Stories of the Argar (1)

Almost four thousand years ago, Almería hosted the most advanced bronze age civilisation Europe would ever know. Above Turre, they had a village and a mine (now known as Gatas). I have sat amongst their graves, up in the mountains, and watched the tortoises play amongst their graves whilst I sat and thought. This civilisation, known as the El Argar, were in constant war with the meseteros, those of the Meseta, further inland. A civilisation that spread from Turre almost up to Valencia, a society unknown in the otherwise stone world of Europe. With advanced bronze technology imported from the far east, this civilisation would conquer and plunder their neighbours – but these neighbours would not accept this quietly….

It was just before dawn when I awoke. I do not know what disturbed me, but I was uneasy, I instinctively knew that something bad had happened. I had seen many things in my short lifespan, but this was different.

Traditional Argar burial

I quietly arose from my bed of straw, and stepped over my Father, still snoring from the revelry of the night before – he would no doubt awake in a foul temper with a hangover in the next few hours, demanding small ale and food which my younger sister would have to scurry to get him. I pushed aside the animal hide that covered the door and emerged into the colourful pre-dawn.

The far off sea was bright with the colour of blood, and shortly the sun would appear over the horizon. Where it goes to, and why it decides to return, we do not know, but old Pretzl ensures that all animals we sacrifice for food are also dedicated to our Father the Sun, and we are content enough to leave this mysterious business to him, he who no doubt knows about these things better than we do.

That is our way, each to our own, and together we are the stronger for it. A warrior may wield a dagger and a smith may make the dagger, but why would the warrior learn how to make that dagger, when the accumulation of that much knowledge and skill would mean he could no longer practise his dagger skills every day?

I rubbed my eyes blearily. Last night had been midsummer, the longest day, the start of our new year, and the annual festivities had gone on long into the clear, moonlit night.

I felt my uneasiness ebbing away as I stretched, and decided to relive myself. I headed down the hill towards the communal latrine, where the water washed away our business into the fields below.

As I pissed into the water, I contemplated the events of the night before. Beer was good I decided, although I had seen what too much would do to my father, and I again resolved to never allow the drink to control me.

And I thought idly of Marit, with golden hair and dark complexion, daughter of a trader from a nearby village who had arranged to pass the new year festivities in our village, who last night had been close to me, interested in my knowledge of the sacred metal, interested in my strong muscles… and interested, no doubt, in me?

Unlike the heathens of the mesetas, we do not practise arranged marriage. We are proud of the fact that the strongest of our tribe become warriors, and the wisest of our warriors become our leaders, for this brings power to our tribe. My father, no doubt, would be interested in pushing along a marriage with the daughter of a wealthy trader. My thoughts, I admit, were a little more… basic.

But the annual festivities was a time to relax, after a good spring harvest. Now came the heat of the summer, when the sun baked the land all day long, and little could be done until the autumn, when we would scour the local mountains for produce from the woods.

Summer was a long, hot, arid time, when the snow from the mountain peaks behind us would finally melt, and the rivers which ran for only half a year would dry up under the hot sun. Nothing grows in the heat of the summer, the land bakes under the harsh hot sun, the lakes dry up and water split on the ground vanishes within half a morning. Until the first rains of the autumn comes, we live off our stores and what we trade with the coastal villages, fish, lobsters, shells and other produce from the bountiful sea.

Meritz the trader tells of far off lands where the rivers run all year round, where the trees are always green, where the seasons are reversed. Lands where the winter is thick with snow and cold and a struggle to survive, and the summer a time for work and play. It sounded rather nice, I always felt, somewhat wistfully.

Summer for us is a time for mining, away from the heat of the sun in the caves and holes we made after our metals, for smelting, with the charcoal we had made from the wood that had been drying all year, and eventually for crafting the tools, weapons and ornaments we needed for the long winter.

It was dark here in the latrine area, surrounded by bushes and in a low dip just before the stream went over the edge. In the washed out colours of the pre dawn everything looked unnatural, even the stream as it slowly ran down towards its fall to the ground below. But the light was increasing by the second as the rays of the sun crept ever closer to where I stood.

And then the sun burst over the horizon and illuminated the stream with its bright strong morning light. And that’s when I saw the blood in the water. Great clots of red coagulated blood, just slowly being carried along over the rocks, leaving a red unreal stain as they knocked against stones protruding from the water. For a second all I could think about was the annual pig killing, and how the women of the tribe would carefully catch the blood as it spilt from the cut neck of the animal, blood which would be used to make our sausages. And then reality returned, and I screamed, and I screamed until I was hoarse. And I screamed as I ran back up the hill, slipping on the slope and banging into rocks, following the stream to the top of the the hill, screaming and shouting at the red banks and stained stones of the stream, until the first blurry eyed adult arrived, groping for sword and dagger, to see what was happening.

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