Excerpt from The Sending by Geoffrey Household. 1980
'....You know the anthropologists' theory of the king who must die for the people?' she asked.
'Yes. And I've spotted remnants of the belief here and there in India.'
'And did you know that was why William Rufus was killed?'
I did not, having only learned the school book verdict that he was a 'bad' king. She explained to me how historians had been puzzled by all the abuse poured on him by monastic chroniclers, when the rest of the evidence showed that he was brave, just, chivalrous and accepted with love by the English, who hated his father, the Conqueror. Why did the common people follow his bier from the New Forest to Winchester? Why was it said that all the way his blood dripped to the earth? And why when Walter Tyrell hesitated to shoot, did he cry: 'Draw, draw your bow for the Devil's sake and let fly your arrow, or you will be sorry for it!' And why was his death expected and foretold all over Europe?
'He was the King and Grand Master, the grandson of Robert the Devil. That's the explanation. Churchmen knew him for what he was and were appalled by his contempt for them; but the mass of the Saxons, who were as much pagan as Christian, adored him for living for them and dying for their land. This isn't a lecture, Alfgif, so I'll just give you Rufus. There's a good case too for Henry II as Grand Master and a better one for Gilles de Rais who was Joan of Arc's commander in the field.'
I presumed that she knew her stuff and I saw the implications, but I said I could not for a moment believe that the gentle Paddy was the secret shaman of Western Europe.
'Ah, but the Grand Master did not have to die. If he could find a willing victim to die in his place he had another seven years.'
'You're suggesting that the rite still exists in the Europe of today?'
'There must be more people than you, Alfgif, who share the vision that all living creatures are one within what you call the Purpose. Their myths and forms of worship may be as odd as tiger brother's. And that's no odder than some of those American sects. I told you I couldn't really believe it but the evidence keeps piling up. And you must admit that your Paddy was a Man in Black.'
'He had no coven.'
'Of course he hadn't. A village coven would be an absurdity in these days when one can fly to Paris in the time that it took to ride from Penminster to Wincanton. So couldn't a coven now be international? Remember all the strangers and foreigners who came to his funeral!'
That I had explained by his reputation among horsemen, but it had always puzzled me. So did the fact that a saddler in a little country town had executors of international standing. And if Rita was right, where did I come in? That I did come in somewhere was certain.
'Why do you think he gave me Meg?'
'Because he saw you were a kindred spirit, just as your tiger brother did. And perhaps because it was a mark of honour and good for Meg and perhaps because you are loved. Will you start a coven, my Robin, and dance with me on our downs in moonlight?'