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The Standing Stones of Erelong

Simon writes fiction, poetry, and computer software, although usually not at the same time. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He lives in the UK with Alison and their two daughters, Eleanor and Rose. He blogs about writing at spellmaking.blogspot.com and can also be found on Twitter as @SimonKewin.

In those brief moments he likes to refer to as his spare time, he is learning to play the electric guitar. He generally finds turning it up loud helps.

"That's Erelong, child. That's where you were born."
Mayve pointed down the hillside to the valley laid out beneath them. Elian, still breathing hard from the climb, squinted against the bright sunlight, the dazzling silver of the river winding wide through the valley. Between stands of trees she saw a patchwork of ruined stone buildings and, in a round open field, the circle of standing stones. Jagged white rocks rose from the ground in an uneven circle, like the earth's crooked teeth, like impossible summer snowmen.
She remembered again, as she often did, the childhood rhyme Mayve would sing to her as she lay in bed. Your mother bade me sing you to sleep with this, as she did your brothers and sisters. As she was sung to sleep by your grandmother.
Twelve-ten and one, two, three * The standing stones of Erelong * Through storm and sun and winter's freeze * Stand the stones of Erelong
Weariness from two weeks' walking was clear on the Wisewoman's lined face. She, too, breathed hard from the ascent. Once again, Elian regretted asking her to make the journey. But she'd had to see for herself and only Mayve, now, remembered what had happened here two decades earlier. She could never begin to thank Mayve for all she had done.
"Tell me," said Elian. "Tell me again what happened."
Mayve settled herself down on the hummocky hill-top, her breathing calming. A breeze moved wisps of grey hair about her face as she retold the story. Elian sat beside her, resting her head on Mayve's shoulder.
"Your birth was difficult, Elian, and the Wisewoman of this place was at her wit's end. She bespoke me through the flames and I flew here as quickly as I could, through storm and night. I landed somewhere on these slopes. But I wasn't the only one coming to Erelong that night. The Marauders descended the opposite slope over there, torches burning, calling out their harsh calls. I saw your family setting out to meet them, pitch-forks against swords."
"They couldn't run because of my mother. Because of me."
"That's right, child. Your mother was in no state to travel anywhere."
"Go on."
"I was exhausted and could do little. But in the moonlight I saw that threads of mist lifted off the river. I had strength enough to work it, herd it, blanket the Marauders with it. As they blundered around it was easy enough to coax them away from the houses with phantom shouts and screams. Simple magic but it gave me enough time to reach your mother and so help bring you into the world."
"And my mother?" She knew every word of the story, of course. She never tired of hearing it.
"She'd been through a lot, lost much blood. She kissed you and handed you to me, pleaded with me to take you. I'd thought to stay and do what I could but it was the only way to save you. It took me a month to walk home with you swaddled to my chest. And then I brought you up as my own. And here we are."
Elian nodded, imagining the scene that night, the shouts of the Marauders, the torches, the fog, the cries of her mother. In the quiet and the gold of sunlight it all seemed impossible.
"My people had magic. Perhaps they fought back after you left?"
Mayve sighed.
"Perhaps, child. But the Marauders were strong in those days. Every summer, when the ices melted, hundreds of wolf-ships sailed from the cold north to pillage. Your people wouldn't have held out for long. They had the wrong kind of craft. Theirs was wood and water magic, stone and weather. They could work wonders but they knew little of weapons."
"I'd like to go down now," said Elian. "To see what is left."
"Are you sure of this?"
Elian picked her way among the stones, stroking the glassy rocks towering around her. They felt cold despite the heat of the suns on them, remembering the winter. She wondered whether her mother or her father had once touched them. Whether brothers and sisters she would never know had climbed upon them in their games. She closed her eyes, working her own magic, feeling into the stones for buried memories, ghostly presences. Nothing.
They troubled her, though, the standing stones, and not just because of her history. She didn't understand what they meant, what they were for. They weren't even a perfect circle. Great effort had been expended to move them, site them, but some had been placed within the circle, for no reason she could see. One even lay on its side. Her family would have been able to explain their purpose to her. Now, no one could.
She wandered among them, trying to understand. Mayve sat on a collapsed wall edging the field and ate red apples. When the light started to fade, the twin suns dipping behind the western peaks, she called over.
"We should leave here, Elian. This valley feels unquiet. We'll be safe back up in the hills."
"A few more minutes."
She felt reluctant to leave. She'd begun to daydream about building a house here one day, coming back to Erelong to live. Could she do that? Among the ghosts of her family? She sat on the single, fallen stone and tried to imagine herself living there.
The murmur of memory from the stone shocked her so much she leapt up as if burned.
"Elian? What is it?" called Mayve.
Carefully, Elian reached down again, fingertips to the stone, closing her eyes to feel what lay within the great shard of rock. Not memory, presence. She looked around in shock, as if seeing the stones for the first time. Understanding rang through her. She saw what her family had done to save themselves that distant night. Twelve- ten and one, two three. Because there weren't just twenty-five stones were there? She ran between them, counting. Thirty-eight. Wood and water magic, stone and weather. Such terrible, desperate magic, and all their hopes resting on a bedtime-rhyme sung to a new-born baby.
"Help me, please."
"What is it child?"
"Put your hand on this stone. Feel it."
"It's only stone, child, it's just "
The surprise on Mayve's face told Elian she hadn't imagined it.
"By the goddess."
Elian looked at the stones around them. Which was her mother? Her father? Her brothers and sisters?
"I didn't see the stones properly that night," said Mayve, her voice hushed. "I didn't think such a thing possible."
"Can we unwork the magic? After so much time?"
Mayve looked to her, then back to the stone.
"It will be hard going, child. It will take days, weeks."
Elian hugged the woman who had been her mother for the past twenty years.
"Then let us make a start."
Mayve nodded.
Ignoring the gathering darkness, the two women began the work of returning the thirteen stones to flesh and blood.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Author Comments

Some stories are painfully difficult to write: you spend hours and hours trying to make them flow effortlessly off the page/screen. "The Standing Stones of Erelong," however, wasn't like that at all. I woke up with it there in my head one morning, right down to the nursery rhyme. It felt like I didn't so much write it as transcribe it, maybe just adding a few details here and there. If only it was always like that.

The story was probably triggered by an archaeology programme Id watched that showed a stone circle whose monoliths were somewhat higgledy-piggledy. I guess I wondered why that might be. Why go to so much trouble to move these massive stones and then not line them up? The story is one explanation.

- Simon Kewin
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