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BlackEagle Girls
The Sacred Secret

Chapter 18 - Sacrosanct

'Am I dreaming?' said John Wynd, as if to himself. 'Is this a part of the great Dreaming Time? Am I transported back into the long, long ago, when my people walked the world in the shadow of the First Ancestor Spirits?'
'Nah!' said Priscilla, nervously tugging at his arm. 'You're right here with me watching those shadowy things coming straight at us. Gees! Get with the programme! Some of those critters look like wild dogs... wild, hungry dogs! And I don't wanna be their snack-time!'
'They can't see, smell or hear you,' said Harry, matter-of-factly through their Hand Activators.
'But they can feel by touching, and touching can lead to tasting,' said Priscilla, her eyes widening as the phantoms drew nearer.
'Then don't get touched, and don't get touchy. Warragal, what do you want to do?' Harry asked.
'Just watch,' replied Warragal, enthralled by the approaching group who now resolved into solid shapes.
There were five human beings accompanied by two animals loping silently at their heels. As they emerged from the darkness Priscilla saw that the stocky figures were almost naked, covered only by what looked like skins of some description. She couldn't tell if they were men or women, although she registered that they were all rather short and their hair appeared to be woolly and gleaming as if coated in grease or fat. The two four-legged creatures with them moved soundlessly with a stiff, deliberate gait; their ears were large and erect and their heads tapered to long noses.
Now again she heard the husky coughing sound repeated, and realised that it came from the animals.
'Tigers. Those are Tasmanian Tigers! See the striped markings on their coats?' whispered  Warragal, his voice filled with awe. 'And those are people from the Tenth Tribe, the unknown tribe of the Lagunta Totem!'
'What are you on about?' said Priscilla agog, as the group drew closer and then passed the two onlookers by.
For an instant she caught her breath when one of the animals halted and turned about to stare blankly back toward where they stood. Its nose quivered, and she could hear the sound of in-taken air and the same husky cough as it was expelled.
'The Tiger senses something,' said John, gripping Priscilla's wrist.
One of the human group also stopped and seemed to hesitate, turning head and tilting it, before grunting and beginning to walk on.
'If you're telling me those are Tassie Tigers and the guys with them are from some weird aboriginal tribe of the long ago, then I think you're... Anyway! If the zebra-dogs are so good at sixth-sense, how come they all got extinct?' exclaimed Priscilla
'Did they?' said John. 'Doesn't look like it to me. Come on, we have to go this way.' He began to draw Priscilla forward.
'This isn't the way out!' she protested. 'Haven't you seen what you wanted to see?'
'You haven't seen what I wanted to see and what I wanted you to see. Come with me Priscilla. Don't be frightened,' he urged.
'It's alright Priscilla,' said Harry's voice from their Hand Activators, 'you're not in any danger and you still have plenty of time to continue. Put your trust in Warragal, he's with you... '
'Yeah, yeah, and you're not with us every step of... '
'The way,' ended Harry, 'now you're getting with it. That's the spirit! Lots more ta see on the guided tour.'
'But I don't want the guided tour, I wanna get outta here!' wailed Priscilla, reluctantly following John Wynd.
As the pair stepped through the craggy opening into the large vaulted gallery and felt their way toward the level where the group had recently passed, Harry said, 'You two guys notice anything strange?'
'Strange!' repeated Priscilla, gob-smacked. 'Are you the master of understatement or what? How much stranger can it get!'
'Well, as a matter of observation, doing a little homework here, I have a couple of things that don't equate with the conditions you both should be encountering... '
'Cut to the chase Harry,' said Priscilla, struggling to keep up with Warragal over the uneven surface.
'Feel cold?'
'No, it's warm in here,' John answered. 'I thought it was just from our walking, but it isn't cold. If anything it's quite humid.'
'How about breathing? Does the air seem alright? Any strange smells?'
Warragal and Priscilla exchanged looks. 'I haven't noticed. It's warm, a bit sticky, but fine. There is a faint smell of something though, what would you say it was Priscilla ?'
'Sour, something off,' said Priscilla, wrinkling her nose.
'Right,' said Harry, 'but the air is fit enough to breath and that means there is a regular supply of oxygen. What I don't understand is how glow-worms work in the day-time. They're nocturnal, only lighting up at night, and did you know that there are no cave bats in Tasmania?'
'Oh yeah! So what were those flying things we just saw?' muttered Priscilla, grimly clinging on to Warragal's pack.
'They were bats,' said Harry, ' and they shouldn't be in Tasmanian caves anywhere, least of all in the southern reaches... unless... '
'Unless what?' said Priscilla irritably, wishing she was back on the cliffs with Monique.
'Unless the climate is warm enough to support them and support the food they need to survive. I think... wait... I've got some more information coming in... now... yes... all bats in Tasmania are insect-eaters and mostly live in trees, barns, occasionally rocky crevices, and... yes, it's got to be warm!'
'We've got warm!' said Priscilla, getting annoyed. 'So what?'
'So, where you're going is capable of supporting bat colonies. If it's warm enough to do that, it's warm enough to do other things. Something is making that happen. You need to find out more.'
'So thanks a lot! Shecchh! All I need to know is what makes bats and glow-worms do their thing in underground caves!' grumbled Priscilla, trudging doggedly on behind Warragal.
They progressed slowly down the slope until it levelled out on the floor of the cavern where a deep stream splashed over and around rocks worn smooth by ages of continuous flowing water.
Warragal halted and kneeling down, dipped his hand into the stream and lifted it to his mouth. 'This is fresh. It must come from inland.'
'That figures,' said Harry, 'there has to be a supply of drinking water for people to survive. But what do they eat?'
'Not those zebra dogs, I wouldn't think,' Priscilla answered, peering over her shoulder. 'They looked too friendly.'
'No, if they're tame enough to accompany humans, somehow they've been domesticated over long ages,' muttered Warragal. 'When the Secret was passed on to me there was some mention of Tasmanian Tigers and their relation as tribal totems, but then I was having a hard enough time actually believing what I was being told without that part.'
'What were you told John,' said Priscilla gently, concerned that she might disturb his thinking out loud.
Warragal sighed, then took a deep breath and looked directly at her, as if making up his mind. 'Well, after my parents... died... ' he paused and Priscilla decided not to jump into the space, instead keeping a watchful eye about the vast chamber.
'Anyway, that was nothing to do with what happened next,' he continued, the tone of his voice changing, 'when I went to stay with my Aunt, before they took me away and made me a state ward, a lady came to visit. Her name was Karthina. She was a very old lady, or I thought so, maybe she's still alive, anyhow she wanted to talk to me. What she told me is something that I have never told another living person, until now Priscilla. The Secret is so important, so Sacred, that I can't understand how others like the eagles and Harry have found out anything about it.'
'We aren't part of the usual outfit, young man, we don't count,' reminded Harry. 'In case you haven't noticed, we don't conform to Human regulations, and we have our own information retrieval systems. Incidentally, I'm now getting input from both of you; temperature has stabilised out at about nineteen degrees centigrade, within the range for preservation of cave art and probably bats. Further ahead, your body sensors are predicting higher temperatures with humidity factors.'
'Thanks Harry,' said Priscilla, somewhat abruptly, annoyed that he had cut in on Warragal's thoughts.
John Wynd seemed not to notice, going on, 'Karthina said that I had been especially sought out, that only a very few were ever trusted with the Secret, and that I was one so privileged to be given the gift of the Sacred Story. And this is what she told me; once, in the Dreaming of long ago, the ancestors of the Dream Time peoples came to this place. Then it was not an island. It was joined to what we now know as mainland Australia. During a time when much of the oceans were locked up as ice, the sea levels were a lot lower and caves, which had been formed hundreds of thousands of years earlier by water erosion, were exposed around the coastal areas. Some of those very early peoples chose to live in the great cave systems that extended back into the interior of the land. Then, they had refuge where they could retreat and survive on the fresh-running waters flowing from inland underground rivers; and from those caves they had ample supplies of shell-fish, nesting-birds, fish swimming up and down the waterways, and hunted seals and sea-lions around the breeding and resting ledges along the southern sea boarders.
At the end of the last ice age, Tasmania had become separated by the rising ocean, cut off from the mainland. The peoples who had come here after The Dream Time had little choice but to stay. They didn't want to try to cross the water and instead went their own ways as tribes of the island. Karthina told me that thousands of years later, when the White Men arrived and began to claim the land for themselves, they counted nine tribes in all of Tasmania, totalling only four or five thousand people, and that in those early years of white settlement most of them were either killed by disease, or because of terrible treatment at the hands of the invaders, and the remainder were simply herded up and removed to other places where they eventually died off. Karthina said that the last of the full-bloods were asked to bring forth all the aboriginals, still hiding in various places, for transport away. That was about a hundred and seventy years ago, and all of them went... except for the tenth tribe. The tribe nobody, not even most of the remaining aboriginals, knew existed. And that was because the Lagunta Totem were hardly ever seen. They had been able to survive down here, in these caves, for thousands, tens of thousands of years. Now I know that they still do. They are The Sacred Secret.'
Priscilla felt a sudden thrill run through her entire body. An aboriginal tribe living, hidden away, beneath the ground for thousands of years. How could that be possible? For a moment or two she was rocked by Warragal's words.
'When Karthina told me all this, I wondered if what she was saying was nothing more than a story, a part of The Dream Time,' he continued, as if in a dream himself. 'After all, how could a tenth tribe have never been discovered? But she assured me that when the White Men came, the northern tribes had long forgotten about their distant, cave-dwelling, southern-most kin, and those of these areas, the few who did know, had no desire to tell what they knew, especially when they saw what was happening to their own people. So, it became a secret, The Sacred Secret, kept alive by those few who passed it on, generation to generation.'
'But how? Why? Errmm!' Priscilla shook her head in bewilderment. 'I still don't get it! How did you work out that you needed to get here?'
John Wynd sighed. 'There have been many mentions of sightings of Tigers over the years, and recently more than usual. I studied up on that. Karthina told me that they were the totem animal of the tenth tribe, that over the thousands of years a line of these animals had become their familiars, like dogs and dingos. Why do you think I call myself Warragal? One of its meanings is "wild dog". The so-called wild dog of the tenth tribe is the Lagunta, the Tasmanian Tiger. When I heard that your father and Monique's dad were coming down here after hearing reports of Tiger sightings, I felt concerned that it might have something to do with The Secret!'
'And well you should Lovey,' said Adelle the sea-eagle, chiming in from the Black Eagle, where it still waited above the interior sea-entrance of the hidden caves. 'Gavin and me have been watching over these parts for a long time now, and we picked up on the odd emergence of humans, foraging across the cliffs in the early hours or around sundown.'
'What are you saying?' said Priscilla.
'Well Lovey, these folks only come out just before sunrise or at dusk. They emerge singly, or occasionally in pairs, and they always bring Tiger skins that they pull over their bodies. I suppose that's their idea of disguise? After all they wouldn't know that Tigers have become extinct and instead of blending they're drawing attention to themselves.'
'Of course! That's what I was afraid of,' said Warragal. 'The skins would be what they wear for rituals and also for venturing beyond these caves, especially if they had been warned to stay hidden.'
'Well don't look now,' said Priscilla, nudging him, 'but here come some more of your shy mates.'
Warragal followed her gaze and saw a shadowy group, only a short distance away, walking slowly parallel to where they stood. After a few moments he could make out the shapes of what seemed to be several infants and ten or twelve others that he guessed were mostly women, speaking together in an incomprehensible language. One of their number, whose hair was coloured a coppery red, raised her voice in what seemed to be trilling laughter.
'Look at what they're carrying!' hissed Priscilla as the group closed to within ten or so paces. 'That looks like bottles! Glass bottles!'
Warragal nodded and holding her arm, said, 'Let's follow them Priscilla.'
Reluctantly, she let him have his way, and trudged along at his back in the wake of the receding group.
After some minutes, the people before them rounded a spearing forest of stalactites and stalagmites that seemed to rear up from the cavern floor and pierce down from its ceiling, and there Priscilla and Warragal were confronted by a fantastic sight. Light, daylight, lanced down from a lacework of tiny openings high above, bathing this new cave with a misty, pale radiance that gave it an almost ethereal look, as if it was some ancient cathedral's inner sanctum. The group they had followed were now descending a gentle slope toward many others; standing and kneeling, gathered randomly around and about indistinct indentations in the cavern's floor. And from those rifts came soft murmurings and wisps of what appeared to be smoke or steam. Many of them were chattering away to each other as if all this was the most natural thing in the world.
'It's hotter here,' whispered John, loosening his cover-all collar as best he could.
'Darn tootin' it is,' said Harry from their Activators. 'And what you're both looking at is the reason. Thermal springs! That's hot water down there! These guys have their own plumbing! Wanna boil your socks or cook a fish? Step right up. No wonder bats like it in here, they must have cave crickets and the like to feed on and a warm roost all year round. And as for the glow-worms, no lights on. Maybe they work in shifts?'
'Cut the crap Harry, this is just awesome,' said Priscilla earnestly, straining to take in all the sight below where the shifting, dappled light of day mottled and coloured the expanse that stretched before her inquisitive gaze.
'O.K. I take your meaning Miss Priscilla, you're there and I'm just at boring, old home. But don't forget that you're there, curtesy of the Black Eagle, and that you're one of the BlackEagle Girls.'
'I'm sorry Harry, sometimes I forget that you're not just a little black dog,' said Priscilla, still avidly watching the scene below where scores of people; men, women and children, were occupied in various activities: some seemed to be preparing food and some, mostly children, were splashing in pools at the far end of the cavern, while others were busy working with chips of stone sharpening crude spear-points. And she saw that most were naked, which didn't seem to bother any of them. 'Phew! I'm not real used to seeing men in the raw,' she managed, squinting with one eye so that it would only be half as shocking.
'Part of growing up for humans,' Harry answered, and Adelle added, 'Can't see what all the fuss is about really. And see, whatever it is, fish probably, they're cutting up pieces and tossing the scraps to those animals.'
'Looks like that's what the Tigers eat,' said Priscilla, fascinated as she watched the shadowy forms of several Thylacines snatching up the offal. Then a thought struck her. 'Anyway, how come both of you can see all this?'
'Because you two are our eyes,' answered Harry. 'Whatever your vision takes in is what we can see. It's an alien thing. Put it down to Advanced Technology.'
'Harry?' said John Wynd, staring fixedly at the people and their interactions below. 'I don't know what is... that is... how everything has happened... is happening... but I have to ask you... and O.K. I don't know the rules here but... I want to make contact with these folk. Is it... can I? It's important, more important than anything else. This isn't just a game of go see whose living the Sacred Secret, this is real. These people are real, and they need protection, not only from the outside but from themselves. If they think they can emerge into the outside world and remain unnoticed by wearing Tiger skins, then sooner or later they'll be discovered. I've got to find a way to stop that.'
'I understand that John,' Harry answered, 'and what you're suggesting is of worthy and humane motivation that just might help to preserve these folk and their way of life for a time to come, but it is a dangerous thing to attempt. What if they decide to attack you? They don't know who you are and how you got here, and to all intents and purposes you have the appearance of a white boy, certainly not of their blood. How will you communicate with them? You don't know their language, do you?'
'Well no,' admitted John, 'but I do have some knowledge of hand-sign, and what I've seen on the cave walls tells me that they used to use it once when they had contact with other tribes. Maybe they still do. It's pretty basic, but it might be enough.'
'What about the bottles?' said Priscilla, watching as a couple of the womenfolk called to the children splashing in the shallows of a distant pool, and when they took no notice both women stood up and began to scold them in stern tones, so that the youngsters hurriedly clambered out and began to run toward the group.
'The bottles?' said Warragal.
'They must have come from somewhere,' said Priscilla. 'I don't think these people could have made them.'
'Priscilla has a point there Lovey,' said Adelle.
'Yes,' Harry answered, 'but that's beside the real point. The rules are that none of our travellers are permitted to show themselves in an attempt to alter the course of future events. Remember Warragal and Priscilla, you have never been here. Tomorrow it's back to school for everybody. You've completed your task in helping to aid Mathew and Jean-Michael and in so doing, Warragal, you broke the rules by revealing yourself. Only the death of that man Shorty, stopped the whole mission from being aborted. You've seen all that you wanted to see about the Sacred Secret. You know now that everything you were compelled to keep silent over was true... '
'I can't just let it go like that Harry,' said John Wynd and his voice seemed to take on a deeper, stronger quality that made Priscilla turn, startled by his conviction and emotion. 'These people may only have a short time left before civilization destroys them. Look at them through my eyes, that's how you see them isn't it? They seem happy enough, living their simple existence. You know what will happen when they're found. I have to do something to hold that off for as long as I can.' He sank to his knees and bowed his head. 'Harry, I've never begged for anything before, never asked God to help me even after my Parents died, but I'm asking now. And I'm asking you. I don't know what you are or where you and the others come from, I only know that I need your help now.' He lifted his face, staring upward. 'I don't want to alter history. What will come will come. I only want to stall it a little longer... that's all... '
Priscilla saw the tears begin to well from John's eyes and knelt down beside him, her arm reaching about his shoulders. 'Harry, please?' she said through trembling lips.
There was silence for some time, broken only by the chatter and laughter of the people below, then Harry said, 'I can't let you do this... without a little bit of a warm-up. After-all, you don't want to scare them off do you? Priscilla, you'll remain hidden, I'm bending the rules enough for one. Now just bear with me a minute... yeah... always wanted to play this... '
Faintly at first, so faintly that Priscilla thought it was a trick of her imagination, a sound began to rise about them; it was like electronic music, pulsing and throbbing, slowly growing in intensity so that the peoples below turned their heads as they caught the strains of its repeated rhythms. It was a compelling, continuing, repetitive theme, winding backward and forward, overlayed with twisting, haunting peaks.
I know this music, Priscilla absently thought, watching the reaction of the men and women, older folk and children, and even the Thylacines that prowled restlessly in the deep recesses of the cave as the hypnotic melody slowly grew around them. At first there was absolute shock that sent children skittering to the adults, and adults standing, open-mouthed, turning this way and that as the music filled their ears and echoed uncannily through every cavity around them. Then, as the moments passed, and nothing further eventuated but the insistent, repetitive tune, they began to accept the sound that surrounded them and to calm themselves and their children and old folks. The Tigers ceased their padding back and forth.
'Alright John,' said Harry, 'Now or never. Look to your Hand Activator and click off the buttons, click three on each to unlock.'
Warragal was now on his feet, with Priscilla at his side. Slowly and deliberately, he began to switch of the buttons: Hearing, Smell and Sight. To Priscilla's eyes nothing changed, but to those below she could plainly see that they registered this transformation. One or two, who were still wildly gazing about, suddenly caught sight of him and, with hands gesturing and mouths uttering calls of alert, brought the focus sharply to the apparition that had appeared above.
Warragal slowly lifted his hand, one finger curled into the palm. The insistent electronic music began to fade.
Priscilla held her breath.
There came a series of husky, coughing barks from the anxious Tigers, who were now milling at a distance in the darkest shadows. Then, one of the people below took a cautious step forward and said, 'Welcome-to-our-home-we-have-been-waiting-for-you.'
Priscilla was caught off-guard. The language was intelligible but sounded flat and sing-song like a long rehearsed chant.
'Hello,' said John Wynd.
The stocky, naked speaker stared blankly back at him.
Except for a few low mutterings from one or two in the background and the cut-off coughing sound of the Tigers the cavern had fallen into a nervous silence that extended so long that Priscilla began to feel tension building like a solid wall dividing them.
'Can you speak English, my language?' John asked.
The stony silence remained unbroken, but Priscilla noticed several other men below shifting their stance from foot to foot, one actually picking up what looked like a long, spindly fishing spear.
'Don't like the look of this Harry,' she whispered, chewing at her fingers.
'Give him time, John knows he can use the Hand Activator if need be,' said Harry reassuringly.
'Warragal,' said John, trying again by pointing his hand toward his chest.
'Warr... agal?' repeated the other man.
John lifted his hands and made several signs with fingers slowly and deliberately moving.
The other man appeared slightly surprised, but in hesitant actions, began signing back. 'Manganer,' he said aloud, tapping his own chest, then added 'Karlare,' his arms lifting to indicate everything about him.
Then, turning around and pointing to an old woman, who stood, supported on both sides by two other younger women, he said, 'Laoonana,'
Beckoning, he signed that Warragal should follow him.
'Priscilla,' said John, taking a step forward, 'you can stay here if you want.'
'I don't think so,' Priscilla bravely answered, though in truth her heart was hammering in her chest, the heat and the sour smell from the hot-pools making her feel a little queasy. 'Come this far, guess I'll tag along.'
As she followed behind, she noticed that Manganer was not much taller than John and neither were any of the others, men or women, that she could see. Much to her relief, they did not crowd around but kept their distance as the trio reached the elderly lady. Manganer said something to her in a speech that sounded slightly nasal and clipped, indicating John with a jab of his hand and saying, 'Warr... agal' in that uncertain manner.
In response Laoonana nodded and waved John to follow them, then, assisted by her two female companions she turned and began to struggle off. All those around parted, women-folk drawing their children back out of the way as the group passed between. They took a path that brought them down through the pools of gurgling, bubbling waters and along a narrow channel that ended in another smaller chamber where more art-work adorned the walls and stalagmites and stalactites joined each other to form a pillared cathedral where great formations like shawls spread and folded into the depths.
Nervously, Priscilla noted a curious Thylacine, bolder than the rest, trotting stiffly a short distance behind.
'I've got a Ti... Ti... Tiger on my booty,' she said, trying to keep up with John and not touch anybody.
'Stay close to me, ' John answered casually, as if he were admiring the wonders of the cave.
'I'm so darn close I'm practically in front of you!' she said, almost bumping into him as he suddenly halted.
Holding on to John's back-pack and peering round his body, Priscilla could see why he had stopped, for even though the filtered rays of day behind them cast only faint light into the gloom, the night-sight goggles they wore clearly defined what lay beyond. Laoonana and her female helpers stood to one side, the old woman beckoning Manganer, indicating things on the floor of the cave. Yet it was not to those objects that Priscilla's eyes were drawn, but to the outline of a chair. It was carved and adorned with scroll work, though the lustre of the timber had long ago faded and was now cracked and greying. Beside it was what appeared to be an ornate, upright desk; the drop-down writing lid lay open, revealing little drawers and empty compartments within.
At that moment, Manganer dragged a large chest out of a jumble of other items and began to open it. The rusted iron hinges creaked and Priscilla was thankful to see that the inquisitive Tiger behind her had turned tail and was shambling off in a kind of canter. Inside the box lay an assortment of dusty books that had once been leather-bound but were now decidedly worse for wear. Reaching in, Manganer took hold of a large volume, rather like an old-fashioned accountant's ledger, and held it forth, offering it to John.
For a moment Warragal hesitated, lifting the goggles to wipe sweat from his eyes then, replacing them, he took hold of the book, surprised at the weight.
'Umm, heavy,' he muttered, gently opening the cover, which cracked softly where its binding glue crumbled along the spine. ' "This be the Journal of Annie Kelly. This is my first entry, I think it to be about Eighteen Twenty-Nine." ' he read aloud, ' "I was born in the year of Our Lord, Eighteen Hundred and Three, at Waterford in Muster, Ireland. Accused of complicity in political activities, a trumped-up charge to further dis-credit my family, tried and sentenced to transportation from Exmouth, England. Arrived upon the west coast of Van Dieman's Land Eighteen Hundred and Twenty-five. Confined with other females to Grummet Isle, off the main convict settlement on Sarah island in Macquarie Harbour, for a short time. Released in the custody of  William Spangles, who was himself a convicted felon, but had served his sentence and become a free-man timber-logger in the far south, I was subjected to a life of servitude, punishment by beatings and other un-nameable horrors. Driven to despair and the brink of insanity, I determined to escape and at need to die in the wilderness rather than continue to submit to such vile cruelties. With only my meagre possessions and what I could steal I spent many days in the wilds, surviving on little more than the running waters of streams and pitiable little else I could find that was edible. I believe that I came close to death before I was found by three native women and nursed back to life. These people had some scant knowledge of my language so that it was possible for us to converse. When I explained my plight, they told me that they could take me far away to a place where I would never be found. But if I should want to do so, I would not again see my own kind. Being so desperate, I complied. And so I was guided over many miles of rough and wild lands, for some nine or ten days I should think, and at last brought to the ocean-cliffs and this tribe, the Lagunta, who have become, over some time, my people.
Here, I must add that I have the good fortune to begin my journal, only because of the mis-fortune of others. This book and various items, including the desk and chair, are all that remain of a Dutch ship that foundered at sea with the loss, I suppose, of all hands during a terrible storm some time ago. Up until now it has been difficult for me to keep track of time and indeed there was no pressing need, but since these articles were discovered by my adopted tribe, I have gained the ability to record the days once more. The Van Veendan was the ship's name according to the log salvaged from this water-proof chest where it and much other flotsam had blown ashore during and after the gale, there to lay half-buried in sand until discovered and brought to these caves by my people. And I say 'my people' with good reason. But I am so overcome with joy at being able to practice my hand-writing again, of which as a child I was exceptionally proud, that I must lay down my quill and give thanks to the All Mighty." '  At this point John Wynd ceased reading, somehow sensing that the old Lady Laoonana was becoming distressed at standing for so long. 'Please,' he said, placing the open Journal onto the writing lid of the desk and indicating, 'sit here and be comfortable.'
Those around him seemed to puzzle at his words, though Laoonana herself appeared to take his meaning, and with some effort and the aid of her two female companions, lowered herself into the high-backed seat. Slowly, almost regally, she placed her wrists along the ancient, wooden arms of the chair and a smile flickered across her face.
'What do we do now?' said Priscilla, though of course only John could hear her.
He scratched at his scalp, ruffled his hair and shook his head. 'Don't know,' he muttered, reaching for the journal again. 'Read on, I suppose.' He carefully turned a brittle leaf, 'Here's a list of what was salvaged from the ship: glass wine-bottles, jars of somethi... medicaments and ointments I think... the writing's very pale... seven small, and one large, water casks, assorted tools, the chair and desk,  a number of corked ink-bottles. Annie Kelly writes, "In my stay so far I have never traversed much further than these caves closest to the outside, but the Lagunta dwell in all the vast caverns that honey-comb these cliffs and wind back beneath the mountains. There are, from what I have ascertained, a score or more of families numbering ten or twelve to each group, and they have the ability to travel through the regions with little sight, aided only by the glimmer of those odd fire-fly creatures that, everywhere, infest the caverns.
The Lagunta have no means to make fire, nor would they wish to even if they could, for smoke issuing from the cliffs would be dangerous. Indeed their staple diet, boiled at need in the hottest of the pools, is mostly seafood: oysters, crabs, lobsters and various fish. When it is safe on the outside ledges, they hunt penguins, seals, sea-lions, and occasionally cliff-dwelling birds and even bats that inhabit these caves. Thus they live mainly off the ocean and the rivers that run underground to it. Their only companions are the Lagunta, the Tiger-wolves, and these my people have kept as companions and living totems from time beyond their memory. At first I was afraid of the creatures, but gradually I have found them to be mild of nature so long as they are fed. Even so, all the Lagunta sleep in higher chambers where the Tigers cannot come. Since arriving, I have learned something of the Lagunta speech and in turn have taught those willing a little English. Now that I can write again I intend to maintain my old language as best I am able.
It will take a long time to read all of this,' John said, 'but perhaps the last entries will be the most important.' He began to turn the stiff, yellowed pages until, near the end of the log, he came to the last ones. 'This is dated Eighteen Seventy-Nine, that would make her um... '
'Seventy-six,' whispered Priscilla. 'Golly, she'd lived with them for over fifty years.'
'Seventy-six, yes, "even Lagunta Chacka, the oldest of the Tiger colony here, died recently and, as is their custom, they stripped him of his fur for curing and sent him on his last journey. I made it my business once again to instruct my Daughter Emma-Woori that they must always remember to wear the skins when venturing outside and never to leave anything else of themselves that could lead any white folks to think that they were other than the wild Tigers of the mountains. I am just a foolish old woman, of course, for it has become a part of Lagunta lore to do that ever since the coming of the White People. I call them White People now for I do not think of them as my own. The Lagunta, whom I have lived with for longer than I ever did amongst white folk, are all I have, especially Emma-Woori. She is now a mother of two and much older than the age I was when I came here and I wish her father Woori was still alive to see how she has grown..." ' John carefully turned the page and read on, 'I have been unwell for some time now, yet the feebleness of my body does not cloud my mind. I still like to be helped to this place where I can sit upon a chair as I did, when a child, long ago in my family home, far away over the sea. But now that vision is so indistinct as to be almost a dream of another world. Sometimes I begin to think it is another world, one that belongs only in my mind..."  The entry ends there,' said John, again turning a page, 'But here is another,' "When first I wrote in this Journal, I began a calendar of sorts and marked off the days, according to the sleep times of my people, over the passing of weeks and months, and so through the passage of years. I have always kept my comments short lest the supply of ink ran out, though even after all these years some few bottles remain. Oh how thankful I am for the bounty of those poor souls who lost their lives in the shipwreck that bore this provender. Glass and metal plate have stood the test of my lifetime as have some timbers and even these ledgers, but the black ink diluted with river water, with which I still write, continues..." '  Turning the remaining pages, John muttered, 'These are all blank, there are no more entries.' He closed the book, and to Priscilla it was like closing a life. She stifled a cry because, even from behind, she saw his head bow and heard the escape of breath that was almost a sob.
'Other books there are with child's words put in.'
Startled, Priscilla looked again at Laoonana. The old lady lifted her hand toward John, 'I listen to your words. They wake me. I... ' she seemed to falter, 'In my life, I have... keep a memory of Great Mother
Anniekelly-Woori. She give it to her child, her child give to her childs. They give to theirs. I am of their childs.'
Through her hand, resting upon John's shoulder, Priscilla could feel a ripple of shock.
'Laoonana,' he managed, his voice shaking, his hands and fingers fumbling to make the signs so that Manganer could follow, 'you know the words?'
The old woman slowly tilted her head. 'Anniekelly-Woori teach the words when she come. She teach her writing. All time after, our people teach the words, from one down to the next of her childs. Long time back, they were told by our own out-side people to stay hidden from the white folk or be taken away from Karlare. When Anniekelly-Woori come, she too warn us. And she say that even so, one time other white folk will come. We must be ready when they come. It will be no use to kill them, they are many more than we. Now you Warr-agal, in strange skins, are here. Where are others?'
'Do you see any others,' asked John.
The old woman slowly shook her head. 'You come to us, a... boy... alone. How can this be?'
'I will tell you that, but first tell me what happened to Anniekelly-Woori?'
'She grow old, old as me maybe, and die. When that happened my people of long ago did what is still done, what has always been. The Dead return to Dream-Time in the Waters where they are sung to sleep. So it will be with me, unless your white folk come to take us away.'
'I will do my best to make sure that won't happen,' said John gently. 'And even though you see me as white, I have the blood of your peoples too. There is much for me to say if your folk will allow me to stay here with you.'
'What!' exclaimed Priscilla, 'You can't stay! We've gotta get outta here!' she implored, refraining from grabbing hold of his arms with much will-power.
Laoonana, hearing only John's words, said, 'You name yourself Warr-agal. That has a sound, a meaning to me, to us,' she indicated Manganer and the two women with her. ' Stay here, we will make talk to our folk so that they can know and give answer.' Heaving herself to her feet she began to totter, aided by the women and attended by Manganer, toward those gathered in the main cavern.
Suddenly, John Wynd and Priscilla were left alone beside the ancient chair and writing desk and the castings of ship-wreck from a long-passed era.
'What the heck are you on about?' demanded Priscilla. 'You can't stay here! Have you gone troppo?
'I can't go back... I can't go back to being a Ward of The State,' John replied. 'This is what I have to do Priscilla. Don't you understand that yet? These people need me and I have so much to tell them. It is my mission. I have to try to protect them, at least for a little longer.'
'But... but this is crazy...' she stammered. 'The school knows that you were with Monique and me. What are we gonna say? That you just disappeared?'
'You won't have to say much,' he answered evenly, 'because when I asked to go back to Hopewell I made sure that I was seen by as many students and teachers as possible, and when I got to my room as well as packing some stuff, I left a note in my bedside table. I sort of figured that if I came back I could tear it up, if not, then someone would eventually find it. The note just says that I'd decided to run away on my own, it's part of your alibi. So you and Monique have nothing to worry about. School is the last place that I was seen, all you'll have to say is that you went to visit Tsuang Tsu and I went back to Hopewell yesterday afternoon.'
'All we'll have to say!' spluttered Priscilla. 'Look, even if they allow you to stay here how will you live, how will you get out if you ever want to?'
John turned to the jumble of objects that were piled in disarray, idly lifting various items, 'There must be ways other than how we got in, probably just big enough to squeeze through along the cliffs. And as for living, well these people seem to have done a pretty good job of that for the last twenty thousand years. A diet of sea-food mightn't be so bad.'
'You're right about other ways to the outside,' said Harry's voice from Priscilla's Activator. 'And if the Lagunta accept you, I won't object. I think what you want to do, to educate them as to what they will face eventually in the outside world, is a worthy task and one that will take quite some time... '  
'But Harry, you said we aren't permitted to alter the course of events for humans, that conditions apply,' protested Priscilla.
'And those conditions have been met,' answered Harry gently. 'John Wynd is prepared to give up some, perhaps all, of his life to help these folk. He takes on this missionary role voluntarily, releases his rights to the outside and becomes truly the Warragal of his Sacred Secret. Those are conditions enough.
Now time is running out and I've just heard from Skewer that the search party are on their way. Best say your goodbyes Priscilla and get ready to start back. Adelle will be watching for you. You can't get lost because the Activator will draw you to the BlackEagle, oh and John, you'll have to give up your Activator and goggles. We can't afford to leave alien devices in your keeping. No one must ever know the truth about how you found your way here.'
'That's O.K. Harry,' said John, handing them to Priscilla, 'I'm pretty good at keeping a secret.'
Stunned, Priscilla took the two objects and stuffed them into her pack. When she turned back John was holding out a Tiger skin. 'This is an old one by the look of it, but I have an idea that Fon Jien will know what to do with it. Sorry I can't give you a real parting gift Priscilla, but this will have to do.' Before she could think, he pulled her closer and kissed her full on the mouth, then released her and stood back. 'Goodbye Priscilla. Take care of yourself. You're now the Third Keeper of The Sacred Secret, and you mustn't tell any one else, not even Monique. I trust you with the knowledge and the secret because you were right, we do have things in common. More than we might ever really come to know.'
He turned to peer down into the depths of the cave. 'Laoonana is beckoning to me. I think they will let me stay.'
Without turning back, he took a few cautious steps forward, feeling his way with his feet, until several of the people came forward to greet him and lead him off toward the light of day that still feebly crept into the larger cavern.
Suddenly on her own, Priscilla began sobbing as she folded the Tiger skin and fumbled it into her pack.
'That's it Lovey, have a teary, but mind yourself, we can't have you tripping and breaking a leg,' said Adelle as the strange electronic music began again, at first faintly, then slowly rising so that the Lagunta surrounding Warragal drew back in astonishment whilst Priscilla, wiping the tears from her eyes, stumbled past, back the way she and he had travelled. Fleetingly she wondered if John Wynd was still able to see her, but whether that was so or not she never knew, although upon his face was the most beautiful, serene smile. The music, which seemed to be projected from her Activator, faded.
It was only after she had trudged as far as the gallery filled with ancient paintings and rock inscriptions that she realised how thirsty she was. Halting, Priscilla shrugged off her pack and pulled out a water bottle.
She was in the midst of taking a long swig when she noticed them. A pair of Thylacines. They came out of the shadows, ears erect, tails extended, padding along from the direction she had just come. For some inexplicable reason, the Tigers suddenly stopped, almost as if waiting. Cautiously, Priscilla stowed her water bottle and pulled on the back-pack. Taking a few tentative steps she glanced back to see that the Tigers had begun to move again. She began to break into a run, stumbling and almost tripping in her effort to put some distance between herself and them. 'Harry! Adelle! I've got Tigers on my tail! I don't know how they know I'm here but they do!'
From somewhere ahead she caught the sound of yapping, repeated twice every few seconds, and from behind came the echoing reply.
'Take it easy Priscilla, don't stress,' said Harry, 'you're almost back to the climb up to the cave where the Black Eagle is waiting. Just keep going.'
'Keep going?!' panted Priscilla, 'but there are more of them!' She could see phantom shapes emerging from several directions, and dimly she recalled reading somewhere that Tasmanian Tigers slowly hunted their prey to exhaustion before the kill.
'Ughh!' she stumbled and fell, landing with a thud against a hard shoulder of ancient crust. Scrabbling to regain her footing, she caught a glimpse of eyes staring up at her. The insistent yapping was now coming from all directions, filling her ears with fear. Shuddering, Priscilla paused to look at what she'd almost landed on. It was the size of a puppy. It whimpered. It was a Thylacine pup.
'Oh bloody hell!' she said, realization dawning. 'You poor little critter.' Instinctively she reached out to touch the lost baby.
'Don't do that!' came Harry's voice. 'Leave it be! They're coming to find it! Get out of the way! Climb! Move your butt!'
Half way up the incline, while the gathering of Tigers below her coughed out their apparent joy at finding the stray, Priscilla collapsed, her fingers digging at the limestone. 'Can't go... any further... Harry? Beam me up Harry.'
'Don't you mean, "Beam me up Scotty?" ' said Harry.
'Don't be ridiculous,' Priscilla answered, on the point of passing out, 'You're not that breed of dog. Get on with it.'
'Too young for Star Trek then,' said Harry.
All that Priscilla could remember was the sound of the music rising about her.
'There you are Lovey,' said Adelle, brushing her large beak against Priscilla's arm, 'You're safe again inside the BlackEagle. Just get your breath back before we take off.'
'Whoo!' Priscilla shook her head to get rid of the buzzing and the butterflies. 'But John... Warragal... '
'Warragal will be fine. It's his destiny,' said Harry, from the surrounding speakers.
'Aww poo!' Priscilla answered, sitting up, 'We have to do something to save those people. Eventually they'll all be discovered... '
'Exactly,' came Harry's sharp reply, 'and you would save them only to destroy them! They are so extremely fragile, so delicately balanced, that any interference from outside would be disastrous. Just imagine if you or anyone else who made contact with them was carrying some kind of bug and exposed them to it. They would be utterly decimated in a matter of months. That's why you were sanitized incidentally. In any event, history has already demonstrated how they would be treated. At best they, and the Thylacines, would be removed for scientific studies and their home reduced to a national treasure controlled by others in the interests of all, except them. At worst, they would be socialized, exploited, converted, assimilated and reduced to little more than curios; finally destined to vanish forever. There is only one way to save them.'
'And what's that?' asked Priscilla, extracting the Tiger skin from her pack and laying it out on the couch.
'Do nothing. Their existence must remain a secret,' Harry answered. 'You Priscilla, are now the only human outsider who has ever seen them. You must pledge on your honour never to tell anyone else. The only way these people can exist is to remain in hiding in an eco-system they have made their own. Every minute, every day is a precious gift to them. The longer outsiders know nothing of them, the longer Warragal has to prepare them for the time when they are finally discovered.'
'What you really mean is that while we do the nothing bit, Warragal's doing something, and maybe in a hundred or two hundred years from now someone else who carries the secret will care enough to do what he, and Annie Kelly before him, have done... did,' said Priscilla, rising from the couch. 'Harry, before we go, I need to splash some water on my face, I feel like I've been underground for weeks. Oh and what do I say to the others about this?' she lifted the Tiger skin, which had been kept supple by rubbing in oil or fat, yet had only a mildly rancid smell to it.
'You won't need to say anything, I've already made them aware that you are now the Keeper of the Secret and they will respect that. And,' said Harry, mysteriously, 'as for the skin, Fon Jien knows what to do with it.'
Priscilla nodded absently as she reached the cubicle door. 'Alright, I understand about what I don't need to do. One last thing, that music, what was it?'
'Oh that? It's the theme from Doctor No. You know the T.V. series where he flies around in a telephone box, pretty interesting concept there; looks like a payphone on the outside but inside, ooowee!'
'Harry, that's Doctor Who, and you know it.'
'Doctor Watson, Doctor Dolittle, just testing you.'
'Give me a break!' said Priscilla as the door slid shut.
Monique was the first to embrace Priscilla when she emerged from the BlackEagle after it alighted on the cliffs. Judging by the sun it was around five o'clock. 'You have been gone only for a few hours but I am so happy to see you again!' Monique exclaimed, hugging Priscilla so tightly that it literally took her breath away.
'Phew! Moni, you'll crack my ribs!' managed Priscilla, squeezing back.
'Girls, I think we should be on our way,' said Fon Jien in his usual calm manner, while the others engaged in a group hug. 'There is nothing more to be done here. Mister Skewer assures me that the search party shall arrive before nightfall. Unfortunately our departure will cut out any possibility of phone use, however the authorities have enough to go on.'
'You have one little task left, Lovey,' said Adelle, dropping the Tiger skin at Fon Jien's feet.
'Ah yes,' he said, bending to pick it up and examine it, 'but first I think we need travel a distance from here toward the path of the oncoming rescuers. Ladies,' he struck his palms together in a delicate clap, 'you must thank our regal hosts of the air for their assistance and guidance... '
'And for saving our Dads by shoving that bast... '
'Thank you Miss Priscilla for your kind thoughts,' interrupted Gavin Skewer, preening at Adelle's rear feathers, 'but Missus Skewer and I had better be off. You never know how humans will take the news that a sea-eagle caused the death of one of their own, even if he was a bast! Goodbye and safe journey to your own home nests.'
With that both Gavin and Adelle strode along the rocky promontory in their ungainly hopping run, to launch themselves into the air, sailing out on the wind's currents and flapping away across the cliffs.
'Now,' said Fon Jien, extracting a bag from his pack, 'these cans and cigarette butts, which I collected from those two men, will do nicely. We will leave them along with the Thylacine skin in the path of the rescuers.'
'Oh durr! Why?' said Priscilla.
'So that they will be discovered by those coming to save your fathers. Let them then make of these objects what they will.'
'Do you mean, Monsieur, that they might think the skin a part of some hoax?' asked Monique.
'That, or perhaps someone's idea of drumming up the tourist's interest in Tasmanian Tigers,' Fon Jien answered, beckoning the girls inside the BlackEagle.
'Like, they were using skins, pretending to be Tigers, but got scared off when the posse arrived?' suggested Terri.
'That's the general idea,' said Harry's voice as the stainless steel door slid shut behind them. 'Now, just one short stop to drop your litter, then home. Girls, you'll just have time to gather your things together at Fon Jien's house and then the BlackEagle will get you to Hopewell Hall before curfew. It's been an interesting thirty-six hours.'
Golly Diary, a week has passed since Dad and Jean-Michael went missing in Tasmania, and this is my first chance to bring you up to date. Things have been pretty hectic at school after John Wynd vanished and I haven't had much time to myself until now. Thank goodness it's Saturday night and Moni and I are home with all our folks. Louis is here too, because the cricket team have a bye this week. Granny Black is organizing a barbecue in the back garden this evening and the weather is just dreamy. Anyway, since last I wrote, there's been so many different things. Well, where do I start? First there was
Mum's T.V. starring role in "Child's Play." Then a very scary time in Tasmania when Dad and Monique's Dad were both hunted by a couple of illegal loggers who were trying to kill them. Somehow, one of the bad guys fell off the cliffs after being attacked by eagles, so Dad and Jean-Michael said, and then they were found, and Mum and Monica, oh and Henry, who had gone to Tassie with them, were able to bring them home after they were interviewed by the police. Dad's got a broken leg which will take some months to mend. He and Jean-Michael are still amazed at how the eagles not only saved them from getting shot but also managed to chuck a logger's pack over the edge down to where they were. Guess what? Inside was a battery that fitted their mobile phone and, miracle of miracles, they were able to make contact and get help. I guess Dad was really out of it with the pain and everything, because he keeps saying that just before those loony guys appeared he thought he heard my voice screaming. Imagine that! Funny things can happen when you're in terrible pain I suppose. Anyhow, now they've got a crew organized down there, Jean-Michael and Monica, Monique's Mum, are going to have to go it alone while Dad's laid up here. I think they've been talking to Stefen Manns, who directed Mum. That could be really funny if he goes over to Tassie in amongst all those rugged blokes, 'Never mind Darlings, just chop down another one and smile like you mean it!'
Speaking of him and Mum's role, reminds me about why she was so all-fired up about her part. It wasn't just her acting, she's actually getting a credit for re-writing the script! And oh-boy is she wrapped! Pity about Dad and Jean-Michael upstaging her but she's not letting anyone forget, especially Granny. 'I'm not just an empty-head actress, you know.' Secretly, I think Granny is quite impressed, although she won't admit it.
About John Wynd. The school is buzzing since he disappeared last weekend. After Mister Mitikovski found a note from him on Monday, our Headmistress, Miss Poe questioned all of us, but of course John had been seen at school Saturday afternoon, and me and Moni went to visit Tsu Tsuang and stayed with Teri and Tsu overnight. Fon Jien said that would be alright. So we didn't get into Hopewell Hall until almost seven o'clock Sunday evening, just before Mum phoned to tell us our Dads had been found. All the school is wondering where he might have gone and of course the Police have been alerted. He seemed like such a nice boy. I hope he finds whatever it is that he's searching for.
Oh Diary, one last thing. Monique's Mum found her wedding ring! It was in one of the boxes of gear they had flown over from Africa! Gee, can you beat that! She's really happy and so is Jean-Michael. Monique's pretty pleased too.
Well Diary, that's about all I can tell you. It's still not the same without my Missey, but I have my dear friend Monique, and now I have Harry. He's different to Missey, that's for sure, but I guess all dogs have their own personalities.
Last thing I want to say is... Oh God, and that's a big question mark because I'm not even sure that I believe in You, although I think that a person like John Wynd might, wherever he is; give me the strength to grow and do what are the important things in life. Help me to help myself and others. Show me how I can make something of my life, how I can have a real meaning. Is this prayer? Guess it doesn't have to happen in a church. Maybe Mum's got it right.
'You're doing just fine,' said a voice from the door. Priscilla turned to find Harry looking in. 'But you'd better wind up, they're about to send a search party for you. Sausages and chops are on the barbecue and smelling real good. You gonna save one for me as a treat?'
She nodded at him, finding it hard to answer because of a lump in her throat. Tears sprang to her eyes, but they were tears of joy, after all it's not every girl that gets the opportunity to give an alien a sausage.
'Good, that makes six so far, just got to do a bit more pleading and whining with Granny and your Mum and that's my dinner sorted and some to bury as well,' said Harry, suddenly launching into a hearty scratch as footsteps pounded up the hall and Henry burst in.
'Hey Sis, time to get your bum into gear! Stop being such a loner and scratching away with your pen, although I see Harry's scratching along with you, must need a bath!'
Harry stopped his rear leg action and suddenly looked very subdued.
'Crikey, you'd reckon they know what you're saying,' said Henry, kneeling down and patting Harry, 'anyway Cilla, bring your pen along, because everyone's going to write on Dad's cast. Funny isn't it how Mum was told to "Break a Leg" for luck in the teleplay, and Dad went ahead and did it.'
'Yeah, funny as a bag full of snakes,' said Priscilla dryly, brushing her hand across her face to smear away the tears as Monique and Louis arrived.
'Get a rattle on Cilla, or you'll have Granny on your tail,' said Louis, giving Henry a quick push with his knee so that his younger brother toppled sideways onto the floor.
'Last one down's a Thylacine!' shouted Louis before racing out of the room. Henry, who made a swipe at his brother's legs, scrambled to his feet and charged off in hot pursuit.
Harry broke into a lot of barking, 'Raff! Raff! See you both at the barbie, and don't forget you've pledged a chop and a sausage, raff!' and took off, scampering down the hall.
'The police rang to say that some more men have been arrested at the hidden logging site,' said Monique. 'Your Dad thinks one of them is Tommy, the man on the cliffs.'
'I'm glad, aren't you?' Priscilla asked, closing her diary and dithering a bit.
They both gazed at each other, almost in an embarrassed way.
'Look!' they managed together.
'You go first.'
'No, you go first,' said Monique, reaching out her hand to Priscilla, who clasped it and drew it to her face.
'Alright Monique, I guess we've been dodging around this all week. About The Secret; I feel so bad not being able to share what happened, but I'm bound by my word never to tell anyone, anyone including you, Dear Friend, until I know I must pass it on when my own life is close to ending. Does that make any sense to you at all?'
'It makes perfect sense,' replied Monique, looking down at her best friend's brimming eyes. 'Harry warned the three of us girls that we should not seek to find out what took place after you and Warragal left us. Of certainty we all have our thoughts, but the BlackEagle could have taken you both anywhere. I feel sure that you are happy with whatever happened. And as I have said before, a secret is a secret, even from your own diary. I believe in that. This one is your secret my Dear. You must bear it and keep it safe.'
A voice from downstairs warned of impending doom, 'If you both don't get down here in the next two minutes, I'm going to give your dinner to Harry! Move it!'
'That is Granny Black! She is very angry and will have our garters for guttering!' said Monique, hastening toward the door.
Priscilla smiled. I do love you, Dear Friend, she thought, rising to follow.

Here ends 'BlackEagle Girls and The Sacred Secret.'

'BlackEagle Girls and The Ice Angel of Death,' is next in the series.

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