Nymphs and Shepherds Come Away, Come Come, Come Come Away.
The old song went round and round in Jim’s mind, as if on a loop. Tramping miserably through the sodden fields, Jim allowed himself a wry smile. What is that all about? he thought. The last time he had heard that was probably at primary school – close on half a century ago!
The flock had managed to get into the top field and were now all huddled together under a spreading oak tree trying and failing to keep dry. Jim made his way up to the hay barn and pulled out a large bale.
“Come on then.” He called the flock and Maisie, the largest ewe, started to make her way towards him, and the rest followed as they always did. Jim waited until all the sheep were inside and happily feeding on the hay before closing them in for the night and starting the long walk back to the farmhouse. Jim thought of Jenny. He wished she was waiting for him with a hot meal on the table, but those days had long gone. Jenny had passed away ten years ago, but he missed her still.
Head down against the rain he had just reached the stile at the bottom of the lower field when he noticed a glimmer of light beyond the trees of the small copse which edged the border between Jim’s land and that of George Gladwin of the neighbouring farm. The light seemed to flicker slightly, like torchlight – Jim was curious. He walked across the field, which was now turning to mud under his boots, and called out, “Who’s there?” there was no reply, so Jim moved cautiously forward and called out again “Who’s there?”
“Who wants to know?” A small man was sitting on a rock peeling an apple with a silver knife. He wore a dirty grey raincoat belted with string and a pair of muddy wellington boots. His face was weather-beaten and his grey hair straggled over his collar.
“This is private land,” Jim stated “What are you doing here? Are you lost? I can guide you back to the roadway, just follow me.”
The strange little man looked calmly at Jim.
“I am neither lost nor found” he said quietly. “Private land means nothing to me, land is land, nothing more – nothing less.”
Jim wanted to go home out of the rain, but now he felt compelled to sort out this odd situation.
“Where have you come from?” he asked “There’s no footpath in this field, this is my land – how did you get in?”
“I am here, that’s all you need to know” the strange little man replied calmly and jumped to his feet pulling a silver flute from the folds of his raincoat. As the soporific strains of an unknown melody filled the air, the rains cleared and a perfect rainbow appeared in the sky.
Jim found himself unable to think, simply feeling the most profound feeling of happiness pervade the very essence of his body. He moved slowly towards the little man who held out a hand and beckoned “That’s right, come away, come now.”
Time stood still. The two men stood in the field. The rainbow stayed in the evening sky. The music continued, drifting lazily around in the still air.
Jim noticed a movement from the copse, just a few feet away. A beautiful face, half female, half faun gazed at Jim. The girl/faun laughed and was joined by other wonderfully exotic creatures who realised that Jim could not move and was therefore no threat to them. They were dressed in soft green garments which fluttered and moved in a gentle soft breeze and their long light brown hair was wreathed in yellow buttercups – Jim’s favourite meadow flower. The strange fairylike creatures danced towards Jim and moved around him touching his hair and skin. Their long thin fingers felt cool and silky and Jim closed his eyes, the better to enjoy the sensation. He felt his hair being stroked, and his clothing being gently removed. He breathed deeply, feeling the music envelop him as the warming breeze ruffled the little hairs on the nape of his neck.
Opening his eyes slowly he became aware that he was totally naked, but felt that this was natural and unsurprising. He felt an extraordinary freedom in his nakedness, knowing that he was beautiful. He felt his hands being clasped and the fairy girls were now drawing him forward into their dance. The music grew louder and faster. The moon was now high in the sky, the rainbow had all but disappeared leaving a trace of colour in the deep blue of the evening sky. Round and round the fairy girls danced and Jim danced with them, a dance of unbearable beauty, expressing his joy and gladness in his world. As the dancers, led by the flute playing stranger, now made their way towards the copse a pathway appeared before them edged in silver. Jim and the dancers followed the path, deeper and deeper into the wood. They reached a clearing in which stood a table hewn from oak. At the head of the table was the flute playing stranger Jim had met at the outset of these fantastic adventures.
The grey haired old man was now revealed to be strong and sturdy in his nakedness and his hair was pure silver. His head was wreathed in a crown of stars and he wielded the silver knife with which he had peeled an apple.
Jim was transported forward to the oak table. It held the most glorious feast that Jim had ever seen, with meats and fruits and bread of the most sublime colours and aromas imaginable.
“Who are you?” Jim asked and was told,
“I am the Pastor of the Meadows, and I will take you home. Come, Eat, Eat your fill!”
Jim did as commanded and ate until he could eat no more.
Flasks of wine now appeared before him filled to the brim with richly coloured red wine.
“Drink” came the command from the silver haired man, and Jim did so readily.
“Sleep now” smiled the Pastor of the Meadows and Jim then climbed onto the oak table and lay down. He stretched contentedly and closed his eyes..
Jim was found two weeks later in the centre of the copse. He lay naked on his back with his clothes folded neatly beside him. The coroner decided that Jim had succumbed to delirium having got soaked in the storms of the previous two weeks and had lost his way, thereafter dying while he slept from exposure to the storm.
Clutched in his decaying fingers was a small silver fruit knife.
The name ‘Jim Meadows’ was inscribed on the handle.