A jewel of a story re-told by our storyteller Martin Maudsley.

Enjoy this tale from The South Dorset Ridgeway, our Land of Bone and Stone.

This story is part of Dorset AONB’s Myths and Legends project.

The Blood stone

Rising up on the skyline near Dorchester, Maiden Castle is an impressive sight and an important site. But beneath the layers of human history and underneath the skin of green grass, lies something even older: a deeply-buried, long-dormant dragon – protecting its ancient treasure as it sleeps undisturbed through the years…

Not that long ago, at Maiden Castle Farm, in the shadow of the Iron-Age fort itself, there lived two children, twins – a boy called Sandy and a girl called Scarlet, both with red hair to match their names. They loved wandering around the fields and lanes around the farm collecting things: stones and shells, and pieces of wood. One day, on the autumn equinox, whilst walking the Old Lane down past the Fairy Mound, Scarlet spotted something which caught her eye in the rotted stump of an old fence post… Looking closer she saw a great stash of snails all huddled together in a jumble of shells: an ‘escargotoire’.

She called her brother and together they noticed that delicate silver letters were marked onto some of the shells. Slowly and carefully they pulled out those snails and laid them out on the stony path. Now the snails began to move around rearranging themselves, until both children gasped out loud, as the silvery letters spelt out a word:

What could it mean? What on earth was the Bloodstone? Suddenly they became aware that somebody else was there, besides them. They turned quickly to see an old woman with tattered clothes and grey hair but bright sparkling eyes. “This
is the Bloodstone,” she said. “The last of England’s Dragon-stones.” In her bony old hand she held a smooth round stone, like a golf ball, but shimmering slightly and coloured deep blood-red. “Who are you?” the twins asked in unison. “My name is Mrs Fairweather,” she replied. “But that doesn’t matter anymore. The weather’s getting wilder by the day, the powers of darkness are mustering. Soon the evil wizard, Foulweather, will sweep across the land as the balance tips from light to dark at the equinox. And if he should ever hold the Bloodstone…” There was a sudden rumbling noise from beneath their feet. “Listen, my time as the Guardian of the Bloodstone is near its end. Only the Chosen Ones could read the magic message in the snail shells. You have been chosen for a crucial task: the Bloodstone must be returned deep underground – to the heart of the sleeping dragon itself. Only there will it be safe. Will you accept this task?”

“Yes!” said Scarlet. “No!” said Sandy at the same time. But as Scarlet took the stone from the old woman, it seemed to throb and glow in her own hand. They turned to ask Mrs Fairweather which way they should go. But she was gone, vanished, with only the lightest of whispers hanging in in the air: “Under the hill, under the hill…” Suddenly the afternoon sky grew darker and they heard a sudden wild howling swirling in the air like wolves’ cries. “What?!” cried Sandy. “There haven’t been wolves in England for centuries…” But the howling they heard wasn’t from ordinary wolves, these were the ‘Wind Wolves’ – sinister servants of Foulweather, the Dark Wizard. Long had they been searching for Old Mrs Fairweather and the Bloodstone, without success, but now they had a new, more enticing scent in their noses… “Run!” screamed Sandy. Both of them sprinted as fast as they could along the stony lane. At the end instead of turning towards the farmhouse they turned right, uphill, towards Maiden Castle itself.

Onwards and up they ran, their breathing fast and heavy, whipped by wild winds and relentlessly pursued by the horrible howling wolves who were getting louder and closer all the time. “Look” said Sandy, “Silver trails…let’s follow them!” Along the ramparts of Maiden Castle they ran, following the strange, shining strands of silver trails along the ground as the dark cloak of dusk closed around them. Suddenly, ahead, they saw a deeper darkness: the entrance to a craggy cave set in the side of the hill. They threw themselves inside, tumbling on the stony floor, as the mouth of the great cave closed behind them, grinding together its stony teeth. From outside they heard the screams of outrage and anguish from the Wind Wolves. With no way out, Scarlet and Sandy walked towards the back of the cave, arms outstretched to feel their way in the utter darkness. The Bloodstone glowed and felt hot now in Scarlet’s hand, humming with energy, almost as if it knew it was coming home.

The cave soon turned into a twisting, labyrinthine tunnel leading them further underground, deeper and deeper down – through the throat of the Bloodstone Dragon itself. The air was warmer now and smelt of smoke but still they travelled until the tunnel eventually widened into a huge crystal chamber, glowing with orange-red light. In the middle of the chamber was a golden coffin covered in ornate decorations and strange inscriptions. On the lid of the coffin was an empty socket. Knowing instinctively what to do, Scarlet fitted the Bloodstone into the socket which was now bright red and burning and almost too hot to handle. There was a sigh from within the coffin. But in response the walls of the chamber began to shudder and shake. The tunnel through which they had travelled was now squeezing and convulsing as the dragon’s body began to respond and react to the disturbance within itself. “We need to leave, now!” shouted Sandy. “How? The way out is blocked!” replied Scarlet. “Hang on. Look over here!” She pointed at the wall where once more writing was becoming visible in the coloured crystals of the cave wall:

At that moment they realised that the whole chamber was reverberating with music, delicate and lilting as if played by an invisible harp. Following the flow of the tune but not knowing which words to use, they trusted their instincts and opened their mouths… Words came tumbling out, dancing and drifting and lifted by the music of the harp:

Over and over Scarlet and Sandy sang the spell-song, gaining confidence and volume until the crystal walls themselves hummed in harmony. Then suddenly a doorway opened outwards and a great gleam of cold, golden light spilled inside. Out they both leapt in a great rush, tumbling onto soft, damp grass. Looking around they found themselves outside the old barrow, the fairy mound. The morning sun was breaking across the horizon and illuminating the grey shroud of mist surrounding the mound. From somewhere nearby they could hear the sound of a horse’s hooves beating a rhythm on the ground, then the dark shape of a horse and rider appeared through the golden haze.

With a leap of their hearts they recognised the face of the rider – their own father. “Sandy! Scarlet! Thank God!” said their Dad. “We’ve been worried sick, you must be frozen, stuck out here all night in the storm!” But as he pulled the pair of them up into the saddle on the horse, one in front and one behind him, he noticed how warm they were. A few minutes later, back in the farmhouse kitchen in front of the fire, their parents demanded a story from them both – an explanation of what had happened, where they had been. “You won’t believe us if we tell you!” they said in unison. And they were right – nobody did! But it didn’t matter. The Bloodstone was back safely in its place on the golden coffin, and the dragon-beneath-the-hill continues to slumber.

For now…

Maiden Castle (c) Tony Gill

A little about our stortyteller

Martin Maudsley is a professional storyteller based in Bridport in Dorset, telling traditional tales and local legends for schools, community groups and national organisations. He has been collaborated with Dorset AONB on many projects using folk-tales and folk-songs to connect participants with nature, the seasons and a sense of place. He is also very active practically celebrating the seasons in and around his neighbourhood, including putting on Mummers Plays, Apple Days and Winter Wassails.