STONES AND BONES

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY-TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
  Click on the book's name to view the Table of Contents
  Click on the author's name to view the Author's Index
  11 pages (Download is available Download text)

Introduction. A place deep down in the enchanted Thaelon woods proves to have a magical attraction to a group of youngsters on their prowl. Bit by bit one the boys uncovers its secrets. But are all the secrets the ancient elves or druids hid there meant to be revealed? 

 

t all happened in a small village of our kingdom way up north – some say it was in Wylling, others suggest Waterhill or Aengelheim, but nobody knows for sure. Be it as it may. What is certain is that all these places are human settlements adjacent to the enchanted Thaelon, the mysterious, mystical, magical woods, which are home to the elusive light elves. Whatever goes on or not in the heart of the wondrous Thaelon no human soul can say with certainty, because the light elves are not from this world and they only appear in it from time to time. And sometimes we're also not quite sure what takes place at the fringes of these woods; and so it happened in our story as well. Maybe all those things aren’t meant for us to really know? And if we try to find out, well, we might jump to hastily made conclusions… – But let's better hear the tale and you can make up your mind on your own:

A couple of youngsters once played in the underbrush next to their village. After a while they had enough of hide-and-seek and a game of tag and they set out to explore the woods. Venturing deeper into the outskirts of the gigantic Thaelon they came to a clearing after an hour or two, where they decided to take a rest at last from their prowling because their feet had become quite tired. The grass that grew on that meadow looked inviting and adventurous from the distance, for it was almost half a ped high; however, when they came closer it turned out to be wet and sappy, thriving almost unnaturally as if nurtured by unknown powers. Nevertheless, the boys didn’t think much of that.

When they looked for something they could sit on, the youngsters then discovered that there were stones everywhere around them. These were no regular rocks, but standing stones, broad at the base, tapering at the top; stones that must have been put there by someone for a reason. Yet no signs were engraved on them to indicate their origins and they all had varying sizes; but what became soon apparent was that the stones marked the edge of the clearing, forming a perfect circle – even though it was hard to notice at first given the lushness of the grass. The children also noticed something else: Once they entered the clearing everything turned calm and there was no wind whatsoever. Peacefulness and serenity touched each one of them, lifted the spirits, made them feel light, dreamy, contented. Maybe it were the elves, who put the stones there, maybe it was the work of druids, maybe they'd been standing there for centuries, even millennia – how could one know? But however they came to be, they seemed to be a blessing for those who entered that staked out circle.

The children welcomed this magical place. Indeed, from now on the boys would return more often to this fascinating spot, sometimes staying there for hours and hours for no particular reason other than just being there, almost forgetting to return home. Nobody else however was inaugurated into what they considered a sanctuary they found. They felt they needed to protect its singularity, as if they had been chosen by some unknown entity, fill it with their liveliness, enjoy it, guard it. Sometimes it took even until the fall of dusk before they could force themselves to set off again, so incomprehensibly sublime they experienced their stay at this fantastical place. More often than once they arrived when it was dark already and so they were scolded for tarrying irresponsibly and causing their parents so much grief.
 

Elven Standing Stones

View picture in full size Image description. An elven circle of standing stones, probably erected by elves thousands of years ago. Picture drawn by Arbaon.

But the most remarkable thing happened one day when two of the boys went to the clearing on their own. These were Ethel and Aerick, the sons of the village's baker. While Aerick thought of it just as another journey to their secret magical hideout, Ethel, the elder, actually had a hidden agenda why he took Aerick into the forest: He thought that he had good reasons to think that their mother preferred Aerick over him, and he wanted to be alone with his brother to make him confess that he was aware of it.

Once at the clearing, Ethel began questioning Aerick. About chores he had to do from which Aerick was spared, and about errands he was sent on almost every other day. All that he threw at him with his anger mounting. Also he added, he had learned that Aerick used to enjoyed delicious butterball delights as a treat from mother while he was away.

Aerick sobbed, and his resistance was broken within moments. "It is so, it is so, Ethel! I admit it all, and you are right," he wailed. "But I can't help it that mother likes me more than you, you have to believe me! Don't hurt me, I will do whatever you please if you only let me go..."

Ethel let his brother go this time. He handed over some of his chores, however, and his brother had to promise not tell mother about it.

But this was not the way he usually reacted. For Aerick had received his share of blows dealt by the hand of his brother in the past, which was why he had begged him so fiercely now to let him go. Ethel was not a bad person, Aerick thought, but he was very hot-tempered and Aerick feared him when he got enraged and lost control.

While Ethel didn't hurt his brother when he heard him confirm his suspicions, it was not because he didn't feel betrayed by him. It was not that he was suddenly appeased by his brother's instant admittance of the truth that gave substance to Ethel's allegations. No, something was different this time, something that made Ethel wonder and lose sight of retaliation. Which was this: Whenever Aerick had to defend a secret, he was adamant about it, kept it to himself at all costs, protecting it so obsessively that Ethel needed hours, even days to get it out of him – but it was not so this time.

Ethel wanted to figure out why that was so. And thus it happened that a thought dawned on him. It was just an idea, but he wanted to put it to the test soon in order to see whether he was right or just fantasizing. Believe it or not, what he guessed back then turned out to be more than just a fancy notion, and when he found out that there was no doubt about it, the find would open doors way beyond his imagination...

For that's what he learned: It was the stone circle. The stone circle had made Aerick tell the truth. With whatever powers it possessed, the place had forced Aerick to give in to Ethel's questions. Without threatening him, maybe thanks to its soothing aura, by lulling him into a sense of security, Aerick's defenses had been breached. At some point Ethel knew for sure. Because later on when he visited the clearing with others, Ethel would ask them deliberately about things he knew they wouldn't tell at any cost, and indeed, as if by magic they complied to each of his demands, told him whatever he wanted to hear willingly. A fountain of truth it was, the stone circle. Even Ethel was surprised when he felt that he had unveiled something greater, something that was beyond him, and yet, something that would be of use to him: A first of many mysteries the mysterious stone bore in themselves had been discovered.

To all the other children the clearing and the surrounding stones were just a playground, a special one though, a wonderful place to be, a spot to rest and dive into another world that felt tranquil and harmonic. But the other boys didn't investigate further why that was so and were content the way it was, and the one who could tell them, kept quiet for his own selfish reasons. So it came that Ethel, following the peculiar observation he had made, wanted to see if there's even more to the place, and he kept returning to the clearing again and again on his own. He was hoping that there was a key somehow to learn what transpired there. Or that he would find out about another special power the clearing had to offer. – And one day he did exactly that.

At that day Ethel had taken his bow with him, because he was training to become a hunter. Thus when he was carefully treading through the clearing's knee-high grasses and saw a beautifully colored pheasant prancing about, he drew an arrow from his quiver and aimed at the bird. He shot, hit and killed it at the first attempt. Proud of his skill Ethel headed towards it to collect his trophy, when something unexpected, outright strange happened:

All of a sudden a breeze sprung up in the otherwise mysteriously windless clearing, and the gust was cold as ice and aggressively racing over the field.
Ethel shivered to the bone when it passed him by, and not only that: He almost froze when he saw that the wind's frenetic dance became visible for a few instants in form of ghostly serpent-like white shape, which darted towards the killed prey. There was a brief flash of bright light when the phantom came in touch with the dead bird, and then everything was gone: the breeze, the chilly cold, and the dead pheasant. Only its bare bones lay there in front of Ethel. They lay there, but then even they turned into dust and were immediately absorbed by the earth, leaving no traces of the pheasant's existence. Everything was quiet again, windless, peaceful, serene.

Ethel felt stumped for a moment, and he didn't dare to move for quite a bit. He observed everything around him and pondered, and maybe he feared that there was more to come. But nothing else out of the ordinary occurred. Eventually he was convinced that everything was back to how it was before the incident. It was almost as if nothing had happened. He simply accepted what he had witnessed as another gift from the clearing, a secret it had divulged, had decided to share with him. By the time he returned home, he felt the triumph of a discoverer.

Days and months went by. Ethel continued his solitary visits to the stone circle, even discouraging others to go there, for he was worried they might also come across some of its magical secrets. And whatever the circle might still have in store, he should be the one to find out, and no one else. So unless he needed to extort some information from someone – in which case the place worked in his favor – he made his friends think that wild animals had been sighted in this part of the forest and that they therefore should avoid it at any cost. At some point, the children stopped going there altogether. In secret however, Ethel went to the stone circle regularly, for he wanted more.

After he had overcome his initial anxiety, at last Ethel dared to summon the "spirit of the stones" – as he used to call it – for a second time. And then again, and again. The phantom, the spirit, the ghost, whatever it was, it would emerge when he placed something dead on the sacred soil; it happened all the time, be it a bird, a hare, a deer. Each time Ethel brought a carcass, the forces at work at the clearing devoured it in its unique way. Each time he did it, it felt to Ethel almost as if he made an offering on this enormous green altar, as if he was a confidant, an adept to something ancient, mythical and incomprehensible.

Above all, the baker’s son felt that he was gaining something from this alliance with the unknown, even though he couldn't name what it was exactly. Certainly the act of bringing his offering made Ethel feel important, potent, it infused self-esteem in him, and the more often he did it, the more indispensable he perceived himself, the more self-assured he became. To others however he appeared more and more as a loner, headstrong and self-serving, with no interest in others whatsoever.

The years passed. And with the years at some point also the magic of the stone circle had passed, or more precisely: the way Ethel felt about it. He didn't chance upon further revelations, and life took him with it, turned him into an adult before he knew it. His parents had both died when he was twenty-five, Aerick, his younger brother had taken over the bakery. Then Ethel had left his village to make it big in a Santharian town, for he despised the common and the mundane, the little things his brother enjoyed so much – like being part of a small community where everyone helped his neighbor and vice versa.

Alas, Ethel's business, in which he had placed so much hope, eventually ran into serious trouble and was on the brink of failing. Which was why he found himself returning to his brother, asking for money.

"Times are harsh, Aerick," he said to him. "If I don't pay off my debts soon they will come after me, and I am ruined once and for all."
"Didn't I lend you a lot of gold already last year?" his brother reminded him.

"Yes, that was fine and mighty gracious of you, and I thank you for it, Aerick, but see, I tried to get through with the money and make things turn around. But it just was not enough! If I only had a little more..."

"A little more? How much are you asking for?"

"Ah, about the same as last time, add another hundred gold maybe..."

"But you're asking for more than 200 gold then! I have only so much as to make a living myself, Ethel!" Aerick answered. "You see, I am with wife and child, and what you're asking is impossible. I even had a hard time myself when I gave you that money last year, and I cannot afford it again."

Ethel however wouldn't let go. "Aerick, it is life and death for me! It has come thus far! This money is all I need, and I won't ever ask you again. Ever!"
"I... I... I just cannot! See for yourself what I have, it's no more than half a hundred," he said and opened the jewel case in which he stored his money. "These are all my last savings for whenever trouble comes my way. And like last year, when the stove had to be repaired, something else will happen and I will need that money very soon."

"You're talking about possibilities, Aerick? Do you want to see me hanged for real when I cannot pay my debts?" Ethel shot back at him, fury growing in his eyes. "Give this little bit of money to me now, and that jewel case you've got there must be worth at least a dozen coins as well!"

"Ethel, don't do that! Let us ask an uncle, or some old friends whether they can spare a few coins, maybe if they all put together we can..."

However, Ethel fumed. "Fool! You have enough money to help me on my way, and if I invest it rather than pay debts immediately, I'll make some profit. It's not enough, but it's a start, and I need to get things going. Give it to me!"

"You can't take it away from me, Ethel! Think about us!"

But Ethel already grabbed the jewel case with all its content.

When Aerick tried to hold on to it, Ethel shoved him to the side. The money dropped on the floor, jingling violently.

"Stupid ox!" Ethel yelled.

He felt his brother's arms pulling him back at the shoulder, which made him turn around, infuriated. In his wrath he struck out and brought the now empty jewel case with full force down on his long time companion and friend.

Aerick tumbled and with a shriek fell backwards. His head crashed into the pantry behind him.

Blood spilt all over the floor from the lifeless body.

Greed and selfishness had gotten the better of Ethel, and now he stood there, the last meager savings of his last blood relation in hand. Nobody could take the money from him now anymore, but a dear price had been paid.

Ethel felt pity for his brother, but not more than that. Blinded by his own failings Ethel was convinced that it was Aerick's own wrongdoing that had caused his demise. If he hadn't resisted, the outcome wouldn't have been as dire as it had turned out to be.

All Ethel could think now was how to cover the tracks of his ghastly crime. Luckily for him though, Aerick's wife and child were with their grandparents for a couple of days. So maybe he could arrange everything in a way to suggest that a burglar had slain him? But who steals money from a humble baker? Then a much more brilliant idea came to him: What if nobody were able to find his brother's body at all? And he knew exactly how to do that.

Thus Ethel cleaned the blood off the floorboards, took all the money he could find in his brother's house and then set out in the middle of the night. Enwrapped in the all-encompassing mantle of darkness he carried the body, which he had covered with a large sack cloth, out into the woods. It was a long and arduous journey, and in a macabre way Ethel realized that with the weight of his brother on his shoulder he felt a closeness now to him, a closeness he hadn't experienced for a long, long time. With every step he took he was reminded of Aerick, of the family ties, of the happy days they had shared. Tears ran down his face as he plodded through the chilly night with his grisly package, but he had to follow through, he told himself. It was the only way to get rid of his brother once and for all. – And then, then he wanted to begin a new life.

The clearing and the circle of stones had been waiting for another offering for quite a while. This evening they would receive it at last...

When Ethel reached his destination it was long past midnight. Wafts of fog wavered eerily over the clearing, the grass was high and lush as ever, wet and cold. The stalks felt like quivering eels around his legs when he stepped into the meadow with the lifeless baggage thrown over his shoulder.

Near the center of the circle Ethel came to a halt. He wiped the sweat from his brow, then put his brother down. Yes, Aerick would receive a very special funeral here, he thought. In his depraved mind he tried to convince himself that his brother was to experience something special at this place. It will be unlike any other, Ethel whispered. I do this for you, Aerick!

And then, like many years before, the spirits of the woods crept out of the earth to claim their offering. The winds began its sighing, howling, shrieking and out of the mist broke that serpent-like phantom, a ghostly white gust that took off on its frenetic dance. And it was heading straight towards the center of the stone circle to devour its prey.

Moments later everything was quiet again, windless, peaceful, serene.

Tickled by the warm rays and overwhelmed by the strong aroma of the flowers that were touched by the morning dew, he awoke. He blinked into the rising sun.

Looking around he found himself in midst of the stone circle he remembered from his days as a youth but hadn't visited for years. There was sack cloth around his ankles, almost as if he had used it as a sleeping bag. He also found some gold coins scattered around him and even his precious jewel case, the one in which he used to keep his savings was there.

Aerick rose. He collected everything that belonged to him and then headed off, back home.

 


Return to the Book
Click on the book's name to view the Table of Contents
or the
Click here to view the Author's Index
 

Fairy-tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile