There were fires in the valley below as the procession arrived. Such a long journey, so many turnings of the sun in the walking. She had learned to read the flames, she who was marked for the sacred enclosure, serving her clan and their gods.
There had been fires on the hilltops, dotted across the landscape in a line that followed the contours of earth. The fires had faded now, banked against the night. There were none here as she waited for the sunrise, no flames to help her find vision…
Her hand crept to the feather at her throat. Her gift from the gods, the colour of flame. She had strayed from the path, seeking silence… preparing her Self for what was to come.
The great bird had wheeled overhead, soaring above the trees in the morning. She had looked down and seen the rainbows caught in the feather, bright against the grass and smiled. Cutting a thin strip of leather from her girdle she had bound the feather at her throat, hearing the keening cry of the bird on the wind.
Touching its softness, she found confidence. What would come would be as the gods willed. Life or death, success or failure… They saw clearer than their fledgling seer. She was theirs to take…
She pulled the furs close around her, the ground wet with the dew as the dawn came closer. The time of her testing on the hill of vision.
In the half-light, the valleys were shrouded in low mist, making the land unreal and seeming to shift… islands in an unseen sea.
She had been prepared by those who waited with her, high on the hill. She had been bathed in the sacred spring that ran from the chalk below this place, winding as a clear stream into the valley. There was a shallow pool beneath the trees. She could not see it in the half-light, but she knew its course and felt for it in her mind and body.
She had not eaten, only drunk of herbs steeped in its water for three days. She was marked with ochre and dressed in a clean robe. She heard them stand to greet the sun, but did not turn to the east with them.
She watched them through other senses, familiar with the rite, seeking to feel herself within the land and sky. She saw her shadow on the grass as the sun rose, gilding the mists. It was time.
Below the summit, where the flat plateau echoed the one so far away, a fire bird wheeled and keened to the sun. She wondered if it was her bird, the one whose feather she wore…
No matter. They were kin and she would ask its help.
Sending thought into the air, she sought the bird in her mind, feeling herself meld with its grace, letting the sensation of flight take her skimming the wind, feeling the swoop and rise in her stomach…
Excerpt from The Initiate ~ Stuart France & Sue Vincent
The photo for this week’s prompt was taken halfway up the earthwork known as Cymbeline’s Castle, or sometimes Belinus’ Castle, just outside Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, England. The lower part of the hill is officially classed as a motte and bailey, with several other associated earthworks, the remains of a Roman villa, a medieval nunnery and a sacred spring close by.
Behind it, the higher part of the hill is a Beacon Hill, crowned by a round barrow, and hiding the Prime Minister’s country residence at Chequers. This area is rich in archaeology, going back to the most ancient times, and the five-thousand-year old Ridgeway runs through the site.
For us, though, it is a strange place, where, on our first ascent, we seemed to be ‘carried’, for want of a better word, to the top of a hill that should have left us breathless and panting. We watched the red kites wheel below us and named it the Hill of Vision, for that seems to be its function.
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