Saturday, Saturn’s Day.
Breathing, someone else breathing in bed. She’s still here!
Roland rolled over and put his arm around her. She slept curled tight, but snuggled into him, sharing warmth in the cool of the morning.
“You’re still here.”
She purred back to him, “Yes. I like it here.” Then she nuzzled at his neck, tickling his earlobe with her tongue.
“I have a tour today, would you like to come?”
“I show a bunch of rich tourists around, act the tame archaeologist.” Seeing her sceptical look, he continued, “It gets me out, seeing people, and … a lecturer isn’t paid that well. I might strike it lucky.”
“You have.” She laughed, a normal laugh, not the deep one, “I’ll come with you, Mr Tame Archaeologist.” She gave him a playful kiss and rose, splendid and graceful in her nakedness. She smiled back at him from the doorway, on her way to the bath.
The caterwauling started while Roland was still in the shower. It continued, outside the kitchen door, while he dressed. He looked down at the back garden from the bedroom window. It was filled with cats, and more important to him, with Diana. They were bringing her presents, a dead mouse, or a nice fresh bird. When they didn’t do that, they shepherded kittens toward her. She bent down, and stroked them with what reminded him of a high priest giving a benedictory blessing.
She noticed him, and put her finger to her lips, asking the cats to be quiet.
He leaped down the stairs and dashed into the kitchen. She stood in the doorway to the outside. The light framing her from it almost forming a halo or aura around her. He stopped, but then she said, “Come, stand with me. Meet my friends.”
He joined her, standing next to her with his hand in hers. Cats filled his, now their back garden. Their unblinking eyes studied him, piercing deep into his mind. One large tom, full of himself, gave a peremptory hiss. She meowed back, and he – the cat, slunk forward and arched his back against Roland’s ankles. Diana said, “That was rude of him, and now he apologizes. Do you accept?”
“I do.” Roland reached down to stroke the cat. He purred his new friendship. Roland asked, “Should we feed them?”
“Not today. They have come to honour me, and to protect us.”
“Protect us? From what?”
Diana squeezed his hand. “I don’t want to speak the words. It might summon.”
“Oh,” Roland was silent, remembering the curse Welchmann had tried to get him to say aloud. “I think I understand.”
She squeezed his hand again, “I’m hungry, but my followers should eat these gifts themselves.”
“I’ve never been fond of mouse fricassee. I have some rashers, eggs, toast.”
She nodded, “That would be acceptable,” smiling she added, “better than acceptable. Let me finish instructing my followers.”
The sound of the door shutting interrupted the sizzling sound of the rashers. Diana slid behind him and hugged him. “Smells good, thank you.”
“I didn’t know you were a cat lady.”
She nipped his ear, almost hard enough to draw blood.
“Ouch. That hurts.”
“Do not be irreverent.” She let him go and sat at the table, “Though cat lady is a good description, only perhaps not in the way you mean. How does this tour work, Mr Archaeologist?”
Roland cracked a couple of eggs into the frying pan before answering. “Sometimes I meet the bus in town, but today I’ll, we’ll drive to the site. We’ll meet them in the parking lot.”
Roland pulled his antique Golf into a parking place in the unpaved lot near the National Trust’s Landover and put his pass on the dashboard. After he helped Diana out, they walked to the attendants.
“The tour here yet?”
“No, the driver called, they’re running late. Be here after lunch, say two or half-two. He mumbled something about bloody yanks, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.” The attendant inspected Diana and kidded him, “I see you’ve brought an apprentice?”
“Not an apprentice.” Roland smiled at Diana, “May I present my companion Diana Filiasolis.”
The attendant laughed, “I’m glad to see you’re dating again. I hope…”
“It was hard, losing Janet.” Roland paused, “But I’ve found someone. If the tour coach shows up before we’re back, we’ll be at the Red Lion.”
“Why not the Circle Café, the?”
“Diana isn’t exactly vegan. They haven’t added meat to the menu at the Circle, have they?”
“The beer’s better at the Lion too.” The man winked. Diana and Roland started down the narrow paved trail that led through the circle and to the village.
They followed the path to the cobbled street, past the shops selling Neolithic and new age souvenirs to the tourist trade, to the Red Lion. The rough trade, tattooed devotees of the Goddess, hitching a ride after the spring equinox festival loitered outside where they could smoke and drink. Roland wondered if it really were Bacchus they worshiped.
One, deeply tattooed with the marks of his faith, bearing enough metal to set off an airport scanner, and reasonably sober, put down his cig. “My Lady.” He bowed to Diana. The others rose and bowed to her together. “You do us great honour, Goddess.”
She nodded back to them. “May the sun be with you, children of the light.”
The first man knelt before her, “Bless this poor sinner.”
She touched his shaved head. “Be blessed.”
Then the man picked up his cig and joined his friends in generating a blue haze.
“Diana,” Roland asked, “What was that about?”
“Nothing.” She quickly looked away from him.
“Don’t lie to me. Please. I would like … I need to hear the truth.”
Diana faced him and stared into his face. Roland lost himself deeply in her eyes. She broke the link. “My love, my poor love, there are things I cannot tell you, not now.” She smiled at him and touched his lips with her fingers. “At the right time, when you are ready, all will be revealed.”
She added, as a final argument, “Don’t you trust me?”
“Then don’t worry. Forget.”
Roland paused, blinked, the details slipping from his mind, “Let’s find a table.” He led her past the bar, picking up a menu on the way, and into the front room. “This table, over the old well?”
“No. Please, there are voices.”
Roland shrugged and then led her to large room in the back. “You’ll want to wash your hands – the ladies WC is that way.”
They were still eating when the bus driver found them. The barkeep pointed Roland out. Roland took advantage of the time it took them to walk back to the parking lot to ask about his charges.
“Bloody Yanks. What a dog’s dinner.”
“Can they walk? I’d like to take them to the long barrow.”
“Most can, it’s like herding cats. That’s why we’re so late. Keep an eye on that one.” He pointed to an older man. “That Mr Levine, he wanders.”
“Cats? Diana, you’re good with cats. I may need your help.”
She laughed, “I’ll do what I can to keep them safe.”
Roland walked in front of the motley crowd, almost all grey haired, all bundled against the cold of the English spring, and waved for their attention. “Hello there, or perhaps better said, Salvete! Quid agetis?”
They turned, stolid to the last one, and looked at him as if he were from Mars or parts beyond.
“I just said, hello, how are you? Nomen mihi est Dr Stevens, Dr Roland Stevens from Reading University. I’ll be your guide.”
This drew little response.
“I thought it would be good to start from the long barrow, we’ll walk by Silbury Hill on the way there and then return up the ceremonial causeway before we look around the ring. It’s an easy walk, maybe three miles total.”
Someone from the crowd shouted, “So we have to? It’s a long walk.”
The lack of enthusiasm from the rest was deafening.
“There will still be time to visit the gift shop.”
This brought forward volunteers.
“Great! The view from the Kennet Long Barrow puts the whole valley in context. Everything from Windmill hill to the White Horse and Ridgeway.”
Roland and Diana counted off the ones who would go with them. It wouldn’t do to misplace any of their herd. Then they shepherded them across the A-4361 and down the footpath to the long barrow.
The crowd assembled on top of the barrow while Roland pointed out the sweep of prehistory in the valley below. Everything from the Ridgeway, through the circle and Silbury hill, Windmill hill with its barrows, and then far to the west the ridge fortifications that continued, each within line of site of the other. Below them, by the mouth of the barrow, devotees of the ‘old gods’ danced and chanted. Although they stopped and bowed when the noticed Diana.
“We should take a look inside. The barrow is as old as the pyramids.”
Diana nudged Roland, “Almost, dearest, almost.”
“It’s still one of the oldest buildings in England, and typical of a chambered tomb.” Roland counted off his party, and then said, “Where is that Mr Levine. Don’t tell me he’s gone walkabout again.”
“I won’t” Diana said, “He’s already in the barrow, taking in the straw dollies and offerings.”
The entrance snaked its way through stone pillars to a dim narrow hall. Except for Mr Levine, who haunted the furthest recess, the tourists looked at each small chamber and then shuffled out.
Roland eventually had to walk behind Mr Levine and say, “Time to go.” Then he tapped the man on the shoulder and led him out of the tomb where they both blinked in the sunlight.
Diana nudged Roland, “That Mr Levine. Is he well? He’s wincing in the light.”
“I hope so – at least I hope he’s well enough to make it back to the village. Then he’s not my problem.”
Roland addressed the crowd, “Now back down towards the road, and we’ll catch the footpath to West Kennet.”
Both Diana and Roland made certain everyone was with them.
Everything else went well until it was time to reassemble for the coach ride back to London. The driver counted his passengers off, and then did it again. “Where’s … what is his name? Mr Levine. Can’t go without him.”
“I think he’s still in the shop.”
He wasn’t. Nor was he in the Circle Café, nor the Red Lion, nor even the museum or the manor. He wasn’t in the loo either.
Roland, and Diana joined in the search. Then they waited while the police came, and gave their statements. They took 19 people to the barrow, and they brought the same 19 back to Avebury. One of them had been Mr Levine.
More and more panda cars arrived; then they stopped coming and those that were there drove off. The head sergeant came over and explained. “Mr Levine’s been found.”
“He has, where?”
“His hotel room. He’s been dead at least two days.”
Roland started to say, “He was …” when Diana stopped him. “It is what it is.”
Roland stared at her. She put her finger to his lips. “Later, look.” The sky grew dark, cloudy. A chill wind blew through the parking lot. “It is coming, has come.”
Above her, on the wires over the hedgerow, a murder of ravens squawked; then flew away.
Roland’s mobile exploded into life while they were on the M4. He handed it to Diana.
“It’s that Dr Welchmann.” She said. “Say’s he’s a friend of yours.”
“I don’t think. What’s he want?”
“Your, our company. Could you give a talk, on Demotic and the book of the dead?”
“It’s not my field. It’s what I did to fill in the time after losing … “
“Janet.” Diana spoke away from the phone. Roland nodded, still keeping his eyes on the car ahead. 80 was far too fast for the old golf and the cars were far too close together for his comfort. He muttered, “I’ll do it. Tell that bastard, that gentleman I’ll do it. I’ll call him when we’re back home.”
After Diana put the phone away, Roland turned on the radio. “That man … I hope there’s something decent on.”
The local Oxfordshire radio cut through BBC4, “Hello folks, that crocodile has been seen in the Thames again. This time with photos. C’mon Mates, it’s too cold for ‘em. Turn ‘em into the zoo if you’re done with them. Traffic news, the A34 roundabout at”
Roland turned it off.
“Sobek, why now, here.” Diana muttered.
“What was that?”
“Nothing.” She reached over and gently stroked his left arm. “Don’t worry, and that Welchmann. I’ll come with you. It will be fine. Nothing I can’t handle.”