Short story XIII

Utter silence. Not even the wind was sighing in the grass. Utter silence.

The blue sky appeared to stretch endlessly from horizon to horizon, from mountain ridge to the rim of the sea. The sun beamed down, unleashing unseen updrafts from the hills. The crafty eagle knew they could carry him aloft, without too much effort on his part. His piercing eye roved the empty countryside below, sloping down from the mountaintops to the sea. Nothing moved. Soundlessly, the eagle drifted west, across the water. There, he would find prey. The empty quarter was no longer the source of rich pickings. Oh, for sure there would be the ubiquitous rabbits. His broad wings carried him away. None were there to see him and wonder - or dread. The empty quarter was just that. Empty.

The stream flowed down from the high moors above, in between thickets of rowan, bracken and grass. Pooling in pockets of spaghnum moss in the shade, finally issuing in the flat meadows above the sea. A small waterfall, and the waters lost their identity in the endless expanse of the sea below. Rowan trees rustled in the west wind, sheltering what were now only low, lonely ruins. Looking out over what looked like ribbed fields, to where the people of the township once grew their barley, potatoes and other food crops. Rabbits had burrowed into the field edges and were nibbling away at the grass on the furrows. A dark shadow sped down with a keen eye, bringing death to the one rabbit that had strayed too far away from safety. Its broken body was swiftly carried aloft and across the water. The sun over the empty quarter was briefly tempered as a thin cloud moved across. Only the sound of running water remained.

No, that wasn't the spot. Heavily, she lumbered down the hill, the setting sun in her eye. Although unaware of it, the seasons had turned and her time was nigh. As her mother before her, she was now headed for the spot where life had started one or two summers ago. The stream babbled by her side, but more of concern was the gleeful croaking of the crows up aloft. The keen eye from across the water was a threat that she was unaware of. Time was now pressing, but fortunately, the thicket of rowan trees near the waterfall beckoned. Wracked by pain, she collapsed by the ruined wall, pitching her head back until it looked straight up at the sky. But all that was forgotten moments later, when she first caught sight of her young. It was soon ready to join her on foot, and the lamb quickly gained steadiness. They left the ruins behind and went up the hill to rejoin the rest of the flock. The crows descended, but could not come near due to a forest of horns. A shadow passed overhead as the sun dipped towards the horizon, and the emotionless eyes of the eagle roved over the group of sheep. His talons would not touch meat that day again.

Lights twinkled across the water as night fell. None were left in the empty quarter.

Dawn painted the eastern sky a stunning red. The hills of the empty quarter receded into blackness in the foreground. On their outline stood a lonely figure, casting his head back and roaring loudly. His challenge did not go unanswered. The two adversaries locked antlers and pushed and shoved, trying to inflict injury and preferably death on the other. None succeeded in either aim, and the two galloped down the slope, scattering their possy of females before their anger. Roaring out once more, engrossed in their hormone fuelled frenzy, the two stags continued mortal combat, edging closer and closer to the thicket of rowans. Ignoring the low walls of ruined houses, they leapt and bounded along the banks of the stream, neither prepared to give way. What finally did give way was the edge of the cliff over which the waterfall fell. The challenger lost his footing and fell the fifty feet to the shingle shore below. The victor roared out his triumph and trotted back to his hinds, ready to mate. The antlers of the vanquished stag sagged down as life seeped away into the beach. The tide, rising slowly, lapped around his body, and presently took it away.

The impassionate eye roved back and forth across the empty quarter, espying it from an unimaginable height. It registered each walled enclosure, long since devoid of roof, if roof ever did exist. Each runrig was noted and marked, even though the land had not been actively worked for two centuries. No permanent habitations were left to be discerned, although when England expected each man to do his duty, there were many hamlets scattered along its long, indented coastline. Their people didn't know about Nelson, Napoleon or the grand politics of state. But when Napoleon was living out his last days in the South Atlantic, the people of the empty quarter were no longer needed to gather the seaweed of its shores. Sheep took their place. Deer took their place in turn. Men of great wealth came to shoot the deer, just for fun. The empty quarter stands empty today. We remember the three dozen names of its townships, from Brunigil in the west to Kinloch Shell in the east, via Loch Claidh, Loch Brollum and past Mol Truisg. Three-armed men may come to tower over its hills, making more wealth for men already rich. The people of the empty quarter will not come back.

No comments:

Post a Comment