It is late summer. Not by the calendar. What use was ever a calendar for determining the change of mood from the upstroke of a year or a story or a life, to the downward. It is a matter of the heart. It is dirty brown leaves still fat with goodness, driven to an early grave by a fretty easterly that blows for day after day. It is standing on a bridge and choosing to look downstream. It is that we are picking blackberries already. Not many. Not full and mouse-eyed, they still hint at red. Just a sweetness in porridge, a token of harvest.
The river runs clear and confident. With the water level raised a few inches by recent rain the dipper-stone is trapped in a standing wave of smooth, firm water-muscle. It has been for more than two weeks now – where it was stubbornly dry throughout June and July. Soon will come the river’s time to be full and to reap her reward for a summer’s patience. She dances and tumbles, knowing full well we are watching. Today she wears fuschia red. Many thousands of flowers blown from the riverside bushes are collecting in eddies and slacks. Dense, continuous, bobbing rafts of red, swarms of hue. Ireland is a land of fuschia, it seems to be everywhere and in great abundance. At this moment it rivals the fall of cherry blossom or the May-storm of hawthorn.
I lean over the bridge and mouth the conjuration of dipper. This is, I freely admit, a simple enough conjuration – suitable for my wide-eyed apprenticeship. A dipper almost never leaves the narrow tunnel of air that lies like a twin above the section of river where it has its territory. So it isn’t as if I am trying to bring the water-walker out of thin air. That would be far too advanced for me. I am only trying to bring him past me at a particular time, through a space he would surely occupy sooner or later anyway. And though I say so myself, I have had some successes. Only this time there is a major malfunction in the mechanism of the spell. I can feel it graunching before it breaks down completely.
The tunnel opened as usual. Then something else entered it. It followed the line the dipper should have taken, but too fast to be caught up in the present. Its wing tips slapped the face of the future with an angry spasm and it flew clear of the trap my eyes had set for it. Now is already behind it. Only a hint of something which is not captured by ‘grey’ at all, unless its grey is the answer to the fuschia’s red, over which it passed.
I close my eyes and stop my foolhardy invocation. But it is too late. The Sparrowhawk has crossed over into our world and I can hear, above the sound of the river, the pounding of blood on the eardrums of all the beasts that ever were or ever will be in the world.