In the middle of England, there stands a ring of stones. This is how they came to be standing there.
In the time before this time, there lived a very powerful king over seas. He lived by stealing and killing and he wanted to make all Ian own. He turned his gaze towards England, for he had been told of meadows and fat cattle. He asked his wise men, "How can I become king of this rich country?" The wise men looked into sand and water, into smoke, and said to him, "In the center of England lies a village call Compton. Climb the hill above the village, and as soon as you set your eyes upon the village, you will become King of England."
With his men, the king came over the seas in a great ship. As soon as he landed, his soldiers leapt from the ship and began to kill and plunder. No one could stop them and many people fled from their homes.
Word soon come to the people of Long Compton that the king from overseas was advancing towards them. They were very frightened, for they were not skilled in fighting. They gathered together in the village square.
"Someone must stop this king," cried the village elder.
"What will you do, old man?" a woman shouted back. "Shake your stick at him?" The people laughed uneasily, scanning the for hills for signs of the smoke.
"There's only one thing to do," said a young farmer. "We must ask the help of a witch. This kind of force can only be stopped by magic. We are too weak to fight the king."
The crowd was silent. It did seem the best solution, but if they were frightened of the king, they were nearly as scared of witches. So they chose the young farmer to go and find the witch who would stop the foreign king.
Trembling with fear, the farmer went to the lonely cottage on the edge of the village by the crossroads and knocked on the door. Inside lived the oldest witch in the village, a woman so ancient that people had forgotten her real name. She was said to be a powerful enchantress. When they heard snatches of song coming from her window, the people passing by would hurry on again with their fingers in their ears, in case she turned them into something nasty with her spells.
The door opened and there stood the witch. The farmer was quite surprised. He had been expecting a wizened old crone with no teeth. Instead, here was a dark - haired, straight-backed woman. Her deep dark eyes were like wells at midnight.
The farmer stammered, "If you please, wise lady, the villagers of Long Compton needs your help. There is a foreign king coming here to make himself King of England. He has no pity for man nor beast, and his men are burning and robbing their way across the land."
"Come in, my good man! I shall help You, if you will help me."
The farmer swallowed hard, and said, "What can I do?"
"Tell the villagers to gather their store of food and put it in a wagon. You are to drive the wagon to where the foreign king and his men are encamped. You must tell him that you bring a feast and the greetings of the people of Long Compton. They will stop and stuff themselves on your provisions, and that will give me time to prepare."
The young former quaked in his boots. "But they will kill me!"
"Not if you are steadfast and strong!" said the witch."Think of your wife and children and the beasts in your fields. Smile and be polite to the visitors. They will take your provisions and leave you alone."
The farmer sighed with relief.
"And one more thing," said the witch. "Bring me a pan of new milk from your best cow. If you perform all these things and trust me, the foreign king shall never rule here."
The farmer nodded and left hastily.
The frightened villagers gladly ransacked their barns and storehouses, bringing out their best food to give to the king's soldiers. Then the farmer set off in his wagon towards their encampment. It was not difficult to find. A smoke trail of destruction hung over the burnt fields and houses. The cruel king was only two villages away. The farmer drove on grimly until the sentries stopped him, thrusting their spears under his chin.
With a glad wave and a smile which did not warm his heart, the former leapt down from the wagon and shouted out, "Welcome, followers of the great king. I bring a feast from the people of Long Compton who welcome you to this land!"
The soldiers were astounded. This was the first person not to run away at their approach. The king stepped out of his tent and saw the farmer, who cried out, "Hail, great King of England that shall surely be! The people of Long Compton welcome you and beg that you accept this unworthy feast before you ride further this dark night."
The king's mouth curved in a cruel smile. He was well pleased that the village described by his wise men had sent a token of their welcome. He graciously accepted the contents of the wagon and he and his men sat down to enjoy the feast.
The farmer drove away, trembling in every limb at his close escape. He could hear the drunken singing and arguments of the king's men rising raucously into the night behind him.
He had not come within sight of the village when he met with the witch by the roadside. Mindful of his promise, he reached underneath the wagon and handed her the pan of milk. The witch gravely thanked him, and bade him be off. But the former left the wagon in a nearby field and crept back in order to see what she would do.
He saw her crouch low to the ground and sing a strange wandering song into the grass at the roadside. Then she poured the milk out onto the road in a circle. The farmer rubbed his eyes for he seemed to see the outlines of many figures singing and dancing, who bowed to the witch as they danced and lapped at the milk. Quickly, he covered his eyes, for the witch was speaking to the fairy folk, and it was not lucky to watch them.
When he awoke in the wet grass, it was morning. Up the hill came the king and his men. The former began to curse the witch. She had done nothing to stop them after all! He was about to pull out his knife and confront them himself, when the witch suddenly appeared in front of the soldiers. She threw back her head with a ringing voice and cried out, "Welcome, mighty king! You have come a long way to meet your destiny."
The king strode towards the witch, "Stand aside, woman! I have come to rule this land."
The witch did not move a muscle. "Indeed, mighty one! But listen to the words of prophecy with care,
If Long Compton thou canst see
King of England thou shalt be!"
The king and his men were nearly at the top of the hill; Long Compton was just over the brow. Measuring it with his eyes, the king saw that the seven strides would indeed bring him sight of the village. Thinking to enter the village in triumph, he called for his guard to step forward. Then he took a long step forward, and another and another. He took three strides more, but before he could put down his foot for the last stride, a great mound of earth sprang up across the road, blocking his view.
He cried out with fury, and the witch with glee, for the mound belonged to the fairy folk, who had agreed to help the witch in return for the new milk that the farmer had given her The witch leapt onto the side of the mound singing,
As Long Compton's hid from thee,
The king staggered; then he was rooted to the spot. In the time it takes to count to three, the guards halted in their tracks and fused together in a huddle of stones, some standing, some crouching with their hands over their heads, some lying on the ground in terror.
The witch saw the farmer open - mouthed with wonder and said to him, "Run home and tell the villagers that theq are safe. I shall keep watch over these villains, never fear." And with those words, she began to grow brown and green and white, as she turned slowly into an elder tree. The farmer ran home to Long Compton with the good news, but he never meddled with magic again.
The village called this circle of stones "The Rollrights." And if you go there today, you will see where King Stone stands alone, and where the guards huddle together as the Whispering Knights. But though you may seek to count the stones and see how many soldiers there were in that army, the number will be different every time you try. And be sure to curtsy to the elder tree which stands near the village, for the Witch of Rollright still keeps her careful watch.