This is my version of the Rollright Stones legend. For other versions and variations see Grinsell or Simpson and Roud.
The Rollright Stones
“All the land?” asked the king.
“All the land,” said the woman. “All the kingdoms in all the land.”
“And I would rule them?”
“You and only you.”
“Can you do it? Why should you do it?”
“I am tired of all the fighting. Kingdom on kingdom. Crops spoiled, peace shattered. Men dying.” She leant on her staff of elder wood and shook her head.
“What do I need to do?”
“Walk, my king. Walk to the brow of the hill in seven strides, and if you can see the village of Long Compton all the kingdoms will be yours.”
“If I can’t see the village?”
“The spell will fail and you will have to go to battle.”
The king stepped away, went to talk with his men. Told them they would stop for a while. They sat, glad to rest, glad to be still. They were tired, he thought. Unfit for more fighting.
A stone’s throw away, a group of knights stood in conversation. The king knew what they planned. Treachery. Betrayal. In truth his rule was over, the battle already lost. He risked losing nothing.
He returned to the spellmaker.
“Seven strides?” he asked.
“Seven, my king. And I will walk with you.”
The king set his sights on the brow of the hill. It seemed an easy thing to walk there and see the village in the valley below. Thinking again of the battle that awaited him, he gathered his energy and took a step forward.
One, two, three four… The king gained speed, covering great reaches of land with each stride.
Five, six… The woman, the witch, somehow kept pace with him – even reached the crest of the hill before him.
Just before he reached the rise, just before he took the final step and gained the view, the woman struck her staff into the ground. The earth shook, trembled, and a great mound rose before the king blocking all his view.
Seven. His foot hit the ground. He had failed. He stood a moment, rooted to the ground. Tricked. Despairing.
The woman was talking.
“You will have to fight, my king, but not now. You are needed another day.”
She struck her staff again, and even as the king thought to turn, to vent his anger at being tricked, he felt his legs become heavy, felt them sink into the ground. He felt his body stiffen, felt his arms cling to his sides, felt his breath fail him. Finally, he felt the human world fall away. His desire for power and victory evaporated. All he cared for was the touch of the wind and the call of the skylark high above him.
The woman smiled.
“Rest, king,” she said. “You and your soldiers and your scheming knights. Rest well.” She looked down to where his men stood – stiff and stone-bound like their leader.
“Rest, and I will watch over you until your time comes and you are called to arms once more.”
She struck her staff into the ground a third time and felt herself twist and become part of the wood. She felt her fingers spread into bare twigs, felt her blood turn to sap.
An elder tree on the brow of the hill, she stood and waited.