Long Barrrow Ridge chapter 1

Wolf at Dawn (approx. 3000 before current era)

Dawn sunlight streamed through the slit, set high up near the chamber’s ceiling. The room was filled with brilliance, as it reflected back from the chalk blocks and white quartz cobbles that lined the walls, and cast a golden haze around the great bronze cauldron that stood on a tripod in the centre of the floor. To one side of the chamber, beneath a pile of skins, the chieftain and the priestess lay heavy with sleep. As the midsummer bonfires had burned in the fields outside the village down in the valley, they had re-enacted the sacred marriage between the people and the Great Earth Mother, bringing through their actions the promise of renewed fertility for the coming year.

A thin veil of smoke blurred the sunlight for a moment and its acrid smell crept into the chamber. The priestess stirred, pushed back the heavy covers and sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

The first thing that she noticed was the young man standing by the makeshift bed, his head and shoulders covered by a matted greasy wolf’s pelt. A notched and stained sword was clutched in a hand that was slick with blood. Screaming a curse at the intruder, the priestess grabbed at the thick furs in a vain attempt to hide her nakedness. The man grinned, showing a mouthful of stained and broken teeth; threw back his head and howled in triumph, then hacked with savage ferocity at the two helpless figures. The jet and amber beads of her bracelet rattled together softly as in a last, futile, gesture of defence the priestess threw up her right arm as the sword repeatedly rose and fell.

Down in the valley flames licked hungrily at the thatched roofs of the village and the stench of burned flesh, animal and human, filled the air. The dazed survivors of the dawn raid lay hidden in the dense hazel thickets that cloaked the lower slopes of the hill until noon had passed. Once they knew they were safe, they began the long climb to the great barrow that stood at the summit of the ridge.

At the base of the mound, close to the entrance tunnel, surrounded by the faded remains of a wreath of summer flowers, lay a white bull, its chest pierced by a single wound. The milky film of death glazed its eyes and flies buzzed and clustered around the rapidly drying flow of blood that had stained its otherwise unblemished hide, pooled beneath its carcass and soaked into the earth.

Fearing the worst, the villagers entered the barrow and made their way to the chamber that lay at its heart. The white walls were spattered with gore and the beaten earth floor was slippery underfoot. Lying in a welter of blood beneath the tangle of slashed furs they found the mangled remains of their chieftain and the priestess. The heavy tripod that had held the great cauldron had been overturned, the bowl itself was missing.

The earth groaned with their lamentations.

Chapter 2