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The Tall Stones

The Tall Stones by Moyra Caldecott
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Book One of The Guardians of the Tall Stones.

This book has been called "one of the great esoteric novels of the 20th century".

The first of four novels set in Bronze Age Britain, a society focused around the great circles of Sacred Stones scattered across the landscape. It tells the story of a community threatened by the evil designs of Wardyke, a corrupt and ambitious priest, and its only defence, the courageous young psychic, Kyra. But to defend her community, Kyra must enter the forbidden circle of stones and call upon its unseen, mystical powers...

Mushroom Publishing; March 2006
ISBN 9781843190752
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: The Tall Stones
Author: Moyra Caldecott
 
Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Discovery

Karne and Kyra lay on their bellies in the long grass within sight of the tall stones of the Sacred Circle, but well hidden from view themselves. They were about to commit an act of blasphemy. They were about to spy upon a priest.

Behind them, some distance to the east, was the straight silver line of the sea, from which liquid strangeness the sun came each day to watch over them.

The Sun!

It was said that men of power had built a Temple to the Sun in the south that contained within its circumference the answer to all the secrets of the universe. It was to this Temple Karne longed to go; it was these secrets he longed to learn.

But first there were matters in his own village that needed explanation.

* * *

The priest of their community knew many things. He stood alone within the circle of stones and learnt answers to questions that most ordinary people never dared to ask. Karne dared to ask, but Karne was a boy among other boys supposed to work the fields and not question the ancient mysteries. He did not know why he felt compelled to question. The other villagers seemed content enough to follow the daily routine and accept whatever the priest told them, but Karne always found himself discontented, wanting to know more.

The rituals satisfied the others. They chanted the words, beat the drums, lit the fires, did everything the priest commanded and found that that was enough for them. But to Karne there was an invisible part to the ritual which he knew was the most important part of all, understood only by the priest.

Why?

Why were these things kept from him? His mind felt capable of grasping much more than he was given.

‘These things are no concern of ordinary people,’ his father told him. ‘Maal is special. He was chosen in the ancient days and born to bear the burden of knowledge for our people. It is not an easy way. He has nothing of the love and companionship we ordinary people have among ourselves. He lives alone and carries all our lives upon his back. See sometimes how he bends with the weight of it all.’

Karne thought about the priest. He was old, bent and shrivelled like a withered fruit. Surely Death itself walked not far behind his back. But – and now another picture of the priest came to the boy’s mind – on holy days when he walked the processional way towards the standing stones upon the hill his back straightened and he carried himself tall and steady, like a young man. He entered the Sacred Circle and he was transformed. Karne had seen him, his eyes burning with a sudden fire as though he saw things they could not see that made him young again.

Karne was silent, thinking on these matters, but on another day Karne asked his father, ‘What if Maal dies? There is no one in our village or in the land as far as any of us has ever travelled who is trained to be a priest. What will become of us without a holy man who knows the mysteries?’

‘These matters are not for us to think about,’ his father replied. ‘It will be taken care of!’

And he would say no more.

‘It will be taken care of!’

How that sentence irritated Karne.

How?

How would it be taken care of?

By whom?

When?

In what manner?

Karne felt his head would burst if he did not get some answers.

Maal lived alone and, as he aged, hardly ever spoke except on holy days. When it was the turn of Karne’s family to provide food for the priest, Karne volunteered to take it to him, hoping to have an opportunity of conversation. But the old man was not at home and Karne was forced to leave the food and go back to his chores before Maal returned.

But one day when Karne had forced himself between the adults crowding beside the processional way to see Maal pass during one of the rituals, he fancied he caught Maal’s eye looking into his. He had a strange feeling that the eyes of the priest could see right into his head, see what he was thinking. He fancied the priest’s lips moved slightly in a smile, but it was all so fleeting and so quickly past that Karne could not be sure he had not imagined it. All he knew was that he was trembling and his head felt as though it were buzzing.

It was just after this that he first noticed there was something unusual about his sister Kyra. Up to that time he had been aware of her as one of his family, two years younger than himself, female and therefore of not much interest to him. His brothers were more fun to be with, companions on hunting expeditions, helping him by taking his place when he wanted to escape some planting or some ploughing, coming with him when he explored beyond the village to the far hills or the forests, even helping him with the building of a boat of wood and hide which he was planning to take down to the sea one day in an attempt to find the fabled Temple of the Sun. He did not believe it was as impossible as the Elders said it was, and he had managed to persuade at least two of his younger brothers to be companions in the adventure.

It was on one of the days when he was working on the boat by himself that the thing happened with Kyra. She came looking for him with some bread she had baked and, while he finished what he was doing, she sat on a log and watched him, breaking off pieces of the bread bit by bit and popping them into her own mouth.

He had told everyone he was making the boat to go fishing. Only Ji and Okan knew what it was really for and he had forced them to draw blood and swear they would tell no one. He did not want his handiwork broken up by some irate Elder on the grounds that it was against the will of the Holy Ones that he should go looking for the Temple.

Karne pulled one of the hide thongs tight with all his strength, binding it again and again round one of the ribs. He tried to hurry, smelling the delicious hot bread and feeling annoyed with Kyra for breaking off so many pieces.

‘The journey to the Temple of the Sun requires more than just a boat, you know,’ she said suddenly.

‘What do you mean?’

He finished the last knot hastily and shot out his hand for the last piece of bread before it vanished down his little sister’s throat.

‘It is a journey on many levels,’ she said calmly.

He stared at her astonished. Her face had a strange expression.

‘You know I am right,’ she continued patiently. ‘There is no need for you to pretend.’

He swallowed a lump of bread unchewed and it stuck in his throat. He choked and thought bitterly about his two younger brothers. But even as he thought up suitable punishments for their betrayal of his confidence, he knew there was something more to Kyra’s knowledge than it was possible for the boys to have given her.

She was staring at him calmly and for a second he had the same peculiar feeling that he had had when he had met the eyes of the priest.

Kyra could see into his head!

She also knew things that he did not know.

He was horrified and dismissed the idea immediately.

‘Go away!’ He was angry with her. ‘What do you think you are doing interrupting me like this? I am busy! And besides,’ he added with extreme irritation, ‘you have eaten all my bread!’

He picked up a stick and pretended he was going to throw it at her. She laughed and jumped lightly to the ground. As he watched her running and leaping across the field she looked just like an ordinary little girl again and he was sure he had imagined that she could see into his thoughts.

He returned to his work disturbed and disgruntled.

Somehow it no longer went so well. He lost confidence that the boat was ever going to be able to sail across the sea. The hides, however taut and oiled, would not withstand the buffeting of the really big waves. He had seen sea-going boats. In fact he had modelled this one upon them, though his was smaller, and knew this one was not good enough.

Perhaps that is what Kyra had meant.

No, it was not what Kyra had meant.

‘The journey to the Temple of the Sun requires more than just a boat,’ she had said, and she had said it with authority as though she had secret knowledge.

‘Nonsense,’ he said loudly, packed up his belongings, pulled his boat under the awning of leaves and branches he had built for it and left, marching and striding back to his home as though he were being watched by someone he was trying to impress.

* * *

Some days passed without much of note happening. It rained a great deal. He saw Kyra but she seemed such an unexceptionable little girl that he thought more and more he had been mistaken about her.

And then on the next ritual day something happened to renew his suspicion that his sister was not quite as she seemed.

The people gathered as usual along the processional way on the night of the full moon to watch the priest tread his slow measured way to the stone circle at the top of the hill. They bowed their heads as usual as he passed, whispering softly the names of the gods so that their voices sounded like wind through the leaves and the air vibrated gently to a kind of rhythm. This was not to be the spring ritual when they brought the branches of blossom, nor the winter ritual of fire, it was the moon ritual when the priest stayed alone with the spirit of the full moon and listened to the messages of night. For the Rising the people stayed with him, the vibrations of their voices important for his work.

‘Why is it so important?’ Karne thought defiantly. ‘What are these sounds that they matter so much?’

He knew they were the names of gods, but there were many gods and these were only a few of their names.

‘What would happen if I whispered different names?’

‘Do not,’ Kyra whispered in answer to his thought. ‘It would be dangerous for him.’

He spun round and stared at the dark shape of her face. The moon had not yet risen and it was too dark to see clearly, but he had the feeling her eyes were upon him and that she could ‘see into his head.’ A chill ripple passed under his skin, but he said nothing. He made sure he whispered the correct words.

At moon rise the momentum of the vibrations changed and finally stopped. With the first glint of brilliant light the whispering became chanting which grew louder and louder, faster and faster, until the time when the enormous disc of blazing light was in full view, its lower rim resting on the horizon. At this point the priest raised his arms in a sudden splendid movement, and with that the immense vibrating sound of the chanting cut, stopped, utterly ceased. In dead silence the visible counterpart of the invisible moon spirit lifted clear of the horizon and sailed majestically into the realm of the stars.

The villagers watched with an awe that never grew less no matter how often they took part in this ceremony.

After a timeless moment of watching, of worshipping, the priest moved again, his arms lowered to shoulder height, cutting the air sideways with a sharp movement. The villagers turned to go, leaving their priest to communicate with the spirits and the gods.

In the morning, when they gathered again at the coming of first light, Karne noticed that the priest, who normally walked lightly as though he felt no strain, stumbled slightly on the path, and as he did so looked up swiftly to see if anyone had noticed. No one except Karne and Kyra had, and the priest’s eyes found them out immediately. His sharp eyes penetrated Karne’s mind briefly and blazingly, daring him to repeat what he had seen, and then turned to Kyra’s, where his gaze stayed, and Karne could sense a shaft of consciousness leap between them like lightning in a stormy sky.

But even as he registered it, it was over, and the old priest was gone, surrounded by the Elders.

This time Karne was determined to find out what was happening with Kyra.

‘I did not imagine it,’ he told himself and followed her closely. But she was walking with her mother, their arms linked, and there was no way he could talk to her alone.

It was not till late that afternoon that he managed to corner her.

‘I must talk to you,’ he said urgently, knowing that it was only a matter of moments before their baby sister would tire of playing in the mud puddle and demand Kyra’s attention again.

She knew at once what he meant and nodded.

‘Where?’ he asked tersely.

She thought about it seriously for a moment.

‘Near the boat?’

She knew this was a relatively secret place and a place he went to often to get away from people. Ji and Okan were far away this afternoon helping their father in the forest, so they would be no bother.

‘Good,’ he said. ‘When?’

She shrugged and looked at the baby covered in mud from head to foot. It grinned up at her with its little toothless gums black with the mud it had been stuffing into its mouth.

They could not help laughing.

‘You had better get it cleaned up,’ Karne said. ‘I will be at the boat. Come when you can.’

He was glad he did not have the task of cleaning the baby and he wondered how much mud it had swallowed and whether it would be sick as it had been the last time. Poor Kyra.

Poor Kyra?

The priest had looked at her in a way he had never seen him look at anyone else.

The priest had smiled at her.

Why?

He had looked at Kyra as though he knew her in some way.

Something was beginning to happen out of the ordinary, and Karne was finding it very intriguing and exciting.

He waited impatiently for Kyra to come to him. If she did not hurry they would have no time to talk, it would be time for the sun to set and the setting sun meant family prayers and then the evening meal. By rights he should be helping now with the animals, but with any luck the rest of the family would manage and he would get away with a mild reprimand from his father. For all his questioning he would not like to miss the evening prayers. The dark was not a thing to face unprepared.

Kyra came at last.

He pounced on her.

‘What is going on?’ he demanded.

She hesitated a moment.

‘I do not really know,’ she said slowly, her face thoughtful, ‘but it seems to me . . . sometimes . . . I know things . . . I mean I feel as though I know things . . . I cannot possibly know . . . like . . . like people’s thoughts . . . before they say something . . .’

‘I knew it,’ shouted Karne triumphantly. ‘You can see into my head!’

‘I cannot!’ Kyra answered indignantly and vehemently.

‘Well, sometimes you look as though you can!’

Kyra’s expression was distraught.

‘I do not mean to,’ she said miserably. ‘It just happens.’

Karne was very excited and was walking up and down restlessly.

‘It is great! It is the most wonderful thing! Why on earth are you looking so miserable?’ He was talking faster and faster as he walked about. ‘There is no end to the things we can do with a talent like that . . .’

‘We?’

Kyra looked astonished, but Karne took no notice of her.

‘The priest Maal can do that. I know he can. He looked into my head in just the same way as you did the other day. We will be able to find out all kinds of things this way. We may even be able to find out what he is thinking . . .’

‘Karne,’ Kyra began to be really alarmed. ‘What are you saying? You will be stricken by the gods for such blasphemy! A priest’s thoughts are sacred. All his ways and his knowledge are secret. They must be secret . . .’

‘Why must they be?’ Karne challenged, his eyes blazing at the thought of all the power they could have if Kyra really could see into people’s thoughts.

‘It has always been so, since the ancient days!’ she cried.

‘Well, these are not the ancient days! And why do I feel in myself such urgency, such desperation to know the things it is forbidden to know if the time has not come to know them?’

Kyra looked at him with wide eyes. He seemed inspired. Possessed?

‘Karne,’ she whispered, afraid for him. ‘It cannot be! Calm yourself! Besides . . .’

She hesitated.

‘Besides what?’ He found himself shouting.

‘Besides . . . I do not have this great power you seem to think I have . . . only sometimes . . . occasionally I get glimpses . . . only bits and pieces . . . nothing one could rely on. And besides . . .’ she said again.

‘Besides what?’ He shouted again, his voice amazingly loud and unlike his own.

‘Besides . . . even if I had the powers you think I have I would not use them the way you want me to use them. Only the priest can know the High Secrets. It is not fit for us to know them.’

‘Why not fit?’ He challenged her angrily, but she held her ground bravely.

‘Well, not safe then.’

‘How not safe?’

‘We cannot know the whole, and to know only the parts can be misleading.’

He thought about this for a while, somewhat sullenly. He sat on the grass with his head in his hands, thinking deeply.

‘You see,’ she said at last in a very small voice, ‘I cannot see what you are thinking now. I can never make it happen. It just seems to happen . . . by itself . . . sometimes . . .’

He still said nothing.

She strained to catch his thoughts, ‘to see into his head,’ but she could not.

She felt miserable and wished that she had never told him. She wished that it had never happened to her in the first place. Before this day she had found it disturbing, but not frightening. Now she was wondering if it was an evil. She had never seen Karne in such a mood.

But his mood was changing even as she was thinking this.

‘Kyra,’ he said, raising his head from his hands and looking at her more calmly, but with something in his eyes that had not been there before. ‘I am sorry. I did not mean to frighten you.’

She noticed that there was a hint of respect in his voice, and affection.

She looked at him uncertainly.

‘This matter is important. We must think about it. The gods must have given you this gift . . . surely to some purpose?’

She still looked doubtful and unhappy.

‘Think?’

She shook her head sadly.

He could see there was no point in pushing her further at the moment. Her pace was not his pace. He would have to be patient with her, but he would not let the matter rest forever.

They walked home together, and yet not together, two very small separate figures in a huge landscape, the gigantic red sun god that ruled over their lives sliding past them into the dark regions of the west, the tall stones on the hill growing taller as they grew darker and sharper in outline against the brilliant luminosity of the sky

Kyra shivered slightly as she looked at them. They had always seemed holy before, protective, the priest’s concern and none of hers. But now it came in to her mind that somehow her destiny was crossing theirs and her life as a little girl minding babies and grinding meal for the family was going to change. She stopped walking and stared at them. They grew longer and longer, dark shapes reaching great distances into the universe, the light behind them growing in intensity of pale yellows and greens to an incredible white. It seemed to her that she was staring into the heart of Light and it was blinding her.

She dropped her face into her hands and squeezed her eyes shut to avoid the hurting of the light, but she could feel it still.

The light and the circle were both within her in some way, and yet, at the same time, outside her, encompassing everything that existed.

She encompassed everything that existed?

She was the circle encompassing everything that existed.

Nothing existed that was not within herself.

* * *

Karne was shaking her.

‘Kyra! Kyra!’ he was calling, his face a study of anxiety. ‘What is the matter? Kyra!’

The vision disappeared and she was left a shaken and shuddering little girl in the growing dark, her brother’s rough hands upon her shoulders, his worried face, very much outside her own, staring at her in consternation.

Still shivering, she looked around her. The light was gone and the sky was dimming rapidly. The stones on the hill looked very ordinary and were almost fading from sight. A last straggling string of birds was trailing off to the forest in the south, some of them calling mournfully. Friendly smoke from home fires was rising beyond the barley field.

‘Oh Karne,’ she cried, tears streaming from her eyes, but laughing at the same time with the sheer pleasure of the ordinariness of everything. ‘That beautiful, beautiful smell of wood smoke!’

Karne dropped his hands from her shoulders and took her hand. They ran towards their home together, looking at nothing but the ground beneath their feet.


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ISBNs
1899142959
9780099428107
9781843190721
9781843190752
9781899142446
9781899142958