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The Eye of Callanish
a Mushroom eBooks sampler
Copyright © 2001, Moyra Caldecott
Moyra Caldecott has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the Author of this work.
First published in United Kingdom in 2001 by Mushroom eBooks.
This Edition published in 2002 by Mushroom eBooks,
an imprint of Mushroom Publishing,
Bath, BA1 4EB, United Kingdom
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This is a sampler of The Eye of Callanish by Moyra Caldecott. If you enjoy reading these sample chapters and would like to read the rest, you can buy the complete Mushroom eBook edition from the usual bookshops online, or find more details at www.mushroom-ebooks.com.
1 – The Journey
2 – The Nocturnal Ride
3 – The Beast with Many Heads
4 – The Dream
5 – The House of Power
6 – The Fever
7 – The Curse
8 – The Sea Cave
9 – The Healing
10 – Donal
11 – The Reconciliation
12 – The Bridegroom
13 – The Brother
14 – The Eye is Closed
15 – The Decision
About Moyra Caldecott
Books by Moyra Caldecott
This story is set at the beginning of the twelfth century on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.
A young girl, persecuted for being in league with the Devil, believes herself to be psychically in touch with the ancient people who built the temple of Tall Stones at Callanish.
There is a suggestion in the story that these people might have come from the West, the legendary land Saint Brendan had sailed to in the sixth century, the Vinland of the Vikings, and North America of the present day. Amerindian legends of ancient migrations and recent archaeological excavations of earth works, quoits and underground chambers in North America give support to this suggestion, as does the similarity in concept between the Amerindian Medicine Wheel and the ancient Stone Circles of Britain. Yachtsmen have told me that it is easier to sail across the northern Atlantic ocean from west to east than it is from east to west. I am not suggesting however that the American Indians as we know them today emigrated to Britain, but that some ancient people – the forerunners of us both – may have. Callanish itself has a legend of people coming from over the sea in ships, landing, building the temple, the priests wearing tall feathered head dresses and feathered cloaks with wrens and sacred birds circling above their heads.
This theme however is only one thread in a story that is mostly concerned with the strange human phenomenon of being at once fascinated by the search for Truth . . . and terrified of it . . .
The story also follows the further adventures of Neil, who was the hero of Weapons of the Wolfhound, and the hermit Durston, who, it was suggested in that book, carved the magnificent walrus ivory chess pieces known as the Lewis chess set now in the British Museum, London.
‘O God, kindle in my heart
A glimmer of the sun’s warmth towards my neighbour,
Towards my enemy, towards my kindred, towards my friend,
Towards the free, towards the slave, towards the bondsman -
O Sons of the Earth soft and fair,
From the lowest created thing
Up to the Circle Most High.’
Ancient Gaelic prayer offered at the time of the lighting of the Bealltuinn fires on May Day.
Quoted on p.154 The Islands of Western Scotland by W.H.Murray, Eyre Methuen, 1973, from History of Skye by A. Nicolson, 1930
The marshlands were full of waterfowl at this time of year, and sometimes it seemed to Neil that their island was more suitable for these creatures than it was for humans. So much water reflected the blue of the sky that his horse’s hooves often seemed to wade through clouds at the edges of the meres.
It was a good day to start on a journey . . . a good day to be alive. He sang. The birds sang. The clouds scudded above and below and a cool, clean breeze lifted the silky threads of the bog-cotton and set them drifting to far away places.
The rumour that there was a pure white mare for sale in the village of Kirkoway on the eastern shores of Loch Roag, of exactly the kind Fiona, his sister, had set her heart on, had reached their farm only two days before. Neil’s father, Lorn, had at first intended to fetch it himself, but had found that he was too busy. So Neil was chosen as the best horseman of the family to ride to Kirkoway. He was delighted to leave behind his daily chores and to ride out into the world.
‘I will never be a contented farmer,’ he thought, the hills riding beside him, reflected in the mirror-smooth pools.
When he was a young boy he had run away to Iceland with a Viking sea captain called Baldur, and had returned home exhausted after Baldur’s death, satiated with dangerous adventures and only too glad to settle down to the quiet of his father’s farm. He had sat at the feet of Durston, the hermit who lived on the headland near his home, and tried to learn everything he was prepared to teach. He remembered how he had contrasted the active, violent life of the Viking, moving from one place to another as though the moving was an end in itself – with the quiet, contemplative life of the hermit, deeply aware of the rich adventures available to the spirit while the body remained in one place.
Neil remembered how he had said he was sick of the farm and the Island.
‘There is nothing here but wind and water and sheep and cows!’ he had grumbled.
Durston had smiled quizzically and replied: ‘Have you not seen the lichen and moss more beautiful than the finest tapestries in the royal palaces – heather crisper and richer than the thickest carpet – butterwort and flowering cotton grass, bog asphodel and lily clad more grandly than the finest ladies? Have you not seen the cunning sundew outwitting the dragonfly? Have you not seen the marshland and the green coastal hills teeming with birds: the winchat, the whitethroat, the neat sandpiper, the agile dipper turning pebbles over at the bottom of clear running streams? Have you not seen the rocky crags, castles of the golden eagle, the merlin and the buzzard? What sickness has blinded you to the beautiful golden plover, the blue-black raven, the red grouse and the courageous storm petrel? The thickets are teeming with animals: the otter, the hare, the red deer . . . The rivers . . .’
All that Durston had said that day was true – his island world was beautiful, rich, exciting, but nevertheless . . .
Suddenly a bird sprang up from almost under his horse’s hooves and hurtled to the sky. Neil’s heart stirred. If only he could travel that far and that fast. If only he were not bound by the earth – by flesh and bone . . . He had learned much from Durston and he was not the foolish boy he had once been – but he had never achieved the far and free-ranging spirit the hermit seemed to have. Physical journeys and physical places still called to him.
Digging his heals into his bronze-red stallion he set off at a gallop.
‘Go, Flame! Go.’ he cried, and as though he too was excited at the thought of freedom, Flame responded to his master’s mood and was away over the dark, soft moss and peat, shreds of it flying up from his hooves, his mane streaming out behind his head like the flame he was named for.
Neil’s eyes shone, his breath came in short, joyful bursts, his heart pounded with the same rhythm as the hooves. Earth . . . air . . . water . . . and the fire of his horse! All the elements! He was master of all the elements!
Having left at first light on a long summer’s day, Neil could have reached Kirkoway before night-fall, but he had no wish to end his journey: he and Flame were enjoying the sense of freedom and the possibility of adventure too much. The wild galloping, alternating with quiet walking and a considerable period of dreaming beside the silver waters of Little Loch Roag meant that when evening approached he was still some distance from his destination. On the near shore of Loch Ceann Hulavig he found a fisherman who gave him shelter for the night and shared his meal of fish and ale. They sat for a long while beside the quiet water exchanging stories while the colour of the sky gradually deepened into purple and then into black, and the peninsulas and islands of the sea-loch gradually disappeared in the shadows. The man remembered how he had escaped to the sea when the fierce Norwegian king, Magnus Bareleg, had devastated the Island with fire, destroying every last tree and most of its people. Neil knew that his own father, as a young child, had narrowly escaped death at this time, though he never talked about it. To Lorn the important things in life were the slow rhythm of the seasons, the growth of crops from seed to harvest, and the love of his family. Wars might come and go and so might storms. He weathered both as best he could and lived his own life his own way in spite of them. But the fisherman was a born storyteller, and before it became too dark to see he pointed out to Neil all the hills that had been covered with trees before the Norsemen had set torch to them. And he described with relish the screams he had heard before he had pulled away from the shore, the terrible scenes on the beach as too many people, frantic with fear, had tried to clamber into the few little fishing coracles, and how he had had to push them away, clubbing a woman because she would not let go of the edge of the boat when it was already over-loaded.
Neil shivered and looked up at the immense dark sky above them, seeded with stars. He hoped such power over life and death would never be in his gift.
The fisherman gave a great yawn at last and said that he was going to sleep. Neil paused at the low door and took one last deep breath of fresh air before he entered the man’s dark hovel, and cast one last awed look over his shoulder at the vast heavens. Suddenly it seemed to him that one of the stars detached itself from its fixed and ancient place and crossed the sky. It happened so quickly and was so soon over that Neil was not sure it had happened at all. A slight chill ran through his limbs. Stars were so much a part of the eternal changeless background to man’s ephemeral life it made him uneasy to think that they too were temporary and could fall from the sky as easily as apples from a tree.
He lay awake a long time on the rug the fisherman had flung on the floor for him, listening to the sound of the old man’s breathing as he wallowed deeply in sleep. At last he drifted off himself. Wherever he stepped in his dream there was water, and in every sheet of water was the reflection of a star falling.
As the night progressed he began to feel more and more uneasy as though the star falling was a warning in some way that he should not take his own bright and easy life too much for granted. He woke depressed and was not surprised to find the sun had gone and that heavy grey clouds hung low and obscured the hills. By the time he came to take his leave the wind had brought a steady driving rain. He unstrapped his sheepskin jerkin from Flame’s back and put it on, thinking ruefully back to the warm and golden sunlight of the day before. He wished now that he had hurried and been well under cover at Kirkoway.
He thought about his sister, not much more than a year older than himself, and yet about to be married. The year before a party of young noblemen from the Scottish court had been on the Isle of Lewis, guests of the Norse jarl at Stornoway. Some of them had ridden west – one in particular, Sir Kenneth, from a local family, seeking childhood memories though his own parents were long since dead and he had lived most of his life on the mainland. Neil’s parents had made them welcome and Sir Kenneth, the nicest and least Normanized among them, had paid particular attention to his sister. Just before leaving he had asked for her in marriage, but her father had said that the romance was too sudden and that he must wait a year. Messages had gone back and forth, the last announcing that Sir Kenneth would be with them by the end of June, hoping that Fiona’s family would now accept him as bridegroom.
It was now very nearly the end of June and Sir Kenneth was on his way to Uig. It was so that his sister would have a worthy steed on which to accompany her new husband that Neil was on his way to Kirkoway. They had been told that the ‘sheen of the mare’s coat would make the silk of a bishop’s cope seen dull’. Neil smiled, in spite of the rain, to think of his tall, beautiful sister with her flame-red hair riding such a steed to meet her new lord. They would show these Mainlanders that islanders could match them elegance for elegance. He smiled also as he remembered his father’s anxious and often repeated warnings not to be cheated in the bargaining – to pay a fair price but no more.
* * * *
What with the rain driving into his face so that he kept his eyes half closed, and his thoughts wandering far and wide, Neil did not realize that he had left the main road until he began to notice that the path was unexpectedly rough and pitted and so narrow that the heather bushes had almost closed over it. Flame startled and almost threw him as his hoof caught in a hidden pot-hole.
Puzzled Neil reined Flame in and looked around. He was beneath a sombre hill which loomed out of the swirling mist, crowned by a clustered group of tall, sinister shapes. His heart skipped a beat.
He had heard of this place. The Norsemen called the hilly peninsula ‘Callanish’: but the locals always referred to the Standing Stones as the ‘Devil’s Stones’.
He shuddered. The wind howled, the icy rain stabbed at his skin, and yet, fascinated, he could not leave. He remembered stories he had heard about the Stones . . . how someone who had dared to walk the avenue that led to the central circle had gone mad . . . how a child had disappeared in the district and the villagers had been convinced that it had been taken by the ‘Stones’. . .
Neil crossed himself, murmuring a prayer to his god for protection.
‘Flame,’ he whispered, ‘we must get away from here.’ But Flame had discovered that there was something to crop after all in this desolate landscape and was happily tugging at the fine grass between the heather and the sedges.
‘Flame!’ Neil repeated, louder, his voice sounding strange to him as he looked back fearfully at the hilltop.
A shadow moved. Something was moving amongst the Stones!
Neil broke out in a sweat.
‘Flame!’ he shouted, and drove his heels savagely into his peacefully cropping steed. The horse reared in protest, whinnying loudly, and Neil was flung off his back onto the rough, wet ground.
‘O Lord save me!’ he almost sobbed, convinced that the Devil would surely have him now. Flame moved off unconcerned, and left his master struggling with slippery clinging heather branches and mud that sucked at his feet. He dragged himself upright at last and ran stumbling towards his horse. Flame was cropping again a little distance away – sensing no harmful influences.
Twice Neil fell as he ran towards him and twice missed his grip on Flame’s wet back as he tried to mount. Convinced that there was some dire spirit trying to hold him back he was shivering with fear. But at last – muddy, dishevelled and shaken he was mounted and, without a backward glance, was galloping back across the headland towards the main road from which he had so foolishly strayed.
Behind him, though he did not see it, the mist was lifting and the sun was touching the stones so that they shone like silver at the top of the hill. A young girl standing among them detached herself and mounted a white mare.
She did not follow him, but picked her way carefully down the other side of the slope, towards the shimmering sea.
The Nocturnal Ride
By the time he reached Kirkoway, Neil had recovered his composure. But just in case there was any lingering shadow of influence from the weird Stones, he tethered Flame and went into the tiny grey church that stood on the hill overlooking the village. He knelt on the cold stone floor in the dim interior and prayed for protection from evil spirits. The figure of the dead Christ hanging from a cross overshadowed the whole place. The silence was heavy and he was as glad to leave this place as he had been to leave the Devil’s Stones.
Outside he found Flame surrounded by interested children, nervously and shyly stamping and tossing his head, not sure whether to trust the many small hands that were stroking and pulling at his mane and tail. Neil took his bridle and led him away, the children excitedly accompanying him, only too happy to point out the house where the owner of the white horse lived.
It was a woman who greeted Neil when the children shouted at the door, and when she heard that he was interested in buying the white mare she apologized for her husband not being at home and invited him in. The children tried to crowd in after them, but she chased them away with a show of fierceness. They scattered, laughing and chattering, eager to spread the news of the arrival of a stranger in the village: a stranger who asked about the white mare.
The woman looked older than she was. Her face was tired and sad and as she moved she hunched her shoulder in a way that suggested that she was used to fending off sudden blows. He soon noticed that she was unwilling to talk about the mare and decided to leave the subject until her husband returned. He watched her stirring a huge iron cauldron of mutton broth that hung over the central peat fire, and thought how lucky he was to live in a house with many rooms. The steam was rising into the thatch and the smell pervaded the whole cottage.
He established that her husband was a freeman with a smallholding of arable land and grazing for four animals, unlike the other villagers who were mostly fishermen. The loch came close in against the hill on which the church stood, to make a fine sheltered harbour. The couple had one daughter, but the woman seemed as unwilling to talk about her as she was to talk about the white mare.
Neil began to wonder how such people could own a Norman horse? Even the tough, stocky little Island horses were almost unknown in villages as small as this, but a horse bred from the stock the Normans had brought from France would be very rare indeed. Such animals were usually only to be found belonging to one of the great Norse lords or a family such as his own – descended from a chief’s family and the daughter of a Norse jarl.
Neil was beginning to be impatient with the long wait when he heard the clatter of hooves outside. As he moved to the door to see who it was, he fancied the woman gave him an anxious look, but he soon forgot her completely as his eyes took in the scene in front of the house. The heavy grey clouds that had hung over him during most of his journey that morning had lifted and a shaft of light illumined the white mare and its rider. Nothing he had heard had prepared him for what he saw. The steed was quicksilver and moonlight, the rider a young woman of extraordinary beauty, slender and graceful, hair of midnight and eyes of midday. The two, rider and mount, were so perfectly in harmony with each other that Neil knew then, in his heart, that he could not bear to separate them.
He heard the woman move behind him and felt her push him aside as she came to stand at the door.
‘Where have you been?’ she cried, and her voice was both angry and frightened.
The young woman looked at her mother and then, without answering, looked back at Neil. He felt awkward, clumsy, and as though he owed her some kind of explanation.
He stepped forward, but found that he could think of nothing to say. Her gaze did not waver. Whether she had heard what he had come for or not he could not tell. Her eyes were wary, but not hostile. He walked over to her and touched the white mare’s nose. Nervously she twitched away from his hand. The girl murmured something and stroked her ears reassuringly.
‘She’s beautiful,’ he said at last. ‘What do you call her?’
For a long while the girl sat perfectly still, staring at the mare’s silver mane. Her mother had gone back into the house and they were alone in a cocoon of silence which separated them from the rest of the world.
‘She’s called Moon-Metal,’ she said at last in a very low voice, ‘because . . .’ And then she paused.
‘Because?’ he prompted.
‘Because she came to me at full moon . . . shining like silver.’
He was puzzled by this, but not surprised that the mare had come into the family by extraordinary means.
‘And your name?’ he asked gently.
‘Mairi,’ she said simply. The way she said it reminded him of a song he had heard as a child – a song left over from the days when the fires were lit regularly on the beacon hills.
They heard a rough voice shouting and looked round to see a huge, thickset man with a red face bearing down on them.
‘My father,’ Mairi said quickly, and all the light seemed to go out of her face. Without a word of greeting to him she touched Moon-Metal’s flanks with her heels and walked her away round the side of the cottage.
Neil found it difficult to believe that Mairi was the daughter of this uncouth giant and the faded wisp of a woman in the cottage. She might have had something of the cast of her mother’s features perhaps . . . for there was still some evidence left in that tired face that the woman had once been beautiful . . . but there was nothing of her father in her, and it would seem by the haste with which she had left at his approach there was no great affection between them.
‘You have come to see the mare,’ the man growled as soon as he was near enough. His eyes were deeply suspicious and there was no welcoming smile on his lips.
‘I have,’ Neil said quickly. ‘I heard that she was for sale. But if that is not true . . .’
‘Who said it was not true?’ snapped the man. ‘If the price is right . . .’
‘Your daughter seems very fond of her. I would not want to . . .’
‘My daughter has no say in the matter!’ the man said sharply. ‘The mare is for sale.’
Neil was silent. He wished that his family had never heard of the white mare.
‘Perhaps . . . if I had some idea of what you considered a fair price . . .’
‘All in good time,’ Mairi’s father said, his harsh voice softening a little. ‘Do I speak to a man without a name?’
Neil told him his name and his father’s name, and his grandfather’s name.
‘From Uig . . . from beyond the high peaks?’
‘Yes.’ He was glad his family was recognised. It would make it more unlikely that he would be cheated.
‘You have come a long way, second son of Lorn.’
‘The fame of the white mare has spread a long way.’
The man’s eyes narrowed. He looked hard at Neil.
‘What have you heard?’
‘Of her beauty . . . of her speed . . . that she is descended from a Saracen horse brought back by the Normans from the holy crusade.’
‘And that is all?’
‘Is there more?’
The man was silent, his face closed and thoughtful.
‘No,’ he said at last. ‘There is no more.’
* * * *
Neil did not see Mairi in the afternoon. She sat silently with them while they drank some of her mother’s unappetizing broth and ate some flat, sour bread, but disappeared as soon as she had cleared away the bowls and platters.
Her father, Braden, insisted on showing him the white mare himself. Neil noticed that she was ill at ease when handled by the man and shied away nervously, but seemed calmer with himself. Braden pulled heavily on the bit and spoke to her roughly. To spare her suffering Neil asked to ride her and was grudgingly given permission. As he rode through the village he dreaded meeting Mairi, wishing that he could speak with her about the mare before he was forced to make a final decision.
It struck him as he rode about that this was one of the most unfriendly villages he had ever visited. Everyone he met stared at him, but no one greeted him. If he smiled and waved they were prepared to nod in response, but none chose to speak to him or to welcome him as a stranger should be welcomed. Even the children who had been so friendly before, ran to see him as he passed by, or gathered in groups to stare after him, but there was something in their way of looking at him now that puzzled him. It was as though they were waiting for something to happen.
Once she was over her shyness with him the silver mare was a pleasure to ride. He took her away from the village and galloped her towards the open moorland, glad to be away from the brooding shadow that seemed to hang over the village. The mare had grace and speed and sensitivity. He wished he could ride away home there and then and not have to face the girl’s sorrow and the man’s greed. He changed his mind several times – at one moment determined to leave the mare with Mairi, at another, coveting the beautiful creature for his sister. He remembered how her eyes had shone so much at the thought of the mare that her family had teased her by asking whom she would cherish more, Sir Kenneth, her bridegroom, or the white mare, her steed.
The sea, now that the light had broken through, was patched with silver, the deep grey water holding innumerable shining mirrors to the sun. From the height of the moor he could see the islands stretching into the distance, while behind him moorland and marsh lay without feature until they faded into the clouds that still clung to the horizon.
He turned Moon-Metal back and rejoined the cottages that straggled over the hill. Apart from a young lad, who looked up from his hoeing and stared after him with no response to his waving hand, he saw no one. Even the children were elsewhere, probably at their chores, tending the sheep or the few lean cows he had noticed during his ride. Mairi was still nowhere in sight and neither was her father. Her mother, Skena, was spinning some rough black wool at the entrance to the cottage.
* * * *
That night he was expected to sleep in the empty cattle byre, an extension of the one long room of the house, on a bed of straw and rugs. He had managed to avoid making a commitment one way or another about the mare, and had said he would give his decision in the morning. He knew that Mairi knew now about the purpose of his visit, but she said nothing. She seemed to be surrounded by a very strong but invisible shell which Neil found impossible to penetrate. Whenever he tried to draw her into conversation at the evening meal, one of her parents would answer for her, and she passively allowed them to do this. Once or twice he had the feeling that the shell was all that there was of her at the table, that the rest of her was somewhere else.
Braden talked and talked, grumbling endlessly about the difficulties forcing a livelihood out of the earth, and how he would have managed better if he had sons. Neil looked at Mairi. She had heard this many times before and her face showed no reaction. Only her hands moved suddenly, pushing her wooden platter away from her, the food untouched. Neil saw that her hands were working hands. No doubt Braden made sure that she did the work of the sons he did not have even if he refused to give her credit for it.
The uneaten food started a storm which only abated when Neil announced that he was tired and insisted that he be shown where he was to sleep.
He lay in the byre and waited for the family to settle down for the night. All that had happened since he had left home went round and round in his head. He wished he could understand what it was that bothered him about the community in which he had found himself. They seemed to know something that he did not know. The elegance of the mare, and the delicate beauty of the girl did not fit in. She would have been more at home in his family than in hers. Something in the way looks passed between the man and the woman whenever the mare or Mairi were mentioned . . . something in the way the villagers had stared at him . . .
Braden kept stressing the value of the mare and Neil knew that although no price had yet been fixed, it would not be low. ‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘perhaps I can tell Fiona that the mare was not for sale – or that the price was too high . . .’ But he knew somehow in his heart that he was not going to ride away from Moon-Metal as easily as that. As every moment passed he had felt himself more and more involved in a situation he could not understand, but which he knew he could not leave.
It was as though by coming to this village his destiny had taken a turn and a twist from which there was now no escape.
It was a long time before he drifted off to sleep. His dreams were strange, but when he suddenly jerked awake in the small hours of the morning, he could not remember them. Wide-eyed and listening he strained to catch what it was that had awakened him. Braden was snoring as loudly as the fisherman the night before, and it was impossible to detect any other noise in the cottage. He sat up cautiously, peering into the dark. In the area of the cottage occupied by the family the peat fire was still glowing faintly. Braden gave a particularly loud snort and heaved his great bulk over in bed. The snoring gave way to heavy breathing. Beyond it, outside the cottage, Neil caught the sound that might have woken him. Without hesitation he stood up and crept towards the door. He stooped under the lintel and pulled himself up to his full height outside in the dark. The fresh cold air was sweet, the sky completely clear of clouds, a moon rising.
He caught a flash of movement to the right and, turning towards it, was just in time to see the dim white form of the mare and its rider disappearing behind a hillock.
He ran back to the paddock, found Flame and led him as quietly as he could until he was clear of the village, then he mounted and rode hard in the direction he had seen the white mare take.
The moon was bright and the hills were reasonably well lit. The sheets of water that always lay in the hollows of the rocks shone like ghostly eyes, many catching the moons reflection – giving it back eerily. For a while Neil feared that he had lost the white mare, but he heard a faint whinny in the distance, the sound carrying far in the crisp air and over the empty, treeless landscape. He began to feel uneasy. Mairi was a quiet, secretive person; she would not be pleased to be followed on one of her private night rides. He also began to worry that she was going too far from the village and that they would not be able to get back before the dawn.
He thought of turning back himself and leaving the girl to her solitary ride, possibly the last one she would ever have on her quicksilver steed. But then another thought struck him. What if she was running away with the mare? What if she was going to hide it so that it could not be sold? Once again he was torn between two conflicting emotions: sympathy for her because he too would have wanted to hide the mare if it had been his, and anger that he would now lose the mare for his sister.
He urged Flame to greater recklessness over the shadowed and rocky terrain and tried to lessen the distance between them. He would talk to her and try to explain how loving and careful his sister would be, and what a good life Moon-Metal would have, compared to the cramped conditions of her father’s croft. If Mairi did not let her go she would have to endure the winter stabled with pigs and sheep and cows. Her coat would become dull and grimy with the smoke from the cooking fires.
Suddenly Neil rounded a rocky knoll and had a clear view ahead. He drew his breath in sharply and pulled on the reins. In the distance, silhouetted against the skyline, were the Standing Stones he had encountered the previous day, the Devil Stones – and the girl was riding straight towards them!
He had a bad moment deciding whether to leave her to her fate, or to dare the supernatural dangers himself in order to rescue her. Since he had first seen her she had fascinated him. The very fact that he knew so little about her and that she had been avoiding him drew him after her. Of what could she be thinking to ride so boldly up to that fell place? Was her horse possessed, and she being carried there against her will? At this thought a thrill of fear went through him, but he drove his heels into Flame and rode hard ahead. Even so he was not within reach of the Stones before she had entered the avenue. He could just see her stepping slowly and daintily, leading her silver mare between the tall monoliths.
‘Mairi!’ he called, but his voice was lost in the huge, hollow night.
He could see her only intermittently, a small white figure leading the white mare, dwarfed by the stones, emerging from the shadows for an instant into the moonlight and then disappearing again.
‘Holy angels protect us!’ whispered Neil, and dismounted. He would not expose Flame to the danger and left him well back, tethered to a heather bush. He ran, hardly noticing the long, slow hill that he had to climb. At the top he stopped and stared. He was looking straight up the avenue to the circle where the tallest Stone, the one facing the sea and the islands, rose up to the sky. The girl was standing quite still gazing up at it.
Neil could not bring himself to walk up the avenue but he ran beside it until he was near enough to see Mairi quite clearly. The place was extraordinarily still. Moonlight shone on the grey white surfaces of the tall stones. The sea lay peaceful and silver below the headland. He sensed no evil.
The young woman began to walk from stone to stone . . . not as though she were part of some devilish ritual, but as though she were simply enjoying the beauty of the place.
It was clear she had not noticed Neil and, not wanting to intrude, he drew back until he was hidden under the shadow of the small row that led east and west from the central circle. Occasionally she touched a Stone and stood beside it looking up at it thoughtfully. Once she went up to Moon-Metal and laid her cheek against the mare’ s neck.
At last she took the reins and led her away, back down the avenue, only mounting up when she was well clear of the tall Stones.
After she had gone Neil stayed a few moments longer. The girl and her horse were well away before he could bring himself to leave, and then, just as he was about to follow her, he was startled by a movement from the shadow at the other side of the east-west arm. A figure detached itself and slipped away down the inland side of the hill.
Neil’s heart beat fast. He had not been the only one watching the girl. He hesitated, undecided what to do, and then he moved swiftly forward hoping to catch a better glimpse of whoever it was. Without realising what he was doing he crossed through the circle of Stones and out the other side. No evil befell him. No strange dark shadow took his soul. He saw the other figure for a brief second moving away from the Stones, and then the figure was lost in hill shadow.
He returned to Flame, mounted and rode home. The girl and her white steed were nowhere in sight. As he rode back he noticed nothing of the landscape. His thoughts turned round and round, pondering the scene he had just witnessed.
He reached the village of Kirkoway just before first light and managed to sneak back to his pallett before Braden and his wife awoke. The girl was in her bed, her face turned to the wall, only her tousled black hair showing above the sheepskin blanket. Whether she was awake or not he could not tell.
The Beast with Many Heads
In the morning Mairi gave no sign that she had been anywhere in the night, nor that she suspected Neil of having followed her. She fed the chickens and cleaned out the byre as quietly as she did every morning, answering her mother in monosyllables when she had to, avoiding speech as much as she could.
Neil did not mention the nocturnal journey either – but watched her with intense interest. She moved with grace – with a light and easy step as though her spirit was not bound down by her life of drudgery.
He thought about her means of escape, the mare that gave her a measure of freedom, and was in a dilemma as to what to do for the best. He hated the thought of leaving her imprisoned in a bleak, harsh lifestyle with a brutal father. On the other hand – would he not be doing her a favour in the long run if he took away the means for her to reach the Devil Stones? What dire influence were they having on her? Would it not be better for her body to be enthralled, than her immortal soul? Besides – how could he go empty handed back to his sister?
He decided to buy the mare.
Braden quoted a price.
Neil said it was too much.
Braden quoted a lower one.
Again Neil refused.
Braden was shocked. He knew the price he was asking was well below what the mare was worth. But he was very anxious to get rid of the creature. He dropped his price again and again it was refused. Braden’s face darkened and he looked long and hard at Neil. His lips had become a tight, straight line.
‘If you don’t want the mare,’ he said, ‘there are plenty who will willingly take her off my hands.’
‘Here?’ Neil said scornfully, looking around the village. There was not a man who could afford to pay half the price Braden was asking – let alone a fair price.
‘You are not the only stranger to come this way,’ Braden said sharply.
‘Why am I doing this?’ Neil thought. ‘I want the mare.’ But he knew deep inside he could not take her away from Mairi – no matter what the consequences. She would wither and die like a plant deprived of water and sunlight. ‘But it is wrong for her to be so dependent on anything,’ he told himself. ‘It is wrong for her to . . .’
‘What price would you pay?’ Braden was asking angrily. Neil shifted from one foot to the other, trying at least to appear as though he were on top of the situation. After a long pause he said something that surprised him as much as it did Braden. ‘I have decided against buying.’
‘Why?’ Braden almost spat the word out.
Neil shrugged his shoulders.
‘What have you heard?’
‘Nothing,’ Neil replied, startled at the vehemence and hostility – maybe even fear – in the man’s voice. ‘Why? What should I have heard?’
The man controlled himself only with difficulty. Neil could see the struggle in his face.
‘There’s always talk in this village,’ he muttered. ‘Not enough work, just talk. One would think that there was nothing to do in the world but talk about other people’s business.’
‘What did you expect me to hear?’
‘Well, nothing is what I heard. It was not the talk that changed my mind. I just feel she is not right for my sister. Besides, I don’t want to part your daughter from her.’ He knew he had made a mistake as soon as he uttered the words. Braden’s angry eyes sought the girl who was slopping water out of a wooden bucket into the ditch.
‘The sooner that girl is parted from that beast the better – it is yours for whatever you’re prepared to pay.’
‘Moon-Metal?’ Neil cried in surprise.
‘Moon-bloody-Metal,’ the man snapped. ‘Heathen name for a beast who has more truck with the devil than with decent folk.’
‘I want no devil horse!’ Neil said sharply.
The man’s face flushed deep red and a vein stood out on his neck. He turned away and dug savagely into the earth with the hoe. He was as furious with himself now as he was with Neil. He had lost the chance of getting rid of the white mare.
Neil watched him for a while in silence and then turned towards the open fields. Moon-Metal was cropping beside his own horse, Flame.
‘Silver and gold,’ he thought. ‘Ice and fire.’
He strolled over to them, sat on the broad mark-stone at the corner of Braden’s field and watched the two for a long time. Wild heather moors and rocks were behind them and the sky, pale and clear, seemed immensely domed above them. He had a feeling of timelessness, as though what was before him would go on forever and there was nothing else in his life but this endless moment sitting on a stone watching this peaceful scene. He did not want to leave this place. There was something here unresolved.
There was a movement beside him and he looked down into the eyes of Mairi. Their blue depths were full of shadows.
‘Are you thinking of taking Moon-Metal away from me?’ she asked in a low, tense voice. He did not answer immediately and the girl interpreted his silence as affirmation. ‘She is not for sale you know,’ she added sharply. ‘She was a gift. I cannot sell her.’
‘Was she a gift to you, or to your father?’
‘Then your father has no right to sell her, and unless you want to part with her I could not buy her.’
The girl nodded briefly and turned on her heel. He stared after her disappointed, he felt he had been noble and generous towards her and had hoped that she would respond to this with gratitude. He had expected tears of joy, possibly a warm embrace and kiss, certainly a smile. She gave him none of these things but seemed to take his gesture as her due and regard the decision he had made with such difficulty as the only decision that could possibly have been made.
‘Wait!’ he called out. She paused, but did not turn round to look at him. Again he had the feeling that it was only her outer shell that waited patiently in front of him, her secret Self was somewhere else. ‘I want to talk to you,’ he said.
‘There is nothing to talk about,’ she replied.
He jumped down from the stone. ‘There is a great deal to talk about,’ he said. ‘Why do you turn from me like that? I’ve told you that I’ll not be taking the mare from you if you don’t want me to.’
‘For that I thank you,’ she said quietly, turning to face him. Her expression was softer but there were still barriers between them that she was not prepared to lower.
‘I’ll be leaving soon. Can we not part as friends?’
‘Friends?’ She repeated the word in a wondering voice as though she did not understand fully what it meant.
‘Yes. We could ride together. You could show me where you like to ride best, and I could tell you about my home on the other side of the mountains.’ He watched her face closely when he asked her to show him where she liked to ride, and indeed, a flicker of wariness seemed to pass across it. But in the end she nodded, leading the way to the two horses. There were no saddles or bridles but she leapt on to the white mare’s back and trotted off holding her silver mane, looking back with a challenge in her eyes to where Neil stood beside Flame irresolute, wondering if he would be able to ride Flame without a saddle and bridle and whether she would take him back to the Devil Stones. But she was already leaving him behind and so he stopped wondering, and followed her.
She had not taken the road he expected, and it was clear she was not going to repeat her ride of the night before. She turned her shoulder to the moors and took the coastal path, past the square stone church. In front of it there was a close knot of people, most of the village in fact – one man talking and gesticulating, the others listening and nodding and looking grave. For a moment Neil fancied he saw a dark haze enclosing them as though they were plotting something evil and the darkness of their hearts was projecting outwards to form an almost tangible miasma around them, and then he shook his head and blinked away the image. When he looked again he could not see it and chided himself for an over-active imagination, resenting the fact that the strange atmosphere of the place was apparently beginning to affect his reason.
Mairi had ridden on with scarcely a glance at the crowd and was already far ahead. Neil encouraged Flame to hurry and soon caught her up on the path that skirted the sea’s inlet, high above the little harbour.
‘What is going on at the Church?’ he asked her as he drew level.
She shook her head and shrugged and rode on ahead with a sudden spurt of speed.
‘She knows,’ he thought. ‘She knows.’ And there was an icy feeling of foreboding in his heart.
The day was pleasant and the sun was warm. Neil soon pushed aside the memory of what he had seen and concentrated on keeping up with Mairi. Her black hair flowed out behind her and her legs, bare and brown, gripped the flanks of her mare strongly and confidently. There was none of the sullen shyness about her now that he had noticed before.
On the summit of the third hill Mairi put out her hand to touch Flame’s neck, indicating that they should stop. Then, with a little smile, she gestured at the scene that lay before them. He sensed that what she was showing him was very special to her and she was expecting him to be impressed. Below them on the seaward side of the hill there was a broad arc of pure white sand stretching right around a bay, the water so azure and clear it seemed that they could see the very roots of the islands beneath its surface. And then, having paused long enough to be sure that he had seen and appreciated the place, she whispered to Moon-Metal and started the descent towards the beach. Slowly, stepping carefully at first, Flame and his master followed.
When they reached the cool clear water of a little stream that was threading towards the sea from the moors, the two animals stopped. Both riders dismounted and, cupping the fresh water in their hands, drank thirstily.
‘This is almost as good a beach as the ones we have at Uig,’ Neil said, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
‘Almost?’ she said indignantly.
‘Almost,’ he insisted.
She laughed and was up on Moon-Metal’s back before he could blink.
‘There is no beach as beautiful as this!’ she cried, and she and the white mare were off again, wading through the river-reeds and out onto the flat to gallop over the sand, crackling the long thin razor shells and the Tyrian purple molluscs under her hooves.
He followed, feeling the salt wind from the sea sting his cheeks, seeing the water sparkling as the sun caught the breakers, hearing the shrill call of the gannets.
‘Mairi!’ he called for the joy of hearing her name. ‘Mairi!’
He knew that the sound would be blown backwards and would never reach her. Moon-Metal . . . white horse on a white beach, caught in spindrift and sunlight! Flame could not catch her!
After a while Neil gave up trying and slowed his pace to a walk, sitting comfortably, enjoying the birds flying and the water rippling.
When she reached the end of the beach where the cliffs came down sharply to the sea, she turned and walked back. He could see her in the distance, like a black feather on a white bird. He was reminded of how she had looked among the Devil’s Stones – enclosed in a private world – strong and happy.
He slid from Flame’s back and stayed where he was, musingly throwing flat pebbles onto the water, watching them flip and spark as they touched and skimmed, watching the gannets dive and reap the sea of its crop of fishes time and again.
When she returned to him her cheeks were glowing and her eyes were shining. There were no shadows between them now and he knew that he had been accepted as her friend, perhaps the only one she had ever known apart from the silver-white mare.
They walked the beach together. Not many words passed between them – but many thoughts.
It was only when they left the beach to return to the village, walking the horses, that he described Uig to her. He spoke of his family briefly – but mostly he spoke about Brother Durston, his great friend, the Christian hermit. He described him as a strange, ungainly man, living like an animal in a byre yet more learned than the great earls of the Mainland – a man who had travelled the world and talked with princes and kings, and yet who had chosen to live in a simple hut of stone and turf high above the ocean on the headland near his father’s farm.
Neil told her he could not understand the man. ‘To have had so much travel and adventure – to be able to go anywhere in the world – to be so learned he could do anything – be the equal or the superior of anyone – and yet to give it all up and be content to live alone – with nothing!’
She listened intently and it was clear that she understood better than Neil the choice the hermit had made.
‘He is not alone,’ she said. ‘He has more than the great earls, more than the kings and princes.’
‘Don’t you get restless?’ Neil asked her. ‘Don’t you long to get away from here, to see the rest of the world, to meet new people, to wear fine clothes and jewels and eat delicious meals?’
She smiled and shook her head.
He thought about the drudgery of her life. How could she be content with it? He thought of the Tall Stones. Would she be as content if she could not ride to them in the secret hours of the night?
As though she wanted to be spared more questions, she took Moon-Metal into a trot and drew away from him. For the rest of the way they did not speak.
* * * *
The harbour was deserted as they rode by – boats drawn up at low tide – not a sign of anyone mending nets or preparing the boats for the next catch. There was no one walking on the quay side – no one sitting by the lobster pots. Without consciously noticing how unusual this was, they began to feel uneasy.
When they breasted the hill that overlooked the rest of the village they could see at once that a crowd had gathered outside Mairi’s house.
As though Flame and Moon-Metal had read their thoughts, they came to an instant halt.
‘What is it?’ Neil whispered, frowning. The girl said nothing, but Neil could see that she knew. All the light had gone out of her face.
‘Wait here,’ he said. ‘I’ll go down and see what the matter is.’
But she followed him.
Once nearer, they could see the mob of people were shouting at the closed door of Mairi’s house, banging their fists upon it, screaming curses, throwing stones. Her parents had barred it from the inside and were probably crouching terrified in the darkness. People were even trying to get in at the byre door, but this too had been barred.
‘For the love of Jesus!’ exclaimed Neil. ‘What is going on?’ He looked at Mairi and she was ashen – white and trembling, like a ghost on her ghost-white mane.
Suddenly he knew – and decided that he must get her away, fast. But someone had seen them.
‘There she is!’ was the shout, and the whole menacing crowd turned from the house and advanced on them. They were near enough now for him to recognize faces, yet their faces were almost unrecognizable – their eyes glazed with hate – their mouths twisted with the ugly words they were shouting. It seemed they had ceased to be individuals and become one composite being – welded together by a single dark force. Most of the village was there, but there were also some unknown faces. People had evidently come from other villages to join in the sport.
The children who had been standing back from the rest watching rather than joining in, ran excitedly towards them now, parroting the words they heard their elders use. ‘Devil’ and ‘witch’ they screamed, their high and piping voices adding a shrill counterpoint to the deep and angry rumble of the men’s voices. One thick-set man, a stranger to the village, stooped and picked up a stone and suddenly everyone was following suit.
The door of the house burst open and Mairi’s mother rushed out screaming. Thinly her voice carried to them, telling them to ‘Go! Go! Go!’
Neil was already turning Flame around and pulling with his other hand on the mane of Mairi’s mare, when the first rock was thrown. It missed her but she was so shocked she might have stayed rooted to the spot, unable to grasp what was happening to her had Neil not acted so promptly. With his help she stayed on Moon-Metal’s back and with his help she galloped away. Moon-Metal and Flame . . . Quicksilver and Fire . . . fleeing from a blind and dangerous beast . . .
Neil and Mairi did not know where they were going, they knew only that they must go far, and behind them the day that had been so bright and beautiful was lying dead.
When the horses had run themselves out, and Neil could feel their weariness, he allowed them to stop. Gently he lifted Mairi down and she sank wearily onto a rock. He rubbed the horses with handfuls of heather and grass, talking to them quietly to calm them, knowing that they too had been afraid.
There are not many things more fearful than what is familiar and ordinary becoming suddenly alien and hostile. When he had finished he brought Mairi water from the stream cupped in his hands. She drank from them gratefully and then put her whole face in his cool, wet hands. He could feel her skin hot from weeping and brought more water for her to bathe her face. He did not need to ask why the villagers had turned against her and called her ‘witch’. He remembered the other dark figure he had seen spying on her at the Devil’s Stones.
‘Tell me,’ he asked hesitatingly, ‘do you often visit those . . . those . . . that place?’
She did not reply, but lowered her head onto her knees and sat bowed, her whole body expressing such hopelessness, such loneliness, that he wished he had not asked the question and determined to ask no more. It was clear that the villagers were convinced that she was trafficking with the devil by visiting the tall stones. It was equally clear to him now, though it had not been the night before, that she was not. He was convinced that whatever she had done she was innocent of any evil intent. His face darkened with anger when he thought of the scene they had just witnessed. ‘If anyone is trafficking with the devil . . .’ he thought bitterly, remembering the change in the faces he had seen.
But after anger came sober consideration. What were they to do? It was summer and there would not be much darkness in the night, but there would be cold. Neither had a jacket. They were tired and they were hungry. The wind was already stronger and colder than it had been.
‘I must go home,’ she said suddenly. ‘I must see if my mother is all right.’
‘You cannot go back to your house,’ he said sharply.
‘You cannot,’ he repeated. ‘We’ll find a sheltered and hidden place for you and Moon-Metal, and then I will go back alone.’
She was too exhausted to argue and dumbly followed him as he led the horses to a gully out of the wind’s reach. He pulled up heather and grass and little soft plants until he had enough to make a small warm nest for her. There were no trees with branches to roof it, the Vikings had seen to that, but the old heather bushes were sometimes large enough to make a tolerable covering for her.
‘You will be safe here for a while. You are well hidden,’ Neil said, looking down at her. She did not reply, but he could see by the way she looked at him that she was grateful.
‘I’ll be as quick as I can,’ he promised. ‘You mustn’t be anxious.’
She said nothing.
He stood staring down at her. Why did she creep off in the dead of night to visit the Devil’s Stones? Could there be some truth in the mob’s accusations?
As though she picked up his thought her face darkened and she turned her back on him, nestling into the heather wall.
It was almost as though she had become part of the earth. Her dark hair flowed into the shadows. Broken twigs of heather clung to her clothes.
He stood for a long time – hesitating – unwilling to leave her. But at last he turned away.
‘I’ll be back,’ he said quietly. ‘As soon as I’m sure your mother is safe.’
She lay unmoving. The ancient earth had folded her in its arms. She was its child.
That's the end of the sampler. We hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to find out what happens next, you can buy the complete Mushroom eBook edition from the usual online bookshops or through www.mushroom-ebooks.com.
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About Moyra Caldecott
Moyra Caldecott was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1927, and moved to London in 1951. She married Oliver Caldecott and raised three children. She has degrees in English and Philosophy and an M.A. in English Literature.
Moyra Caldecott has earned a reputation as a novelist who writes as vividly about the adventures and experiences to be encountered in the inner realms of the human consciousness as she does about those in the outer physical world. To Moyra, reality is multidimensional.
Books by Moyra Caldecott
Titles marked with an asterisk are available or forthcoming from Mushroom eBooks. Please visit www.mushroom-ebooks.com for more information.
Guardians of the Tall Stones:
The Tall Stones*
The Temple of the Sun*
Shadow on the Stones*
The Silver Vortex*
Weapons of the Wolfhound*
The Eye of Callanish*
The Lily and the Bull*
The Tower and the Emerald*
Child of the Dark Star*
Hatshepsut: Daughter of Amun*
Akhenaten: Son of the Sun*
Tutankhamun and the Daughter of Ra*
The Ghost of Akhenaten*
The Winged Man*
The Waters of Sul*
The Green Lady and the King of Shadows*
NON-FICTION/MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Three Celtic Tales*
Women in Celtic Myth
Myths of the Sacred Tree
Mythical Journeys: Legendary Quests
Adventures by Leaflight
More info about "The Eye of Callanish"
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