Legacy of the Fallen Stars
by J. J. Roth
Chapter 2: Stonehenge I — 2920 BCE
part 2 of 2
In the slice of silence that followed, Gryffyn pictured Morgan taking a deep breath. “The future I see is in flux, each path with its own hazards. If I stop this union, and the truth I say does not come to pass, Caerdwyn will believe I put my daughter’s feelings before the Clan’s security. He will no longer heed my truth-saying. The Chieftain and the Priestess must be aligned for the people’s sake. This I have taught you.”
Olwen’s voice quavered. “You think this is about my feelings for a man?”
“You cannot deny that you and Gryffyn have loved each other since you were children. That much is plain to everyone, not only your mother.” Morgan’s voice softened. “I fear your heart’s desire makes you see only those truths you wish to see.”
“I feel in my womb that solstice brings death. I cannot bear to watch.”
Morgan’s tones became motherly, comforting. “Go then, and tend to yourself. Return when you are ready.”
Olwen stepped from the hut holding a bundle of roots, berries, and meat, and a skin of water. Gryffyn touched her arm. “Stay,” he said.
“I cannot,” she said. “I go to Aureburie tonight.”
“That walk takes most of a day,” he said. “There and back, you may not make it home before solstice. We have this night left to us, and one more.”
“Something is wrong at Aureburie. I know it. I must bring proof back to my mother and Caerdwyn Clan-Father.”
“Chieftain,” Gryffyn said softly, and helped her sling the bundle over her shoulder. She was decisive and headstrong, and he liked those things about her too much to stand in her way. “At least let me send Elun with you. In case you have trouble.”
“We have had peace for generations,” she said. “And I can keep from being seen. I expect no trouble.” But she lifted the hem of her tunic and showed him the knife strapped to her thigh, and the axe hanging from a rope belt at her waist. She took his hand and pressed something cold and hard into it. “Keep it near.” She disappeared at the tree line, beyond which lay several small settlements and Aureburie. Gryffyn brought the small, blue stone to his lips. “Mother, protect her,” he said.
In the morning, Gryffyn woke to Elun’s shouts. “They’re coming!” He pulled on his tunic and sandals and followed Elun toward the magic circle.
In the distance, from the direction Olwen had gone last night, two armies of oxen pulling sledges made slow progress across the turf. At least fifty men swarmed around the sledges, pushing, pulling, driving the oxen. Gryffyn heard shouts and a dull rumbling as he and Elun drew near. The oxen, two teams of at least fifty each, were hitched to ropes and timber poles and pulled sledges unlike any Gryffyn had ever seen.
Underneath each sledge, twenty large, straight tree trunks stripped of branches and bark lay side by side. As the oxen pulled and the men pushed from behind, the sledges moved along the tree trunks at a slow roll. Teams of six men, three on each side, lifted the trunks a sledge had rolled over and brought them to the front of the line again. Atop each sledge was a massive Sarsen stone. Large flat stones and smaller piled stones lay beside the Sarsens. Oxen walked behind the sledges, carrying woolen blankets, dried meat, nuts and water.
“Welcome, Aureburie,” Gryffyn said as he and Elun approached. The men were all young, Gryffyn’s age within a few summers. They seemed in good spirits.
“Greetings,” said one of the men driving the oxen. “How far to the pits for these stones?”
“Not far,” Elun said. “Just yonder.”
“Forgive us for moving on,” the man said. “The sledges are hard to start again once they stop rolling. Walk with us.”
“How long have you traveled?” Gryffyn asked.
“We set out from Marburie at the half moon.”
As they came to the pits, some of the men began gathering coils of thick rope from the sledges and tying them around the ends of the stones. They divided the oxen teams for each sledge. Half were sent around each side of a pit, carefully, to avoid trampling its walls. The teams came together again on the far side and dragged the smaller, flat stones from the sledges to form ramps to the pits’ edges. Caerdwyn, Morgan, and Gryffyn’s mother, many of the Clan behind them, came to watch as the men of Aureburie drove the sledges off the logs and onto the ramps so that they overhung the pits.
“We raise the stones tomorrow,” Caerdwyn said. “When your Chieftain arrives. You have our gratitude. Come, eat and rest. I know you have not had word of your families since the half moon. Tomorrow you will.”
“Our thanks, Caerdwyn Chieftain,” said the man who had spoken to Gryffyn. The men of Aureburie released their animals to pasture, gathered their belongings and followed Caerdwyn toward the magic circle.
Gryffyn stayed behind, watching Morgan. She ran her hand along one of the sandstone megaliths. “The Aureburie men all looked well, did they not? Hale and strong.” Her round, black eyes reminded him for an instant of a doe’s before the arrow hits. She sighed and patted the stone. “They are of good stock. Your sons will be hale and strong, too.” When she met his eyes, hers were decisive and headstrong, the eyes of a bull, not a doe. “Do your duty to the Clan. That is all anyone can ask.” He did not see her again until the next morning.
In the hours before dawn, Gryffyn, Elun, and their parents bathed in the river and donned new raiment, the cloth dyed golden as the sun with weld from the itinerant traders who passed through the settlements. They breakfasted on porridge and berries. The Clan-Mother combed out Gryffyn’s hair with a bone pick until it shone like polished sandstone. Sunrise was still at least two hours away when the Aureburie men and the Bluestone Clan gathered in the stone circle awaiting the Chieftain Kennet and a delegation of his people.
They came out of the trees at a slow walk, slower, Gryffyn thought, than the men driving the sledges the day before. Those in the magic circle went to meet them at the Sarsen pits.
Avon clung to her father’s arm, her robe a splash of white among ten men and women all wearing Aureburie red. She was paler than he remembered, and thinner. She looked as though she might vomit. Kennet Chieftain seemed paler, too. A shadow colored the skin around his eyes and sweat slicked his face and neck. Gryffyn did not see Avon’s mother among them. Morgan took a few steps back and touched the Bluestone in the Crone’s Amulet at her neck.
“Welcome, Aureburie.” Caerdwyn beat his fist to his heart in greeting.
“Greetings,” Kennet said. His voice caught. He cleared his throat. “Friends and allies, on this solstice morning, let us raise these stones in praise of our god Sun.”
The stone-movers came forward and set stone counterweights on the giant Sarsens. Gryffyn heard Caerdwyn say in a low voice, “Kennet Chieftain, are you and your family quite well? Where is your Chieftess?”
“Quite well,” Kennet said. “A long walk, you know, and I’m not as young as I once was.” He chuckled and clapped Caerdwyn on the shoulder. “Our youngest daughter has only three summers and could not make the distance. The Chieftess stayed with her.” Sweat sprang from his forehead and ran down his temples. He wiped it away with his sleeve.
“Quite well, my arse,” Elun whispered to Gryffyn. “Something is wrong.”
The stone-movers attached ropes to the counterweights and pulled them along the Sarsens. The flat stone ramps acting as pivots, the weights levered the stones into the pits. They landed with a boom that shook the ground under Gryffyn’s feet. The stone-movers pulled the stones upright with ropes and packed smaller stones, and the earth mounded next to the pits tight around their bases. The first rays shone over the trees just as the movers loosed the ropes from the standing stones.
Caerdwyn and Kennet together led their people inside the magic circle. “We greet the god Sun,” Caerdwyn said.
All eyes looked to the horizon. Murmurings of awe and joy rippled through the crowd as the golden ball levitated into the sky between the two Sarsen gateposts. A group of musicians began to play on bone flutes and skin drums as the fifty-six representatives of the oldest Clan families lifted their family totems and stood them upright next to their post holes. Each also held an earthenware urn.
“Goddess Earth, we give you our ancestors from the Bluestone hills,” Morgan said. Each family emptied its urn into a post hole. “May the power of the fallen stars be with the living.”
The fifty-six totem poles dropped into the holes on top of the ancestors’ ashes. For the second time that morning, Gryffyn felt the ground shudder beneath his feet.
Kennet pried his daughter’s trembling hand from his arm and placed it in Gryffyn’s. “As the daughter of Aureburie and the son of the Bluestone hills are united, so shall be our people.” Sweat drenched Kennet’s hair and Gryffyn felt waves of heat surging from Kennet as though he were on fire.
Avon’s hand, though, was frigid in Gryffyn’s, and she shivered in the morning sun. He bowed his head to his father and to hers. He was to lead her away now, to his family’s home to consummate the union while the feasting began. But he did not move. Olwen was running up the path between the standing Sarsens, carrying a bundle in her arms. It was a child.
She stopped outside the magic circle. “It is as I feared. I have been to Aureburie. Many of the herd are dead, rotting in the fields. Many of the people...” Olwen laid the child’s body on the ground. A little girl; her belly swollen, her clothing stained with blood.
Kennet squinted. “Laurel? My Laurel?” He lumbered through the circle and dropped to his knees at the girl’s side, his hands wavering as he reached out to her body.
Gryffyn started toward them, but Olwen shouted at him to stay back. “I have seen my fate, and I do not succumb. But many here will, if they stay among the sick.” She looked straight at Avon, who shuddered, took a step toward her father and sister and collapsed, bright blood rushing from her nose and mouth. Olwen ran to her and brought her to her father.
“We will not abandon Aureburie in its time of need,” Caerdwyn said. “People do not fall ill because cattle do. That is nonsense. Our Priestess has not told this truth.” He searched the circle. Morgan was no longer among those gathered, and Gryffyn saw a flicker of fear in his father’s eyes. “Where is Morgan? Find her.”
“Gryffyn, go,” Olwen said. “I will come at the next half moon, when the danger is past.”
Caerdwyn rounded on her. “You are not Priestess yet, child. Gryffyn stays here.”
Kennet squeezed his belly with both hands, as if trying to wring the pain from his body. “We did not know. We would not have come. Mother, not my child!” His bowels let loose a pool of putrid water and blood.
For an instant, everything was still. Then people began to shout and cry, and to rush about in many directions, as though the pestilence were at their heels: to the settlement, toward Aureburie, toward the forest or the river. Some seemed rooted to the ground, unable to choose. Caerdwyn strode among them, calling for order. He directed the Clan-Mother and the elder women to tend the sick. He rallied the patriarchs of the ancient families and sent them out to settle the panic.
Gryffyn went to Caerdwyn amid the tumult. “Father,” Gryffyn said. “Olwen has told this truth. The healthy must leave if the ill stay. Look at them. They cannot move.”
“No,” Caerdwyn said. “Morgan did not see sickness passing among the people.”
“Morgan was wrong. I am sorry, Father. It is madness to stay. You must come.” But he knew this was the last time he would see his father alive. Gryffyn grabbed Elun’s arm and caught as many people rushing from the circle as he could. “Anyone who wishes may come with us. Bring only what you need until the next half moon.”
“Gryffyn,” Caerdwyn shouted after him, “a chieftain does not abandon his people.”
At the edge of the settlement, Elun broke free of Gryffyn’s grasp. “I cannot leave him,” he said. “My place is here.”
“Do not do this, little brother,” Gryffyn said.
“Goodbye, Gryffyn. May I see you at the half moon.” Elun ran back to the circle.
“Gryffyn, go.” Olwen was shouting now. He felt his body moving, though he could not later remember how he made himself turn his back on his father, his brother, everyone he loved, to join some hundred others of the Clan and the Aureburie stone movers. They ran through the settlement gathering food and bedding. He could hear his father’s commanding voice still trying to calm the people as the hundred crossed the river and were gone.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2014 by J. J. Roth