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 4: Stonehenge III — 2150 BCE
The Sarsen Stone Monument and the Bluestone Circle
Masons shaped the last of the thirty great Sarsen uprights with stone hammers, tapering them at the tops and sculpting two rounded tenons to match the two recessed sockets, or mortises, in the last of the thirty Sarsen lintels.
They dressed the lintels to curve as they bridged the uprights, and to fit together end to end, tongue to groove. Surveyors oversaw the digging of the last pits to hold the uprights. Diggers dug the foundations to different depths; this compensated for variations in stone lengths and assured a level circle.
Stone-movers raised the lintels to the uprights using timber platforms. They levered each stone up and laid timber planks beneath them in a horizontal direction, then levered again and crossed those planks with others in a vertical direction, building the rectangular platform in a crisscross fashion under the stones.
As the platforms neared the uprights’ tops, some of the movers attached ropes to the levers, climbed down from the platforms and pulled the ropes, levering the stones still higher and forward so others on the platforms could guide the stones into place atop the Sarsen uprights.
In the circle’s center stood five sets of two uprights and a lintel each, not connected to each other, in a shape like a rainbow’s arch. The shape’s opening faced the long-standing Sarsen gateposts and the rising sun at summer solstice. The set of two uprights and a lintel at the bottom curve of the shape marked the place where the sun set at winter solstice.
Other standing stones dotted the landscape. Four Sarsens stationed at points along the embankment formed a rectangle around the Sarsen circle and had helped orient the builders in situating the circle’s stones. A single sparkling sandstone, neither Bluestone nor Sarsen, stood inside the circle in line with the Sarsen gateway. This stone came from the west country, floated to the site along with the Bluestones. And two stones stood between the sparkling altar stone and the Sarsen gateway, marking the ditch and embankment’s entrance, a portal to the inner sanctum.
The activity within the magic circle buzzed like a hive knocked with a stick. The High Chieftain of the West Settlements, Thorne, walked among the builders in the warmth of a late summer morning. Thorne, a tall, wiry man with a chestnut beard, had twenty-one summers. The stone circle had been in progress his entire life. He was so used to seeing the structure he sometimes barely noticed it, like the oak stool in his bedchamber’s corner.
Now, as the temple neared completion, he saw it with new eyes. Within the circle, he felt a power in his limbs, an energy to his thoughts, an acuity to his sight. He imagined the circle complete, the platforms dismantled, the builders gone. Simple, breathtaking beauty hid the complex engineering that went into the structure.
The Sarsen circle would be finished by winter solstice. The Bluestones, their circle removed to two clusters on each side of the embankment’s entrance to make way for the Sarsens, would be brought back to the circle when the last Sarsens were set. From what Thorne saw as he inspected the progress that morning, the Bluestones’ replacement should start any day now.
Thorne noticed two figures along the northern forest’s edge. One of the figures was gamboling, if you could call it that, since he held an elder’s walking stick. The figure leapt and spun, twirled the stick and launched it high in the air. He thrust his chest to the sky with arms outstretched and cried out while the stick fell to the turf. The other figure went to the first, embraced him, and guided him toward the settlement.
The one with the walking stick was Thorne’s father, Madoc, who had been High Chieftain until the previous summer when Thorne stepped into the role. Madoc’s impairment had come on over many seasons, beginning when Thorne was still a boy.
At first, he had just become less talkative and less engaged in his duties. Then he stopped caring about his appearance. His red hair became scraggly, his beard matted, and his tunic filthy with spilled food, mud and his own urine. He began to eat tree bark and stones, and complained his thoughts moved too fast for him to keep up. Later, he started cringing as though something seen only to him was striking his ear during Council meetings. He wiggled his fingers constantly and mumbled to himself.
The elders tolerated his oddities until the autumn day when Madoc ran naked through the market, grasping a live chicken by the feet. He swung the chicken in a circle over his head as he shouted to the fur trader, “Stars buried in the stone pits want to get out, want to get out!” And to the silk merchant: “The fairy lord Lochlan sits on my shoulder, tells me your son is not your son!” And to the High Priestess of the West Settlements, Bronwen: “Birth a stag, birth a ram, birth me all over again, feed me from your bruesties!”
He had let the chicken fly into the axe-maker’s stall, knocking axes from the walls, and ran toward Bronwen making sucking noises and grabbing motions. After that, Thorne had made Madoc step aside.
The second figure, Bronwen, had been High Priestess to Madoc. Now she was counterpart to Thorne. She had three summers more than Thorne and had been wed five winters past to a trader descended from the yellow-hairs. Bronwen had not yet borne a child. She spent much of her time, when not attending to her Priestess’s duties, attending to Madoc as if he were a grown and troubled son.
Thorne had thanked her, to which Bronwen replied, “In his wits, I loved him as my own father, gone to our ancestors with my mother the High Priestess. I am glad to care for him.” Bronwen had put small Bluestones from the ancient yew box with carved spirals, now kept in a place of honor in the Council House, in a pouch tied around Madoc’s waist to help ease his mind. She made sleeping draughts from wild lettuce sap with a drop of henbane to quiet him when he left his senses.
Thorne met Bronwen and Madoc outside the circle. “His morning was difficult,” Bronwen said. “He needs rest.”
Madoc, his eyes fixed on Thorne, leaned his ear toward Bronwen and spoke from the side of his mouth. “Is that my son?”
“Yes, sire, that he is.” Bronwen patted Madoc’s arm.
“No, he’s not,” he said. “Or is he? Are you quite, quite, quite certain?”
“Quite certain, Chieftain. Let me take you home.”
“Thank you, sweet girl. That is not my son. I have lost my son. Where is he?”
“I am your son, Father. Thorne.”
“Thorne? I named you that, you say?” A giggle burst from him. Then he squinted. “Do you prick my fingers? I feel it, I feel pricking.” He rubbed the tips of his fingers against the linen of his tunic. “Off with you, talking in my ear. I don’t like what you say.” He brushed his shoulder as if ridding himself of an insect. “Fairy lord Pensy says the babes are not safe; their mothers are wicked imposters sent from the moon.”
Bronwen guided Madoc back toward the settlement, skirting the market. Thorne walked with them. When Madoc had swallowed the potion and drifted off, Bronwen said, “I must speak with you. I have seen a troubling portent.”
“Meet me at the Council House at midday,” Thorne said. He had promised to bring word of the builders’ progress home to Edwena, whom he had wed three winters past. And he wanted to play with his daughter of three summers, Aldyth. Some of the Council viewed as unmanly his desire to be with Aldyth as much as he could, but that was the worst they said of his leadership.
Thorne’s wooden house stood on a rise above the settlement, a location that had become, by tradition, the place for the High Chieftain’s home. Edwena was in the main room with her maidservant and Aldyth.
The smell of baking bread filled the air. Thorne tore a hunk from the tough, flat loaf that cooled on a table near the fireplace. Edwena looked up and smiled as Thorne chewed, continuing the story she was telling Aldyth, who sat on the floor playing with wooden toys, a pig and a cow.
“After the terrible Sickness, when the people grew numerous again, the High Chieftain began to bring the Bluestones from the western hills on boats. His son, the great High Chieftain Eadred, we call the Stone Father, as he had no children. He trained his cousin to succeed him.
“During Eadred Chieftain’s time, the last Bluestones came and were put inside the magic circle. The Stone Father fought a great battle with the yellow-haired people, made peace with them, and brought the people of the Western Settlements together to teach each other new things.”
Edwena continued, “Aureburie taught the yellow-hairs how to move great stones. The yellow-hairs taught Aureburie and the Clan how to mine and smelt metal, and a new way of rolling heavy weights on wooden circles joined together by poles. The yellow-hairs called the circles ‘whees.’ The whees broke under the great stones, but we use them now sometimes, on carts.”
Thorne sat on the floor and pulled Aldyth onto his lap. He handed her a piece of bread.
“What happened next, Father?”
“Ah well, if your mother does not mind my taking over.” He winked at Edwena.
“Not at all,” Edwena said. “I want to hear what your father learned about the Sarsen circle today, and that is at the end of the story.”
Edwena’s maidservant removed another loaf from the fire and set it out to cool, then took a handful of peas from a flat bowl and began to shuck them.
Thorne said, “Eadred Stone Father found that the Bluestone circle his father had wanted built caused tension between Aureburie and Clan.”
“What is ‘tension’?” Aldyth asked. She pretended to walk the pig up Thorne’s arm.
“They were upset with each other. Aureburie wanted sacred Sarsens in the temple while the Clan wanted sacred Bluestones. So what do you think the Stone Father did?”
“He made them share?”
“Yes, clever girl. He had the stone-movers bring the great Sarsens to our circle. They are almost finished building it now. When they are, in a day or so, they will bring the Bluestones back and we will have two stone circles and two stone rainbows, a small one inside a big one. At midwinter we will all gather to dedicate the circle, and welcome the turn toward spring.” He set Aldyth down and kissed her forehead.
“Edwena, you should see it. It is a sight,” Thorne said.
“I am proud to be the woman of the High Chieftain who saw it finished.” She put her arms around him. Aldyth tugged at his tunic, and he brought her into their hug.
“The High Chieftain must now go to Council.”
“Do what you must,” Edwena said. Thorne kissed them both and went to meet Bronwen.
Copyright © 2014 by J. J. Roth