Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Disguise the Secret - Part 1


The lapwing's poetic meaning is 'Disguise the Secret' and it is her extraordinary discretion which gives her the claim for sanctity.
Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Ana carried the basket, dry reeds woven together into lines and loops, filled with mushrooms. A basket, she sometimes thought when in one of her down moods, that was sturdy enough to carry her head should one of her frequent migraines cause it to fall off.
As always she stopped at the Tall Stone, the prone Lesser Stones scattered around it, paying obeisance. and she put down the basket and walked up to the tall, misshapen spear of rock, bowing a little, respectful of the power in this place. At the height of her head there were carvings, almost invisible after centuries of erosion, covered with lichen.
Above there were three spirals in a rough triangle. They were perfect, as though measured out with ruler and string. Their edges were sharp and they were deeply incised, as if with an inconceivably hot knife -- were it not for the lichen they would look as fresh as the day they were cut.
The inscription immediately below the spirals was different. Faint almost to the point of invisibility with lines that were at times almost just scratches in the rock, it showed what was widely agreed to be the profile of a bird.
Its head was held high and its tail, long feathers sticking out and up, was just as perky. The only peculiarity was that the visible wing drooped at an angle which seemed wrong, as though it were broken.
On an impulse she leaned forward and kissed the bird. It tasted of flint and salt and she was about to raise her head from the stone, strangely disappointed, when she felt an intense.burning on her forehead. Gasping she fell away from the tall stone and fell to the ground, almost blinded by the agony.
When she came to she had no idea how much time had passed. The sky was darker, but that could mean a storm was coming.
Still in pain from whatever had happened to her forehead she picked up her basket and continued on her way home. As she walked she tried to convince herself that there was a rational explanation for what had happened. Most likely she had had some kind of fit and, as she passed out, she'd bashed her head against the rock. Perhaps the fit had been brought on as a punishment for kissing the bird, or more likely there had been something in the salt on the rock that caused a moment’s unconsciousness.
***
She reached home only a few minutes later. The small cottage with a thatched roof and wattle and daub walls was cozy but nowhere big enough for parents and grown up children. Even when married they needed permission from the headman to stake out some land and build a home of their own.
She pushed her way through the chickens inside the crude wooden fence and walked in to the start of the evening meal. Normally only one or two of her brothers and sisters would acknowledge her entrance. This time, however, there was a gradual dying off in the volume of the chatter as each person looked at her.
"Oh child, what have you done?" said her mother, rushing across the room to her.
Mother had a mirror, a treasured plate of polished silver that she had used when younger to make sure her hair was right. Now she was older and cared less about what people thought but she kept the mirror to remind her of the past while her daughters schemed to be the one to receive it after her death.
In it Ana could see her face. The angular but pretty features were still there as were the storm-cloud grey eyes, slightly too far apart but made up for by their size.
The horror, however, was on her forehead. Three spirals in an equilateral triangle lay there.
"It's not a burn, it's a tattoo. Look at how blue it is. A burn might heal but this is there for life." said her mother.
"But what do I do? I can't go about like this!"
"You could try going back to the stones. Don't look at me like that, it's obvious where you must have got these marks. The only person I can think of to ask is Theodore. He has spies everywhere and I remember that when he was young he spent a lot of time at the stones. Maybe he will know."
Mother sounded dubious but Ana grasped onto this as the only piece of good news she'd received this evening.
Her mother looked up at her. She always wore drab brown and was almost spherical these days. She seemed to have somehow given up on appearances after father died. All the same some faded glamour and a hint of her past beauty (not enough beauty to drive men and woman away, but just enough to attract them) remained. One didn't have to try too hard to see who she had been and by extension what she had done.
"Be careful Ana. That mark will bring certain kinds of people to you. They will want to take something from you and give nothing in return. The flesh-in-ice gets closer each year and people grow desperate. Someone with your talent could be very interesting to those expert in science."
With that last warning mother bustled Ana out into the night to go to the meeting hall.
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