It felt good to moving again. After all, we were men unencumbered by women or children. We had only our three ponies, which Finn named Teti, Pepi, and Nefer-kah, in honor of our Egyptian masters. Finn took a certain enjoyment in lightly whipping the laden beasts with a reed and calling on them move faster. We had told no one of our going. Waelf said it wasn’t unusual for men to go off hunting or even to go on pilgrimages to holy places, like the ring of giant stones to which we were heading. It was just a day north. The chalk ridges were fine and grassy and the walking clear of much trouble, even for me with my limp. I had a fine staff to help me, with a carved ram’s head on the top made by my son, and a leather thong to help me hold on to it. We moved up and down the low rises, sometimes crossing clear-running streams. We saw many barrows. Waelf said they we all empty, except for the shadows of the ancients. We camped clear of them and ate well and drank from skins of honey wine and clear water. It was the height of summer, and the weather was fine, though that meant that at any time it might cloud up and rain for a moment and then be bright again. The wind blew, as it always does across the plains.
There was a track of sorts, a path worn into the white chalk earth.
“From the olden days, people have traveled along the high ridges from north to south, east, to west. There are places that have power in them, and men come seeking to be cured, or to find their future destinies. I won’t say the way is without some danger, for not all that travel these roads are good men. There are brigands and thieves, as there are everywhere.”
But we had little fear. Aon and I were both good shots, and we had made up large quivers of flint-tipped arrows, well fletched. I still carried my Akkadian recurve bow, which could cast an arrow two hundred paces with killing force. I also had my bronze sword. Aon had fashioned a stiff bow out of th yew tree, in the manner of the islanders. We carried copper battle axes in our gear, brought all the way from Egypt, along with copper stone-cutting chisels. Finn wore his bronze sword, won in a campaign far away, and also had a bronze-tipped spear longer than a tall man. Waelf carried no weapons but his wits, which were sharper than any metal or flint could ever be. We followed the trace cut by the passage of men since before time through the chalk ridges and saw no one all day.
At nightfall we came within sight of an unusual hill. It looked a bit like a rounded-off pyramid. Plainly, it was made by men, for it stood by itself, with no like hills near it. Waelf said it was king’s barrow of the ancient days. Nearby was a low, long barrow not unlike the one Waelf used as his home near Sarum. We came up slowly on the village that lay beyond the oddly shaped hill. We could see the smoke from the cook fires. Evening was settling and the locals would likely be a bit put out by the appearance of armed strangers, so we decided to make a cold camp a way across a field. The country was rolling low hills, and the tall barrow-hill stood out in the twilight.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of someone talking quietly in the darkness. I slipped out from under my sheep-skins and stole into the night towards the sound. As I got closer to the talking, I could hear that it was Waelf. He seemed to be having an animated discussion with someone, but no other voice could I hear. At last Waelf sighed and walked back to our camp. I waited for some time and then slipped back under my skins.
Waelf woke us as the first light raised in the eastern sky.
“Look, “he said, pointing to the north, “the great stones of the old ones.”
There, lining a broad avenue, which, excepting the green grass that grew on it, was not unlike the processional ways that led from the Nile to the great pyramids of the Pharaoh’s Red and Black lands, were two rows of massive upright stones. They were rough, not well cut. Many of them were twisted and misshapen; some were almost square, others oval or round. Many looked a bit like crude spear or arrow points or flint knife-blades, stuck in the ground by some giant’s hand. But they were laid out in two long, if somewhat uneven, rows that reached towards a sloping hillside about a half mile ahead, where there was a great ring of the same kind of rough stones with another, smaller but still grand, ring within. The outer ring was several hundred yards across. There were gaps in it here and there. Perhaps the old ones had run out of stones. And there were oddly placed single stone scattered about the enclosure.
Waelf said, “The locals are a bit touchy about their ring. I’ve never been allowed to spend much time noting the placement of the single stones. I would guess that they mark different times of the year. If anyone here knows, they aren’t saying. When I last came here, a headman rudely told me he didn’t know what the stones meant except that they were sacred to Awe and Ock.” I have brought him some wisgiegh as an offering this time. Perhaps that will soften his tongue.”
We walked up the avenue, leading the ponies. The sun had risen and was at our backs. It was a fine day. Without breaking stride or acting outwardly concerned, Finn said, “We’ve got company on both sides.”
I glanced as casually as I could and saw them; archers with drawn bows under various trees that stood here and there. There were at least ten of them. They had us dead to rights if they chose to shoot.
Waelf raised his hand to signal us to halt.
“Aon, my boy, take the pack off our little brown horse, but leave the nose rope. “
Aon quickly untied the leather straps and the pack slid off the pony’s back. Waelf fished around in the pack bag and drew out a skin.
“More wisgiegh than I thought the old man had,” laughed Finn under his breath,” if I’d only known!”
Waelf gave us a grave but confident look and took the pony’s trace and the skin and walked ahead. Three men had come out, two with drawn bows. They stood fifty paces ahead in the middle of the avenue. The moment seemed to drag on and on, as Waelf slowly drew near the three.
Finn whispered, “If they take him out, we’ll get between the horses and back out of here.”
It would be a tough retreat. We were sure to get hit and almost certainly lose the horses and packs. I had no doubt but that Aon and I could make better shots than these men, though. We would most likely survive, though every man, woman, and child must be prepared to die at any time. Waelf faced certain death where he was, however. But I knew he was not afraid of death. He was afraid of not living, which is a very different thing.
Waelf stopped a few paces from the men. The man in the middle was either a headman or a priest. He was white haired, like Waelf. We could see they were talking, but couldn’t hear what words were exchanged. The scene was still and calm, for all the nocked arrows. A few bees hummed happily among wildflowers. We saw Waelf move forward again until he reached the men. He bowed and gave the headman the wisgiegh skin. The man tilted it up, took a long pull as one would with honey wine or beer and plainly sputtered. Finn and I fought back a laugh.
“The little people’s fire-water!” I whispered.
“Wasted on these farmers, “said Finn.
Precious moments passed. I looked around at the fine fields of barley and grasses, at the fat sheep on the hillsides. Then Waelf turned and waved us up. Even from here we could see the broad smile on his face.
The Danaates, the people of the Great Circle welcomed us to the village and pledged to help us when we moved stones for our ring. Their leader was Ruuk the Elder. He and Waelf had become fast friends over the wisgiegh. It turned out our Waelf had brought much more than one skin.
“It’s basically all I brought, “he confided at last.” One can’t have too many friends.”
We had a good laugh about our Merlin’s wisdom. Even Aon, who was so quiet and serious most of the time, thought it was the funniest thing.
“And we thought we were going to be killed!” He said, his face pulled up in a grin. It was an unusual side of him I saw that night, as we sat around the big fire in the center of the village. The boy is so thoughtful, I said to myself; he’s like me and his mother. He needed to lighten up a bit. And one of the village girls looked to be wanting to help him.
She was maybe thirteen, old enough to have children by the look of her. She brought us drink, the usual honey wine, and seemed to linger around behind Aon. I noticed, but didn’t give any sign that I did. I saw Aon glance her way a couple of times. Once, their eyes met for certain, and held for moment. The women of this land were quiet and retiring in their manners, far different from the noble women of Egypt. More like Epirus. Men ran everything here, and women stayed in the background. She wore the simple tunic and shawl of the island people. Her hair was brown with bit of red, her eyes dark.
Ruuk the Elder was the medicine man of the village; its healer and storyteller. After enough honey-wine and wisgiegh had been consumed, and the meat eaten, he told a long tale of how the giant Brud had thrown the huge stones from the distant mountains and formed the ring. It was pleasant piece of nonsense, which not even Ruuk took seriously. We all laughed when he described the Giant’s genitals in great and preposterous detail. His penis was as long as the distance from the village to the sea, and when he pissed he made the river Avonna. All the villagers had come up to listen to Ruuk go on by the fireside. Across the circle of smiling faces lit by the flames I saw a woman with long dark hair and dark eyes. She caught me looking at her and covered her face with her shawl. She seemed familiar, but then, it had been so long since I had been with woman that I put the thought down to my lustful urges, which are never far from any man’s mind. At last people drifted away from the fire. We were welcomed to camp near it, or anywhere we liked. Ruuk and Waelf stayed up late, Ruuk sipping the fire-water and exchanging tales with Waelf which made them both laugh and look somber or wistful in turn.
Aon walked up in the morning. He had not slept near us. He seemed contented. We set about readying ourselves for our westward trek. It was another fine morning. Ruuk and several other Danaates saw us off. I could still smell wisgiegh on his breath. He must gave been up all night. His eyes were bleary and happy. He promised us that we would have their help when the time came. Waelf thanked him and gave a blessing for the village. By the time we walked west, most everyone was up to see us off. I caught sight of the dark-eyed woman. She came out of a roundhouse, pushing back the hide flap, and looked at me for a moment. I thought it might be unseemly, so I looked away. Aon‘s young girl stood apart from the villagers, under a tree. He glanced at her, but she made no sign to him that I could see.
We walked through the open hills and valleys of the west country for two days. Sometimes we saw small villages, but mostly the land was empty. I thought that it was the finest land I’d ever seen. It didn’t have the excitement of the big mountains or the wilderness of Nubia, Elam, or Achaea, but it was a place that had the possibility of providing abundance for many. When I thought of the hardy people there, I thought that someday, given the right kind of kings, they might conquer even Egypt.
The road had been empty for a whole day. We came to a ridge-top and saw the western sea ahead.
“We’ll have to cross that, “said Waelf.” It’s a river further up, but still we’ll need a boat.”
We came down the ridges and drew near the slate-colored sea. The west wind blew hard off it and there were gulls and other sea-birds. The smell of salt was in the air. There was a point ahead and we made along traces towards it. We encountered no one. I began to wonder if people weren’t hiding from us.
“No doubt we’ve been seen,” said Finn.
“Or maybe fear of someone else keeps the locals hidden,” said Waelf.
There as a bit of a trace that led to a wind-blown point on the sea shore ahead. We made our way down it. I felt eyes on us. Suddenly Finn whispered,” Everyone, off the road!”
We pulled the two ponies into the bushes, which were thick right there, and lay quickly down. Aon, stroked the beasts’ muzzles with his hands to keep them from champing. I readied my bow and Finn silently drew out his bronze sword. Now we could hear voices plainly, many of them, and the clatter of arms and thick-stitched hides worn for armor. A troop of more than twenty men walked by, laughing and careless. They were a ragged, filthy crew, but strong-looking, battle tested no doubt. I could see it in the way they strode, swaggering, and by the way they were armed. I held my breath, as if that would keep us safe from such a large band. I waited for the ponies to give us away, but Aon’s sweet temper held them in check and they made no sound. The warriors had all passed when suddenly Finn jumped up and ran out into the trace, his sword flashing in the afternoon sun.
“Stop!” he shouted.
The men whirled about, drawing their weapons. They had swords and clubs, axes and spears, bows and stones. Many of them wore hide caps, the kind that would turn the flight of an ordinary arrow shot by a poor archer. What was Finn doing?
“Kullain, you dog, you’ll pay for passing me by!” he roared. But Finn’s face was spread in wide grin. The gang had stopped and spun around, to see who challenged them on this empty road. One of them, a burly man of middle height and broad chest, his dark brown hair hanging in long braids and few streaks of grey in his full beard, came strolling up out of the band and stopped. He carried a long-handled stone axe, the kind that can split a man’s skull in two with one blow. Ho put the axe head down on the trace and leaned on the handle.
His face was widened by the slow smile that crossed it.
“Why, if it ain’t old Finn, the pirate, “he said. Even I could tell his accent was that same as Finn’s.
“And what brings you here to our raiding country? Spoils of your own? These belong to us.”
Finn grinned back. He held his sword out to the side and gently slapped his other palm with the flat of the blade. “Ah, Kullain, you’d get one tenth if I was in command, you know that!” Finn laughed.
“And I suppose that’s true, “said the broad man. “ And I’d be happy to get that; for one tenth of your share would be worth more than my headman’s take!” The man tipped his chin in our direction. “Tell your men to come out. We have no quarrel with our old companion, the great Finn of the Green Isle. But tell me, what happened to your hair? It was as red as the young girl’s when last we fought together, against the Tournagh.”
“The sun of the faroes’ land burned the color out of it.” laughed Finn. “But I’ll tell you my story and you can tell me yours over honey-wine and meat, which I reckon you have.”
“Ay, “said Kullain, “that we do. I don’t imagine your ponies are empty laden either.”
“That they’re not, but I’m afraid our rations are more meant for four than for twenty-four.”
“We’ll all toss, old friend. Let’s have us a feast. Down at our ship, just down the point.” He tipped his chin in the direction of the sea. Finn and Kullain clasped hands and forearms. Aon and I saluted in the way of Achaeans and Akkadians, fist on chest. It’s understood by every warrior. They saluted back and we set off down the trace and soon reached the seashore. There was a good-sized ship with one mast, and twenty oars. Not as big as the tin-ship that brought us to Sarum’s shores, but a ship that could ride the waves, no doubt.
“And just where did a land-dog like you get such a fine ship? “Asked Finn.
“The previous owners, being dead, had no further need for it, “Kullain laughed.
Soon, the fire was roaring, the drink was being passed around – Waelf, had indeed one more skin of wisgiegh in his pack, the crafty sorcerer. Finn told many tales of our adventures, each one more outrageous than the last. And all of them basically true; well, perhaps there was a bit of exaggeration, but still, the Green islanders were wide eyed at the stories, and Finn went late into the night telling about the great pyramids and the destruction of the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah and the many sexual exploits of Herkul the giant. He also built me up quite a bit with grand descriptions so my shooting ability. One of them, Crannut, by name, was an archer of some repute. He challenged me to a friendly shooting match come morning.
“Come morning, you won’t remember you made that challenge.” Laughed Finn. Crannut was quite drunk.
“Ah, and yes I will, “And I’ll bet you our ship I can beat you!”
Kullain broke in, smiling, “Well now, Crannut, the ship’s not yours for the wagering.”
Waelf, who had kept quiet up till now, content to listen and observe, said, “I’ll make a bet for my Achaean companion. If he wins a shooting match, you’ll take us to the sacred hills across the water and help us bring back a certain stone I seek.”
“Yes, a stone that will take twenty men to move and a stout ship, well captained, to bring to Sarum. Will you accept the challenge, King Pelop?”
I nodded agreement. No man had ever beaten me.
“But what do we get if Crannut wins?” asked Kullain.
Waelf leaned forward, the firelight flickering across his old face. “I’ll give you,” he whispered and paused for effect. The men leaned in to hear. “I’ll give you the secret of making wisgiegh. I got it from the little people.”
Kullain rocked back and thought. The wisgiegh had been a real treat.
“It’s a deal.” He looked at me. “We’ll see your skill in the morning. “
I bowed my head in assent.
The sea slapped against the bow of the ship. Ahead rose low headlands that tended west. Kullain held the tiller in his strong grasp. Men pulled at the long oars and slowly drove the hull through the choppy slate-grey waters. Aon and Finn sat the rowing benches. I was spared, along with Waelf, for the pain in my knee.
Kullain grinned at me, “no man can hit a gull on the wing at two hundred paces!”
I shrugged and held my palms up to say, I made a lucky shot. But I could always feel the target in my fingers, as if I could reach out and touch it. I felt sorry for the bird. But it was the challenge that had been put up by Crannut after we both hit a number of easier shots.
“We’ll go get your stone, you crafty old man, “said Kullain to Waelf.” By the gods, we’ve nothing better to do right now.” Kullain had been counting on the wisgiegh as well, I was sure. But even without the wisgiegh, it was obvious that these men held Finn and Waelf, perhaps even me, in awe. Finn had led some of them, including Kullain, in wars in past times. His courage and his mind were constantly talked about in the group. Tales were told around the fires at night of his exploits. I added my share, full of exotic Nubians and Kannaanites. As for Finn, he was back among his comrades, his spear-brothers of old. Most of these men had seen more than few seasons and campaigns. It was a formidable group, and we had nothing to now to fear from any band we might come upon.
So the gull had died by my lucky shot: I took it as an omen that we would get a big stone moved all the way back to Sarum and stand it up as the center-stone of the new ring. After that? I couldn’t say. But I knew that I usually found a way to motivate people to build things.
We coasted past a couple of tiny fishing villages. The wild men wanted to raid, but Waelf talked quietly with Finn and Kullain and we went on past. We put in a cove and Waelf went off back over a headland to one of the villages with Aon. They came back after a spell with four fat sheep and ten skins of barley-wine. I don’t know how he did it. We slaughtered the animals and the wild men lade their offerings and then we feasted. Waelf made the offering in the name of Ock and Ave’, and other gods that he and they knew, but who were strange to me. The men were satisfied. It was certain that they were coming to see Waelf as the Merlin, or whatever they called such a man.
“So, how did you get those sheep? “ I asked him later, when we were alone.
“I told them that they would be serving their god, called out here Drummand, and besides, I also told them the men were in this boat were desperate murderous raiders.” He had a twinkle in his eye.
I had to laugh. Some holy man!
The next day we rounded a wild point where the waves piled up dangerously against low cliffs and turned north. Long hills loomed inland above the coves. Waelf stood on the bow of the ship and pointed towards a rounded ridge.
“That’s it!” he shouted out, “the Hills of Penrhyn. That’s where we’ll get our stones.”
“Pull harder boys, “said Kullain, “so we can go break our backs for the wisgiegh-man!”
34 The first stone
Waelf looked back down towards the sea. It was going to be a slog, no doubt; but I knew we could do it. Aon and three men had fashioned a fine sledge from trees they hewed down in a draw. They had used their sharp battle axes and sharp -edged hand stones to plane the runners smooth and then greased them with sheep fat to make them slippery. The sledge would have slid down the hillside by itself if we hadn’t piled stones under the runners. The fashioning of the sledge had taken them two days. During that time, we had found our stone and cut it free. Truly, the stones were almost perfect the way they were. They were in a series of outcroppings on a side of the rolling ridge. The rocks had a blue-grey tint to them. They were called the bluestones. They came from a source beneath the ground that had stood them up from the soil, many on end. Quite a few had broken off like spear-points and lay scattered about some trickling springs. There were offerings among the stones and springs. Plainly this was place of worship, though there were no villages at all in the area.
“People in these islands, “said Waelf, “believe that there are lines of power between sacred places. That’s why there are traces that run for many days’ marches that go from site to site. These stones are known from the northern isles lost in the wave and storms of cold seas to the shores of the great land south across the water. They are famous for their healing properties. You see where the little marks are?” he pointed at cup-shaped carvings in the rocks. “You fill those with wine and water and then wash the body that needs to be healed. “
The wild men nodded in agreement. None had ever come here, but they knew of this place and the bluestones.
We had picked a rock that had already fallen and broken off, about ten feet in length. We had to lift it from the soil and get it on the sledge. I had the men use levers; Finn led the crew; he’d moved much bigger stones with me in the Land of Pharaoh. We levered it up and stuck small stones under it. Then we could easily turn it balanced on the small stones. Once we had it laying the right way, we simply rolled it over onto the sledge. It was a simple process, but I saw the look of amazement and joy on the wild men’s faces at their accomplishment.
“We did it, boys!” beamed Finn. We tied the stone securely as we could to the sledge and plotted our course down the hills. We knew we would have to muscle the stone up and down through some high and low spots, but we had twenty men and I knew we could do it if we were careful. We had ropes tied at all four corners of the sledge and had four men on each rope, with the rest of us ready with stout poles to use as levers or brakes. Many times as we made our way to the coast we had to stop and figure our next moves. Sometimes we had to lever up one corner or another of the sledge and lift it or keep it from sliding sideways by using stones or logs. It was hard work, and at one point, where the sledge had slidden sideways a bit towards a rill, the men began cursing the whole endeavor, but we got it moved, though it took us two days. Another one of Waelf’s miraculous wisgiegh skins appeared and made it seem worthwhile to the men, who had for the most part gotten caught up it the spirit of the endeavor.
The ship had been beached up the mouth of a deep creek that entered the fine cove. We felled four stout trees, limbed them, and laid them from the bank to the deck of the ship. We levered and muscled the sledge sideways onto the tree trunks and eased it down, sliding sideways, until it sat right before the mast, then pulled the trees out with a great effort and down it set on the deck. I worried about the weight, but we did the operation while the tide was low and the ship was grounded on the sandy creek bottom. Waelf and I were betting that the rising tide would float the ship. I had my doubts, but I kept them to myself. When the tide turned and the water rose, the ship still sat there on the tidal mud of the creek. Come on, I said to myself, float for us, now. At last it did, and our careful placement of the sledge didn’t cause the ship to founder, though it sat lower in the water. The Egyptian ships had been built very wide to hold the huge stones they floated; ours was far narrower a-beam. I had a sudden idea. We cut down four more tall trees, trimmed the branches, and lashed two straight out from the side of the ship, one at amidships and one further towards the stern. Then we lashed a log parallel to the hull on each side of the ship, so that we had counter-balancing floats. The logs were far enough out so that we could still row. This made the ship much more stable and gave me an idea for a two-hulled ship for hauling future stones. Waelf and Aon eagerly grasped this idea. We further strengthened the whole mess with cross beams across the deck of the ship as well. It was crude, but a great improvement for our safety.
By the time we had sailed all the way around the many, storm-tossed far points of the land to the mouth of the Avonna and up the river as far as we could go, and had hauled that stone on its sledge to the open plain above the river, Kullain’s men were ready for some serious feasting and drinking. Setting the stone was easy. We dug the hole just where Waelf wanted it and slid the stone up the mound of dirt that we had dug out and just tipped the bluestone butt end into the hole. We had dug a wider hole than we needed, so we used ropes and levers to get it truly upright and then filled around the base with small stones and rammed-down dirt. Our center- stone stood slightly higher then Finn’s head. All the men patted the stone, which had become both their well-cursed enemy and their good-luck charm. They were all basically believers in the power of stones. There were sacred standing stones and rings and barrows all over their homeland of the Green Isle. The whole village had come to watch the stone go up and everyone cheered when it finally stood there. The blue of the stone certainly did look special. In my mind’s eye, I saw a ring of giant thrilithons, like the Pillars of Herakul, standing around it.
But then Waelf said so that only I could hear, “Now we just need another twenty four.”
I laughed and shrugged.
Bergal the Merlin came up out of the valley, his boy with him, leading four pigs. The people drew back and quieted as he approached. He was smiling and waving a walking stick decorated with raven feathers and strings of strung shells.
“A sacrifice!” he called out. People cheered again, even our crew. A sacrifice meant a feast. A great fire was made to the east of the stone, where Waelf indicated. While everyone bustled about making the fire and admiring the bluestone, Waelf went up to Bergal and said quietly, but very seriously.”Only animals.”
Waelf stared down the dirty shaman, who looked back with insolence and cold hostility but gave no answer. The people were set on sacrifice; it was their way since the beginning of time, since the ancient past when they had crawled out of a womb-cave in the ground in the age of the hero grandfathers, or so the tales told.
Soon there was drink and roast pig, the blood from the sacrifice filled a bowl at the base of the stone. Waelf insisted on no blood on the bluestone.
“This is for healing, this stone; no blood on it.” This was Waelf’s stone, and mine as well.
I stood apart with Aon and Waelf as the others feasted. The moon had risen and the wide plains were bathed in pale light. Aon, looking away from the fires into the darkness, saw them first.
“There are torches there,” he said, pointing north. For certain he was right. Away in the distance were dancing lights, flickering like stars on a windy night. There were many of them, strung our like some Egyptian procession.
“More than fifty”, said Waelf, rubbing his bearded chin. “I wonder what this means?”
I stared out to the north. “Surely it is no raiding party; they wouldn’t light their way.”
“Yes, you’re right. But who?” said Waelf.
We waited on the high ground. The feasters were unaware of the approaching lights. I sent Aon to alert Finn and a few other men, just in case there was trouble.
The lights wound through the dells and swales as they came ever closer, twisting and winding like a starry caterpillar. Finn came up, bringing our bows and several men, though most of the hundred or so of the feasters continued eating and imbibing. The Fake Merlin was a drunken slouchy mass, sitting on a small stone, gnawing on a pink leg bone. There were nine of us waiting at the top of the rise, about a hundred lengths out from the stone.
The torches disappeared in the swale to the north and then reappeared, coming up the long slope straight towards us. We nocked arrows but didn’t draw. We could hear many mingling voices. Plainly, this group wasn’t sneaking up on us; they were almost as loud as the feasters. As the first torch came within sight, Waelf stepped forward.
“Hail, Waelf U’ Carrain!” came a shout from a deep voice. Waelf’s face spread into a wide smile.”We come to return your gift and to see the new stone!”
The big figure of white-bearded Ruuk the Elder came into view. One of his men carried a burning brand that lit his ruddy face. Behind him was a long line of people, men, women, and children. Seemingly more people than were in their whole village of the great stone ring.
Ruuk and Waelf met and clasped hands and forearms in the manner of these northern people.
“How did you know?” asked Waelf.
“Surely, you don’t think you can float a healing stone from the far hills and up the Avonna without the word spreading. By the time we left to come here, we had more than fifty other people come down to us from further north. We are pilgrims, wanting to see your new bluestone. And there it is!”
Ruuk waved his arm in the direction of the stone, which was lit both by the moonlight and the fire of the feast.
“We’ve not come empty-handed. We have animals for sacrifice and feasting, and drink, too, though not your magical brew, “Ruuk said with a wry shine in his eye.
The others surged up and around us towards the stone. Some led pigs and sheep and even two cows. One passed me and paused for a brief moment, just long enough for me to see her face in the flickering torchlight. Then she moved on.
The feasting went on though the night and the next and the next. Others came, by day and by torchlight at night, or without lights. They came from up out of the south, the west, the east. All brought what they could for sacrifice, for the fame of the Sacred Bluestone from the far hills spread like the wind from village to village, over hill and dale, field and woods, river and ridge.
“I knew they would come, “said Waelf, leaning on his staff as he watched the pilgrims make camp along the river east of the stone. “Here are our builders, our stone cutters, our haulers. Here are our cooks and hunters and farmers. They’ll make a new village by the bend, “he said, pointing to where the Avonna swept in big curve below the chalk ridges. “ And you shall show them how.”
“It is your place, “I said.
“No, my time is almost done, “he said. He looked down for moment, then back up, though he looked across the plains and not at me. Then he shot me hard glance. “I was waiting for you, you know.”
I tossed my head. Wizard’s mumbo- jumbo. Waelf liked that term. “And how did you know I would come?” I laughed. It was hard to know hen Waelf was pulling one’s leg with his medicine man’s talk.
”Oh, you know, the Little People.”
“Ah, yes, the wisgiegh chieftains in their hiding places in the earth.” Waelf knew I couldn’t possibly believe in such things.
“You’ll see, someday. They have told me many things, not all good.”
“They won’t tell you the secret of making wisgiegh!” he laughed.
The word spread, hunter to hunter, village to village, herder to herder, across the green isles and beyond that a new great ring was going up at Sarum. Bands of people and individual wanderers came from all directions. Soon a camp began to form along the bend of the river below the plain where we had put up the Bluestone. Waelf asked me to help organize up the new village, so I set about it. With Aon’s mind and Finn’s outgoing personality and fame, we were able to convince the pilgrims that we needed some order in the camp. We dug a main ditch off the river and ran it around the camp, with smaller ditches feeding off of it. The big one brought water, while smaller ones carried away shit and other wastes into a settling pond in a bog away from the river. Waelf and I agreed that human and pig shit was probably the cause of many sicknesses, though the people thought it was spirits and witchcraft. Of course, our Merlin down the river in Sarum attracted some new adherents, who fell for his spells and chanting and sacrifices. We wanted to bar him from our site, but too many people believed in him, and he put on his best behavior for the most part. So we ignored him as much as we could and got on with the planning for moving more bluestones and cutting some big Sarsens for trilithons at the northern quarries. The transport of the bluestones got much more practical when a new ship came up the river from the sea. Its captain was a loud, bold character who was an old companion of Finn’s. My idea of binding two ships together to haul several stones at once became a reality. Waelf led a team west again and the ships sailed to meet them. Many men would help move the stones and then row back the ships, tied together with study spars, making a double-hulled barge, as I had seen used sometimes in Egypt. The trips were very successful and in two months we had nine more bluestones, for which Waelf had already established proper locations, marking their spots with small stones and logs. My crew, under my and Aon’s direction, stood them up in a circle, still with a few gaps. But the circle could plainly be seen. Meanwhile, Ruuk, Aon, and I went with his folk to the northern quarries where I selected three likely pieces for the first trilithon. The men there knew how to cut the rather soft stone very well, but with our copper chisels, they were able to make the stones very well formed and regular in size and shape, matching each other. The stones were far finer than those hewn by the ancient giant with the penis that reached the sea, the cutters laughed. By winter the three were ready for their icy journey over the downs and plains.
By now we had more than three hundred people in our new village, making it the single largest gathering of people anywhere in this mostly empty land of abundance. There were some shortages of food, but since the summer had been mild and the harvests good, and because many of the pilgrims brought animals with them, most survived the cold months. There were the usual deaths, mostly of infants and old people, from the rattling cough that came in winter. The strong and the lucky live; the weak and cursed die. Sometimes it’s the best people that are taken and the most evil that prosper. That is why I don’t believe in the Gods. In our new village was a communal spirit that I had never witnessed before, and a commonality of purpose. Not driven by a God-King, or by a harsh despot. Not slaves, not prisoners taken as spoils of war. The people came together to make something for the gods, for themselves. And they knew it would last many lifetimes. I knew it too.
Though they couldn’t understand why I made them dig all the ditches, they came to see that the village was cleaner and smelled less than other villages. They looked to Waelf to be their medicine man, but he didn’t really want that and tried to pass it off on others, like Ruuk and several men from distant places who were older and had experience leading groups of people. But the imposter Merlin, Bergal, down on the hill of Sarum drew more than he should have, for he was willing to put on the kind of sacrifices and shows of incantation and supposed trance-travel and other wonders which I had long seen through. It was a bit discouraging, but then again, what were we doing? The same thing but on a much bigger scale. For though Waelf, Aon, and I understood the henge would tell the movement of the sun and moon, to ordinary folk it was all magic and sorcery. They feared the gods and the spirits of the rivers and plains and clouds and ocean. They spat to ward off the evil eye, just as the Achaeans did so far away. Women collected herbs to keep away werewolves and witches and spells.
“It doesn’t matter, “said Waelf wearily one day. We had stood up the ninth stone, Five in the inner circle and four beyond, where the directions of north, south, east, and west lay according to Waelf’s observations. The whole henge was inside of a low ring of earth, made by the barrow people most likely as a sheep enclosure or a fort. Waelf had men dig the old ditch deeper, using shovels of deer antlers, and piled the earth ring higher. There was opening to the east, where the summer sun rose. One stone we placed beyond this opening. “Whether the people understand it now or not, it will help them. That is all we can do. We won’t finish the ring, anyway. Others will do that. We’re here to start it.”
“But if no one understands it, how will help people in years to come?” I asked.
“If nothing else, they will look on it and wonder. And someone with a mind will see how it works. They will know that men built this who watched the sun and moon and stars.”
I shrugged. I supposed that was enough explanation for me. I had nowhere to go anyway and I loved to raise the stones and see the ring take shape. Dark-haired Leta, for that was her name, had quietly moved to our camp and after some time, to my bed. She didn’t speak much, but she was not dumb. She would make insightful comments about the pilgrims and the villagers. It was she who said one day, “That medicine man will cause trouble yet. He’s just waiting.”
I had put him mostly out of my mind. Sarum was three miles way. We only saw Bergal once or twice a week, if that. But it was disturbing that so many sought out his chicanery. I grunted something in assent. Leta fed me and Aon. Aon had taken up with the young girl from Ruuk’s village. She was soon with child. I laughed at the notion of my being a grandfather. I had grey in my beard now, that was for sure, and though my leg was better, it would never be right again. I limped around and couldn’t take part in the lifting or moving of the stones. There was much good flint in the area and I spent long hours making fine arrow points and arrows. I also made an Akkadian-style bow. The task took almost a year, since I had to try different woods and pieces of horn and sinews from cattle, sheep and even from a bear before I found the right combination to make a powerful bow. I wondered if I’d ever need it for war again. I took it out with Aon. He had his yew longbow. We hunted to the north, across the chalk ridges and into the little wooded valleys. My bow shot true and far and I took a hart which we quartered and brought back to our fire. We had made our camp above the river-village, in a slight hollow below the winds that sweep the plains, but above the river mists. We could see in all directions from there. I had an uneasy feeling from time to time, like I was being watched by an enemy.
We brought the first three great menhirs down from Ruuk’s quarry during the winter when the ground was icy and hard. It was hard work and took almost all our men a week to bring each one. We would put them up in spring. A last load of five fine bluestones came by the twin-hulled ship and then we settled in for the cold winter months. The following year we would bring many more stones and raise them for Waelf’s great henge. Leta slept close by me and I grew to find great comfort in her arms and in her calm, quiet ways. Waelf, Aon, Finn, Ruuk, and others would gather in our warm round-house of logs and wattle and drink and tell stories while the women cooked and the children and grandchildren played by the fire in the mid-hearth. Snows came and went and sometimes the northern lights hung or raced across the night sky. Even Waelf and I had a hard time not thinking there were gods in the skies then.