art by Shot Hot Design
The Standing Stones of Erelong
by Simon Kewin
"That's Erelong, child. That's where you were born."
Mayve pointed down the hillside to the valley laid out beneath them. Elian, still breathing hard from the climb, squinted against the bright sunlight, the dazzling silver of the river winding wide through the valley. Between stands of trees she saw a patchwork of ruined stone buildings and, in a round open field, the circle of standing stones. Jagged white rocks rose from the ground in an uneven circle, like the earth's crooked teeth, like impossible summer snowmen.
She remembered again, as she often did, the childhood rhyme Mayve would sing to her as she lay in bed. Your mother bade me sing you to sleep with this, as she did your brothers and sisters. As she was sung to sleep by your grandmother.
Twelve-ten and one, two, three * The standing stones of Erelong * Through storm and sun and winter's freeze * Stand the stones of Erelong
Weariness from two weeks' walking was clear on the Wisewoman's lined face. She, too, breathed hard from the ascent. Once again, Elian regretted asking her to make the journey. But she'd had to see for herself and only Mayve, now, remembered what had happened here two decades earlier. She could never begin to thank Mayve for all she had done.
"Tell me," said Elian. "Tell me again what happened."
Mayve settled herself down on the hummocky hill-top, her breathing calming. A breeze moved wisps of grey hair about her face as she retold the story. Elian sat beside her, resting her head on Mayve's shoulder.
"Your birth was difficult, Elian, and the Wisewoman of this place was at her wit's end. She bespoke me through the flames and I flew here as quickly as I could, through storm and night. I landed somewhere on these slopes. But I wasn't the only one coming to Erelong that night. The Marauders descended the opposite slope over there, torches burning, calling out their harsh calls. I saw your family setting out to meet them, pitch-forks against swords."
"They couldn't run because of my mother. Because of me."
"That's right, child. Your mother was in no state to travel anywhere."
"I was exhausted and could do little. But in the moonlight I saw that threads of mist lifted off the river. I had strength enough to work it, herd it, blanket the Marauders with it. As they blundered around it was easy enough to coax them away from the houses with phantom shouts and screams. Simple magic but it gave me enough time to reach your mother and so help bring you into the world."
"And my mother?" She knew every word of the story, of course. She never tired of hearing it.
"She'd been through a lot, lost much blood. She kissed you and handed you to me, pleaded with me to take you. I'd thought to stay and do what I could but it was the only way to save you. It took me a month to walk home with you swaddled to my chest. And then I brought you up as my own. And here we are."
Elian nodded, imagining the scene that night, the shouts of the Marauders, the torches, the fog, the cries of her mother. In the quiet and the gold of sunlight it all seemed impossible.
"My people had magic. Perhaps they fought back after you left?"