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The Stone Of Immortality
Do you want to live forever?
Susan Brassfield Cogan
Author of MURDER ON THE WATERFRONT,
Read a review from OVER MY DEAD BODY:
Order now from Amazon.com http://countess.notlong.com
Please visit my website: http://www.coganbooks.net
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
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The Stone Of Immortality
Susan Brassfield Cogan
It was daybreak when Roland topped the hill and saw the witch's cottage emerging from the mist in the valley below. Roland contemplated the cottage with some trepidation even though the heavy thatching and the low stone walls looked ordinary, almost idyllic. His horse snorted and dropped his head. Roland patted the animal's neck. He knew Aonghus would carry him anywhere--but the horse would prefer not to bear his master into a valley that smelled so strongly of magic. Horses don't often get their wishes, any more than Roland did himself. Roland urged Aonghus forward. Smoke trickled up from the chimney of the cottage but there didn't seem to be anyone about except a few chickens scratching in the yard.
As he approached, a girl emerged from the doorway. She carried a large, flat bowl and from it and began tossing handfuls of corn to the chickens who gathered excitedly pecking at the grains and flocking around her ankles. She started when she caught sight of him and forgetting the chickens, stood still, watching him approach.
"Good morning, Maiden," Roland called when he was close enough. "Is your mother about?"
"Good Morning, Sir. I will fetch her for you." With that she cast the rest of the grain out to the chickens and then turned and skipped into the cottage like a faun. He dismounted and nervously toyed with Aonghus's reins.
A few moments later a tall, handsome woman appeared. She seemed neither young nor old. Her deep brown hair was plaited into three braids and wound about with charms and ribbons. She greeted him directly and frankly but did not invite him in, nor offer him anything to eat or drink. This did not quiet Roland's misgivings, he was accustomed to peasant women who were intimidated by men riding up on large war horses with swords dangling from their belts. This woman radiated quiet assurance and strength as if he were the peasant and she the great lady. After a moment of polite speech, he got to his point.
"My father sent me to you. It is told among the people that you possess the stone of immortality. He has sent me to fetch this stone from you." Roland felt blunt and uncouth in the face of this woman's grace and nobility, but his father had told him to say just those words.
The woman smiled. "You are correct that we possess such a stone, but I will not give it to you. I have seen your father from afar. I know that he wishes to not share the fate of all men, but he will and he must." The directness of her reply set him back on his heels. Nevertheless, he gathered himself and barreled ahead.
"My father told me you would say that, and bade me tell you that you will die if you do not give me the stone." Roland drew his sword. A touch of cold fear shivered his spine, yet his palms were sweating. He wasn't sure if he could bring himself to strike her. The woman did not cower or even flinch. She gazed at him coolly and the smile did not leave her lips.
"Come! You must speak with my mother," she said. "You are obviously very determined." She stepped into the cottage, then turned and said over her shoulder, "but you may not bring a weapon into this house."
The sword slipped from his fingers. Astonished, he bent and picked it up. He dropped it again. He stared at it a moment, his heart beating wildly in his breast. He left it where it lay and followed the woman through the door.
Inside, the cottage smelled of spices and woodsmoke. He felt folded into a pervasive sense of hominess laced with a faint, sharp tang that could only be the taste of magic. The sweet young girl stood by the hearth, stirring porridge. Near her sat a very old woman, whose loose white hair flowed about her like a shawl. She was unbent and bright of eye, but frail seeming and wrapped about with a heavy cloak decorated with bits of fur and much fanciful embroidery.
"Come here, young man." Her voice was thin, but strong. She did not invite him to sit. He approached, his knees like water. "I have a message for your father." She stretched out a scrawny white hand covered with blue veins. In the withered palm was a smooth gray stone. "Take my hand," she said. Roland did not wish to bend, for fear that it would seem like a bow, so he crouched after the manner of soldiers.
Roland tried to take the stone from her palm, but it slipped from his fingers, much as his sword had done. After a couple of tries, he gave up and did as he was bid, clasping his hand over hers.
What he saw then, he never told to anyone, not even his father. Wordless pictures, laced with fear, marched before his eyes. He saw his father, a hale man of middle years wither and die. He saw himself age, come into the flower of his manhood and then wither. Roland's son was now but a babe but he saw the boy grow into a man, become a fell warrior, strong in arm and ruddy of face and then shrink, slowly descending into rotten old age. He saw the same thing over and over and over. He knew that he would someday not even be a distant memory in the minds of his far descendants who would wear strange clothing, speak strange tongues and live in strange lands far west of the sea. The ancient eyes of the old woman were black chips of obsidian. He fought to stop the visions, but they would not stop. As if from a distance he heard himself howling with terror. Struggle as he might, he could not loose his hand from that of the crone.
Sometimes, years after, when he was alone or distracted, sometimes as he fell asleep at night, the pictures would return, and he would helplessly squeeze his eyes shut to make the memory of those pictures and that morning go away. Again and again he saw his father, he saw himself, he saw his sons, and grandsons and their sons and grandsons. He saw them all wither and die in the tides of time.
He knew when spell broke it was because she was done with him. He tore his hand away from the old woman's and stumbled blindly out the door. He collided with Aonghus, who sprang into a gallop almost before Ronald was in the saddle. Roland wanted nothing in the world except to put distance between himself and the stone and the women. He rode hard until Aonghus was covered with lather and could move his limbs no more.
As far as he knew, his sword forever lay in the dooryard among the chickens.
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"It has been a while since I read your work...again this is well written. Is this the Roland of the crusades? " -- e. rocco caldwell.
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© 2003 Susan Brassfield Cogan
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