Rough Draft of St. Patrick and the Irish Snakes
Seanchai (Story Teller)
Gather ‘round, my dear hearts, and I will once more tell you the story of a boy, a saint, and the snakes of Eire. It is long and has many tellers. It bounces between different times like a ball played with by children. If you need to sleep, that is no matter. I will continue after you wake up and complete your chores.
Some people believe there were never any snakes in Ireland, others that there were many snakes until St. Patrick drove them off a cliff into the sea. We know there were and are snakes here, though few are privileged to see them. This is a story then, not only of people, but our slithering friends.
There was one boy who came to know snakes as no one ever has before or since. His name was Sedar, and he was the son of a Druid and a Brehon. He learned much about poetry, the law, and magic from them. It could be said he learned even more from serpent souls.
Here I will pass the telling on to one of Sedar’s friends, Ssilass. You will not see him but his voice is clear. Listen…
The boy was warm, and he never stepped upon us, as some humans like to do. Why so many hate us I cannot wrap around. This boy liked us, and over time, learned much about us, including our sibilant speech, as others could have done if they only listened. And they think we are deaf! Sometimes I coiled around Sedar’s arm and whispered in his ear. I tasted his curiosity. He would giggle, tickled by my tongue. In this way, snaky secrets he learned, and grew wise.
The little ones would curl up in his hand, enjoying the warmth. To begin with he thought he held us. Over time, he realized it was the other way around. It is a pleasure to teach those who wish to learn.
It seems we have started the story in the middle. Sedar was transformed over time into something much more than a boy. The beginning starts before Sedar was born. Another major figure, Maewyn (Patricius) Succat, starts out in this tale as a rebellious teenager, and through through time, faith and works, also became something greater. As a youth he hated Eire at first, having been taken here against his will. He was indifferent to religion at the time; that was to change dramatically.
Long ago, when Britain was still ruled by Rome, Irish sailors would make raids on Breton households for booty and slaves. Maewyn was one of these. Listen to his story…
I did not realize nor appreciate how our Lord was working His Will in my life when I was a callow youth. God sent me trials and tribulations to enlighten me. By the time I was sixteen I had sown my share of wild oats, and moreover committed a greater sin I will not speak of in these pages. When the Lord calls me to the next life, I will learn if my atonement is sufficient to admit me into His Mansion. My path from spoiled youth to devoted shepherd of the souls of Eire was a wandering one.
I was born to a family of privilege and wanted for nothing. My father was middling high in the Roman hierarchy. We had a beautiful house, servants, slaves, the finest of victuals, with the respect and envy of good Roman Britons everywhere. I believed that I was entitled to such privilege, with no question. I was indifferent to my religious studies. Arrogance was the chief component of my being. This was not to be tolerated, and I came to misery, reaping the seeds that I had sown. God in His wisdom brought me into the low status of a slave in a foreign land. It was thus:
During the night, the pirates sailed to our dock , entering our home and attacking the household while my parents were away. There were screams, some of them mortal. There was shouting in Irish, a language I knew a bit of from a servant. I grabbed my sword and ran to the bedroom doorway to join the fight, but was met there by an Irishman much more skilled than I in warfare; he struck the sword out of my hand. I believed I saw my death in his murderous face, but he wrestled me to the floor and bound my hands behind my back. He put the point of his sword firmly against my neck. As he directed me down the hall at sword point, I saw splashes of blood on the walls. A woman servant I liked well was lying on the floor with her throat cut. Tears blurred my vison as I stepped over her corpse. With other members of the household, I was herded out onto the dock, then aboard the pirate vessel. There were five of us: three young men, a woman and her daughter. They had selected those they thought would make good slaves; of those we left behind, I could not know how many yet lived. It seemed unlikely that much mercy was shown.
There was man who shouted orders to the others. He advised us, in Brittonic, that we would live if we we obeyed, and that those who rebelled would be thrown overboard. A long rope was passed behind our backs, made fast to the bindings on our wrists, attaching us to each the other. The ship was cast off from the dock. Thus, our miserable servitude was begun.
I do not know how long the voyage lasted. Some of us retched violently, to have sailors throw buckets of cold salt water over us. The more we protested, and shook with the drenching, the more was the merriment of our captors. As my gorge rose and my hatred increased, I glared as though my gaze could kill the bastards. This was thought highly amusing. Over the long hours my rage was transformed into gut wrenching despair. Despair became hopeless exhaustion, which raveled into sleep.
When I awoke I heard orders being shouted to make fast the ship. The sun was westering, high in the sky. Nothing seemed real; I thought I must be dreaming. I discovered otherwise when I tried to get on my feet, to realize my hands were still tied behind my back, and tethered to the other prisoners. “Rise and shine!” the boss bellowed, directing two pirates to pull the tether line taut between them. This forced us to our feet, stretching my shoulders until I thought they would pop out the sockets. Once again, our groans and protests were the cause of much hilarity among our captors. We were pulled over to the gangplank, trying not to stumble. On the dock there were a few well-dressed Irish men, and women in fine linen, looking at us with curiosity.
TO BE CONTINUED
(comments and feedback are more than welcome)
author’s note: In my research, I discovered to my surprise St. Patrick did indeed serve six years as a slave in Ireland, and another year to make his way home. He returned after clerical training to convert many Irish to Catholicism.
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