Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
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The Dancing Stones

by Walter G. Esselman

"Why don't we camp there?" asked Gideon.

The fifteen-year-old boy with the orange eyes pointed to a nearby field. He was near the front of a column of soldiers heading home.

"Can't," said Regent, a wiry soldier. "Those Dancing Stones are too near."

Gideon did a double take and Pavataro turned to look out on the field to see this grand sight. Out in the field, were eight large stones like grey teardrops. Intricate carvings marked their stone, but they did not move. In fact, they sat there like, well, stones.

"They don't move very fast," said Gideon.

"Wow," said the young dragon Pavataro in a bored tone. The dragon, who was the same age as Gideon, was only a little taller than the boy.

"Well, there're not going to be doing anything now!" said Regent. "You have to wait for midnight."

"What happens at midnight?" asked Gideon.

"The stones start to dance around the field," said Regent. "Not the ideal place to camp. See, you can see the big divots in the earth. In some of those divots are people that tried to take the gold."

"Gold?" asked Pavataro with interest.

"Yes," said Regent. "You see, in a field of Dancing Stones, there is usually a pot of gold, and while the stones are dancing they tend to forget about the gold. If you can get the gold and outrun the stones, it's yours. Getting in is easy, it's getting out that's hard."

"Do you know anyone who ever got the gold?" asked Pavataro.

"No," said Regent. "I've heard about people getting the gold but that could be a load of old manure. No, I do know some of my troop who tried it. We were off to fight some war and we stopped for the night by some Dancing Stones. My old commander told us not to go anywhere near the stones."

"So you went anyway," said Gideon making Regent give a little smile as he nodded.

"I was a young pup myself and tagged along with several troops," said Regent. "But I didn't go into the field."

"What happened?" asked Pavataro.

"The next morning we just filled in the holes they were in," said Regent. "The commander figured that the stones had pushed them so far in the ground, it would be silly to dig them up just to rebury them."

* * *

The moons above were bright as the time crept toward midnight. In the fields, the stones still sat there and did not move. Pavataro had snuck away from camp alone after everyone had gone to sleep because, well, gold. Stereotypes and clichés happened for a reason. Sometimes they were founded out of fear about particular group, but other times they are born of a certain truth. Dragons did indeed have a fondness for gold and Pavataro was no exception. Right now, the young dragon was drooling.

"Not much with the dancing," said a voice next to him. Pavataro jumped and looked next to him in surprise. Gideon leaned against the fence and watched the standing stones. "Yep, those are definitely not dancing."

"What are you doing here?" asked Pavataro.

"Wanted to see stones dance," said Gideon simply. "And to help you get your gold."

"Who says I'm here for the gold?" asked Pavataro.

Gideon just gave him a look that said, 'Dragon please, don't even go there'.

"Maybe I could use a little gold," sniffed Pavataro. "What help are you going to be?"

"I figure your average pot of gold has to weigh a ton," said Gideon. "And since I... "

"Fed on dragon's milk which makes you change your personal gravity, yea, yea, yea," said Pavataro. "I don't need the idiot's version."

"You might not be able to change that much gravity yourself," said Gideon. "But between me and you... maybe."

"I guess we would go faster," conceded Pavataro. "But why... "

Then his words died in his mouth. The boy and the dragon looked over at the stones. The inscriptions marked in the stones began to glow blue. Suddenly, a huge stone leapt up into the air and twirled. It began to jump about the field. Another stone popped up out of the ground and went off. Soon all the stones were dancing around the field.

"There!" said Pavataro as he pointed to the middle of the field. In a small depression of earth, was a pot of gold. It gleamed in the moonlight. Gideon looked at how fast the stones were moving as they danced. He had assumed they would go much slower being made of rock and all. Regent would probably say something now about 'never assuming', thought Gideon

"You know," said Gideon as he turned to speak to Pavataro. "We might want to rethink this... " Then he noticed that the young dragon was gone, streaking across the field. "Snail Burgers."

Gideon lowered his gravity and leapt easily over the fence, but he was almost run over by a large stone that swished past. After making sure that the coast was clear, Gideon started to jump in large hops toward the gold.

"This might be a bad idea," said Gideon.

* * *

Pavataro leaned toward the gold and sniffed delicately. The aroma of the metal made his knees turn to water. The gold was real, and the pot was big, now that he came to think of it. Maybe he would need Gideon's help after all, not that he would admit that aloud.

"That's a lot of gold," said Gideon as he dropped next to Pavataro. He could feel the pounding of the stones as they danced around. The dragon looked over at the boy and then at what he was carrying.

"What is that?" asked Pavataro.

Gideon held up the bronze cooking pot that he had brought along.

"Itza pot," said Gideon.

"I know it's a pot Lunchmeat," said Pavataro using his old schoolyard nickname for

Gideon. "Why do you have it?"

"Because that's a lot of gold and those stones are big," said Gideon. "If all else fails, we can scoop some into here and run."

"We're taking all the gold! Period!" said Pavataro.

"Look at you greedy guts," said Gideon. "It's not like we need all that gold."

"Now you're just talking crazy," said Pavataro.

"Seriously," said Gideon. "We have room and board in the castle and all the food we, and more importantly YOU, can eat. This... " Gideon waved at the gold. "It's all gravy."

"Are you going to help me or not?" asked Pavataro.

"I'm here, aren't I," said Gideon.

"True. So, can you pick up the pot of gold and put it on my back?" asked Pavataro.

"Then what?" asked Gideon.

"Then we run, Lunchmeat," said Pavataro.

Gideon reached for the pot of gold. The instant he touched it, the field went silent.

"Oh-oh," said Pavataro as the stones turned toward them grinding the grass beneath them. "Hurry!"

Gideon grunted as he picked up the pot of gold. The magic inside him unfolded and he decreased the pot's weight but even then, it was almost too much. With shaky hands, he put the pot of gold between the dragon's shoulder blades, mindful of the dragon's wings. Pavataro made a sound as the pot settled.

"Oh Goddess, that's heavy," said Pavataro.

"We should..." started Gideon when the boy and dragon looked up. Two stones shot towards them. Gideon let out a terrified cry. "Run!"

Pavataro ran forward as Gideon tried to keep up. Gideon held the lip of the pot trying to keep it steady. The stones crashed together behind them with a noise like thunder. Gideon could feel the vibration under his feet.

"This might not be one of my better ideas!" admitted Pavataro.

"You think?" asked Gideon sarcastically.

"Watch out!" cried Pavataro as he tried to jump left. The stone hit the ground where the dragon had just been making a huge indentation in the earth. Pavataro collided into Gideon and sent the boy stumbling away. The pot of gold that Gideon had been steadying tumbled off Pavataro's back, just missing the dragon's wings.

Gold coins sprayed over the grass as the dragon skidded to a halt while trying to turn. Gideon jumped to the pile of gold and shoveled, with his hand, a bunch of coins into his empty bronze pot.

"Don't just get some, get all of it!" started Pavataro as he ran back to the spilled gold.

Gideon saw something out of the corner of his eye and jumped back flat against a hard surface. A Dancing Stone slammed into the pile of gold driving it into the ground.

"Nooo!" cried Pavataro as he ran forward. A stone jumped in his path and he hopped up on top of it. Snapping open his wings, the dragon took to the air in escape. He was almost giddy when a stone jumped up and clipped the end of his tail. In surprise, Pavataro panicked and kept flying up.

* * *

Gideon relaxed for a moment against the hard surface as Pavataro flew up to safety.

"Whew," said Gideon. "That almost... "

Then he stopped as his eyes grew bigger as he saw a blue glow on his shoulders. He turned his head just enough to see the big Dancing Stone that he was leaning on. It started to tip forward. Gideon jumped aside as it hit the ground with a colossal thud. The boy barely dodged another stone as it swept by. Gideon took off toward the fence.

A Dancing Stone got in front of him. Gideon tried to jump around it but another slammed into place beside it. Like a wall, the stones suddenly met shoulder to shoulder. Gideon stopped and started to backpedal. Then he saw stones closing in behind him. He tried to duck between two stones but they crashed together with a boom. He looked around as they surrounded him.

"JUMP UP NOW!" cried a voice from above.

Gideon leapt into the air. Pavataro, skimming low over the field, grabbed him and they shot off. The boy tucked in his legs as several stones tried to take them out of the air. On the ground, the stones followed until they reached the fence and stopped.

"Hey Look!" shouted Gideon. Pavataro slowed and saw that the stones had halted. The dragon landed and set the boy down. Gideon dropped the bronze pot of gold and sat on the ground to take a breather. "That was too close."

"Do you have something to say?" asked Pavataro archly.

"What?" asked Gideon in confusion.

"Like 'Thank You for Saving My Tail'," said Pavataro.

"You got me into that mess," shrugged Gideon.

"Of all the ungrateful... " started Pavataro.

"But the boy's right," said a voice from the shadows. Gideon and Pavataro jumped as Regent walked into the moonlight. "I knew it was a mistake the moment I told you about the gold."

"Why didn't you stop us?" asked Pavataro.

"You're old enough to know not to do stupid things on your own," said Regent. He looked at Gideon. "And you should be old enough not to encourage his stupidity."

"He wasn't going to listen to reason," said Gideon.

Regent shrugged at this. "True, and sometimes we need to follow our friends, not matter what, but was this one of those times?"

"But we got the gold!" beamed Pavataro.

"Congratulations on stealing gold from a bunch of rocks," said Regent and Pavataro's ears fell. "Now come on, time to go home and leave that bronze pot."

"But it's got gold in it," said Pavataro slowly.

Regent started walking off quickly. Gideon got up and followed.

"Where are you going?" asked Pavataro to Gideon.

"Tent, sleep," yawned Gideon.

"But the gold," said Pavataro.

"You can take it if you want," said Gideon.

Pavataro looked at the silent stones in the distance. Then he looked at Regent and Gideon covering a lot of land between them and the dragon. He reached for the gold. Little wings appeared on the coins and green eyes gleamed on the gold. A swarm of vicious biting gold coins rose up out of the bronze pot.

The Dancing Stones chuckled by the fence.

Gideon and Regent watched Pavataro running off toward a river with the bugs behind him.

"I thought it was too easy getting that gold," said Regent.

"Too easy?" asked Gideon and Regent just shrugged. "At least he's almost to the water."

"That won't help," said Regent. "Those coins don't breathe, so they're going to follow him right underwater." Regent saw Gideon's look of concern. "Don't worry, the coins will get bored soon enough, but not before that dragon's learned his lesson."

Regent smiled at this.

"Poor, stupid dragon," said Gideon.

"Yea, but he's our 'poor, stupid dragon'," said Regent.


© 2015 Walter G. Esselman

Bio: Mr. Esselman taps on keyboards and would not say no to a banana daiquiri. He has been published in Conceit Magazine, Static Movement, and several times in Residential Aliens. His last Aphelion appearances were Sacred Logs and Crocodiles, in our April 2011 issue, and Overcooked in our September 2015 issue. Both were set in this story's universe.

E-mail: Walter G. Esselman

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