A/N: This is the first in a sequence about each of the eight festivals that make up the wheel of the year. Each short story will be roughly 2/3 chapters long.
I am not a wicca, or of any other religion, so all the information I have included is what I have researched from the internet and any other sources I have been able to get my sticky paws on. I apologise if anything I have included is incorrect, please feel free to email me and correct anything.
There are three festivals mentioned (To my poor knowledge!) in the Tortall cannon, Midwinter, Beltane and the Autumn Equinox; I am assuming that the rest would also have been celebrated too.
I intend to involve as many of the characters as possible throughout the sequence – those of you who have read A Stepping State know that I get bored when I only focus on a couple of characters.
As the stories will be short, there will be fluff included and possibly one or two cliffies where they tie in well. Plots will be developed around the introspection of characters rather than any mad mages this time!
Enjoy, and don't forget to review!
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Tamora Pierce, as you all know! The information about Samhain has been learnt from various websites – I can send you links to them if you wish to know more.
Chapter 1 – Holidays
Four people on horseback rode across a wide, long field draped in autumn morning sunlight, the grass pigmented with crinkled leaves of many shades of red, yellow and orange. The sun was bright in the clear sky, the lack of clouds hinting at a heavy frost during nightfall and the crisp air containing a distinct chill that shouted that the winter was on its way. The trees were almost empty of the leaves that had adorned them throughout summer, although some still bore berries and fruits that birds and squirrels were scrambling for in preparation for the winter time. The mountains in the distance were topped with more snow than usual, showing up against the unclouded sky like giant witches wearing white hats. A kestrel hovered over the party of riders, almost shouting at them as the travellers continued on their way, one of them looking up to the bird intently, at some points her lips moving as if she was speaking to the creature.
The party contained two older children, both dark haired and bearing similar enough features for a stranger to guess that they were brother and sister. The girl's hair was long and straight, contrasting with the young woman's who rode beside her, as hers was a shade of smoky brown, with curls that suggested they could be difficult to tame. A tall man who was rather awkwardly riding his mount rode next to her, clearly feeling every bump in their path. His black mane of hair was neatly tied back into a horse tail, emphasizing his long nose and features that had probably broken a heart or two. They were travelling at a steady pace; the day had only just begun and they were obviously confident that they would reach their destination before the night's celebrations.
The woman brought her horse to a halt, stopping beside a stream that ran down from the mountains, flowing with icy cold water. She dismounted and led her mount to it, encouraging her to drink. The other three copied her actions, the children showing more grace in dismounting their horses than the tall man could have dreamed of and the woman visibly smothered a laugh as she watched him almost topple off the horse.
"How is it, Numair," the woman began, "That you spend so much time riding a horse but never improve your technique?"
Numair grinned flirtatiously at her. "Too busy improving other things," he muttered so that only she could hear, the two children busy undoing their packs and taking out packets of bread and bacon.
The elders collected a small amount of wood and lit it to create a fire that they could use to cook, Numair recovering a flat pan and a larger pan from a pack on one of the horses. The smell of bacon filtered through the air, causing the woman's nose to twitch pleasantly.
"If Kitten was here now she'd be sat so close to you, you wouldn't be able to move," she addressed Numair. The two children laughed and sat besides the couple, eagerly waiting their breakfast.
Numair smiled. "She does have a penchant for bacon. I'm sure Diamondflame will indulge her enough while he's visiting."
"I feel quite bad for not being there," the woman replied, her accent distantly showing that she was from parts other than these. "Although I'm fair sure that Diamondflame will still be there when we get back, and it'll be nice for Kit to spend some time with her elders on her own."
Numair smiled at her, showing white, even teeth, and his brown eyes twinkling. "Diamondflame won't mind you not being there, Daine, and Tkaa will look after her until this afternoon. Unlike your parents, dragons always seem to arrive on time."
Daine sent him a mock-offended look.
"How come Diamondflame and Kitten aren't coming to Pirate's Swoop?" Kally asked.
"Diamondflame won't be here until later on this afternoon, and he may be bringing one or two of the other young dragons with him, so Tkaa thought it would be wise to remain at the Tower, as any little dragons will be quite overwhelmed by it all," Numair explained.
Daine laughed at the thought of the younger dragons and what their excitement would be like at leaving Dragonlands for an adventure, her curls bobbing about somewhat. She turned to the two children, regarding them with large blue-grey eyes framed with long, curling eyelashes. "It should only take us another two hours of riding to get to your Aunt Alanna's house. She's expecting us about lunchtime. Of course, if it wasn't for Numair's terrible riding, we may have been there by now!" She jested, one eye on the mage.
Numair grinned without rising to Daine's bait, merely storing what she had said for payback later. "Remember, my dear, it's Samhain tonight. I can always think of some incantation to evoke the wrath of a few evil imps on you!"
Kally and Roald laughed at his playful tone, their hands holding thick chunks of bread surrounding pieces of the freshly smoked bacon.
"We've always celebrated Samhain at the palace before, it will be nice to be somewhere else for a change," the boy sighed in a melancholy fashion.
"You're just glad to escape Lord Wyldon for a few days," his sister laughed accusingly. "And I'd like to know how you've managed this holiday. Dad's been in an almighty bad mood since that row with Aunt Alanna."
The boy's mouth twitched as if he was thinking over what his sister had said. "Dad said it was important to have a bit of time away sometimes, and I think this is kind of an olive branch to Alanna, letting us come here."
"You're probably right, Roald," Numair interjected, nodding at the lad. "Alanna asked if we could bring you. Thom is back from the university and he'll want company from someone his own age, not just the twins."
"I think those twins are the evil imps you were threatening Daine with," the girl giggled. "'Specially Aly. Mother doesn't know what Aunt Alanna and Uncle George will do with her when she gets older."
"I think Aly will decide that herself, Kalasin" Daine said, between mouthfuls of food. "Where does the idea of wicked spirits come from?" She directed her question to the mage, wanting to divert the conversation away from Alanna's daughter, knowing that Kalasin was liable to repeat some things that were best left unsaid, as she had done when she had announced to a room full of people that her parents were in a rush to get ready as they had spent most of the afternoon "in bed asleep". Kally had been two years younger than she was now, but the incident had not been forgotten.
"Well," Numair began as they started to tidy away the breakfast things. Daine fondly noticed the glazed look in his eyes as he was about to impart knowledge. She half switched off, having heard these stories many times before from both Numair and her Ma, but still tuning in to the sound of his voice and enjoying the closeness of his presence.
He began to continue the story he had begun at Mabon, telling them of the coming to power of Tanist, the god of winter, over Lugh, the god of summer. He told them tales of the traditions that were kept during Samhain, and of the changing image of the Great Mother Goddess, as she now altered into her third aspect of the crone, and old woman who would be reborn again at Midwinter, when the days started to lengthen and slowly start to become longer than the nights. Numair had an easy way of telling such stories and the children were well entertained for the next hour or so, as they resumed their travels to Pirate's Swoop.
Daine's attention was caught somewhere between listening to the melee of animal voices she could hear as they rode and thinking of her lover, drifting off into a land of waking dreams and reliving some of the time they had spent together. It had been almost six weeks since they had begun to live together, Daine moving her belongings into his room at the palace and slowly taking some things to his home in a tower three hours ride from Pirate's Swoop. She had thought that it would be difficult living with someone when she had become used to being so much on her own, but she had been wrong. She and Numair had spent so much time together in the past year that it had felt incredibly natural and right, and they had adjusted easily to sharing the same living and sleeping quarters and she now felt almost lost if they ever had to spend a night apart.
They had decided to spend Samhain at Pirate's Swoop for many reasons, one of them to try and act as peace maker between the king and Alanna after their disagreement in a decision about a girl who was beginning to train as a page. Alanna had stormed off after an argument with Jonathan and hadn't returned to the palace since, very much keeping her distance. Daine knew that this wasn't healthy for the kingdom or for either of the two involved, so she and Numair were combining a trip home – Daine felt a warm glow inside of her when she thought of the tower as home – and visiting Alanna in attempt to reason with her. It was also proving to be a welcome break form the palace for them, and Daine was hoping that it would be an enjoyable Samhain.
They arrived at Pirate's Swoop shortly after midday, the sun high in the clear sky, a distant, blazing ball of fire. The Lioness had rode part way to meet them as they approached the grounds of where she lived. Her bobbed red hair gave her away as she rode towards them, blowing back gently in the breeze created as she moved along. From where she came Daine could see a large pile of wood, old branches and trees that had been chopped down, gathered in preparation for the bone-fire that evening.
"You made it in good time!" The Lioness called as they were in hearing distance, dismounting from her horse. "I expected you to be later than this!"
Daine laughed, climbing down from Cloud and approaching her friend. "We set off shortly after dawn, so it's taken just over three hours, although we did stop for breakfast along the way. We have rode fair quickly."
Alanna nodded, pulling the two children into a hug after solemnly shaking their hands. She then proceeded to let Numair kiss her cheeks and enveloped Daine in a large hug, welcoming her friends with gusto and leading them into her home.
"We've started to smoke some of the fresh meat," Alanna informed them after exchanging the usual pleasantries, which Alanna was usually extremely quick with anyway. "We've still herbs that need preparing, so I thought that maybe Kally could help with that in the kitchens."
Samhain was always a busy day; it was the final harvest. Any crops still out in the fields by the end of the day would be left, some thought as an offering to the gods, other suggested it was because the faeries that would appear tonight would blow their breath on them, and make them unfit to be used. There would also be a feast that evening, to celebrate the start of the New Year and the passing of the old one. As Daine entered Pirate's Swoop she felt the buzzing atmosphere that was similar to the one at the palace before an important event.
She glanced at Numair who was taking in the activities all around him as well, the two children having left them to find Thom and Alanna's twins and join in any mischief that they may be involved in. Numair adored Samhain, she knew. This was the night when the veil between this world and the other world was at its thinnest, and the spirits of the dead could cross over. Numair revelled in the old magics that surrounded this night. She could see his face, like a child's at Midwinter, as he looked around, eyes full of curiosity and excitement. Candle had been placed traditionally on windowsills, acting as lights to guide the spirits of loved ones who had departed. Later on, the children would leave small offering of food on the doorsteps as gifts for those spirits that were still wandering, as they had buried apples along the path they had travelled that morning.
For Daine, this was the real beginning of winter. From now until spring her daily life would alter slightly. The weather had already started to grow colder, so the needs of the animals that she cared for had begun to change also.
Numair sat down on the bed that they would share for the next two nights, until they returned to his Tower. This was the first time they had stayed at Pirate's Swoop as a couple, and the newness of their relationship excited her once more.
He looked up at Daine, his brown eyes that she frequently felt like she was pleasantly drowning in watching her from between thick black lashes. She giggled and sat down next to him, winding her arms around his neck and pulling her chest close to his. Numair moved his arms comfortingly around her, making them both fall back onto the bed.
"Do you think my parents will be able to visit tonight?" Daine asked as she lay in his arms.
"Have they mentioned anything to you about it?" He replied, knowing that occasionally Gainel managed to open a link in Daine's dreams for her mother to be able to communicate with her.
"Ma mentioned it might be possible, but there were to be a lot of births around this time, so she may be needed," Daine answered, her lips close to his as she spoke. "It's easy for them to visit on days like Samhain, isn't it?"
Numair nodded, a funny sight when one side of his face was pressed to the covers on the bed. "Beltane and Samhain are both meant to be times when it is possible to cross boundaries, similarly with Midwinter and Midsummer, although they don't hold as much power as the other two. Tonight especially is when the veils between worlds is at its thinnest. You heard what I said to Kally and Roald before about some people believing that time and space cease to exist at Samhain, which enables crossings over and rather more accurate divinations that normal as we are able to see through time, as tonight is when the world falls back into a chaos, preparing itself to re-establish a new order," Numair stopped, noticing the amused look in Daine's eyes.
"Am I making you laugh, Magelet?" He asked, an almost embarrassed tone to his voice.
"No, Numair," she answered softly, moving closer to his lips. "You're just being you." She kissed him softly, wanting to make the most of the time alone before Alanna sent for them to help in the preparations for the night's feast.
The rest of the afternoon for Daine was spent helping with the animals in the field and the stables. She briefly managed to go down to the sea, her lungs filling with the salty air she had loved so much since her first visit here three and a half years ago. Hopefully, she would manage some time with the sea-animals before she and Numair left Alanna's house, although given that they were staying for such a short time as they were needed back at the palace, she doubted that it would happen.
Numair had been accosted by Alanna to help cast protection spells and incantations to stop any harm over Pirate's Swoop. Numair also assisted Alanna in moving more old wood over to the bone-fire, using their magic rather than having any of the workers shift the heavy pieces of logs and branches that had fallen to the ground over the past year. They left the smaller twigs for the birds and animals at Daine's request, as they would need them for nest building in the coming spring.
Walking back to the old stone building that had been given to George when he began to work for the king several years ago, Numair realised that this would be as good a time as any to mention the falling-out between Alanna and Jonathan. He knew he would have to choose his words carefully else he could end up making things worse.
"Have you heard from Jonathan at all?" He began, his feet crunching the leaves beneath them as the came through the small forest that separated Alanna's home from the fields.
Alanna shook her head. "Not at all."
Numair sighed. "What does George think of all this?" He hadn't yet seen George as he had been dealing with a squabble in the nearby village, over which he was baron. He wished he could've conversed with him before broaching the subject with Alanna to find out if she had calmed down any since the incident.
"He thinks I'm being stubborn and infantile. Those were his words," the Lioness responded, her voice not giving away any trace of emotion. They sat down next to each other on the wide trunk of a fallen tree.
"I've known you to have disagreements in the past, but not like this," he said, hoping to reason with her. Numair knew that it was doing the court no good to have the king and his champion at odds, but he was more concerned with their friendship. Alanna and Jon had been friends for more then twenty years, he didn't want that to be irreparably damaged.
"We've had a row like this once before," he saw her eyes turn almost black as she recalled the memory. "When I turned down his marriage proposal."
Numair wondered if there was more to this than he had previously thought.
Alanna noticed his expression. "No, Numair," she shook her head. "That is well and truly in the past. I rarely, if ever, think about that. And if I do, it's with relief. I never would have made a good queen, or wife, for him. I doubt that there are any regrets on either side."
Numair let the silence hang around them for a few moments while he gathered his thoughts about what to say. He could hear the calling of seabirds as they flew overland toward the ocean. If Daine had been here now she would be telling him all about which sea creatures were about, and what they were doing. For a moment he missed her violently, even though she was less than a mile away. When they were apart he felt like one half of him was missing and he longed for her presence.
"Alanna, you have to sort this thing out. I know that Keladry of Mindelan is important to you, she's the first female page since you started, and the first to go into training openly as a girl," he said, referring to the fact that Alanna had had to conceal her gender to be able to train to become a knight. "But they do have a real point about why you shouldn't be able to show her any more favour than you do the other pages, and that's not because of their views; its other people who will accuse her of succeeding because of your favour and not doing it because she, herself, is capable."
"It isn't just that," Alanna answered back. "They're making her do a probationary year. That has never happened before. They won't let me give her any guidance or support because they don't want to treat her any differently, but they will make her do something that none of the boys has to do."
"That's Wyldon for you, Alanna. He's old fashioned. You can't blame Jonathan for that," Numair tried to debate back.
Alanna shook her head. "Jonathan's the king, Numair. What he says should go. And rather than back me up, he chose to side with Wyldon instead. Sometimes Jon can be so weak-willed!" Her voice fired with anger.
Numair stood up to return to the building, not replying to Alanna immediately, knowing that would only fuel her temper. It was cold after sitting in one place for awhile, the onset of dusk erasing the last gentle warmth of the sun. They set off in silence, walking at a reasonable pace.
"Jon has to back up his advisers," Numair finally said. "If it was a matter of defence or dealing with an enemy then you would be thoroughly backed up. If there was a problem with magic of someone with the gift then Jon would probably take my advice. Wyldon is in charge of the pages and other knights-in-training, Jon has to give him his confidence, otherwise he would end up with unhappy staff and that would have a resulting effect on other things, such as the quality of training they receive."
Alanna did not respond to Numair's argument, making the mage wonder if he had said completely the wrong thing. They entered into Pirate's Swoop, Alanna about to go her own way towards her chamber room. Numair lightly grabbed her shoulder before she could depart from him and she turned round to face the mage, a worried look in her eye.
"Look, Alanna. I know you've not liked what I've said, but tomorrow's the beginning of a new year. Please don't let this personal war with Jon continue into it," Numair's velvet voice said seriously before letting her go. She left without her speaking, her eyes occupied with other thoughts and feelings.
The feast was a small affair compared with previous Samhain festivals at the palace; however there were still a fair number of people there. It was less formal than the celebrations would have been at the palace, Daine was able to wear smart breeches and a shirt, rather than a dress as a big part of the celebration, the bone-fire, would take place over a mile away in the grounds of Pirate's Swoop, and they would have to walk there, hence formal gowns would be a hindrance.
The eating had started shortly after dusk had fallen. Although this was considered to be the most important of the eight festivals, Alanna and George liked to keep it as a time to spend with their family as it wasn't that often that they managed time all together. Daine found herself gorging on the fruits of the season, including an expertly prepared apple pie that she took a second helping of. After eating, they took the bones that were left of there feast out with them to the fire that had been lit by Coram Smythesson earlier that evening, once Numair and Alanna had disappeared from gathering the necessary wood. The bone-fire was lit to represent the sun, and hopefully ward off any spirits that had malicious intent. The bones of the animals that had been killed for food were added to the fire as an offering to the Goddess to provide food in the next year and over the cold winter, and to have healthy livestock also.
The children were dressed in white shirts and breeches, which contrasted with the twins' hair. They had persuaded Maude to paint their faces so they looked like the faerie folk that were said to roam on Samhain, causing trouble and mischief and playing tricks. Maude had been delighted to help with their request, as she firmly believed that if the children looked like the imps and demons that would wander that night then they would go unnoticed by them. All four children also carried turnips that had been carved out to look like protective spirits, hopefully to shield them for any more dangerous mischief that was around. Alanna had rolled her eyes when she had seen the children, causing George to laugh at his wife's reaction. She had great respect for the Goddess, and the other deities, but her overload of practical common sense made her dismiss the ideas of faeries and demons wandering and making mischief.
People stood around the fire watching the flames burn into the night, the tongues of fire licking upward towards the dark night sky. Some of the single members of staff at Alanna's house were tossing hazelnuts into the fire, naming them after their suitors and seeing which would burn up with a bang and which would remain whole in order to predict which man they should marry. Daine stood close to Numair, one arm linked through his, the other rummaging in a pocket in her breeches.
Numair looked down to see what she was looking for, having to raise his voice above the humming of people talking and joking around them.
"What's the matter, Magelet?" He asked.
Daine brought her hand out of her pocket holding two pieces of a smooth, rock which Numair identified to be feldspar.
"I found these on the shore today when I took a walk down," she explained. "I heard you telling Kally and Roald about using them to see the future."
Numair laughed heartily. He hadn't thought that Daine had been listening to his lecture this morning about Samhain traditions. It was thought that if you threw a stone into the bone-fire and named it, in the morning when the fire had died you would see your future for the coming year by the state of your stone. He picked up a stone from Daine's hand and stroked it with his fingers, noticing that she had etched his name onto it with a sharp implement of some kind.
"Shall we?" He asked, raising up the stone as if to throw it.
Daine nodded, and simultaneously they both threw the stones into the burning mass in front of them, wondering what the next year would throw at them.
Although they had the rest of Samhain to get through yet!