This chapter is the preparations for the festival of Samhain, a forerunner of Halloween. Samhain was the time when the veils between the worlds are the thinnest and the Celts believed in spirits.
Edana and Meadghbh headed for Edana’s home on the far west side. The night was crisp with just a hint of mist swirling around the trunks of the trees in the woods. The eerie picture was not lost on the girls but they bravely pressed ahead, moving silently forward into the fog, the scenery disappearing into the mist. “We must keep together and not get out of each other’s sight, it looks like the spirits will be active tonight,” Meadghbh said under her breath as they trudged through the woods and still had a ways to go so they kept at a good clip.
“Since we passed the forked road we’ll get to my house soon, from there to Niamh’s farm and back to the bonfire to throw the offerings in. Then we should go next to Cathmore’s farm. With those out of the way, we’ll be able to circle back into Gosbecks without mishap.” Edana tried to sound confident but even her worry was sneaking through on this Samhain night. There seemed to be a preternatural stillness to this Samhain night.
Worriedly the girls trudged through the night without misfortune and made it to Edana’s home. Per their rehearsed saying they came to the front and demanded to be appeased by those within. “We claim the right to be appeased from the inhabitants of this home!” they chorused in loud keening voices. From within Bebhinn opened the door and gave them the package of bound wheat and barley from their own fields proving to the spirits they were willing to share in goodwill.
“Be safe, tonight is unsettled in the weather and in the heavens. The meeting of our world and the other world is strong tonight,” she murmured. The girls glanced uneasily at each other but thanked her for the package as expected for the spirits. With that Bebhinn backed away and closed the door. She had decided to stay at home and not venture back to the village to witness the offerings being given. Inside she said a quick fervent prayer to Mammaman Mac Lir for the safe deliverance of the girls. Ailbe sitting in the corner watched her and said nothing, not even a question that was unusual for the little boy. “What do you see for the girls Ailbe?” Bebhinn asked not really expecting an answer from him.
In a strangely hollow-sounding voice, he replied: “They will be spared from the spirits meddling tonight but will meet some that are not of this world.” Bebhinn was startled and looked stricken, however, she took comfort from this pronunciation that they would at least be spared. Ailbe had said nothing of them returning to their homes. Bebhinn missed that fine point.
Outside Edana and Meadghbh clasped hands and continued to Niamh’s home up on the high ridge. The moon was obscured by the clouds but occasionally they get a watery glimpse of the moon as they scudded across the face. The night was bizarrely quiet with the heavy feeling of something watching, waiting for the opportunity to come out at them at any moment, their breaths puffing in unison in white before disappearing as they continued on to the high ridge. The girls were getting increasingly worried as they continued, expecting something to jump out at them. The girls had never felt so far away from the comforts of their hearths and homes than at this moment.
They had chosen to go through the woods at this time, a shortcut to take off at least a half a league off their route. Inside the tree canopy, the fog was even thicker, swirling in tendrils that tried to grasp at their legs and slow them down further. They increased their pace, walking silently only their breathing making any sounds as they gulped at the thick air. Ahead was the beginning of a slight rise in the terrain, the top of the ridge that was their destination to their left. There wasn’t a clearing per se, just a lessening of the dense woods, a natural break in the foliage. Ahead they heard stamping from hooves and the deep rumbling of hushed voices. The girls tensed and stopped, looking forward but not truly seeing anything, just large moving shapes in the gloom. The voices continued but they couldn’t understand what was said, just a litany of syllables that flowed over a quick tongue in a low, deep voices. Expecting to see spirits from another world the girls crouched down low, hoping their disguises would melt them into the foliage, into their woodland surroundings. Hearts in their throats they looked at each other.
“I think these are spirits here to lure us away, I cannot understand their talk and the voices are deep like a dark cave, rumbling like gravel. It must be some sort of underground spirits!” Meadghbh breathed as low as she could, her eyes wide with fear.
“I do not understand them either; perhaps they are the fey and have come to take us away to their realm. I think we should just stay low and wait for them to pass. We must get further back into the undergrowth to hide. I do not think they can see us up there on the higher ground.” Edana answered urgently, pulling Meadghbh’s arm. “Quite now, we’ll be able to let them past us.” Backing up the girls moved into the denser undergrowth. Edana stepped back, her foot landing on a dry branch that cracked loudly in the gloom. The low speaking stopped immediately; they then heard one set of hooves move off toward them. Out of the gloom, a rider appeared on a large dark horse, the face still obscured but the body unnaturally large with great hulking shoulders. The girls were not deep into the foliage and could be seen. A deep voice rumbled at the girls, but they could not understand the language. Seeing no way out they looked up silently and anxiously. The other riders appeared out of the fog, each talking to the others. There were eight horses now facing the girls.
The first hulking rider rumbled out more, talking to his comrades, gestured to the girls. One at the back signaled to a smaller rider on a gray horse who disengaged from the others. In heavily accented Celt he said: “Who are you and why are you out on this night?”
Terrified the girls looked at each other, Meadghbh gestured to Edana to talk to the spirits. “I am Edana and this is Meadghbh. We mean you no harm and wish to be on our way.” She said as bravely as she could.
The being in the shadows shook his head, “I think not, you have seen us. You will be coming with us.”
“We have a lot of duties for this Samhain night and must visit several places. We must continue on our mission,” Edana croaked, “We cannot go with you to whence you came from.”
The man in shadows turned and spoke in the fluid language to his comrades. There were several rumbles of laughter from the other riders. Edana looked at Meadghbh with worry, thinking they are in trouble. They exchanged a look and then took off running the opposite way from the riders. Their feet taking flight, running as they never had before. Behind them, the large hulking rider followed with the smaller one who shouted: “Why are you running, we only want to talk with you!”
As one the girls turned from the path into a deer run, smaller and harder for the horses to follow. Behind them, the larger rider yelled something as he could not follow them. They heard him jump off his horse and the pounding of his legs as he followed them. They redoubled their efforts but his long legs quickly overtook their shorter ones. He grabbed Meadghbh first then Edana who cried out in fear. His hands were big and rough, he held them securely but not harshly as if he didn’t wish to harm them. He dragged them back to the small clearing where the other riders were still waiting. The one on the gray horse said: “Are you trying to alert your people to our appearance here in Gosbecks?”
“No, we are not going to tell anyone you are here,” Edana fearfully said.
“Where were you going? Why did you run?”
“No, no one would believe us if we told them that you are in Gosbecks,” Edana truthfully said, “We are only mummers that are performing the propitiation rites for Samhain, so spirits will leave and return to their realm.”
“You think us spirits? Does Faber holding you fill solid?” he gestured to the man holding them. He turned and said something to the others which got another round of laughter. The one called Faber shook their arms a little in response. Meadghbh cried out in dismay at the action.
They were well and truly caught and each girl trembled, knowing they will be dragged back to the fey world by their captors. There was no light to see their faces but their bodies seemed unnaturally large, especially through their chests. Their horses were restive and danced but the riders kept them in check with no problem. One of them on the end rode forward, his big bay horse chomping at the bit and prancing as if impatient to get moving. “Do you know the people here? On the next rise is a farm, is it yours?” The man’s voice was heavily accented but understandable, his voice smooth and deep, oddly compelling.