The Holden Stone

Reflections of a Fantasy Writer

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Derlin’s Pond


taunt sung during a child’s chase game in which one child is chosen as the "little Derlin."  When the chasers catch the Derlin, they dunk his head into the well until he cries out a family secret. "The first recorded death occurred in the year 192 YD, in a schoolyard at Kairugon Cross. The game has been outlawed many times since, but is there a parent among you today who did not play it as a child?"

— from testimony pled before the Court of Lords of the Dominion by Arode, High Lord Friend of the Coward, 968 YD on behalf of Mur Alyn of the Korin, accused of letting a young ward drown.



Three went walking in the woodland morning

Certain, Proud, and little Derlin

Three swam in the shining pond then

Two lost and never returning

Derlin came home, his questions answered.

Sing "Fly!" sing "Go!" --We'll drown you, bird!


 Derlin's Pond



cf.  What Derlin said really happened:  

from The Cassandra Stone


"In killin’ that Kirtoff, that dolman has ruined your life, missy. That’s the one thing them dolmen are good at doing, ruining lives. Come outside, let me show you something."

They followed him out. Derlin stopped on the front porch of the hotel by the hitching rail, and Jade stopped with him. Shambrel and her dog trudged farther out into the street. The snow had stopped falling. The night was clear, and the moon full and bright. Jagged mountains raked the starry sky above the line of lonely huts. Their peaks gleamed white in the moonlight.

Derlin pointed up. "See that peak? Looks like an arrow buried head down, folks say."

By the light of the moon shining full on it, the pinnacle he pointed to was a column of eroded rock, its sides too sharp to accumulate more than a rim of snow. Jade could see no special shape to the column. It surprised her how often people claimed they saw patterns in cliffs of stone. Someone would imagine a shape, show it to someone else, and they to someone else, until more and more people believed they saw the shape too, and soon a legend would be born to explain why it got there.

Yet always, like tonight, Jade saw ragged stone only. She could concede that sometimes the face of a cliff lent itself ready for a master carver to finish cutting shape and meaning into it; but until human hands touched it, stone was nothing but stone.

"Looks more like a fledged arrow by daylight," Derlin said. "Story is, our grandfathers followed the point of that arrow straight down to find the mines here that made them rich, and that, in turn, made the baron’s family a fortune by taking its far greater share away from ours, taxing us. But that’s neither here nor there, that’s the way stones tumble from this world into the next anywhere you go...

"But more to the point, why I brought you out here, there is another older story about that arrow rock. It’s said a dolman shot the arrow into the mountain and turned it to stone so that dolmen from then on till the end of time could find the shining pond hidden beneath it.

"Now listen, you and me, we weren’t born yesterday. I won’t claim that any dolman has the power to turn an arrow into stone. That part is just a story. But there is a secret dolman pond hidden beneath that peak. And I’m bettin’ you’ve heard of it. It’s been named after me for many a year now. Through no wantin’ of my own, I assure you."

Jade stared at the old miner Derlin then back up at the pinnacle. A secret pond above a mining town--Derlin’s Pond? She’d never thought to make a connection to his name before, even though Derlin was no common name. "That old song is true?"

Derlin squeezed his fists around the hitching rail. "There are many ways to tell a truth, missy. But this one did happen. Just not in the way that child’s game plays it. My two friends and I were barely higher than a fry pan handle when we climbed that hill and found that pond. I can tell you this," the old man shook his head in wonderment, "it was the most beautiful sight I ever did see, before or ever since. The water sparked brighter than the sun on new fallen snow, and it felt warm to my hand. Not cold at all like you’d be expectin’ in these here mountains. We dove in, just like that song says. The water throbbed in our ears and at first, it was like hearin’ a drumbeat. But then as we swam in deeper, it was like hearin’ more and more music comin’ from everywhere around us. Nights are now, I can lie abed and still hear it, even after all these years."

Jade never expected the crusty old Derlin to sound so poetic. Especially considering the pond he was talking about. As she listened, she saw her schoolmates when she was younger playing the cruel hide and chase game called Derlin’s Pond. When the chasers caught the runner, they’d drag him kicking and screaming to the school well and dunk his head into the bucket until, sputtering for breath, he’d tell them a secret. She could hear their jeering voices now as they dunked him:

Three went walking in the woodland morning

Certain, Proud, and little Derlin

Three swam in the singing pond then

Two lost and never returning

Derlin came home, his questions answered.

Sing "Fly!" sing "Go!" --We'll drown you, bird!

By the time the taunters got to the final line and raised the "bird’s" head out of the bucket, the victim was almost drowned and more than ready to tell a secret. One year, one seven-year old boy did drown. She remembered him, he had red hair and two missing front teeth. After he died, it was three years before the baron allowed the game to be played in public again.

"Your friends drowned?" she asked.

Derlin released the rail and stared up at the dark peak. "That they did, missy. They were older than me, better swimmers. One was my brother. I’m the only one who came home."

Mur Shrambrel in the street was within easy earshot, pitching pebbles for her big yellow dog to chase through the ankle-length depth of new snow. His long flagged tail would wag in full circles as he pounced nose-first onto his prize; then he’d come up with a quizzical expression on his face and an uncertain tail wag with three to four new stones in his mouth, not sure which one was the one she had thrown. "So you got your questions answered,did you?" the mur said.

Derlin snorted. "That’s where the story gets it wrong. The only question I got answered there where my brother and his friend died is to never trust a dolman. Just like I told the missy here, that dolman back at the card game in Kairugon Cross has ruined her life. Just like that dolman up there ruined mine."

Jade frowned, uncertain of the connection. "There was a dolman at the pond that morning?"

"Strangest one I ever did see. A dolman, or something mighty like one. Midget though. And I hain’t seen no midget dolman, before or since. Long grey beard that curled up at his feet. Leggin’s of sheep wool. Staff in his hand that he pointed at me, and then at my friends. Next thing I knew I was up on the shore, and my brother and his friend were gone. The dolman too. The last I saw of my brother Jerend and his friend, they’d almost reached the center of the pond where it was glowing so bright and hot. That dolman flashed fire at them and drowned them, must have.

"The townsmen never found that dolman again, or any track of him. Who’s to know how many of them ever believed me afterwards. One or two among them must have been the ones who spread the story that became that terrible child’s game. And now the same thing will happen to you, Jade...