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«The Weirdstone of Brisingamen», Alan Garner

In every prayer I offer up, Alderley, and all belonging to it, will be ever a living thought in my heart.

REV. EDWARD STANLEY: 1837

The Legend of Alderley

At dawn one still October day in the long ago of the world, across the hill of Alderley, a farmer from Moberley was riding to Macclesfield fair.

The morning was dull, but mild; light mists bedimmed his way; the woods were hushed; the day promised fine. The farmer was in good spirits, and he let his horse, a milk-white mare, set her own pace, for he wanted her to arrive fresh for the market. A rich man would walk back to Mobberley that night.

So, his mind in the town while he was yet on the hill, the farmer drew near to the place known as Thieves’ Hole. And there the horse stood still and would answer to neither spur nor rein. The spur and rein she understood, and her master’s stern command, but the eyes that held her were stronger than all these.

In the middle of the path, where surely there had been no one, was an old man, tall, with long hair and beard. “You go to sell this mare,” he said. “I come here to buy. What is your price?”

But the farmer wished to sell only at the market, where he would have the choice of many offers, so he rudely bade the stranger quit the path and let him through, for if he stayed longer he would be late to the fair.

“Then go your way;” said the old man. “None will buy. And I shall await you here at sunset.”

The next moment he was gone, and the farmer could not tell how or where.

The day was warm, and the tavern cool, and all who saw the mare agreed that she was a splendid animal, the pride of Cheshire, a queen among horses; and everyone said that there was no finer beast in the town. But no one offered to buy. A sour-eyed farmer rode out of Macclesfield at the end of the day.

Near Thieves’ Hole the mare stopped: the stranger was there.

Thinking any price was now better than none, the farmer agreed to sell. “How much will you give?” he said.

“Enough. Now Come with me.”

By Seven Firs and Goldenstone they went, to Stormy Point and Saddlebole. And they halted before a great rock embedded in the hillside. The old man lifted his staff and lightly touched the rock, and it split with the noise of thunder.

At this, the farmer toppled from his plunging horse and, on his knees, begged the other to have mercy on him and let him go his way unharmed. The horse should stay; he did not want her. Only spare his life, that was enough.

The wizard, for such he was, commanded the farmer to rise. “I promise you safe conduct,” he said. “Do not be afraid: for living wonders you shall see here.”

Beyond the rock stood a pair of iron gates. These the wizard opened, and took the farmer and his horse down a narrow tunnel deep into the hill. A light, subdued but beautiful, marked their way. The passage ended, and they stepped into a cave, and there a wondrous sight met the farmer’s eyes—a hundred and forty knights in silver armour, and by the side of all but one a milk-white mare.

“Here they lie in enchanted sleep,” said the wizard, “until a day will come—and come it will—when England shall be in direst peril, and England’s mother’s weep. Then out from the hill these must ride and, in a battle thrice lost, thrice won, upon the plain, drive the enemy into the sea.”

The farmer, dumb with awe, turned with the wizard into a further cavern, and here mounds of gold and silver and precious stones lay strewn along the ground.

“Take what you can carry in payment for the horse.” And when the farmer had crammed his pockets (ample as his lands!), his shirt, and his fists with jewels. the wizard hurried him up the long tunnel and thrust him out of the gates. The farmer stumbled, the thunder rolled, he looked, and there was only the rock above him. He was alone on the hill, near Stormy Point. The broad full moon was up, and it was night.


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