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The Start of Magic: the companion volume to this one.
The Travels of First Horse: three books in one volume.
The sequel: The Making of a Forest Fighter.
Of course Ivy of Hidden Dale had beaten Black Snake of Gully. These two had been Hunt mates twenty years ago, and played spears at every opportunity. Ivy was the best hunter of Porcupine's acquaintance, and she usually won in any contest of skill.
The Quiet Glen dwareif was a level clearing in the forest, three tenths of a day's walk west of the great river. At its widest it could be spanned in a hundred steps, and carefully placed fruit trees stood in many places. The rest was covered with a mixture of plants that didn't mind being stepped on. Several of these varieties released beautiful smells as a person walked around. A pleasant creek ambled past the clearing on the south side, so narrow that some of the branches of trees on the other side reached over it. Years ago, Porcupine had tied a leather rope to a high branch, over a deep hole in the creek bottom. His daughter Heather had loved nothing better than to swing on the rope, then dive.
The clearing contained two buildings: the oak-walled house with its tall bark roof, and Porcupine's favorite place: the adobe workshop behind it. After all, even now, fifteen hundred years later, we still call him Porcupine the Inventor.
What did he look like, this ancient namesake of mine? He was about three feet tall in the measure of Giants, but with shoulders broader than any Celt's, and long, limber arms. His blue eyes usually held laughter, and as soon as the sun started heating the world in spring, the tip of his light brown, shoulder-length hair turned blond. He was famous for his strength, speed and agility, even among those strong and agile people. As a twenty-year-old, he once chased a buck to exhaustion, then broke his neck by grasping his antlers and twisting. And of course his active mind kept thinking of new ways of doing things, and of new things to do.
He flicked the spear back at Ivy, who snatched it out of the air and put it away into the holder already on her back. "What's that you're making?" she asked.
Porcupine ran the few steps back, and passed the object to her. "A present to Heather, when she returns from her Hunt."
"Oh, it's beautiful!" she exclaimed. "It'll certainly make her heart flower. But why make it from gold?"
"Gold's much easier to melt, so I can make thin, flexible rods like this. I melt it, then dip in a bronze rod and pull it upwards. It makes these strands."
"Like a spoon in honey?"
Porcupine laughed. "Exactly! Actually, that's what gave me the idea."
Ivy returned the object. Porcupine put it away again.
"I wonder how the youngsters're doing?" Marigold, the Family's junior wife, asked herself aloud as she walked out of the house. She looked at the three outside, and continued in a louder tone of voice, "They should've found a pig by now." Like her daughter Heather, she had bright red hair, though now with a few gray strands in it, and a freckled elfin-face.
"They've been trained by Blackberry of Trout Pond," Black Snake reassured her. "Anyway, eldersister, I'd better start for home."
"I think I'll come too." Porcupine looked at Marigold. "Want to come, honey-heart?"
"No, I've got too much to do. You go and welcome Heather. And propose to Oak. You know we're all agreed on her."
"Well, with a bit of luck they'll be returning from their Hunt about when we get to Trout Pond."
Unfortunately, Heather and her friends were not returning. The boys were dead by then -- murdered -- and the two girls had been captured and taken across the river. Beautiful, blonde Oak managed to escape, after being the first Ehvel of all time to kill a person: the Giant who'd raped her. She was so scarred by the experience that she never married, being known for the rest of Ehvelen history as 'Oak of No Family'.
Follow Porcupine, Oak and their friends as they become the Mother's first warriors, five little people destroying a War Party of eighty-four. See how, over the course of one year, the Ehvelen start on the painful path to being forged into the Mother's sword against Ogres: those who hurt and kill others for enjoyment or gain.
Harold Smith is an unusual man. He was a thirty-five-year-old teacher of History, Geography and English when he decided to gain a Ph. D. in Archeology. Although English, he went to study at the National University of Ireland. His particular interest at the time was Celtic ironwork. In fact, he was a gifted amateur smith himself, making perfect copies of ancient tools, weapons and ornaments. In this, he followed a family tradition: his father, grandfather, and probably his ancestors a lot further back, were all ironworkers. His original Ph. D. topic was the duplication of the techniques early Celtic smiths had used.
He was built like his name and hobby suggested: stocky, with broad shoulders and big hands. He was prematurely bald, only the back half his skull being covered by brown hair. Bushy eyebrows above brown eyes failed to make up for the lack of hair above. His puckish appearance was accentuated by ears that came to a definite point. His students used to call him 'Garden Gnome' behind his back.
It was mid-August in 1993 when a red light started to blink rhythmically in his workshop. Drat, the phone, Harold thought. The light was a necessary modification: no bell could be heard through his hearing protectors and the din of his work. He was in the middle of a forging and couldn't leave, so he let the answering machine do its job. About an hour later, he took off his earmuffs, shrugged off the heavy leather apron, and stretched his tired back. There was cold lemonade in a fridge that stood in a small alcove attached to the workshop. Harold had a long drink, then remembered the phone.
The voice on the recording was that of his boss, Professor Patrick O'Loughlin. Even through the distortion of the tape, Harold could hear the excitement in Pat's voice: "Hey Harry, I know you're playing with fire, but c'mon over to my office soon as you can."
Harold hated being called 'Harry', but had been unable to cure Pat of the habit. Without bothering to wash or change out of his overalls, he left the workshop, ran along the corridor, up two flights of stairs, then to the unlabeled door that was the direct entrance to the Professor's room. Visitors would go the door with his name on it, to face his secretary.
"At last," Pat said as Harold burst into the room. "Look at this."
O'Loughlin was almost fifty, a small, wiry Irishman with a thatch of gray hair and a gray beard. His dark eyes glinted with anticipation as he passed a dagger to his student.
"Not Celtic," Harold declared immediately, examining it. He found a scrap of steel wool in a pocket and rubbed it over the blade. The color revealed had a slight bluish sheen. Then he picked up Pat's letter-opener, and used the point to scratch at the dagger. The steel letter-opener was unable to make a mark. "Top quality high-carbon steel," Harold exclaimed in surprise. "Must be modern. But it's an excellent copy of something old. Look at the haft."
The handle was of bony material, perhaps walrus tusk, and obviously very old. Intricate carving was worn in a way only long use could account for. The handle was held on with bronze rivets. The pommel was the perfectly fashioned trifoliate leaves of a shamrock.
Harold picked up a magnifying glass from the desk, took the dagger to the window and examined the gaps between various components: around the rivets, the edges of the handle, the join of cross-piece and handle. Ancient dirt had accumulated there. "I can dismantle it, then we can do a Carbon 14 on the dust."
When the results came back, they showed that the handle and dust were about a thousand years old, even the dust in the almost nonexistent gap between the handle and the tang. While this is a very short time span for radiocarbon testing, it is just within the range of usability for the technique. Certainly the dust couldn't be less than eight hundred years old, and Harold was sure that it had reached its current position by natural means.
They were a contrasting couple. Lief Olesen was tall, blond and burly. He had high cheekbones, close-set blue eyes, and a square chin covered by a short golden beard. Only the glasses spoiled the Viking-like appearance. Colleen Little was barely over five feet tall, with pale, freckled skin, and remarkable red hair held back into a long ponytail. Harold noted with surprise that her ears were the same shape as his, quite a rare coincidence. She grinned up at him, saying, "How'd you do. Did they call you 'Poxy Pixie' in school too?" Her voice had a lovely Irish lilt.
"Not to my knowledge. Besides, I was the school's champion boxer. And I wore my hair quite long until it started to fall out."
Lief said, in slightly accented English, "It was what interested me in Colleen first. She looks like an Elf. Acts it too. I expect her to fly away any moment." His voice was soft and gentle, not at all what Harold had expected.
"Well come on, children, let's go!" Pat said impatiently. The two young students and the four archeologists walked over to the helicopter, ducked into the wind of the blades and clambered up. The others of the party were Carmel O'Brien and Neil Trevor. Carmel is an expert in early Celtic architecture, a brown-haired, blue-eyed young woman with the figure and grace of a dancer, and for the past year Harold's lover and best friend. (They have married since, but Carmel prefers to keep her own name. She doesn't want to be 'Mrs. Smith'!) Neil's main interest is in the interaction between agricultural activities and ecology. His work is studying this in the past, his passion is applying his knowledge in order to protect the present from depredation.
At last they were descending after having crossed the island from east to west. The helicopter swooped through the clouds and rapidly dropped towards a bleak landscape. This part of the Emerald Isle had gone gray like an old woman. The gray sea was scored with the parallel white lines of breakers rushing at the gray, fissured limestone cliffs. The barrenness extended inland into a leprous white-gray landscape.
Neil's voice said in the headphones, "Harold, you wretched English did this!"
"I was a bit young at the time, don't blame me for something done at the start of the Industrial Revo..." Harold spoke over him, but Neil was on his hobbyhorse and shouted him down in turn.
"This was all forest once, with fertile deep soil. Then wool became profitable, so the trees were cut down, the peasants kicked out -- and the weather washed the soil away."
"I'm sorry. OK?"
Everyone laughed, even Neil.
Then they were down, on a small sward of grass at the top of the cliffs. The wind off the sea was almost as forceful as the downdraft from the idling blades. Colleen and Lief led the others to a clump of bushes, then onto a twisting, steep path that wound down to a wide ledge. Limestone boulders of all sizes littered it. Harold walked to the edge and looked down. Lief said, beside him, "From below, you can see the tops of some of these stones. There's no warning of a ledge until your hands grasp it."
"Come on, where's the cave?" Pat called, impatient as always. Harold gave the big Dane a nudge in the side, and they shared a friendly grin at the Professor's expense.
Colleen led the way past a large boulder, apparently hard against the cliff face. There was a deeper shadow within the shadow it cast. She switched on her torch and advanced. She had an advantage over everyone else: even Carmel had to bend slightly, while Lief and Neil had to walk almost doubled over. The tunnel extended for about six yards, opening into a larger space, where they met with a flurry of wings and a cacophony of high-pitched chattering. A cloud of bats swirled around. Some burst past them along the entrance tunnel, others escaped through a black hole in the far wall.
Pat set down the light he'd been carrying, and turned it on. The others switched off their torches and looked around. They were in a roughly circular space, about nine yards in diameter, with a slightly domed roof. At the edges, the roof was about seven feet high, to rise another eighteen inches in the middle. It was blackened with the soot of many fires. All around the wall, ancient inhabitants had cut twenty ledges, obviously for sleeping and sitting on. A raised, blackened platform, about six inches high, occupied the center of the floor. Everything was covered with a thick layer of dust and bat guano.
"I wouldn't like to live here," Carmel murmured, shuddering slightly.
Harold barely heard her. He felt goose-bumps raise themselves all over his body, and the hair at the back of his neck was standing on end. He felt... strange. Softly he said, "There must be smoke holes in the ceiling. Imagine: a bright, cheerful fire is burning on the hearth. Stone bowls are standing around too, each with a nice flame, burning oil. Why not scented oil? If they were hunters, their sense of smell would be well developed. And look how smooth the stone is just above the ledges, for a height of nearly two feet. Above that it's much rougher. Extended contact with something soft and moving did that. Bolsters maybe?"
He took his magnifying glass out of a pocket, switched on his torch, and carefully examined the undisturbed dust on one of the ledges. "We'll need to photograph this." His voice was excited. "This dust was once something covered by woven material that's rotted away. I can see the slightest traces of red, green, blue."
He straightened, and turned to face the others. "This was a lovely home once," he declared with certainty. He didn't know how he knew, but somehow he felt as if he'd once lived in just such a place.
Colleen and Carmel were following yet another passage, the endless string uncoiling behind them, their helmet-mounted torches casting ovals of light in front. "I'm so thrilled at being involved in this," the young red-haired student said, almost skipping.
"Your friend Lief is right, you're an Elf," Carmel laughed.
Colleen shook her head side to side. "I might change courses, do archeology."
"You'll have to change Universities too."
"That's no hardship. But this is fascinating. The stuff we had last year was boring. Statistics. Ugh!"
"There is plenty of boredom and drudgery in a dig. You'll find out!"
"Shush!" Colleen said, stopping. "As you said that, somehow your voice had an echo."
"Ping!" Carmel shouted. "You're right. There's a large cavern nearby."
They backtracked a couple of steps to the last side passage they had passed, and here the echo was more pronounced. They turned right into the side tunnel. "Look, we should have noticed," Carmel pointed to the floor. "The center is well worn."
Then their lights shone into magnificence. The roof was lost in shadows, so high that the feeble light of the torches failed to reach it. Hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites stood in silent splendor, stretching as far as they could see, and beyond. The nearest one was a translucent column with the texture of plaited rope, and so thick that four men wouldn't be able to link their arms around it. Other columns had strips of red, yellow, rose-pink, and even the blue-green of copper.
They actually stopped breathing in wonder. The only sound was the gentle, perpetual dripping of water. Finally Carmel took a deep breath. "A stone forest," she whispered.
"Boring?" Colleen teased.
"I don't believe this," Pat passed the object to Neil.
"A bow," Neil said. He cast his light around. "There must be hundreds."
"But, but, it's a composite bow. I've never heard of a composite bow being found in the British Isles."
"Wash your mouth out, Prof!"
They both laughed. "Well, have a look." Pat's fingers traced layers, "Some kind of bone layer, looks like something marine to me, then wood, and that's the remains of sinew. This is a Hun bow, or something like it."
"Hun? They never got to Ireland."
"No, but bows like theirs did!"
The bows were very short, even compared to Hun bows. The only other unique feature was that each bow had a short length of reed, cut in half lengthwise, attached to the center. These reminded Pat of the Turkish technique, in which the archer had a similar device tied to his left hand. This allowed the bow to be overdrawn, that is, to the point where the arrowhead was pulled beyond the bow.
"I'm not built for this!" Lief complained. Harold could walk upright, if only just, but the tall Dane had to crouch.
"Well, it's voluntary. You don't even get paid for being here."
Lief laughed. "I wouldn't be anywhere else! It's my find, and Colleen's. But maybe I should kneel on a skateboard or something."
"You know, that's not as silly as it sounds. Only, you never know what might be ahead in a strange cave."
As he spoke, the passage twisted to the right, and suddenly the stretch in front of them was bathed by daylight. It was indirect light, reflected around yet another turn by the near-white stone, but it dazzled them for a moment, and made their torches seem puny. Harold reached up to his forehead and switched his torch off. Lief followed suit.
"My friend, we have a find," Harold said, and excitedly walked forward.
The eye was first drawn upwards, to the hole admitting the dazzling light of day. It was a round hole with a tree-root exposed within it, and a long way up. Being an experienced rock-climber, Lief estimated ninety to ninety-five yards.
Harold looked away from the light and exclaimed, "Oh my God! It's Christmas!" This was unmistakably a smithy. The center of the space was taken up with a large ceramic coffin-like structure, almost filled with gray ash. A lid with a small hole in it rested on the ground next to it. To its left was something that looked like an incomprehensible wreck to Lief, but to Harold it was a beautiful, well made, wheel-driven double bellows, a sophisticated tool that could deliver an airblast sufficient to melt steel. Its only odd feature was the size of the drive wheel. It was surprisingly small, as if made for a tiny person. "You'd have to be strong to get that up to speed," he commented.
"Get what up to speed?"
After the next half-hour, Lief knew all about bellows, something that had not ever interested him before. However, the cave was filled with other interesting objects, mostly lying on the ground amid dust that Harold declared to be the last vestiges of timber. "Obviously storage shelves," he said.
But the thing that excited him the most stood behind the ruins of the bellows, hard against the wall. It was a neat stack a little gray bricks. "How wonderful!" he whispered, walking over and gently stroking one. "Crucible steel! That explains the dagger."
"I can hear another lecture coming on," Lief answered, but with a grin.
Harold was meticulously weighing and measuring each steel brick, then setting it aside into a new, temporary stack. This was not just compulsiveness. The Arabs of the late First Millennium had crucible steel, but their technique required the breaking of each container when the ingot was taken out. The far earlier, lost Meluhhan technique allowed the re-use of containers. Regular repetition of sizes was characteristic of Meluhhan steel, slight random variation of Arab steel.
He finished with the last brick of the seventh row from the bottom, and groaned. Archeology could be so boring! The light coming through the roof hole was fading anyway. He shrugged on his jacket, put on his helmet and switched on the torch attached to it. After grabbing his empty lunch bag he made his way back to the entrance cave, and the friendly company of the others.
In the morning, he picked up the first brick of the next row, stood all eight sides in turn on a sheet of graph paper, jotted down the lengths, then placed the brick on the digital scales. Without a doubt, it's a pattern five, he thought. There was no question: the ancient smiths re-used each small ceramic crucible many times. This was Meluhhan-type steel. Maybe I can stop, he thought. Was there any point in persisting with the bottom six rows? I'll do this row and think again, he decided.
The next brick was clearly a pattern eighteen. The next one was new -- well, presumably, old. The bottom bricks were likely to be the oldest. As he lifted the next brick, he saw the light reflect off something behind it. He put the ingot down on the graph paper, noting that he'd soon need a new sheet, and peered behind the stack. Something large, metallic and yellow was behind there, in a cavity hollowed out of the limestone wall.
Ohmegod, and I nearly quit! Heart thumping with excitement, he snatched bricks off the stack, putting them down anywhere. The object was a large metal box, standing on one of its long sides. It's gold. I know it's gold. And how beautiful! he thought in delight.
The box was slightly larger than his largest leather suitcase, and had about the same proportions. He could see two of its faces: the large flat face that would be the lid if the box was laid down, and the uppermost long edge. Both were decorated with exquisite relief-work. Tiny stick-like men were using spears to hunt animals of various kinds. The animals were shown with vivid accuracy, so that they seemed to leap and cavort.
Harold reached forward to lift the box, but it was far too heavy. He didn't want to risk damage by sliding it, so feverishly removed more steel bricks from around it, and at last managed to gently lift it from its ages-old hiding place. Meanwhile, he was thinking, Another oddity! The technique is sophisticated. A modern artist could do no better, but the subject matter is stone-age, probably Neolithic.
He set the box down flat on its back, the only side not decorated with relief work, and tried to open it. He couldn't. After half an hour of determined but gentle effort, he let good sense take over. "Time to get the boss," he said aloud to himself, and went to find Pat.
That morning, the Professor had said that he was going to explore the far edge of the Stone Forest. A connecting pathway had been marked out between the two locations, so Harold hurried along this, full of his news. He could see the reflections of the floodlights that had been rigged up in the Stone Forest well before he got there, but when he reached the others, he didn't have the opportunity to announce his news. As soon as Pat saw him, he shouted, "Just in time, Harry! Come and look at our new find!"
The entire back wall of the cave had once been decorated with a mural, from the ground to a height of about seven feet. Limestone accretions of the ages covered most of it, but much of the cover was nearly transparent. Enough of the mural showed to be impressive. Black stick-figures were hunting many-colored animals, vivid and lifelike. Harold had found the inspiration of the artist who had shaped the box.
What was in the golden box? The greatest treasure found in the cave, a treasure that has already changed many lives, mine included: many hundreds of parchment scrolls. One large bundle was a Latin bible, beautifully illuminated in the early Irish style. Each line had something in a strange language written under it, and there were other comments in this language in the margins. The handwriting and the color of the ink varied, indicating at least three translators working at different times.
This allowed the deciphering of the language of the ancient occupants, a task mostly performed by Dr. Tony Beadle of the National University of Ireland. The rest of the golden box was full of parchment sheets, recounting the Little People's history: the five great Stories of the Ehvelen, and also the life story of the person who had written them down.
His name was Grasshopper of Quicksands, though even the name was hard to translate at first. The Ehvelen word was literally, 'Watersands'. Once I was familiar with the unusual language, I found his writing to be captivating. For the Ehvelen, the Stories were what the Books of Moses are for the Jews: a history, and a basis for their very culture. The Stories described the thirty years of war that forged the peaceful little hunters of the Original Forest into the Mother's sword against slavery, cruelty and exploitation.
Many heroes arose during this time: Heather the Mother, whom we heard of in this book as Heather born Quiet Glen; her junior parent (father) Porcupine the Inventor; her son First Horse; Chamomile of Happy Dell; and many others.
It is my pleasant task to present these Stories to a modern audience.
Dr. Robert Rich
Department of Mythology
University of Selfril Islands
Above all, Bob Rich is a person who is concerned about the way we are transforming our world. Each day, we destroy more of what makes living worthwhile, and even possible. What is being left for coming generations?
He is outraged by cuelty and bullying, having received his fair share as a boy and young man.
These two preoccupations make him an honorary Ehvel.
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