Blood was everywhere. The two young masons were attacking each other violently with hand axes, their blood splashing onto the pavement and the stone work they had been working on minutes before. The young female sculptor and the Priest were just leaving the middle temple when they stumbled on the scene.
“Stop!” Pebble called. “Stop it at once!”
Amazingly, they paused, breathing heavily and dripping sweat. They had been fighting over her, of course, though she had done nothing to encourage them. She shook her fist at them. “Don’t you dare!” she called again. “Stop it now!”
At the same time, the Priest stepped towards the combatants hand raised in admonition. Then, without warning, one of them groaned and collapsed onto the pavement.
In Neolithic society most people were tied to the land but masons had to travel the ‘Sacred Isle’ in order to do their specialist work on the mighty temples so they tended to be a group apart. Pebble’s father had been a mason and when he died she had been accepted into their largely male society, though she preferred to call herself a sculptor. The huge stone lintels of the megalithic temples were too heavy for her to handle so she concentrated instead on the finer carving and the roof corbelling, using smaller stones. She was enjoying the work on the middle temple at Mnajdra and generally she fitted in well, but, these particular two masons had been a nuisance.
Handy, one of them, thought he was the Goddess’s gift to women. Several times he had very publicly offered himself to Pebble but she had forcefully declined. “She’s yet another Pebble for my corbelling,” he arrogantly told his friends. He thought it very funny though Pebble was unimpressed. There was nothing wrong with sex in this society. Our Lady was after all a Fertility Goddess. However, Pebble had recently become enamoured of a young northern priest and recreational sex had lost its appeal, especially with this arrogant boaster. In any case, Handy liked to spread his largesse among the married women as well and this was severely frowned upon. Sex before marriage was fine but not in a way that threatened the home. Home represented family, procreation and an afterlife in the community of the ancestors. Threaten that and you threatened the whole society.
Flint was much more serious but he also had eyes for Pebble and got very upset when Handy made his unsubtle approaches to her.
“Pebbles are for rolling, you know,” Handy would cry after her. “Let me roll you like the river and remove your sharp edges.”
“No thanks,” she would reply. “Pebbles have better uses. If you don’t behave I’ll cut off your ‘pebbles’; and corbel them into the roof!”
The contrast between the two young men was not just in their manner. Handy was tall, muscular, handsome and knew it. Flint was shorter, rounder and severely lacking in confidence. He also lacked the other’s facility in language. Pebble secretly thought he was inappropriately named. Flints were usually sharper.
It was a terrible sight that greeted Pebble and the Priest. Flint stood with his bloody hand axe held above his head. Handy lay sprawled at his feet bleeding from head wounds. They ran across and Pebble cradled the young man’s head in her hands. He gave one last gasp and expired.
“You’ve killed him,” the Priest cried.
“But I can’t have,” the other said. “He just fell over.”
The Priest pointed to the blood on his hand axe.
“No!” the lad cried. “We were fighting but he was all right. On his feet. Then he just collapsed.”
“The Community Meeting will decide your guilt or innocence,” the Priest told him. “In the meantime come with me.”
“Pebble! Please! Help me!” Flint cried as he was led away.
Some women might be quietly pleased to be the centre of so much attention, but not Pebble. She missed the young priest she had met at the last Spring festival but Mnajdra had beckoned and she had to go where the work took her. Anyway adolescent adulation had never appealed to her and the idea of young men fighting to the death over her was frankly disgusting. A terrible, pointless waste of life. She was also worried by the details of the scene she had just witnessed. Something wasn’t right. They had certainly been fighting but Flint seemed an unlikely killer unless it had been an unlucky strike.
She returned to the body and again inspected the wounds. There was plenty of blood but no evidence of damage to the underlying skull. They were all flesh wounds. “Could that have killed him?” She next checked his airways. His nose was clear but when she looked in his mouth there was a strange sticky residue on his teeth and gums. Also, his breath smelled odd; sweet and sickly. She felt she should investigate further.
Cavesound asked the secular Chief to call a Community Meeting for the next day. It would decide Flint’s fate, though the likely result was pretty obvious. He had been caught in the act. The temple was near the sea. There were plenty of convenient cliffs to throw the convicted off. In the meantime, a miserable Flint was confined to a small room to the rear of the upper temple. He almost cried when Pebble visited him.
“Please help me!” he begged.
“I don’t know if I can. Tell me in your own words what happened.”
He shrugged. “We hit each other. Both were bleeding but we were both on our feet. In truth we were exhausted and were taking an impromptu rest when you arrived. Then, without warning, Handy clutched his stomach, gasped and fell to the ground.”
“Did he have any other enemies, apart from you?” she asked
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