She sensed no danger; there was no one to tell her not to. There was no one there. Four arches with four doors opened to the four directions.
To the north, heathered moors and behind them, rain blanketed mountains. To the east and west lay the cold, grey ocean, and to the south, the debatable lands. But here between the arches is the meeting place where the tribes gather. In times of peace the doors are open, in times of war, the door facing the enemy is closed.
The open doors were so inviting, what lay beyond? She had heard tales of steps leading down to some underground cavern filled with treasure. No one would notice if she took a quick look, the doors were not guarded. A bumble bee danced on the ground beside her, the rhythmic buzzing of its wings entrancing. It buzzed away into a nearby clump of foxgloves, their purple trumpet shaped flowers bobbed around the bee, dancing inside like a child squirming around in a sleeping bag.
She walked between the arches. The air felt heavy, like a storm too lazy to break. Four torches blazed, one hanging on each wall. She didn’t see the men running up the hill, she didn’t hear the shouting, she was transfixed by the square trapdoor in the floor between the arches. She heaved it open by the huge iron ring. Stairs descended into blackness. The shouting grew louder, closer, she heard it now, coming in fast, reaching a crescendo. She panicked and turned to see the doors being slammed shut first the north, then together, the east and west and finally, the door to the debatable lands in the south. She was locked in and war had erupted without. Grabbing the nearest torch, she descended the ancient stone steps. The air smelled cool and dank and as she descended, grains of sand crunched under foot. An iron-studded wooden door stood at the bottom of the steps. As she pushed, the door begrudgingly creaked open, releasing the foul-smelling air beyond. The torch flickered. The sounds of war raged above, battle cries, the clashing of sword against shield and against bone. The screams of the dying urged her on.
She peered around the door and saw a huge, square, carved, wooden box. She placed the torch in a sconce on the wall freeing her hands to sweep the dust away from the box lid revealing intricate carvings. In three corners of the box, smaller squares were carved, the fourth corner lay empty. Between then, strange carved lines seemed to move as soon as she stopped looking at them. Some looked like stick people that walked if she squinted and then when she looked closer, the stick people changed to snakes that slithered around, bound by the three carved squares guarding the corners of the square lid like sentinels. The boxed was hinged on the side with only once square carving. Sliding her fingers under the polished wood, she opened the lid and was forced backwards by a blast from within. The lid lay on the floor. She gasped. There was silence and then a low groan from within the box.
She felt panic rise within her – what had she done? She scrambled across the dusty floor on her hands and knees towards the lid in a desperate attempt to replace it, but too late, something was coming out. It screamed, whirred, whined and screeched mirroring the sounds of war raging above. A millions sounds all fighting to be free at once. Light erupted in a blinding flare, and then myriad colours flashing like lightening and punching like fists. She buried her head in her hands, to escape the onslaught of sound, light and colour. They swirled around her, lifting her off the floor and slamming her back down. She caught her breath and risked a look up, panting for air, it had calmed and now pictures formed and sound danced above the box, like a bumble bee around the foxgloves. The sounds melodic, the colours bright, the light peaceful and inviting. She watched transfixed as images of cities in far away places flashed in and out of existence. Statues, artwork, buildings, bridges, on and on… Time sped up and stood still, all at once.
Her trance broke with the sound of the doors being heaved open above. No sounds of war came down the stairs with the sound of footfall. A voice far above cried out: the war is over! The tribes have gathered and there is peace! The doors are open in all directions!
Dr. Heather Blenkinsop
School of Social & Political Studies
University of Edinburgh