Thirteen Maidens by Anna Reith

Olly loves stone circles. Jason loves Olly, and so begins a week’s holiday monument-hopping in Wiltshire. But is it really dangerous to dance among the stones?

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Thirteen Maidens by Anna Reith

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Thirteen Maidens by Anna Reith

Olly loves stone circles. Jason loves Olly, and so begins a week’s holiday monument-hopping in Wiltshire. But is it really dangerous to dance among the stones?

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Description

Olly loves stone circles. Jason loves Olly, and so begins a week’s holiday monument-hopping in Wiltshire. But is it really dangerous to dance among the stones?

When the young couple book into a chintzy, traditional guest-house in rural Wiltshire, they’re set to experience all the delights of a break in the English countryside. For a start, it never seems to stop raining.

Jason doesn’t share his boyfriend’s enthusiasm for ancient monuments – or his fascination with local circle, the Thirteen Maidens – but, as he evaluates what this time means to him, and to Olly, it becomes clear that the stones exert a strange pull over them both.

 


This short story is also available in the volume ‘Black Ice: collected stories’, which can be purchased in ebook and paperback formats.


 

Additional information

Writer

Anna Reith

ISBN

978-1-907623-09-7

Kindle ASIN

B004OEISXY

Length

9,470 words (29 .pdf pages)

Cover design

Anna Reith. Original photography by Simon Hattinga Verschure.

Format

ebook

Read an excerpt


THIRTEEN MAIDENS

© Anna Reith. All rights reserved.


It wasn’t even a big field, just a sludgy smear of green and brown under grey, lowering clouds. The stones rose from the grass in a rough circle, leaning like drunken men and rubbing insistently against the underside of the sky. At the mouth of the henge, not far from the gate that led back down to the road, there stood a blue-and-white sign, slightly bent, supported by two weathered metal poles.

“Ooh, look!” Olly said disingenuously, letting his backpack slide from his shoulder and setting it down by his feet. “An information plaque.”

He must have spotted it from the far end of the road, Jason decided, probably using the super-powered hawk vision he had where totally irrelevant and boring things were concerned.

Jason opened his mouth to suggest that while this boggy, muddy, dead-and-alive hole of a village—and its various uniformly grey, stony, depressing monuments—were of course utterly fascinating, perhaps they could come back later to look. The bed-and-breakfast they were supposed to be checking into, with all the promise of hot water and central heating, appealed to him so much more right now than any stone circle possibly could.

“I bet this is another bluestone monument,” Olly said, exhibiting a total lack of any mind-reading ability whatsoever.

Jason swore under his breath. He watched Olly cut away across the wet grass with springy, optimistic strides: a rangy, lean figure, with rain frosting his spiky black hair and misting his glasses. He turned his head to call back to Jason, the red-and-blue nylon of his parka rustling against the clammy breeze.

“Don’t you think? The guidebook says the whole area has loads of them… from Hillbury to Milford, right up to Avebury. Like a network or something.”

Jason gave a non-committal grunt, but dumped his backpack next to Olly’s on the cleanest tussock of grass he could find. He followed his boyfriend over to the information board, picking his way through the sludgy ruts of churned mud, which seeped with brown, brackish water that—oh, yes, of course—immediately oozed its way into the toes of his trainers.

“It says here,” Olly wiped the rain from the plaque and squinted at it, “they brought some of the stones all the way from Wales. How d’you think they did that? Log rollers?”

Jason shrugged.

“I really have no idea,” he said.

His feet were cold, and now also soggy and—as far as he could see—damp, obscure parts of the English countryside offered little worth looking at, especially in weather like this. But Olly had a thing for ancient history, and he’d wanted to go stone circle hopping for ages.

Besides, it wasn’t like Jason could actually refuse him anything.

To his mind, if it made Olly happy it was worth doing… and that was the whole reason behind taking this break. It was something Olly had always wanted to do and, Jason supposed, there might even be something to be said for taking a week out in an isolated guesthouse. Not exactly the perfect holiday he’d dreamed of—the two of them soaking up the sun on some fabulous Barbadian getaway, or making love in front of a roaring Highland fire—but it was something.

Anyway, maybe it was still a little soon for them to plunge into anything too major together. There were unwritten rules about that, right? Guidelines that governed how soon could be considered appropriate for all those complicated milestones. Their first trip away, first full foreign holiday, and one day maybe even their first flat, first shared furniture, kitchen appliances, and all the other mundane minutiae of life. Jason could imagine it all too well, which he supposed ought to embarrass him.

Was it normal to fantasise about picking out shower curtains?

They hadn’t been dating all that long. Not long at all, really, though Jason couldn’t help feeling as if they’d known each other forever.

That’s a good thing, right?

Olly rocked back on one foot and looked consideringly at the stones.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, log rollers is a possibility, but it’s a hell of an undertaking. I think it’s more likely you’d have to get ’em on some kind of sled or something, but surely the weight of the stone would—”

“Like I said,” Jason cut in curtly, roseate future-visions of bathroom fittings and bedspreads momentarily shelved, “I have no idea. D’you think we could just go, find the B&B, and get our stuff dropped off… maybe before we start exploring?”

His words fell on deaf ears, just as he knew they would. Jason sighed. Olly had already wandered off to the far side of the ring, an expression of intense concentration on his face, and it sounded like he was muttering something about electromagnetism.

They’d booked a room in a bed-and-breakfast in the centre of the village—or at least what passed for it. Hillbury was tiny, even among the myriad of insignificant dots on this particular part of the map. It had already been a quarter-mile walk from the nearest station, a decrepit branch line terminus that had somehow escaped the Beeching cuts of the Sixties and kept open one weak capillary of transport to this deserted spot.

Olly had picked it, of course. Found a cheap special offer rate on the internet, commented pointedly how gorgeous the guesthouse looked in the photographs—See? Parts of it date back to the sixteenth century!—and enthused about the easy access to Stonehenge. That famous landmark lay a few miles to the east, but the landscape in between was peppered with a plethora of other, lesser-known circles. Olly could list at least half a dozen from memory, naturally. He also knew the difference between dolmens, sarsens, monoliths, and menhirs, and Jason had been learning far more than he’d ever needed to know about any of them.

Rain dripped off Jason’s nose, and he burrowed his chin further into the funnel neck of his jacket. He didn’t want to be here. For all his protestations about the irrelevance of ancient history and the pointlessness of speculating about uses of prehistoric sites in unprovable theories, something about the stones unsettled him.

The great mossy forms glowered down at him, lumpen, but it seemed not hewn by time or even primitive tools. It was like they’d just grown out of the land, living things that watched him with unseen eyes, their heavy, fossilized faces scowling at this insolent interloper.

He looked over at Olly again: still gazing up at the rocks, hypnotised and apparently oblivious to the cold needles of rain. He seemed to be counting as he paced back around the edge of the circle, returning to look at the information board, as if he’d just discovered something worthy of new comparison.

“Olly! Let’s go. C’mon… it’s pissing down.”

“In a minute.”

Jason dug his hands deeper into his pockets and scowled. Olly could be so bloody stubborn. Right now, Jason didn’t want much more beyond a hot shower, perhaps a bite to eat, and the promise of a warm bed they could curl into later, away from the gnawing wind and the slithering dampness of the air. He might be fond of the guy, but he didn’t want to martyr himself to pneumonia.

“You should come look at this! It’s really interesting.”

Jason grumbled to himself but trudged across the sticky grass.

“Yeah, sure. ‘We don’t know who built it or what it was for, but it’s really old, so let’s all go oooh.’”

Olly reached out and pulled him close enough to see the board, threading his arm through the crook of Jason’s elbow.

“See? It says this circle’s called the Thirteen Maidens. They all have names, the stones. Like they’re a part of the landscape, part of the community.” Olly drew in his upper lip, like he always did when he was thinking. “I dunno why they’re called that, though.”

Jason squinted around the field. “Four, six…. There’s only eleven stones.”

“Well, some fall down over time. The locals used to bury them or break ’em up for building, hundreds of years ago.”

“What, before they invented the tourist industry?”

“Ha ha. They called it stone-killing.”

Jason shivered. The clouds were skimming the trees, curtains of rain drawing in over the plains.

“Can we go now?”

Olly rolled his eyes. “All right. But if you’re going to begrudge it so much, I don’t know why you even bothered to—”

“I’m cold, wet, and knackered. That’s all.”

To Jason’s surprise, Olly reached for his hand, curled his fingers around it, and squeezed.

“Okay. Come on.”

It didn’t take long to reach the B&B, even with sodden backpacks and tired legs, though it was hardly the most pleasant of walks. The rain seemed to swirl in from the downlands, great raw gusts of it angled to swipe at any exposed bit of skin. Jason peered sidelong at Olly, unable to bite down a smile at the way his damp cheeks had grown pink, his glasses fogged. He seemed to feel Jason’s gaze on him, because he glanced over and grinned sheepishly.

“Hot bath when we get in. Promise.”

“Yeah,” Jason murmured. “I’ll hold you to that.”


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