Throughout the books written with Stuart France many stories are woven. This is another of those tales that is woven through the Doomsday series… and one of those upon which we drew for the Feathered Seer workshop. It tells the tale of a real site and the events that archaeology suggests may have taken place there.
The sun is warm on the plateau. The kine graze, lazily swishing flies with their tails. In the little fields the old man works, the only man here on the Hill, the place of the Seers who served the gods.
They need no menfolk, here on the Hill. They are safe behind the great stone walls, protected by the steep slopes of the mound. They are safe… years untold the seers have dwelt here; respected, sought by the clans. They weave the dreamsight… and they are cherished.
Children laugh and run in the afternoon haze, young women sit outside their dwellings, plaiting veils of flowers, ready for the night. They will not be seen,
the flower maids, only known by the young men they meet by flame and under the starfire. But they will return no longer maiden. Tonight the fires will burn and the priestesses become the land.
The Eldest watches. Her skin a leathern apple after midwinter, her hands silent on her lap. She watches, remembering. She had been young once, long ago. She had served the flame and the daughter of that night wore fire in sleek braids that fell to her waist. Tonight they would be unbound and she too would take the veil and venture into the night.
A smoke and fire scented night… the fragrance of crushed flowers clings like memory to her skin. She folds her hands over her belly and smiles.
Their fires light the horizon. She counts them, holding the small child close, crooning softly over its head. She had counted them when they first appeared. Watched them every night, long before eyes could see them. Watched them with the dreamsight. And the fear had come.
The woman, plump and dark, one of the Old Ones, holds out her arms, fear and compassion in her eyes; milk in her breasts from her own lost bairn, she takes the child.
A small hand reaches up, marked; she catches her breath and looks up meeting the young woman’s eyes. A wordless smile, a nod. The mark of the Seers.
Folding the shawl around the babe, she closes her eyes for the blessing then disappears into the night.
They walked far that night, trailing the goats behind them, following the stars and the hidden valleys… man and woman, Grandmother riding the ox with the borrowed babe in her arms.
It would be many nights …from the Snake to the Raven’s lands, seeking shelter.
The sickness gnaws as the images unfold.
She tries to turn from them, follow the journey of the little one, but the vision blazes in a memory that is not her own but that of her kin.
Screaming, running, smoke and blood.
Children spitted like rabbits, flung from spears… dying as they fall.
Left to bleed, slowly, in pain and fear on the steep slope.
Eyes trampled underfoot. These were the Seers.
Noise, stench of smoke, faeces and roasting meat…
Thatch blazing in the night; a beacon of grieving, a pyre of memory.
Hands crushed underfoot by those who watch, who wait their turn.
Arms that fought, broken and useless.
No escape, naked and beaten; another and another.
Breasts that ooze milk now suckle horror.
Red braids fought over by human dogs in the firelight, their owner prays for death.
Another… and another.
No veil of flowers.
No bright morning.
The Eldest watches through blind sockets, her hands on her belly, life oozing from severed wrists.
They had been ready. They were many.
The kine had been brought in, the gates closed, the fires raised. The beacon lit. Too late for help. Enough for warning.
They were women. Priestess and seer, old and young. Children.
They could not fight. But they tried.
They came at night, silently. My people were slaughtered like pigs. And worse.
They burned their homes. Smashed the altar. Took the sacred flame to the thatch.
Flung them in the ditch, dead and living dead; broken. Discarded.
The walls of the sanctuary thrown down upon them, breaking them.
And then they left.
There was nothing here for them. Only a power they feared. A gift destroyed.
But not quite. They failed.
A spark remained.
She did not die.
Broken, bloodied, used… She woke on the rocks of the hillside and, slowly, carried their deaths to the sacred hill, flame to flame.
And I remain.
I carry their souls. Theirs too.
For the children. For the cruelty. For brightness lost.
For my sisters.
The earth mourns, shrouded in barren silence.
It waits to spill its secrets in the lap of the gods.