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.
We look upon a mournful scene,
is it mist or just the sheen
of sadness in the eyes downcast.
With folded arms and child at breast
she realises that no more
on lapping wave her paramour,
will reappear on rising tide
but now departs for the last time,
her clifftop vigil will soon end as
arms outstretched she will descend.
No-one will mourn, nothing to keep
her from making this fateful leap.
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.
Challenging Gods in all their glory
Remember poor Arachne’s story
compelled to weave eternally
threads on the loom of humanity
as a consequence of her vanity
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.
the eyeless corpse turns
as the cage swings in the breeze
squawking, the crow flies,
below, wide eyes fill with tears
gazing upon my father
Weary after the strenuous afternoon hike through the hot Greek countryside David and Julie lay down to rest in an effort to escape the relentless Mediterranean sun. David heard his partner’s shallow breathing slowly turn to a gentle snore. He found that he couldn’t sleep, he had the nagging feeling that they were being watched.
Warily he sat up and scanned the valley below. Sure enough, he thought he could see movement. He realised it was an old woman slowly picking her way through the undergrowth. She appeared to be carrying a bundle or basket on her head.
He reached out his left arm and shook Julie gently awake. She remained lying as he pointed out the old woman to her. David thought he would call out and see if the old woman was ok, it was very hot in the afternoon sun. Both of them called out, peering in her direction. There was no reply but they watched her as she started to get closer.
David realised his mistake when he noticed the bundle on her head appeared to be moving. His last thought was disbelief when he saw that her hair was in fact a writhing mass of snakes.
The old woman said
that there is only one way
to remove a wart
bury a toad before dawn
it will be gone by sunset
At four o’clock that morning the stags on the hillside had commenced their belling. The eerie bellowing echoing all around the valley. This morning however Abel was more interested in the loud gasps and cries from behind the skins hanging from the line, forming a curtain which divided the single room in his hovel. Pacing up and down the room he was anxious to know what progress, if any, was taking place with the birth of his second child. Continuously stroking his beard he strained to hear what was happening. At last there was a loud gasp from the assisting nurse followed by the sound of a slap and a loud shriek accompanied the sound of crying. Abel turned then stopped and watched as the nurse raised the skin and silently with sad eyes, looking at the floor, held up a white bundle. Abel knew what this meant and with tears in his eyes grabbed the bundle and turned to the doorway. Outside stood three elders, ready to perform the customary baptism. Taking the rudely wrapped child from Abel’s hands the three started the solemn procession up to the ceremonial site at the head of the Tor. Amidst the granite blocks there was one which formed a natural basin, it’s waters continually replenished by the frequent, heavy Exmoor rains. For long centuries this had been used as the villager’s font where all baptisms had taken place. Abel watched them depart then returning inside, retired to a stool in the corner, where he sat with his head in his hands, the grief he felt for the abomination he had witnessed so great that he had no heart to go in and try to comfort the mother of the newborn. Meanwhile on the hillside the elders arrived at the site and gathering around the stone they held the child up to the rising sun before placing the white mewing parcel into the water. This was to be no ordinary baptism for instead of a brief immersion in the icy waters the child was held under the water till there were seen to be no more bubbles rising. The body was then laid on a bed of grass on the large flat boulder adjacent to the basin stone. The child had been chosen to atone for the tribal perceived sins. The raven and the buzzard would help to consign the child’s spirit to the all-seeing God, where forgiveness may be obtained. Though the only sin this child had committed in it’s brief life was to have been born a girl. A crime worthy of death in the patriarchal society in which she had had the misfortune to enter this life.
Many people have admired the stone pillar at the side of the lane that leads to the medeival church of San Marco in Firsti but but it is only the locals who feel they know the true builders and the reason for it’s curious structure. I will tell you the story that I was told when I was just a boy.
Cardinal Cadenza smiled but it was a cold, humourless expression of his sadistic nature. Turning to the two black-robed, cringing priests he asked them to confirm that the nun Sister Dometia had really confessed to the heresy that appeared to afflict so many of the order known as the. “Poor Clares.” They showed him the scrap of parchment and pointed out the scrawl which was purported to be Sister Dometia’s mark. “That is all I need,” he thought. Pressing his fingers to his lips he thought for a moment and then the decision was made. He had been toying with a new punishment for heretics and this would be the ideal opportunity for him to show these heathen that the work of our Lord was just and transgressors could be shown mercy if they turned from their ways and repented their sins. He ordered the two priests to take the prisoner to the lower cell where the stonemason would be waiting for her. The priests left and descended to the lower dungeon where they found Sister Dometia kneeling in prayer in the corner of her cell. Clad only in a woollen blanket they led her down two flights of steps to the room where they saw the mason and his team waiting. They stood around a wooden coffin and stripping the nun naked they told her to lie down in the coffin. All were impressed that even though she knew her probable fate Sister Dometia maintained her vow of silence and stoically lay on her back, arms folded across her breast, in the coffin. The masons then started to trowel cement into the coffin until only her face was showing. When the coffin was filled with the cold, hard, liquid stone the men all left her in this nightmare situation. In the morning when they returned the cement had set and there only remained a corpse in the coffin. They smashed the wood and stood the pillar upright with the nun’s dead face set in a rictus smile looking out. The pllar was then placed at the entrance to the church as a warning to all.