Friday, June 05, 2015

The Listener
John Riminton

There it was again – that sound that had first forced itself upon his attention about a month ago. At first he had tried to ignore it, lurking at the very limits of his hearing but, without growing louder, it had become more intrusive and demanding – a keening that he likened to an alto Gregorian chant which inevitably evoked images of some ancient religious ritual as though he was listening to voices.
Gregory Villiers, 65 years old, retired archeologist and childless widower, had been drawn to this cottage in the Welsh Marches, partly because of family myths suggesting that his ancestors had been vassals of the Montgomerys, and the Earldom of Chester, created soon after the Conquest, and partly because of the juxtaposition of a megalithic henge and the ruins of a monastery, each dominating one of the two ridges that enclosed the attractive valley. He had acquired what had probably been an old game-keeper's cottage after World War ll as a holiday place and now, following the death of his wife, he had made it his home where he amused himself fossicking around the ruins and fantasising that the same land may once have been farmed by his ancestors.
The Henge had an evil reputation locally as, although it had probably been constructed several thousand years earlier, it had become the centre of a once powerful druidic religion notorious in legend for its human sacrifices made by blade or fire. In fact, the evil reputation of the area had prompted an early archbishop to site the monastery on the opposite hill to counteract the residual influence in the area. In his archeologist's imagination, Gregory sometimes found himself listening to the prayers and anxious debates of the monks as they faced this evil menace.
It had been a golden summer that had enabled Gregory to complete his initial survey of both sites. He had obtained local council permission to undertake a modest dig in the area that was thought to have housed the monastery library where he has been helped by a couple of his old students. It was on one of those days that Gregory thought that he had first heard what he now regarded as “his voices” as they had walked home, rising in volume as they passed the henge . The students had now left and he was looking forward to the autumn days to catalogue the artefacts that they had recovered.
One of these artefacts appeared to be a small, nailed down wooden box. With some difficulty, Gregory opened it to a crescendo of “voices”. To his astonishment it contained a beautifully knapped quartz blade about 15 cm. long and 10cm deep. It had obviously been designed to be held in the hand but the cutting edge was still sharp enough to nick his finger. His astonishment was threefold. First, there was no quartz in the area then, while it obviously pre-dated the monastery it would also have long pre-dated any druidic activity as the use of metals was well-known to the Druids. This was truly a pre-historic artefact – but why had it been kept so carefully in the monastery? Thinking over the possibilities, Gregory thought that the monks had probably found the blade in the henge, assumed that it had been used for sacrifices and brought it back to the monastery to be exorcised.
Enough for the day. With the keening more intensive than ever he prepared for bed. That night he dreamt vividly of the henge, this time populated by white-robed priests, one of whom stood stood over a frightened young woman with the quartz blade in his hand.
The next day he could not resist the impression that his voices were telling him to take the blade to the henge. He gathered up his usual tools, hand-trowel, bag and camera and set off. He reached the tallest of the standing stones and the voices rose in triumph as he reached to place the blade on the tallest of the standing stones.
The effect was overwhelming – totally overwhelming.
His body was found the next day by a party of hikers who also recovered his camera, trowel and bag. The Coroner found that death was from natural causes.
There was no mention of finding a quartz blade.

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