only to those they will. I sought not for this ring; it found me. But until tonight I was unsure what power it might possess. I took a chance with your grandfather, and for your sake, that proved well."
"What power does it have, then?"
"I am still learning that answer, but this is what I have come to believe, and last night confirmed it, at least in part: the wearer of this ring can see through air, fire, stone, wood, water, and even time itself, yet will still perceive clearly that which he most desires. Not only this, but the object of his desire sees him, and tries, if it may, to come to him."
"It is a ring of finding, then?"
"Yes, in a way; or so you might call it. But, it has other properties that I have not fully come to understand. That is why I use it sparingly, and will not leave it with another if it can be helped.
“Your grandfather, even in desperate straits, needed coaxing to use it properly. His first thought was for Maire, and I rather expected that. But to allow him to dwell on her while the ring was in his possession…well, it’s best not to think of what might have befallen. But, his most pressing desire was to find you and to bring you safely home, and that proved the stronger.” Azarias stepped toward the front door and began to collect his staff and hat.
“Will you be leaving us? And so soon?” asked Noel.
“Yes, I think it best. I should like to put the ring far from your grandfather’s reach, because it might occur to him that he would want to wear it once again; such objects often have that effect upon those that have once made use of them. And I would not want that temptation to be upon him. In fact, I am hoping that he will not remember much about the ring at all once he awakens.”
“I promise not to mention it to him,” said Noel. “But tell me, are you never tempted to try on the ring for yourself? I mean, isn’t there something important that you long for that the ring might help you to find? Is it not a constant temptation for you, too?”
Azarias looked at her once again. “So much like her grandmother,” he thought. “I wonder how she’ll use her talents in the coming years? Not for evil, I think….”
“It is a fair question. I know a great deal about you, and about your grandmother and grandfather, but you know little of me, even though I have seen you from afar on many occasions, and was a close friend of Maire long before you or your father were born. I am often in these woods, and in the forgotten caverns beneath them, seeking objects from ages past lest they come to light and cause harm in our own day.
“I’m a collector of sorts, but also a guardian. Much that was good and much that was evil has come and gone through these woods and mountains throughout the long millennia, and even though there was a time when all around us was untainted, that was ages upon ages ago.
“So, you see, my greatest desire is to continue on the path laid before me, and to discover what I can and to protect those I may. That is my own heart’s deepest desire, and it is only one’s deepest desires that the ring stirs. So, you see, it can have little effect on me.”
“So,” said Noel, “you’ve tried it on?”
“Oh, yes, I did once.”
“And it did nothing to you?”
“Nothing. And so it is, I think, with most such draíocht, as your grandmother would have called it. Its effects always tell you more about the wielder than about the talisman itself.
“Beneath this very mountain lie the ruins of a kingdom that was once immensely rich. The ruler of that realm found in these hills precious metals in such abundance that the river beds themselves ran golden with the flecks flushed from the mines. It was this ring that helped that ruler to found his kingdom, and it was the ring that helped destroy it as well. There were many poems written about it in the olden tongues….”
“But what was the name of that kingdom, and how came it to be destroyed?”
“That, my dear, is a tale we must save for another time. I am in earnest about wishing to leave before your grandfather wakes. I also have doubts about last night’s storm. It may have been nothing but a sudden squall, or its origin may be more sinister; I cannot say at present. I may have stirred up bad memories in the depths. But if the storm was sent to hinder me, I would prefer that you and your grandfather not be endangered again by its maker.
“So, for now, look after Felan, keep well, and remember those things that your grandmother has taught you; for a time is coming when all that she passed on to you may serve you well indeed. Until our next meeting, then….”
Azarias, who had been putting on his coat and hat, now turned to bow to Noel. He raised her hand and kissed it, and then he opened the door and strode out into the brilliant snow. Following the remnants of the trail they had made on their return to the cottage, he followed the road and was soon out of sight.
Noel returned to the fire and put another blanket around Felan, doing so as quietly as she was able. Even so, he stirred enough to murmur, over and over again, as if in a dream, “Maire…Maire….”