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The Hidden Nexus

Under the summer sun, Farenc Weatherly labored to clear the brush and small trees for his daughter-in-law’s future vineyard.  It was sweaty work, and he paused for a breather on the edge of the wood.  He pushed his old straw hat back on his head and mopped his brow with the red scarf that he wore around his neck.  With his hat off, a white scar from an old injury was visible, tracing a jagged line into his greying hair.  His tanned face was rutted with the other lines that came with age and an outdoor life, but his gray-green eyes reflected a wisdom garnered from a lifetime of working the land.  Farenc’s passion was building things to last and shaping things with his own two hands, transforming wild resources into something useful and beautiful.  On his lapel he wore a small gold pin in the shape of a forget-me-not flower, the symbol of his Emlaradian guild, and on his finger was a gold signet with a square and compass engraved upon it, the guild’s Earthly counterpart.  He was a man of two worlds, like his stepson, Cedric, whom he had come to assist, bringing his valuable knowledge of agriculture and viticulture with him. 

        Farenc uncorked the water skin slung over his shoulder and took a long, grateful drink.  He smiled faintly as he cast an eye over his crew hard at work with their axes and reaping hooks; the richness of the soil was evident wherever the workmen uprooted the thorny bushes.  It was good farmland, with dark soil trending to sandy loam along the slopes where the vineyard would be.  He watched as the men harnessed a huge perchal, a massive equine breed that dwarfed the largest plow horse, to pull a large stump from the ground.  The men at the harnesses handled the huge beast expertly as the huge horse ripped the stump from the earth and dragged it toward the growing slash pile.  One stump down, a hundred to go, Farenc thought.  With only the ten men that Cedric had given him to work with, it would take weeks to clear enough land for crops.  No time to dally.  He picked up his brush hook to return to work when he saw one of the work crew approaching him from the edge of the forest.

        “Master Weatherly,” the young man called out, “Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but I’ve found something in the forest that I think you should see.”

         “What's that, Davood?”  Farenc asked .  He laid aside his brush hook, secretly thankful for a reason to extend his break from work a few minutes longer.

        “Well, sir – it’s one of them rings, like in the folk tales.  Back there in the forest.”  Davood pointed to the woods.  “I never seen anything like it.  I don’t know quite how to describe it…”

        “A ring?” Farenc cut him off.  “Show me.”  He was never one to waste words, and seeing was believing, as he was fond of saying.

        Farenc followed the young man into the wood.  Farenc's age was beginning to show; he walked with a slight limp acquired in the same accident that had scarred his scalp, and he took his time over the uneven ground.  The outer edge of the forest was thick with smaller trees and brush, but as the two men ventured further into the woods, the trees became larger and the walking became easier.  Dappled sunlight filtered through the canopy over their heads, and the quiet of the woods deepened.  Soon they could no longer hear the clearing crew at work; only a few birdcalls, the chattering of squirrels, and occasional chirrup of the forest’s feral mustalids disturbed the silence.  In the distance a vixen screeched briefly but fell silent.  The two men crossed a tiny creek that wound its way through the woods, stepping gingerly across on mossy boulders.  Farenc continued to follow Davood through a small glen, thick with ferns and broad-leafed polydendrons, and into a grove of huge ironwood trees beyond.  They were deep in the woods now.  Farenc was considering calling a halt to this excursion when another, larger clearing appeared. 

        “That’s it just ahead,” Davood called back.  “Not much further now.”

        From a distance it seemed like just another natural forest glade, but as they drew closer Farenc saw the stones.  The clearing itself was perhaps a hundred paces across, and perfectly circular.  But it was immediately apparent that the stones in the clearing were anything but natural.  The glade’s outer perimeter was marked by a series of low cairns of rocks piled at regular intervals, covered in moss and almost indistinguishable from their natural surroundings.  But just inside this rough perimeter stood a circular formation of tall, massive stones – jagged menhirs, each roughly twice the height of a man – standing like silent sentinels in the shaded dell.   Dark and brooding, the stones emanated a mysterious power that could be felt even from this distance.

        Farenc counted twelve huge menhirs that made up the ring, equally spaced around the perimeter.  Their jagged tops curved slightly inwards, toward the center of the ring, vaguely suggestive of a huge stone claw or talons protruding from the ground.  It was clear that these jutting crags of black rock had been erected here, but by whom or for what purpose Farenc had no idea.  He noticed how the ring stones were partially overgrown with moss and vines; gray lichens dotted their surfaces.  Their deeply weathered patina suggested they had stood here for a very long time – clearly for many centuries.

        When Farenc stepped beyond the boundary cairns and into the ring, he suddenly became aware of how quiet it was here.  No birds sang, no wind blew, and not even the drone of insects disturbed the silence.  The sunlight shining through the trees played across the standing stones in complex patterns of light and shadow, lending a mysterious air to the scene.  The subtle but unmistakable hint of magic emanating from the stones suggested some arcane design, but whatever purpose these stones might have served in the dim past remained a mystery.  Farenc advanced several steps into the ring, fascinated by what he saw around him.  By contrast, Davood held back among the trees, clearly unsettled by this place.  Farenc smiled faintly at the man’s fear.  Irelings could be a superstitious lot.

        Under Farenc’s feet a tangle of ferns, vines, and bracken completely covered the ground in a wild, spongy growth.  Looking around, he noticed that the ground inside the ring was perfectly flat except in its center, where the growth had climbed up to cover a raised formation of some kind, the stone edges of which peeked through the greenery at several places.  Farenc walked slowly around the ring, studying this central pedestal from all sides.  It stood slightly higher than the forest floor, was flat on top, and definitely regular in shape.  It was not a natural rock formation, that much seemed clear.  As Farenc moved closer, he perceived that the vines and creepers concealed a huge stone hexagon, about thirty feet across and two feet high.  Bending down, he carefully pulled away some of the bracken at the edge of the stone.  Underneath he saw writing engraved in the stone; ancient runes carved deeply into the rock.  The arcane symbols wove a complex interweaving patter that ran around the circumference of the stone platform.  The writing was no language that Farenc recognized.  Perhaps the structure was a stone altar of some kind; he knew such places could harbor secret powers and were not to be taken lightly.  It made him suddenly uncomfortable just being close to it.  He released the vines and stepped back; the vines draped themselves slowly over the stone to conceal it once more.  Suddenly Davood’s fears did not seem quite so silly anymore.  He backed away and returned to where the young man waited for him at the tree line.

        “How did you discover this place?” Farenc asked.

        “My dog, sir.  He usually stays close by when I work, but today he run off into the woods, chasin’ a coney.  When he didn’t come back, I went a-lookin’ for him, which is how I come across this here clearing.”

        “All right,” Farenc replied.  “Who else have you told about this?”

        “Not a soul, sir.  I figgered I should come straight to you.”

        “Good.  You did the right thing.”  Farenc gazed at the clearing once more.  An ominous pall seemed to have fallen over the clearing with their arrival.    “I think you’d better keep this to yourself for now.  I’ll fetch the archeologist to have a look, and I don’t want a bunch of people tramping around here until he’s had a chance to examine it.  Understood?”

        “My word on it.”  Davood replied, touching his forehead in a brief salute.  “Can I look go for my hound now, sir?  He’s still missin’.”

        “Course you can.  But see to it your work is not neglected.  The Garamonds don’t pay you to play with your dog all day.  Now be off with you.”

        After Davood had gone, Farenc stood for a while longer under the ancient oaks and ironwood trees that rimmed the clearing.  He was aware that there were rings similar to this on Earth, but as far as he knew, none of those held any special power, at least not anymore.  This one did.  Although Farenc was not personally inclined to magic, he could sense its presence.  This ring of standing stones and the strange pedestal at its center was a place of power, of that much he was certain.  It was an important discovery and Cedric would want to know about it.

        Farenc decided to have one more look inside the ring before leaving.  He stepped into the glade once more and was circumnavigating the ring for a second time, being careful not to trip on the ropy, clinging bracken, when he noticed a lump in the otherwise uniform carpet of growth, like a large rock hidden underneath the vines.  Curious, he stepped closer and poked it with his foot.  It was not a rock; the toe of his boot had struck something soft.  He knelt down and pulled away the vines that covered it.  Underneath the bracken he found the dog. 

        The poor creature had been dead only a matter of hours, but its body was already beginning to decompose.  Shocked by the sight, Farenc jerked his hand back, suddenly afraid.  As he watched in incredulity, the vines slowly entwined themselves about the corpse like snakes and covered it once again.  Farenc stood up and slowly backed away.  The strange silence of the glade seemed suddenly oppressive.  The mysterious ring of stones loomed ominously about him like the teeth of a huge animal trap, just waiting for him to make the wrong move.  He looked up; the sunlit sky overhead seemed to grow darker somehow.  Hardly daring to breathe, Farenc retreated slowly from the clearing, retracing his footsteps as nearly as possible.  When he reached the trees once again, the sounds of the forest and the dappled sunlight returned, rapidly dispelling the strange atmosphere of the ring.  Only then did Farenc noticed that his hands were trembling and sweat drenched his brow.  He drew forth his bandana and wiped his face as he anxiously regarded the strange ring.  He was not a superstitious man, but he was loath to step within the perimeter again.  One thing was certain: Lord Cedric needed to be told about this place before anyone else stumbled across it.  Mastering his fears, the old man turned and limped back through the gloomy forest toward the sunlit clearing where his men toiled in blissful ignorance...

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