It’s Market Day in Wells the day we arrive. Cramped and weary from our road trip across southern England, the rising cathedral spires elicit something of an excited yawn as I strain, stretch and stare out the window in waking anticipation from an uncomfortably long sleep. Being squished between the door and my overstuffed suitcase was hard enough, being made to stay there for the duration of the trip from Canterbury to Wells—a good four hour drive—was almost intolerable. But as Wells Cathedral becomes taller and more grand with every kilometer, so does my excitement.

It was my first visit to the UK and I had gone to attend Bible College for a year up north just outside Lancaster. But before my parents dropped me off at school, we spent ten days travelling, beginning in London and moving our way across and up. And now, six days into our journey, we were arriving at Wells.

I imagine Wells might be a quiet, cozy town with historic streets wrapping around the cathedral, a town where life is lived simply and without the clutter of unnecessary modern amenities. This will be perfect, I think contentedly, for a simple girl like me, born and raised in a small town on the Canadian west coast. My Daddy told me that the more I expected, the more I would be disappointed. So as my mother calls out directions from the map in her hands and the streets become windier and closer to the city center, it takes all of my strength to dissolve my expectations. But I can’t help dreaming: What if Wells truly is what I imagine? How delightful!

“Park here. The cathedral is just down the street.” I lean against the window and feel the vibrations lessen as Daddy pulls alongside the curb and parks. Click click click. Our seat belts are off, and I fling open my door excitedly. And instantly, my expectations are shattered.

There are cars as far as I can see, parked on both sides of the street, making a rather tight aisle to pass between them. On the far side of the street, clusters of people are gathered around tables set up beneath tents. I hear modern pop music blasting from an outdoor sound system. So much for a simple, historic existence. But my excitement does not wither.

“Looks like a market over there,” Daddy observes, glancing toward the crowd. “Let’s go check it out.” I grab his arm for guidance and with Mama on my other side, we set out toward the market.

We are now engulfed in the crowd and I cling tighter to Daddy’s arm; crowds make me nervous. Slowly, we move to a table and peruse its contents.This first table is filled with wooden trinkets and I hesitantly reach my hands out to touch.

“Can my daughter touch this? She’s blind and it would mean a lot to her if she could.” My mother’s familiar request, though at the cost of a bit of my pride, has enough innocence and truth to turn the vendor’s favour on us.

The vendor in question, is a short, pudgy woman with round rosy cheeks beneath cheerful aqua eyes. Taking my hand, she places it on the top of a small, smooth box.

“This is cedar wood,” she explains, as she runs my hand across the surface of the lid. “It’s strong and durable wood which is why I use it. Have you ever seen before, dear?” At my nod, she continues. “I didn’t paint this box because I love the natural look of the wood. It’s light and very pretty. And here”—she moves my fingers to the front of the box to the latch—”is the latch that locks the box, and there’s a place for a key at the top.”

Taking the box in my hands, I stroke the sleek wood admiringly. “This is beautiful,” I say. Her smile is almost audible above the crowd. Shyly, I gesture to the price tag and look to Daddy for an answer. “It’s twenty,” he says under his breath. Translating pounds to dollars in my head, I come out at about thirty-eight. I sigh regretfully.

Setting the box down on the table, I reach across to the cheerful woman and shake her hand. “I love your work, it’s very beautiful. But I’m afraid I’ll have to pass this time. Thank you so much for showing me.” She squeezes my hand. Although I don’t know this woman at all, I feel inclined to give her a hug, but I restrain. Her kind and fearless personality touches me in a way that not many people can claim; friends who accept me for my blindness and don’t define me by it are wonderful, but a stranger who does the same only raises my faith in humanity and makes life all the more worthwhile.

From table to table we move, examining various scarves, soaps, bowls and other hand-made trinkets. Once we exhaust the outdoor market, we shift indoors to a room filled with clothing and echoes. We are not there more than ten minutes when I hear a clanging bell from outside.

“I bet that’s the town crier,” I joke. They don’t exist anymore, I think wistfully, though I wish they did.

“Do you want to go see?” my mother asks. We are all growing weary of the amplified sounds in the indoor market, and I am beginning to sport a headache. I nod.

Back in the street market, we follow a crowd moving toward the town square, and to my utter ecstasy, the town crier is there, ringing his bell and attracting quite a crowd of onlookers. I drag my parents to the front of the crowd.

“Wells is a beautiful city,” the town crier begins in a loud, dramatic voice. “Take in the breathtaking scenery, the market, and Wells Cathedral, built in 1175. Why not take a tour there or explore its beauty and historic stain glass images at your leisure?” With unmitigated delight, I realize that he is not only the town crier but also a tour guide! I am eighteen, but my childish excitement cannot be contained as I clap my hands and let out a high-pitched squeal.

“There’s actually a town crier! They have a town crier!” My shock and delight are repetitive, for as my parents and I walk down the street toward the entrance of the cathedral, it is all I am capable of saying in my amazement. As we draw closer, my former shrieks of delight change into quieted awe. Nothing makes one feel so small and insignificant than when faced with such immense beauty. I look up and take in its outward grandeur and wonder what greater beauty may lie inside.

What first greets my eyes is not what I expect. In the front entrance perched on the receptionist’s desk is a bony, black and grey cat. An identification tag hangs around his neck, and he sits stalk still next to the computer keyboard. As I approach, he scowls at me and flattens his ears. Despite his threatening demeanor, I laugh.

“This is Louis,” the middle-aged receptionist explains in a welcoming tone. “He kind of just lives here in the cathedral. You can pet him, but please don’t pick him up. He might claw a bit.” Smiling wide, I reach down and stroke Louis’s back. Just by one touch, I can see that Louis is an old cat, his bones sticking out at awkward angles all over his frail figure. His fur is a bit matted, but nonetheless, I fall in love. So it’s not just old cathedrals that have beauty, I think, old cats do too.

“Someone loves you, hey Louis?” The voice of the speaker I discover, is an elderly man with a thick British accent and spectacles to match. I nod happily and he moves beside me to scratch Louis’s head.

“Come on Rhi, we better get a move on into the rest of the cathedral,” Daddy says, and I know that I cannot stall. As I move to join my parents, the old man follows and shakes hands with my Daddy. “My name is Neil. I would love to show you and your daughter around the cathedral if you would like.”

“Oh, that is very generous of you. That would be wonderful.” The four of us set off down the main hall, and it is not long before Neil stops at a statue of the Virgin Mary. Taking my hand, he gently shows me the features of her face, veil and body, explaining how it was constructed and its significance to the cathedral.

I don’t say much as Neil explains, but I listen intently. I find it all fascinating and quite beyond me: As he takes my hands and shows me ancient statues, stain glass images, trunks and other relics of the Catholic faith, I feel as though I have travelled beyond anything of my own world and am in contact with things I am unworthy to touch. They are sacred, and I am not, but yet, I am with them, touching them, and experiencing them. And the experience is something I can hardly describe nor understand.

A good hour passes before Neil returns to the front desk and my parents and I exit the cathedral. To my disappointment, Louis is not at his post on the reception desk, but I’m told he is wandering about the cathedral. “It’s completely normal,” she assures me brightly, “he’s a cathedral cat.” I’m not quite sure what she means by a “cathedral cat” but I smile and wave farewell to Neil and the kind receptionist and wonder if Louis might be perched upon the Virgin’s shoulder or a thirteenth-century trunk.

I walk out of Wells Cathedral, down the street where the market is now closing down, back to our car and climb in. I am overcome with a sense of wonder; the woman selling the cedar boxes and kind old Neil in the cathedral both greeted me with kind and fearless smiles and took me in in ways many people are afraid to. What may have seemed like a mere moment to them became timeless to me, offering me more than trinkets or historical facts and stories—they gave me acceptance.

And as I lay back in the car and close my eyes, I think of Louis and his perpetual scowl, and smile. The spires fade from view, the crowd noise disappear and I fall into dreaming with the feeling that I have left home washing over me. But I know I am not alone as the car takes me farther and farther away from this delightfully unexpected city. For the most unexpected thing of all is still with me out of the corners of my eyes and at my fingertips: Louis, the cat in the cathedral.



“King Hugh, listen to me, I beg of you. To abolish the fild will be to abolish the very foundation of Ireland. Our identity as a nation owes itself to this order; the filid are the keepers of our history, the ones who preserve our culture. If they are exiled, who will ensure that Ireland and her people are not forgotten? Please, listen to my words.” Columba’s defense rises on the shimmering breeze and floats across the field, weaving in and amongst the courtiers, bards and laymen that are gathered in apprehensive numbers. The king’s entourage stand at rigid attention, their mouths pursed in a solemn line, fingers encircling the hilt of their weapons. It is a stark contrast to the men gathered to Columba’s cause—their wind-mussed hair, unshaven beards and muddied garments only escalate what Feidhelm fears most.

“You speak well of the filid, Columba,” King Hugh allows, a hint of mischief rising beneath his diplomacy, “but will you forget their misdeeds only to praise their achievements? One must recognize the fault to appreciate the good. Do you not agree?” A titter ripples across the royal company, the premature celebration of their king’s championing. Feidhelm bites his bottom lip in disgust—even at his young age, his blood boils at their arrogance. A frustrated sigh escapes through his now bloody lip.

“Do you grow weary of the convention, my son?” Dallán reaches a hand to his left and finds the youth’s shoulder. He gives it a gentle squeeze, then resumes entangling and disentangling his fingers in agonizing anticipation. Feidhelm doesn’t bother to meet his master’s vacant gaze.

“How much longer will they go on like this? What good can come from their quarreling?” As he speaks, his eyes find the king, his knuckles whitening from their grip on his sword.

“Perhaps nothing,” Dallán concedes. “Perhaps exile is our fate. But I do not believe the Almighty, nor Columba, will fail us. We are Irish, my boy, and in Ireland we will remain.” Feidhelm nods, forgetting his master’s blindness and returns to chewing his lip.

To the adolescent, it seems that the tension between the bards and the crown has been going on since he was in the cradle. Demands for tax exemption, more freedom, less responsibility… it stews in Feidhelm’s mind until it spills over and creates a foaming, frothy confusion. And, being the scribe for the Ollamh is no cure. When Master Dallán is not dictating his latest eulogy or epic, his waking hours are filled with such apprehension for the future of the filid—his future—that Feidhelm cannot escape its clutches.

Now, it has come to this. A crisp, April morning at Druim Cett to celebrate the return to their rightful place in Irish society, or perhaps, be banished altogether. If only for the sake of his master, he hopes for the former.

“Oh my King.” Columba spreads his hands in an arc before him, reaching, stretching, as though closing an invisible divide. “They do not hide their misdeeds from you. But exiling them will only wound our nation further. No. The answer is purification.” At this, Feidhelm raises his gaze to meet the man fighting for his people. Despite his best efforts to conceal it, he is curious.

His face is framed by flaming strands, which stands as the pinnacle of a mountainous build. Hands that have seen rougher days than Feidhelm’s reach out before him, palms to the heavens, the fate of the bardic order exposed for the taking. He waits, his expression one of fervent hope.

“By what means would you purify such a filthy body as the one you so admire?” A resounding cry of agreement fills Feidhelm’s ears. He clenches his jaw.

“Reform.” Silence falls like rain over the entirety of the convention’s attendants. All eyes, royal supporters and bards alike, turn inward to fix upon the peculiar diplomat. “Reform the filid as you see necessary and maintain their status as Ireland’s poets and minstrels. Allow them to carry on our traditions, but in a manner honouring to the crown. In this way, their demands will cease and they will once more be the treasured members of society as they once were. Is this agreeable to my lord the king?”

Dallán’s fingers dig into Feidhelm’s forearm, the force of his master’s nerves tangible in the air between them. “This is our moment, Feidhelm. Oh Lord God, may it be a favourable outcome.” Feidhelm wriggles himself out of the man’s grasp and takes a step forward. He sees what his master cannot, and at this moment, he is grateful for it.

King Hugh’s sword hangs in the air between himself and Columba, awaiting orders. The men at his back follow their commander and draw their weapons from their lairs. Columba is motionless, but his face betrays no anxiety. Feidhelm’s heart beats faster, anticipating, fearing for the next moment.

Dallán’s grip tightens around Feidhelm’s arm. “What is happening, Feidhelm? Tell me.” But he is silent, his eyes fixated on the impending battle. The sword inches nearer to Columba.

“Oh my master, I’m afraid it may be the—” Before Feidhelm can finish speaking, the field erupts into chaos. Shouts for “exile!” and “justice for Ireland!” fill the air, as King Hugh’s men surge forward into the defenseless filid.

Feidhelm rears back, stumbling against Dallán as the men in front of him retreat. Hooking his fingers around his master’s wrist, Feidhelm draws him back, slipping on the damp grass as they flee from their pursuers. Feidhelm chances a glance back; a mess of limbs lay entangled in the grass near to where they had stood moments before. Let it not be Columba, he prays silently. Scanning his surroundings, he searches for the diplomat, but his eyes find nothing.

Dallán tugs at him sharply. “Hurry, Feidhelm! Hurry! But be careful, the ground—” Dallan’s warning is interrupted as Feidhelm tumbles headfirst down the grassy slope and collides with the rock formation at its base.


The world goes black.


The fire dims and night grows ever nearer when Feidhelm begins to stir. Dallán leans over the youth, concern and relief wrapped up in his face.

“Feidhelm? Can you hear me?” He whispers the words at first, but when Feidhelm shows no response, he repeats himself, louder and louder until he is speaking at regular intervals.

Nothing. Feidhelm lays motionless before the blind poet, all metaphor and symbolism offering little comfort in the face of true peril. “Oh God,” he whispers, “revive him.”

Beneath his hand, Feidhelm shudders, a stronger movement than made thus far. Dallán squeezes his shoulder, his prayers ever more fervent for his healing.

“What, what has happened?”

Dallán resists the urge to fall on his friend with thankfulness. “Feidhelm, thank the Lord! Are you well?” Feidhelm shifts slightly, and moves to sit up. Weak, he falls back to the pillow.

“Stay still, my son. You were hurt in the battle.”

“What battle?”

Dallán’s memories of the day’s events are all too vivid, as he searches for the right words.

“Do you remember Columba?”

“Who is Columba?”

Dallán sighs, and tucks the blanket tighter around the patient. “Feidhelm, today you and I, and the other members of the filid gathered with King Hugh and his men to try and preserve our order. They sought to banish us from Ireland.”

“Banish? But why?” Again, Feidhelm attempts to sit up, but Dallán eases him back.

“You must rest, Feidhelm.” He does not argue.

“There was a battle, Feidhelm. And some of our members were killed.” He waits, but there is no response. Feidhelm’s eyes are open and attentive, so he continues. “We thought it was sure banishment. We were retreating, and that’s when you fell. You became unconscious from the fall, Feidhelm, and have been for several hours now. Cathal helped me bring you here. You’re in my home.”

“Thank you.”

“No need. You are like a son to me. It was all I could do.”

“So, are we banished then?” A slow smile creeps across Dallán’s face as he reaches out to set his other hand beside the first on Feidhelm’s shoulder. Seeing his smile, Feidhelm’s eyes light up, expectant.

“No. We are liberated, Feidhelm! God has seen us through this trial, and praise be to Him for his provision.”

Feidhelm’s face breaks out into a boyish grin. As if his strength comes back in the words of this revelation, Feidhelm sits up, removes Dallán’s hands from his shoulders and squeezes them tightly in his own. “Liberated! But how?”

“Columba! He was not among the dead, and Cathal told me later that upon seeing the spilled blood, went boldly up to the king and said: “My king, you are and always be my king. My heart’s desire is to honour you, and to have the filid honour you. Please, show us your mercy! Stop this bloodshed and allow us to repay you for our misdeeds, and to give you the honour you so deserve.” Dallan’s voice grows louder with excitement as he speaks; his words echo off the stone walls of the room.

“The king relented?”

“Yes. You see, it was his second-in-command, Dunstan, that provoked the battle. When the king heard Columba’s plea, he demanded Dunstan to cease the attack. I have heard since that Dunstan has been dismissed from the king’s service. But we are free, Feidhelm. Free! Columba has liberated us.”

They sit quiet for a moment, digesting the drastic turn of events. It is Dallán who breaks their silence.

“While you were, indisposed, I composed a poem I would like to dictate to you. When you are recovered, of course.”

“Another poem, master? What about?”

Dallán intertwines his fingers excitedly as he speaks. “About Columba, my boy. His valour and his courage. His vision to fight for the filid, against all potential dangers, is magnificent. We should seek to follow his footsteps. That vision shall be ours, Feidhelm, to hold, to preserve and to guide us. Columba is a treasure among men, loved by all and blessed by God. How can a man such as he live without a poem to honour him?”

The fire has ceased to glimmer and night has drawn its curtain across the sky. But the light burns bright in Dallán’s eyes, and Feidhelm’s strength begins to return.

Continue reading Follow the Vision, Part Two here.