Thanks to all those who read and enjoyed yesterday’s escapades. It was fun for me, and I’ve managed to do quite a lot of work on Coals of Fire as a result. Today is another non-entity day. I’m in an English class with a lone Deaf student and two hearing students, doing various bits of paperwork for next year. All of which means not much to do for me!
So I’m sitting at a desk, sending and receiving emails, and uploading this bit of writing for you to enjoy. If you missed part one in the series, click back to have a look.
Have a good day, all!
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Flowers of the Field
When the boy came to it was dark. A fire burned somewhere nearby, its flickering light dancing and leaping in the corner of his eye. His body was a mass of pain, especially his arm, which throbbed and burned in equal measure; but he was still alive. Hope flickered in his breast. Maybe they had never intended to kill him after all.
He tried to sit up and found he could not. Thick ropes bound his hands and legs. The most he could do was raise his head and look around. What he saw made the flicker of hope fade into ashes.
He recognised the place, even in the darkness: the old stone circle up on the moor. He and his friends had come here often, hiding and seeking in and out of the craggy stones for hours on end. The circle was about thirty feet across, made up of twenty or so massive pillars, roughly hewn from dark grey rock with streaks of white running through them. The boy was in the centre of the circle, tied to a black stone just big enough for a grown man to lie on.
Though he had seen place so many times before, he had never asked what it was used for. The subject was not a matter of discussion in his family. The most his father had ever said was, “Primitive British superstition. Pay them no heed.” And the boy had learned to keep his questions to himself.
There were rumours, of course: hushed whispers amongst the British children in the village; stories told in the darkness; hissed threats from mothers to their children that they would be ‘taken to the stones’ if they did not behave. And once or twice a year, on special occasions, he knew that all the men of the village would disappear up on to the moors, taking a bleating goat or lowing calf with them, and return long after sundown without it. Nothing was said even on these occasions, but everyone in the villa knew what happened up there. It was obvious. Offerings to the gods were part of Roman life, and it only made sense that the Britons would do such things also.
Father disapproved, of course. He disapproved of all offerings, for the blood of Iesus Christ had been offered once for all mankind, and the blood of bulls and goats was to him nothing less than a heathen abomination. But he was a wise man, and a wiser politician, and he knew that in these times more than ever it would not do to anger the locals.
“Let them have their way,” he had said, “and we shall have peace.”
He had been wrong.
Shadowy figures emerged out of the darkness, converging on the boy. Their bodies were cloaked, their faces hooded. They did not speak: there was only an eerie silence in which the boy heard the sound of his own heart hammering.
“Please!” he said.
The figures did not stop.
“Please! It’s not my fault! I didn’t do anything!”
His words were swallowed up by the darkness. He struggled again, straining against the ropes, praying desperately for some release, some way of escape, sending silent pleas out into the night. He knew it was useless — why would the gods save the very sacrifice they demanded? — but still he persisted, calling on Jupiter, on Pluto, on Mars and Apollo, using every name he had ever heard in story or song. In his desperation he even called on Iesus, chancing that his father’s new god would be kinder than he ones he had grown up with.
But nothing happened. There was no miracle, no light from the heavens, no word from the gods, no champion to save him. He was alone, and he would die alone.
The circle closed in until the figures were shoulder to shoulder. One of them looked down at him through ragged eye-holes cut in its hood. The boy looked back, but he did not recognise the eyes: they were emotionless and pitiless, not the eyes of a man.
“Please …” he tried one last time. “Don’t do this. You don’t have to …”
The figure reached under its robe and drew out a long blade of jagged flint.
“Please …” the boy begged, as though by begging he could change the figure’s mind.
The figure kept its eyes on the boy and raised its arm. The flint glinted in the firelight.
The boy closed his eyes. His heart was hammering so fast he thought it would beat its way out of his chest. His breathing came fast and shallow. He felt light-headed. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could say to stop them. He was terrified, more terrified than he had ever been in his life. This was it. This was the end. In another second the arm would come down (where? his chest? his throat?) and in a rush of blood his life would be over, and then … then it would not matter.
He braced himself and waited for the end.
There was a lurch, and for a moment the boy felt as though he was falling. It was only for a second, and he gasped with the shock of it, thinking that perhaps that was what it was like to die. But there was no pain, no strike. No-one could die that fast, without feeling it.
He opened his eyes.
It was still dark. The fire had gone out, making it even darker. He was no longer surrounded by the hooded and cloaked men; the ropes on his hands and feet were gone.
He sat up slowly, looking around in confusion. He was free, and he was alone: the crowd of figures had gone, as completely as if they had never existed. The stones were still there, standing solemnly in their places around him, frowning down on him with the sternness of long ages; but all other traces of the nightmare by which he had just been surrounded had vanished.
He looked around, numb with bewilderment. The cruelty of it was like an open wound. They could have killed him. They should have killed him! He was ready for it! But instead they had left him here, empty, mourning, unfulfilled.
Miserably he shuffled off the stone and sank down next to it, his arms clasped around his drawn-up knees, and looked round into the quiet, empty darkness.
At last there was time for tears.