This episode of Bleakbourne on Heath is dedicated to Debra Hayes, who has waited so patiently for Leryn to reappear.
All over Bleakbourne on Heath, couples were preparing to dance the ritual dance, and Leryn the Bard was going to be a dancer. Tom Tailor had offered to play his crwth, which he pronounced ‘crewth,’ an old-fashioned instrument that was played with a bow, much as a viol was, and Janet had agreed to play her bodhran.
The bard loved nothing more than playing with other musicians and had spent many a congenial evening, along with other locals who had a small knack for music. But it was his wedding night and his bonfire dance, and Janet had firmly insisted he would honor the traditions and not play a note. He bowed to her wisdom, as she was knowledgeable in such things.
He was grateful for Polcock and Hannah. They had aided Leryn in his preparations as if he were their son. For the previous two weeks, Hannah had instructed him in his part with Polcock giving advice, ensuring he wouldn’t make a misstep during that most crucial part of the ritual.
Leryn’s nerves nearly got the best of him, but Polcock and Hannah reassured him.
Rosie had been involved in her part of preparing for the ritual too, staying with Lancelyn and Galahad who were acting as her brothers, to ensure she and Leryn didn’t accidentally cross paths during the three days before the wedding. The two knights had scoured the countryside looking for flowers, and their part of the night’s ritual was completed and waiting in the barley field for the bride and groom.
In all the fields around Bleakbourne, the families of the about-to-be-married couples were also looking for flowers to adorn their bowers for the most important part of the wedding night. Leryn and Rosie would lay under the stars in Polcock’s barley field, shielded by the arbor set aside for them. Lance and Galahad had set it up perfectly and decorated it, and the two knights would stand guard, at a respectful distance, of course. Farmers vied to provide a field for the connubial couples, as the fields so blessed would be fruitful for years to come.
Solstice Night had arrived, and bonfires lit the countryside. At last, dressed in his new clothes and filled with the determination to make Rosie proud of him, Leryn gathered with the other grooms in the village square.
Gazing across the square at the assembled brides, he saw Rosie, her elven beauty standing out among the others. Her unruly crimson hair had been braided and was bound by flowers. Hannah and Janet had sewn her red dress, a simple garment as compared to some of the other dresses, yet it’s simplicity made it all the more flattering to her slender figure. Unlike the other brides, she wore no jewelry. The flowers in her hair were all the decoration she wanted.
Wood was piled in the bonfire pit at one end of the market square, unlit but ready for the spark. An altar table stood in the center. The grooms stood across from the brides, both groups having entered the square from opposite sides. The crowd fell silent as, bearing both the Moonstaff and the Holy Book, Brother Henson entered the square and set the Holy Book on the altar. He stood before it, praying, then turned to the assembled townsfolk with the staff raised. In firm, ringing tones, he called, “Who among you desires to be wed beneath the moon and stars tonight? Come forth and stand before me, brides and grooms.”
The two groups crossed the square, stopping in two ranks before Brother Henson, each couple facing their intended spouse. The good brother walked between the two rows. Stopping before the first pair and taking the left hands of each he said, “Father Sun and Mother Moon, watch over this family from tonight until death parts them. Under the stars above, I declare you bound one to the other, forever and always. Give heed to each other’s counsel, and do not go to sleep angry. Coins mean little in the fullness of time—love is the one treasure you can take with you when you depart this Earth.” Having said that he placed the bride’s hand in the groom’s and moved to the next couple, speaking the same words.
When he had linked the last pair, the five couples joined hands and formed a circle around him. Raising his arms to the starlit sky, Brother Henson declared, “Beneath the stars and before all the deities you have joined your lives. As the sun and the moon do their daily dance, so do we who live here below.”
With that, Tom Tailor touched the bow to his crwth and played the opening refrain of the Wedding Dance. The five couples moved in unison, stepping and turning, the grooms lifting the brides in time to the pounding of the bodhran. Hand in hand they danced, repeating the pattern and revolving around Brother Henson, as the watching throng cheered. The music played faster and faster, and the dancers spun and wove the dance, lifting and twirling, never faltering or losing their way. The tension in the air grew as life-magic was funneled in to Brother Henson, gathering and growing until at last the monk’s Moonstaff lit up the night. He raised it high above his head, and a shaft of brilliant white light left the staff, igniting the bonfire to the joyful roar of the crowd.
With the lighting of the bonfire, the five couples fanned out, still dancing, leaping and twirling as they wove the spell of happiness and good fortune. Other couples joined them, and the square was filled with dancers, each casting the spell of prosperity and happiness.
After the party had died down the wedding guests walked to their homes, weary but pleased with the way the Solstice fertility rites had gone. As Polcock and Hannah settled into their bed, Hannah remarked, “It was a good bonfire dance.”
Polcock agreed. “One of the best we’ve had.”
Hannah put her arms around her husband. “Are you sorry we didn’t wait until Solstice night to get married?”
“Not at all. Solstice night is the young bride and groom’s night, as they need all the blessings the deities can offer. My first wife and I were married on Solstice night, and we were very happy.”
Hannah said, “I still remember the bonfire dance when I was married the first time. I spent a month sewing my dress.”
“I’ll bet you were the prettiest bride there.” He thought for a moment. “But you have to admit, we danced well at our wedding party. We’ve been blessed, too.”
Hannah felt a surge of love for her sometimes prickly husband. “And we’ve been quite happy ever since.”
Lancelyn and Galahad appeared at the Ploughman’s Inn bright and early, handling Rosie’s tasks in the stable. They boarded their horses there and usually spent their evenings there as well. Galahad curried Brunhilde, Rosie’s mare, examining her closely. When he was finished, he patted her neck, whispering reassurances to her.
She was due to foal any day, and while he wasn’t unduly concerned, there was just the slightest worry in the back of his mind that the foal would have to be put down. Morgause balanced on Lancelyn’s shoulder, but she closely watched Brunhilde. Galahad observed the cat’s behavior, seeing she was calm. Her demeanor suggested there was nothing to worry about.
When he crossed over to the bench to rack the curry comb and hoof-pick, Morgause stepped lightly to Galahad’s shoulder from Lance’s, purring. He stroked her tawny fur, sending her his affection. “You don’t want me to worry.” In answer, she rubbed her cheek against his, causing him to smile. “If you say there’s nothing to worry about, I believe you.”
Lancelyn had finished mucking out, and they led the horses to the paddock. Brunhilde immediately distanced herself from the other horses, but otherwise displayed her usual placid demeanor. “I think we’ll have a foal soon,” Lance said. “She’s behaving well, but she’s avoiding the other horses. That’s one more sign pointing to it happening tonight or tomorrow.”
“I think you’re right. It’s been a normal equine pregnancy so far.” Leaning against the fence, Galahad watched the other horses, seeing them calmly grazing, tails flicking away flies. “From the way her belly looks, the foal is normal sized. She seems to be carrying it well.”
Lancelyn looked away. “What if… what if it’s….”
“A centaur?” Galahad’s words fell harshly into the soft summer morning. “We’ll do what we have to, in such a way that Brunhilde isn’t traumatized. But Morgause seems to think it will be a normal foal.”
Stepping down after giving Galahad one last caress, the cat walked along the fence rail, leaping onto Lance’s shoulder. Laying her soft cheek against his, she purred softly in his ear. “She’s trying to comfort me.”
“Morgause loves us, and she knows things. If she says there’s nothing to worry about, we should heed her.”
Dawn had come to Polcock’s barley field. The sky was blue, birds sang, and Leryn was utterly happy. He’d heard Lancelyn and Galahad depart from their posts, most likely to go to the Ploughman’s Inn.
He reflected on the events of previous weeks, making the orb for Bramblestein, and sealing Jason Tenneriff and his court in the space between worlds. The confrontation with the demon was drawing nearer, and he might not survive it. He knew that, but he had accomplished one thing for himself, despite the possible hitches. He’d gotten properly married the way young men and women were supposed to.
The bonfire dance had been spectacular, and while he and Rosie wouldn’t be blessed with children of their own, many children would be born to the couples who had danced that night. Besides, he and Rosie would have many years together. Who knew when an orphaned child would need a family? After everything they had been through, to have been given this chance at happiness was more than he could take, and tears stung his eyes.
Rosie filled his senses, making him feel complete as no other woman had ever done. He kissed her hair, and she stirred in his arms but drifted into a deeper sleep.
So many things had gone wrong since he’d come to Bleakbourne, a naïve journeyman looking for folk tales. He’d discovered that the line between fable and reality was sometimes blurred. Many sacrifices had been made, and more would be demanded, but Leryn had this moment and was determined to revel in it.
“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016-2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.