Book Excerpt from Chapter 7 Green Man's Clearing

The crowd continued to walk through the forest, the trees bending in the wind. They arrived at the clearing in the forest where the Samhain celebration would continue, the clearing large circled by ancient elms and oak. Another bonfire was lit and burning brightly in the center of the clearing, a crowd was gathering around it. The musicians were gathered off to the side and had arranged themselves to provide the best area for dancing. As Miach entered the clearing the crowd welcomed him with a great happy cry of: “The Green Man[1] has entered! Now the festivities can begin.” His gray and brown cloak swirling around him, he moved forward with his hand on his staff with purpose. The music swelled up and singers started their song of Samhain. The beat and pipes started a shadowy swirling sound reminiscent of unknown dark things, the singers’ voices low and ominous like a thunderstorm. The dancers started swaying and twirling, twisting into frightening shapes, their shadows leaping around them as if they were secondary dancers. The most important part of Samhain began in earnest.

Miach stepped into the center of the dancers and held up his arms to the night. “Come to me spirits of the world, come tell us what is to happen, what is to be, come into me!” he yelled, intoning the prayer. The wind began to pick up, its’ harsh bite only intensified the eager dancers to reach the culmination of the ceremony. All those around had joined in the dance, shedding extra clothes in the process, they danced around almost naked in the harsh light of the bonfire on Samhain night. Miach stripped of his robes and stood naked and proud and still, his bony body held taut in the wind, the only one of the groups not moving. On his body were tattoos painted in woad, leaves and twining branches circled his arms and legs. Circular symbols were on his torso and back, coiling together and splitting into fantastic new designs leaving little of his skin unadorned.

The wind began to howl with an unearthly growl, the dancers continued in their gyrations around Miach and the musicians redouble their efforts at playing the unearthly music. The wind picked up its howling and moaning. Suddenly one by one random dancer went prostrate on the ground, not all but only about one out of every five of the crowd. They writhed on the ground, mouths open and growling sounds came out. Never have so many been struck down like this during a Samhain ceremony, a testament to the number of inpatient spirits around the world that night. Miach held his arms outstretched his staff held out in front of him as if addressing a vast crowd, his voice boomed out: “It has begun, the crossover of spirits into our world, those who wish to impart their final wishes to those remaining with us! Heed their words for times to come in the next seasons!”

Meadghbh was one of those stricken on the ground first, her face contorted as if in pain, growls coming forth from her mouth. Eimear dropped to the ground to hear any message from those who passed beyond this world, hoping it was her husband or sons coming through, her sister Brenna also stopped dancing to hear the message. Meadghbh’s growls began to lessen then a man’s voice emitted from her: “Eimear my mother, be at peace, father and Caolin are here with me. We must warn you, the coming seasons will be full of sorrow and pain, what is yours will be taken away and what is most precious will be stripped. Take heed and be strong.” The voice faded and was gone. Eimear and Brenna called out their worry and sorrow. No message of happiness on the other side just an ominous message of upcoming dread.

Over by Niamh, her daughter Aibhlinn fell to the ground and laid lifeless, her mouth open in a silent scream. Niamh, and Cliona sank to the ground by her, their breaths harsh in the howling wind and dropping temperature. Aibhlinn began to moan and suddenly a man’s voice came through: “Niamh I am here, your husband Galahaut, Adair is with me as well. I am immensely proud of your work on the farm; you will continue to prosper in the coming seasons. But your help will be needed on many fronts, from those close to you and those not known to you at this time. Be open to new ideas, it will work to your benefit. But be careful and not too open to new gods and their ways, they can be a downfall with unforeseen consequences. Keep the farm and you will prosper,” with that last bit of information Galahaut stopped talking. Niamh felt better, she was afraid the message would be direr but it was also confusing, and also typical of Galahaut since he omitted any soft feelings for her even though she knew he loved her and the family. If only he could have told me he loved me, she mused, it would have made the long hours of the lonely nights easier. Tears fell from her eyes.

Next to Bebhinn the dancing Edana fell to the ground and started writhing on the ground, her face in a rictus of horror, growls coming from her too. Presently the growls resolved into a man’s voice: “Bebhinn my love, Carrig is here with me in the next realm, I have sorrow to impart on you, the next seasons will be hard, full of sorrow but also there will be joy. Tell Edana to be strong and keep her faith in the old ways, they will get her through the next several seasons. It will be hard but if you and Edana keep to the old ways you will flourish. I give you my leave to seek another partner in the future,” and with that, the voice faded away. Too soon, the message was over too soon and not enough, I need more information! Thought Bebhinn. I do not understand what my husband Ardan said. I need more; I need his arms around me again! She dissolved into tears as she helped Edana come to after the possession of her father. “I need more time with him,” she gulped her sorrow back down.

Throughout Miach stood with his arms outstretched not moving despite the cold wind howling, his long gray hair swirling around him. His eyes took on a distant stare looking into the sky as if he were the conduit of all the spirits inhabiting the fallen dancers. All around the messages from departed ones were coming through to their loved ones, most had dire predictions, some were less horrific but nonetheless sad. The populous of Gosbecks had a clear message from loved ones in the other realm that the upcoming seasons would be full of change, some good but worst. Great care would need to be had on any upcoming decisions regarding dealings with the Romans.

As the spirit possessions ended the people began to look at Miach for guidance, all turning as if on cue to look at him. What would become of the people now, who will look after them? Miach looked back at them with the empty stare and said in a hollow voice not of this world: “A sacrifice must be made to propitiate the gods, a man of substance and will, a leader must be given,” he intoned. The crowd uneasily looked around. Cathmore stepped forward and said: “I am willing to give my life for the people.” Meara and Bebhinn stepped forward to say no but he waved them away. “I am a leader and have the substance and will to do this.”

Iollan stepped forward and said: “I am a leader in the village and will willingly give my life for the people.” The people looked at him sadly and shook their heads, he was young and fit and the only thing he led was the musicians. He did not fit the request made by the gods.

Four other men stepped forward with their exaltations of being leaders and the one needed for the willing sacrifice but Miach said nothing. Then Declan the smith moved to the front: “I am a leader and have the will to give my life for my people.”

Etain his wife shook her head in negation, “NO, not you too, isn’t our son enough to lose for the gods?” Sadhbh and Lavena stepped forward in horror to see their father volunteer on this difficult night of all nights.

Miach simply turned and pointed to Declan and said in the otherworldly voice: “The decision is made; he will be the sacrifice!” Miach pointed with his staff at Declan and looked at him with a fathomless stare.

Declan turned to Etain and held her, his one arm going around her: “Etain my love it is best this way. The Romans robbed me, the smith of Gosbecks, of my right arm during a paltry skirmish, now I have a purpose again, probably a better purpose even than being the village smith. See my right arms it is chopped off at the elbow, it is worth nothing. I cannot make the shovels, plows, and swords anymore for a living. I cannot do what the people of Gosbecks need.” He raised his stump and looked at it: “Can you see my right hand anymore, not of course, but I do. I still feel it. I’ll go to the other realm and see Addis again,” he dropped his stump and looked at her sadly. He then kissed Etain passionately. “You are my given, my twin in this harsh land, I wish the best for you and my girls. Please let me do this for everyone in Gosbecks. It is the best that I can do for everyone.”

He then turned to Sadhbh. “My little helper, so happy in everything and the perfect mummer for this momentous Samhain, be at peace and watch after your mother and your little sister Lavena. They will need your strength in the coming seasons, they will look to you for help and guidance,” he then kissed her. Lavena was standing next to him and grabbed his arm, “And my little Lavena, you are so beautiful and full of life, keep the old ways for your mother and sister. You will need to lean on them from now on.” He kissed Lavena as well. Then he turned to Miach and said: “I am ready.” Looking at Declan Etain could have sworn she saw his right hand mysteriously appear for a moment then fade into invisibility.

Hands grabbed Declan and wrenched him from Etain’s tear-stained grasp. They then set a noose reserved for this type of sacrifice and tied it around his neck, tightening it beginning to choke him. Declan started to choke and gagged. One of the men behind Declan and rapped his head with a sharp blow sending Declan falling forward. Then another man took out a knife, pulled back his head, and slit his throat. Declan was given the thrice killed death[2], the most honorific way for a willing man to give up his life for the people. The killing was brutal but swift. The only sounds left were the sobbing from Etain, Sadhbh and Lavena, and the bonfire. All the others had silently looked on. The willing sacrifice was needed in this saddest of Samhain ceremonies, seen only in times of great distress. As Declan finally expired his body was picked up and thrown into the bonfire, landing in the middle on top. The crowd silently watched as it slowly singed, then caught fire and began to burn, the hideous smell and crackling of the body as it slowly went up in flames.

The otherworldly wind continued to howl and blow, the spirits crying out in joy at the ceremony. The cold and tired Celts began to sluggishly start getting back in their clothes, world-weary at the sad end of the Samhain ceremony. Normally it was a happy festival but this year the rebellion and loss to the Romans took any joy out of the season. The messages they received from their loved ones from beyond this world made the onlookers feel dejected, gloomy, and downtrodden. There were some that sobbed for Declan but also for themselves. Others moved slowly like in a trance as they began to gather their clothing and get dressed to make their weary way back home. Bebhinn sidled up to Miach and asked: “What do we do for the coming seasons; everyone seems to have received bad tidings?”

“We turn to the old ways; this years’ sacrifice should appease the gods for a while, but it is only temporary. The Romans are coming and will change our way of life. They will come in promising a better way to live, to mill our grain, to sow and reap our fields but they have a hidden plan that only benefits Rome, not the Trinovantes, not the people of Gosbecks.” He murmured, sounding tired and dejected but still looking formidable. He slowly got back into his clothing and cloak, the browns, and grays of his cloak oddly appropriate for this sad ceremony.

“Is there anything we should guard against? Any deals we should shy away from?” she asked.

“As the issues come up, we must deal with them on a day by day basis, starting with the benighted mill,” Miach said sorrowfully, “It will be a black well hole of debt for those who agree. The Romans will use it to get a toehold in Gosbecks, the next thing will be the large landowners coming, they will take our farms under the guise of taxes being unpaid. I fear the people will lose their freedom; I have seen it in my dreams.” He wiped his leaking eyes with the corner of his cloak smearing dirt across his cheeks.

“Is there no way around this, are we to lie down and let it happen without fighting?” Bebhinn

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