Category Archives: Alternative history
The great stone edifice had been standing sentinel for over a thousand years. With it’s tower and four storeys it had served as the seat of all authority, it’s imposing presence casting fear into the hearts of some; security in the minds of others. Providing a home, and employment for the servants, the garrisoned solders and a ready market for the market-traders who had seized the opportunity to set up their stalls in the shadow of the high walls. Eventually was formed a thriving community, nourished and encouraged by the needs of the Lord of the Manor and his retinue. All unaware of the nightmare to come. On the third Sunday after the Feast of St. Joseph a travelling fair had arrived in the town. Their wagons loaded with with hawkers, jugglers, dancing bears and a hidden cargo. On their second day in the town the performers realised that they had brought a legacy that would be remembered only as swift, deadly and disastrous. The plague was relentless, reducing both the village and, despite locked gates and armed guards, the castle itself, to an empty shell. The survivors, believing the land accursed, moved away to the towns that had escaped the catastrophic events. The thatched dwellings and the limestone battlements gradually eroded, their stones carried off to build and repair houses far away. It did not take long for the tower to remain only as a home for bats, owls, spiders and beetles. In time, visitors to the district could find no-one who knew when it had been built or who had lived in the ruin on the hill. Folk memories suggested that something bad must have once happened. Hence the reputation that the old stones were haunted by some unknown entity, but despite no-one having seen or heard anything supernatural, the rumours of ghosts persisted.
Summer died that night. It was a time of celebration, the deep fire-pit, filled to the height of a man with peat, brush, bracken and branches ready to be lit. The cattle, pigs, sheep and fowl driven in to the central enclosure ready for the elders to carry out their grisly task,
The children had asked the usual questions which we had asked when we were young. The answer was always the same throughout the years. “This is the way it has always been.”
“The beasts we have nurtured lovingly throughout the year must repay our kindness. There will be feasting for everyone before the dark days come as they surely will. There is not enough goodness in the fields to keep and sustain our flocks and herds. Only the necessary few will be kept for our daily needs.”
“The offering we make now will be noted by the sky-dwellers and if pleased they will send the bright sun back to lighten our days once more when the time is right. This is as it has always been.”
As we watched the great fire was lit. Bright scarlet and yellow tongues of flame leaped into the not yet dark sky. Our animal’s eyes rolled at the sight. As each one was led through the narrow entrance between the stakes into the very heart of the village the remainder started to grow restless and were snorting, bleating and clucking wildly. We could hear the loud cries of pain from within and panic started to spread through the now terrified animals. We beat them furiously to try and stop the by then dangerous mayhem.
A greasy cloud of dark smoke hung motionless in the air above the cluster of thatched dwellings and the smell of animal fat was strong in ours and the remaining animal’s nostrils. The addition of the animal fat helped the flames to reach high above the height of the palisade for all to see.
The last beast was lead through the opening, their dark, deadly destiny assured. Gradually we heard the sound of drums performing an increasingly louder, rhythmic, hypnotic beat. It was hard to stop our feet from stamping and dancing in time to the music.
Finally the last of the sun’s rays died and only then were we able to pass through the portal to join the great feast marking the change of the seasons.
Earduk looked into the mist. It was fourteen sunrises since his father Shardan had ceased his part in the tribe.
It was time for the final ritual. This was Earduk’s personal ceremony.
Hanging from his shoulder the jute bag felt heavy as it bounced on his right thigh with each step.
He stopped in a kind of reverie, wondering how far his father was on his journey. Today would be a great help to him, Earduk was sure.
He tapped the bag at his side and with a smile remembered how hard it had been to prepare the heavy sword within. He and two of his brother’s had strained for many fire-burnings to bend the blade exactly as required. It’s spirit was now released and it was ready to work for it’s owner.
His father would be waiting to feel it in his hand once more. Only then could he continue his journey with his wife Lucine, Earduk’s beloved mother.
The mist was starting to clear. He could hear the rush of wings as the flock of geese that resided on the lake in safety overnight started to lift off from the lake to fly over to the grassy plain to start the day’s feeding.
He could see the causeway ahead and he slowly reached into his bag. Reverently withdrawing the blade he turned it over and over in his hands. The blade flashing in the rising sun casting shafts of light onto the dark waters lapping gently at the reed-covered banks.
Taking three paces onto the causeway he raised the u-shaped blade above his head and with a loud cry cast the offering far into the pool.
The splash caused a stir among the remaining geese and hastened them in their decision to take off. The ripples dislowly diminished and with the ritual complete Earduk turned back to the shore.
Earduk would be able to tell the elders that Shardan could now be placed in the niche near to the door of the family roundhouse. Once more armed Shardan would continue to protect his family as before.
Frozen in the land,
waves of earth in headlong flight.
Now a resting place
for old forgotten heroes,
safe in the hands of Gaia.
The stark hand carved walls,
a labour for so many,
now washing over them,
providing the peace they sought
in the green relentless tide.
Colleen’s Weekly #Tanka Tuesday #Poetry Challenge No. 93, “Inspiration & Plan,” #SynonymsOnly, Enemy in sight.
Unfurling the map,
Our foe is there, he points, for
Fear for homes and families
makes our resolve yet stronger
Colleen’s Weekly #Tanka Tuesday #Poetry Challenge NO. 92, “Bewitch & Treasure,” #SynonymsOnly, tales from the Argo
By lust for riches
and impolite behaviour
we became swine.
Jason through his piety
made Circe reverse her spell.
Cardeen crouched low on his steed’s broad neck. Flecks of foam escaped from her wide, flaring nostrils and hung in long, white streams from her sweat-soaked mane.
He knew that she could not continue at this furious pace for much longer. Her eyes wide and bloodshot, her hooves thundering on the hard baked earth of the forest path.
Cardeen smiled, behind them there was no sign of his pursuers but he could not afford to slacken her pace. They would be safe only after crossing the bridge which he knew could not be far ahead.
The sun had set and evening was jut beginning to close in as dusk came down and as they rounded a bend, ahead of him between the trees he spotted the bridge ahead. The border between Devon and Cornwall, the river Tamar which raged below.
Taking one hand off of the reins but keeping the pressure on so that she would not slacken her pace he adusted the leather bag slung from his shoulder.
With only fifty yards between he and the bridge he caught a movement in the corner of his eye. His heart sank as from between the trees emerged the red tunics and white waistcoats of a small group of soldiers. Two had muskets raised. He tried to coax one last effort from his already exhausted companion. A puff of smoke showed that one shot had been fired. The first one missed but hearing another report he instantly felt a blow on his chest.
He felt a damp stain below his throat and his grip on the reins loosened. The horse started to slow and came to a halt about ten yards from the bridge. Cardeen felt himself sliding off the saddle to one side.
As his feet landed on the ground he wrenched the leather bag from his neck and swinging it around his head managd to throw it with it’s precious cargo into the middle of the fast flowing stream.
A smile of satisfaction passed over his face as he realised that the documents in the bag would no longer be legible even if they were retrieved. The evidence of treason against his Lord, the Duke of Cornwall would not be found despite his having failed in his attempt to bring the letters back to the castle as his master required.
His eyes closed and sinking to lie on the damp soil Cardeen passed away knowing that he had done his duty.
The strangers with her on the rooftop paused in unison. They seemed confused, unsure what to do next. They had got her this far and so far no hint of what their intentions for her were.
Her mind raced. Looking about her wildly she couldn’t, in fact refused to believe that twenty minutes ago she had been walking through the cobbled streets of the finely preserved National Trust show village.
There had been no sign that there was some form of medieval pageant but she had found herself grabbed bu a pair of swarthy, dark-skinned men in what looked like authentic peasant’s smocks. If the dirt was anything to go by.
Despite her protests the two men had grabbed her and speaking in a strange accent, at least it sounded like an accent but the words weren’t even recognisable, had put a rope round her waist and started to lead her towards the public house she had just passed, “The vine.”
It had seemed empty before but now she found it to be full of the costumed townsfolk. Baleful eyes were cast in her direction as she was roughly dragged through the door.
Still unable to make her captors understand what she was saying and in total confusion, tears started to form; they pulled her through an archway at the side of the old wooden bar. Despite her situation she found herself marvelling at the authenticity of the bar. It really was like stepping back in time as she noted the two large oak barrels standing on the dark brown, knotted, roughly sawn plank that doubled as a bar counter. Behind which there were a range of earthenware pots with unknown contents. There wasn’t even a price list. Then they started to ascend a granite staircase between two rough whitewashed walls.
The people had formed a procession behind them, there were giggles and shrieks of laughter but it was more at her than with her and there was no humour in their loud clamour. From the dark staircase they burst out into the light and she saw that they were on a wooden balcony that overlooked the street at least two storeys below. A rough shaped beam was crudely attached to the handrail and looking up she saw the rope that hung from it over the edge. It was knotted at the bottom with a noose.
Only then did she start to scream.
Being an extract from the log of HMS Fox, brigantine, 9th. Sept. 1869
Awakened at the first bell of the morning watch by Captain of the deck second lieutenant Ffoulkes. Weather fair, sea calm, no fog.
Lookout had reported sighting land on the larboard bow but charts suggest he was mistaken and would face punishment if found to be asleep and dreaming whilst on watch.
Called for my telescope and astonished to see what appeared to be a major town in the distance with houses, rivers and a large abode set high upon a hill.
With First officer, proceeded to check charts and called for a line to be passed down to confirm depth below the keel.
Soundings confirmed depth greater than fifty fathoms. Drew in lead.
Ordered change of course to proceed towards anomaly but before half a league covered lookout reported no land in sight.
Believing it to be apparition or mirage I ordered the ship back to original course to maintain blockade off the coast of Alaska.
Editor’s note. Upon examination of Admiralty records in Greenwich maritime museum, I discovered numerous reports of sightings of ethereal lands and cities off Alaskan coast and Alaskan Indians include such sightings in their mythology. Another mystery of the sea.