A new tradition of mine is forming – each year I write a short story to read out at the Beltane gathering, hosted by Gliding Seal Events (and unlike last year, this year I had to confidence to read this story aloud!) This year’s gathering as come and gone, and I had an absolute blast! It’s such an amazing event run by some incredible people. It’s held in a beautiful location in Sydney’s Hills region, and it’s a family-friendly event. If you’re in Sydney, or in Australia and can travel to Sydney in October, please come join us next year.
This story I began writing shortly after last year’s gathering. I was told quite forcefully what the story should be about (thanks Herne!). University got in the way of continuing for the “raunchy” bits like last year’s story had, but I’m really proud of how this came out. It’s more of a sweet, coming of age tale, and little bit more real with the human emotions that the tales of old and the Bards of old would normally leave out. Yes, these characters are chosen to play this amazing and important roles, and they’re continuing a tradition as old as time…I’ll let you read it and you can see what I mean!
Assuming their Roles – a Beltane Story.
© Cara Fenton
Written for Beltane 2015, ‘Dance up the Summer’.
I had surrendered myself to my role. I had been chosen by the people to be their Queen, to represent our Goddess on this night. Chosen to be Her in physical form, to walk among the people and help bring fertility to the land for another year. People had thrown flowers and leaves at my feet as I walked through the town. They had come up to me, touching my arms, my back, my hair, my face, for the opportunity to say they had touched the Goddess as she walked this night. Little girls ran up to me and hugged me at my waist for a brief moment before running back to their mothers, like I had done when I was a child, seeing the Goddess for the first time.
It wasn’t just a young man’s game – it was open to all of us. Some saw this as an unfair advantage, that we had had years on them to prove and perfect our skill. But that was the point – only the strongest, the most cunning, the smartest would win this night. It was a challenge, the goal was to win. If they wanted us to take it easy on them because they were young, they had another thing coming. You learn from doing, from watching your elders make mistakes.
We the men of our clan, spread across villages surrounding Avalon, had come together to prepare. We didn’t watch our Queen walk through the streets, but we heard the commotion. It lent fire and spark to our rite, fuelled our desire to be the best, to come out triumphant. The drums sounded, and by the fire, one by one we were blessed by the Druid. Our faces were painted with woad, and dirt from our land smeared across our chests and backs. We walked through smoke, we warmed by the fire, and then the drums stopped. Not a sound but the crackling of splitting wood by the heat of the fire. The game was on.
With my Sisters I had been bathed in a copper tub of warmed water. I was not allowed to do anything myself. They had stripped me bare of clothes, washed me head to toe, rubbed oils through my hair and over my body. They had dried my body and my hair, then brushed and braided and decorated it with red spring wild flowers. The previous Queen handed me my white robe as it had been handed to her, and raised it over my shoulders as my arms went into the long bell sleeves adorned with hand stitched red flowers. With a red sash about my waist I was ready, in their eyes, to find my new King. With my mask in place, I was ready. I think.
I had seen my journey within the dream. Quiver around my waist, bow in my hand, shirt ripped and snagged and long forgotten. I cried a warrior’s call, I leaped from behind trees and boulder, and I hid amongst the brush. Men left with boar and doe slung across their shoulders, ready to show their keep to the elders. But I wanted to be King, so I went after a King. The King, the majestic stag of the forest, who none had managed to bring down. He was mine.
Through the forest I ran in soft leather boots, as light on foot as I could manage hunting prey. I stalked, I watched, I waited. Far from the villages, the fire and the festivities, he stopped short of a clearing. He had caught my scent. His ears pricked back as I lined my bow and drew back my arrow.
Away from the games and laughter, from the drunken frivolity the night will bring, we had been given a clearing of our own by the edge of the lake. I was to wait here, as I had been told for my King. He would find me, apparently. Oh no, what do I do while I wait? How should I lie? Should I sit? My stomach churned with butterflies and my pulse raced. These nerves! I shouldn’t be so nervous, shouldn’t I? I was chosen, I should be ready. But what if I’m not, what if I’m not ready for this at all? I’m about to give my virginity over to a complete stranger, a man whose name I won’t know, whose face I may not even see.
I don’t have my Sisters here to ask. I didn’t think to ask this before we left the Temple. What if I’m not ready? Goddess help me, I don’t know if I can go through with this.
I was filthy. My body glistened with sweat amongst the dirt in the fire light. My arms and shoulders were exhausted from the weight of the King, but I held my head high as the villagers stared at me in stunned silence, when the men cursed my kill, when the elders crowned me King.
Now to find my Queen.
Breathe. Breathe. You can do this, you know you can do this. I can do this. I CAN do this! Joyfully I spun around trying to make myself giddy as I reached my new conclusion. Of course I can do this, I have been preparing for this moment. ‘Just go with the flow, explore his body,’ my sisters had laughed.
I stopped spinning as a young man entered the clearing. At least I think he’s a young man – I can’t tell in this light – covered in blood and dirt and stinking of sweat. Should sweat smell that good? It glistened off his chest between the patches of dried blood in the fire light. Around his head was the crown of fallen ash, but other twigs and leaves stuck out of his matted hair.
Should I say something? I should say something.
She was beautiful, dancing and spinning, the length of her dress rising to her knees as she spun. Her hair seemed to float behind her, and little flowers were slowly escaping their hold. Now she just stares. I didn’t have time to bathe, I didn’t have time to wash – this crown was placed upon my head, this mask was given to cover my eyes, and I was guided to this place of seclusion.
I’ve proven myself to our community, but how do I prove myself to her? How do I show her that tonight she is my Goddess, that I am ready to show my love and devotion to her as both Goddess and the young maiden?
Oh Light, she’s walking over to me. She…she’s taking my hand.
She takes his hand and looks it over. There’s dirt beneath his nails, and his knuckles are scraped. But they’re strong, she notices as she interlocks her fingers with his. With all her worrying about what to say and how to act, words seem to be unnecessary. “The others were right,” she thought to herself. “I know what to do.” With relief from her new found strength she led him down to the water’s edge. She no longer felt like the girl who nervously waited for her consort by the bonfire as she guided his hands to the ribbons on her dress, showing him which strands to pull as she pushed off the remnants of his shirt. He did as he was instructed with shaking hands and stunned eyes as he found her hands had already made it to his trousers.
Naked in the firelight they stood, with only their masks hiding who they truly are. Their eyes searched each other’s bodies – their lines, their curves, the parts not hidden by shadow. Hers, with her soft skin and perfumed hair; and his, blood stained and dirty from the hunt.
The water was freezing, but he sunk in on bended knees in the shallow and dunked his head under anyway, washing his face on his rise. She was clean, but he wasn’t, he thought and grinned as she came towards him, seemingly gliding through the water like a swan. Sinking into the water herself, she used only her hand and the lake water and began to wash his skin – his chest, his back, exploring as she went – to remove the remnants of the hunt. She could still smell his sweat, and it drove her wild. Slowly, she was losing herself in the moment, and was becoming the Goddess claiming her consort.
For a moment he just watched her with her small soft hands and quiet determination. He wanted to touch her so badly. ‘Would she mind?’ he thought to himself. I know she’s my Queen but…
He gently traced the back of his hand down her arm. She stopped and looked at him. A little smile traced from her mouth as she went back to what she was doing, not really trying anymore, but rather loving the excuse to touch him. His muscles, his chest hair; the way his shoulder blades flex as he moved this arm around her waist to keep her close.
He breathed in her perfume and found the cold water no longer affected him. She giggled, feeling the change beneath the water between them, and moved in to feel it against her. He traced her neck with his free hand and she found her chin resting against his knuckle.
Through the masks their eyes glistened with lust. He had never wanted anyone so badly, and she was ready to experience loving affection for the first time.
She made the first move. Slowly she learned in further, his hard length protruding into her waist as she readjusted herself on her seat – his bended knee. Taking his cue, he brought her in so tightly her breath caught, as his lips found hers. The sweet embrace, both passionate and slow and rough and fierce all at once. Partially savouring, partly devouring, wanting the best of both worlds all within moments.
Their hands explored the other – over muscle and curve and breast and buttocks and chest and back and thighs and neck and hair and face. He moved to take off her mask, but she stopped him, and with a silent shake of her head he nodded before his lips found the nape of her neck.
“I’m not that ready,” she thought to herself. “I’m ready, but without this I’m truly naked. Tonight I’m not me – I’m the Goddess. Tonight the Goddess wears her mask.”
She rose, allowing the water to fall from her like drops of rain. Through his mask she could sense his confusion, so once again she took his hand and led him back up the bank. He was having none of that – he bent down and swooped her off her feet, carrying her in his arms like a man carrying his new bride over the threshold, and they laughed and giggled.
The world began to spin, the air changed, and fog crept in. They were surrounded. Stopped in stunned silence, the fire slowly came into view as the fog parted a walkway to the clearing. Closer to the fire they come, the more the fire disappeared. The dark night sky changed into a sky of rich cloudless blue. Trees shot up around them – oak and pine and fern and bush – and creepers covered the ground before them, gathering to form…a bed?
He put his Queen down. Oh yes, she knew what was happening. Again, she took his hand, smiling as she stepped backwards towards the bed of moss and leaf and flower.
Confusion had left his mind, as his mind was no longer his own. He was not the man who had searched the forest for his kill – in this moment he was the Antlered one, the Lord of the Forests, the consort to the Goddess.
“My Goddess,” he whispered removing her mask.