Back in the Green Room, The Mechanicals were getting worried. They expected Nick’s anger to blow itself out relatively quickly, as it normally did, but after an hour, he still hadn’t returned.
‘Does anyone know the area? Where can he have got to?’ Nuggie asked. Bill raised his hand coyly, before saying, uncertainly:
‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.’
The Mechanicals just looked at him, perplexed, until Petey broke the silence.
‘Yeah, okay, Bill. Whatever. Just go out and have a look around the festival for him, yeah?’ Bill turned to go, declaring:
‘I’ll put a girdle round about the field in forty minutes’ and raced out.
There was a pause.
‘Girdle?! Does anyone have the faintest what’s he on about?’ asked Frankie.
As it turned out, Nick was now deep in the heart of the wood, and totally and utterly lost. He was exhausted after the performance and his anger-fuelled ramblings, which had led him to walk round and round in circles. Despite his desire to either eat or return to the Green Room, he found he really couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. Overwhelmed by sleep, he yawned and stretched demonstrably, before muttering:
‘I think I’ll crash out right here.’
And he did, falling flat into a soft, dense bed of cow parsley and rolling straight into sweet dreams.
However, his choice of bed turned out to be Weaver’s third mistake of the night.
What he hadn’t noticed was that his cow parsley bed was circled by a ring of hemlock. This brought him a disturbed and suffocating sleep that tempted nightmares out of the darkness.
It was in that ring of hemlock that the faeries found him, fresh with pranking instructions from Robin Goodfellow. They gathered around his head and prepared to create terrible mischief. Arrowhead took out the sheet of instructions, rubbed out the creases, cleared his throat and was about to begin, when Bogbean announced:
‘My faewie lord, this must be done wiv haste! For night’s swift dwagons cut the clouds full fast, and … ‘
‘Stop thy quail pipe, Varletess!’ Arrowhead snapped. ‘Here I have scrippage to enact our device! Let me recite!’ With a quick cough to clear his throat, he spoke to Weaver:
‘Out of this wood do not desire to go: thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no.’
The rest of the magic he whispered so quietly into Nick’s ear that not another soul heard it. After a short while he said ‘It’s done!’
‘Serves the plum right, if you ask me. Comin’ round sticking his frackin’ hoof in our gates without so much as a David Bowie.’ Newt mused.
‘This is exci-tingly!’ Bogbean squeed as she jumped up and down, clapping her hands.
‘Let us repose unto yonder tree and watch the metamorphosis of our quarry!’ Arrowhead suggested. So the four faeries trotted off and sat in the branches of a nearby oak.
The magic they performed had been used in Warwickshire before. In fact, Shakespeare himself had seen the outcome of it one Midsummer morning when he was a boy, and ended up using it in one of his plays. Good job the faeries hadn’t heard about it, otherwise the Sweet Swan of Avon would have been subject to what Newt referred to as ‘a snorter up the bracket’ and literary history would have taken an altogether different turn.
Anyway, it wasn’t a Donkey’s head that our band of faeries had attached to Nick Weaver. It was something far more wild. Slowly the shape of Nick’s face started to change. His jaws and nose cracked and creaked until they were elongated. His eyes seemed to slide round to the side of his head and his ears shot outwards. A thick reddish brown fur began to ooze from every pore and two long, sharp antlers ripped their way out of his scalp.
And as his face changed, so did his thoughts and dreams.
Lost in the darkness of his nightmares, the world seemed to twist and transform around Nick’s very being. With no idea about his physical transformation, Nick’s dreams saw him change from one animal to another.
In his dream he found himself underwater, swimming against the current, when he saw a worm wriggling seductively in front of him. Nick was still hungry for meat so thought he’d eat it. But, as he bit down on to the worm he felt the sharp stab of a hook as it pierced through his lip. It was agony. He tried to pull against it but, suddenly, he felt himself being jerked upwards and out of the water. For a few seconds, as he flew towards the bank, he couldn’t breathe. He gasped and gasped but just could not catch his breath…
The hook was gone and, in the next dream, he was flying freely, gasping in great lungful’s of fresh air. He seemed to have – don’t be ridiculous, how could he possibly have feathers? But he did; he was nervous in his heart and didn’t know why. He just knew he had to fly as quickly as he could and get away, so he beat his wings hard. Suddenly, there was a sharp cracking sound. It sounded like a gun? Why would someone be shooting at him? Slam, he felt the hot, sharp pellet puncture his breast and he was falling, falling to the earth. He closed his eyes in terror but the smash into the floor never came…
Instead, he opened his dreaming eyes and found himself in a cage, a cage so small he couldn’t even lift his head up. Beneath his feet were cold, hard bars he couldn’t balance on properly. And it stank, smelled terribly of chicken poo and- it was noisy. His ears filled with the low clucking of thousands of chickens. He panicked. He needed to peck his way out. But he couldn’t; he didn’t have a beak. Why didn’t he have a beak? What kind of a person would cut off a …
And then he dreamed he was in a queue, waiting. Terror gripped his heart again and he smelled blood. The stench of it was overpowering. How could he get out? He had to get out. A man came for him but he knew he didn’t want to go with him. And yet, he couldn’t go backwards because of the … cows. Why was he surrounded by cows? The man pulled him and tugged him towards another metal cage and his head was put into a harness. What were they doing? Why were they pulling his head up? He felt the deep, hot agony of the blade slice through his throat and he couldn’t breathe again. He tried to cry out but couldn’t and …
He was in a forest. But was this the real forest of the dream one? He felt the weight of antlers on his head. He knew there was a man behind him with a gun. But why were all these people trying to kill him? When the answer came it was terrifying but undeniable:
They wanted to kill him because he was an animal.
But this was a dream! He wasn’t an animal! If only he could wake up. If only he could …
Nick sat bolt upright in his cow parsley bed. He was awake! His ordeal was over! “It’s fine” he said to himself. “It was all a dream!”
At least that’s what he tried to say to himself, but instead of his voice, the deep, booming bellow of a stag echoed up his throat. He brought his hands up to his face but – it didn’t feel like his face at all. In panic, he wobbled to his feet and grabbed at his features in disbelief. There was no mistaking it – somehow or other he now had a stag’s head where his own head should have been. What if there were people around? What if he was seen? It appeared it wasn’t only his head which had become deer-like but his heart too. In sheer panic, Nick charged deeper into the woods, bellowing pitifully as he went.
Arrowhead, Frogbit, Bogbean and Newt laughed hysterically!
‘Let us after the interloper and execute sweet vengeance!’ Arrowhead chortled. They flew after Nick as fast as they could, buzzing round his already addled head, chanting:
‘We’ll follow you, we’ll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier:
Sometime a horse we’ll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn!’
Bill had long since returned from ‘girdling’, or whatever it was he was doing, and still there was no sign of Nick. The Mechanicals had become more and more concerned as the hours skipped by. As it was now approaching sunrise, the band decided to take matters into their own hands and head into the woods to find Nick themselves. Pete announced he would stay in the Green Room, in case Nick reappeared there, and he asked Bill to stay with him, just in case fans tried to get in. Unlikely, he admitted, but potentially quite serious. And so Rob, Nuggie, Frankie and Tom pulled on their gilets and headed out into the woodland.
In those dark hours before the dawn, the band struggled bravely through the branches and stinging nettles, calling quietly for their friend. They didn’t know why they were afraid, but something was making them very wary.
Eventually they found something.
‘Look!’ Frankie cried out ‘All of this – green stuff has been crushed down. It looks like someone was sleeping here!’
‘Nick?’ Nuggie called tentatively.
‘WEAVER?’ Tom yelled.
‘Shhhh.’ Rob silenced his friends. ‘Can you hear that?’
A deep moaning echoed all around them, as did the sound of rustling of vegetation.
‘Something’s coming.’ Nuggie quailed. ‘Something’s coming quickly!’ and it certainly seemed to be.
The moaning was now more like a bellow. The sounds of movement were more violent – twigs snapping, ground scraping.
The Mechanicals started to panic.
‘Run!’ yelled Rob.
‘Run where?’ Frankie asked. ‘The noise is everywhere!’
‘That way!’ Tom pointed (although quite why he had chosen that direction no one knew).
They ran as fast as they could, but the sound seemed to get closer and closer. It was behind them, in front of them, all around them.
The band burst into a small clearing and stopped, dead. Surely they couldn’t be seeing what they thought they were seeing. There, in front of them, was a creature with the body of a man and the head of a stag. Around its head flitted four little flies, which the stag-man-thing was trying to swat away. As they watched, the sun rose between the creature’s antlers.
‘It’s Herne!’ Nuggie gasped.
‘Who?’ asked Frankie, gently.
‘Herne the Hunter! He’s the god of the forest!’
There was a single, peaceful moment as The Mechanicals soaked up the mystical scene.
‘Erm, I’m sorry to bring this up, but the Herne man doesn’t look very happy with us!’ Rob noted. And he was right. The creature had turned its attention in their direction. Suddenly, it stretched out its arms, bellowed the loudest sound the band had ever heard and charged across the clearing in their direction. Rob, Nuggie, Frankie and Tom screamed at the top of their lungs and ran back into the wood.
Poor Nick. What a night he’d had. Lost in the woods, taunted by terrible dreams and little fly things buzzing round his head. If it even was his head, because he was still convinced something funny was going on. And now his friends had run away from him. He dropped to his knees and began crying. Hot, round tears ran through his fur and, as he cried, he lulled himself to sleep. Arrowhead, Frogbit, Bogbean and Newt landed on his snoozing carcass.
‘Did you spy his compatriots? Oh, how terror gripped them and they did’st flee!’
‘Lord!’ laughed Newt, ‘What numpies these mortals be!’
Frogbit hiccupped in agreement.
‘Oh wook,’ Bogbean began ‘The sun is bouncy bouncing in the sky! Time for us to go beddie-byes!’
And she was right. Sunrise meant it was time for them to head home. They took one last look down at Nick. Their magic was fading and his head started to morph back into his own features. The faeries flew off, giggling gleefully about the prank they had pulled that night.
Now back to his old self, Nick started to stir from his sleep. He momentarily forgot the horrors of the previous night, but they soon caught up with him. He sat bolt upright, looking around him in panic.
‘I have had – I have had a most rare vision.’ He began to himself. ‘I have had a dream, beyond any explanation to say what dream it was. I thought I was—well, I couldn’t even say. I thought I was – and I thought I had-’ He reached up to feel what he thought were his antlers, but they weren’t there. ‘I’d be called a fool if I said what I thought I had.’ He paused ‘I will write a song about this dream! It shall be called Weaver’s Dream, because it will be spun on decks across the world!’
With that, he leapt to his feet and ran back towards the Green Room.
The rest of The Mechanicals had arrived back in need of a sit down. Petey had arranged for some sweet tea to be delivered and was listening carefully to what the band were saying, but didn’t believe a word of it. Deer headed gods? Near Waitrose? He didn’t think so. He turned to Bill and whispered, quietly: ‘This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard!’
Bill nodded in agreement, before adding: ‘In the night, imagining some fear, how easy is a bush supposed a bear.’
Petey didn’t really know what he was going on about, so turned back to the band.
The door burst open and in swaggered Nick, dishevelled but triumphant!
‘Where are these lads?’ he cried ‘Where are these hearts?’
The rest of The Mechanicals jumped to their feet and hugged their friend joyously. Where had he been, they wanted to know? They’d been looking for him, they told him! They started to tell him about their adventures when Pete interrupted.
‘Erm, Nick, listen. Are you still hungry? It’s just I’ve been talking to a man, who knows a man who’s been able to get you a saveloy.’ He whipped it out of his pocket and held it up in front of the lead singer. There was a pause.
‘No thanks, Pete.’ Nick mused ‘I’m thinking of going vegan.’
Chaos erupted in the room.
Was rare meat eating Nick Weaver really thinking of going vegan? What had happened to him in the woods?
Nick shushed them all. ‘Never mind that. Listen, I’ve got an idea.’
Moments later, The Rude Mechanicals were in their places on the main stage, instruments at the ready. Nick turned to face his friends.
‘Let’s rock the ground whereon these sleepers be!’ he yelled, and the opening chords of ‘Love in Idleness’ reverberated across the field. Those who had camped over at the festival awoke, bleary-eyed but buzzing, to an early morning concert by their favourite band. It was just as awesome as the one the night before but, somehow, it seemed more magical.
At the back, just within the fringes of the woodland, four little figures stood watching the gig on a giant dock leaf. Three of them were dancing vigorously to the sweet sounds coming from the stage. The fourth, dressed like a little Victorian gentleman, started at the magnificent sight.
‘I am amazed,” gasped Arrowhead “and know not what to say!’
And, with that, he joined his faerie friends and the field full of humans, dancing a welcome to that most perfect of Midsummer mornings.
Photograph by Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography (https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc)