“Just bring her up closer into the wind.” Phillip lounged against the rail in faded khaki, steel gray hair whipped off his craggy face. “Tighten up the jib a bit. There you go.”
White sails snapped and bellied in the wind as the hull plunged, spray flying in a sunstruck dazzle. I squinted up at the jib and nudged the wheel. Canvas tautened as La Sirene heeled and surged forward, rising, dipping, racing into the wind over the turquoise sea.
I grinned, riding the plunging rhythm. “This is much better than a motor.”
“Quite right,” he shouted over the wind. “There’s been the devil to pay since the invention of the infernal internal combustion engine.”
“Phillip.” I tweaked the wheel. “I’d like to ask your advice about some problems I’ve run into on the island.”
He shot me a look. “Thought you looked a bit strained.” He stood and touched my shoulder. “Let’s save it ’til we’ve had our picnic, shall we?”
He waved a square hand at the clear sky, the stretch of shimmering blue sea. “Glorious morning! I’ll go below and pack up our lunch, just keep bearing for that end of the cay.” He pointed toward the swelling, humpbacked mass of Palm Cay, then ducked down the hatchway.
La Sirene curtseyed and flew over the rolling waves, responding to the slightest touch. No noise but the hiss of water and slap of sails in the wind, sun and salt air scouring away the cobwebs. Just what the doctor ordered.
“It’s a mirage.”
Sheer black rock towered overhead, sheltering a gemlike green oasis, grass and low trees clustered around a stone basin fed by a spring. Behind me, Phillip puffed up the last scorching grade of the steep goat track. We’d been slogging through dust and prickly scrub for the last half hour.
“The sacred pool.” He came up beside me.
Leaves shimmered, cool and beckoning in the heat. I cleared my parched throat, dropped my knapsack, peeled my damp shirt from my back, and started toward the pool.
“Wait.” Phillip took my arm, turning me around. “Look. You see why they chose this spot?”
Beyond the high cliff edge at the peak of Palm Cay, the sea stretched flat to the horizon, dotted with distant islands. Far below, waves crashed and foamed at the base of a jagged fang of black rock thrusting out of the offshore depths. Pale birds glided around it.
“They had water two ways.”
“The outlook and the spring itself. Come.” He led the way to the spring.
The ceremonial pool filled a natural rock depression beneath the stone wall. Wild tamarind crowded around the basin, thorny creepers twining thirstily over the rock. A row of deeply etched dots and curves decorated the rim, and on the inner wall, more dots and carved figures climbed the rock face.
The familiar stare of carved eyes met mine. There were several pairs, unadorned or enclosed by circular heads. Some of the petroglyphs appeared to be merely geometric designs, but there was a personified sun and a comical bird with a squiggly crest, studying its reflection in the brackish dark water.
Phillip was pointing out a character on the edge of the group. The man, stick legs and arms akimbo, had an animal head with pointed horns. His straightline torso sported a superimposed belly circle and an exaggerated phallus.
I sat beside Phillip on the basin rim and reached across to trace the line of one carved leg. “This character is a different style from the others, isn’t it?”
“If only those arrogant asses at the Institute could see, but they’d have to be bludgeoned. ‘No compelling evidence!’”
“It’s the dating problem. Nothing organic connected with them, not even earth layers for a relative age.”
A contemptuous chop of the hand. “With the establishment stake in the Anglo-European-supremacist Isolationist dogma, they’d ignore a Carbon 14 dating.”
I traced the figure’s triangular head, distinctly goatlike. “But the lines are so much better defined and deeper than the others. And you’d have to be blind to miss the resemblance to West African fertility figures.”
“It’s nearly line for line.”
“And there was nothing even resembling a goat, indigenous to this area.”
“They’d argue the head is only a spirit-design. That’s why I didn’t bother bringing it up, without more supporting data. You’ve seen how they attacked my absolutely conservative treatment of the script.”
He pointed below the figure. “These marks represent rain. Now, look closer here. What do you see?”
“Rain. Fruitfulness to the earth, offering of a heavenly coupling . . . . Of course! I assumed it was just a male figure, but now I see it. The circle on the straight belly, like a pregnant womb. And the triangular tip to the phallus is the universal vulva symbol. It’s a coition, a synthesis-figure.”
“Susan, you’re a treasure!” He beamed. “The Libyan-Egyptian influence on West African style is striking when you accept the possibility.”
“But with all the evidence of Libyan and West African trading and exploration, how can they all ignore it? The Africans must have adapted this place to their own worship. Like the Spaniards, with their little chapels stuck like warts on top of the Mayan and Aztec temples.”
“Yes, yes. Now look at the script.” He reached along the back wall to pull away a vine and trace the lines of dots and curves along the pool’s inner rim. “Remarkably like Medieval Libyan script: ‘Plunge in to cleanse and dissolve away impurity and trouble. This is water for ritual ablution before devotions.’” His moving hand reflected darkly in the water below.
I leaned over the pool, knocking in a pebble. Mirrored silhouettes dissolved into grotesque shapes with the ripples—a pale floating face, sharp talons reaching out for it. I pulled back hastily, blotted my forehead, and studied the hieroglyphs. Cleanse and dissolve away impurity and trouble. “Too bad the magic is gone.”
“Surprising, how many natives still see Jumbies under every rock. But you and I are anthropologists, immune to that sort of thing.” He lifted one thick brow.
I touched fingertips to ripple the dark-mirrored surface. “Suppose the petroglyphs were created as some kind of funnel for the power of the stone? Should we close our minds to trying to understand that?”
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