Homework to write a piece where two words inspire fear!

Belas was taking a nap. It was midday and the sun was hot. He and his kinsfolk had worked without rest since the first ray of sun had lit the altar stake. This stood close to three large fallen oaks that had come down in the fierce storm early in the year. They had fallen so they made a cave. He liked that. He was sheltering against it right now.

          He felt a sudden sharp pain in his side. ‘Come on Belas you lazy fart! You’re letting the women and children do all the digging.’ It was his friend and Chieftain, Neo, prodding him with his staff.

          ‘Then may the earth move for them,’ grunted Belas grabbing at the staff and tripping Neo up. The two rolled over and over in mock battle. Both enjoyed the test of their strength, and, also, the chance for physical closeness. Wrestling was the only outlet for the special love they shared but could admit to no-one, for Neo had rivals for his status and power and they all knew how to swing a club from behind a forest tree, or slaughter silently in the black of night with a sharpened flint.

          Their fight finished when their two young daughters approached with a goatskin of water. ‘We want to help dig the Earthwork but no-one will give us an antler!’ they complained.

          ‘You must wait a figget more of moons before the Old Ones decide whether you are strong enough to dig without injury to your growing. Meanwhile, your task is a good one bringing water to those who thirst,’ and taking the goatskin which they carried between them, took water for himself and then offered it to Belas. ‘You see, Belas, you lightweight of a warrior, even the babies of the tribe want to contribute to digging the Earthwork, and I don’t see any of the women taking a rest. Only you.’

          ‘Well, that is because I can see the ditch is about as deep as it can go. But listen Neo, my Chief! Just suppose there was a better way to do the job of digging. I wasn’t just sleeping you know. I’ve heard stories from the travelling cup-makers of new artefacts that can dig with sharpness in the earth and not break as can a piece of bone or flint. They are made with fire and it is said, their stone turns to a hot flow within it. I just need to work out how this can be done and what rock might have that effect.’

          Neo smiled. ‘Sometimes Belas, you are a man dreaming visions while awake. Tell me this more than ordinary tale of what you would do if you managed to conjure magic from rock.  How can you possibly improve on a stone axe? An axe is an axe you know.’

          ‘And it shatters so quickly the more you hack with it.’ Belas was getting more and more excited. ‘What I would do is summon fire, a hot fire, and I would cast red stones into it, for I know they must be red stones. Then the fire will change them into new pure seed of something fierce and strong and the fire itself will spit out a new name for the new and wondrous thing as it grows.

          The two girls were excited by his storytelling and began dancing around imaginary flames spitting and chanting. ‘Spit, spit, spit, spit, spit, spate, spit spate, spit spate, spit spate spade.’

          ‘Yes!’ shouted  Belas exuberantly. ‘It can be a spit-spade.’

          ‘A spade, a spade, a spaaaaaade,’ chanted the two girls dancing away until they disappeared over the edge of the ditch with the water skin.

          Neo laughed. ‘A spade … yes, I suppose that would be as good a name as any for something that jumped out of the fire and dug itself into the earth. But that hardly strikes terror into the heart.’

          ‘Maybe not, but it strikes happiness into my heart. This ‘spade’ shall come from fire. It shall change everything.’

          ‘Maybe it will not. Maybe it will just be a spade, like everything else is itself, or maybe it will make things worse.’

          Belas then spoke with a certain relief in his voice.  ‘We have nearly finished deepening the ditch to honour the third sunwheel. All we have to do now is axe a few more trees to make the necessary posts and the circle of seasons and stars is done.’

          ‘No! It is not!’ said Neo angrily jamming his staff into a convenient molehill.

          ‘You are not the only one who has been talking to travelling strangers. We all thought the work was done, but Smartboar, High Chief of the Elders, has come up from the South and stood in the place of the altar of the sun. He recks nothing of the sacrifices of those who have dug our Henge in all its magnificence. He wants to pull down nothing more than the power of the sun into a ‘cage’ that will contain it forever without falling to dust and he wants to begin where those trees have fallen and made this your cave. You should shudder because he wants to make that a cave of three vast stones so the wild spirit of the wind can find its way into the underworld and tell him secret knowledge from the dead. That way, all will then revere him above others and fear to say nay to him.’

          ‘Well, there’s always one like him among the Elders isn’t there! We can humour him until someone thinks it is time to cut off his head to preserve the wisdom inzide it. Meanwhile, it shouldn’t be too difficult to haul down three of the large zarzens from the hill. We can bank them up with earth. Feasty peasty! We did it with the white womb belly mound to placate our Goddess for us cutting into her. Uz men can make this our own special man-cove. Try our strengths! You will see, Neo. You will see a good job done and alluz havin’ a feast come harvest!’

          ‘But you don’t understand all the ramifications, Belas!’

‘Well, where there’s ramifications, I think I do.  I’ve been told this morning we’ve to make a straight and four-sided wooden lodge for Smartboar to live in, me and my gang… It will be made of the wood from these durnoaks, with openings that face south.  It will be magnificent.  Give him some status.’

‘Exactly, Belas. Smartboar wants to prince himself up above the rest of us. Remember, I am not an Elder yet. There are fewer of us Warrior Chiefs to his dedicated and well-fed Dig-Masters already. He would further diminish our power while he looks the more fit to rule as generous giver of wheat and meat, so that in time, more and more of the wealth goes in a bag for himself.’

‘Ar! That zounds like it’s not such a good thing.’

‘That’s not all, my friend. There’s far more to this than you will like. Neither will our Tribe like it, nor any of the tribes for miles around?’

          ‘What are you saying, Neo? Why will our tribe not like it, nor any of the tribes for miles around.’

          ‘I am saying something that will strike dread into the hearts of all when they hear it, even those who play at hurling trees for it will take the strength from all of us. It will tear our muscles and the sinews of our bodies and our hearts, and worse, it will tear at the roots of the truce we have with starvation and nature now that we plant and feed the sheep and kine that feed us, for it will take the natural spin of the day from us.’

‘Do you mean that he will call down the Zun to burn and eat us up as sacrifice?’ asked Belas.

‘Worse, my friend. Smartboar, and the Elders want us to forget about wooden posts to surround our Henge. They want us to build a …. ….’

          ‘A ….’ Belas tried to help out …. A …

          A large …

          Belas tried again ……A large …..

          ‘… STONE circle.’

          ‘Yea! Godd-ddess!’ said Belas. ‘Impossible!’ But he began to shiver anyway, despite the heat of the day.



© Joanna Huckvale 2019

Inspiration for the name of the chief character comes from the following. It just popped in to my head and amused me enough to keep writing.

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/belas-knap-long-barrow - This is a good place to visit.

The piece itself uses Avebury as a model.

This was written after I had created a low stone circle round the perimeter of my small front lawn and got over the back ache enough to sit at a computer and write! I now have more insight into the enormous feat, skill, and determination the people of the Stone Age had to move huge stones and I also have transformed the lawn into a sixteen foot bird table.

Joanna Huckvale

I have always enjoyed writing and concocting stories and poems and I would like to thank my mother for singing to me when I was young and showing me that it was natural to write things down. Telling impromptu stories to my kids when they were young was also fun.

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