The Song of Samhain
The Feast of Samhain
Location: Stormholm Caer, Harkania
Timeline: Morning, October 31, 3550
I am the bright releaser of all pain,
I am the quickener of the fallen seed-case,
I am the glance of snow, the strike of rain.
I am the hollow of the winter twilight,
I am the hearth-fire and the welcome bread,
I am the curtained awning of the pillow,
I am unending wisdom’s golden thread.
Mikhael leaned back in his chair and stretched before reaching for his cup of hot spiced tea and sipping it slowly. The work table in his private study was strewn with papers and documents needing his attention. It had piled up during his recovery from being bitten by a wyvern some days earlier. He grinned as he set the seal to an official document that would travel with the Dwarrow princes when they returned home. It was the annual renewal of Cymeria's contract of peace with Tynár-Darzûr. It was a formality only, but one that Mikhael was proud to sign off on. It was a small token of his and Cymeria's regard for the friendship and alliance with the Dwarrow.
The day was the 31st of October, an important date in Cymeria as it marked the end of the seasonal year. It was a day to celebrate the harvest and remember those that had passed beyond the Veil. Holds, estates, farms, towns and cities across the country all held feasts and small Gatherings to commemorate the day. In years past, the residents of Stormholm Caer had celebrated the day at the great hold in the city of Dinas Ulchedir or thrown open the doors of Stormholm. This year, due to the incidents at the Gathering in D'hassa for the Ceremony of Oaths, both Gero and Hawke had been adamant that they not run the risk of opening the hold to strangers. Instead, members of House Stormdanovich would make the short journey to one of their valley farms where the feast would be held while the children, including Mikhael's son, Vasily, would remain at the keep. Oksana, the Lady of the Hearth and Chatelaine of Stormholm Caer, would remain behind to hostess a small, informal feast and gathering that would include the traditional sweets hunt for the children.
The farm, Felonwood, lay just north of the village of Duskhallow and was one of many owned by House Stormdanovich. It took its name from a plant native to the region, also known as bittersweet or woody nightshade. The plant itself had medicinal uses and was actually cultivated in the farm's vast herbal garden. Ironically, in other cultures the plant was believed to be effective against witchcraft and was sometimes hung around the neck of cattle to protect them from the 'evil eye'.
The actual celebration would include a huge feast, bonfires, roasting pits for pigs, venison and wild game birds. There would also be a sweets hunt just after dark for the children where wrapped pieces of candy and other treats would be secreted about the vicinity and the children would be allowed to hunt for them, keeping what they found. Mikhael's main duty was to bless the feast and give thanks for the harvest. It was not an onerous task and after a week of being restricted to his residence, he was looking forward to the short journey to the farm and being amongst his people.
Pushing back his chair, he rose and walked to the great windows that let out onto an upper balcony. Sliding them open, he stepped out and walked to the wide stone balustrade. Perching a hip on its edge, he stared out at the vista before him. From this angle, he could see the waterfalls that burst out of the caer beneath the great keep and the might river that roared toward the lowlands. Mikhael could feel the snowcapped presence of the great mountain, Daranau Eira, that rose behind the caer and sheltered the keep in its shadow. The Cymry loved the high places and fast flowing water. Stormholm was an ideal stronghold for the land's High Lord. The morning air was crisp but not too cold, the day clear. Cernunnos, the sun, shone brightly, promising beautiful weather for the feast.
Gaia's great three ringed moon, Marnwr, the Judge, glowed dimly in the light of the day. Marnwr did not have true phases like Sealgair, the Huntress, the smaller of the two moons. It dimmed and brightened in thirty one day cycles. When Marnwr was at its dimmest, as it was now, it was said that the Judge was looking away from Gaia. All three of the moon's rings were visible although the outer ring was still waxing. Sealgair was full and faintly visible. She would be in full glory that night.
Smiling, Mikhael gave a small salute to Gaia's two guardians. Their presence was comforting.
His reverie was interrupted as Oksana, his eldest sister, stepped onto the terrace, the soft rustle of her boots on the stone alerting him to her presence. She stopped near where he sat and slipped her slender hands into the wide sleeves of her tunic to protect them from the morning's chill. Dipping her head in greeting, she studied her brother, her dark green eyes taking in his appearance from head to foot. "I am pleased that you are feeling better, brother."
Not for the first time, Mikhael marveled at his eldest sister's regal appearance, noting the fall of her thick red gold hair and the arrogant tilt of her head. Oksana was a formidable woman and it was only since the death of their parents that he had come to know her well at all. Truth be told, he still found her somewhat intimidating. "Greetings, fair sister." He tapped his leg that had been injured by the wyvern bite, "I am mostly healed. The stitches came out yesterday. I am looking forward to the ride to Felonwood."
Oksana nodded as she took a seat on the bench that set next to the low wall. "Yes, I had the report from Sofiya Grace. She has instructions to keep an eye on you at the feast. We could do worse than offer her a place in the House. Gaia knows it is all Master Kiernan can do to keep up his duties as Chief Battle Surgeon and tend to things as House physician."
Mikhael frowned slightly at Oksana's mention of one of the two Travelers that had arrived within a week of one another. From what he could find in the archaic texts regarding such events, that was unheard of. Coupled with the heightened intensity of wyvern attacks surrounding each arrival, it served to make him a bit uneasy. Not that Richard Coyle or Sofiya Grace had shown any inclination toward being a threat. "I can offer her the place, but I believe both our Travelers are set on trying to find a way to their own world and time. I have told them truthfully that the portals work in one direction only though it is to be expected they will have to learn that for themselves. I can understand how it feels to be suddenly bereft of one's home."
Oksana made a soft sympathetic noise in her throat and gently tapped his knee. Mikhael rarely spoke of the years he spent exiled from Stormholm Caer after a row with his father, High Lord Kimber. "I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for them. Perhaps allowing them to meet will provide each with some solace?"
"Perhaps. Though I have not purposely kept them from crossing paths," Mikhael stated with a twinkle in his cold blue eyes. "First Marshal Emrys says that Richard has been hard at work on the training grounds and at his horsemanship and Lady Grace has been kept busy in attendance on my injuries. I am requesting both attend the feast with me to give them a chance to meet other people and get away from Stormholm for a few hours."
"I will see that Sofiya Grace is outfitted with suitable riding garments. Please do not give her a mount that is as murderous as your Wraith," Oksana's tone was both teasing and warning.
"Good. Make it riding leathers and make sure she has a warm cloak. The ride back tonight will be quite cold. We will set out mid-afternoon. I will put her on Síoda. He is battle trained but quite calm for a war horse." The big golden stallion was spirited but well mannered and unlikely to unseat the girl. He would also be a measure of protection should there be trouble.
Rising to her feet, Oksana leaned forward to kiss her brother's cheek, "You frightened me, Mika!" Her scold was gently delivered, "Please refrain from doing that again." She smiled again as she took her leave, walking gracefully back toward the keep.
Mikhael shuddered slightly as he thought of the two days he had spent wrapped in the agony caused by the wyvern's poison. He certainly hoped to never experience anything of the like again. He slipped off the balustrade and headed toward his residence, calling loudly for Vasily and Aeonar. He wanted to spend some time with the boys before he had to prepare for the ride to the valley.