The Moon would be full on the first day of November this year. So the weekend after it had to be, when her aged face in the cold wintry sky would look down on the dark winter hills. Two nights ago the first white frost lay on the grass, glistening cold in her waning light. The beech trees had reddened overnight, hazels stood speckled in yellow blotches on the green, the oaks were papery, brown. And now the land lay sodden again, dark beneath the lowering clouds and a bitter wind lashed squalls of rain against the windows.
It was warm indoors, even cosy, in the armchairs, on the settee, on the big thick carpet on the floor, for those of us who had arrived, which was most of us now in Rhona and Arthur's big room with its big log fire blazing warmth to the farthest and darkest corners. Gathered now together in the shadow of Samhain were Huw and Elen, Gwen and Owen, Idris and Merian from the valleys near about, Cindy with Dick and Steve, and Coll with Liz and Judy, from over the border, who had arrived yesterday afternoon, and Padraig and Caitlin who had arrived on the nightboat this morning from the mountains of Mayo and were collected from the station at lunchtime by Huw. But Jean and Jamie, who hadn't been able to start out until dawn this morning hadn't yet arrived and it was beginning to get rather late, and Rhona was wondering whether we ought to send out a search party. Just then the phone rang. It was Jamie: "We're on the road, on the grass verge I mean to say, a wee bit low on..." Jean's voice came through loud and clear: "We're uwt o' petrol! Smart Alec here..." I was sitting across the room and I heard it! "...an' it's piddling duwn wi'..." I missed the next bit in the laughter, but Arthur was scribbling notes on a scrap of paper, Rhona was filling a flask with hot coffee and in ten minutes Arthur and Dick drove off with "About an hour if all goes well..."
"First one for Samhain!" quipped Steve to laughter that somehow had a subdued feel in it, and there was a wry expression here and there. It felt empty, somehow, with Dick and Arthur gone like that. No reason why it should, of course, and it wasn't as though they'd done all the talking. It's just that they'd been here, and now they were not. Judy wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and edged closer to the fire.
"Are you sure you're up it, Judy?" asked Liz, her concern written all over her face; "I'll step in for you if you feel it would be too much..." Judy smiled, a little wanly, and squeezed her hand:
"It's only a cold, I think; perhaps I'll be alright by tomorrow. It'd be such a pity if I can't. If I'm going to be May Queen next year, and so, the Ice Queen in Imbolg, it would feel right, appropriate, poetic, if now I... if I..."
"I know, Sweetie," and she gave Judy a hug.
"Don't take a chance if you feel too ill," said Coll solicitously, anxiously. She smiled at him, still wanly. And gave him a dangerous look! And Coll pulled his head down into his shoulders, like a snail in the shadow of the thrush's wing. If Steve thought "Second one for Samhain," he didn't say so! Neither dared anybody else!
Rhona got up and switched the oven on, full of potatoes all washed and ready for baking and there were sausage rolls that just needed heating up a little later on. The rain had stopped and a hag Moon looked down through the racing tatters of the clouds. Coll put a flageolet to his lips, the tune of The Lonely Piper' and Merian reached for her fiddle. They'd barely finished the second stanza when Judy swayed where she sat and Caitlin caught her and cradled her head in her lap: "Have a sleep, a mhuirnn, and you'll feel better after it," she whispered softly, barely audibly, barely more loud than the steady drip-drip-drip of the rain on the window sill, and Judy's face relaxed, and she was away, awandering on the dream roads of the night. A few more tunes, and Padraig produced a pipe and played a lay of the Winter that we hadn't heard before, so he played it again and Caitlin joined in with the words of it, and the door opened and... In walked Jamie and Jean like a couple of drowned rats! Closely followed by Dick and Arthur looking almost dressed for promotion by comparison! Padraig jumped up and hugged Jamie to his chest, water and all!
"It was a grand way you had with the Horns at Midsummer, Jamie!"
"Och aye, I felt I had a debt to pay to the Cailleach on account o' that." Jean gave him a dirty look, but the twinkle in her eye betrayed her! "But what brought you back all the way from the toes of Croagh Patrick, through wind and fog and a storm that the Cailleach herself brewed up?"
"It's two guesses I'm giving ye, Jamie, for sure as it's myself that's standing before ye, ye'll not be getting it with the first of them!"
Jamie made a crooked face, a crafty glint in his eye. "Here's the first o' them then: "Ye almost won the May Queen, the whole gathering thought ye had her, a breath o' wind might have decided it...." Coll's face bore a merry look. "But Coll took you in the end, a magnificent finale..." Coll's smile was expansive. Judy stirred in her sleep and gave a little moan. Coll's smile vanished. "So ye thought, If I make ma sacrifice to the Cailleach, then next May...'" Jamie left his sentence hanging, his face inscrutable, the seconds lining up to make their escape... "That's ma first guess, Paddy, so it's into the pit wi' it, and I'll come straight out wi' the second: ye feel ye failed her, Paddy, so ye're here to make amends..." Padraig took out a handkerchief and wiped a teardrop from his eye. Judy opened her eyes and the colour had come back to her face.
"But Coll sairved her magnificently, Paddy."
"Aye, and 'tis myself saying she had the best man there of us. But it's sensible ye're being, Jamie, and sense makes a weak brew at times like this!"
They went and sat down together next to Coll, when Gwen and Idris and Cindy had edged aside. Judy, over the other side of the ring, smiled. And it were better to see that smile in the warm lights and by the fireside than in your dreams or under the light of the waning Moon!
Rhona got up and went into the kitchen and Arthur and Cindy and Steve went with her while we spread two overlapping cloths on the floor and Judy was, well, just Judy again. They came back with knives and forks and a pile of plates and we were soon tucking into hot sausage rolls, baked potatoes and pickles. Coll and Padraig and Jamie did the washing up between them. Then we had some music and Owen read us a story he'd written of Samhain, which two or three of us, I fancy, wish he hadn't, at this time of the year, just before going to bed! And did you ever see such a smirk on a lady's face! The last thing I heard as I was going upstairs to bed while other beds were being laid down on the floor was Judy's voice: "You won't mind if I unroll my sleeping bag alongside yours, Coll?"
Something woke me in the night but it was gone before I'd taken a hold of it. A Hag Moon looked down from a nearly clear sky. It would be cold then. I didn't feel like getting up to see whether what I saw around the bottoms of the windows was ice or just condensation. Better just to go back to sleep...
It was cold in the morning and looked colder still outside: frost on the gaunt grey stems of the hogweed, black nettles frosty white, sparkly on the sharp bits, a patch of ice - or was it frost? - in a rushy hollow. But the sky looked dark in the south-west, steely-blue and heavy grey.
We had a good breakfast. Coll went out by himself to gather fading bracken and some twigs of hazel, blotched and yellow-green. Some of them went out collecting bits of wood for a fire in the dark tonight. Some of it was big and Liz and Jean and Arthur, whichever of them was coldest, took a turn with the saw and made shorter bits of it. Some of it was small enough and they took it over into Dwy Nant straight away, and some of it was brittle, powdery. They left a few bits up on the bank that the candle-snuff fungus had a hold of, feeling the fungus had the prior claim. Armfuls they took over and the steely-grey clouds loomed closer. A few dry bits, paper, throw-away plastic to keep it dry and it would be ready for tonight. The clouds were overhead now, black and ominous. Just as the first of them came up the bank out of Dwy Nant, the sky opened! The sparse-leaved trees bent in the sudden wind. The hailstones were almost horizontal. They were running, it was almost black outside, someone fell over. And picked themself up. And rejoined the mad dash. Soon they were all back indoors, not as wet as you might think (so how hard-frozen that hail?) and looking rather more exhilarated than dismayed! All...? Where... "Has anyone seen Judy?"
The hail had turned to rain and was beginning to tail off. Arthur, standing at the window, looked round and pointed. He didn't say a word. He just pointed. We looked in the direction he was pointing, down to the ford into Dwy Nant. A figure standing on the bank, this side, Rhaeadr's bank, beneath the dripping trees, looking down into the now-raging torrent. Judy! Wet as a fish. And calm as you like. Coll looked at Padraig and Jamie, and Jamie looked at Padraig, and Padraig said something that I don't think would come into my own language with the right feel in it.
We didn't go on looking. We helped Rhona and Arthur with the vegetables. Coll put a pipe to his lips and played a rather wistul tune of the Autumn and then someone put on a tape that seemed to remind you of things you'd forgotten of times long, long ago. Ten minutes I suppose it was when Judy came in and shed her clothes at the doorstep and Rhona threw her a towel. I wasn't going to be the one to ask her questions. Neither was anybody else...
She seated herself, in a change of clothes, by the fire, and Caitlin squeezed her hand. "The Lady is with you," she said softly, sympathetically, barely above the crackle of the fire. Judy's lips quirked as they held each other in their eyes.
"Yes," she said, eerily calm, her voice like an autumn leaf on the windy road.
We had to put the lights on. There were sounds of activity in the kitchen so we spread the cloths on the floor and sorted out the knives and forks between us, and Gwen and Merian and Steve went into the kitchen and started bringing in plates with boiled bacon and pease pudding on them and dishes of potatoes, and beans and dishes with a sauce made of tinned tomatoes with green peppers and onions in it; a dinner with a feeling of preserved things about it it was.
It was dark as pitch outside. The Moon had not yet risen, and it didn't look the sort of sky that'd have a Moon in it. Huw and Idris went out with a box of matches to put a light to the fire so that it would be burning low, dying, when we would be out there later on. When they came back Dick read us a story he'd written of the dying year, and Gwen's poem, sad, beautiful, twined tendrils about our hearts. It began to rain. Jean took out her flageolet and played to the Winter but she had to stop when the slash of the rain on the windows became too loud. But I think she would have stopped anyway, in sheer awe of rain like that! When at last it eased off Padraig went to a bag in the corner of the room and came back with a book in his hand and opened it at a bookmark. Hush descended and Caitlin settled herself even more comfortably into the floor. A tale of the bog roads it was, and the things you might meet on them when the Sun goes down: things you wouldn't believe in... if you had the choice... But do we choose our dreams? Or do our dreams choose us?
"I'll tell you how it happened to myself now," Padraig said, contemplatively, dreamily, when he'd finished the tale. And the tale he told us then was every bit as eerie as the one he'd read out of the book!
"Ara, Paddy, it was a drop of the bottle ye had!" said Caitlin, with a twinkle in her eye.
"It was not; that was the other time!"
"Sure it's a story teller ye are, a mhuirnn. Wasn't it myself that was in it the other time!"
I think one or two of us, or it might have been eleven or twelve of us, thought that was a bit ambiguous; but if there was a bad time for saying a thing like that, it was that kind of a time now.
Coll gathered up his heap of bracken and hazel twigs. He paused momentarily at the foot of the stairs. Jamie and Padraig nodded and went up with him. They were up there about five or six minutes and when Jamie and Padraig came down, it was with the Horned God. The Horned One sat at the foot of the stairs, shaggy haired, withered bracken tied about him, withered hazel twined about his horns. Padraig was rubbing his throat. "By the Great Hound of Culainn," he rasped, "it's the king of the bogles himself down in my throat and a gorse bush with him!" Caitlin looked worried, and touched his hand, knowing words would avail her nothing at all. And if they would, they would never have left her lips.
The rain had stopped, but it sounded very wet outside. It was just after midnight. It looked very black. Merian flung the door open. It smelt... wild! Ancient... Uncaring... ! Judy went upstairs, and turned the lights off as she went. "What the...!"
It didn't look quite so very black with the lights off. Even a momentary star. And plop, plop, plop... everywhere.
A door opened upstairs. A door, the same door, closed. It wasn't that we didn't know what it was. We just didn't want to see it. There wasn't space at the hearth for everybody. The bookcases were popular, there were bags to sort through, a note to scribble in a notebook... and it was gone, out through the open door, left open...
The Horned One, a crumpled heap sitting yet at the foot of the stairs, where the Shade had passed so little while ago, rose wearily to his feet. His head was bowed, he stooped, as he made his way to the open door, and went out into the night. We followed him. Our bodies followed him; our very hearts were where his own heart beat. No one had the heart to wear boots at a time like this.
Padraig had his hands up to his mouth and nose, a vain hope to warm the air a bit on its way to his ravaged throat. It was icy cold underfoot and the cold wet earth oozed squelchy between our toes. The swollen stream roared cold defiance in the dark, the louder, the more ominous the closer we approached the fateful ford. A sound, a baneful sound in the soggy dark: the doleful thud of washing being slapped upon wet stones. Someone had left a lamp burning, pitifully dimly, on the farther bank. To help? To show the way? Or was it that if you turned your back to flee it would be yourself who stood in your own light? But I didn't think of that then. I didn't see the light till afterwards, with my mind. It was the Bean Nighe I saw, shrouded in black, at her dreadful labours in the water, washing the shrouds of those who were doomed to die.
The Horned One went forward into the racing torrent, his horns a momentary silhouette against the pale diffuse lamp light reflecting from the rain-soaked leaves of the night-dark trees. He turned his head and looked into the black hood of the dreaded wraith, into that bottomless hole that was the Cyhiraeth.
"Brirn," it said, "Thou shalt be mine."
"Other fate I would not ask thee," he said, and he spoke her dreaded name. He seemed reluctant to go, took a step, hesitated, as though the parting were dolorous for him as it was anguish in the hollow breast of the Cailleach. And it watched him go into Dwy Nant, into the night, and away. And it sank again to its doleful labour as the freezing water rushed black between its fingers, black between the boulders, grating in the night through the slippery stones.
It rose, it turned, the shroud was in its left hand, raised... She would break your legs with it if you wouldn't help her, it was said, of old. Who... who'd go first? Padraig, Jamie, Merian... Merian and Jamie deferred...
Padraig went down into the water before the Black One, before the Cyhiraeth, and looked into the hollow pits of its eyes. What it said, what Padraig said, I don't know, and the voice of the stream was loud, but it took a time in the saying and when it was said she put the hateful shroud into his hand. And he washed it for her there in the swirling black water, and he got his leave of her. And he climbed the far dark bank into Dwy Nant. And Jamie, and Merian, and Elen, and Rhona, and Steve, and Owen... I was nearest the river now... Ulp! The water was cold, but no colder than the cold winter land, and neither colder than that black-shrouded Shape, that pitiful Thing, that laboured there in the icy flood.
It asked me had I the right to cross. I told it... I think I told her... I had. She asked me the why of it and I told her the why. She told me it was not enough. Oh, and I knew in my heart as I stood there before her in the cold black water that it wasn't enough when I felt the ache in her ice-cold voice. I pledged her my hand, I pledged her my mind, I pledged her my heart, I almost wept for her. "Help me in my labour," she begged, the grey shroud held out over the dark water before me, and choice I had none, and I took the shroud from her old withered hand and I bent to the dark icy water... and I gave it clean and wrung-out dry, into her cold bony hand. And she let me go from her. But a part of my heart I left behind.
Cindy came next up the bank after me out of that well of darkness, into Dwy Nant, quiet, faraway. Arthur was wiping a teardrop from his eye. Gwen hesitated, grief-bound to the thing in the cold black flood. One it sent back, twice, before he gained his way to cross over. A few came through quickly. Others were long there down in the dark swirling water. But at last we all stood together in the dark sodden grass of Dwy Nant. No, not all; the Horned One was not with us...
The Cailleach, groaning, weeping, was making her painful way up the cold slippery bank, her elder stick in her cold bony hand. Pity twined about our hearts. I turned to help her, as others, had they been nearer, but Steve was already there beside her, and Elen, to bear her up, one at the one side of her and one at her other. A squall of rain swept the field, and stopped as suddenly as it had started. A gap opened in the racing clouds. A gibbous Moon lifted her aged face above the black silhouettes of the streamside trees, just for a few moments, and was swallowed again in the shifting sky.
We made our slow painful way through the dark sodden field to the faint glow of a fire that glimmered and smouldered in the dark. Idris poked it together and it gave a bit more heat and light.
The Hag was disconsolate, weepy, lamenting. The Moon gazed fitfully down from the rain-laden sky. Arthur put a pipe to his lips, reedy in the damp cold night. A dirge it was, and we sang the words, slow, sad, beautiful, and all the while the Cyhiraeth wept her sorrow, sad, unutterably sad, for all that once had been:
THIRTEEN MOONS I SHALL LOVE THEE
Sad now thou lookest, O Queen of my heart.
Sad now I love thee; more sad do we part.
Gay was thy face when the wood sorrel shone,
Garlanded then with the blooms that are gone.
Fell blows the wind and his bite pains me sore.
Faded thy grey hair yet love I thee more.
Swift were thy footsteps that danced with the breeze;
Sweet was thy laughter that sang in the trees.
Weary, I watch thee more weary than me;
Withered I see thee. I weep, sad, for thee.
Dark are the night clouds; more dark is my drear.
Dear, thou art faded, and hadst all my cheer.
Sweet were thine apples, the green and the red;
Sworn was my love then. O Love, art thou fled?
Gone are thy graces and drear is thy plight;
Gloom is thy pathway; thy bed is the night.
E'en in thy fading, though gladness be rent,
Ere that thou fadest flows sweetly thy scent.
Would that I see thee as once that I saw;
Would that I hold thee as held I before.
N'er might it be, and so graceful thou wert!
Nought will I ask of thee; nought will I hurt.
Tears I will give thee for n'er they would stay,
Told for thy beauty now faded away.
Tenderly take I thy cold withered hand;
Tearfully walk o'er thy cold winter land.
Weep as I may for the sorrow I feel,
Weepest thou more, for the greater thy weal.
Aught that thou hadst then thou gav'st from thy breast,
All that was lovely, and now thou shalt rest.
Lie thee down weary, thy gown all of mud;
Leaf mould shall clothe thee 'neath dark bough and bud.
Ferns shall lie over and make thee a bed;
Fungus and field mouse shall lie at thy head.
Bramble and briar shall be to thy hand,
Bracken to warm thee and soft silver sand.
Seed pods I'll gather and set in thy hair,
Silver-grey lichen and moss green and fair.
Bank vole shall mourn thee and bird in the tree,
Barn owl and badger, bereft now of thee.
Wan, hollow-breasted, sweet waif of the storm,
Would I could hold thee, but hope lies forlorn.
Spent all thy laughter and sped all thy cheer,
Spilt where thou diest in the pit of the year.
Wrath shall the North-wind cry loud o'er thy head,
Rending the skies o'er thy cold, icy bed.
Snow and hail whirling and hard biting sleet
Stand o'er to guard thee, and sit at thy feet.
Bare-boned thou liest. What yet might'st thou bring?
Bent-backed in secret: the necklace of Spring!
Call I thy love-name, O Queen, blessed Earth.
Cold though thou liest yet, sweet thou'lt give birth.
Low was the tune and tender, for the notes were fashioned in the halls of pathos and time himself had left them in his sorrow by the wayside. And they fell from our lips like withered leaves, falling from a tree in the Autumn that even the cold wind had forsaken, or like tears from a sky grown weary of weeping. Tears there were in the eyes of many, wept for a Goddess whom all the weeping in the land would not avail to bring her from the way she was in. Verse upon verse and ever more sad we gave our hearts to the Goddess in her pain, and mournful in our midst the sounds of sorrow fell from her withered lips.
But hark! Faintly, scarcely more loud than the drip of the rain from the trees... Was it in answer? Sweet, achingly sad... Far away over there in the damp and the dark, over by the stream where the dripping trees cast an even darker shade, the plaintive call of a pipe, borne on the cold dismal wind, and out of the dark the haunting tones seem to remember again things that were forgotten and things that had passed away. The Hag... No longer weeping, a strange urgency was the shape that was on her, menacing. The elder wand was in her cold bony hand, her left arm raised, threatening our undoing! She stormed upon us and we shrank away from her, into the north, away from the dying embers, into the night. We shrank, away from her... We fled from that awful hole in the dark... She hobbled away into the west, shade among shades, into the cold, dark night. And she had a space that was all her own, empty, cold, and desolate.
And then, in the dim glow of the dying embers and the uncertain light of a Moon that came and went among the tatters of the sky, we saw the bedraggled form of the Horned One. Crowned of the hazel, Lord of the bracken, master of the pipe he was yet, but the hazel was faded, the bracken was wilted and the pipe played a mournful air. Out of the dark to the dying embers he came. The pipe fell silent. He stood there in the cold wet grass and looked with sadness and longing into the west, and the cold wind blew over the land. He put his pipe to his lips and played his last song of all, and the notes fell from his pipe like leaves from the trees as we sang to the notes in their falling:
THE LONELY PIPER
Hark to the sounds of a lonely piper,
Piping alone in the greenwood glade,
And a lonesome tune of days that were riper
Comes from the piper.
Hark to the pipe, to the swell and the fade.
Hark to the sounds of the leaves a-falling,
Rustling dry to the greenwood floor,
And the plaintive strains so mournfully calling,
Rising and falling,
Notes of the wild that cry out and implore.
Now comes the piper from out of hiding.
Doleful along go the cloven feet.
And the year is waning. No more abiding
Hunting and hiding;
No merry laughter and Summertime heat.
See on his horns, there is hazel drooping,
Yellow and fading now fast away.
And the piper trudges; see he is stooping,
Weary and drooping,
Tramping along on his sorrowful way.
Up in the sky see the storm clouds forming,
Storm clouds a-gath'ring to drive him on.
They are piling, dark'ning, ready for storming,
Known ones, and fair ones, and old friends are gone.
See in the gloaming a dark shape trailing,
Dark in the wind, as an ice-cold blast,
And the fern-clad Brirn, his heart near to failing,
Sad ferns a-trailing,
Sad for his time in the green now is past.
Brirn, Merry Piper, we mourn for your going,
Mourn for you, Loved One, our God-in-Green.
And of sadness heavy, wide there is knowing,
Fading away all the Joy that has been.
Dark is the Cailleach, O dark and dreary,
Dark as the night and as cold as death,
Coming black and fast on Brirn now so weary,
Heavy and dreary,
Now in the storm wind and fighting for breath.
On through the mud and the clay he's striven,
'Draggled and torn in the wind's sharp fangs.
But the Cailleach comes and deeper he's driven;
'Vain that he's striven;
All she will take and care nought for his pangs.
On comes the Cailleach, her black shrouds trailing,
On for the Green One, her stick in hand.
O so dreadful, shrieking, clamouring, wailing,
Black fog is trailing.
Sleet comes and hail, bitter tears on the land.
Faster and faster she comes behind him;
Nearer and nearer she draws behind.
With her stick she strikes him, fast there to bind him,
Cruelly behind him,
Cruelly: the Wind of the North were more kind.
Cold is the Lord of the greenwood shiv'ring;
Yellow the leaves on his hazel crown,
And his ferns all brown and red and a quiv'ring.
How he is shiv'ring!
Standing so cold, and his eyes cast so down.
Leaves that are yellow, we mourn for your parting;
Fronds that are brown, fading fast away.
And no more among the leaves are there darting,
Mating and parting,
Insects of Summer that once were so gay.
Off with his crown, and the scrawny fingers
Dash to the mud amid wind and rain
Every leaf that, yellow, fearfully lingers
From woody fingers,
Dead o'er the floor where the others are lain.
Now in the mud lies the crown of hazel,
Willow and alder and ash and oak,
And the hawthorn too, now far from the May spell,
Lies with the hazel.
Only the holly still stands in his cloak.
And, with the holly, the ivy twining,
Dressed in her green, weaving up from below
In the forest where the storm winds are whining,
Far in the winter and deep in the snow.
Off with the fronds of the bracken wilting,
Dying down low to the forest floor.
And away the pipe, in Summertime lilting,
Dead in the bracken that lives now no more.
Faded and yellow and brown and sodden,
Mildewed and blackened in freezing ground,
All the green ones fall and there to be trodden,
Broken and sodden,
Torn 'neath the feet of the hunt and the hound.
Brirn of the wild, we are numbed with sorrow,
Lord of the Green now so sad to see.
And what joy abides with us for the morrow,
Deep in our sorrow?
Hard is the lake now and bare is the tree.
Into the Earth drains the cold, dark moorland.
Hungry the child of the lonely heath.
And so dark the mountain; darker the foreland,
Bleak, barren moorland,
Held in her jaws, clenched and bound in her teeth.
Cheerless the land now behind your going.
Wary the hare by the mountain rocks,
Running fast in cover, fearfully showing,
Out in the open in fear of the fox.
Gone are the days of the merry weather;
Gone to the One who will take them all,
And away have dwindled brown fur and feather.
Cold, bitter weather!
None in the greenwood to come and to call.
Dead is the land of our people lying.
Loud is the wind on the shuttered door.
And among the mountains polecats are crying,
Lurking and lying,
Hunting the prey now abundant no more.
Out on the hillside the wind is howling,
Bending the pine and the sturdy beech,
And around the homestead, Maghu is prowling,
Wailing and howling.
Who in the wild flees her predat'ry reach?
The notes of his pipe were dead and the tawny owl with a quavering call filled the hollows they had left in the night. And he made his way into the west, as day is swallowed into the night and Summer feeds fell Winter's empty maw. And the night was come of form and she stood before him and her name was The Winter and she carried desolation in her left hand and ruin in the caverns of her eyes. Dread she stood athwart the path the Summer trod, black in the cold black night, and she put a rune upon him with the elder wand that froze his heart, and he thought no more of green things. Like a spider spinning webs of doom about the captive prey she wrought her runes of ruin with the elder in the caverns of the night, and the Horned One, like a thing undead but a thing that had no way to die, cast bracken from his body on the path before her. Numbed were his hands and his fingers in the bitter cold, but pity she had none, and she wrought with the elder as if by her labours she might weave a web of being across her awful desolation. Colder grew the Horned One and jerky and stiff his moving to the runes of the Withered One as he cast his fronds of bracken one by one to her ice-cold feet. One will alone it seemed that moved them both, and they moved as if to the call of a terrible beauty. One more rune and the most terrible of all she wrought, and the Mighty Brirn laid his horns and the hazel crown at her feet. Oh Maghu! Thou art got to thyself the pride of all the land; and his will lies cold in thy cold bony hand!
And she was exultant for out of dying she had fashioned her a life most aweful; and she crystalised out of the black night in all her terrible beauty, dazzling white and sparkling. In the bitter cold she was standing, slender, beautiful beyond the wildest sweep of words, with the icy wind in her long flowing hair, and blowing on her lovely bare arms; and her sparkling dress was all a glitter in the starlight like snow on a mountain. And there as she stood she took a crown in her slender fingers and set it in the wind upon her head. Awesome now in all her beauty stood the Ice Queen, the very invocation of the cold, her crown of icicles scintillating and sparkling on her head, and her radiant face exultant in the cold... joyful in the bitter wind... and a fierce, cold love burning in her stony heart.
She called the wraith of Summer and there came from out the dark the screech of the barn owl and the tu-whooo of the tawny owls as they hunted the prey. With the artistry of the dance she called him, with the fierce cold light of her eyes, with the bitter wind and the cold dark night she called:
The Ice: O Horned One, thou art dead! And thy dead things lie over thee.
Where now thy subtle cunning and thy vaunted strength, O Weary One that lie so still in the cold, cold Earth? Oh Fickle Summer! What little thou hast taken with thee in the dark, and littler yet thou hast left behind thee! Think me a Shadow, O Tattered One? A hollow wraith like thee? See! Away with the dark! Come cold! Come ice! See how I sparkle! I am beautiful, am I not? My limbs are lovely. See how the wind haunts my loveliness! And thou? Thou art a crumpled heap of ruin at my feet, dark and dank, and a home for crawling things! Look at me, O Fallen One! I have thy life in my hand, and thy will in my cold icy breath, and thy dreams in my ice-cold heart: fierce dreams, wild dreams, of love, and flight, and conquest, and wild roaring wind! Take my hand! Rise up, O Frozen One! Thou shalt be my Lover, and all these hills and the great black sky and all the horde of diamond lights shall be thine as they are mine!
The Frost: A voice calling in the dark: a beautiful voice, all full of cold
and crystals, and hard and clear. Have I been sleeping? Who laid this old brown rag upon me? Away dead leaves! How cold the air! Oh!
The Ice: See how thou sparklest now, my Frosty Lord! Does it please thee?
Come, O Lover! Feel the touch of my hands! Feel my arms! Are they not cold and hard to thy liking? Oh, thou art beautiful now, my Rugged One, and I'll dance with thee! And I long to hear thy wild roaring voice on the snow-clad hills! Come to me! Come! Let us dance!
The Frost: My Lady! Thou art lovely! Cold thine eyes and beautiful, like
stars on the winter hills, and the dress thou wearest adorns thy beauty like snow in the moonlight. For thee, O Ice Maiden, would I scatter all the snow of the Northern Lands about thy feet and o'er thy cold and lovely body. Fair thine arms, and I'll blow an ice-cold wind about thee, for I love thee for a Wild One, and I'll chase thee in the blizzard and I'll feast mine eyes on thy cold stark beauty in the frozen fall, and I'll take thee in mine arms where thine ice locks the frozen lake. Oh, the beauty of the ice crystals thou wearest at thy breast and drap'st about thy lovely neck! For thee, O Queen, O mistress of the white and frozen fields, I shall wear the snow-heaped crown of Winter; and a Winter I shall make with thee as will joy thine ice-cold heart! Cold thine arms and lovely, and hard thine icy hand! To the dance, O Maiden! Who runs before us? Away! Away! Come, my lovely Queen, and we'll make them lovely too: with cold, and wind in their hair, and all the loveliness of thine ice crystals in their eye-lashes, and I'll make them beautiful in a blanket of snow for thee. Come, my Lover! They run! They would play with us! Come, my Ice Queen! Call me by the name thou know'st runs fastest: North Wind I shall be for thee, O Queen of the Ice and the cold!
The Ice Queen! The Snow King! Quick! Quick! The dance! We linked our hands and danced once round, and once again, for the New Sun, and we loosed hands and we each, in our own way, gave love to the cold dark Earth. And the Goddess and the God of the Winter looked on, so it seemed, from purposes of their own, and the whole of the Winter lay before them.
Not for long they gazed. Awe the shape they wrought as they began to dance, hand to hand and all asparkle and a glitter. At first together, now asunder, wider, ever wider, speaking with their hands and with their arms, winter runes, fierce runes: of ice on the rivers, of snow in the trees, of blizzards in the valleys, of storms in the hills... widening, ever wider, two glittering figures, sparkling, awesome, beautiful... deadly! And coming nearer! We ran! Through the mud and through the dark we ran! Through long grass stems and withered stalks we ran! Through the lonely ford, only another hundred metres... and we were back into the house, amid warm things, familiar things, and dry logs were going onto the fire and kettles were switched on and mugs of hot coffee and chocolate were in the making for everyone.
"How's the throat, a mhuirnn?" asked Caitlin, anxiously clutching Padraig's hand.
"Tears of the Lady! It's after forgetting all about it I am!" exclaimed Padraig, astonished. "Out there it is now and away aboen the river, I'm thinking!" Caitlin gave him a little hug, her relief lovely to see. We gradually relaxed onto the floor, and switched two electric fires on as well.
Five or six minutes later the door opened and two naked people walked in with bundles under their arms... Liz looked up: "Coll! Is that blood you've got on your fingers!" He looked down:
"Well, so it is! Too enthusiastic with the bracken, I suppose!" and he flashed a whimsical smile to the naked lady beside him, and a whimsical smile he got in return!
We shuffled around, making space for them by the fire, but they went straight upstairs. And five minutes later Judy and Coll came down and joined us in the hot drinks.
And when we'd all warmed up we had a supper fit for hungry people!