The Cairn of Morag

High in the windswept hills, where rain and fog shroud the grassy slopes and leave dew on brambles and gorse, a vast pile of boulders rises from between the slopes. As tall as the hills around it, taller even, the pile is known as the Cairn of Morag, and it is large enough to bury a giant. Should an intrepid explorer choose to risk themselves, it would be possible to squeeze in through the gaps between the stones, where wet trickles down and the darkness echoes with the quiet rattles of shifting pebbles and small skittering feet.

Mosses and lichens sheathe the outer stones, a green-and-gray coat that hides the cairn from distant eyes amongst the surrounding hills. The cairn is home to birds, snakes, rabbits and other small creatures, but travelers in the area speak of something far stranger: near dawn and dusk, stories say, a red fox prowls the stones with eyes that glow like the sun. Rumor has it that those who’ve seen the lights on the cairn come down with fevers, beset by visions, haunted by the dead. This illness is, perhaps, a judgement; those who’ve killed find themselves hunted in their dreams by the beings whose blood they’ve shed. Those who’ve lost loved ones speak of reconnecting, with all the touching love and horror such a meeting may bring.

The people who live below Morag’s Hills, farmers and shepherds, masons and miners, leave out small offerings to the fox and avoid looking towards the cairn. Some of their stories say Morag was a giantess, a shapeshifting witch who blessed the land around her hills and taught the first smallfolk there to farm. Those stories say that she was struck down by a jealous god, or perhaps a demon, but was too strong to be truly slain. Stuck in the realm between life and death, her old body buried by the smallfolk she had cared for, she took on the form of a red fox with sunlit eyes to watch over her hills until the moon fell from the sky.

Other tales claim that Morag was once human, a sorceress who ruled the nearby land from her hill-keep and drew down the light of the moon to feed her growing hungers. In these stories, Morag feasted on the flesh of her subjects, simmering them in her twelve cauldrons until the meat fell from the bone, reducing the blood-broth to jelly. When the stars could finally watch no more of her profane rites, they sent down servants and maledictions, burying the hungry Morag—and all her treasures—beneath her own tower. These stories say that the red fox, Hale, is the last surviving servant of the stars, and that he continues his watch over Morag’s cairn to be sure she never rises again.

Whatever truly happened, whether those stones cover a giantess, a sorceress, or some legacy more banal, few these days approach the cairn. Only those greedy or desperate enough to seek the truth, or willing to risk their lives to see the dead, travel high into those hills near dawn or dusk.

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