I have a fascination with old standing stones, stone circles and other such ancient sites. I recently came across this story in Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia about a “ring of great stones”, but I wonder which, if any, stone circle it is based on.
THE RING OF GREAT STONES
Volume 7, p.4737-8
On a barren plain, three miles from a river, there stands a ring of huge stones. Perhaps they were once part of a Druid temple. Perhaps they were set up in the days of giants. Some folk are afraid to go near them at dusk, but there was once a boy to whom they were good friends.
His name was John, and he kept his flocks on the plain. The stones gave him the only shelter to be found. In the long, lonely days they almost became companions. He invented names for the monsters, and knew them all apart.
In his village there lived a sorcerer who understood the language of animals. One day he heard two birds gossiping in the rose bush under his window.
“Do you know,” said one, “what will happen this Midsummer’s Eve? The great stones will rise out of the earth at midnight, and rush down to the river to drink. Then they must return and thirst for another hundred years. That’s not all. In the pits where they stood great heaps of treasure will be left revealed. But, if a man takes it, the gold and jewels will turn to dust by dawn unless he gives a human life in exchange.”
The sorcerer immediately began to think whose life he could give the stones in exchange for their treasure. As John, the shepherd boy, had no parents and was very poor he seemed the safest victim to be found. First binding the boy to secrecy, the sorcerer told him how the stones would go to drink and leave the treasures unguarded; but he did not say that the stones demanded a human life from the thief. He told the boy to meet him by the stones at midnight.
At first John was very grateful to the are quite right, John ! But the stones love you, and gladly give you leave to take some of their wealth. Only you must cut a long trail of honeysuckle from the bush by the ford and lay it by this stone. You shall only take treasure from the pit where this same stone was standing. Tell no one what you have just heard.”
With a light heart the boy hastened to do as he was told.
That night, a little before the appointed time, he went across the plain. Already the sorcerer cowered in the bushes. At midnight a cloud veiled the sky. A wailing wind sprang up. The earth shuddered and heaved. There was a clap of thunder, and the great stones rose out of the earth and rushed across the plain.
John hurried to the pit where the trail of honeysuckle lay’. It was deep, but he saw something glittering below. He leaped down. The sorcerer had brought seven sacks, but John was content to fill his pockets with jewels worth a king’s ransom. He was dazzled by what he saw; the pit was glowing with the gems’ own radiance.
Very soon, it seemed, he heard the rumble of thunder sweeping toward him, and hammer blows, as of mountains clashing together. The stones were returning.
Now John realised that the steep sides of the pit were as hard and slippery as iron. It was impossible to get out. He could hear the sorcerer shrieking from another pit. They would both be killed.
Then in a flash of lightning, he saw the furry-eared boy standing on the rim of the pit lowering the trail of honeysuckle down to him. John grasped it, and was hauled to the upper ground by the fairy rope. He had barely time to leap aside before the stones sank into their place with sullen groans. Then there fell upon them the silence of a hundred years.
The sorcerer was never seen again, but no one in the village mourned for him. As for the youth, though he became a wealthy landowner and kept sheep on the plain no more, he often came and sat in the shadow of the stones, for, even before they enriched him, he had possessed one great treasure of his own — a grateful heart.