Chapter 20 a
Avebury, November 9, 7 AM
They drove far into the
night, picking their way south and west along back lanes. They passed
Jon finished breaking the
code before they went to bed. Of each
group of three, the first letter was in the clear, the second letter was the
typewriter code, and the third letter was the other simple substitution cipher
that had been used in a previous message.
Hapgood said, "Well you would think Wayson might have signed it. It sounds almost as if it were from Terra Lane."
"Obviously somebody knows the same codes Terra has been using. And somebody is being very coy. I mean why didn't Wayson just tell us what in the world is going on?"
Hapgood said, "In the morning let's have a look at a peerage."
In the morning
From the top of one of the rings, she looked south and east along a long colonnade of the stones that led directly to a crisp hill. The soft light made things seem farther than they were. But even so, it must have been three miles. It was a mystery shrouded by its own very size.
She strolled back toward the largest circle and met a bearded man dressed as a hiker. He seemed to be wandering contentedly.
"Good morning," she said, "Can you tell me about this place?"
"Enough to entertain, not to satisfy."
"What is this?"
"This is the Avebury stone circle. More than one circle. It's bigger than Stonehenge and as old. The stones at Stonehenge are finished, of course. These look more natural, but if you dug them up, each has a post on the bottom to keep it standing. So these are shaped, too."
"And that long double line of stones?”
"There used to be more. They alternated, short and thick with tall and thin. Some people say that they stand for male and female elements, and it is some kind of fertility thing, but nobody really knows. There were probably astronomical sightings done here. The ones at Stonehenge are more famous and the one at Newgrange is hardest to argue with. Actually the biggest circle known is in Germany. It's even older and bigger than this, but of course that's if you don't count the lines of stones."
"So they lined miles of stones up with that hill?"
He found a niche in one of the stones where he could sit as if it were a lounge chair. "That's Silbury Hill. They built it, so it's really more like a pyramid. The top is level, and if you stand in the center of the circle here the top of Silbury hill is just even with an ancient tomb on the horizon."
"That has to be the biggest thing anybody ever built before the Great Wall of China."
"It's even bigger than it looks. If you were to go in an exact straight line from here past Silbury hill it would take you to Old Sarum and to Salisbury Cathedral and to an old Neolithic monument beyond that. It's over forty miles."
"All one enormous plan," said Tracy.
"The longest line of all comes right through here. We call them ley lines, but having a name doesn't help much. Lots of us like to walk them. The word just means a straight line with many ancient monuments on it.
"The long line comes
from that direction." He got up and
pointed south and west. It starts at
"You do know a lot about it."
"I'm hiking it. I should be done in two more weeks."
"If you don't have that kind of time, at least walk up to Windmill Hill. It's the oldest of the ring monuments. It may be where it all started. They didn’t put up stones in those early days."
For a long time Jon poured over the history at random, watching titles change hands, watching families grow and vanish. It was very complex. People were born, married, had children or not and died. People remarried. Lands and titles changed hands. Names changed form. Titles changed form, were created and lost. The peerage was a monumental accomplishment, the work of the Royal College of Heralds, dedicated men working over centuries.
Every signer of the Magna Charta was listed with ancestors and progeny. All the lines had died out, but there were other lines that were very old indeed. The Magna Charta itself was the work of hundreds of barons and other landed gentry who gathered at Runnymede in 1215, and forced the king to sign the huge document specifying rights for them as well as for himself. It was not the first time a king had issued a proclamation of rights, but it was the first time the proclamation had been drafted by people other than the king. It was very specific, and it had teeth.
In a manner of speaking it
Jon's real purpose in looking
at the peerage was to find the Montgomery's.
It was a populous and powerful family with many capable people and many
surviving lines. Fortunately the titles
in the peerage were arranged by rank, so it was easy to start at the top and
work from royalty down. The first
Montgomery named would be the one in question.
And sure enough
Presently Ivan and Hapgood entered. They had gone for a walk in the early morning. Hapgood placed a red book down in front of Jon.
"How was your walk?" asked Jon.
"Good. We saw Tracy. We found a museum. And beyond the museum there was another museum. And in that there was a gift shop where we found the book."
Jon picked it up. It was a copy of the Doomsday Book that had been printed and was being sold by the British Automobile Association. Evidently it was meant to be a resource for motorists with a hobby of driving to pleasant old villages.
About nine hundred years ago William the Conqueror ordered this most complete inventory and census any nation has ever had. Every person was counted, the land was described with the number of families that each unit could support, every domestic animal, even the kind of roof every cottage had was duly recorded and ready for review in the modern version as it had been nine hundred years before.
"Great," said Jon. "That means the names haven't changed too much. We can find out how long the villages lasted and how many survive now. It's just a matter of going through the list in order and looking every name up with the atlas on the web."
"I don't think there is any need for that," said Hapgood. "Somebody already did it." He flipped open the introduction to the modern edition and pointed to a line.
"They're all there,”
"Apparently not villages," said Hapgood. "There were thousands of them. And they are all there today. We can visit any one of them you like."
If no more than a few had vanished in nine hundred years, the conclusion was inescapable. Villages were immortal. At that loss rate they would still be going strong in a million years. But nothing in life had ever lasted a million years. General forms did, but no species. The pyramids, even Avebury around them was only a blink of the eye by comparison. A million years was significant in geological time. Rock strata were laid down. The earth changed. As one descended the Grand Canyon, the passing strata of rocks marked the slow march of time, so slow it was hard to comprehend. But even there a million years would be estimated by a descent of a full five hundred feet. And that was a lower estimate for the durability of places like Avebury and Woolsthorpe. Meanwhile the families of the hundreds of barons who had owned it all had all died out within three hundred years.
"People are tough," said Ivan. "We ought to be doing better with our civilizations."
Tracy came in from exploring. "They say we ought to go up and see Windmill Hill."
"Where is it?" asked Jon.
"That way," she said pointing at a corner of the room.
"North northwest," said Ivan. "It's right on our circle."
They checked out and left the
car in the inn yard. After a few blocks
they reached a paved walk where
The Hill is older than the pyramids,
older than the Avebury stones, older than
The usual theories had circulated around it, from fortress to animal stockade, to human sacrifice rituals, to flying saucer landmark, to political center, to astronomical observatory, to focusing point for geodetic energy, to market fair, to playful impulse. And of course it had been tied in with some sort of fertility practice. The grass, now even in autumn, was knee deep, sweet and green. It was so lush they could have eaten it as salad with vinegar and oil.
Fertility might mean good crops, it might mean bouncing babies and it might mean both. But there was no question of the fertility of the soil here. Although English grass is the stuff of legend they had never seen anything so rich. And that itself was a modest mystery. Was the rich grass the place grew the reason it had early been selected as a fertility cult site? Or was the richness of the grass simply an indication of what the soil here would do by itself if it were left unexploited by agriculture? Or had some park official decided that a fertility cult site needed to look fertile and had consulted scientists at Oxford on how to make it look bright? Or had it always been a loved site so that the people who worked it always took a little extra care?
It was pleasant and reassuring to stand there with only the outline of the ring and mound pressing through the grass like a woman's form through fabric. There was no sign. There was no attempt to educate, to admonish or to exploit the visitor. It felt good. Undemanding, unpromising, just there.
There have been 5,705 visitors counted so far.