Within the Shadow of Stone

Within the Shadow of Stone

by Sheri L. McGathy

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Within the Shadow of Stone is a journey through legend and myth to the time of the ancient standing stones-to a world where warriors are bound to the stone and the Shroud Born walks within the mist.

Bree of Clan Dunstan, and her people,
the Skye, worship the stones, though the
Skye fail to remember the reason why. The people no longer hear the song within

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Within the Shadow of Stone is a journey through legend and myth to the time of the ancient standing stones-to a world where warriors are bound to the stone and the Shroud Born walks within the mist.

Bree of Clan Dunstan, and her people,
the Skye, worship the stones, though the
Skye fail to remember the reason why. The people no longer hear the song within the solemn megaliths for the Skye have forgotten how to sing.

Now, as the pulse of the land slows, and the seasons falter, it is to the stones that Bree, a true
Shroud Born, must turn, and their whispers she must hear. For within the still forms is a truth that could save her, and the stones, if only she will listen to their call.

~ When your need is truly great,
the stone shall not forsake. ~

Original trade size available via Double Dragon Publishing

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Year of the Stone 1200
~ We Will All Come ~

When your need is truly great, the stone shall not forsake...

Bree read the familiar words one more time before slowly, carefully, closing the ancient tome. She glanced at the graying sky and sighed. She knew her grandfather, Shanis, would worry if she didn't return from the mound soon, yet she lingered.

She trailed her fingertips lightly across the cracked leather cover as she looked upon the stones. "Ah, when I'm grown and named true, I will find a way to awaken you. I promise."

A cool breeze answered her. She closed her eyes to its feathery touch and smiled as it caressed her brow.

Gathering her boots in one hand and clutching the precious tome in the other, she stood and headed toward the footpath that would take her home. When she neared the altar centered within the ancient circle, she paused. Bowing her head, she offered silent praise to the Goddess Hertha.

The soft crunch of dry grass sounded behind her.

She froze, her breath caught in her throat while the pounding of her heart resounded in her ears. Every nerve in her body tingled, warning her she wasn't alone. Her mind screamed for her to run, yet her body remained a captive of her fear. The lengthening shadows cast by the tall pillar stones crept forward to envelop her in velvety blackness. Bree shivered as the darkness passed over her.

Tracing a small circle in the air before her, she whispered, "Hertha, give me strength." She took one small step forward, then another. Her lower lip trembled as she toyed with the black tips of her long braid and stared down at the ground while continuing toward the path. Whenshe reached the edge of the inner circle, she paused and listened, but heard nothing except the wind as it sang amongst the standing stones.

Off to her right, she saw the beckoning lights from the village of Dunstan as they winked on in the valley below. Her clan was so near, yet too far from the mound to be of any aid.

My cries will go unanswered.

Sun Orb was slipping into the shadow realm, soon to abandon the sky to a newly-risen Moon Orb. The moon's full face loomed before her, its glow fighting the pale light from Sun Orb for dominance to create a crosshatched pattern of light and dark upon the ground. Bree had never seen Eldin's Circle, or the stones within, lit so.

The crusty sound of a footfall came again.

Licking her dry lips, she forced her mind to calm and took a tentative step forward, then another. Ready, she counseled. Then, bunching her muscles, she made to run. Now!

She sprinted forward, only to have her head snapped backward by a sudden yank on her braided ponytail. Losing her footing, she fell back upon the hard ground, the impact forcing the breath to leave her body in one great rush. White spots spun before her eyes and her stomach churned, threatening to spill its contents. Blinking rapidly, she tried to clear her vision, but to no avail.

When she opened her mouth to scream, a heavy weight pressed down on her throat, the pressure hard enough to silence her protests, yet light enough to allow her to take painful, ragged pulls of air.

"You, Bree, of Clan Dunstan, will be announced Shroud Born on the morrow. Is this not true?"

The deep, gravelly sound of his voice sent a new wave of panic through her. Alric of Clan Tynan.

She tried to answer, but his foot on her throat wouldn't allow it. When he lifted his boot and reached down, she attempted to roll away. Alric snarled, the sound building from deep within his chest to escape through his clenched teeth. Grabbing her braid, he forced her to her feet. "Answer me, child!"

Summoning courage she didn't realize she possessed, she met his stare and said, "Aye. I will be thirteen winters come the morrow."

Alric leaned in close. His hot breath spilled across her face as he said, "Thirteen winters. Good. Time for you to declare."

She tried to step away, but his grip on her braid tightened. He forced her head back and stared down into her eyes, his nose mere inches from her own. "Shanis says you've not chosen."

His dark eyes seemed to seek her soul, the emotions reflected in the liquid depths frightening her more than the man himself. He laughed and turned to address others that until now she hadn't known were there. "Come the morrow, she will declare for me. You all shall stand as witness."

Placing his cheek against hers, he whispered near her ear, "Your pledge, by any means it takes to get it."

"Y-- Y-- You don't want m-- me," Bree stammered, near tears. "I'm b-- but a child while you're near g-- grown."

"Aye, a child now, but you'll grow, and one day soon you'll be named true, and I intend to be the one to dance you through the stones -- as your chosen." He held her at arm's length and raked his dark gaze over her, then spat on the ground. He grabbed her chin and forced her to look into his eyes. "Yet, you are correct. I don't want you -- you and your clan, I loathe."

"Then why?" Bree whispered. Tears that had been threatening to escape now ran free.

"I want what you will bestow," Alric said around a tightly clenched jaw. "You shall give me the power I seek."

"Power? I have no--" She lifted her eyes to his and knew fear. "Let me go! I want to go home. Only home. I don't want you." She kicked outward, connecting with his knee.

Laughter filtered out from the shadows.

Alric snarled. "You little brat. When you're mine, I'll make you regret your impudence -- you and your pious Dunstan blood."

Sun Orb had fled the sky, leaving behind the chilling light of Moon Orb. The stones stood sentinel, cold and silent, their presence mocking her. She opened her mouth and screamed. The wind trapped her cry and sent it back at her in haunting wails.

Alric grabbed her arm and swung her around to face the stone altar in the center of the circle. Twisting her arm behind her back, he drove her to her knees. "Swear it on the altar! Swear I'm to be your chosen!"

Bree shook her head. Tears coursed down her cheeks and fell in heavy drops upon the ground.

Alric forced her to face him. "Submit!" he demanded, shaking her so violently that his own black hair escaped its binding and tumbled free about his face.

"No!" Bree yelled, surprised by her own defiance.

"My friends," Alric called over his shoulder. "It seems we have a standoff." He laughed again. "It appears this will be a long eve."

Their answering laughter did little to comfort Bree.

With her eyelids closed against the reality of the moment, she silently begged, Hertha, my goddess so pure, please help me?

Bree didn't see the blow coming. Her head snapped back, and blood trickled down her chin. Her eyes popped open just in time to see the second blow descend upon her. She fell sideways, away from Alric, and landed at the base of one of the standing stones. Her blood pooled there, reflecting the light of Moon Orb within its spreading depths. This night, she thought, perhaps she would die.

She laid her cheek against the hard surface of the Spirit Stone. Goddess, please hear me? There is need.

As if in answer to her plea, the circle shook beneath her, the movement closely partnered with the roar of thunder. A blast of wind hissed past her. Upon its breath rode the sound of stone cracking.

Bree lifted her head, her eyes wide, as she searched the shadows. Alric grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet. "Submit!"

The rumble of thunder vibrated the very air within the circle.

Alric paused, his hand halted above her face.

Bree dared not move. She continued to silently chant as hope began to work its way into her dazed mind. To me. To me. To me.

Light? The circle was awash in a dazzling, near blinding aura of white light. She shielded her eyes against the glare.

Alric released his hold on her and stepped away, his dark eyes no longer shining with the assurance of a moment ago.

Beside each stone, shapes formed, swirling and building from an eddy of light that twisted the unnatural rays into tall, battle-hardened warriors. They pulled their swords and surrounded the circle, their weapons aimed at the men who had come to witness Alric beat a child into submission.

Behind Alric, Bree saw another figure enter the circle, his form bathed in the same unnatural light. He, too, was a warrior, but somehow, he stood apart -- the same, yet different.

The warrior raised his sword toward Alric and in a strong, deep voice said, "Release the maid and begone."

Alric swung about, his weapon drawn, but was met with the tip of the stranger's blade positioned against his throat.

Bree blinked. She hadn't seen the warrior move.

Alric cocked a dark brow at the man. "You, stranger, seek to interfere in matters not your own. I suggest you move on."

The warrior nodded toward Bree. "The blood calls. 'Tis you that interferes. Begone, or accept your fate."

"Who are you to tell me what to do?" Alric moved to attack.

Quicker than the eye could detect, the warrior's sword tipped up to nick Alric's chin. Blood welled up from the vertical cut and coursed downward to stain his tunic.

The warrior stepped closer, his sword held out before him as if it weighed nothing. "Again I say, begone from here, this place of sacred stones."

Backing away from the weapon's sharp tip, Alric waved a hand toward his companions. The warrior never lowered his sword.

Bree's knees grew weak. She sank down to the ground and huddled against the stone's base. As Alric passed by, he pointed his finger toward her and warned, "I'm not finished with you, girl. On the morrow, you will do what you're told."

She cringed away from him and the warrior was there, his sword again aimed at Alric's throat.

Alric backed away with his hands held up before him. His companions, all from Clan Tynan, pulled on his arms and pushed on his back. Alric shrugged them off and turned toward the path, but before he cleared the circle he swung around and shouted, "You've not won, stranger. Only postponed what will now be war between us."

The warrior brought his sword up in a mocking salute.

Alric growled, then spat on the ground. As he crested the mound, he pointed toward them. "This isn't over. You have my promise."

Bree remained silent, afraid to move as she listened to Alric and his friends thrash their way down the path that would take them back to the road. In time, she no longer heard even that. Once assured they were truly gone, she slumped against the smooth surface of the stone.

She bowed her head and surrendered to a flood of tears; the force of the sobs racked her small frame and blurred her vision. A hand beneath her chin coaxed her face upward while gentle fingertips wiped the moisture from her cheeks. She lifted her gaze to meet that of the warrior's. Within his ice-blue stare, she saw compassion.

"Come," he whispered. "Rest your head upon my shoulder and sleep. Dream, and I will keep you safe through this night. Come the morn, your kin will find you and you will again be back upon your chosen path."

Trusting completely, but not understanding why, she took his hand. His nearness sent a gentle calm over and through her. Standing on shaky legs, she allowed herself to be picked up and cradled in his arms. Leaning her cheek upon his chest, rocked in the safety of his embrace, she soon fell asleep.

When Sun Orb rose the next day, she awoke alone, resting against the base of the large Spirit Stone.

"Bree, girl," she heard her grandfather's voice call out. "Where are you?"

She rose. Laying her small hand against the stone's side, she whispered, "Dream... until the time you are again free."

Turning away, she called out, "Here, Shanis, I'm here," and walked from the circle, leaving the stones to their secrets as they kept their silent vigil at the top of Wystan Mound.

Copyright © 2004 by Sheri L. McGathy

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