Back | Next


Sound of a guitar playing Greensleeves.

Why Greensleeves?

Because in my and your ineducable, internal, all-encompassing parts there is something about a weary man who sat cold in a stinking tavern with his headsick from the wine of the night before and his heart sick—yes, stomachheartsick—from the love that had once surged below him and for one candle-lit and cobwebbed stairway where he had moved upward behind a swaying skirt toward moontime. Out of this—Greensleeves; and a moment of Time within space, which is good physics not yet discovered but about to be. Herewith:—

A young man in patched hose and doublet under tattered cote-hardi, line-faced, congested-eyed, walked into a wind up a miry street to a place with a green bough above the door. Teeth-thin ran the wind through his clothing’s gaps, his hair-thatched ears and his half-curled hands, curled against the chill. For it was spring.

Cold spring, with the white clouds running fast before the wet spring wind. But a little blue sky. And a little bud on the lilac branch, and a little ancient green glued to the branch above the door of the whitewashed building. The door is closed.

The wind blows cold. The wind.

The dream manned. The dream.

He sat down at one of two tables before the closed door of the whitewashed building. On a wooden bench with four pegs at each end, wooden pegs, brown against grey wood as being ash against oak, tilted back and fisthammered at the door in the whitewashed building.

The door jarred. It jerked ajar, a little bit. Dark a slice of the interior showed and then a moment later, jerked open and the man with the smell of the interior strong upon him stood in the opening looking down at our man. And he said.

“Have you got the money for it?”

And our man said.

“I’ve two half pence.” And he showed them—coppers brown as brown-golden coins, golden promise coins, bright in his palm which was lined by lines and dirt in the lines. Only the man in the doorway saw not the dirt. He said.

“Where did you get them, Hal?”

For the man, Hal, our man, had pawned his lute for a penny. Yet he was a man. And so he answered.

“D’you want them? Or not?”

“I’ll take them,” and the man in the slice of dark doorway reached for the coins, but the man, our man, at the table on the bench with four pegs was too quick for him and closed his fist and moved his arm quickly away and said.


“New ale.”

“No, no. Old ale. The old ale. Bring it. I’ll taste it. Then you get your penny.”

“Hal,” said the man in the doorway, “I love you after some fashion, but you are a runagate and you owe money—not to me, God knows, but to folk around us. But, for two hapence, I’ll give you two happennies’-worth of the old ale.”

He went in. He brought back a leathern jack. Sour-smelling the leathern jack, which was a black cylinder of badly-tanned cowhide with a circle of brown leather upturned, puckered, and hard-stitched about the bottom. Which would not hold ale, but that over the years it had been swelled and sealed by dregs of ale and other liquids until was like a copper-bottomed mug of now.

He held it out to Hal, holding it.

“Taste—” he said. “But only taste. I’ll hold.”

Hal tasted.

“The true, old ale,” he said, and yielded up the two half-pence. Went back into the whitewashed building, closing the door, the man who had stood in slice of darkness.

Hal drank.

God, the taste of the old ale, the memories of gone youth, with no dirt in the palm lines, no burn in the breeches, no smell in the armpits.


So powered his mind. Across the filtered landscape passed like a shadow a discontinuity in time. Child, father and son and old man, changed Harry into all of these without knowing as he slowly drank his ale—jolly good ale and old.

Weep****** Sing—

I cannot eat but little meat

My stomach is not good

But I can drink with any man

As him that wears a hood.

Back and side, go bare, go bare . . .

Body and bones go cold.

But belly, God send thee good ale enough

Whether’t be new—or old . . .

And the yellow sun went behind a cloud; and the jack, the leathern jack, was empty except for the smell therein, and Hal hammered on the door once more and found it not only closed but locked for the day—and broke his heart. Broke his hope—and began his story. For there is a nest for the fieldmouse and a sheltering bush for the vagabond and a corner of the noisome tavern for Hals, for true Hals . . . and this is why they make songs and the songs sing so that time can never hold them.

Therefore, furious, lo, he would have raised his sword on high and golden the last rays of the sun would have glanced from the dragons, pendragon thereon—but instead he wept, within.

For sword and shield had he none.

But life had he. In all men life walks like a spirit in the night. And life had he. Strength therefore had he. So strength flowed back to him, and called back understanding.

—To you, Hal, drunken Hal, unbedrunken, thirsty Hal, in the wind and the darkening clouds and the icy rain to come, came understanding of that discontinuity in time, which has been experienced by all—yes, by all of us, in our educable, all-encompassing parts—and all at once he felt the bench beneath him and the earth below the bench and the world below the earth.

And there came on him suddenly out of his great need and hunger and sorrow-wishing for another leathern jack of the old ale, the knowledge that time is only an illusion measured by cowardice, otherwise we would none of us die—this same knowledge that we all have, but we, all of us are cowards, and afraid to call on time to stay.

But Hal called. Out of his great need, he called on time and stood up and walked, out of the village and down the long timal road . . . and he was suddenly therefore in a place called Tony’s.

A bar, it was, this place called Tony’s. He sat up on a red, padded stool at the bar.

“What’ll you have?” said the bartender, round-faced, hardfat-faced, older than Hal, but with all his teeth and clean hands.

The Love Song by Gordon R. Dickson is protected under the Copyright Act. Publication or other reproduction is prohibited without the express written consent of the Estate of Gordon R. Dickson.

* * *


Buy this Ebook to finish reading the above story.

Back | Next