Drums of Autumn

Author: P Hana

Page 107

   

Her face was red, but determined.

“I’m not to tell, but I will, I’ve got to.” She took a deep breath and squared her chin, looking like a Pekingese facing up to a lion.

“Bree’s Mam—that nice Dr. Randall—she asked me about my grannie. She kent Grannie’d been a—a—dancer.”

“Dancer? What, you mean in the stones?” Roger felt faintly startled. Claire had told him, when he’d first met her, but he had never quite believed it—not that the staid Mrs. Graham performed arcane ceremonies on green hilltops in the May dawn.

Fiona let out a long breath.

“So ye do know. I thought so.”

“No, I don’t know. All I know is what Claire—Dr. Randall—told me. She and her husband saw women dancing in the stone circle one Beltane dawn, and your grannie was one of them.”

Fiona shook her head.

“Not just one o’ them, no. Grannie was the caller.”

Roger moved into the kitchen and took the dishcloth from her unresisting hand.

“Come and sit down,” he said, leading her to the table. “And tell me, what’s a caller?”

“The one who calls down the sun.” She sat, unresisting. She had made up her mind, he saw; she was going to tell him.

“It’s one of the auld tongues, the sun-song; some of the words are a bit like the Gaelic, but not all of it. First we dance, in the circle, then the caller stops and faces the split stone, and—it’s no singing, really, but it’s no quite talking, either; more like the minister at kirk. You’ve to begin at just the right moment, when the light first shows over the sea, so just as ye finish, the sun comes through the stone.”

“Do you remember any of the words?” The scholar in Roger stirred briefly, curiosity rearing its head through his confusion.

Fiona didn’t much resemble her grandmother, but she gave him a look that reminded him suddenly of Mrs. Graham in its directness.

“I know them all,” she said. “I’m the caller now.”

He realized that his mouth was hanging open, and closed it. She reached for the biscuit tin and plunked it in front of him.

“That’s no what ye need to know, though,” she said matter-of-factly, “and so I won’t tell ye. You want to know about Mrs. Edgars.”

Fiona had met Gillian Edgars, all right; Gillian had been one of the dancers, though quite a new one. Gillian had asked questions of the older women, eager to learn all she could. She’d wanted to learn the sun-song, too, but that was secret; only the caller and her successor had that. Some of the older women would know some of it—those who had heard the chant every year for a long time—but not all of it, and not the secrets of when to begin and how to time the song to coincide with the rising of the sun.

Fiona paused, looking down at her folded hands.

“It’s women; only women. The men havena got a part in it, and we do not tell them. Not ever.”

He laid a hand over hers.

“You’re right to tell me, Fiona,” he said, very softly. “Tell me the rest, please. I’ve got to know.”

She drew a deep, quivering breath and pulled her hand out from under his. She looked directly at him. “D’ye know where she’s gone? Brianna?”

“I think so. She’s gone where Gillian went, hasn’t she?”

Fiona didn’t reply, but went on looking at him. The unreality of the situation swept over him all of a sudden. He couldn’t be sitting here, in the comfortable, shabby kitchen he’d known since boyhood, sipping tea from a mug with the Queen’s face painted on the side, discussing sacred stones and time-flight with Fiona. Not Fiona, for God’s sake, whose interests were confined to Ernie and the domestic economy of her kitchen!

Or so he’d thought. He picked up the mug, drained it, and set it down with a soft thump.

“I have to go after her, Fiona—if I can. Can I?”

She shook her head, clearly afraid.

“I canna say. It’s only women I know about; maybe it’s only women who can.”

Roger’s hand clenched round the saltshaker. That’s what he was afraid of—or one of the things he was afraid of.

“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?” he said, outwardly casual. In the back of his mind, unbidden, a tall cleft stone rose up black, stark as a threat against a soft dawn sky.

“I have her wee book,” Fiona blurted.

“What—whose? Gillian’s? She wrote something?”

“Aye, she did. There’s a place—” She darted a look at him, and licked her lips. “We keep our things there, ready beforehand. She’d put the book there, and—and—I took it, after.” After Gillian’s husband had been found murdered in the circle, Roger thought she meant.

“I kent the polis should maybe have it,” Fiona went on, “but it—well, I didna like to give it to them, and yet I was thinkin’ what if it’s to do with the killing? And I couldna keep it back if it was to be important, and yet—” She looked up at Roger in a plea for understanding. “It was her own book, ye see, her writing. And if she’d left it in that place…”

“It was secret.” Roger nodded.

Fiona nodded, and drew a deep breath.

“So I read it.”

“And that’s how you know where she’s gone,” Roger said softly.

Fiona let out a shuddering sigh and gave him a wan smile.

“Well, the book’s no going to help the polis, that’s for sure.”

“Could it help me?”

“I hope so,” she said simply, and turning to the sideboard, pulled open a drawer and withdrew a small book, bound in green cloth.

32

GRIMOIRE

This is the grimoire of the witch, Geillis. It is a witch’s name, and I take it for my own; what I was born does not matter, only what I will make of myself, only what I will become.

And what is that? I cannot yet say, for only in the making will I find what I have made. Mine is the path of power.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, yes—and how? Why, in the assumption that power can be absolute, for it never can. For we are mortal, you and I. Watch the flesh shrink and wither on your bones, feel the lines of your skull, pushing through the skin, your teeth behind soft lips a grin of grim acknowledgment.

And yet within the bounds of flesh, many things are possible. Whether such things are possible beyond those bounds—that is the realm of others, not mine. And that is the difference between them and me, those others who have gone before to explore the Black Realm, those who seek power in magic and the summoning of demons.

I go in the body, not the soul. And by denying my soul, I give no power to any force but those I control. I do not seek favor from devil or god; I deny them. For if there is no soul, no death to contemplate, then neither god nor devil rules—their battle is of no consequence, to one who lives in the flesh alone.

We rule for a moment, and yet for all time. A fragile web woven to snare both earth and space. Only one life is given to us—and yet its years may be spent in many times—how many times?

If you will wield power, you must choose both your time and your place, for only when the shadow of the stone falls at your feet is the door of destiny truly open.

“A nutcase for sure,” Roger murmured. “Horrible prose style, too.” The kitchen was empty; he was talking to reassure himself. It wasn’t helping.

He turned the pages carefully, skimming down the lines of clear, round writing.

After the first bit, there was a section titled “Sun Feasts and Fire Feasts,” with a listing after—Imbolc, Alban Eilir, Beltane, Litha, Lughnassadh, Alban Elfed, Samhain, Alban Arthuan—with a paragraph of notes following each name, and a series of small crosses inscribed alongside. What the hell was that for?

Samhain caught his eye, with six crosses by it.

This is the first of the feasts of the dead. Long before Christ and his Resurrection, on the night of Samhain, the souls of heroes rose from their graves. They are rare, these heroes. Who is born when the stars are right? Not all who are born to it have the courage to take hold of the power that is their right.

Even in what was plainly raving madness, she had method and organization—a queer admixture of cool observation and poetic flight. The center section of the book was labeled “Case Studies,” and if the first section had raised the hair on Roger’s neck, the second was enough to freeze the blood in his veins.

It was a careful listing, by date and by place, of bodies found in the vicinity of stone circles. The appearance of each was noted, and below each description were a few words of speculation.

August 14, 1931. Sur-le-Meine, Brittany. Body of a male, unidentified. Age, mid-40s. Found near north end of standing stone circle. No evident cause of death, but deep burns on arms and legs. Clothing described only as “rags.” No photograph.

Possible cause of failure: (1) male, (2) wrong date—23 days from nearest sun feast.

April 2, 1650. Castlerigg, Scotland. Body of female, unidentified. Age, about 15. Found outside circle. Substantial mutilation noted, may have been dragged from circle by wolves. Clothing not described.

Possible cause of failure: (1) wrong date—28 days prior to fire feast. (2) lack of preparation.

February 5, 1953. Callanish, Isle of Lewis. Body of male identified as John MacLeod, lobsterman, age 26. Cause of death diagnosed as massive cerebral hemorrhage, coroner’s inquest held owing to appearance of body—second-degree burns on skin of face and extremities, and scorched look of clothing. Coroner’s verdict, death by lightning—possible, but not likely. Possible cause of failure: (1) male. (2) very close to Imbolc, but perhaps not close enough? (3) improper preparation—N.B. newspaper photograph shows victim, shirt open; there is a burnt spot on the chest which appears to be in shape of Bridhe’s Cross, but too indistinct to say for sure.

May 1, 1963. Tomnahurich, Scotland. Body of female, identified as Mary Walker Willis. Coroner’s inquest, substantial scorching of body and clothing, death due to heart failure—rupture of aorta. Inquest notes Miss Walker dressed in “odd” clothing, details unspecified.

Failure—this one knew what she was doing, but didn’t make it. Failure likely due to omission of proper sacrifice.

The list went on chilling Roger more with each name. She had found twenty-two, altogether, reported over a period from the mid-1600s to the mid-1900s, from sites scattered over Scotland, northern England, and Brittany, all sites showing some evidence of prehistoric building. Some had been obvious accidents, he thought—people who’d walked into a circle all unsuspecting and had no notion what had hit them.

A few—only two or three—seemed to have known; they’d made some preparation of clothing. Perhaps they had passed through before, and tried again—but this time it hadn’t worked. His stomach curled into a small, cold snail. Claire had been right; it wasn’t like stepping through a revolving door.

Then there were the disappearances…these were in a separate section, neatly docketed by date, sex, and age, with as much noted of the circumstances as was recorded. Ah—that was the meaning of the crosses; how many people had disappeared near each feast. There were more of the disappeared than of the dead, but there was of necessity less data. Most bore question marks—Roger supposed because there was no telling whether disappearance in the vicinity of a circle was necessarily connected with it.

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