The grove sheltered mayhaws as large as they grow this far south. For those not familiar, mayhaw is the may hawthorn, Crataegus aestivalis, a species of hawthorn that is used to make a delightful jelly, a southern delicacy. Hawthorn species are also significant to some druids for symbolic reasons, to others for medicinal reasons, and I have observed them to be common in groves where climate makes the rowan tree impractical.
Atum-Ra walked the grove with me, describing the trees and their history. I remember thinking that if the man had not found his way into a druidic order, he surely would have been a priest, or a rabbi, or a monk of some monastery. His voice held a note of sincerity that made other voices sound weak in comparison.
“Last season,” he told me, “we didn't have a harvest at all.” He paused then, locking dark eyes on me; waiting, I imagined, to see if we could arrive at the same understanding.
“It will be February at least before the mayhaws are due to bloom again,” I said. “Surely you're not worrying already.”
“Oh I'm not worrying so much as just waiting.” He smiled when he replied. I imagined the thoughts of a man 30 years my elder, the head of his order; what could I possibly offer in the way of wisdom, who had not even delivered a particularly notable presentation that day? Ah, well. But I think he was worried about the coming Spring.
“You know how superstitious people can be,” he said. “We actually had members leave the order. I think it's the first time that's ever happened.” I didn't have the gall to ask who he meant was superstitious; him, or the ones who left. I don't think I will ever know everything about druids. It is just part of their mystery.
When we returned to the temple, Brother Osiris approached carrying an enormous sword. This is no cause for alarm, by the way; druids frequently keep swords for ceremonial purposes, just as churches are known to have crosses and incense and chalices.
It also turned out that Osiris knew of my interest in historical blades. He thrust the pommel into my hand, beaming.
“Thank you, Brother,” I said, and examined the workmanship. They will forgive me for noting that the blade was balanced rather too far forward. The sword was intended for ceremony, after all.
“The Sword of the Order,” Osiris told me, though I had observed as much. “Look, have you ever seen turquoise worked like this? The eye on the cross guard?”
“Do I detect the pride of the craftsman, sir?” I sometimes follow hunches, and this time at least I was not wrong.
“I reworked it a while back. I was hoping to get your opinion; most of the blade was broken off for many years. Can you tell?”
“Hardly,” I said. He told me that a friend of his had one of my pieces. Blacksmithing was a hobby of mine back then, and an art, and a small business. Later the corner of the workshop where the forge sat would become so cluttered, years passed between uses.
Asking if I could test the blade, I said, “You gave it a spring temper. You are serious about your craft,” and that seemed to satisfy him.
Later I recalled Atum-Ra looking uneasy during this conversation, frowning on the periphery. I thought he might have a concern over me handling the order's ceremonial sword; but in retrospect, I doubt that was the issue at all.