Thursday, 23 July 2020

A kind of haunting - by Sue Purkiss

At the beginning of lockdown, I moved my writing class online, as I've mentioned before. The last session this term will be on Thursday. I've set a task each week on a blog set up for the purpose, Let's Write, and have done the tasks myself too. I've really enjoyed doing something different each week, and thought for this week's post I'd put up one of them.

I can't actually remember what the task was that week, but what I wrote about was the Egtved Girl, a girl from the distant past. I've been fascinated by prehistory since visiting a cave in France called Pech Merle a few years ago, and seeing those intensely evocative handprints from, unbelievably, 29,000 years ago.

I saw the Egtved Girl in Copenhagen Museum more recently. She was buried a mere 3370 years ago, carefully placed in an oaken coffin and buried in a barrow. She was discovered near the the beginning of the 20th century and brought to the museum; here's a replica of the chic little costume she was wearing - a mini-skirt and cropped top, and a beautifully wrought belt.

Like the handprints, the Egtved Girl has haunted me ever since. Perhaps writing this piece will have resolved that: I feel she needs to be remembered. Maybe this will be enough. (But to be honest, I doubt it.)

The Egtved Girl

Many intriguing things were buried with the Egtved Girl - but the most touching, the one that lingers in my mind, was a yarrow flower, which someone had laid in the grave before it was closed. Someone, I guess, who cared about her very much.

It was a gentle, blue-skied summer’s day. Bright flowers starred the grass. It was the kind of day when the cold winds of winter are just a half-forgotten dream: a day to feel the sun soft on your skin, the summer breeze riffling through your hair – through her hair, gold and silky, dancing round her dear face like a halo.

            But she wasn’t there. Not any more. All that life, all that loveliness – gone. Snuffed out over the space of a few days. A week ago, she had taken part in the ceremonies at the summer solstice. She had danced, as only she could dance. Lithe and graceful – as if she were made of air, not a creature of earth like the rest of them. When it began to rain, she laughed, and shook her hair till the raindrops flew out like glittering jewels, and still she danced. Even when the thunder came, and lightening slashed through the heavens, still she would not stop, even though people cried out in fear and concern for her – even though he had begged her to. It was as if she were possessed by some wild spirit. And then the sky had truly opened and rain had fallen in gleaming daggers, until at last she had sunk to the ground, shivering, and he had rushed to her with a cloak to warm her, and carried her into her father’s hut, and the wise-woman had brought a warm drink infused with herbs and bound around with spells.

            But it hadn’t done any good. She hadn’t stopped shivering. Her skin – her lovely, golden skin – had grown hot to the touch. She had tossed and turned, and cried out at visions only she could see. Her spirit had gone wandering, and it had never returned.

            Because she was the chief’s daughter, and because she was a priestess, they had cut down a great oak to be her resting place, and filled it with gifts she would take with her on her final journey to the spirit world. They had dressed her again in her dancing clothes, the short corded skirt that whirled so seductively when she danced, the top that showed her fine, taut midriff. And she wore the ceremonial belt of her rank, with the great circular buckle engraved with spirals.

            The dance goes on, the wise-woman had told him, seeing his grief. She goes on.

            But it wasn’t true – or if it was, it was no comfort. He didn’t want her to be in some distant spirit world. He wanted her here, beside him, now. They'd had plans, dreams. In her short life, she had already travelled far. Together, they would have travelled further; adventure had beckoned.

            He caught the salty tang of the sea. It was a silky blue line in the distance.

            The people were gathered round her oaken bed. He climbed the hill to look upon her one last time. They parted to let him through. There she lay, as if simply sleeping. He bent and picked a flower: yarrow, creamy white and delicate, its leaves thin and feathered. It was a medicinal plant, meant to make you feel better if you were ill. It hadn’t worked for her. Still, it shared a little of her beauty. He placed it tenderly beside her. Then he walked away, and he didn’t look back. He would go to the coast and join a trading ship. He would travel away from this wind-raked northern outpost, and he would never return. But nor would he leave this land behind. It would remain in his heart.

            As would she.


Penny Dolan said...

Love the inspiration of the yarrow, Sue, and how that costume looked when she was in the middle of her dance too.

Sue Purkiss said...

Thank you, Penny.

Lynne Benton said...

Beautiful, Sue!

Jane said...


Sue Purkiss said...

Thank you, Jane and Lynne.

Elspeth Scott said...

Beautiful! But you made me cry.

Sue Purkiss said...


Steve Gladwin said...

That was truly wonderful, Sue.

Odette said...

Beautiful. thank you!

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks so much, Steve and Odette!