Imagine that you’re holding an acorn in your hand, just like this one. Perhaps you can find one somewhere close by. Feel its weight in the palm of your hand. Imagine how, when the time is right, it will be ready to grow. It will start to push roots down into the thick, damp earth, and shoots up towards the bright sky above. And over time, over hundreds of years, it will become a tree, an oak tree, with a thick trunk and huge, sweeping branches.
Imagine a forest of those huge, ancient oak trees, as far as the eye can see. Imagine what it would be like to walk through that forest. To hear the crunch of the undergrowth below your feet, see the light dappling the ground through the branches of the trees. Perhaps, if you listen hard enough, you can hear the snap of a branch as something moves through the trees ahead of you. You stop, barely breathing, reaching for your spear, or for your bow and arrow. Because that thing could be a wild boar, or a deer, and it’s your job to hunt it, to bring it back for your village, for the people who live at the green fort.
And sometimes you stop, barely breathing, because it could be something else moving through the trees. Something that’s hunting too. Something that might be looking for you.
But I wasn’t scared of wolves. I knew where they went. I could track them in the same way that they tracked their prey. Sometimes, I’d watch them move through the forest ahead of me, on silent paws, and I’d let them pass, although no other hunter would have done. We were supposed to protect ourselves from them, drive them away from the fort, or they’d compete with us for the wild boar and deer, and sometimes even break into the fort and take our livestock, on cold winter nights when it was very dark and food was scarce for them. I’d stood the wolf guard on many a night up there on the green fort, our fires burning, our eyes straining to see the wolves move in the dark beyond the ramparts, all night long, to keep them from taking our animals.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My name’s Gwen. I used to live on this hillfort, many, many years ago. I’ve been here all this time, treading this very same path that you’re standing on, as the world changed around me. And I’ve got a story for you today. It’s a story that starts with the green fort, this hillfort, and ends with the wolves.
Are you ready to hear it? You’ll have to be brave, to come along with me. It’s not a tale for the faint-hearted.
It starts like this.
It starts before the fort was properly built. We were making it. Everyone was working together. This place was special, you see. It was special before my people came to be here. If you stand on the brink of the hill, as you’ll do in a little bit, you can see for miles, to the west, to the north, to the east – and people had been coming here for thousands of years, to camp, to live for a few months, to celebrate and join together, to feast and to tell stories. But now, we’d decided it was a place for us to live, always, for us to build our roundhouses and make fires and raise children and animals. And to do that, we’d have to keep the place safe, so we started to build, to dig in the earth and raise ramparts that would protect the hillfort from anybody who tried to attack us.
As we dug in the earth together, working shoulder to shoulder, the earth that we built into the ramparts of our new home glowed green. It was like magic. The green fort. People knew then, if they hadn’t known before, that this was a special place.
When we were finished digging, this place would be the safest place in the world.
But I’d always known that this place was magical, since before we started building the ramparts. Because I’d walked these secret paths, the ones we’re going to walk together. I’d seen the forest in every season, and it had showed me its magic. And, I’d met the wolves.
Come with me now, swiftly, on silent feet. Perhaps you’ll see them too.
Before you come, take a rubbing of this acorn. Carry it with you as we walk together through this ancient forest.