We awoke when it was dark. A sickly moon shone into the clearing. I felt cold, but somehow refreshed. There were signs of movement near me. Ben. He moved to my side and I was relieved to look into his eyes.
Are you ok?
And instead of a single reply there were ten. Yes.
Good… just a minute, that sounds a lot! I looked up, to find the moon shining into the Grove, but a Grove that was old, tired, no longer the place of peace that it had been. Dead foliage rustled under my arms as I pushed myself to a sitting position.
You’re the last to wake, Aidan, apart from the old stag. He will never wake again.
With a shock I looked to where the Old One’s body lay at the edge of the clearing, illuminated by the moon’s rays, peaceful and still powerful even in death. I looked at Carl, horrified. But he was looking at the stag.
He saved my life. I owe him mine. I owe every one of you my life. I will work hard for you, for the Village, for the Island.
The word was from my own lips, but it came unbidden.
You have already given all you need to us, to the Village, to the Island. We all saved your life, and the stag gave his, just a month sooner than he would have lost it, for love. Love for you, love of Jim’s love for you, respect for what you have already done. You owe no one anything.
I was surprised to hear myself speaking with such Authority, and pleased that our Boys and Ben murmured their approval.
A new voice surprised us, speaking haltingly: Forget, you do. Many lives here today you saved. Much misery you avoided. The future you secured for all.
Jim? Was it Jim? We looked at him.
“I… I can’t have been a part of today without being altered in some way.” Understand you, I can; to speak is difficult.
There was a verbal cheer at this from everyone else apart from Carl, who just reached up to pull Jim down to his level and kissed him.
Angharad was still there, and Gwaed. For the first time Gwaed ‘spoke’: It is the start of a new age, yet the old continues. Weeded out from here today is much evil, not just from this island but from others. You will discover more on your studies on the mainland.
The old stag has passed. The evil that was the smith has passed. For many seasons he and the Old One shared nothing for reasons you will now know.
He paused and looked at me, the eyes softening even further.
Now it is left to you and me and Angharad to ensure the health of this island. And its future. And in time it will be the turn of one of the children of one of these, to fertilise the land. It must be done as the end of his virginity; no other burden is laid on him.
But before anything can happen, rest. Think. Prepare a new Grove; we shall show you where. Continue what you — and most of all the other Young of the land — have started. Work with the other humans. Leave the animals in peace apart from those who give themselves for sustenance.
But go now. Go from here. This place will no longer be sacred after the Old Stag has been buried.
He wheeled and turned from the defaced glade. Angharad retreated, turned, bowed to us and was about to follow when she paused, smiled and ran back to us. In turn she embraced and kissed Aidan, Ben, Hamish, Ruaridh, Padraig, Efan and Ifor; then stood before Ben and me, smiling shyly. I held out my arms. She came and kissed me, holding me in an embrace which, had we not been father and daughter, could have appeared sensuous. We separated, and she did the same with Ben before running lightly to where Gwaed had vanished and disappeared into the foliage with hardly a rustle.
We looked at each other, and took in the sight of the now unrecognisable pillars that had once been seven men, at the crumbled altar in front of each and with reverence at the body of the old stag.
We must take him away from here, and bury him with honour. And… and plant seven saplings above him. As soon as I had ‘said’ the words I wondered where the idea had come from. On reflection I was pretty sure I knew.
Haltingly we left the Glade, that oasis of peace, warmth and light that had seen so much love and love-making between Ben and myself. It was a long procession. Jim supported Carl, with help from Ben and me. It occurred to me suddenly that Jim was the only clothed one there: where had our clothes been hidden? We did not want to return to the glade now that it was sanctified only by the stag’s body, but I guessed that they would turn up somewhere.
We were out of the tunnel now and onto the path through the wood that led to the village. It was just a short distance further that Carl’s legs froze, almost bringing Jim and Ben to the ground.
We looked at him, anxious, questioning.
Where you get to the new Glade. It’s here.
We looked around in the dappled sunlight of the new day. Some of the gloom that had been part of the wood’s defence against villagers and particularly children — I smiled at the recollection — had lifted. Despite that, through the trees on the opposite side from the original tunnel we could see that there was a brighter area.
Is that where we should prepare a new Glade? I asked. Carl nodded. He eased himself from the arms of his supporters, turned to Jim and said: “You should strip, so you are as the rest of us.”
The teacher’s eyes grew wide. But to give him his due he raised no objection; it had been he alone who was the odd one out, dressed where we were naked. The appearance of the more personal parts of his body had an effect on us all, though we said not a word. It was as if another peeling back of normal life had taken place; that a teacher at a school we had been to and the boys were still at should be seen naked, unashamed.
Carl put an arm to each of the trees nearest him and they seemed to lean apart. He continued into the undergrowth and was joined by seven smaller figures. They helped persuade the smaller bushes and undergrowth to give a path. For that is what it was, not a slashing with machetes and billhooks, just a persuasion that plants would be more comfortable growing at a different angle, even in a slightly different place.
The pool of light, when we reached it, was wholesome, grass grown. Carl turned to Jim.
We need to rest here. To sleep a while, perhaps. To show that we love and are potent. To prove that we are the rightful wardens.
To him, to Ben and to me, who had been through so much, it was a natural thing to do and we passed to a point away from the entrance and faced each other. To the boys, naturally at one with the earth, it was equally natural to lie on the grass, some together, some separate. Only Jim stood, now embarrassed.
“I can’t just… in public.”
You are here only with us, with friends and lovers. With your lover. Be at peace. For a space, ignore everyone except me and they will ignore you and give you assured privacy.
He turned to Carl and looked at him wistfully. I watched the rising of his manhood to reach Carl’s, itself throbbing its way into the air. And they closed the gap between them. I turned back to Ben who had also been watching. Our bodies were similarly affected.
And the boys? They watched us, being unbound by embarrassment. There was some wriggling around and when I stole a glance across I could see seven just-thirteen year old bodies, each with a matching, still quite small, penis and a scrotum which was quite deep-set and potent looking. They had arranged themselves head to midriff, like a puffin arranges a catch of fish in its mouth. Despite our need to be with each other Ben caught what was in my mind’s eye and looked too. We both saw the near simultaneous, swift erections blossom and the lips reach over to engulf each one. Turning back to each other we left them to their first ever explorations. And began ours.
Knowing that near you, unseen and unseeing, nine people are also engaging in an activity as old as man, as old as nature itself, is uplifting. It augmented our loving, our giving and receiving of sensations and, at last, the peaking of our desires. Together we gave to the earth, life. The start, if it wanted it, of the life of more drakes. Boydrakes.
Together we recovered, rested, without shame. The semen that had not dropped to the ground glistened on bellies. We let it lie. Four boys came to join us — Aidan and Ben, of course, and Padraig and Hamish; Efan, Ifor and Ruaridh crossed to Carl and Jim. Although we had washed slightly marked sheets often enough it was somehow wonderful to see the evidence of their orgasms, small pools that it may still have been, and the still half-closed eyes that spoke of fulfilment. With a boy lying at each arm, we slept.
The return home was a problem. Only one of us had clothes. Jim was deputised to fetch something from the house that would allow three more adults to be seen in public, since the days were gone when we could wander at will from wood to house. The boys had no such qualms, even at thirteen when they were technically much too old to wander about naked. We had to remember that they still played football in that state, and knew that parents collecting team members had to accept it or refuse to allow their sons and daughters to take part.
We’ll run all the way from the wood, said Hamish when I’d reminded him that there were still drying pools of semen on his belly. No one will notice it then!
When we four adults — I’m assuming I was being regarded as an adult by the age of twenty, especially in view of what I’d gone through during my childhood and adolescence — reached home we found the boys, still naked, telling my Father what had gone on. He was looking angry. In fact he was looking furious.
“Right,” he said to me as if we’d just returned from a visit to the Village shop. “We need to get some people together and sort this smith out once and for all. Will you… What?”
It was then we explained what had happened to the smith, Steve and the other five strangers who had been prepared to end the boys’ lives in cold blood in the name of the Island’s fortunes.
The next day we revisited the new Glade to find that turf had already been removed from the centre of it. We dug there, all of us, with hands — oh, and hooves as Gwaed was there too and Carl had, without our noticing it, half morphed from man to stag, much to Jim’s alarm. But the stars of the show were the boys who, at thirteen, found that they could stand on solid earth, somehow wriggle their toes and break up the compacted ground without effort. Soon the grave was big enough. All eleven of us returned to the sadness that was the old grove, and supported the Old Stag’s body back to the path. As we left the tunnel for the last time the trees sighed.
Reverently we laid the body into the grave and filled in the earth, making a mound at the top to show the site. In a circle around it we stood hand in hand, eyes earthwards, until we felt that honour had been done.
In a month from today my sons should find the means to plant a tree there of his choice, I said. It seemed fitting.
A meeting was called the following day, once again interrupting school, business and domestic life. Carl, as the person most used to standing in front of others, was deputised to tell the whole Village what had happened. There were cries of incredulity and anger. But there were also cries of disbelief. Loud cries.
“Have you seen the smith in the Village in the last few days? Have any strangers come onto the Island and not gone home?” I asked.
There were mutterings starting but the innkeeper stood up. “I had five men arrive late last week and they never paid, and their stuff was still in the rooms. I only cleared it out today. Rough lot; didn’t like them. But trade’s trade.”
“I suggest you check their stuff for identity and get mainland police to check them out. They’ll probably visit us once they’ve found they’re missing. They won’t find them, but we can show you where they were last.”
“In the woods. They’re now stone pillars, like I said. There’s seven of them and the last two are the smith and Steve. We must try to trace his family, too.”
“Never had one,” chipped in the doctor. “He came to live with the smith because his parents on the mainland chucked him out for interfering with a boy.”
I looked at him. “For interfering… and you made him one of the boys who I had to… who were involved with what I had to do?”
The doctor looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t know until Steve left the Island and I tried to make sure he was all right. It all came out then.”
One of the doubters interrupted. “We need more proof than you’ve given us so far. You take us to this place in the woods where they were last seen. Then we’ll have proof.”
I looked at Ben and Carl with a question mark in my eyes. They nodded slightly.
“Very well, we will. But it is a small place and only those who need to go for proof should do so.”
I wondered what would happen. Most of those who went would have been those who had ventured into the woods as youngsters and been frightened off by the atmosphere, never to return. Now they were led by us and accompanied by the boys who refused to be left at home despite their age. To give them credit, none chickened out. We led them in, and I smiled quietly when we passed the places where, in the old days, we would have stopped to strip off all our clothing. It was hard not to do so as we first passed the tunnel to the new Glade, which was then completely anonymous, thick with foliage. It was even harder, because of habit, not to do so at the old tunnel. But I resisted the temptation and hoped the others would too, particularly the boys who were not as circumspect in that respect as we were.
The tunnel seemed more oppressive than when we were last there, and the old glade was dark, dank and somehow smelled of death. The seven pillars and the centre stone were of course still there. The onlookers crowded round us.
“Well?” said the man who had complained loudest. “Are these old standing stones what you mean? They’ve been there ages — look at the state of them.”
“They have been there three days. Of that you can be certain. You know the old religion still exists on this island, and you know what I had to go through because the smith and the elders got it wrong what was needed. Oh, they were partly right, but they had no need to put we boys through those experiences.
“But out of it came good. We have seven sons. Love abounds. The Island is happier and healthier and wealthier than it’s been for years as a result. But the other thing the smith got wrong was that there needed to be death and a return to the earth in order to make sure this continued. It was only because the Spirits intervened that it was possible for the murder to be stopped. The murderers were turned to stone, as I said. There they are.”
“They’re standing stones. Simple.”
I looked at him, at a loss to know how to prove it all. But a smaller figure pushed to the fore, turned and looked at him too. Hamish.
“What would persuade you that this actually happened, that this stone” — he pointed to the substantial, nearly man-shaped stone that had been the smith — “is actually the man himself, turned to stone by the Spirits to stop him murdering us?” The boy was calm, collected; it seemed that he genuinely wanted to know.
The man sneered at him. “I don’t know what a small boy can do to prove it. But then you’re one of the so-called ‘special ones’, aren’t you?”
“If you mean was I born of the earth, of the Spirit, of my Father, then yes. I am. As are these other six. But I repeat, what will persuade you?”
“If I see that the stone has the smith’s face, not just the same bulky figure as him, then I might believe this cock-and-bull story.”
We need to try and reverse it a bit, said Hamish to his brothers. Can we, do you think?
There was a deal of pushing and excusing as his brothers joined him at the front of the spectators. All seven of them stood looking at the statue.
Aidan sighed. “I really didn’t want to touch him again, or be naked in front of him again. But at least now he can’t see us. And nothing we can do will give him life again. Come on, then!”
The group of doubters watched, amazed and concerned as the seven of them hauled off their clothes. Once again my own experiences as a near-thirteen year old came to mind. As a father I was horrified that sons of mine would strip naked, an act that people generally regard as dirty, or odd, or disturbing. But I was also proud that they could happily do so without worry. I was also aware that they would avoid doing so except at need — or when it was more comfortable to play — or to swim — like that.
Ah yes, the swimming. Near the port, at the beach. They saw absolutely no need for the modesty of the other, nearby Islanders and would strip off and play in the water like so many seals. And something they did would cause other youngsters — even some older than them — also to strip off in full view of parents, passers-by and, of course, us. And finally even we would join them.
This time it was obviously serious. They had a point to prove. In a ring around the ugly grey monolith that had once been the smith they stood. Hands were held, feet were shuffled in the way Ben and I knew was their way of taking shallow root again, to draw whatever influence there was left in this brown, almost dead soil that had been sucked of almost all its goodness by the herculean efforts of Carl. One of the onlookers, the man who had been loudest in insisting on proof, was keenly watching the movements — not of their feet, I noticed, but of the budding organs between their legs. I watched him more carefully. His interest seemed to have switched, and I suddenly recognised his face from seven years before.
He was one of the elders, one of the few still alive who had watched as, time after time, I had myself stripped in front of the panel so they could judge my oncoming manhood. I recollect how his gaze had never switched from my middle from the time my shorts hit the floor to the time they were back anchored firmly round me.
A man to avoid? A man to understand?
The boys were still now, eyes closed. A silence descended, muting even the mutterers.
A piece of stone flew up from the ground and fixed itself to the rock. Then another, and another.
We watched, dumbstruck, as the grey, apparently weathered, rock was covered with splinters; splinters that fixed themselves to it without a seam or gap.
And the features that made the smith recognisable as the overbearing, murderous bully that he had finally proved himself to have been all along reassembled themselves in front of us.
Finally it was complete. Part of the spell broke and there was a gasp as the onlookers recognised the statue in front of them, a statue holding a cruel looking knife in arms that bulged with muscles, in the act of plunging it downwards.
“That’ll do for me,” said a voice. “Sorry I doubted you, but I’ve known that man all my life.” It wasn’t the main complainer, but someone who was a friend of his; who had also been a friend of the smith. The man I had been watching was still staring at the boys, entranced.
Dad! Dad! Help!
My mind snapped back to the circle round the smith.
Dad! When we stop he’s going to fall to bits again. We’re too close. We need you and Ben to come into the circle, make it bigger. Then we won’t get crushed by the bigger bits.
Ben and I were instantly galvanised into action. OUR kids were in danger. We rushed to join the circle.
You’ll have to be naked, Dad. A reproach from Hamish.
History repeating itself.
“GOI! Everyone. Just GO! It’s going to fall back to bits and we’ve got to join the circle to make it bigger so they don’t get crushed! GO!”
Some did stumble away along the tunnel. Most stayed, but moved back a little. One who did not move at all was the man I had been watching. I had to do it. So did Ben. We looked at each other, horrified as when we had no option but to do this all those years before. He shrugged, and with that we started flinging off our own clothes. There was another mutter from our ‘audience’.
Carefully, without breaking their contact, we inserted ourselves into the circle. But as we did so the power field, or whatever it was, weakened as it became known that we were not wholly of the land in the same way the boys are. Stones started to fall. We spread out. More stones fell, harmlessly now, and at length Aidan spoke.
On a count of three, separate and run! One…two…THREE…
This was more than a falling of stones. This was three hundred years of weathering in an instant. The whole monolith crumbled, and split, and great boulders fell and rolled where young feet had been a moment or two before.
And with the comprehensive destruction came a return of voices; voices raised in incredulity, in anger — at the smith and his friends — and in concern about the boys. There was not a person there who was unconcerned about the threat to their thirteen year old frailty in front of such malignance and, more recently, in front of such danger from falling rock. So busy were the boys, Ben and myself that we hardly realised we were talking to people whilst still naked. Well, I suppose we must have, but there was no opportunity to do anything but talk when it’s so urgent and immediate, and your clothes are behind other people.
So finally they started drifting away. We were left with just one. The loud one. He was no longer loud. He was still gaping at the crumbled rock that had been his friend, the smith. He looked grey.
Speaking slowly, as if it was an effort: “Their blood would have saved the Island.”
Instantly there was no movement, no sound.
“What?” I asked, venom in my voice.
“Their blood would have saved the Island. It is written.”
The book in the library seemed to float to the surface of my mind. “It was written in the tradition of another island. Not ours. And we have been told how our fortune may be continued, and it is with love and an amalgamation of the Spirit and the Human worlds, not in falsehoods and forced actions and death. You know nothing of it. Either the smith lied to you or you lied to the smith. And because of your joint actions so much evil has had to come to pass, big evil and small evils, that you are not welcome here.”
I’m not sure where the certainty of his involvement came from, but I was sure of it. The boys were listening gravely and I could feel their support.
Padraig said: Strip him.
I looked at him, astonished. The quietest of the boys, almost the odd one out, he rarely spoke of serious matters except when absolutely necessary.
Strip him. He will not resist.
This was a job for the boys, not for naked twenty plus year olds. And the man did not resist as hands came to remove his shirt, his trousers, his…
There were no shoes.
There was a shadow around his ankles that had said ‘shoes’ to the eyes, but as soon as the final items of cloth were removed from him we saw that at the end of the legs there was nothing but cloven hooves. We backed away. Still there was no movement.
Was this a stag? Was this a creature such as Carl, but bent and made ugly by some outside influence? I tried with my mind, almost shouting: WHAT ARE YOU?
There was no reply. But the skin seemed to grow greyer, more wrinkled. And then a flake chipped off and fell to the ground.
I ‘shouted’ to the others to run, and we didn’t stop until we were at the other end of the tunnel. From behind us we could hear cracks and falling rubble, and a creak as some poor tree was hit, or worse. When there was no more sound we cautiously found our way through the tunnel again.
What had been our dell, our Glade, was now a scene of desolation. The smith’s six accomplices were still monoliths, the smith was a series of boulders and shards. But the latest addition was nothing, Nothing except small, evilly sharp flints covering the area, with some of them embedding themselves into trees. In one corner, near what remained of the smith, were just visible part of a pair of grey shorts. None of the rest of our clothes were visible.
Flint is not a rock that is found naturally on our island.
We left, appalled. Naked still we found our way up the tunnel again, me at the back, and as soon as I was out we stopped and looked back. There was a Sound. Foliage was repositioning itself, bending, even moving in the earth, to close the entry of the tunnel, disguising it, even binding it shut. We were not unhappy that it should do so.
It seemed only right that we should make sure that the new Glade was still untouched by the events. Its tunnel welcomed us, its light and warmth beckoned us. To our astonishment we found Carl and Jim in there, together, embracing. We found Angharad and Gwaed there, watching with gentleness and love in their eyes. Our arrival was the only time we ever caused a guilty stop to two people in love, and I mentally calmed them and reminded them — well, Jim, really — that real love is blameless.
We knew there was another evil on the Island, said Angharad. Neither Gwaed nor I could find it. When you had brought it to the open we knew that we had no power to help you. It was made from rock that is not of these islands, inhabited by a spirit of evil. We have no influence on that. We cannot understand it. The boys could, just, as they are part human. Only your words and the destruction of its creature, the smith, could touch it.
And now it is destroyed. The way to where it was is barred. Now we may rejoice and love.
With that they were gone. But we looked at each other, Ben and I, and knew we should obey her last word. As before arms entwined and the slow dance of hands on bodies started once more. The boys, this time, were being more adventurous, not just lying down and offering stimulation but copying our movements and finding that the slow climb up to the plateau of pleasure is a contribution to the final, eventual moment of the outpouring of seed.
We slept, it seems as if it was for many hours, for when we awoke the evening had passed, and much of the night. The first signs of dawn were in the sky. Quietly, without shame in the semi-darkness, we went home, still naked. We bathed in pairs — and one trio — and spent a few hours sleeping in beds.
The Village meeting was resumed the next day. There was general, if puzzled, acceptance of the absence of the smith and his friend — and we had explained it thoroughly — and relief that it was now all over.
We had a Family meeting, too.
The boys wanted to know if they should father another family, to which my instant reply was yes, if you take complete responsibility for their birth, potty training, language training, common sense training, human being training; whilst going to school full time as well.
There was a silence.
That’ll be a ‘no’, then, said Hamish.
Roll on another ten years. The house is still full. Fuller, in fact, as the boys are almost all attracting girls to visit. Almost? Padraig has told us that, like his dad, he feels more at home with a boy, one of the dwellers at the laughingly termed ‘International Ferry Terminal’; in fact the small docks on the coast. And he’s a lovely, quiet lad is Ted, shy and even at eighteen still coming to terms with his preference for his own gender and at having that preference accepted as normal by two older male couples and his love’s brothers — and their girls.
The girls are… well, girls. I’ve never been an expert. But they are pretty, and they seem intelligent and sensitive and accepting, and they cause those brown eyes of our sons to go almost deer-like from time to time.
And now we have just heard that Cathrionna, the girl that little Ifor is tremblingly crazy about, is to give birth in nine months. Who told us? None other than Angharad who, unseen, witnessed the consummation and the conception and knew.
Knew also that the child would be the first son of the seventh son of a seventh son.