On April 15th, eXtasy published Standing Stone, a novelette I originally sold to a now out-of-print anthology. I appreciate the original publisher returning all rights to the authors as quickly as they did, and since then, Standing Stone has been looking for a home.
I think, for any writer, returning to a work from the early seasons is always a nervous business. It was with some hesitation that I opened the file to see about edits. Modesty aside, I was very happy with how much I still liked Standing Stone, and at how little touch-up I needed to do!
This short book is comprised of three stories, all set in a valley in Northern Europe, but spanning thousands of years. All three parts revolve around the titular stone, an ancient altar to the gods and goddesses of prehistoric Europe. Part one is set in the Bronze Age, where a mushroom-crazed shaman meets a tribal witch under the powerful influence of a new moon. Part two takes place in the early days of the Holy Roman Empire, with a full moon in the sky, and part three is set in the third decade of the 21st Century, where a crone moon lies nearly hidden behind world-blanketing smoke arising from the pyre of civilization. Standing Stone is a very romantic story and an optimistic one, but like all of life, there are shadows too. Ultimately, life is about the journeys we take, through darkness and light, and for some, the discovery of a love that binds paired souls to one divine place…
Here’s an excerpt from the second chapter:
She took Olavus’ hand and led him into the forest. It grew wild, untouched by any axe, the trees like towers, the tangle of their branches defying the light of the rising sun. It seemed they walked for a long time in a golden haze and soon the clanking of his armor's scales sounded like so much rage and fire. He tried to tread with a softer foot.
"If you are not Roman," she asked him. "Who are you?"
"I told you. I serve Kang Karl and he is the vassal of God through the glory of Christ."
"Yes," she said, and they walked in silence for a while.
The trees thinned and bright cries of a hunting hawk echoed distantly.
"What happened to the boy's father?" Olavus asked her.
She shrugged. "He sickened when the moon was dark and died when it was full."
"I am sorry, Vreni." He wanted to put his arm around her but, in truth, he feared her.
"What happened to your son?" she asked.
His heart bled pain. How did she know?
"I was sent east, against…pagans, and I left him in Westphalia with his mother, where they should've been safe. The Saxons came. My wife and son were gone when I returned, without even graves to mark where they had died."
They emerged from the forest and into the bright morning. Beyond a little field of tall grass, he saw a standing stone, the gray of noonday shadows, in a cluster of young oak trees. Before the monolith, a rough stone altar glinted with offerings and Olavus knew it to be an abomination to God. His heart began to pound like a fist in a cage of bone.
She led him through the grass. Soft summer heat teased a trickle of sweat from under his helmet. The altar before the pagan shrine lay cluttered with offerings, and he wondered what lives might have been sacrificed here. Behind the stone, a shallow pit had been dug and filled with dry branches and boughs of pine, where fire would burn to the glory of the witch's god, like the rites of Moloch and Ba'al, Odin and Mahomet the god of the Moors.
"This is a holy place," Vreni said to him. "We pray and Moan protects us."
"Do you know why I have come here?" he asked.
She said nothing, but knelt before the altar, her thin shift brushing the backs of her calves. The curve of her butt was round and full. He felt his cock stirring and, in spite of the grimness of his errand, he had to hide a grin of wonder.
He had not wanted any woman since Westphalia, since Calia died, and now, may God preserve his soul, he wanted this one.
His words emerged in a whisper, harsher than he meant it, the exact sentence the priest had given him.
"I am here by command of the Church of St. Peter, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to bring the word of truth to your valley, and if you will not hear it, to temper your people until you embrace the true faith and renounce your false gods."
She looked at him over her shoulder and he saw fear in her eyes and sorrow.
"I will not harm you," he told her. "Nor will my men, but we must return from this valley with word that you have converted."
She settled and stretched her bare legs before the altar, resting on one hand, looking up at him with eyes that had turned to azure. Her shift rode low on her breasts and he saw their soft brown swell, the line of a stiffened nipple beneath the linen. "If you harm even one person here, you will have to kill me," she said quietly.
"Yes," he said. "I know."
Copyright 2012 Angela Caperton. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.