The Dragon Ring (Excerpt)
The circle at the top of the spiral path was complete even if the stones were mostly broken. At its far edge hulked the unlikely tumble of boulders known as the Raven’s Eye, which some said was the granite core of the hill with the top soil worn away by the constant wind (it was) and some said was a door into Faerie, and who could say? It was like a door. From two sides, slabs of granite had fallen or perhaps been laid by giants against and on top of each other, leaving a low squarish archway just big enough for a grown man and his son to sit under without banging their heads. Not so long ago, women had come up here to be passed through the arch when they wanted to get pregnant. On school holidays, teenagers came up here to get high.
Just now, Ben Harper sat on the ground in that archway and contemplated the view. He listened to the breeze hum through the sparse grasses and furze, imagining the men who had so long ago raised this spiral, singing to the sky.
A slight grumble of earth and stone made him shiver. Louder, the sound coming from directly beneath him. To a California boy that’s not especially alarming, except that earthquakes seldom happen in Britain. Dust and grit sifted down from the stones over his head, though, and that made him jump. The air shimmered around him as the rumble grew louder. And the earth shook more seriously now.
A California boy also knows when it’s time to get out of the building. So he was on the other side of the circle, breathing hard, when the rumble became a sound like pounding hooves, like moor ponies teased by elf riders to a gallop, like the planet rifting open. And as he watched it, the space under the stone arch fell away with a hideous crack, and as the dust settled a ramp could be clearly seen sloping down into the hill.
Out of somewhere impossible, a stocky grey Dartmoor pony hauled itself up into the clear air and shook its mane, looking fat and well fed. Behind him came a pair of spotted ponies, white and black, and a bay with black mane and tail, nudging a bright-eyed foal. Six or seven more, the last two bearing riders with limbs so long and slender and with faces so wild there could be no mistaking them for human.
Ben stared and shook himself, knuckled his eyes to be sure of what he saw. The ponies cantered past him and came to a rest just outside the stone circle, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world. In moments they were all calmly grazing and frisking amongst themselves, snorting their pleasure at being again under the familiar sky.
The two almond-eyed riders leapt to the ground, graceful as Minoan bull dancers, and with a few melodic words and a friendly smack or two encouraged the ponies to wander towards home. That done, their pointed faces alight with humor, they each threw Ben a mocking salute and strolled fading into the long twilight over the brow of the hill.