Building Stonehenge: The Wooden Ring
“How do you know who we are, and how do you know our language?” I said. I suppose I must have sounded a bit rude to the old man. But I was in shock. I seemed almost like a dream; the wind blowing, the great stones, the old man and fierce blue dog. Aon stood silent, observing as was his way.
“Oh, I have traveled much as you have, my friend. I’m not from here, either. I came from the far west of this land. But I have sailed across the sea and been to the land of many islands where they speak your tongue. I spent many years there, learning things which I have found useful. Other things I learned which I have chosen to forget, which may be even more important.”
He looked kindly at us. He had a thin face, and he was short and thin himself. Though he was old and had pure white hair and a long white beard, his hair and beard were clean and blew lightly in the breeze. His eyes were blue-grey and sparkled in the sunlight. There was a hint of laughter in the corners of his mouth. He wore a simple tunic, which was not filthy, but well kept, neatly sewn and mended, and he wore simple sandals and carried no weapon. A tall walking stick was stuck in the chalky soil at his side. Nothing fancy about it either.
“And you are?” he asked, almost breaking into laughter. I guess I was so taken aback by this strange man speaking Achaean that I had forgotten my wits and manners.
“I am called Pelop, and this my son Aon of Epirus” I said, saluting.
“Little Stek, wasn’t it?” he replied. My heart grew tight for a moment. I felt a sudden shock of fear.
“Stek was my name.” I answered after a moment. “A long time ago.”
He kept my gaze, steady with his clear eyes. The laughter was gone now he seemed to look right through me.
“Let me see you leg, “he said. I had been standing, leaning on the crutch, my leg lightly resting on the turf.
“Sit down; easy now.” He said.
I settled back onto the slope of the hillock with Aon’s help. The old man got up and knelt by my side. He looked at my bad leg and made me try to move it. He looked at and felt my feet, both of them, and then my hands. He looked at both of my eyes one at a time. The he put his fingers on my neck, gently and lowered his head and closed his eyes. All was still except for the incessant wind blowing ove the top of the hillock, swirling around us in fits.
He withdrew his hand and stood. “Wait here for a bit. I need to get something.”
He trotted off with his blue dog in the direction of a crease filed with trees. Aon and I sat there.
“What do you make of him?” I asked my son.
Aon calmly stared off across the plains. The grass was waving like seas in the wind. A few puffy clouds scudded across the blue sky. The old man appeared at the edge of the trees, his hands cupped, holding something, his dog by his side.
“I’d say you found the Merlin.” Said Aon.
The old man came back and knelt again and lifted up a long, black leech from his wet palm and put it on my knee. Another he placed on each side of the knee and one or two behind. Then he put two above the ankle.
“Of course, you’ll have to stay here for a while, until they’ve had their fill of your bad blood. Then I’ll have to open that up and let the fire drain out of it. Otherwise it will never heal. It may never fully be the same anyway. I think the blood-fire has probably eaten part of the bone away. But you will gain some strength back and be mostly free of pain when we’re through. Lucky for you, this old tomb is my home. So I have a robe to keep you warm enough for the night, and food.”
“Yes, these little round hills are the barrows of the old Kings and Merlins. They’ve been here for a long time, I think. They were emptied of their former occupants ages ago. They make a good shelter for a simple man who isn’t afraid of spirits.”
“And are there spirits?” I asked.
“Of course there are. In your mind” he laughed. “If you let yourself get scared, there’s no end of spooks and demons and little men and werewolves and the like out here. Good and bad, this place is full of them.”
“And if you’re not afraid?” asked Aon.
The old man turned and looked at my son directly.
“Then maybe you’ll learn a thing or two from them.” His eyes sparkled with humor, and I thought he was pulling our legs.
I noticed that already the leeches were getting fatter.
“Oh, you’re a right feast for them. They’re very good at taking blood out without causing harm. When I cut you, you’ll bleed more, but it will be better, cleaner blood than otherwise, with what these suckers are getting right now”
After about an hour, he gently pulled the engorged leeches off my leg. Indeed, the swelling had gone down a bit. The old man walked back to the woods and returned. “I returned them to the stream over there. They’re happy now, fat and happy. The trout will catch them and eat them and your bad blood if they’re not careful.”
“Why are you helping me?” I asked him.
He was standing, his white hair and beard blowing. He looked down almost disdainfully at me.” Well, it’s my job, isn’t it? Haven’t you spent your life looking after others?”
“How would know that?” I asked.
“Um… I can see certain things about people. It’s a trick I learned long ago, maybe in another lifetime. I’ve always been able to see things. Besides, I’m a herder? See my herding dog? I call him Owl, because he is wise, Like Atena’s owl in your land.”
“A herder? But where is your flock?”
“Two of them are sitting on the side of this barrow. And one’s about to get cut and feel a lot of pain.” He laughed.
He went into the barrow and came back with a cup and a fine-pointed bone needle, about a hand’s length. It was very sharp at its point. He knelt again and handed me the cup.”The strongest liquor I have. For medicine only. Drink and don’t spit it out.”
I tipped the cup and wallowed. The wine was like fire. I had to stop from spitting it out. But I swallowed it down. I felt it coursing through me almost at once.
“A special brew, “he said.” The little people showed me how to make it. It’s called wisgiegh.”
My head spun. A fine drink, that was for sure; stronger than any wine I’d ever had.
“Hold your son’s hand. This really will hurt a bit, but you’re a warrior; you can take it without crying out.”
He took the point and held it against my skin right above the knee.
“Look, a hawk!” he said loudly and looked up. I looked up too, squinting into the bright sky, and at that moment he drove the needle into my leg with great force and pushed down as hard as he could. I nearly cried out, but held my tongue. Aon gripped my hand with his as hard as he could. The old man probed around with the long bone needle. I could see sweat beads forming on his brow. Then all at once, there was a great spurt of blood and pus out of the entry wound. It splattered out on the old man’s hands. He smiled broadly.
“I got it!” he beamed. He pulled the needle out smoothly and then pressed down on my leg above the wound with his thumbs. So much blood and pus came out I thought I would faint at the sight. Black, dark blood and yellow pus. He pressed again and again, until there was nothing but just red blood. He took the cup and poured the last drops of the wisgiegh right on the wound. It burned. I winced, but almost had to laugh. Pelop the mighty warrior nearly felled by a wizard’s incision.
“That was your problem,” he said, “poison fire in the blood. It would have been worse without the leeches, but that was pretty bad.”
He went into his barrow and came out again with another draught of wisgiegh and a bowl with a wet mix of greens and browns in it. He gave me the wisgiegh, “for being a good lad” and stuffed some of the herbs into the mouth of the wound. The he put a light wrapping around it.
“Now, that wasn’t too bad, was it?” he stood and poured some water on his hands from a jug and washed them off. “We’ll change that poultice everyday for the next week or so and see how it looks. Sometimes you have to open these things up a few times. Don’t worry, I have more wisgiegh.” He laughed and Owl sat and wagged his tail and looked up admiringly at his old master. So did Aon and I.
The old man and Aon carried me into the barrow. It was a long, narrow chamber, about a man’s length across, but thirty feet deep. They propped me up so my leg was raised a few inches and my head was cushioned with a dried block of turf. The leg hurt, but I felt a sense of confidence in the old man’s treatment. He came back with more leeches and let them attach around the wound.
“There now, he said, sitting down on a block of stone, “You’ll mend soon enough. But no walking until I say so. You both can stay here.”
He was speaking some Achaean, mixed with the island language when he couldn’t recall the Achaean words. I understood him well enough. Aon was very quick with language and was able to fill in the difficult spots.
“I’ll want to hear about you. But you need to rest now. Fear nothing. I will tend to your blood –sucking guests and your son and I will see that no wolves eat you.”
I suddenly was very tired.
I woke to the smell of something cooking. Smoke was rising from a fire at the mouth of the barrow. I didn’t know if it was dawn or dusk, but the light wasn’t strong. I fell back asleep, I guess. When I next woke it was dark. I had to piss something terrible. My leg was stiff and sore. I didn’t want to move it. T lifted my head up a bit and saw the shadow of someone by the opening of the barrow.
Aon?” I said.
The shadow suddenly vanished. A dream? I heard a noise behind me. “Yes, father?”
“Sorry, I’ve to piss. Don’t think I can walk.” Then the old man was there with a gourd. He helped me roll over on my side and piss into the gourd. I was relieved, to say the least.
“That was two days worth, “he laughed. “You’ve been a good patient. You haven’t moved. Much easier than the restless type. He went to the fire and brought back a torch and stuck in a crack for light.
“I saw someone at the opening.” I said. Both Aon and the old man had been behind me in the barrow.
“Ah…” he said quietly. “ Nothing to fear here that you don’t bring yourself.”
“So, was that one your sprits?” I asked.
He rubbed his chin through his long white beard. “This place is very old. This land has been the center of ….practices that don’t happen often anymore. Though I fear they’d starting again. People are…needy…fearful. Cunning men can prey on their darkness”
“The skull on the pole. That man’s not the real Merlin, is he?”
The old man rubbed the top of his head, where his hair was thin. “The people, “he said, “like wizards, witches, fortunes tellers, prophets. Surely you know that. You have been a great traveler. I know a little of your story from people I have talked to about you.”
“As I told you, I have a gift of being able to see certain things in a person. I can make guesses that are sometimes right. But I have no desire to be a village priest. I was the Merlin for a long time. I finally saw that it was not the best way for me to serve my flock. They wanted rites and sacrifices. Sacrifices are pointless. They only exist to feed the fakers who parade around as wise men. I would rather spare the poor animals, or call it making food, not call it pleasing the gods.”
“But are there gods to be pleased?” I asked.
He thought for moment, staring at the floor.” There are things in this world that can’t be explained. But that doesn’t mean there are no explanations, “he said. “ Lightning and thunder seem to come from the gods. But I don’t think so. I think they come from the conflict of the cold, dry north wind with the wet sea air and the land. It always blows hard and cold from the north after lightning. The stars and moon and sun are not gods either. I’m not sure what they are, but they are for us, a kind of way of keeping track of the seasons. Down along the river, and up here at night among the ancient barrows, things move without shape and sound, yet one can feel them, and sometimes see them for moment. You did just now. But someday we’ll understand what they are. What that drunken fool on his village hill does is not magic, that’s for certain. But there was no one else available, so I made him the Merlin until I could find a better one. I am back to being simple old Waelf u’ Carrain. Waelf was the name my father gave me and Carrain was my village, about ten days northwest of here, in the mountains of the west near the sea.”
“You said you traveled all the way to the Achaean isles.”
“I was a wanderer, looking for answers, when I was young. I wanted to go to the land of the great man-mountains in the sand. But there was too much warfare. I barely escaped alive and made my way back, and finally came here.”
“I lived in that land and helped build those pyramids. These barrow stones are as big as many we moved. Who made these barrows?”
“The old ones, long ago. The ones that sacrificed humans.”
“Where did the stones come from? I see no stone hills here.”
About one day north, there is place. But there are better stones in my homeland. I would like to build something here. I think you will build it for me. When you are walking I will show you a special place. Not far. Now rest some more. And don’t fear the shadows. That’s all they are.”
My fever cleared and I didn’t see any more shadows. Just a dream. For once, I had the feeling that I was dealing with man who could be called a wise man. He had a calm, simple, outward self. But that was because he had thought things through deeply and had faced the world as it was, not the way the superstitious folk did. If he said there were powers or spirits out here, or places where the energy of the land was special, I believed it was as a result of having watched carefully and without fear; or rather without cowardice. There is a difference, which every warrior knows whose worth his place at the victory feast: bravery doesn’t mean lack of fear; it means facing fear head on and taking on the task at hand, no matter how scared you are. Waelf u’ Carrain, the real Merlin, had that ability. He also was willing to try things to see if they would work, rather than simply accepting the ridiculous explanations people gave for things. He was also, like me, willing to try things to see if they’d work. That sounds obvious, but most people just do as they’re told, based on what has been done before. He had excellent powers of observation. He spent hours at the edge of the stream and the pond, watching how bugs crawled around, and how the fish ate them, and how the frogs grew, and so forth. He knew the movements of the sun and moon better than the Egyptians and Sumerians, who have studied the heavens since before time.
In one way he was different from me, and more akin the Prophet Abraham. He believed there must be a power that created the worlds, the earth, the stars, and the sun and moon, that made the grass grow and the winds blow and the leaves die and people fall in love and kill each other. I wasn’t sure. It seemed like it might just be a random tumble of gaming bones to me. I, who been a warrior for so long, and who had robbed so many brave men and cowards of their shades, thought that the world was full of madness. Men and women were insane, and the world of animals was nothing but hunter and hunted. Storms destroyed crops, floods washed away villages, diseases killed and disfigured almost everyone, even my most noble and beautiful Vila, who had never wished ill on any soul. And in the end, everyone and everything died and disappeared. Even the pyramids would someday be piles of sand, blown away on desert winds. No, I couldn’t see a kind hand in this creation, as Waelf called it; it was all nothing but change, eternal change.
But Waelf, like me, had a place in his mind that called him to help make things better. I was good at organizing and building. Waelf was good at seeing a need as well.
“The simple folk need something to lessen their fear, “he said to me. I had begun to mend nicely. I could now bend my leg and could actually walk, though with a limp. The fire in my blood had injured my leg. My knee still hurt, and Waelf thought it always would. But the fire itself was gone and I could feel my strength coming back. “I want to build something for them. A way of telling the seasons.”
He was leading us across the fields, past old barrows and wooded draws to a wide place that overlooked the wide plains.
“I have watched the sun and moon for many years, “ he said, “ and have marked where the sun rises and sets on each day of the year. There is a place I will show you. “
We came past a row of stunted trees. There before us was a ring of logs standing upright, each about as thick as a man’s arm. The ring was about fifty man-lengths across, with a bigger log sticking upright in the exact center of the ring. Outside the ring was another set of upright logs at various spots. We walked to the middle. I counted twenty-six uprights, all evenly spaced, and eight beyond the circle, those being a bit uneven in their placement.
“let me guess,” I said, “ You took a length of rope and tied it to this post and walked around, leaving stones or the like to make a circle. Then you measured the spaces between them until they were even. But what are the further posts?”
He rubbed his bald spot. “ I put this post here, as I felt this was a good spot, it spoke to me. You can see for miles here. I did indeed measure the circle in the way you describe. It’s logical. I then came her every morning and night for two years and carefully placed stones at dawn and sunset on the spots where the sun rose and set. In this way, I figured out when the sun was furthest to the south and furthest to the north. I set my first posts out beyond to mark those days. That is the beginning and end of the sun’s year. When it rises at that post, “ he pointed to one in the south east, “ and sets at that one, in the southwest, the day is the shortest of the year. The very next day, the sun rises a little to the north and goes further every day until it rises at that post, “pointing to one in the northeast, “ and sets over there, “ a post in the northwest. That is the midsummer’s day, when the day is longest. By watching for a long time and setting the other posts, I was able to figure out the two days of the year when the night and day are the same length. “He indicated four other posts. Then I noted the middle place and put larger posts at the four directions that are right between the other posts. North, south, east, and west. So I can come here on any morning and by looking at this ring of posts, I can tell you exactly where we are in the year. Now, a farmer needs to know when spring is coming, and a sheepherder need to know when his flock with give birth. These things can all be noted on the ring and the various days can be celebrated.”
“Why celebrated?” I asked.
“Because people need celebrations to ease their fear, “said my quiet son, Aon.
“Exactly.” Said Waelf. “There’s only one problem.”
“The posts will rot away. You need to build this with stones.” I said.
“Not just any stones.” He said.” they need to be magic stones”
“But surely there are no magic stones?”
“Oh, but there are. At least the people think there are. And they’re a long way away.”
“I suppose you want me to bring them here and put them up.”
“Why do you think I cured your leg!” he laughed.
Aon and I laughed too, the laughter of madmen, who do things knowing that they are folly, but do them anyway. The laughter of doomed men.
32 The Giant Stones
My leg soon felt good enough for me to walk around on. Waelf told us of a place a good day’s journey to the north where there was a huge ring of stones and other monuments of the old people.
“There are barrows there, some big ones, and a hill that they say was built by giants. It’s almost perfectly round. Perhaps an ancient king is buried there. Near the hill, there’s a long row of big stones that leads to a wide circle, with a smaller circle inside. I have been in the place, but not for long enough to tell if it’s a season-teller. There are no locals who know more about it than tales of sprits and dread things. They offer sacrifices there. Nearby is a place where the stones came from; I saw it. Certainly the great rocks were cut and prised from the ground in this quarry.”
“But these aren’t the special rocks you tell of.” I said.
“No, the ones that I would like to bring here are far away to the west, across the water. They are blue in color. They’re on the slopes of hills of my home country. They’ve been long worshipped. I myself feel they have healing qualities of some kind. It’s far, though. Perhaps it would be enough to make a ring here with local stones.”
“The rocks here are the chalk type. They would wash away in a few seasons.” I said.
I was starting to think that whole idea was bit crazy. I wanted to build a fine ring, because building with stone was something I liked; I wanted the challenge. I could see the ring in my mind. I was already planning how to put the stones in place, already seeing it at midsummer’s day with the sun rising between the stones. I would be an entire ring made of thrilithons like the Pillars of Herakul far away to the south across the great sea. But bringing huge stones across hills and valleys with boggy streams and woods, up long slopes of hills and own, was a project I couldn’t see happening. Where would we get the manpower? The locals were few in umber and I couldn’t see the so-called Merlin of the hill wanting to see our circle being built. He would stop any willing locals by telling them he would curse them or worse.
When I could finally mange it, we walked own the few miles to the village. I noticed the rotting skull had slipped own the pole by the Merlin’s fire. We found Finn preparing to leave for his homeland.
“It’s time I went on my way” he said.” You’re doing well now. I wish to see my old lands and see if any of my old kinsmen are still alive.”
He paused from his work of lading his little horse with his belongings. These ponies were few, but they were sturdy and tough. I would need to trade for a couple. Finn had my meager store of gold and other trinkets with him.
“I was bringing them to you up there at the barrow, “he said.” Everyone knows where you’ve been. There’s been a spy who’s been watching you.”
“The boy, “said Aon.”I’ve seen him looking out from the woods.”
“Nice of you to tell me, “I said.
I suddenly didn’t know what course to take. Staying in this village with its superstitious locals and mumbo-jumbo priest seemed a small end to my story. Perhaps I should just go with Finn and see yet another land. But my leg didn’t feel up to a long journey just yet.
“Your old friend Waelf wants me to build a stone ring for him up on the open plain.”I pointed up the hill.
“That’s’ a good project for you. You know how to do that. The Green Isle wouldn’t be good for you. It’s still wild. I’ll be going back to fighting and carrying on. I think you should stay here, my king, rest up for a while and then build that ring.” He tightened the ropes on the pony with final tug. The little horse gave a deep sigh and pawed the ground with its mud-caked hoof.
“I’d need men to move the tones. The nearest place is twenty miles. But Waelf wants to bring certain stones from the far west country.”
“Ah yes, the stones of the western hills. They’re famous. People go there from all over, even from the Green Isle, to be healed. I don’t know why; they look like any other rocks to me. You’d need to bring them here by ship, like in Egypt. The land is too hilly out that way, but the rocks are close to the shore. You could sail them around the land and float them right up the river if you had a good ship and some river boats. “
He stopped and looked down. “I want to get home, “he said, “but I owe you my life, my little slave king. I’ll stay here and help you bring your stones. Then I’ll go to the Green Isle and pass my days away.”
At that moment I was aware of a movement up on the rampart of the hill above the village. There was the baleful Merlin, staring down at us. I could have hit him with an arrow if I had my bow strung.
“That one is the big problem, “said Finn.” He’s a not a good man. Yet, to get enough men from around here to drag the stones, we’ll need his help.”
”I’ll have to ask for it then.” I said.
Finn, Aon, and I set to figuring out how many men we could get during the cold months, since that is when the stones from the nearby quarry could be most easily moved over frozen ground on sledges. A large cut block would require about forty men, unless there were very steep sections, for which we might need another twenty. Waelf and I discussed the blue stones of the far hill.
“They don’t have to be too big,” he said. About man size. They wouldn’t have to be cut. They are already the right size. They’re in one place. It’s very sacred. There are many barrows there. ”
I told him for the stone to look man size, it would have to be at least two feet longer than a man; even then, after being set in the ground, they wouldn’t be as tall as the tallest men. But the men here were short, so we could figure on a seven-foot stone, about two feet thick. We’d need. A stone of that size would take about twelve men to move easily with a sledge and ropes and levers; ten in a pinch, if the going wasn’t too hard.
“To be realistic about this, we’ll need hundreds of men and their families to support them,” I said. “We’d need a new village right nearby and food. How would we manage that?”
Waelf just shrugged. “No one said it would be easy.” He said.
Though I doubted we could build Waelf his magnificent stone ring, I was drawn to the man. In this world of darkness, he walked unafraid of meeting life and its mysteries face to face. As my leg improved, for which I was very grateful, we took to walking about the high plains above the Avonna River and its chalk ridges. There places where the old people had carved deep through the green turf into the chalk, leaving large figures of men and beast and unknown designs outlined in the brilliant white earth beneath the grass.
“To see this properly, one would have to be a bird, “he said. “maybe the old ones could fly.” He laughed , but there was an unanswerable question.
“These are for the gods to see.” I said.
“Yes, yes, the gods, “he muttered.
“In Sumer and in Egypt, they talk about gods from the early days coming down from the skies in fiery chariots or boats with wings.” I said.
“Oh, do they? “he said.
“Yes, and the Sumerians have temples on the tops of their great mud-brick pyramids, which they call ziggurats, where young, beautiful priestesses await the pleasure of the gods.”
“Oh, you don’t’ say.” He answered, having already figured out who the special priestesses no doubt served nowadays.
“That Merlin down there, he takes his pick of the women by using the fear of the curse.”
“But can he produce a real curse? Surely people would figure that out over time.”
“Any illness can be called a curse. He leads with fear, not with wisdom. That is why I wish to build the ring. Then people can see for themselves when it’s time for planting and lambing and won’t have to rely on that man’s fakery. People are easily fooled. The only real magic is in knowledge. Knowledge will set you free of fear, not enslave you to it.’
I thought as we walked. I had been trying to find a way by which we could gather a work force to move the stones. The Merlin would never go along with our plan. Without him, the people wouldn’t help. Suddenly, I had an idea.
“I will cause the Merlin to curse me, When his curse fails to work, he will exposed.”
Waelf stopped walking. The wind blew his white hair about. He squinted in the sunlight and peered at me through the slits of his eyes. His brows were furrowed. He was working through this solution.
“OH, you know that might actually work. But he wouldn’t just quit without a big fight. It could be dangerous for you and your son. Or for other people. He knows enough about plants to make poisons. He could sicken others and blame you. Imagine that he kills a favorite boy-child of , say, the headman.”
I thought about the ramifications myself for a moment.
“You’re right, that is too dangerous, not for me, but for others. We’ll need some help from somewhere.”
“I’ll ask the little people to send some warriors this way, “he laughed.
“You joke about the little people, but what do you mean by them?”
“You, my Achaean friend, will laugh at an old man. But sometimes I just ask the night for things. And they sometimes appear, though it takes time for my requests to be answered. So I say the little people, who the old ones believed in, and Finn’s people still do, are out there listening. Sometimes they decide to help. It just means I really don’t know how it al works.”
He paused. “But, still, I’ll ask them” he laughed again.
Aon and I set about trying to win the villagers over. We made bows that were better than the crude simple local bows and gave the first to the headman. We took him hunting and brought home a fine doe. Aon and I drove the doe to the man, who had an easy shot, but one longer than he could have made with his own bow. We also made hooks from some of our store of copper and Aon took some men fishing. The copper hooks worked far better than their bone ones, though some disputed the fact. Finn and I set up an archery contest with the local shots. We let them shoot at live targets set at sixty paces, eighty paces. Few hit them, though the headman shot a hen with his new bow, which made him strut around like cock himself. Then Finn, Aon, and I had a shoot-out. I bested them with shot of almost two hundred paces into a piglet that had been let loose. There was amazement from the crowd. We also set a feast from the killings of the targets and sent the headman up to give the Merlin his share, which was short but his standards, no doubt. But since I had been playing at being the friend of the headman, he was full of self-enjoyment and confidence and was not overly cowed by the filthy shaman, who showed his anger by throwing down the offering in the mud.
We slowly enticed the Merlin’s boy to come out and join us at various events. We held a foot-race along the trace that came up from the south. The boys easily beat the older men, which provoked quite a bit of laughter and sly comments from the village women. The race was won by a young man called Tark. His name reminded me of my boyhood friend Tarn, who had died in slavery. Tark looked like he had a strong heart and an independent mind. I took Aon aside and told him to make sure he befriended this one. I vowed I would find a way to set these people free of the slavery of that bad medicine man on the hill.
Merlin’s boy’s name was Brun. He had been traded to the Merlin as a small child for a promise of protection against illness. The Merlin’s name was Belgar. He originally came from the east, along the great river of the green island, the Demms. Belgar had arrived at a time when all was peaceful. Three years before, there had been an attack by raiders from a western tribe, who had come seeking the rich river land of the Avonna. The locals would have been over run, but for the timely arrival, by chance, it would seem, of Finn and his band of adventurers. Waelf, who was at that time the Merlin, had appealed for help from the red-haired stranger and his strong warriors. Waelf guessed that Finn wouldn’t be a plunderer, though he could have been. Finn and his men had driven off the invaders.
“I simply liked the old man, “ Finn said. “ He reminded me of certain of our own holy men in my homeland. The western peoples were uncouth and savage, no different from these people right here.” He spat and then drank from a beaker of beer. “But the Merlin, er, Waelf, had an air about him. So we helped. Then we went on our way after a time and crossed the channel and headed south. You know where I ended up, but my route was different than yours, through the rich lands south across the seas and then by sea to the sand lands.”
But Waelf had chafed at being the Merlin after a while. People didn’t get any smarter, no matter what he said or did. They still wanted sacrifice, especially human sacrifice, which Waelf wouldn’t permit. When Belgar showed up and began having an influence on the locals, Waelf became withdrawn and depressed and finally just walked away from village, leaving them to go forward as they all saw fit. But he had never stopped trying to figure out how the help them and their children’s children.
Aon slowly drew little Brun out. He was scared, and for while only spied on us, no doubt telling the Merlin what we were doing. But it seemed that the longer he watched, the more he saw that we weren’t doing anything bad. Quite the opposite. As we gained the confidence of the villagers and even men from nearby villages, Brun came more and more out of his shell. He even talked to Aon now and then. Aon was more a man than a boy now, but he straddled both worlds well enough. Brun was about twelve, so he was becoming a man. Once, when Aon had the boys fishing on the Avonna, Brun watched from th distance. Aon slowly made his way along the spread-out line of boys fishing from the bank until he got close to where Brun was crouched among the reeds of the shore. Aon came up smiling to Brun and offered him a copper hook. An unheard –of treasure. It was already tightly tied to a length of sheep sinew. Brun drew back but didn’t withdraw.
Aon said, “Here. You want to try with this hook? Look, let’s tie the line onto a nice willow shoot. “
Aon cut a willow branch off from the trunk of a massive old tree with his flint-edged knife. The white sap dripped on his hands. He cut it down to about a man’s length. It was stout, as thick as man’s thumb. The sinew was twice as long as the pole. Aon pierced a fat worm with the sharp copper hook’s point and drew the hook through the wriggling body.
“Just hold it ove the reeds and let it drift down with the current and the lift it out very slowly and toss it upstream and go again. If you don’t get a bite, move until you find a nice hole. Watch our for the weeds, though, they’ll catch the hook and you’ll lose it.”
There were waving clumps of trailing river-plants in the clear currents. In between the strands of weeds was gravelly bottom. The trout liked to hide by the weeds and slide out and take whatever floated their way. It was an easy life for a fish, and they were fat and strong.
Brun shook his head. Aon just laid the pole and line, complete with wriggling worm, on the reeds and walked back to check on the on the boys. One of them was landing a fat fish. The others had gathered around and were offering encouragement. Others were fishing with increased intensity, trying for their own catch. Aon helped the boy land his fat speckled prize and glanced back. Brun had taken the pole and gone upstream a way and was fishing. Aon smiled when he saw the rod bend over and saw the silvery splash of a trout as it came to the bank.
I the days that followed, he sometimes saw Brun fishing at a distance. Then the boy was missing for three days. He asked the other boys casually about the sorcerer’s apprentice, but got shrugs. Aon decided to do a little spying of his own.
There was a copse of trees on the far side of the ring-mound of Sarum. Perhaps once it had been an earthen wall, but long ages had passed since the days in which the ring was built and trees now grew up the steep slope. Aon waited until dark and crept into the stand and looked down on Belgar the Merlin’s rude house and filthy sacrifice area. Aon shuddered at how the priestesses of Dodona would have regarded the place. Their shrine had been kept clean, ready for offerings to the Immortals in which the witches truly believed. Obviously, this imposter was simply using the fearful natures of the locals to his own advantage. A small fire smoldered before the house. The skull was gone from the pole, rotted away. It was silent. Or was it? Aon thought he heard voices from the house. Belgar’s deep rumble, low, but angry, and a whimpering, like a scared sheep. Then the man’s voice was raised and there was a slapping noise and the boy cried out. Then all was still. There was nothing new about a man beating a boy, or using him in an animal way either, though the gods of Dodona forbade it. But those gods, Demetre, Afroda, Apollaon, Dyaus, Perunas the Striker, and the others were far away. This was the realm of Ock, the angry god, the Thunderer. Fear, Disease, and Death were his demons, who rode the night winds, if you believed the fake Merlin in the roundhouse. It angered Aon to hear the pain being suffered.
But we could do nothing for now, except make it plain that there was fresh blood and anew spirit in the village. Still, out time was running out. Soon, Finn would leave if we couldn’t gather enough men to move some stones and show the locals that we meant to make something that would be real magic for them.
Waelf, Aon, Finn, and I sat around Waelf’s little fire out side his barrow one night. At Finn’s request, Waelf broke out a small amount of his wisgiegh, which Finn consumed eagerly. Then we had some honey-wine. We talked long into the night as the stars wheeled in the clear skies. It was midsummer now. Waelf had shown us the way the dawn sun lined up with his log-henge. It was wonderful. I longed to build in stone again.
“That imposter down there has them in his thrall, “I said. “ We’ll never raise enough men to move any big stones. We need a good crew with only one purpose, not a bunch of farmers under the thumb of a witch-man.”
“But soon enough, the harvest will be here and past and the ground will have its frost. That’s when you said moving the stones would be easier. And the men will have nothing to do.” said Waelf.
“True enough, “I answered, “and that’s how it was done in Egypt. But the Pharaoh taxed the people to have stores of grain and bir for the flood season, when the farmers could be put to work hauling stones. We have no stores.”
We sat in silence for a while. Above, a few shooting stars streaked across the darkness.
“I wonder what those are?” said Waelf. Then he added softly, “The little people say we should go to the far hills and look at the stones there.”
“Oh, the little people, “laughed Finn. “Don’t go believing what they say! They’ll have the better of you every time!” He drank deeply from his beaker.
But I knew what Waelf meant. It was his way of saying that we should not get stuck in trying to think our way out of this situation. We should act.
“If you know the way, we could leave tomorrow, “I said, “but your flock may get worried and turn even closer to Belgar if we leave.”
“Yes, they may, “he said quietly, “but if we come back with so thing wonderful, it will open their minds.”
I had learned to trust the instincts of the old man. Besides, I was walking better now, and we had three ponies to carry our food and sleeping skins. We would go.
“To the western hills!’ grinned Finn Ma’Kul the mighty adventurer, raising his cup.
“To the little people!” I said, and raised mine.