Ashes of the Elements

Ashes of the Elements  - Alys Clare

I have read nost of the Hawkenlye Mysteries, and this one, Ashes of the Elements is particularly important because it is here we meet the Forest People who form the background to many of these stories: primitive, pagan people who worship Nature personified in the Great Mother, contrasted with the people of the Abbey, civilised, Christian and, yes, patriarchal, despite Queen Eleanor and Abbess Helewise, who to all intents and purposes run the country and the abbey respectively to judge by their little chat in the first chapter; in fact whatever authority they may have is only because they are permitted it by men.

 

A poacher is killed by a spear at the edge of the forest. A primitive flint-tipped spear, skillfully made. Then another man, the first one's poaching partner, is murdered in the forest. He, though, has been stabbed clumsily and repeatedly with an ordinary dagger. Is there any connection between the two?

 

An idle sheriff blames "the forest people" and leaves it at that. The world is better off without the two men anyway.

 

Sir Josse, recently returned from his family home at Acquin in France, finds that Abbess Helewise is not impressed by the sheriff or his explanation. Sir Josse investigates, but alone. Helewise has other things to worry about. Caliste, one of her young novices, sleepwalks, and is clearly attracted by the forest that begins so close by. 

 

One night the girl disappears.

 

Now Helewise suggests that she and Josse go together into the forest at full moon to see what is really happening. He is against the idea, but she insists.  

 

What follows is unforgettable. Now I want to read all the books which follow on from this one, including the ones I've read before. No other writer manages to contrast the "primitive" with the "civilised" in such a way. Whatever our natural inclinations and sympathies, we end up respecting both, just as the Domina and the Abbess end up respecting each other.