Long ago, way back in ancient times, there was an idyllic land called Shelmalay, which some scholars believe was located somewhere in what is now present-day Ireland. Shelmalay was ruled by a great king named Gallamore and his queen Felicia. King Gallamore was concerned with the welfare of all the people. He simply wanted everyone to be happy, and he did his best to see that all of his policies and laws were fair to all citizens, not just the wealthy and those in the high classes. Needless to say, he was loved by all people in Shelmalay, but this story is not about King Gallamore and Queen Felicia. It’s about the king’s younger brother, a handsome fellow named Landor.
Landor was tall and athletic with dark wavy hair and a dimpled chin and a winning smile. He was in the dreams of all the women in Shelmalay. Indeed, many mothers hoped that their daughter would win his heart and lure him into a life of connubial bliss, but all to no avail. Years earlier, when he was just a young lad, Landor had dedicated himself to the service of his country. As soon as possible, he entered the military academy and trained to be a professional soldier. At the time of this tale, he was the commander of Shelmalay’s small military force, and his sense of duty did not permit him to think in terms of the attainable felicities of connubial love.
One day King Gallamore received reports that barbarians from the Wilderness to the north had crossed the border and were pillaging and killing the farm people who lived in that remote area of Shelmalay. King Gallamore sent Landor and a small band of soldiers to drive the barbarians out and restore peace to the territory. The mission was accomplished, but in the skirmishes, Landor was badly wounded, so badly that his men did not think they could bring him back to the palace in time for expert medical treatment. A messenger was sent ahead of the party to alert Friar Oakes and Bovel, the royal physician, to make ready for a medical and spiritual emergency.
Finally, the soldiers reached the palace, and Landor was alive, but just barely, when his men brought him to Bovel. The kindly physician quickly examined the dying Landor, shook his head sadly, and said to the king, “Sire, he has almost no chance. The wounds are deep and badly festered. I advise you to prepare for the worst.”
Still, Bovel directed his helper, a comely damsel named Emerald, to sit by Landor’s side and minister to him. Like a good modern nurse of our time, Emerald did everything she could for Landor. She dressed his wounds, applied cold compresses to his fevered brow, and, from time to time, gave him sips of water. But she also held his hand and sang softly to him. She sang of the fresh fragrance of a spring morning after a gentle rain, she sang of the rich fecundity of a summer garden, she sang of the majestic beauty of an autumn rural landscape, and she sang of the crystal purity of a moonlit winter night after an all-day snowfall. She sang also of early morning sunrises and evening sunsets. She sang of gently flowing rivers and wind-swept mountain peaks. She sang of the flowers and the fields, the forests and the villages during celebrations. She sang the love songs of women for men and men for women. She sang the songs of the celebrated nightingale.
Then a miracle happened. Landor’s body began to fight the infection, slowly at first, then stronger, and then with a life force that drove the infection completely out of his body. Bovel was amazed and reported the good news to the king. “Sire, your brother will recover, but he will be badly crippled. I must be honest and tell you that his days as a soldier are no more.”
As the physician predicted, Landor’s recovery was slow and sometimes excruciatingly painful because he had to re-learn how to walk. Throughout the recovery period, the good Emerald remained by his side, encouraging him when he despaired and celebrating when achieved a small success. When his recovery was completed, as much as possible given his wounds, Landor and Emerald were married.
Two years later, Emerald announced she was with child. Landor was overcome with happiness, and, indeed, the whole country rejoiced. Emerald was convinced that the baby would be a male, so she and Landor decided to name the child Godwin.
Months later, little Godwin was born, but Emerald died in giving birth. Many women did in those days.
Beside himself with grief, Landor disappeared and God only knows where he went. No doubt he wandered the countryside heartbroken and nearly insane in mourning for Emerald. He came back in a fortnight and went to see his son. As he looked down on the sleeping baby, Landor was overcome with love. His heart melted and he said softly, “My son, my boy, my child.”
That night Emerald came to Landor in a dream; “I didn’t want to leave you., but now you must care for the child. Protect him with your strength and your love and make sure he learns the important things he needs to know. Help him to grow up strong and brave and kind. Promise me you will do what I ask.”
Landor gave his promise and did exactly as Emerald had requested. In the first three years of the child’s life, he was growing up happy and healthy, nourished by his father’s love and care. Godwin was, as people today would say, the apple of his father’s eye. And Landor was Godwin’s only hero.
Then when Godwin was four years old, Landor was summoned to meet with Gallamore who explained that his ambassador to neighboring kingdoms had suddenly taken ill and was on his deathbed. Gallamore needed someone with wisdom whom he could trust, and the first person he thought of was Landor.
Landor had a problem. He was a person who had a keen sense of duty to his country, but he had also made the promise to Emerald to care for his son. If he agreed to be the ambassador he would be gone from Godwin for long periods of time. Landor explained the problem to King Gallamore.
“Not to worry,” the good king replied. “Felicia ad I will watch over the child as if he were our own. You can go on your missions knowing that Godwin will be well cared for.”
Little Godwin was not pleased with Landor’s news that he was going to be gone for long periods of time. In fact, he begged his father, “Please don’t leave me. Mother left me, and now you are leaving me.”
Godwin was not impressed when Landor tried to explain that he owed a duty to his country. “Then take me with you. Please take me with you,” Godwin said in his piping little voice.
“Dear son, I cannot do that. The journey to Wexford is long and arduous, and there would be little you could do when we reach the destination. It is far better that you remain here with your friends and your aunt and uncle. They will love you and care for you until I return.”
Landor was gone for a fortnight, and when he returned, Godwin flung himself into his father’s arms and embraced him for a long time, overjoyed at Landor’s return and reluctant to release him from his loving embrace.
To respond to such a welcome, Landor lifted Godwin up, kissed him, looked into his eyes and for an instant caught a glimpse of Emerald’s face and thought he heard strains of her voice in song. Overcome with this brief memory of happy times, Landor sang to Godwin
Did you think I would ride off and leave you
When there’s room on my horse for two?
Climb on right up here behind me
The horse can go just as fast with two.
Godwin was beside himself with joy. “Can we go fishing tomorrow? And the next day? And the day after that? And the day after that? Can you teach me to ride a horse? Can you fix a kite for me to fly? Oh, father, I am so glad you’re home. I have missed you so much. Please don’t go away and leave me again.”
A couple of years later, Landor was summoned by the king and informed that there was a misunderstanding about a boundary with Windsor, the neighboring kingdom to the south, and he needed Landor to travel there and try to solve the problem. Of course, Godwin importuned Landor to take him along. “When you are older, I will take you with me. I certainly would enjoy your company, and we would have a good time together. But the journey is too long and arduous for a child of your age.”
Landor went to Windsor and solved the problem. His diplomatic eloquence and his wisdom as a military leader served him well as an ambassador. He was on his way home when he came upon a stable that was on fire. There were no other people around, and he heard the sounds of horses that were obviously trapped inside the stable. With no regard for his own safety, Landor went into the stable to free the horses. He had to hurry because the fire was well advanced.
With great skill Landor was able to release the horses and drive them from the fire, but one horse panicked, turned around, and went back into the inferno. Landor went after the horse and managed to turn it back around so that it was headed in the right direction. The horse dashed to safety, but before Landor could leave the stable, a large timber fell on him and trapped him. He died in the fire.
When Landor’s own horse came home without him, a search party was sent out to retrace the horse’s path to find out what had happened to its rider. The party found the stable that had burned and the body in the ruins they were sure was Landor, To the search party it was obvious what had transpired. Landor had died trying to save the animals that were caught inside and had become trapped himself.
Friar Oakes was summoned to assist the family with this dreadful task of informing Godwin of his father’s death. How do you tell a six-year old boy that his father is dead? How do you explain death so a child can understand? You cannot, but you have to try. The child has to know. But first, there is denial, “You are lying! It can’t be my father. There must be some mistake.”
Then comes anger, and poor Godwin was furious in denouncing the unfairness of life in taking his loving father away from him. Children have a keen sense of injustice because they are so often victims of it.
Then comes grief, and Godwin was inconsolable. He screamed and sobbed and would not calm down no matter who tried to comfort him.
That night Aunt Felicia decided that she would sleep in Godwin’s room in case he needed someone in the middle of the night. Her sleep was fitful and filled with strange, impossible dreams. The last dream was particularly haunting. She dreamed that a shadowy figure had entered the bedroom and had stood beside Godwin’s bed, and she thought she heard the apparition say, “I can’t leave without you, and this time you can go with me.” But it was just a strange dream, so she thought. Then she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next morning the sun rose with the promise of a beautiful day, but when Felicia went over to check on Godwin, she found him lifeless in his bed. Apparently sometime during the night, he had died peacefully in his sleep.
Loren Logsdon is a retired Professor of English from Western Illinois University and Eureka College.