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The Temple of the Sun

Book Two of The Guardians of the Tall Stones

The Temple of the Sun by Moyra Caldecott
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The Temple of the Sun is the second book of the "Guardians of the Tall Stones" series. It continues the story of Kyra's hazardous journey undertaken with Karne and Fern to the Sacred Temple, where Kyra is to receive her training as a priestess and renew her love for the Lord Khu-ren. But a malevolent spirit still opposes them. Wardyke has returned, and his influence has already permeated the sanctity of the Temple. Kyra is forced once again to face the evil Magician-Priest, whose thirst for revenge and power threatens the balance between good and evil...

Mushroom Publishing; March 2006
ISBN 9781843191742
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: The Temple of the Sun
Author: Moyra Caldecott
 
Excerpt

1

The Warning and the Journey

The High Priest, the Lord Guiron, was in the great circle of the Temple of the Sun by himself, the dawn rituals over, the other priests and initiates departed. He too should have left and be attending to the business of the Temple.

Something held him back.

Something made him break his routine and pace the Tall stones around the circumference, not as a priest drawing energy from them, not as a suppliant speaking with spirits, not as Lord of the Sun in robes of splendour with the power to roam the world at will, but as an old man suddenly lonely and afraid.

It was as though the people leaving the circle after the ceremony this particular morning drained him of his significance. He had not felt this way before, or not for many years. He had been in the circle alone many times, as High Priest it was his right, but it had always sustained him in his confidence and strength.

Now he felt like a peasant who had wandered unwittingly into a Sacred Circle and was overwhelmed by his own smallness and in awe of the giant forces surrounding him.

He, Guiron, Lord High Priest, was afraid.

Afraid in his own Temple?

Afraid of what?

He did not know.

The shoulders he usually carried so straight and proud were bent.

‘What is it?’ he kept asking himself.

But for all his knowledge of the Mysteries, and for all the control of mind and body he had learned through the long years of priesthood, this time he was an ordinary man faced with an uneasiness to which he could not put a name, which he could not define.

He thought of entering one of the two inner circles within the great circle which were reserved for very special occasions. Perhaps their extra strength would give him back his stature as a Priest.

But as he approached the northern one, it was as though he were held back.

‘Not now,’ a voice that was not his own voice spoke within his head. ‘Not now.’

Feeling himself an exile he stumbled slightly and returned to the outer circle. Beyond the immense standing stones that carried the flow of spirit power from earth to sky, from sky to earth, the high ridge, walled with rough chalk blocks, rose above him, cutting him off from the rest of his fellow men. It was designed to isolate the Temple for its work, to concentrate its energies and keep intruders out, and he now felt as much a prisoner as a small beetle would that had fallen on its back within a steep-sided hole.

There were things in his past that he did not wish to think about. He pushed them back into the darkness. Long years of service as Priest of light had surely undone whatever harm he might have done once long ago!

But from the crevices of darkness in his mind, unease was stirring and this time he could not put it down.

With no one to observe him he allowed himself the luxury of tears and put his head against a Tall stone to the east of the circle, a stone for which he had always felt a particular affinity. He put his arms around it as though it were a man and could give him comfort.

‘Lord,’ he whispered, ‘Lord of light. Help me.’

He tried to clear his head of the irrational and disorderly murmurings of his mind.

Where was his training now?

Slowly order came.

Slowly the clamour of his fear died down.

He tried to visualize, to call before him a picture of what it was that threatened him.

He could feel a low drumming or throbbing in his head. Whether it was from within himself or from within the rock he pressed himself so closely against, he could not tell.

He listened to it and it seemed to him at last that it was the sound of the ocean, beating relentlessly against the shore, the ocean rising and falling, swelling and subsiding, and upon its vastness there was a small seed, a fragile boat tossed among the waves, that bore within it something that threatened change to him and the Great Temple that lay around him.

The image was not clear.

The menace was not strong.

It was a hint, a stirring, a whisper ... but it was there.

He strained for a clearer vision.

It would not come.

But pain entered his body from the north, so it was from the north that he expected the threat to come.

He pulled back from the stone with a sudden movement and with a surge of great determination he pulled himself to his full height as a Priest, his eyes sparked with his old fire of office and, turning his face to the north, he spoke these words aloud and with great authority.

‘You who come from the north to bring disruption and change to this man and this place, turn back. Turn back! There is no welcome for you here!’

He tried with all the force of will and thought at his command to reject the unknown intruders and turn them from their course.

His will was strong, the beam of his thought powerful, but the deep and featureless blue of the sky into which he thrust his desperate barb gave no sign that it had reached its mark.

‘So be it,’ he thought, and turned to leave the circle. ‘I have tried, and I will try again!’

* * * *

In the north Kyra stood upon the cliff she had just climbed and stared at the sea that lay impassively silver, ominously vast.

They had sailed in their frail homemade boat since the first stirrings of Spring and the journey that lay behind them, which had seemed so long and painful, was nothing to the journey that lay ahead of them.

She could see her brother Karne, tall and fair and bronzed, out beyond the rock line of the shore fishing for their lunch. Fern, his wife, who was heavy with child, was gathering driftwood on the pebbled beach for their cooking fire. When Kyra was with them the community of their love gave them each strength and comfort, but from the height of the cliff top they seemed very small and vulnerable against the immense panorama that stretched as far as she could see and then... beyond...

The joy of purpose that had sustained her in their travels since they first set out suddenly deserted her, and she looked at the huge landscape of impenetrable forest behind her and the seascape that lay forever and forever below her, and a sharp cold feeling of fear stabbed her heart.

‘How is it possible?’ she thought in panic. ‘How dare we venture into this vastness and hope to find our way!’

Appalled at the foolhardiness of their journey, the immense scope of it, and the inadequacy of their preparation for it, she decided they must turn back at once to their comfortable little village where everything was known and loved, understanding and achievement easier.

‘Karne!’ she called. ‘Fern!’

She must tell them at once before it was too late and they were lost forever!

But no matter how loud she shouted the thin whistle of her voice was blown backwards on to the land and dispersed among the tough coastal grasses and flowers that lived on the thin crust of earth above the unfathomable dark rock.

‘Karne!’ she called again. ‘Fern!’

But there was no way they could hear her.

She started to scramble down the cliff, loose pieces of rock and earth scattering under her feet and hands. Sea birds shrieking with indignation flew up from hidden ledges and her heart began pumping with an urgent and powerful fear.

She must be careful.

On the way up, so intent on the moment by moment examination of the beauty of the rocks and the lichens nearest to her, she had not noticed how sheer the cliff was. Now, looking down, she was shocked at the danger of the descent.

Karne and Fern looked up on hearing the pebbles rolling down the cliff and saw Kyra coming down too fast for safety.

They both gasped and called out.

Fern ran immediately over the sharp and uneven rocks, the child lying within her body making her progress clumsy and painful. Karne, thinking that Kyra was being pursued, ran back to the boat to fetch his sling catapult and stood high upon a rock where he could see further up the cliff, the stone in his sling held back, the leather thong taut, ready for action.

But it soon became clear Kyra was alone. Whatever was driving her to such careless speed was not visible to their eyes.

She slid the final slope in a flurry of stones and landed in a heap at Fern’s feet, considerably bruised and shaken, her skin grazed in many places, but otherwise unharmed.

Karne was angry.

He raged for several moments at her recklessness.

‘I am sorry,’ she brought out breathlessly, and repeated it when his words continued the bruising she had just suffered from the cliff, as Fern helped her dust herself off and wash the open places clean with sea water.

‘What were you trying to do?’ Karne demanded at last indignantly.

‘I tried to call you from the cliff top,’ she said miserably, smarting as the salty water touched the open grazes.

‘We did not hear you,’ Fern said gently.

‘Of course we did not!’ Karne exclaimed, looking at the height of the cliff. ‘How could we possibly have heard you?’

‘I know. It was foolish. It just seemed so urgent...’

She hesitated. Things were not so clear at the bottom of the cliff as they had been at the top.

‘What was so urgent?’ Karne asked sternly.

‘I thought ... we ought ... to turn back,’ Kyra said in a low voice, aware that this would not be received well by Karne.

They stared at her.

‘Turn back! Why?’ Karne demanded.

‘It just seemed...’ Kyra’s voice was losing conviction every moment, ‘at the top of the cliff looking at how huge the ocean is and thinking about the journey... it just... all seemed... impossible!’

‘But the Lords of the Sun told you to make the journey!’ Fern cried. She herself would not have been sorry to turn back, but she knew Kyra had been commanded to attend the Temple of the Sun to study for the priesthood. Without Karne’s help and protection she could not make the journey, and without Karne, she, Fern, was not prepared to live. So their journey had become her journey.

* * * *

Kyra was silent.

Karne was silent too. His anger was gone. He knew his sister well and the burdens she had to bear, the fears she faced from time to time.

‘It will not be an easy journey,’ he said, quietly now. ‘But it is necessary.’

‘Karne...’ Kyra said in a very small voice.

‘Yes,’ he said gently.

‘Sometimes I think I am not fit ... It seems to me I may have misunderstood. It is very possible that I misunderstood,’ she pleaded.

‘I do not think so, my sister,’ Karne said soberly.

‘Think back on all that has happened,’ Fern said. ‘You know you have been chosen! You know you have special powers not many people have! Powers that could and should be trained for use within the priesthood.’

‘But,’ Kyra said sadly, ‘there are so many ordinary things I want to do. Surely if I were fit to be a priest I would have my mind on higher matters all the time?’

‘You are not a priest yet,’ Fern reminded her. ‘There will be years of training.’

‘But I do not want to reach the point where ordinary things do not matter to me any more!’

‘And I do not think you ever will reach that point,’ Karne said seriously. ‘You are training to be a priest, not a god. Maal still enjoyed ordinary things. Maal even made mistakes. Remember?’

Maal was their friend and teacher, the old priest of their community whom they had loved and trusted, and who had been cruelly ousted and then destroyed by the false but powerful priest-magician Wardyke.

‘Maal always said the universe is made up of ordinary things,’ Fern said. ‘It is in our seeing of them, our appreciation of them, that they become extra-ordinary, that they take on splendour and magic. So you will not have to give up ordinary things. They will just become for you less ‘ordinary’. You will have more reality, not less!’

Kyra was somewhat comforted, but the sight of all that endless ocean, that endless land, that she had seen from the top of the cliff came back to her. She felt again that sudden cold twinge of fear.

‘How will we ever find our way?’ she said, tears coming to her eyes. ‘Oh, Karne, everything is so huge, and we are so small!’

He put his hands on her shoulders and the warmth of the contact made her feel less small, less alone.

‘There is no point in thinking about it like that,’ he said briskly after a pause, ‘there is a fire to be made, fish to be roasted. I, for one, am starving!’

Kyra could not help smiling.

It was so like him to busy himself with practicalities and take one step at a time! And yet he had vision too and knew when two steps were necessary.

She looked at him with great love and trust, and then turned to help Fern with the fire.

* * * *

After the meal, while the other two made the boat ready for sailing, Kyra clambered over the rocks to the furthest and largest one standing almost like an island in the sea.

She needed to think.

She remembered Maal with aching heart and all that he had taught her before his death.

She called on him for help. She called on the Lords of the Sun, on the spirits who lived in the realms that led to the one God who was nameless but the source of All.

‘Tell me what I must do!’ she cried aloud in pain, her voice becoming part of the water crashing onto the rock, part of the rock, part of the light splintering off its surface and the dark germinating in its depths.

Fern and Karne on the beach packing away the things in the boat simultaneously felt they heard a sound and looked up to see Kyra poised triumphantly on her rock, raised as tall as she could be, pointing with dramatic excitement to the swelling sea.

As the eyes followed her finger they saw, rising from the sea in dark and rhythmic folds, the bodies of innumerable dolphins, plunging, rising, plunging, rising, travelling the ocean with their slow and ancient dance, and all of them moving south. Moving south!

Kyra had her answer.

They launched their little boat of wood and hide and followed the course they had planned to the south, keeping land always in sight to the west of them.

* * * *

It was during Fern’s watch one night that, for the first time, they lost all contact with the land and with their course.

She sat huddled in her fur cape hour after hour while the other two uncomfortably and fitfully snatched some restless sleep. Karne had shown her the star she was to keep always behind them in the north and the others she was to watch progressing across the sky, the dim, dark hump of the land always to the west.

For the first hour of her watch her eyes grew weary with the number of times she checked their direction against those frail points of light.

But during the second hour the moon rose and she was overwhelmed by the splendour of its rising.

Without her realizing it, and perhaps because the wind had subtly altered its direction, their little craft began to move along the spectacular silver path towards the moon. The dark and brooding ocean became transformed into a sparkling, shimmering mist of silver. ‘Moon metal’ her people often called what we now call silver, and the sea shone now with moon metal.

Darkly the deeps may have been waiting beneath the shining ripples of the surface, but Fern was no longer conscious of them. She no longer noticed the passage of the night, the progress of the stars, the disappearance of the land shadow to the west. She saw only the moon and felt the urge to reach towards it.

As the moon rose higher in the sky Fern urged the little craft faster along the metal path, taking out the paddle and scooping the silver water back to add speed to its progress.

Her first exultant urge to speed turned to despair as the great disk lifted higher and higher, further and further from her reach.

She stood at last, arms uplifted, calling to the moon with a strange and unnatural call.

Kyra jerked awake with the sound, seeing the girl transformed.

‘Fern!’ she cried in alarm.

Fern did not hear her, but stretched her arms to their limits...

The moonlight caught her eyes and to Kyra they seemed to be made of moon metal.

She seized her and shook her. The boat rocked dangerously and Fern’s eyes became pools of dark.

‘Come back!’ Kyra cried. ‘Fern, you are possessed!’

Karne grumblingly awoke now and stared bewildered at the scene.

He saw his sister Kyra shaking Fern violently, felt the boat rocking.

In an instant he was up and in control. He pushed Fern and Kyra down with oaths of command, seized the paddle and righted the spinning and jerking of the boat.

Fern crouched with her head against Kyra’s breast sobbing and shivering. Kyra enclosed her with her arms and comforted her with soft sounds.

‘What is this?’ Karne shouted. ‘What have you done?’

Kyra looked above Fern’s head and could see no land to the west and the stars they had set their course by were not where they should have been.

They were caught in a sickly white light in the middle of darkness, far from home, far from anywhere they knew. And creeping over the face of the moon was the dark hand of a cloud.

Within a short while the stars had gone out one by one, the whole sky was overcast and they were in absolute darkness.

They sat huddled together, the cold they felt as much from within as from without.

Karne and Kyra had quietened Fern’s sobs and had silently agreed to say no more about the incident. What was done was done, and now they must think what to do next.

‘There is nothing we can do but wait for morning and the light,’ Karne said.

He held Fern close to him, knowing that what she had done she had not done deliberately to bring them into danger, but that something from deep within those mysterious levels we all have within ourselves had stirred, and an urge to reach and follow something she herself could not control or understand had taken over.

In the darkness, drifting with the deep sea currents, the three young people and the unborn child waited.

They saw no sun in the morning, but they knew it had risen because the black pit of darkness in which they had been marooned gave way to a dull and sombre grey, neither sky nor sea distinguished in any way.

Gloomily the three made breakfast of wheat biscuits and water from the goatskin bag. Up to now they had fed off the land each day and had not needed to draw on their emergency store of food.

Karne stared around him at their featureless world.

They had pulled down the rough sail in an attempt not to travel any further off their course, and lowered strings of fibrous rope over the side to watch which way they drifted, hoping their rudimentary knowledge of currents and tides, gleaned from fisherman friends, would help them decide which way land lay.

It was Fern who noticed the first sea bird and after that they concentrated on the sky and noted with desperate attention which way the birds flew. But this at first was not much help as the birds seemed to come and go from many directions.

Kyra buried her face in her hands and tried to ‘feel’ the presence of the land. Karne kept quiet, knowing this was a power Kyra sometimes had which she was hoping would grow with training as a priest.

Fern joined her in her concentration, thinking of the forests and the growing plants with whom she had lived in close harmony all her life. She needed them now and called on them for help.

* * * *

At first no help came.

The sound of the slap, slapping of the water against the side of the boat was all they were conscious of, that and the coldness of the air that enclosed them.

Karne watched the ropes, counted seagulls and noted the direction of the drift of flotsam.

Gradually through the darkness in her head Fern began to feel little stirrings, hear little sounds like leaves rustling, small animals moving through undergrowth...

She opened her eyes with excitement and found Karne pointing in the same direction, and Kyra looking decisively along the line of both their pointing fingers.

Laughing, they all talked at once.

‘I am sure it is that way – I heard forest sounds,’ Fern cried.

‘And I saw a gull carrying nesting materials in its mouth travelling that way. It must have been returning to the cliffs!’

‘And I,’ Kyra said dreamily, ‘felt the presence of a Sacred Circle and someone in it calling to us.’

They looked at each other joyfully and set about turning the boat around to head in the direction they had all agreed was the right one.

While Fern was following the moon they must have drifted a long way off course and it took them the best part of a day to reach again the comfort of the land.

Great was their delight to see at last a darker smear of grey upon the western horizon, and even greater was their pleasure to distinguish the tall stones of a Sacred Circle crowning the highest point above the sea as they drew nearer.

They were still a long way from their destination, the Great Temple of the Sun where the Lord Guiron waited so uneasily for them, but as they pulled into the rocky cove at the base of the cliff that housed the stone circle Fern was singing and Kyra’s eyes were shining. People who used the tall stones of a Sacred Circle to communicate with the spirit realms must be of their own kind, and it would be good to be among such people again. Karne, who felt the responsibility of carrying Kyra and Fern safely over so great a distance and through so many dangers, was particularly relieved to break the journey for a while and seek the advice of people who would certainly know these waters and this coast better than he did.

He leapt into the shallow water and hauled the light craft as high out of the sea as he could, the girls joining him with enthusiasm.

It was almost dark but they could still see fairly well, and when they finally drew breath from all the effort of attending to their boat, they found that they were not alone.

Standing on some rocks a short way from them and holding in their hands what looked like clubs stood several men, rough and uncouth, clad in furs and not in woven cloth.

Kyra, Karne and Fern froze, unsure of their next move.

The men stared at them and they stared at the men.

* * * *

The first movement came from Kyra who took a step or two towards them in spite of Karne’s warning touch upon her arm. She stood vulnerable, her hands empty and open in front of her, as though showing them that they had nothing to fear from the people from the sea.

At the same time she tried to project friendly thoughts towards them, knowing that all people respond, whether they know it or not, to the thought flow from others.

Her overtures must have succeeded because they approached and there was no menace in the way they came. Their faces were smiling and friendly, though dirty, and as they drew nearer Karne could see that the sticks they carried were not clubs, but bundles of rushes, probably dipped in fat, to use as torches against the dark of the night that was fast closing in around them.

The men spoke their language but with a more guttural sound. From what they said it became clear that the travellers were expected. Their priest had sensed their presence at sea during the dawn watch in the Sacred Circle and sent greetings and offers of hospitality to the strangers.

Karne accepted with gratitude on their behalf.

While the leader of the group and Karne exchanged these words, two of the men busied themselves making fire with a bow-like tool. It spun fast on a piece of kindling wood until it smouldered and set light to the rushes which became their torches for the climb up the rocky cliff path.

At the top of the cliff the whole village seemed to have gathered to greet the strangers, but the one who stood out among the others was the priest, the only one clad in woven cloth and wearing leather on his feet. He was shorter than his charges but of enormous bulk, the folds of his garments falling over a great belly. He raised his two plump hands to them in salute while the villagers crowding behind him waited eagerly but silently to join their greeting to his.

‘Welcome, my friends. It is not often I have the pleasure of sharing my hearth with one of the brotherhood,’ and he looked straight at Karne who stood tall above the girls and slightly ahead of them.

Karne was puzzled by this, but said nothing more than polite greetings in reply.

‘Come!’ the priest said imperiously but kindly, indicating that Karne should follow him.

Instantly the rest of the villagers closed in on Kyra and Fern and, chattering excitedly, led them off away from Karne, to the group of wooden huts surrounding a small circle of open fires.

‘You will eat with us,’ some said.

‘Our house is your house,’ others cried, and Kyra and Fern could see that they were to be quite smothered with hospitality.

Although the people were very different from their own, the whole atmosphere was so friendly and festive they did not think to feel alarm.

Both girls were glad they would have the comfort of sleeping in a warm house for a change, but both wondered somewhat anxiously what had become of Karne. There was no sign of him or the priest.

When Kyra could at last make herself heard above the hubbub of questions and friendly offers of food, she ventured to ask where her brother might be.

‘He is with the Lord Yealdon, of course,’ she was told as though her question had been a foolish one. ‘He will eat well and sleep soft. You have no cause to be concerned. It is a great day for the Lord when he has someone of equal stature to talk the Mysteries with!’

Again Kyra felt a small twinge of puzzlement, but she was hungry and tired and cramped from the long hours on the boat and soon dismissed thoughts about her brother and the priest to enjoy the good roast deer and pungent root ale. The firelight flickered from every side, dim figures wove in and out through it and when the light caught their faces she saw nothing but friendliness and pleasure.

* * * *

After the eating and the drinking, when Fern and Kyra were feeling decidedly dizzy from the ale, the villagers performed a dance for them, singing a strange song very different from any the girls had ever heard before. It seemed to be a hunting song accompanied by a ritual dance. Half the dancers had antlers fixed to their heads on strange masks and tails of fur hanging between their legs, while the other half had spears which they pretended to throw from time to time.

The dance started slow, the hunters close to the ground stalking their prey, the ‘animals’ feeding peacefully and unaware of danger. Almost without Kyra and Fern noticing it the tempo of the slow drumming music and muted song changed, becoming faster and faster, louder and louder. The chase was on! The ‘animals’ leapt and twisted trying to escape. The ‘hunters’ circled and pursued, drawing their trap tighter and closer.

Kyra and Fern found themselves caught by the savage rhythm of the beat, so unlike the music of their own peaceful farming community, and began stamping their feet in time to the dance. The impact of so many stamping feet raised the dust and the air seemed to vibrate with frenzy. Dust and sparks and smoke mingled with the dancers, the heady smell of ale and of roasting meat, the loud and louder chanting of so many throats, began to work on Fern and Kyra so that they found themselves leaping up and joining in, a surge of primitive ecstasy burning them up like the stubble in a field of straw on fire on a windy day.

Kyra could feel the sweat pouring from her, but she could not stop dancing. It was as though she was being danced, rather than herself dancing. The drumming of her feet had become her own heartbeat.

On and on the sound went, the movement went faster and faster until at last a composite scream broke from the throats of all the dancers...

‘Kill!’

Ice cold the word like a flung dagger stopped all movement, all frenzy, instantly. Kyra was dimly aware in the immediate and deathly silence of the humming whine of dozens of spears travelling through the air.

‘Oh you gods,’ she cried within herself, ‘they have not killed them!’

She tried to pull herself together enough to see what had happened, but the dancing and the ale and the unaccustomed emotions of the whole evening had told on her and she could feel herself slipping into unconsciousness. Her last thought as the weirdly falling dust disappeared from her sight was for Fern. Fern who carried a child within her body and must surely be feeling even worse than herself.

* * * *

Karne, seated on a thick rich bearskin rug within the priest’s comfortable house, which was some way from the feasting and the fires, could hear the sound of singing and the loud thud of stamping feet, but it was very much a background noise and he did not take much notice of it.

He was amazed at what he saw. The dwellings of the villagers he had noticed in the firelight seemed no more than temporary shelters against the weather. In his own village the sturdy circular houses were built of wood and rushes, bound over with hides to keep the weather out. They were built to last a man’s lifetime. He wondered if these people were nomadic. He had heard of such people, wanderers who had not learned the way to use the land skilfully so that it yielded year after year the crops needed for sustenance. People who used the land once and then moved on. Hunting people. Restless people.

But the priest’s house was sumptuous with the most magnificent furs Karne had ever seen hung from every beam and spread across the floor. He was given a sweet wine made of honey to drink, and bowls of rich and tender meat, spiced with nuts and herbs he had not tasted before, to eat. Several young girls slipped in from time to time silently and discreetly to replenish their goblets and their bowls.

At first he was delighted with it all, but gradually as more and more wine was pressed upon him and his refusals were ignored, he began to have misgivings. The friendly face of the priest seemed to him too friendly. He smiled too much and his plump hands that had been raised in greeting with such dignity began to look greasy and unclean as he fingered the food.

Karne wondered at the great disparity between the style of living of the priest and his people. He seemed an alien among them. In Karne’s own community the priest Maal, who had been with them for many years, had held a position of great respect and, although master of Mysteries that the ordinary people never questioned, had a relationship with them that was friendly and loving.

Karne noticed that the fat priest had many large rings upon each finger, some in silver and some in gold, but one in particular he noticed and disliked. It was of a greyish metal that he had not seen before and was shaped like an eye. As the priest’s hands moved the eye seemed to glint and gleam and never take its attention off Karne. He tried to shake himself free of the feeling, telling himself that it could not possibly be an eye that could see, but a blind piece of metal fashioned by a man. But whether it was the wine or the monotonous and softly droning voice of the priest, Karne felt himself slipping further and further away from the reality he knew how to control.

‘It is not often we welcome such a distinguished traveller as yourself,’ the man said at last, smiling.

Karne through his confusion knew enough to try to protest that some mistake was being made, but his voice seemed to come out thin and dim and carry no conviction. The priest ignored it.

‘You are too modest,’ he said, still smiling, indicating to the girl that Karne’s cup needed refilling.

‘No...’ said Karne feebly.

‘I insist,’ the priest said, smiling.

He paused a while, and Karne struggled to work out what was happening, but his mind was too confused by the influence of the wine.

‘I must hold on,’ he told himself desperately. ‘Something is not right!’

But the man’s charming voice was speaking again, soothingly, softly.

‘I have been cut off here among these barbarians for longer than I care to remember!’

He said the word ‘barbarian’ with great venom and bitterness. Karne wondered what the girl who stood behind him to serve the wine was thinking. These were her people and although she was poorly clad and possibly not as advanced in knowledge and skill as the girls in his own village were, she was by no means deserving of such scorn.

He had thought it was a priest’s duty to educate and guide his people, not to keep them in a state of savagery and then despise them for it.

‘We could exchange knowledge and ideas,’ the fat priest continued smoothly. ‘It is many years since I learnt the Mysteries, and you are young. There must be many new things taught in the temple schools these days that would add to an old man’s strength. You could teach me these things, while I,’ and here he leaned very close to Karne and his rheumy eyes seemed to leer into the boy’s, ‘could teach you things I have learnt over the years of practice as a magician-priest that no school ever taught or ever would. I have powers that would startle you, young priest!’

‘I assure you...’ Karne began feebly, really worried now, realizing the misunderstanding had been allowed to go too far.

‘No, do not protest,’ the old man’s voice was suddenly sharp. ‘I assure you I need to know what they are teaching these days and if...’ and here he paused and his face was harsh and cold, ‘if you refuse my offer of a peaceful trade ... I have ways of taking what I want...’

There was a cruel and relentless edge beneath the smoothness of his voice now. He raised his right hand slightly, turning the deadly eye of his ring towards Karne so that just briefly, as though it was a taste of things to come, the firelight in the brazier glinted off its metallic surface and pierced his eyes with light so icily inhuman that for a moment he was blinded.

Karne was afraid now, deadly afraid.

He struggled to gather together his bemused wits and think of ways to outwit his formidable foe. Before he had noticed the extent of the man’s unpleasantness he had thought to tell him that he himself was not a priest, but that his sister Kyra, although not yet a priest, was at least a candidate on her way to training.

Now he realized he must protect Kyra and somehow deal with this man himself. His heart felt heavy. Not only was his own mind befogged by the wine, but his adversary was obviously a trained and unscrupulous magician.

Karne tried to remind himself that it was he, Karne, who had finally outfaced Wardyke, the false priest who destroyed their friend Maal and took over their village. But it had not been an easy victory, and he had had the help of Kyra, Fern and the Lords of the Sun behind him.

As his thoughts raced to find a way out, his senses brought him something else to worry about. Kyra and Fern were with the villagers, and the dance and music he had been vaguely conscious of as part of a festival occasion, he noticed now had the same cruel undertones as the voice of the priest before him. It would not take much for Kyra and Fern to become prisoners of these people.

‘Speak,’ the fat priest said now, smiling again, knowing that he had made his point and could afford to hide the barb of his threat once more under his ingratiating manner.

Karne could see a bowl of water to the left of the tent.

He rose and boldly took it in his hands.

The man watched warily, the hand with the ring tensed for action.

But Karne showed no sign of threatening him. Standing as tall and commandingly as he could, he lifted the bowl of water high over his own head and then tipped its icy contents over himself.

The man was puzzled, but said nothing. He continued to watch him like an animal watching its prey.

The shock of the cold water had done what Karne hoped it would do: clear his mind, freshen his body and sharpen his wits.

‘You know as well as I,’ the young man said now as sternly as he could, ‘our brotherhood is sworn to secrecy.’

‘But not among ourselves,’ the man was quick to reply, leaning forward eagerly, knowing that the vows had been instituted to prevent the quite considerable power of the Mysteries from falling into the hands of those not ready to see their full implications and use them wisely.

Karne looked at him coldly, standing tall above the bulky but seated figure.

‘What is it you wish to know?’ he said at last.

The man leant forward, his eyes for the moment failing to hide his real feelings. It was clear to Karne his host needed some specific piece of knowledge very badly, and would kill to get it. His face was twisted with a mixture of greed and anxiety.

‘Of late it has become difficult for me to ... contact ... certain ... people...’

He was trying to choose his words carefully, but every moment Karne was more certain that the man was now the suppliant and he the one in the position of power.

As Karne grew bolder, the fat priest Yealdon grew less sure of himself. Karne remembered what he had learnt – the crux of all power is belief and confidence.

‘What people?’ he said sternly.

‘The Lords of the Sun,’ Yealdon muttered the words so low it was as though he hoped Karne would not hear them.

Karne’s heart leapt. This was good news.

One of the skills a priest was trained to have, vital to his work, was the ability either himself to ‘spirit-travel’ across the world to seek the help and communion of other priests, or in times of stress to call upon the great Lords of the Sun, who were the highest in the hierarchy of priests and who moved most freely about the world in spirit form, most knowledgeable in the Secret Mysteries.

Karne felt almost sorry for the man. A priest who could not communicate with other priests and the Lords of the Sun was cut off in his own isolated village, among people with whom he could not exchange thoughts and ideas, particularly as in this case he had taken no trouble in the past to educate them to any kind of companionable level.

Karne’s own people were simple enough farmers but they were not ignorant savages. The rapport between the old priest Maal and his people had been good, and he had kept the vital elements of priestly wisdom continually renewed and refreshed by contact with his peers across the world. When they were in difficulties and Wardyke had usurped his place and ruined their ancient way of life, Kyra, a mere child, but with training from Maal and a natural aptitude for priestly powers, had called upon the Lords of the Sun for help, and they had generously given it.

‘And what...’ Karne said boldly, ‘will you trade for my help in contacting the Lords of the Sun?’

Yealdon almost crawled forward. He began to look more and more like a toad. The boy could feel the balance of power in his own favour. The man was crawling to him. He needed to know what he thought the boy knew, more than anything else in the world.

‘I can make an enemy die,’ Yealdon said eagerly, ‘by nothing more than the use of this ring!’ And he took the one that had so disturbed Karne off his finger and held it triumphantly aloft.

It glittered balefully in the firelight.

Karne swallowed imperceptibly. He had not conquered his fear of this man completely, though so far he had it well hidden.

‘You mean you will trade your ring for the knowledge I can give you?’

Yealdon smiled and his eyes were evil. He cradled the ring within his hands, holding it close to himself as though it were the most precious thing in the world.

‘I will trade anything you ask,’ he purred, still cradling the ring.

‘I ask the ring!’ Karne spoke loud and clear.

There was a deathly silence between them for what seemed to Karne like a very long time.

‘Certainly,’ Yealdon said at last, but Karne knew it was a lie.

‘First the knowledge, and then the ring.’

‘No,’ Karne said, his heart beating loud against his ribs. ‘First the ring, and then the knowledge!’

‘But how do I know that you will not cheat me?’ Yealdon almost spat out the words.

‘How do I know that you will not cheat me?’ Karne replied.

Deadlock.

The two eyed each other warily.

‘You may take my knowledge and then kill me with the ring thus keeping both!’ Karne said.

‘You may take my ring and kill me, and so save yourself the trouble of giving me the knowledge,’ Yealdon countered.

‘Why should I do that? Would a priest of the Brotherhood do that?’ Karne asked.

‘Would a priest of the Brotherhood do what you suggested I would do?’ Yealdon snarled.

Again the two watched each other silently.

Apart from the heaviness of the old man’s breathing it was uncannily quiet. The serving girls had left them alone.

Karne became aware that even the sound of stamping and singing had ceased from the direction of the huts.

How he longed for Kyra’s strength to help him at this moment.

He had no plan. He knew only he must keep the balance of power as it was now, and stall for time until he could think of a way of dealing with the situation. He had no secret knowledge to give the man, nor would he have given it if he had.

Karne realized that his own belief that the ring could kill was adding to its power. If only he could doubt enough that it could harm him, he would be safe from it. But the glint of the dull and unusual metal, the acrid smell of some strangely potent herb that was burning in the brazier, the heavy, staring eyes of the man before him, all helped to dull his mind, and primitive fear was gradually undermining his control.

To break the influence of the priest, surrounded by his tricks of power, Karne forced himself to move with a last and desperate effort of will.

‘I will give you the knowledge you ask for, and I take your word as sworn upon the Tall stones of the Temple of the Sun that you will use no treachery,’ Karne spoke at last. ‘Now, follow me.’

‘Where are you going?’ Yealdon spoke sharply and uneasily.

‘To the Sacred Circle,’ Karne said as calmly as he could. ‘You must know that knowledge of this kind can only be passed within the Sacred Circle!’

Yealdon was not pleased. He had hoped to find out what he needed without leaving the protective ambience of his house. But he took a rush light from its holder and by its low and flickering flame the two found their way to the top of the cliff where the tall stones rose darkly against the grey surge of the sea. The sky was still overcast but the clouds had thinned considerably in places. A faint and eerie light emanated from the moon behind them, not enough to make the silver path upon the water that had so bemused Fern, but enough to make the land and the stones of the circle darker than the sky or sea.

The village lay silently behind them, the fires reduced to embers and no sound coming from the dark huts. Karne wondered if Fern and Kyra were safely asleep. He knew they were extremely tired.

How he longed to be far away and safely sleeping too!

* * * *

As they approached the circle, Karne was faced with another problem.

In his community it was an ancient law that no one but the priest, or at special times designated by the same law, village Elders, could enter the circle. It was full of power that ordinary men were not trained to handle or withstand. Kyra had been afraid but she had so far progressed in her apprenticeship that she could enter safely and use its ancient forces.

Karne had no right to tamper with the mysterious forces in the circle.

He was afraid.

But what was he to do?

In despair he called to Kyra for her help, and in that moment of desperation believed implicitly that she would come.

‘Why do you wait?’ Yealdon cried impatiently. ‘The night will not last forever!’

Of that at least Karne was glad.

‘I must first consult with the Lords of the Sun,’ Karne said, trying to hide the tremor in his voice. ‘They may not wish you to have this secret knowledge. There may be a reason they have withdrawn themselves from you.’

Karne caught the glint of the deadly ring as Yealdon raised it warningly.

‘And if I die,’ Karne said loudly and clearly, though in his heart he was feeling very far from bold, ‘my knowledge dies with me!’

He called again for Kyra deep inside himself. Why did she not hear? She had the power to enter men’s minds and see their thoughts. Why did she not now see his?

‘Push me no further, boy!’ Yealdon said with anger in his voice. ‘I have waited a long time for this knowledge, and I can wait a while longer.’

He too was trying to control his face and voice. He did not wish Karne to sense his eagerness and impatience. He did not want to wait longer! How many winters and summers must pass before the sea threw up another priest upon his shore. Maybe never, and he had grown too fat and lazy, used to comfort and routine, to endanger his life by travelling on the sea or through the dark and savage forests that ringed his hunting village to a depth no man had ever measured. For some while now he had not been able either to leave the place in the flesh or in the mind, nor could he reach out to other priests in the world on any spiritual level. He had absolute power in his own small community, but in a sense he was a prisoner there. This was the first contact he had had for a long, long time with anyone outside his village. It was a kind of miracle. He might never get another chance.

* * * *

Kyra came out of her faint (or was it sleep?) in the dark interior of a foul smelling hut. She could see nothing, but heard snoring and heavy breathing all around her. Her first thought was for Fern and she whispered her name, but received nothing back but further grunts and snores. She tried to still her fears and concentrate as Maal had taught her to, to sense with her inner senses where Fern might be.

She sensed nothing from Fern, but kept half seeing at the corner of her eye in the dark an image of Karne. When she turned to look directly at him he was gone and it was only the dark blankness of the hut she could see.

It seemed as though he were trying to tell her something.

But what?

Fern?

She must find Fern.

She sensed danger but whether it was to Karne or to Fern she could not make out.

She was sure neither of them were in the same hut as herself.

She must crawl out of it somehow.

She must have air.

She almost choked on the staleness of the smell.

It seemed to her as her senses gradually became used to her surroundings and the dark that the hut contained far more people in a more confined space than ever would have been allowed in her home village. The roof was low and as far as she could make out the only opening was a small hole to one side, through which she would have to crawl. No one could go in or out of this noisome hut except on hands and knees.

The task of reaching the hole (she refused to call it a ‘doorway’) was not an easy one. She was surrounded by gross and noisy sleepers and she dared not wake them.

Tiny movement by tiny movement she prepared to make the journey, pausing every moment to check that the general level of the sleeping noises had not dropped in any way. Luckily for her the excitement of the night and the potency of the root ale had made the rude sleepers sleep heavily and deep.

Her head was aching and her thinking was not as clear as she would have liked, but at least she was conscious and was making progress to the hole.

At one point while she was climbing over a man’s body, his arm came up to hold her down to him, his lips muttering something to her. Her heart almost stopped beating and she lay against him as still as stone, feeling the dead weight of his muscular arm upon her. But after a while by the limpness of his limbs she realized he was still asleep and she carefully released herself from his embrace and continued creeping to the hole.

At last she was outside!

She took great gulps of air.

And as her head cleared she heard Karne’s cry for help quite distinctly within it.

At the same time she saw Fern sitting on her haunches before the last remnants of a fire, rocking backwards and forwards on her heels, rubbing her arms and trying to warm and comfort herself.

‘Oh, Kyra,’ she sobbed when her friend put her arm around her shoulders. ‘I have been so frightened and alone. I thought you were dead when they carried you off, and I cannot find Karne anywhere.’

‘Did they kill anyone?’ Kyra asked anxiously.

‘I do not think so. It was a mock hunt. The ones with antler-masks fell flat when the spears flew, but I saw them get up afterwards. I have been so frightened! These people are not like our people. I insisted on staying out here by the fire. They wanted me to sleep with them in those horrible huts, but I would not. They could not understand it and were really rough with me.’

‘Are you hurt?’ Kyra asked quickly.

‘Only a bit bruised, I think. I finally made them understand and they left me alone. I think they were too tired to keep it up for too long. Oh, Kyra, I am so thankful you are all right! But Karne! Where is Karne?’ Her voice was desperate.

‘He is in danger, I fear. I can sense a call from him. Come, we must go to him.’

‘Where?’

‘Be quiet a moment. I must ‘feel’ the direction of the call.’

She stood still, concentrating, and felt the flow of Karne’s anxiety coming to her from the Sacred Circle on the cliff top.

Compared to the inside of the hut, the night was relatively light. She and Fern stumbled many times, but nevertheless made their way swiftly to the source of his danger.

Within the circle they could make out the figures of two men, one slender and tall and one bulky and gross – her brother and the priest.

Kyra sensed great evil and danger surrounding her brother and stood in the shadows unseen by the men trying to locate the centre of the menace. She held Fern, who wanted immediately to run to Karne, and indicated to her to keep silence and be still. Fern obeyed, though it was painful for her to do so.

Kyra felt the priest was greedy and unclean, but somehow weak. She did not sense the strength in him that Wardyke had had.

No, the menace was not coming entirely from the priest.

What then?

Something the priest wielded?

A dagger perhaps.

She had seen cruel daggers forged of bronze and sharpened to a deadly cutting edge.

No.

Something else.

She heard Karne’s voice raised unnaturally high and saw his hands rise up above his head.

‘Lords of the Sun!’ he was declaiming.

What is he doing, she thought with horror! He knew he had no right to be within the circle and certainly no power to raise the Lords of the Sun.

Had her brother gone mad, and was this the menace that she sensed? Karne had always longed to have the powers she had!

She drew nearer, trembling with anxiety.

‘Continue!’ she heard the fat priest’s voice commanding Karne.

‘You, Lords of the Sun,’ Karne repeated and hesitated again.

Yealdon moved closer to him and lifted his right hand with something that glinted in it, but which Kyra could not make out from this distance.

‘You, Lords of the Sun and spirits of the many worlds that lie within our world! ... Come to the aid of one who wishes to preserve your ancient laws against the one who would betray them!’

His voice was loud and ringing.

Kyra caught the message, and in that instant saw with great clarity what the priest held over Karne to make him do what he was doing.

She shut her eyes and formed a mental picture of the ring he held towards her brother. She felt the malevolence of its power and she visualized it shattering in a thousand pieces. At the same time she joined her voice to Karne’s, leaping into the circle and repeating loud and clear the prayer he had just prayed.

Yealdon screamed as the ring he held above his head seemed to burn his fingers. He dropped it, shrieking with the pain, and as it hit the stony ground it shattered and splintered into a thousand fragments, some of them striking his cheeks and causing them to bleed. Tearing at his own face as though it were on fire, Yealdon further ripped his own flesh, convinced the ring had turned against its master.

Quickly Karne seized the hands of Kyra and Fern and they ran fast and low for the path that led down to the bay where their boat was moored. The first glimmerings of the dawn light helped them and they were away, bruised and shaken from the scramble down the cliff path, before the villagers awoke amazed to find their priest crawling on his hands and knees within their Sacred Circle, muttering and sobbing and sifting through the earth to find thin splinters of metal, his face a mess of tears and blood.

He looked up to find them staring at him, and for an instant fear of them showed in his eyes.

In that instant he was finished as the tyrant he had been.

Where the splinters of the ring had struck his face, sores festered and never healed.


Subject categories
ISBNs
1899142967
9780860360483
9781843191742
9781843194279
9781899142453
9781899142965