Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Novel

2010: The Wolves of Ragnarök - Dies Solis


Dear T

Thanks for your interest.  As promised, a couple of pages from the start of the novel.

Those who have already read this have asked whether these events actually happened.

For obvious reasons, the writing records neither the actual ceremony nor the pharmacology involved.  As to whether the rest is an accurate reflection of what happened, I do not know any more.  It seems unlikely, but I still feel the scar.

Peter
Palerang
December 2010





Opening her eyes, she turns to him in anger.  Her eyes flash with the pain of her broken shoulder.  She takes a sharp dagger from its jeweled sheath and comes back to him.

He shields his eyes from her, fear alive in his eyes.  ‘I cannot stop what has begun’, he points back to where they started.  ‘ I can help you if you let me.’

She cannot restrain the look of scorn.  With an effort she remembers the Allfather.  Composing herself she reaches down with the dagger and cuts his bindings.

‘Talk to me’, she demands, ‘Tell me, where do you belong?’

 He said…

I come from a land of old volcanoes – the Warrumbungles, Canobolas, Palerang.  Not like here – they have been long quiet. 

To the north, my childhood memories are of the Warrumbungles. Decaying volcanoes – cores and dykes – weird impossible shapes.  Littering the shores of an inland sea that ceased to be.


Warrumbungles - picture taken by my father in the early 60s


In the center, the monolith Canobolas.  The giant that still directs the weather.



Federal Falls on Mt Canobolas

And in the south, dread Palerang.  

Palerang

And in her black heart, the pool of tears.


She says sharply: ‘I do not know that place.’  He says: 'It is a secret place, high and inaccessible.'


I have been to the pool of tears a couple of times.  It is a deep mountain pool high on the slopes of old Palerang.  Secret crystal-clear waters, protected from the winds – a pool that reflects the soul-stars of those killed by the volcano when she roamed the land as a woman. 
The Milky Way (and the Southern Pelaides) from the Pool of Tears

Last time I went there, I was taught the law of the healing ceremony – organised by my mate Bill.


He looked at her shoulder and motions her over, ‘Come, let me set that break’.


The trip up the mountain was exhilarating.  Through the morning mists and up old bush fire tracks through the bleeding gums at the foot of the mountain.  Through the cool of autumn in the grip of recent rain.  Past the stone walls made by Chinese gold miners 150 years earlier and up into the denser temperate forests of the higher reaches of the mountain.  Then, near the top, through the twisted trees wasted by the winds and cold, dripping moisture in the lifting fog.  After the city, it was so fresh – so noisy with birds and the sound of wind in the gum trees.

I left my horse, a borrowed stock horse, below the camp and began the climb around the Eastern Face.  When I reached the top of the cleft, still some distance below the summit, I followed the smell of burning eucalypt to a small clearing near the pool, and the Kaditcha. 

Pool of Tears - Palerang
Kaditcha are the lore holders of aboriginal tribes.  They are not simply herbalists – in the harsh reality of native life, they are part witch doctor, part assassin.  They dispense justice – with spears, boomerangs and deadly magic.  There are frightening stories of the Kaditcha – they can become invisible when they put on their shoes made of kangaroo hide, with emu feathers glued together with blood.  They can will a person to death or turn a person into a rock.  Palerang was made stone by Kaditcha – and all around her, the Monaro, the bodies of her victims.  Frozen as hills as they fell, their naked bodies become visible as the mists burnt away. 

Kaditcha are not all bad.  They make and trade aphrodisiacs and hallucinagens, compacts for healing physical wounds and diseases and mental anguish.  Bill has told me how they also can heal people, often from afar, sometimes using a form of magic.  Transference magic.  

I don’t believe in magic anymore.   

She winces, her shoulder now in his care.  He paused, unsure.

Anyway, I don’t really believe Bill.  He is earnest – but a specialist knowledge of a native pharmacology seems unlikely.  Still, Bill has traveled far, and has come back full of knowledge and hope.

There were two Kaditcha waiting for me at the top of the mountain.  Bill, my mate from town, had his back to me – fiddling with headphones and smoking dope.  On the edge of the clearing, unexpectedly, was a tribal man I had not seen before.  He was stripped to the waist, gaunt, with deep ceremonial scars across his chest. 

Crouched on his toes, staring at the fire, the old man raised his hands to his face, warning me not to make any sounds.  He rose silently, leaving Bill still trying to sort himself out with his cigarette in one hand fighting with a beer and a Walkman in the other.

The old man took me into the bush, among the calls of the bell birds and the honey eaters.  We collected herbs.  We found a gum laden with mistletoe – from a leafless shrub with green stems and small flowers he took a number of round yellowing fruits. On the trunk of an ancient tree, a large evergreen with big glossy leaves, he cut deep into the bark and took some of the green wood.  We collected bark, bluebells and the inner fronds of tree ferns.  As we collected the plants, he stored them in a small possum bag tied to his waist with a hemp belt.

We returned to the camp, about mid morning.

Coming into the camp a second time I stepped on a branch and if cracked like a whip.  Bill spun around, loosing his beer and almost falling in a heap.  “Jesus wept!”, he said (he is a very polite man, not given to swearing) – as he tried to avoid looking at me.  Eye contact is not permitted today - but very difficult.  The old man had already retraced his steps, quietly preparing the herbs at the far edge of the clearing.

Bill called me over.  “Ok – lets get this over with.  First we paint you, then we sing the songs” – motioning to the walkman, now hooked up to a pair of speakers.  I had been warned about what would happen next. 

Bill and I have known each other for ages.  He considers me a friend because I have kept a respectful relationship with the community.  The old traditions require us to respect individuals and groups in a wider range of formal relationships than western society. 

More so though, because he knows I have seen the old law rock, the spark that controls the weather and holds the world together.  

There is another reason why I have been invited back to this secret place, one I cannot speak.

We both stripped off to our underpants – it was surprising cold, and we moved closer to the fire.  Neither Bill nor I have the ritual scaring strictly necessary for these ceremonies – he talked incessantly as we rub our bodies and faces with red clay – and he then painted the scaring onto our chests.  He has a new girl friend – I should come round and have dinner with them.  He is thinking of going to Cairns this winter to avoid the cold.  He went to the cricket in Melbourne recently – saw the Indians on tour.  Slowly his chatter starts to fall off.  The sun is getting higher but not much warmer. 

The old man finished pounding the herbs and sat a little way from the fire, staring into the distance.  You can see the Pacific Ocean from here – on a clear day.  Already storm clouds are piling off along the coast and the afternoon breezes are starting to push the clouds toward us. 

Bill, feeds the fire, stamps his feet - raising the dust - and turns on the music.  I do not know the words, but the beat is clear.  The old man picks up his music sticks and plays along to the beat, murmuring words.

We sit listening to the sounds, Bill lights up another toke, and the smell of eucalypt and dope hits me.  The old man throws some of his own mixture onto the fire, and opens my mouth, placing a piece of bark under my tongue.  A whole new set of sensations fire my mouth and chest.

Bill turns to me.  I have told him what I want, back in town.  He wants more than me.  He says, “Your soul has been pinched mate – we should get that back for you as well”.  But I shake my head – my soul is old. 

Bill gets out some notes, and reading them aloud takes a flat rounded stick attached to twine from his backpack and starts his dance.  He spins the bull roarer – in wide circles - the whir and click of the clapsticks drown out all other sounds.  He lets the roarer fly, and then in the new silence comes and stands in front of me.

Bill looks me in the eye, breaking the taboo.  I fight back the urge to run.  He clenches his fist and drives it into my upper chest, just below my shoulder.

I feel no pain.  What ever I have been chewing has made my whole body numb. 

But the force of the blow wrenches me off my feet and into the dust.  My hand hits the ground really hard.   Bill switches off the music – helps me up and we go off to the Pool of Tears to clean up. 

“Sorry about that mate”, Bill doesn’t look all that sorry about the bruises and cuts on my body – the fall cut my hand, and there is a huge welt where he has hit me.  Instead he is nursing his hand, which must be hurting to blazes.  “You right to get back?”  He came by ute – parked on the Western side - some distance far below us on the track.  I tell him I need to return the borrowed stock horse, and, in silence, we pack him up and put out the fire. 

The old man left some time earlier – pressing bark and herbs into my broken hand, indicating silently how I should use them later in the day.

By the time I get half way down the mountain the afternoon mountain mists have recloaked Palerang.  I had to get off the horse - feeling returned to my body and I was in serious pain.  Back at the station, I sort out the horse and explain my hurt to Kathy by saying I fell, something she thinks I am quite capable of doing. 

By the time I got back into town and my flat, the pain is almost unbearable.  My shoulder has completely seized up – and there is a terrific bruise forming.  I got undressed to go to bed, remembering at the last moment the old man’s parting gifts.

The first –mistletoe fruit mixed with charcoal.  I smear it on my chest and down the sides of my legs.  It has a strange arousing smell. The second - the green wood we had collected earlier.  I lay on my sheets and chewed it.

Unlike the bark the old man had put under my tongue, the green wood was acrid.  As I chewed it, a violent intoxication overcame me.  The pain in my body was not released – instead I began to hallucinate.

It was night.  I was back on the volcano.  The fire had been restarted and made huge.  There were a number of men around the fire.  Old Kaditcha.  As they donned their emu shoes, they became insubstantial – only shadows cast by the fire and dust rising from the ground showed where they were.  I felt a hand drag me to my feet.  I started to dance.  I remember the dust and the beat of the music sticks, the sounds of the didgeridoo, dingos snapping at my body, howling with hunger.  I fell – and standing over me, one of the Kaditcha raised a spear and drove it into the place Bill walloped earlier in the day.

One of the Kaditcha pressed emu feathers and clay onto the wound.  Unconsciousness overtook me as the Kaditcha told what I must do. 

I slept straight through the next couple of days – traveling in the dream time – to a land of fire and ice. 

Bill came around a couple of days ago, a cigarette in one hand, his dark skin with a sheen a sweat from the steps (the lift is busted).  “So, how did you pull up”, he said, shaking his hand.  I showed him my bruise.  He was impressed.  In the center of the bruise was scar tissue.  “Must have hurt”, he said.  “You told her yet? You know, the way you treated her, I was like doing her a favor mate.  Tell her we cut off your balls as well, chicks like that.” 

I thanked him for his concern.  He smiled a big white toothy smile at me.  “Wastnt nothing mate”  He said, “Learnt the ceremony out in the real country.  Old bloke.  Taught me to make me shoes, and to step inside whirly-whirlies.” 

I thought about the other Kaditcha on the mountain and asked Bill to thank him as well.  He shook his head, “Werent no other bloke mate – just us two up on the mountain.” 


He said – ‘So, I guess I just dreamed the whole thing.  Only, the emu feathers were still there, on the floor where they fell.’ 

Her eyes were alive, she fed on his words, tasting the feel of old transference magic.

She stands and backs away from him, her shoulder a mass of pain.   She closes her eyes and concentrates.  Then reaches to him and touches his scar.  

In an instance their roles are reversed.  Her shoulder snapped into shape – and his is suddenly shattered.  He screamed in pain.  

He turned and fell to his knees.  A tear glistened, reddened by the fires below.

He clenches his fists as he nurses his frame.  

From the star-lit sky, bathed in the blood of the sun goddess, the wolf Sköll howls his victory.

In the shadows, near to the thief, another movement – yellow burning eyes fixed on him before it lifts its head and  joins the chorus.

Lit from below, by the flames dancing over the lava, the goddess Freyja reaches down and grasps thief Shadow’s hair.  Dragging Shadow behind her, Freyja takes him from the Room of the Sun, into the Room of the Moon.

‘What beast have you brought into this, my home’, she demanded.

‘I have no power over her’, his excuse begins as the dingo circles him.  The dingo sits to scratch an imaginary flee and begins to grow.


The last filaments of the sun die.

Palerang - silent menace ageless sleeps
Stirring now as mountain storm vengence seeks
Kaditcha man shadow dancing chanting
Turns her hate timeless and instead she weeps

Her tears falling gather here at our camp
A secret pool high on Palerang damp
Wood fire reflected in crystal waters
Horses, shuffle, I am drawn to the bank

Dangerous place these tears of agony
Spirit victims drifting here restlessly
My face lit from below, thousands of stars
See the dancers, touching eternity

Smoke drifting chant lifting summons the past
Perfect mirror glowing soft illusion cast
A breeze plays on the surface suddenly
The failed dreams of a thousand lovers past

A tear forms unbidden softly falling
My own regrets and losses remembering
Horses snicker at far away thunder
Mists swirling smoke drifting dreams forming

My mind drifts a far distant pool recalling
My love darts flat wet hair surfacing
Quiet we walked there together as friends
We left there as lovers heart trust holding

Standing together different trouble
Gainst life’s parries and thrusts, desparate struggle
Quiet healing you send, smiling my name
Enemies fierce, but your touch so subtle

Heeding your call I reach for your hand
Cold water shocks me awake on the sand
But in the ripples I see your face smiling
And your sweet laughter echoes over the land

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