Imbolc

I’d like to think the Celts were on to something by celebrating the start of spring on 1 February, but it sure doesn’t feel like spring is anywhere near us right now in the U.S.

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Source: irelandcalling.ie

But this celebration is ancient. And it marked the start of my trilogy, The Dragonmage Saga. In the beginning of Rising From the Ashes, a mage, Enat, comes in search of a child who is exhibiting magical powers. Here’s an excerpt from the second chapter:

Enat stopped to survey the village below her. It was like countless others – a small grouping of perhaps a score of dwellings – some made of stacked stone, others of wood daubed with mud and moss to keep out the cold and wet. She rested her staff against a tree and chewed on an early stalk of asparagus while she watched the activity for a while. The village was situated in a broad, shallow valley. In the distance, a herd of sheep and cattle and goats grazed, tended by older children. There was a large plot of cultivated land outside the cluster of dwellings, the soil in neat rows even this early in the year. It was near a stream for ease of carrying water. Some of the dwellings had smoke rising from a central smoke hole in the roof, but most had fire pits outside their doors. She saw a mix of women and young children below, but only a couple of old men. She hadn’t passed any signs of war parties, so most likely, the other men were off hunting for the celebration. Several dogs roamed the village, sniffing and digging for any leftover bits of food near the fires. She hitched the ropes of her basket higher onto her shoulders, grabbed her stick, and began the trek down the hill. As she neared, she bent over and began to hobble, leaning on her stick as if she were lame.

“Herbs? Shells?”

She called out as she entered the village, and the women paused to watch her. She slipped the ropes off her shoulders and set her basket down, sitting on a log pulled up near a fire.

“Welcome, grandmother,” said one of the women, her belly large with new life. “May we offer you some cold water?”

“Thank you, daughter,” said Enat, honoring the hospitality accorded her. She accepted a gourd filled with water and drank deeply. “That makes an old woman feel refreshed.” She reached into her basket, soft and pliable, woven from reeds, and pulled out a purple shell, already strung on a woven cord. “For you and the wee one to come.” She placed a hand on the woman’s belly. “Health to you both.”

“Thank you,” the woman said. Her face lit up as she turned the shell over in her hands.

Other women gathered around, looking to see what the old woman offered. They had little to trade: some bone needles and gut thread, dried meat and salted fish from their stream. Soon, all Enat had brought with her to trade was gone, all but her salves and potions.

“Have you a healer?” she asked the women.

“We did, grandmother,” said the woman who had offered her water. “But she was very old and passed on this winter past. Are you a healer?”

Enat nodded. “I am. Tomorrow eve is Imbolc. It will be a full moon as well. A good omen for the spring.” She smiled at the woman’s bulging abdomen. “Not that you need more. Brighid has been good to you?”

“Aye, grandmother,” said the woman. “My man and I have five others. All have lived, praise Brighid.”

“You are blessed,” said Enat. She looked around. “Are there others here, anyone your healer was training?”

“None. None here have the gift.” The woman sat beside Enat on the log, grunting a little with the effort of lowering her bulky body. “Oh, many of us know a little of healing herbs and roots, but none have magic.”

Enat smiled. “I will stay through the celebration of Imbolc, if you like.”

“We would be honored to have you,” said the woman. “I am Rós.”

“I am Enat.” She reached deeper into her basket and retrieved a heavy woolen cloak. “I am weary. I am going to rest in the sun.”

She made of her cloak a pad to sit on and placed it at the base of an oak tree standing on the edge of the village. She sat with her eyes closed, her face tilted to the warmth of the sun, just now moving toward spring where it would soon give life to all. As she sat, her hands rested on the roots of the tree, and she listened. She cast her mind out, probing. Nothing for the moment. All was quiet. You will come.

copyright ©2015 Caren J. Werlinger

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