A tale of Long Meg
A tale of Long Meg, the Witch Queen of Salkeld, and Her Daughters – as set down by Wyndrake Winterheart, of the Noble House of Winterheart, Duke of Keswick and Lord of the Fells
Near the village of Little Salkeld stands the stone circle that comprises the ancient monument called Long Meg and Her Daughters. Older than the oldest of Albion’s circles, some believe this stone circle to be a long-dead and ancient place for rituals, similar to the ritual circles we use today. The people of the Duchy of Keswick tell a very different tale, however.
A WEIGHT of awe, not easy to be borne,
Fell suddenly upon my Spirit–cast
From the dread bosom of the unknown past,
When first I saw that family forlorn.
Speak Thou, whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years–pre-eminent, and placed
Apart, to overlook the circle vast–
Speak, Giant-mother! tell it to the Morn
While she dispels the cumbrous shades of Night;
Let the Moon hear, emerging from a cloud;
At whose behest uprose on Albion’s ground
That Sisterhood, in hieroglyphic round
Forth-shadowing, some have deemed, the infinite
The inviolable God, that tames the proud!
Many years ago, in the village of Little Salkeld in the Eden Valley, in the Duchy we now call Keswick, there lived a woman by the name of Megaine, although folk affectionately called her Meg.
Meg kept the old ways, which is to say she was a witch. She was well-known to be a great and powerful sorceress, and many men of great import sought either her magic or her hand.
Meg had many daughters, and though she named them her daughters and they named her mother, they were in truth her students, and she brought them up and taught them in the old ways. Some say that it’s Long Meg’s lasting influence which bestows great magic on the women of North Albion.
In these days, the boundaries between the realms we know today as Albion and Caledonia did not fall where they do, indeed these realms did not exist, for this was long ago, many centuries before
even the Empire set foot in Albion’s green and pleasant land. In later days each lord and king had their own court mage, but in this ancient time across the land were many who practiced the old ways, and the lords and kings would seek them out for their magic.
Long Meg was a great sorceress, this much is true, but she was also kind and beautiful. Her height only served to make her beauty more striking, and her beauty was matched by her good-nature. Lords and kings sought her wisdom and magic, but after they’d been granted that, they sought her hand. Meg’s eyes, they say, were the deep blue of a fell top tarn, and her laughter was as joyous to hear as the tinkling of rain on a hot summer’s day.
Meg’s fame and power grew, and many of the lords and kings bestowed upon her their blessing and patronage, and many women and girls came to her seeking knowledge, for it was known that she would only teach the magical arts to the fairer sex.
To the North, beyond the fells, in the land we know now as Caledonia, there lived a powerful mage by the name of Michael Scot, who had long enjoyed the patronage of the local lords and kings. Michael Scot was known to possess great knowledge and skill – he could build a palace in a single night, and tear down one mountain to build another. Though his power was vast, so too was his ego, for he was a mighty boastful man, and vainglorious in his pride. He began to think of himself as a conduit of the great powers of the skies and the earth and the winds, not as a mere mortal man.
Over time, the lords and kings grew tired of Michael Scot’s increasing demands of fealty and tribute for the use of his magic. Why should they, the great rulers of the lands, bow to this man? Why indeed, when a few days ride to the South was a beautiful enchantress who was demure and kind.
Michael Scot’s ire grew greater the less people sought his magic, for the lords and kings ceased to make the pilgrimage to his home by the loch, and instead sought the wisdom of the witch called Long Meg.
Meg’s followers and adherents settled around her home at Salkeld, which grew into a large town with a marketplace. Salkeld lay in the region ruled by Coel Hen, and he was happy to see such prosperity for his people, and encouraged the growth of Salkeld. Called Long Meg for her height, she became known as Queen Meg for her followers, and for the intimate friendship she enjoyed with the great Coel Hen.
Michael Scot heard of this prosperity and he became envious. Over the years his ire and envy overcame his reason, and began to twist his mind and his pattern, and he became a being of pure malevolence. His downfall, he believed, was not his own hubris, but Long Meg. He became paranoid and violent – the wind whistling through the trees was the voice of Long Meg, cursing him; he was persecuted by the flowers, who stared at him wherever he went, with ever-watchful eyes of Long Meg; when the rains came, he was sure it was Long Meg spitting at him.
Michael Scot believed the only way to reverse his fortunes were to find this Witch Queen, and cast down her evil influence, for all to see. He journeyed south across the fells one autumn, and headed for Salkeld. He arrived in Salkeld, disguised as a beggar, on the eve of the festival of Samhain.
Samhain was a great festival for Meg’s people, and Salkeld was famed for its celebrations. Lords and kings and peasants alike would travel to Salkeld for the great balefires and dances, which Meg and her daughters would lead, leaping around the flames with wild abandon to the beat of the drums and the songs of the old ways.
Michael Scot made his way to the meadow in which the great balefire was being built, and he sat himself down on the grass, calling forth all his power, and he waited.
At sunset the great balefire roared to life, and the bards began to play their drums, and Meg and her
daughters started their great dance. It was a whirling, swirling, wonder to behold, calling on all the powers of light and life, and moving them with the dance. Lords and kings and peasants alike stood transfixed, as they watched the cavorting witches, and felt the great power emanating from the dance, and washing over them.
Michael Scot began to chant, under his breath, summoning forth his own power, and casting it out into the maelstrom around the balefire, bit by bit, so that none of those present who were skilled in magic would sense the interloping malevolence which was his power. He called upon the rocks and fells to help him crush his enemies into oblivion, perverting the magic with his own twisted, aberrated pattern.
Knowing when Meg and her daughters were at the height of their dance, Michael Scot strode forth and began to scream a powerful, dark incantation towards the circle. Though her daughters were lost to the wild dance, singing and shouting their own magic, Long Meg alone recognised the intruding voice, and turned on Michael Scot. She took a step towards him, breaking off from the dance, and focusing the fullness of her power towards him, as the dance continued behind her.
The people, believing this to be part of the celebrations, cheered them on, whooping and hollering at the great display, for as Michael Scot and Long Meg were locked in their private battle, great swathes of magic shone and flickered around them, spiralling off into the night air.
Michael Scot was indeed powerful, and he called on the power of the rocks to aid him. But Michael’s mind was too much like the rocks from which he drew his power, stubborn, immovable, and hard, and he could not call forth other powers, and that is where Meg’s power grew. Long Meg called on the trees and waters and earth and wind to aid her, and on and on they went, with their power dancing around them, as Meg’s daughters danced around the fire.
There was a great crack through the sky, as though a mountain has split apart, and a flash of blinding light struck the onlookers. Meg had felt the interloping magic too late, and Michael Scot’s power engulfed her and her daughters, and in that instant it turned them all to stone. Michael Scot had intended to destroy them, but Meg’s power had held him in check, and as Meg turned to stone her own power rushed at Michael Scot, rooting him there in front of her, and turning him into a tree.
The other magic wielders who had come for the Samhain festival rushed forward to try to reverse the spell, but the power of the rock is in its stubbornness and it’s immovability, and alas, the stones remained in place, save one, a small stone on the outside of circle, far away from where the tree that was Michael Scot stood.
This stone, by the power of the magic wielders, was saved, and once more became a young girl. At once it became clear to the learned ones present how this girl had come to survive, for she was indeed Long Meg’s daughter by Coel Hen, the Winter Heart, whose own magic so evidently flowed in the girls veins, for no matter how hard the rock falls, the rock cannot crush winter, and this was in her blood.
There was a great tumult as Coel Hen came forth, for he had travelled to Salkeld for the revelry, and in his wisdom knew little could be done for Meg and her daughters, save one act, which he now did. He used his own magic and called on the spirit of winter to kill the tree, and when the leaves had shrivelled and dropped, and the bark rotted away, he took his sword and in one fell blow, he cleaved the tree in twain, and ordered it to be added to the fire. He took his daughter away with him, and he swore never to set foot in Salkeld again.
Without Long Meg, the people of Salkeld had little reason to stay, for all their work had been in supporting Meg and her daughters, and so they began to search for other places to live and farm and trade. Over time the town of Salkeld shrank, and shrank, and shrank, into the form we see it today – Little Salkeld, nothing more a small village, who’s only remarkable feature is its proximity to
the great circle of stones.
The stone which is the petrified form Long Meg stands apart from her daughters, forever holding back the full force of Michael Scot’s foul and malevolent power. If you look closely, you can still make out the spirals of magic around the stone. They do say that if you visit the circle at Samhain and count the stones and twice reach the same number, the stones will come to life and dance around the hill. On many occasions I’ve counted, but never twice reached the same number.