“Whenever I see hills and rocks, I’m prone by wild imagination to see things which are in all likelihood are not there. Makes for a good story though – I hope!”
Guardian of the Hills
There are hills the world over full of legend and mystery. Having read books and watched shows about them all, Howard couldn’t help wishing for something legendary in the hills around his Scottish home. There probably wasn’t even a legend or mystery in this neck of the woods. Even still, he’d walk through the undulating bracken and moss rich landscape whenever he got the chance.
Upon one hill alongside a well-beaten track was the most curious of rocks. From the right side is ridges and curves gave it a look of a black panther minus the ears. If a mystery lay in these hills it was here. A rock shaped like a big cat would exist only if it guarded a secret, right?
This particular morning, Howard was on his usual hike. The damp air threatened rain, but he didn’t mind. It almost always rained in Scotland. He followed the bracken path, watching a golden eagle soaring overhead and rabbits playing in the heather below.
Coming into view of Panther Rock high on its hill, Howard was brought to a stop. The silhouette was wrong, something or someone was on the desolate hill. Having never met anybody here before, Howard was a little bit perturbed. He continued to ascend nevertheless. It wasn’t long before the wind carried a sad feminine sob to his ears.
Reaching the summit of the hill, Howard gazed at the shape of the panther. Perched on its head was a young lady wearing a white dress far too light for the cold conditions. Her face was hidden by her long blonde tresses, and yet her sadness was obvious by the shuddering of her shoulders.
Howard approached with respect so as not to scare her. “Hey there, lass. Can I take the burden of grief from your shoulders?”
She lifted her head with all the forlornness of someone who’d lost everything. “Thank you, Sir. There’s nothing anyone can do,” she whispered in her soft voice shivering with cold.
“When I cannae leave ye up here to suffer alone. You’ll die of cold before night falls.” Howard climbed Panther Rock and removed his coat. “Here put this on and get warm a while.”
“Bless you, Sir. You are a kind gentleman,” she said accepting the coat and wrapping herself in its warm layers.
“I’m Howard. May, I know your name?” Climbing down a little way, Howard took a seat at a respectful distance.
“My name’s Adley. Did you ever notice how much this rock looks like a panther?”
“Adley – such a pretty name. I’ve called this Panther Rock for ages. Quite mysterious isn’t it?”
“More than you realise.” Adley stood up and with the lightness of a gymnast dropped down to the path. “It’s called Dearg and is the guardian of the hills.”
“Really? So, it does have a legendary status then?”
Adley nodded. Reaching up, she massaged the rock.
Howard realised she was rubbing what would be the Panther’s nose; if it were a real cat. He opened his mouth to speak but a rumbling from the bowels of the Earth strangled his words.
“Dearg, I’m sorry. Please, talk to me.” Adley said as the rock began to glow with chlorophyll-green light.
Howard watched an amber eyes blink in the crevice that was the eye socket. Beneath it, a yawning mouth opened revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth.
“Adley Hearth. You alone were given the job of ensuring the giants never awoke from the Tumulosus graves. You were careless in losing the Cairn Stone. Without it, my power as the guardian of the hills grows weaker by the day.”
“I didn’t lose a stone. I placed it in your alter rock to recharge you. My mistake was sitting back to rest while it worked. When I got up the Cairn Stone was gone and yet I never heard or saw a soul.”
“YOU STILL LOST IT!” Bellowed the monolithic Panther.
Adley burst into tears. Her failings crushing her to the soul.
“Take it easy, she didn’t mean to!” Howard said feeling angry over Adley’s treatment and yet shocked by all he was seeing. Even in his wildest dreams, he never expected to see a living rock.
“Why did you awaken me with human nearby?” questioned the Panther ignoring him.
“I was hoping he might help me. I had to introduce you to him so he would believe me first.” Adley wiped her eyes. “Please, I’m doing the best I can.”
“Very well, show him.”
“Show me what?“ Howard asked.
“You see the big flat hilltop over on the next rise. There are others of various sizes all around us on the hills. They’re capstones, Dearg is connected to them by way of powerful quartz veins deep in the rock.” Adley took hold of the Panther’s left fang-like canine tooth and Howard’s hand.
Howard felt a jolt like he’d been hit by a solar flare. He felt himself flying until he was above the hilltop. Watching on, he saw the very rock become translucent. Beneath it, large humanoid creatures lay side-by-side. It was a shocking sight, leaving him fearing for his life. The giants could be dead or alive, he couldn’t tell. Without warning the energy wore off and he was once again stood in front of the Panther Stone.
“So, you see. If the Cairn Stone is never returned. The giants will awaken and destroy the human world.” Adley explained. “Will you help me find it?”
“That’s quite the shocking story. Can ye tell me what the Cairn Stone looks like?” Howard asked realising how monumental the request was.
“It looks like a map of Scotland. It’s made of polished granite and no bigger than the average pendant.” Adley gestured the size between her thumb and index finger.
Howard’s breath caught in his throat as something cold brushed against his chest. “Oh, Adley. I’m so sorry. I know where the Cairn Stone went.”
“You do! That’s great. See, Dearg. I told you it would be okay.” Adley looked as if the weight of the Panther Stone had been lifted from her shoulders.
“All is not as it seems, Adley,” warned the Panther.
Howard revealed the Scotland-shaped stone on a chain around his neck. “I’m afraid I took your Cairn Stone. I spotted it sticking out of the rock on top of the Panther. I took it without realising ye were here, or that it belonged to ye. Can ye forgive me?” Howard held it out in his hand.
Adley took it but said nothing as she climbed atop the Panther and slotted the Cairn Stone back into its groove in the altar. A rock which made the head of the Panther complete. “Dearg, go to sleep now. Recharge and returned to your duties as the guardian of the hills.”
“As you wish, dear Adley. Blessings upon you,” said the Panther.
Howard watched Panther Rock glow green again as its biological features turned to cold, hard stone once more.
Adley performed a backflip off the rock, landing in front of Howard. She took off his coat and handed it to him with an expressionless gaze.
“I’m sorry, Adley. I really didn’t know,” he said feeling as if all the sad energy she’d had before was now pressing upon his heart.
As if a ray of sun broke through the clouds, she hugged him. “You’re a good man, Howard. You could have pretended you didn’t know about the stone and kept it. Instead, you gave it back to me and Dearg. That proves you took it without malice. You will forever be my friend for that.” Adley smiled at him, walked behind Panther Rock and vanished as if she’d never been.
Howard continued to walk the hills each week. Although he never saw Adley or the real Dearg again. He passed by with a smile, knowing he was part of the real legend of Panther Rock.
Have a great day!