A Dorset Weekend With The Silent Eye – Part Four

As the seasons tumble from summer into autumn, the fields turning to gold, I realise that it’s already October and I still haven’t finished writing up my account of The Silent Eye weekend I attended in June. I suppose I’ve been on a blog break (I’ve been doing a lot but have little to report as yet; however, stay posted), so I guess that’s one excuse.

But I also think that Maiden Castle, which was the next stop on our weekend, is somewhere that I’m still processing, the echoes of our visit there ringing through my mind. It was massive, in so many ways. Sue had warned me, the previous afternoon, as we were making our mad time-twisting dash between churches. ‘I want to see your expression,’ she said, ‘when you first see it.’

I hope it was suitably awed – I know I felt it. I can still remember the gut punch of that moment – the first glimpse of giant ramparts crowning an ancient hill, the whole almost too big to take in at once. The nearby burial mounds, rising dark against the flat green of the summerlands, and the rumpled earthworks that marked the maze leading you into the castle itself. It was quite something, and that was before we’d even left the carpark…

‘Do you feel as though you’re about to be tested?’ My companion nodded. She did, she said. I said that I did, too, looking up at the high green walls of the castle. It was an excited, rather than anxious, feeling, but definitely there, a weight of expectation, that somehow I was about to be challenged and would emerge changed by the experience…

It was a very strange feeling, but one that was inescapable. Perhaps a fitting culmination to a weekend where I had felt power building, the land moving towards the solstice. We took the pathway leading up to the entrance, tall grasses and wildflowers waving either side of us. Once these hills had been chalk-white, the grass now covering them removed. Even now, clothed in green and weathered by millennia, the scale was still impressive. Archaeological surveys have discovered that the hilltop was first enclosed during Neolithic times, about 6,000 years ago, and by the Iron Age (around 800BC) it was the pre-eminent settlement in the area, with the labyrinthine entrances and towering banks and ditches in place. The fort remained occupied until the arrival of the Romans in 43AD, a time when most local hill-forts were no longer used, further reinforcing the significance of the site. Even now, it is one of the largest and most complex hill forts in Europe. However, once the Romans settled the nearby time of Durnovaria (now Dorchester), the fort finally fell out of use, other than as a site for a Roman temple (more on that later in this post).

Apparently, there had been activities planned by our guides (sorry, Sue!) but my companion and I, both driven by the same inescapable urge, headed into the labyrinth, leaving the group behind. We each took a different path, meeting at the entrance to the fort where, once again, we felt we had to take opposite paths. My companion headed one way along the ramparts while I took the other…

… and all at once I was wearing leather and furs, shield and sword and bow strapped to me, strong and confident as I patrolled the edge. I knew my focus needed to be outwards, that inside the walls was fire and warmth and welcome, and that it was my job to make sure it was protected…

I stumbled, my hair flying in my face, as I reached a part when the ramparts dipped down. I remember feeling annoyed, as though this section was difficult to defend, a weak spot. However, I picked up the pace again, continuing around to the other entrance to the fort. There is nothing left now of the roundhouses that used to dot the interior, but there are remnants of more recent inhabitants. And that was where I knew I needed to go.

The Roman temple at Maiden Castle sits on what is thought to have been an earlier, pre-Christian temple on the site, as there is evidence it sits within the remains of a roundhouse. It actually consisted of several buildings, although only fragments of wall remain. Roman artefacts, including a hoard of coins, have been found in the temple and at other sites on the hilltop, suggesting that the Romans, while they may not have occupied the site, certainly made use of it.

When I reached the remains of the temple my companion wasn’t there, and I felt a vague sense of disappointment. However, I decided to stay and investigate the ruins, something compelling me to walk anti-clockwise around the outer circle, then the inner one, before standing at the centre, where a small depression was in the earth. I had an overwhelming urge to kneel, and did so…

… all became still, the wind that rushed around me ceasing, warmth descending. I felt a hand upon my shoulder and bowed my head, my weapons to one side, my hood pulled back from my hair. It felt like reassurance, that I was in the right place, doing the right thing, and that I was protected…

Then modern-day me took over and I felt a bit silly, kneeling there with head bowed. I silently gave thanks and got to my feet…

… laughter. ‘You are always in such a hurry. You’re leaving too early, but that’s all right. Off you go…’

I paused, unsure for a moment. Then I shook off the feeling and started back towards the ramparts, hoping to meet up with some of the others. However, before I reached them something made me turn… to see the companion I’d hoped to meet walking into the temple.

‘Oh!’ Overjoyed, I made my way back to meet her. ‘I knew I was supposed to meet you here!’ I said, as I drew closer.

‘I’ve been here already,’ she replied. ‘And I left, then something made me come back.’

‘And I left too early,’ I said. ‘I knew I had, and they told me I had, too!’

We laughed about it, and I made a silent vow to trust myself a little more, to listen more.

The rest of the group joined us and we sat for a while, happy to rest. There was some discussion as we considered the history of the place, Sue painting a vivid picture of what things might have been like when it was new…

… I stood, high above the labyrinth, waiting with sword and flame. There was no light other than the moon, which silvered the curves of earth, lined the dark form of the initiate who walked the path blindfolded. The mark on my hip was the same as that borne by the others who waited with me, our hearts in our mouths, for the initiate to pass their final test. I watched him walk between the hills, disappearing then reappearing, each time a breath blown out. The flame in my hand was held low so as not to give him any clue, my sword edge sharp, waiting for his arrival…

And then it was time to go. Rain was threatening, the wind lifting, and everyone had places they needed to be, including me. I finished my circuit, and started through the (already familiar) labyrinth to the pathway that led down to the car park…

… I felt sorrow to be leaving the safety of home and hearth, yet excited to see the world and all that it had to offer beyond the confines of the castle…

It was strange, as though I walked two paths at the same time – one that of a warrior leaving their home and all that was familiar, the other a more prosaic reality, lunch to be eaten and a train to catch. I could still feel the weight of leather and sword, my hair wild from the wind. Even as we sat in a bright café, it wasn’t until food had been consumed that I started to feel anything like myself.

And there was still one more place to go…

This is part four of my account of a weekend in Dorset with The Silent Eye. Please click here for part one, part two and part three.

Maiden Mother Crone, Part 4 – Imbalance

Sigh.

I should have expected this. On the last Silent Eye weekend I’d attended there had been a place that had shaken me, unexpectedly, making my breath shorten, my heart pound. And so it is, I suppose. On these weekends we are challenged as well as inspired, and beauty can hold darkness as well as light. Still, when you reach such a place it is always a shock.

And so it was at Cullerlie. We parked by an old stone wall, and I picked a couple of blackberries to eat as we approached the gate leading to our next site. And then the guardian appeared. A bouncing ball of black and white fur, the collie seemed very pleased to see us all, bounding about on the grass, pausing at intervals on the approach to the circle. My companions (if you read their accounts), saw him as a friendly spirit, welcoming. And I felt the same way… for the most part. To me it felt a little bit as though he wasn’t sure whether or not we should be there, but he led us on nonetheless, pausing every so often to make sure we were following.

Cullerlie stone circle, also known as the Standing Stones of Echt, is described as a circle of red granite standing stones, surrounding eight small burial cairns. The cairns are also circular, and fill the interior of the circle. Hawthorn and willow ash have been found in the cairns, as well as cremated human bones placed there before smaller stones were placed over the top of them. When the circle was constructed in the Bronze Age, the landscape around it was boggy, the stones brought from higher ground to be placed there, in contrast to the other circles we had seen.

The approach to the circle was pretty enough, an avenue of tall trees on soft grass, fairy red toadstools dotting the green. But such toadstools hold poison, despite their beauty – perhaps a metaphor of what was to come. As I approached the circle I’d intended to touch the stones, to travel counter-clockwise and see where felt right, as I had at the other sites. But as I approached the circle it was almost as though I bounced off it, feeling gut-punched, my breath shallow and a pain in my solar plexus. Something, I didn’t know what, was wrong with this place.

‘…A woman, in long dress of green, crying out ‘It is wrong!” Repeatedly I heard her cries, repeatedly I saw her words ignored by the rest of the community who, seeking to emulate the power held in older sites, built this place, ignoring all but the most basic alignments, fragments of an almost forgotten past. A man of power, his face hard, turning from her, from her cries…’

This circle, our guide explained, was built about two millennia later than the ones we’d already visited. While there were some alignments in place, they were only to do with the passage of the sun – the moon had been ignored when the circle was built. The jumbles of stone in the centre felt muddy and convoluted, their placement simply wrong within the landscape. I didn’t want to touch the standing stones, nor set foot in the circle itself. And I was not alone – several of my other companions also expressed their distress and physical discomfort at the place, the feeling of ‘wrongness’.

Man and woman, sun and moon, light and dark, earth and sky. All necessary opposites on the great wheel of life, part of balance in all things. Perhaps that was what felt so off kilter about this place, the lack of balance, of care. I remarked that it felt like a Disney version of a stone circle, although at least at Disney World we know such things are done in play. Here there was still power, but it seemed broken in some way.

We did not stay long, in the end. Even those who were not initially put off didn’t want to linger, and so we made our way back up the avenue to the waiting cars. I did not look back.

This is the account of my recent weekend away with The Silent Eye in Scotland. Click here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. ———————————————————————————————-

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#blogbattle – A Run In The Dark

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I’ve had a few weeks away from Rachael Ritchey’s #blogbattle, so it’s nice to be back. This week the topic is ‘Voice,’ and my entry is an excerpt from Silver and Black, the vampire novel I’ve been working on this month as my Camp NaNoWriMo project (only a few thousand words to go!)

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A Run In The Dark

Let me tell you how it is, to run with a vampire. Both my mother and father have carried me before, especially when I was younger, playing games around the long lawns and rolling fields of our estate. But no one else has, ever. Oh, sure, guards in the past have picked me up when I’ve fallen, taking me to the house and safety in seconds. But never has anyone else taken me for a long run, where you cling close and feel as though you are part of the other person, the wind rushing around you both, cleaving you even closer together.

When my father ran with me, it was part terrifying, part exhilarating, and I used to laugh and scream in turn, tears leaking from my closed eyes. I think it amused him.

When my mother ran with me I felt safe, held in a net of love strong and soft as her long hair, which wrapped tendrils around me as though alive.

But with Kyle, it was different altogether. Of course it was. For despite how stupid I felt, what a disaster the evening had been, he was right. I had enjoyed myself for a while in there. Because of him. And now, with my head pressed against his shoulder, my mouth oh-so-close to his caramel skin, his arms strong around me, I wished the run would last forever, that we could run to the Safe Zone and the distant sea and spend time there together, just the two of us. The night was a blur of velvety dark, stars and moon striping silver around us so it was as if we ran under a giant bowl, the world turning under his feet as he sped me towards the safety of home. I saw the gateposts flash past, darker silhouette of raven statues against the sky, the thud of earth changing to the crunch of gravel as we ran up the long drive towards the main house.

‘Raven claw, blood and stone!’ he called out, as we passed each set of guards stationed at the gate and along the drive, each of them responding in turn with the night’s password. They could see who it was he carried, anyway.

Then it was over. He stopped at the base of the steps, the tall pillars striped paler against the darkness. The front door opened and I could see a faint glow of candlelight, my mother silhouetted against it.

‘Emelia?’

She came down the stairs in a rustle of silk, and I could hear the worry in her voice. I found mine.

‘I’m all right. I was just tired, that’s all.’ I was still clinging to Kyle, but he had moved me slightly away from his body, cool air between us. ‘Uh, sorry. ‘ I let go of his neck, my arm and hand stiff from holding tight, my hair feeling stretched and windblown. I ran my hand through it as Kyle carefully set me down, then staggered. He caught me, his hand against my waist. Then Mother was there, her arms around me, hands stroking my hair.

‘Come, lovely girl. There is tea for you, and you can tell me all about it.’ Then she turned to Kyle. ‘And I have arranged a special meal for you, downstairs.’

He stood to attention, heels together, then bowed. ‘I thank you, my lady.’ Then his glance flicked to me. ‘Sleep well, Emelia.’

‘Thanks.’ But he was gone and I felt all at once cold, despite my mother’s arms around me, as she led me into the warmth of the house.


And that’s all! For more entries, to vote, or add an entry of your own, head over to Rachael’s blog and click the Blog Battle link.

#BlogBattle – One Year Anniversary Edition

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I’m fairly new to Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle, but am really enjoying the challenges so far. And, guess what, I won one! My entry Behind The Mask, for the theme word ‘Hair,’ was voted last week’s winner, so thank you very much to everyone who read and voted for the story.

This week’s theme is a little different. As it’s the one year anniversary of BlogBattle, Rachael has asked us to re-post one of our entries from the past year. As mentioned, I haven’t been doing this too long so don’t have a massive back catalogue of stories to choose from. However, I’ve decided to re-post the first one I wrote, which was for the theme word ‘Forest.’

It’s a vampire story, which now seems to be growing into a full length novel – in fact, I’ll be heading into the virtual woods at Camp NaNoWriMo next month in the hopes of writing a good chunk of it. I only shared this story a few weeks ago, so apologies to those of you who’ve read it already – however, for those of you who haven’t, I hope you enjoy it.

Silver And Black

‘C’mon.’

He held out his hand, a darker silhouette against trees silvered by the moon. I knew his eyes were a similar shade, but I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see a damn thing, really, other than faint lines of pale branches against a clotted blackness.

‘You know I can’t-‘

‘Can’t?’ The silhouette tilted his head. I knew he was smiling, could hear it in his voice. But I couldn’t hear as well as he could. Another thing that pissed me off.

And I had to be so careful how I moved, what expression showed on my face. I smoothed down my skirt with damp hands. This was stupid. I should just go home.

All at once he was in front of me, and I glimpsed a faint gleam in his silvery eyes before he bent his head to kiss me, sharp teeth grazing my lips, hot/cold breath turning my insides to honey. Okay, maybe I could do this, I thought as I clung to him, my hands sliding inside his jacket.

Then he was gone, just as fast, leaving me alone in the clearing. I froze.

‘Kyle?’

No answer. I tried to control my breathing, but I was starting to panic. Was this a trap? I strained my ears, listening, eyes wide against the darkness under the trees. Was something moving there?

Okay. Screw this.

I kept my face smooth, just in case he was somewhere, watching me. The branches creaked, eerie in the cold night. I unzipped the pocket of my leather jacket, pulling out my phone. My mouth twisted a bit then, I couldn’t help it. But I had no choice. I had to call my mother.

The screen came to life under my fingers and I scrolled through. Not that there were many contacts on my phone. But before I could make the call arms came around me, and I felt teeth grazing my ear.

I jerked involuntarily and the arms softened, letting go. Then Kyle was in front of me, one hand coming up to touch my cheek, smoothing away a tear that had snuck out, despite my best efforts.

‘Hey,’ he said. His voice was soft, all the teasing gone. ‘I’m sorry. I forget.’

I couldn’t say anything for a moment, mingled relief and anger choking me. I shook my head, tucking my phone back in my pocket then swallowed, clearing my throat. ‘I want to go home,’ I said, my voice higher than normal.

‘No.’ He breathed the word, his arms coming around my waist, his body close to mine. ‘I really am sorry. Will you stay with me, a while longer? There’s somewhere I’d like to show you. And then I’ll take you home, I promise.’

I purposely didn’t look at him. I didn’t need him trying to glamour me. Did I want to stay with him? My body was screaming, yes, Ohmygod, are you crazy, staystaystay. Then my mind joined in. Damn.

‘Fine,’ I said. Possibly a little ungracious but then, hey, he was the one who’d left me out here alone. ‘But,’ I went on, looking at him. ‘Don’t leave me again, or I am going.’

‘I promise,’ he said, taking my hand and bringing it to his mouth. I tensed. He smiled, his tongue flicking out against my fingers before he kissed them and let go. I took in a shaking breath.

‘So, where are we going?’

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And that’s all, folks! Visit Rachael’s page to vote, read more entries or even add your own.