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
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.
Image description. An elven circle of
standing stones, probably erected by elves
thousands of years ago.
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
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,
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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.