Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Samhain Season Tale

Druid Facebook elder and funnyman Mike the Fool called for a round of short stories to be produced for the Samhain season. Drawing on (i.e. stealing) another literary game, he declared that each story should begin with "It was a dark and stormy night, as the Druid thought about the strange events of Samhain." I thought this was a nice idea, and decided to give my bardic skills a try.

The following is pretty much a live performance of an improvised story, save that I wrote it down instead of telling it aloud. It has had only the smallest edits of word-choice and grammar. As I understand Mike intends only to archive these tales on Facebook I'll just stash this here.

While the Feast of Samhain has passed, we remain in the dark season, until Yule morning turns the tide. The season of the Dead and the Sidhe is still upon us. Time to gather family and friends and enjoy your fire and ale. May you be blessed in it.

The Burning of Eoghan’s Rath
Ian Corrigan 2013

It was a dark and stormy night, as the Druid thought about the strange events of Samhain. The rath still smoldered before him, as small pockets of fire continued to ignite in the ruins.

Eoghan the Chieftain was an arrogant man, elected by the barons because he had defeated their old enemies up the river. He proclaimed his desire to extend the clan’s holdings into the ancient forest, and he set his barons to cutting the trees and clearing stumps. This was no ill thing, the Druid thought, that the king should enlarge the tribe’s wealth.  However, care was required.

As custom taught, the Druid had gone ahead into the wood. He laid his hazel-rod across his knuckles and reading its swoops and dips he determined what patches and parts of the wood were dear to the clan’s Good Neighbors. A wise chief would have heeded him, but Eoghan declared that it would be his clan who ruled our fields, and called for full clearance.

The cutting began as the full moon passed, and for two weeks the axes worked steadily, regardless of the Druid’s warnings. Eoghan often went with his ax-men, for with his goad they would cut all the faster. In time they came to a deep, wet portion of the wood, where the bare trees stood above dark water. Two weeks before the Samhain Moon, at the twilight of the day when the first silver-shaving sliver of moon was visible above the fields, three wights walked out of the woods.

It was a marvel to see them for they were accompanied by a ringing, swirling cloud of notes, as if harps swirled about their forms. Likewise they lit the woods, coming out of its depths where night shadows already gathered. Even so it was difficult to say whether they generated light, or only defined themselves by the shadows that were thrown from them, making the trees into grasping sentries as they walked.

Tall and slender they were, and white like the moon, white like silver, white like chalk. Long and thin their faces and piercing their eyes, like the eyes of birds that spy a frog.
“Turn aside” cried chalk; “Stay away” screeched silver; “Come no further” croaked moon.
Eoghan and his crew stood still as stones, fixed under their gaze, until the three turned and vanished again. The men would cut no more that day, and Eoghan led them back to their rath.

At the feasting bench, later, Eoghan asked the Druid what this omen might mean.
“Not hard, big man,” he answered, “We dwell in the territory of the Seat of Mider, the God of Magic and Wisdom, the King of the Aes Sidhe in these parts. Those three were his messengers called the Three Cranes of Denial. None who is not a welcome guest can ever pass them. We must cease our cutting, Chief, and be 

pleased with what we have gained.”

But Eoghan would not hear wise council. He declared that he would rule the vales, not some once-mighty so-called king, and he filled his men with ale. Drunken they swore to take up their axes against the Neighbors, though many regretted their boldness in the morning.

So those who dared returned to the cutting, and the Druid turned away from them. He called upon his Druid rights, and declared that the Samhain Sacrifice would be made before the very gates of their walls. His apprentices aiding him, he built the low square mound on which the Fire was laid. Searching carefully, he brought in good dry oak, and ash, and birch from the forests. He was pleased that his rod still led him well, and the wights did not seem to impede his work. He built a good square fire, and laid up wood to fuel it. Three cows he brought, Nine goats , and nineteen squabs. It was the Chieftain’s job to host the feast for the clan, and his wealth brought the singers and jugglers, his slaves raised the tressels and benches and built a good roof over the Fire.

At last the feast days came, and all came to the sacrifice ground for the feast. As the sun was high overhead the Druids began, offering first the cows to the Shining Gods, so that the cooks could prepare them for the folk. Ale-kegs were broached and ale poured, for the gods, the spirits and the folk, and the rite and revel continued until night was full upon the court.

As the full moon rose over the wood, there came a great roaring, like the unceasing thunder of bronze trumpets, and the rumble of hooves, with the wailing of prey in the wolf’s jaws. The host of the Sidhe rode forth on Samhain night, and charged toward the gathered folk. At its head rode the White King, white as bone, white as corpse-flesh, white as snow. He led the roaring host once around the rath, his left shoulder turned toward the walls, then rode to the edge of the Fire’s light and stopped.

The Druid greeted him, but there was no joy in their conversation. The White One desired vengeance, a price for the insult given by Eoghan.
“I will burn your fort”, he roared, and brandished a white-flamed torch, “and cook the flesh of your folk for this my horde to share with the God in his Seat.”

The Druid gestured, and his apprentices began to slaughter the nine goats, as the singers sang an ancient hymn to the God of Wisdom and his Cranes. The Druid proclaimed that he gave flesh already, and that the price was paid, but the White Rider would hear none of that.
“Here then is my offered price, Herald of the King,” the Druid said at last, “I will burn this feast, and these walls, and these beasts, in your honor. You will not have my folk, neither their men nor women nor bairns, but return to the King with our fealty, and our promise to abide outside his wood.”

All this was acceptable, save for one other condition. So the barons of the clan dragged forth impious Eoghan, and the wights of the horde took him up, and set him aflame, and carried him flaming away from that ground. As the War-Leader watched, the Druids set fire to the walls of their rath, and the benches and tressels of the feast and even the roof of the fire-porch, and the night was lit by fire even as the folk drank their fill of ale. The feast continued through the day, as the folk rejoiced in their rescue and the barons discussed the succession.

Now the Druid stood, after the next sunset, and contemplated the work before his people. Foolishness, he knew, was seldom rewarded, and the Gods would have their due.

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