It's raining again, but we must carry on. Three months it took the men to build the terraces, so we could get to the top of the hill, with our equipment and materials. It's still a heavy climb. The beasts can't make it, always losing their footing, so we bring the stuff up on our own backs. I'm skilled, most of my work's done down on the plains, which is good, because to lug the fuel up there would take too much energy. And while the stone masons can do their carving, at least of the intricate stuff, in town, well, the construction blocks still need moving.
We're from all over the place, some from as far away as Winchester. They walked here. Many men are needed. The pay's good though, much appreciated, there's not been a lot of work since, well, since there's not been a lot of work. It's difficult. The bread and butter commissions'll pay for food, but that's not enough. Hand to mouth. Can't do it. I've got five kids to support, and the land's not been kind recently, over and over the crops have failed. Don't know why. The priests say it's because we've lost our way. This is us trying to show we've found it again. Our Gods, the rituals were simple, do this, do that, nowadays it's a vengeful fucker, second guessing him all the time, and his servants. They don't act like servants though, always wanting us in their service, claiming it's in his service, a right old pecking order they've got going on.
I liked it before. No guilt. We just had to do what we had to do, and mostly that was to keep our ownselves sorted. When the corn came in, well that was Lamas. Maypole, big hole, log pole, made sense that did. Shove the long pole in the big hole, dance round it a bit, shag yourselves senseless. Lots of fun. Drinking, making merry. Doesn't happen any more. Now we've all got to be miserable, as if smiling's a sin. When did their Jesus tell them that? Water into wine. What happened to that idea? Confessing, confessing, I'm always confessing and asking forgiveness. I'm lost in it to be honest. Them on top, us underneath, bread today, jam tomorrow. They promise us such riches, but always in the hereafter. What the hell is that? The hereafter? How can it be here and after? Not possible.
Anyway, they took our places, especially this one. It used to be beautiful, right on top of the hill, looking out across the land, the colour depending on the season. Personally I liked the brown autumn, right after the fields were ploughed. Made me think of promises, how they start all earthy but end up flowering. Reap what you sew my mother used to tell me. Half of what she said's illegal now. They'd have her buried under a pile of stones, like that Lily, after they half drowned her. I watched. Can't stick your nose in or else they'd have that off your face. Forgiveness, they go on and on about that, then get you to drop your coins in their collection plate, a tenth, a tenth of what? I've had enough I tell ye.
It was years ago I trained, under John. There was a good bloke, knew his trade. Things have come along since then. I suppose everything changes. We got the foot pump now – doesn't seem that complicated, can't imagine why anyone didn't think of it before. The charcoal they're importing from Sussex on big wagons, fair enough, burns different though. Hornbeam apparently. And some of the tool designs have been refined, not much, I reckon the anvil's always going to look like the anvil, forever, and you can't really update the hammer.
Seems like they want this in a hurry. I get the iron half done, someone somewhere's moulded rough pig. Great. But it's raddled with impurites. Quality doesn't seem to matter any more. Stupid. They should know that if it's shit in then it's' shit out. Speed's of the essence, or so they say, but they say a lot of things. The stone masons are up in arms, don't like the sixteen hour shifts, plus, there's no food up there, and it's damn difficult for a man to work on an empty stomach. The priests though, the new priest, not the old priests, just keep talking about how God's will must be done. They made us all learn this little prayer. Every day starts with it and ends with it. Before it was sunrise and sunset, now it's something else. You can't go round upsetting the natural order of things like that.
I do my job though, to the best of my ability, otherwise I'd be flogged. That's the other thing about their God, his punishment's awful swift. 'Make an example,' the priests and foremen say. Old Macha, her with the herbs, she reckons it'll all come undone in the end. Dangerous talking to her, but I had to go, to get some tincture for our Seth, because he was in an awful state and the wife was wringing her hands as if she wanted to squeeze the blood out of her fingers. Anything for a quiet life me. And he did improve, could keep his food and water down, got a bit of colour in his cheeks.
What annoys me most is the way they think they know best. Hundreds of years we've been living here, farming, getting on with our own things, then they turn up and tell us we've been doing it all wrong. What I don't understand, is if they're doing it so right, why badness keeps happening to them. The first priest, Stephen, he got sick and died. I'd see that as unfortunate, but they say it was God taking him to his side, a blessing. All right. But then there's the weather. If this is a temple to him, then why is he making it so damn difficult to build? We're knee deep in mud, no matter how much straw we put down. Shouldn't he be smiling that benevolent smile? I keep asking and they get all twitchy, something about mysterious ways. It's fucking mysterious all right. Sabotage we used to call it.
Macha, she's against it, says, like my mother, that we'll reap what we sew. I asked her and she said it had to be stopped, that were were storing up trouble for the future. She wouldn't elaborate, just turned back to her cooking pot and laughed. Can't work out what's so fucking funny. She said I'd find out, that there was will and then there was will, the two intertwined like the otter and fish. What the hell does that mean?
I'd finished the blaisings when Ynag got ill, probably the same thing as Seth, but she didn't rally, went from bad to worse. I tried everything, honey water, nettle poultices under her arms, changing the straw mattress every day – I had to steal the straw. All her life, the red apples in her cheeks, the tensity in her limbs, went out of her, leaking a bit every day. Macha gave me tincture, but it didn't work. I went to see her again and she told me that it was up to me, that I'd angered the old Gods. Nah, nah, this can't be my fault. I'm doing everything asked, looking after me and my own, but, of course, I knew. “If you let them take your fathers then there's no need for the sons,” she said. I asked her what I should do. I knew already. Night after night I'd had the dreams, slow moving snakes, forest of headstones. We never used to have headstones, that's those priests again. They'd be more Macha said, if I didn't do what was right.
I remember my father once telling me that if you want to hide something then you should put it in plain sight. The church's nearly built. Beautiful. White stone. Right on top of that hill, where we had our circle of yews, all cut down now, the sunlight breaks through from their heaven and bounces off the walls. Blinding. So clean, so pure. They know they've built it on our graves, the ravens tell them every night, crying out from the trees they left in the ditches. I love it round the back, where the green hangs heavy, regretting the sharp, white progress. That's what they call it, 'progress', the civilisation of man. And are we much better now? I know Ynag isn't. She gets weaker every day, as if the church is stealing her life. The brighter it grows the dimmers she becomes. One day she'll be just like one of those ravens, shouting away in the night, reminding me.
It's simple, the best things in life usually are. Only took me a week to make it. Never quite understood why they're so interested in which way the wind's blowing anyway. North, south, east and west doesn't matter to these Christians. East, they're only after the east, where our altars used to be. Funny that. You just layer some shit on top of other shit and, as if by magick, the old shit disappears. What is it with them and their burials? Before we were anywhere near finishing they were already tipping bodies into the earth. Marking the land I suppose, laying down their own ancestry. They like cocks as well, something to do with Peter I think, never worked out who he is, just that he was right, then he was wrong, then he was right again.
The steeplejack, Gareth, nice man he is, all the way from Wales, or at least his mother was. Macha said he'd help, that I could trust him. The penalty would be awful stiff if I couldn't. It's a tradition, so they tell us, that the weather vein is the last thing to go up. How would we know? Not done this before. Tradition, I thought that was something established over the ages. They bring us these new things and tell us it's tradition. Turns out most of us don't believe them. 'It's tradition,' they say, 'for us to have a tenth of your wages'. Who are they kidding?
Sun's bright right now, doing that twinkling thing off the walls. The priests are all robed, in their blood clothes, wafting the incense around. To tell the truth, I don't think they can stand the smell of us. They move as if it was a funeral, little do they know hey. Shuffling towards their God. Heads bowed in humility, except for the one at the front, right pompous git he is. I'm smiling very quietly to myself. Ynag's well enough to leave her bed. The children are all running around, in and out of the trees, firing sling-shot at the rabbits down below us in the field. Little Hector's screaming his lungs out.
When they open the big oak doors, I can hear the sound of the choir, singing as if someone's died. Indeed. I know in there, hanging above the altar, is their God as a dead man. He looks down as well, all limp. It's beyond me why they celebrate such cruelty. Suffering. They like to suffer, not personally, of course. They like us to suffer on their behalf.
The priests have almost finished their celebratory shuffle when the skies darken. According to my weather vein it blows straight in from the East. Big clouds. Not grey, angry black. Seth's pulling at my trousers and I hoist him up into my arms. The first rumbles roll in from the distance like a herd of stampeding cattle. The oak doors slam shut. Closer and closer those clouds come, with their rattling and thunder. Seth's counting the gaps between them, and when the lightening breaks, cracking down over the hill, he squeals. Yes, they're very close now. The wind's got up as well, whipping through the leaves, disturbing the ravens. I call all the children to me. Ynag looks frightened, but she needn't be, I gave her a new cloak, close woven wool, she'll keep dry and warm.
When it comes, the rain's heavy, thrown down from the sky like spears, but it's beautiful, splashing against those white walls, staining them dark. The lightening cuts through, making everything blue-bright. No, don't run to under the trees, that's a bad place to stand, the lightening will go for the highest point anyway, which, according to my reckoning, is the weather vein, with it's bronze cock and shuddering arrow.
I wait, clinging on to the children, there's two on my legs, one in my arms, one in Ynag's arms and one hiding under her cloak. Our children will get to watch this. Suddenly a loud burst tears through the air. Hector screams and then whimpers. The crack reaches right down from the sky, peeling the clouds apart. I can see a blessing behind it as it hits the weather vein. The next minute and everyone's screaming. The oak doors are thrown open, but hit a piece of falling masonry. The little pigs inside squeal, squashing themselves forward. Hands reach round the door. Some red cloth flutters through the gap. They're trapped, just like they tried to trap us. I'm laughing now. I'm laughing because this is just two fucking perfect. And the ravens are laughing. The ravens are laughing because that's what ravens do in a storm. The cock, on the other hand, well he's fallen off his perch and crashed into ground below, beak first. I can just see his tail feathers rising out of the mud. I know they'll be back, but not here, not today, not ever.