It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of our friend and colleague, Martin Pallot, this July. Martin became proof reader for Indie Shaman in 2013, we first published his poetry on the back cover of issue 21 in 2014 and more recently he had also taken on the role of sub-editor. But he is probably best known as ‘The Storyteller’; publishing his first story for Indie Shaman, A Deer Hunt, in our 10th anniversary edition back in 2016. And we are fortunate that he always kept me well supplied with stories ‘in advance’ so I can continue to share these with you for a year or so.
I first met Martin via Facebook in March 2013. Indie Shaman working ‘virtually’, we never met in person (one of those things that you assume will take place one day; not that it actually mattered) but we found we had quite a few things in common as well as our mutual belief in animism, including a connection to Croydon, odd eyes and a similar sense of humour. Martin and I chatted a lot over the phone during the weeks of lockdown just prior to his death, usually starting by talking about Indie Shaman, ending having ‘put the world to rights’ and having found something to laugh about along the way.
Martin’s friends who lived locally to him have planned a celebratory ceremony, to take place in Epping Forest hopefully during Spring 2021. If you would like more information about this you will find this on Swefn’s Edge website’s tribute page to Martin. I am unlikely to be able to attend in person but will give my thanks for him to the Hawthorn at the bottom of our garden and they will pass them on via the great plant network to the trees of Martin’s beloved Epping Forest, so my voice will be with his on the breeze and my drum will sound among those of his friends.
Thank you Martin: for your stories; your poetry; for all your hard work for Indie Shaman; for your wisdom and friendship; and for making the world a better place.
In tribute and with gratitude, I’m sharing here one of Martin’s stories, originally published in issues 41 and 42 of Indie Shaman magazine (July and October 2019).
The Tale of Tarolan
There was a time when tales were meat and drink.
In those times, away in the West, there lived a Lord who kept a tale teller called Tarolan and kept him well too, for he was a lord of his kind. Every night as the apple wood blazed in the hearth, sending its sweet smoke around the folk filled hall, Tarolan would take his drum and using its beat to echo and emphasise his words, would weave his tales. Perhaps telling of love won or love lost and the soft falling of a maiden’s tears; or a telling of an ancient war band steeped in blood and fame, running the gauntlet of fates shield wall; or of the spectre shrouded night, or of Dragons and graven Wyrd stones of the Elven realms. Whatever his tale, the folk would laugh or cry and call for more and as they never seemed to tire of his tales so the word wood of Tarolan always provided fresh timber and the Lord, proud of the skill of his talesman and of the fame he brought to his hall, rewarded him richly; he had the softest furs for his bed, the best meat and drink for his belly and the brightest of gold and silver for his arms and fingers.
So the seasons passed and all went well within the hall away in the West.
Then one morning early, Tarolan awoke and found his head was empty. No soulful maids or horn backed dragons or blood blessed battle axes; not even the tales that he’d told the last night or the old favourites he’d told a dozen times before to great acclaim, never mind new minted ones;
He reached for his drum and tapped its skin quietly but it just sang a dull thumping song and there was no inspiration in its voice.
Tarolan sat bolt upright in his soft bed; for if the tales were gone then so was place, reputation, gold and all when the Lord found out; but wait, wait, this evening was a long time off and last night the feasting had been lively; most like his head was still full of wood smoke and ale fumes. The morning was cold and clear, maybe he needed to get out and let the stale air blow away from his mind. So throwing on his clothes, his fur lined boots and Wolf skin cloak and forcing himself to walk slowly and quietly, for it would not do to let others see how nervous he was, he strolled out of his hut down to the main gate; smiled at the guards, crossed the open ground before the palisade and walked into the woods; breathing long and deep all the while.
It was as he entered the trees that he saw the slumped, hunched, skinny shape lying beneath an Oak.
At first he thought he’d found a dead body, some homeless, frozen in the night; and the words came suddenly to his mind that here was a corpse impaled upon the rime hard, glittering blades of grass but then, as he bent close, hand on dagger just in case, a baleful eye opened as red and rheumy as a bloodied egg in its shell and a voice as screeched and creaked as a tree falling to the axe said, “By the old earth, so there you are!”
Tarolan stepped quickly back, shocked, staring, silent.
“You don’t know me do yer? Well don’t stand there like some cracked menhir, help me up and I’ll explain”
A hand and arm as thin as skin and bone might be was extended towards him; Tarolan hesitated until the eyes were turned on him once more, then gritting his teeth he took a grip and slowly the creature began to rise from the ground. He almost let go as he felt the bones and ligaments grinding dry against one another and there came from the creature’s body a thousand clicks and cracks like a myriad of tiny twigs faintly breaking.
“Don’t flinch from me”, it said, “Tis your fault I’m like this!”
Finally Tarolan found his voice, “Me! I don’t even know you; I would never leave any soul thus!”
Again the eyes held his, “No, we’ve never met face to face but you’ve used me and ill-treated me nonetheless until last night when I decided enough was enough and left you”.
The creature now stood before him; it was almost bald, just a few wisps of white clinging to a blotched and scabrous scalp; the face below this with its blood rinsed eyes was so grey and crazed with lines it looked like a wall that had collapsed and been rebuilt from the rubble. Its body seemed as thin and wasted as the arm he still held but was, thankfully, shrouded in a threadbare and tattered black cloak which for some reason he seemed to vaguely recognise. The creature looked from his face to its arm and back again, Tarolan let go in understanding and it clutched its ruined raiments protectively about itself.
There was a silence – then;
“You – left?”
“Yes, you realised I was gone when you woke this morning”.
“Rubbish! My head was still foggy from last night’s feasting and I came for a walk to clear it because it was empty” … He stopped, his eyes widening … “empty of stories”, he finished quietly.
The creature grinned; it was not an amusing sight.
“Because I had gone, which is why we have never met; for I am from within you” –
“But how; why?” panic rising, this could not be!
“Because you needed to know; needed to learn how far you have drifted away from the Dragon!”
A questioning look.
“The Dragon! The Earth! The Dragon that dreams!”
The creature sucked its teeth, those that were left and shook its head in a vexed and disbelieving fashion.
Then it seemed to reach a decision.
“I’ll show you”
It took hold of his arm; there came a sense of rushing movement that made him stagger as the world took wing around him; just as quickly the movement stopped and he was thrown onto his hands and knees on top of a flat stone. He stayed there for a while as his head and heart and stomach settled, staring at the stone and the earth and mould that partly covered it, wishing that he might be like it; still. Then, as he stared, he thought he saw marks on the surface, marks that seemed deliberate; blankly curious he brushed the loose earth away until a word lay revealed.
Slowly he sat back and looked around. It was the ruins of what had once been a house; now roofless and wracked by wind and rain; two walls were just about standing, held up more by moss than mortar; the hearth still held its place among the drift of brambles and lost leaves and in front of it was the stone he knelt upon. He would not have known the place, but for the word.
“I was born here”.
“And you walked the land here”, the creatures voice made him jump, he had almost forgotten it. “Walked the land, climbed the trees and hills, followed the animal tracks, watched the Salmon leap, lay beneath the Moon and stars; and you dreamt your dreams and you listened. What you heard caused you to carve that word on the hearth stone, the heart of your home; for the world shared its dream visions with you, its stories, secrets and song lines. Because it knew you could hear its voice, it knew you went into the woods to fill your head not just to clear it!”
The creature’s voice had risen in volume as it spoke but now, like all good storytellers at a crucial moment, its voice dropped so Tarolan had to lean in to catch the words; even though he knew the tale.
“Then the sickness came; a sickness that devoured whole families as they shivered and cowered by their hearths and it took you too but though you sweated and shook you did not succumb; but your head filled with darker visions, your ears heard darker voices and then, perhaps again because you listened, it let you go. You woke to this realm to find yourself without kith or kind; so you were cast adrift on the world, half mad and starving; were forced to beg your way and found the world had given you gifts with which to earn your straw bed and ladle of stew; you became a traveling tales man. You were good too; and as time passed your name began to walk before you; folk looked for your coming to join their feastings and many a hall hearth flamed long into the night as you word wove the ways of the world, or sent the sparks flying about folks ears with your flickering phrases”.
The creature paused to make its point.
“But still you walked the earth; and still you listened. So the dreaming dragon spirit of the world still gave you its gifts, for it too loved the tales you made from its dreams and visions; the stories of all the fellow mortals and immortals who dwell upon it where and whenever they may and the stories of itself, made new in your mind. Your life was not easy, you had no fine furs and the wine was sometimes vinegar but you had your aisling, you had your heart, you had me!”
Tarolan looked up at this and, looking, realised that the creature was fuller of face, not so skeletal; its eyes were clearer, skin less scabrous; even its cloak seemed newer, as if just being out in the world was feeding it.
“But who are you?!”
The creature stared at him.
“Your imagination”, it said quietly, “All the while as a child and when you walked the land, you fed and cared for me; but then you came to be a great Lord’s favourite and the furs were soft, the wine was sweet and so you became content to live in your memory that was full of the gift of tales, content to leave the world to go its own ways and so I came to know hunger and loss as you had once; and I came to know anger too, anger that the easy life and glint of gold had caused you to forget the giver”.
As Tarolan listened to his imagination speak these things, he heard their truth; his shoulders slumped and his hand found the shape of the word in the stone once more; and knowing the way of stories, as he did, he realised he had come to a time of testing.
“What would you have me do?”
His imagination regarded him for a moment, looking he thought, more at his mind than his face; it held out its hand once more.
“Let me take you on another journey; let me take you to the mind of the Dragon”.
He hesitated for a fraction then took the hand. Once more the world shifted but he was ready this time and was kneeling anyway so simply climbed to his feet when the movement stopped.
But only just. They were near the top of a large rocky outcrop in the middle of a storm struck moor and the wind was howling like Hornets around the granite ground they stood on; black clouds were broaching the cauldron of the sky their edges bloody with the setting sun and rain was a grey curtain flapping in the distance but drawing closer. He leant against the rock for shelter and support, noticing as he did that his imagination needed no such help, in fact was looking stronger still in this place; wherever this place was.
“Where are we; is this the mind of the Dragon?”
“No, the Dragon sleeps below the earth, which is where we must go. This place is the Otherworld. You brought me here often when we were younger, to listen and dream”.
“Was the weather always this bad?”
The rain had now arrived and was pulvering down upon them.
“This world has its storms and calms just like the otherworld”.
“The otherworld? You said this was the Otherworld!”
His imagination leaned close and grinned again; Tarolan noticed that had improved too.
“This world has much in common with your world; and much that is uncommon too but to the beings that live here your world is the Otherworld and is just as much a place of myth and wonder as this world is to you”.
Leaning closer still, right in his ear;
“Did you think because they are not human, that the Fae do not dream or that they lack imagination?”
Then, walking past him;
“Now come; this is the way in to the Dragon’s head”.
Tarolan turned and saw his imagination standing by the entrance to a cave; once again, it held out its hand.
“Through that cave?”
“This is no cave”, said his imagination, “This is the Dragon’s ear, can’t you see!?”
Part scared, part intrigued and part wet and wind-blown he reached out; this time the ground stayed still and they moved; walking together into the cave; into the mind of the Dragon.
It was calm and dry with a cool breeze that came from further inwards. As his eyes adjusted, Tarolan thought for a moment that he saw yellow marks covering part of the cave walls and the words came unbidden to his mind that perhaps the Dragon’s ears needed cleaning; for the first time since he woke, a smile came to his lips; as the thought left him his imagination turned its head and in the dim light he could see a smile on its face too.
“Remember where we are, speak and think quietly!”
It turned and led him on. As the light grew less and the ground sloped down, Tarolan held his free hand out before him wary of falling; his imagination just walked on without concern as though it knew the way; but then a memory came from his days of traveling, that his imagination could see equally well in the light or the dark.
Slowly they wound their way down through the passage, the ground was soft beneath his boots and the walls smooth to his hand but the air grew cooler still and the roof grew lower as they descended.
Without warning they emerged into a cold, still cavern and Tarolan found himself standing on a narrow shelf above a large pool of water. The cavern was lit by countless small soft shining shapes that surrounded the water and even crossed the roof in a shimmering path that suddenly made him think of the tale of the hawthorn blossom’s sky scattered by the white lady in the days before days to make the stars. By their light Tarolan could see the pool was calm and deep and he could even see himself reflected in it; he had seen rocks that sparkled with reflected firelight before but there was no light here.
Keeping his voice low; “Where does their light come from?”
“From within”, whispered his imagination, “ What you see are the gifts of poets and dreamers; a small part of their spirit left here by those seeking inspiration or who have lost their own aisling; left here in return for the Dragon’s help in finding those things. Through the gifts they leave, the Dragon shares their dreams and shares some of its dreams too, for it loves the tales of the earth and grieves to hear them die and be forgotten; so it calls folk here to help them find their way or remember it if they wander. It has always done this for those who dream, whether by night or day”.
His imagination took hold of his shoulders and Tarolan saw that it was changed again; no longer the thin and wasted thing of his first meeting, its eyes were now full of vigour and it was more a reflection of himself. Now too he recognized the cloak, apart from food and drink, it was the first gift he had received for his tale telling.
And his imagination looked him in the eye and said, “Come with me”.
Together they leapt in to the pool; into the mind of the Dragon. Cold; so cold.
“The Dragon’s heart is hot, the Dragon’s mind is cold”, said a voice he knew, “For it found its home here when the ice cracked as fire mountains yawned with the waking of the world”.
Then the voice he knew was silent; and as his fine clothes took the water and the water drew him deeper, so Tarolan heard…
He heard a drumming from within that called to a drumming without and a voice in his ears; a voice as old as the chalk cliffs, as ancient as the reflections in the Raven’s eye or the howl in the throat of the Wolf. A voice that changed like the wind in the valley yet was as unchanging as the mountain crags; a voice that hummed in the hives of Bees and cried in the eyries of Eagles, that laughed in gentle waters, raged in a Stags autumn challenge, sang in distant thunder and whispered in the soul quiet, dream filled night.
And as he drifted ever downwards, Tarolan saw too. He saw a cave, lit by the glow of rush lights, with figures drawn upon its walls; figures drawn in shades of earth; drawn in haunting, hunting magic; shifting shapes upon the stone. In the centre of the soft sand floor sat one who drummed and who added their own voice to the voice in his ears; and as this tale teller spoke, the shapes stepped down from the wall to dance in the dream of words.
And as he watched, Tarolan saw a soft light leave the tale teller and float slowly up to the roof of the cave where other lights were already gathered; watching, listening.
Then Tarolan drifted to the bottom of the pool and his shoulders brushed the soft sand lying there and he saw a bubble leave his mouth and rise to the surface; a bubble that glittered and shone in the no light of the water.
And the voice in his ears was replaced by a voice he knew.
“Tarolan, often you have let me dance in the cave of your mouth and I have feasted on your words; but I am also fed by the wider, wilder world and if you honour the Dragon’s gift and value your gift to it, then you must walk within the woods again; listen to the words of wind and rain, the tales of Fox and Badger and the whispering of leaves along the hollow ways. You must go out and get some mud on those fine boots of yours!”
Tarolan sank down into the soft sand and so came at last to a place where he could not see or hear or even move; and so he came to panic for the first time in his journey; and so he came to waking and found himself wound within the soft furs that were his bed clothes. As he unravelled himself and his heart and mind grew calm, he found he was not sure if his journey had been a dream or something more. But he knew what tale he would tell in the hall that night.
And so he did; to great acclaim.
The next day, Tarolan begged leave of his Lord to let him wander the world awhile, that he might hear what tales he may; promising to return when the Hawthorn blossomed. His Lord, who was wise as well as powerful, saw the need in the man and was tempted, reluctantly to agree. After all, though he loved the tales of Tarolan, he loved a new tale as much as anyone.
So Tarolan left his Lord’s hearth; and the folk who gathered in the hall by night thought the smoke hung heavy for lack of a voice they knew; and the guards on the gate watched the trees by day for a sight of a cloak they recognised.
Meanwhile, Tarolan took his drum and a stout stick and walked out beyond the hills they knew and further still in company with his imagination; and when at last he returned, his cloak was stained and his boots were worn and muddy; but he was full of life and vigour, for he had feasted well.
All ‘Tarolan’ art courtesy of and copyright Cathy Leigh Tsoukalas.
Martin Pallot (1956-2020) lived on the drifting edge of Epping Forest in north east London. He described what he did as ‘writing pictures’; using inspiration from nature, myth, folklore and his animist beliefs to create poetry, short fiction and ‘dream tales’. Martin has been published both online and in print, here and in America, was featured in the anthology, Moon Poets (published by Moon Books) and had two books of poetry, Whispers in the Wood and Around the Corner of my Eye, published by Veneficia Publishing UK.
Martin was a proof reader for Indie Shaman from 2013, first published a ‘back-cover poem’, Litha, in 2014 and became the Storyteller in Issue 29 (the 10th anniversary edition of Indie Shaman in 2016) with A Deer Hunt.
Cathy Leigh Tsoukalas is an international artist specialising in traditional portraiture and spirit art. She lives with her family in Greece. Cathy’s artwork is available on commission and her online gallery can be viewed at Cathy Leigh Tsoukalas.
[i] Note: ‘Aisling’ is an Irish poetic form of the late 17th and 18th Centuries and means ‘dream’ or ‘vision’. It is most often met with today in the given name Aislinn and its variants.