Legacy of the Fallen Stars
by J. J. Roth
As Stonehenge developed over many generations, its builders and their evolving society faced personal and environmental hardships. But did their reasons for building the stone monument truly explain its origins?
Chapter 3: The Bluestones
End of Stonehenge II-Beginning of Stonehenge III — 2500 BCE
Gwaen, High Priestess of Aureburie and the Bluestone Clan, sat with her young son, Eadred, on the stone step outside their house. It was a warm spring day, nearing the equinox.
From the rise above the settlement where they sat, they could see the magic circle with its two giant Sarsen sentries in the distance. Below them, the market center bustled with traders en route between the Green Island to the west and the desert lands far to the east. Some traders even made their homes among Gwaen’s people.
The thriving market was a place of exotic foodstuffs, dyes and cloths, and interesting new inventions. At the last new moon, the High Chieftain Landon, whom Gwaen had wed six summers past, called her to the market to see an axe made from a reddish-gold, shining substance the trader called “cupre.” The trader showed them how the copper blade, so much thinner and lighter than flint, could chop wood faster without as much waste.
Soon, Landon had given up all his flint tools for the rare copper ones, or still rarer ones of a gold metal called “bronz.” Landon’s glee around the new tools reminded Gwaen of Eadred and his white stone blocks.
Landon’s enthusiasm for novelty, big thinking and big plans made him a charismatic leader and, Gwaen thought, a charming man. The traders also brought wondrous news, and Gwaen loved to watch Landon as his sharp mind sliced information from their tales, rearranged it into patterns and stored the results for a time when they might become useful.
Eadred played with his blocks as Gwaen chopped vegetables for a stew and repeated the stories all of their people learned at their mothers’ knees.
She told him how their ancestors followed Gwaen’s many-times great-grandmother from their ancient home to the place where stars fell.
How they allied with Aureburie, dug the magic circle and set the grand Sarsen gateway.
How at the dedication ceremony, Gwaen’s not quite as many times great-grandmother tried to warn of a virulent pestilence. How that Priestess had prevailed upon her lover, the Chieftain after his father fell to the plague, to take people into hiding until the illness ran its course.
How the sickness decimated the populations of both Aureburie and the Bluestone Clan, and many generations passed until the people grew numerous and strong again and built timber structures inside the magic circle.
Now they not only welcomed the solstices there, but buried the ashes of their honored dead.
The Great Pestilence, Gwaen said, had come from the god Sun’s anger at the union of strength and strength, not strength and wisdom at Summer Year, causing the healing power in both Bluestone and Sarsen to fail. Since then, Summer Year weddings again joined Priestesses with Chieftains, their lineages now tracing back into both Aureburie and the Clan.
“Look, Mother,” Eadred said. “See what I made.”
Gwaen knelt beside him. Before Eadred, Gwaen had given birth to another son who died in infancy; afterwards, to a stillborn daughter. Eadred had survived four winters. He was strong and ate well. This gave Gwaen hope for the future of Landon’s line, as did her suspicion the gods had blessed Eadred with uncommon cleverness and an ability to see things others did not. She treasured her time with him. Soon enough, he would be put to work. If the goddess Earth was generous, Gwaen would have another child by autumn. “Let me see, my darling,” she said. “What a beautiful circle you have made! But so different from the one the Aureburie builders are planning. I like how the stones are connected across the tops. And the half circle inside, with all those three-stone shapes, two up and one across. Such a clever builder.”
For some time, Aureburie had been digging a circular ditch and embankment at their settlement a day’s walk away, very like the one Gwaen could see from her house. The builders talked of erecting a Sarsen circle within the embankment, but as far as Gwaen knew, the plan did not include lintels.
Eadred beamed, his tiny white milk teeth lighting his face. “I saw the shapes when you were telling me the story. I saw them inside my head.”
Gwaen’s thoughts went to the old yew chest next to her bed, with two overlapping spirals carved on the lid. Generations of hands had darkened the wood, but a hint of the original golden beauty remained.
Inside, safe after all this time, Gwaen kept the many small Bluestones from the ancient homeland. She and the elder women used them for healing. Gwaen thought she remembered a story about a circle in that place. Large blue stones standing upright, stone lintels connecting them. She tried to recall, but the effort chased the memory farther away.
“Such a special boy.” She hugged Eadred and went back to cutting onions with her new copper knife.
Landon came up the hill with two men. The first had freckled skin and pumpkin-orange hair. The second had dark skin and soft, rounded features. His hair was thick, wavy and black. Gwaen had heard stories of the olive-skinned Sea Peoples who marauded along coasts far to the east. This man could not be dangerous, though, or Landon would not bring him near Eadred.
“Lovely, Gwaen,” Landon said. “I brought friends to dine. Ruadhan of the Green Island and Temenos of the distant east.”
The men bowed to Gwaen, spoke pleasant words and gave her gifts. Temenos handed her a bracelet made of golden metal beads. Ruadhan’s gift was an odd-shaped drinking vessel, wide at the top, narrower in the middle and wide and rounded at the bottom. The pottery had been scored with decorative horizontal lines. Inside was a dark liquid that smelled like spoiled barley. She wrinkled her nose.
“Taste it,” Landon said. “Ruadhan says everyone drinks it now. They call it ‘alut,’ or sometimes just ‘ale’.”
Gwaen took a small sip. The liquid was thick and bitter. She tried not to make a face and swallowed. After a little while, the bitterness changed to sweetness on her tongue. She thought she might learn to like this ale. She took a big swallow.
“Careful.” Landon took the beaker from her, laughing. “Too much and you will find standing hard and thinking, even harder.”
Gwaen doubted this potion would affect her even as much as the blue-flower seeds and yellow mushrooms she used to induce visions, but she let him take the ale.
It was then that Ruadhan’s eyes fixed on Eadred’s stone circle. “I have seen that,” he said.
Landon laughed again. “Too much ale, my friend.”
Ruadhan shook his head, went closer to the boy’s block construction and studied the stones. Eadred smiled at him.
“By the Mother, I tell you I have seen that. On my route home, through the west country. Only it is not white. It is made of that.” He pointed at the Crone’s Amulet Gwaen wore.
“In hills of this stone?” Gwaen asked. He nodded. The wisp of memory floated through her mind again, curling and shifting like smoke and as difficult to catch. “Is there a settlement?”
“No,” Ruadhan said. “There is a place to the south of the stone circle where men may have lived once, and settlements farther away. Do you know it?”
Gwaen shook her head. “I have never seen the Bluestone hills.” As she said the words, the memory circled in her mind and settled, like a hawk to its nest. “My ancestors came here from those hills. There is great healing power in those stones.”
“How far is it?” Landon asked. Gwaen knew that look, the one Landon got when a big plan was coming together in his head. Three days later, when Ruadhan left for the Green Island, Landon sent two men with him to be his eyes, ears and hands at the stone circle. He charged them with bringing back a report that spared no detail, even the most forgettable. It was not until the scouts left on their journey that Gwaen saw the sign.
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Copyright © 2014 by J. J. Roth