Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Midnight Whispers and Solstice Mummers
Hi everyone! Welcome to the LIT bash celebrating the release of Winter's Desire. I'm going to take you on a bit of a different path, something not Celtic, but medieval, that still is done in some parts of the world to this very day. And that's Mumming. What's this you ask? Well, it's kind of an acting troupe that went down the street, or door to door on special days like May Day, Easter and Christmas. The troupe dressed up in costumes with masks, disguising themselves. They performed a play, usually one that depicted resurrection, or the eternal battle of good vs. evil. All the village would bear the elements to watch them, laughing at the antics of the actors. Mostly the plays were humorous and bawdy, but soome were more serious.
After, the troupe would be given a few shillings, or food and wine before moving on to the next village, or door.
Mumming developed in medieval Britain, and is still performed today in many parts of England, most notably the North. In Canada, Newfoundland (our most eastern province) is known for their Christmas mummers. In America, mumming was particularly popular in the state of Kentucky.
So, mumming, and all it's splendor is integral in my novella Midnight Whispers. You see, Sinead, the heroine is a widow. She longs for one more night with her husband, and many, many more nights with the young officer, Kieran. So, for David to come back from the dead, I made him part of the mumming troupe that performs in the village green of Sinead's village. I thought it was a unique scene, while staying true to the overall Celtic feel of the anthology. After all, the green has standing stones, an altar set up to pay homage to the goddess, and ah...well, some misbehaving on that altar, if you know what I mean!
Here's an excerpt from Midnight Whispers, where Sinead has walked to the green. A roaring bonfire is crackling as the snow falls to the ground on the eve of the solstice...
Holding the warm mug in her hands, Sinead sipped at the wassail as she scanned the crowd of revelers. Everyone from the village was here—youngest to oldest—celebrating the solstice and offering up gifts to the ancient gods and goddesses so that the bleak winter months would be neither unduly harsh nor long.
Everyone was making merry, laughing and drinking, calling out cheers for good health and a warm home. There was country dancing to the fiddle and the singing of old, seasonal songs. Cheeks were crimson with the slap of the cold breeze, and eyes were bright with the merriment of the festivities.
Walking around the enormous bonfire that was in the middle of the village green, Sinead, jostled by the revelers, watched from the peripheries, never really part of the celebration. Despite this, she had come to the place where the ancient stones had stood for centuries, watching over the tiny northern village. There was magic in those stones. She believed it, and not just because of her Celtic roots, but because she felt it. Especially this evening. A thrilling enchantment hung thick in the atmosphere, cloaking her.
Scanning the laughing faces, she did not see the one she longed for. Kieran was not present amongst the merry gentlemen who danced and tried to steal kisses from blushing maidens. She felt empty knowing he was not there. A part of her had believed he would be, and that part of her had been convinced that she’d give herself to him this night—this night of magic and passion.
“The Mummers!” a young lad cried as he ran into the circle of dancers. “They are making their procession into the village.”
“I wonder what they shall be acting out this year?” a young maid with rosy cheeks and sparkling blues eyes asked excitedly.
“Who cares, as long as Squire Bolton’s son is leading them,” answered her friend. The two began to giggle. Sinead found herself smiling. She had once been like them, young and carefree, with little more to worry about than thinking of a handsome squire, or village boy. It had been eons since she had a true friend to share a laugh with, or to tell secrets to.
The Mummers voices were carried on the darkness as they chanted their ancient song in Gaelic. Sinead could only recall a few words in her ancestor’s native tongue. Her grandmother had tried to keep their culture alive after Sinead’s mother had died when she was three, but soon her grandmother had followed her mother, and Sinead had been left with her father, who had loved her, but who had been too busy to see to traditions.
‘Bandia, Sianaitheoir, Beannaithe leannan’
‘Goddess, Savior, Sacred Lover.’ The Mummers were singing of the Priestess.
Sinead took a long sip of her drink, letting the mulled spirit warm her belly as she waited to see the troupe of actors which were integral to the solstice gathering. The voices grew louder until the costumed Mummers, their identities concealed by masks, burst into the clearing, dancing and singing. The crowd quieted, stepping back to give the actors wide berth. Nothing could be heard but the crackling of the giant bonfire and the distant hoot of an owl as the cast of actors found their places in the center of the green before the crackling flames.
Their leader stepped forward, holding his torch high as he walked in a small circle, addressing the gathered villagers.
“You see behind me the form of our Priestess, bent over her enemy, caring for him, loving him despite the barrier of class, religion, tongue.”
Waving the torch aside, he revealed the image of a cloaked woman bent over a man. Beside her, pots lay scattered, as well as trenchers. Her hands were moving over the body, healing him as she murmured words he could not understand, for the priestess was an ancient Druid, and the wounded soldier her enemy from across the sea. As the actress worked on the man who lay on the cold ground, the other Mummers broke out into song, a quiet chant, meant to relay the seriousness of the soldier’s injuries.
Sinead did not pay much attention to the play that was being enacted, but focused instead on the narrator of the piece. The way he moved, the sound of his voice, it was all so familiar. Mesmerized by him, she followed his movements through the crowd, marking the procession of the torch he carried as he told the sad story of the star-crossed lovers and the priestess whom they honored yearly.
“Despite his wounds, the two became lovers. Fierce was their loving, but with the dawn, the awakening of their divergent paths becomes all too clear. For it is the solstice, and their lives are never meant to be entwined.”
Suddenly the woman playing the priestess stood up, her arms raised to the heavens, reciting the ancient poem.
“No wanderer’s curse…”
Sinead froze as she heard the words that were embroidered on the small square of fabric the child had given her. Without warning, her gaze strayed to the narrator who pressed forward, his silhouette illuminated by the enormous flames of the bonfire. Slowly he lowered his black and gold mask, revealing his face.
The mug fell from her hand, warm wassail splashed onto the hem of her skirt as she stared in mute horror—hope. The eyes…the hair…
She reached out her hand, her fingers trembling. David?
He tried to step forward but couldn’t. Nor could she move, to touch the face she remembered so well.
“Soon, my love,” he said, donning his mask once more. “I will come to you. Soon.”
He was pulled back by the other Mummers and the eager villagers seemed to swallow him up concealing him from her. Sinead ran, pushing through the crowd, trying to find him, looking fruitlessly for the golden hair and the blue eyes that sparkled from behind the mask. Turning, looking, she found herself moving in circles, until she came to rest on the other side of the fire, closest to the stones. And to Kieran, who watched her from the other side of the flickering flames.
Their gazes locked. Her body warmed, heating with longing. What did he think? Did he know what she wanted?
Waiting. Hungering… the whispered words seemed to burn in Sinead’s belly, filling her with a warmth that curled low in her womb.
‘Do you want me, Sinead?’
She heard the whispered words, in Kieran’s voice. Closing her eyes, she savored the fluttering touch against her skin, but was impossible for it to be his touch because Kieran was still leaning against the stone on the other side of the fire. He could not have touched her, yet she felt it again, heard his voice once more.
Come to me…
So there you have it. A little prelude to some altar naughtiness. So, I'm feeling naughty. Let's have some fun with this. If you could be sacrficed on an altar, who would you have ravishing you?
And Craven-Moore is standing here, offering himself as a sacrifical lamb, if anyone would like to discover what's it like to be a pagan on an altar!!
I'm giving away...let's see....A LIT Sport water bottle. And a box of gourmet Hot Choclate as well as a copy of Naughty Bits to a random commentor. And if anyone can read Italian, I've got an Italian copy of Addicted to give away....so go on, tell us who you would ravishing you...I'll tell you if you will!!!!!
Posted by Charlotte Featherstone at 10:38 AM