Legacy of the Fallen Stars
by J. J. Roth
Chapter 4: Stonehenge III — 2150 BCE
The Sarsen Stone Monument and the Bluestone Circle
The Council House stood at the settlement’s edge, down the hill from the High Chieftain’s home. Thorne saw, as he came into the settlement, a man he did not recognize.
The man snuck from house to house, looking into doorways. He appeared to be an itinerant trader, though they never came into the settlement unescorted. They slept in one of the common houses in the market or camped at its edge.
Thorne did not like the look of the man. Small with unkempt red hair and pointy features, he reminded Thorne of a pine marten. Thorne called to the man who jumped at the sound. For a moment, the man looked as though he might run away, but he came toward Thorne instead and said, “My woman came down this way. She is with child, near her time, and sought help from the elder women. I cannot find her.”
“No elder women live near this end of the settlement.”
“As you say. Very likely she learned that and returned to the market,” the man said. “I will look for her there.” He walked away, limping, without looking over his shoulder.
Thorne mentioned the man to Bronwen. “Best we pass the word for folk to bar their doors at night,” she said. “I do not trust that he was anything but a thief. I will speak to the elders when we leave here.”
They sat at a stone table in the center of the Council Chamber. Bronwen had in front of her a large round stone, clear and highly polished, with a rose tint, and three smaller stones. These were clear and flat, one tinted blue, one red, one yellow.
“Thorne Chieftain,” Bronwen said. “I have a truth to say. It pains my heart to tell it, as I know how much your daughter Aldyth means to you. She is in danger.”
Thorne shot up like an arrow and made for the door. Bronwen ran to him and put her hand on his arm. “Not immediate danger, Chieftain. The truth I saw showed all the stones in place at the magic circle, with snow upon the ground. I divine the circle was complete but not yet dedicated. Please sit.”
“Tell me what you saw. Leave out nothing.”
Bronwen circled a strand of long yellow hair behind her ear and pushed the bell sleeves of her robe back to her elbows. She lifted the rose-colored crystal. Through the crystal, the stone in the Crone’s Amulet around Bronwen’s neck became huge, warped at the sides and stretched through the middle.
“This ball comes from the Green Island. A pilgrim priest brought it as a gift when he came to honor the god Sun at our magic circle. He taught me to use it. It is very like scrying the moon in water, as my mother taught me, though the images in this ball can be clear as life.
“My use of the ball is still imperfect, so I burned laurels and studied birds in flight. I used the colored stones you see here at night to read the stars. I see the same in all of them. A man takes Aldyth from her bed and into the forest. I cannot see what happens next. The future is not set. But I feel in my womb pain and death. I fear the worst.”
“What does the man look like?”
“I could only see his back. His hair was stringy and he moved oddly. Once the stone circle is finished, and snow is on the ground, do not let the girl from your sight until after the dedication at solstice.”
“We must stop building the circle.”
Bronwen shook her head. “I have seen, too, a great rift between Aureburie and the Clan if the circle is not completed as the Stone Father promised. Our market will break. Our settlement will dwindle to a few people no one bothers to seek out.”
Thorne looked at his hands, resting open on the table. He nodded. A Chieftain’s duty had always meant putting the good of the people before himself and his family. Their stories told of the Chieftain who led as many people as he could to safety during the great Sickness though he knew he was leaving his father and brother to die.
Thorne did not tell Edwena of the truth-telling until Aldyth was asleep that night. When he did, they cried, held each other, and planned to mount a guard when the snow fell.
The time passed too quickly for Thorne. When the first snow came, the Sarsen temple was done, as was the Bluestone rainbow. Through great and focused effort of the settlement’s now sizeable population, with help from Aureburie, the Bluestone circle’s replacement was well underway.
In the interim, a rash of thefts had rocked the settlement. The things taken were small, of little value: blankets, small cups, even children’s clothing and toys. Thorne had trained some of the young men to guard duty, and the thefts had tapered off, but the people felt violated and unsettled. He dreaded the dedication at solstice, but part of him hoped the people would find solace in it. He did not see the sharp-featured stranger again.
Thorne had made a point, since Aldyth’s birth, to see that she had a relationship with Madoc. He was her only surviving grandparent, and she expressed delight in his childlike cavorting. Thorne could almost see his healthy, young father in Madoc when he played with Aldyth, but that person disappeared when Thorne spoke to him.
Edwena tolerated Madoc’s visits, but she insisted that he be washed before he touched the child and on being in the room while he was with her. Thorne knew she feared Madoc might leave his senses and hurt Aldyth. He wanted to believe his father harmless, but Edwena’s doubts sometimes crept into his mind.
The evening before solstice, Madoc pranced around their house with Aldyth behind him.
“Let us be wolves,” he said, and howled. Aldyth howled, too.
“Now let us be cattle.” He lowed, and Aldyth did, too.
“Now let us be evil men who look like pine martens.” He darted about the room growling. Aldyth laughed.
Thorne put down his cup of ale and stared at Madoc. “What did you say?”
Madoc’s pale blue eyes, clear the moment before, became bright and feverish. “Evil, evil, pine marten men, fairy lord Willis says, banished from the power of sun and stars.”
“Did you see the man?”
Madoc squatted on the dirt floor and asked Aldyth, “Who is this man, asking me things?”
Aldyth laughed again and patted Madoc on the head. “You are his father, Grandfather.”
Thorne sat beside Madoc and took his hand. “Father, please. It is important.”
Edwena picked up Aldyth. “Big day tomorrow,” she said and took the little girl to bed.
Madoc blew Aldyth a kiss. “Important. Hah! I cannot think for the noise in my head. That is important.” He began to hit himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand. Thorne held his wrists to stop him. He knew he would not learn anything more about the man his father had seen.
“Sleep here tonight, Father,” Thorne said. He helped the older man lie down by the fire and covered him with wool blankets and furs. He sat at the table with another cup of ale, watching his father thrash under the covers until sleep finally took him. He sat at the table long after the ale was gone and the fire had burned low, sharpening the knife he wore at his belt, and wishing Madoc knew Thorne still loved him.
Before he went to bed, Thorne said goodnight to the young guard at the front door. “I can call a man to watch the back, Chieftain,” the guard said.
“No need,” Thorne said. “The rock face behind the house is sheer. No one can get to the back door except through you.”
They slept long, until after the sun rose on solstice, a day of one third daylight and two thirds darkness. Thorne woke and sat up. Edwena stirred beside him. Aldyth was not on her mat near the door to the main room. He pulled on his tunic and a long, beaver fur cloak. The main room was empty. He woke Edwena. They searched the other rooms, but Madoc and Aldyth were gone.
The guard stationed outside lay on the snow-covered ground, a bloody stick beside his head. “Can Madoc have done this?” Edwena said. Tears spilled from her eyes and froze on her cheeks.
“I do not know,” Thorne said. His stomach felt like stone. “We must find Aldyth. Go, gather the guard and come to the forest. I will be there, with Bronwen Priestess.”
Bronwen and Thorne ran to the edge of the northern forest, following tracks in the snow. They began beating their way through the undergrowth. The guard joined the search but they still had found no sign of man or child as the sun fell past midday.
“We must go,” Bronwen said. “Leave the men here to search, but the people will be gathering within the embankment. I can see their torches.” At the circle, scattered lights danced. “We must dedicate the magic circle.”
She took Thorne’s hand and pulled him back toward the stones. They went to their places within the rainbow shape, in front of the shining sandstone pillar and looked out at the gathered mass of people.
Almost all of Aureburie, the yellow-hairs, the Bluestone Clan and the visitors at the market had come, many holding torches. The heat of bodies and fire warmed the snow and turned the ground to slush. Thorne put his arm around Edwena, who wept silently, without tears.
“Look around you at what you have made here,” Thorne said. “This temple to our god Sun, built on the place where stars fell, celebrates the vision and toil of generations. Let the stones’ healing power pass through you and bring you peace.”
Bronwen stepped forward to speak, but a commotion had broken out at the back of the crowd, which parted like a wheat field in the wind. Two of the guard held Madoc by the arms and dragged him forward. Another held a wailing Aldyth.
“We found him in the forest with the girl, as you said, Priestess,” said one of the guards. “She has not been harmed.”
“Of course she has not been harmed,” Madoc said. “She is my granddaughter, the fairy princess. Fairy queen Timony has a throne for her inside a daffodil.” His forehead was bleeding and he cowered away from the guards.
“How dare you take her,” Thorne said, venom in his voice. “How dare you mean her harm.” Aldyth shrieked, shook her head violently and held her arms out to Madoc.
Madoc’s eyes flitted from face to face and into the interstices between the faces. “He’s there, he’s there! I see him!” He arched his back toward the sky and bellowed. “Oh save the fairy princess, save her, o my god and goddess, o my fallen stars!”
Thorne felt a surge, like a hum of energy, flowing from the stones into the circle. The sun winked below the horizon. A star shot across the sky.
Madoc shouted, “He’s there, behind the princess, evil, o evil!” With a jolt of energy, he broke free of the guards and rushed toward Aldyth. Thorne whipped the knife from his belt and plunged it into Madoc’s chest. Madoc fell, rolled to his back and gasped. “Thorne? My son?” Then he went still.
Aldyth began to shake. She lifted blank eyes to Thorne. “He did not steal me, Father. A small mean man with a face like a marten tried to. Grandfather saved me.”
The sound that left Thorne’s throat rebounded against the stones and soared into the night sky, a sound at once barely human and the most primal of human sounds. He took the broken man’s body in his arms and rocked him, as Madoc had done for Thorne long ago.
Copyright © 2014 by J. J. Roth