Spring is Coming!
By February, most Northern folks are tired of the cold, snowy Winter. Imbolc reminds us that spring is coming soon, and that we only have a few more weeks of winter to go. The sun gets a little brighter, the earth gets a little warmer, and we know that life is quickening within the soil.
There are a number of different ways to celebrate the Sabbat called Imbolc. Imbolc is a holiday with a variety of names, depending on which culture and location you’re looking at.
In the Irish Gaelic, it’s called Oimelc, which translates to “ewe’s milk.” This is when the ewes are nursing their newly born lambs. Spring and the planting season are right around the corner.
In many areas of the Celtic world, this was the fire feast of Brighid, the Irish goddess of hearth and home. She is the keeper of the flame, the protector of the home, and a goddess of holy wells and springs. At Imbolc, we acknowledge her many aspects, especially that of her role as a deity of transformation. As the world awakes from the dark slumber of winter, it is time to cast off the chill of the past and welcome the warmth of spring.
Now, I know a few Trolls that were planning a big celebration for Imbolc, but oh what trouble they got themselves into! Below is an excerpt from my story called The Green Cloak. I hope you enjoy it!
“Mmmmmmmmmmm, this is yummy!” Leaf enjoyed the taste of the little puddles of fresh, sweet, ewe’s milk that he spooned up from his breakfast porridge. The mid-winter lambing season was upon the village and one of the benefits was a generous supply of fresh ewe’s milk. Every day, the milkmaids took clean, wooden buckets to the ewe byre to collect the extra milk from the lactating ewes. Early in the frosty morning Leaf would wander over the icy path to check for new lambs that might have been born in the middle of the night and get them into the warm byre along with their mothers. He would then offer to help the milkmaids carry the brimming buckets back to the milk house. This entitled him to an extra ladle of sweet, fresh milk in his bowl of porridge and he sure appreciated this privilege! It made his tummy feel warm and good.
Leaf spent a lot of time out of doors. The winters in this part of the world were very cold, snowy and icy. Leaf is an Alpine mountain troll you see, and his village is located far up in the high mountains, on top of a knoll, deep in the forest. Today Leaf was very excited, because he would be helping to put the last minute, finishing touches in and around the village for The Mid-Winter Games that were to occur that very weekend. It was Wednesday and the general feeling of excitement in the air was electric! All of the local elves, faeries, gnomes, trolls and other assorted forest creatures would gather for the rousing competition on Friday and Saturday. Even some of the local country folk would attend. They had all been working very hard since just after Yule to organize the event. Then after the competitions there would be feasting and merrymaking all through the villages to celebrate Imbolc. The Imbolc festival, in honour of the lengthening daylight, the soon coming of spring and the Goddess Brighid, would last three glorious days and Leaf couldn’t wait for everything to start!
The beavers had built a beautiful lodge tall enough for the tallest villager to stand in upright. They had also dammed the brook and the water froze into a beautiful ice rink for the figure skating, curling and ice hockey competitions. A very special event was planned for Leaf and his brother Jack. These two trolls were the daredevils of the village. They would mount specially shod and outfitted Unicorns for a spine tingling jousting match in the clearing in the center of the great pine wood. Leaf loved to ride the beautiful Unicorns and he especially enjoyed competing with his brother, Jack. Leaf was respectful of his older brother; after all he was bigger and more worldly. Jack always seemed to win at everything, though, and this made Leaf a little jealous. Just once, he would like to be the one to reign victorious!
“Just because jack was older and bigger, Leaf thought, he shouldn’t be the one to win all the time!”
The Troll community had a very active outdoor sports and recreation agenda all year long. Being out in the fresh air, running, jumping and growing strong in all kinds of activities was especially important to the trolls. Leaf had been practicing every day and was turning into a superb Unicorn rider. Now, if he could only best his brother at the jousting competition, Nikki, that cute little Eskimo troll, might pay some attention to him instead of always making googly eyes at Jack!
Leaf scooped up the last of the porridge from his bowl and tipped it up to get the last drops of sweet milk. He then dropped his spoon back into the bowl with a clatter, wiped his mouth on his napkin, and took the bowl into the dish washing area of the community kitchen and dining hall. He placed the bowl on the dish washing station and thanked the cook for the delicious breakfast. Then he quickly ran outside before Midgeon, one of the young female trolls who was helping with the breakfast clean-up that morning, could catch him to help her with the kitchen duties. Leaf always loved to help around the village and he liked Midgeon, but today he was determined to get a little practice with the Unicorns before being called to duty. He wanted to win the coming competition. So, away he ran down the path to the clearing as fast as the wind!
Leaf emerged from the thick pine wood into the clearing. He was huffing and puffing after his sprint down the path and his breath was billowing in big white clouds around his head. He’d even knocked his little eye-patch askew, so he took the time to straighten it and catch his breath before he called on the Unicorns. Leaf had to wear the patch, because he had injured his eye badly during a particularly rough curling match last winter when someone had slammed a rock hard towards the goal and it ricocheted off of a huge boulder at the boundary. The rock hit Leaf in the eye and he spent several days in the infirmary with Nurse Hester, Doc Roy and Midgeon, (who was in troll nurses training), until he got over a serious concussion and recovered from the delicate eye surgery that he’d had to undergo to try to save the eye. Leaf healed up quickly, but he couldn’t see well out of that eye. When he tried to go without the patch he saw double and this affected his coordination. So, he tried to keep it on during the day, especially when training or competing. The other trolls teased him about it sometimes and called him “Pirate Leaf.” Leaf knew they meant no harm with their teasing, though, so he took it in stride and even pretended sometimes to be a pirate just for fun!
The bright, sunny day made the snow sparkle and glitter like someone had thrown a million diamonds all over the place. It was cold in spite of the sunshine, but Leaf felt warm from his run and the nice, hot porridge gave him abundant energy. Not that trolls ever lacked energy! He tramped slowly out to the center of the big circular clearing. The tall pine trees surrounded the smooth, sparkling snow and made Leaf feel even smaller than he was. Most of the trolls were very small. Gulliver and Umar were considered giants at 7 inches tall. Leaf was only about 5 inches tall. He liked to wear his hair long and spike it way up straight to make himself look taller. Today, though, he hadn’t taken the time to fix his hair up and it just sort of fluffed out from his head and hung loosely around his shoulders.
Leaf had to summon the Unicorns in a very special way. You see, Unicorns are very shy creatures and usually don’t come out of the forest except at sunrise and sunset to graze on sweet grass and to romp with the faeries by the light of the full Moon. It took special handling to get them to cooperate for the games. Training had to start weeks ahead of time and only Leaf and his brother Jack seemed to be able to communicate well enough with them. Leaf pulled out a special whistle made from a small pink and white spiral shell that he’d received from the faeries. The faeries loved the Unicorns and enjoyed watching them play, so they were thrilled to help Leaf and Jack learn how to handle them for this competition. Both Leaf and Jack had to swear a solemn oath before the Queen of the Faeries and the Lord & Lady of the Piney Wood. They had to promise that they would not place the Unicorns in any danger before they were allowed to go near them. Once they did that on bended knee before the various thrones, they were given the special whistles. Leaf held the tiny shell up to his lips and blew gently. A soft low-pitched tone issued from the whistle. The sound was almost imperceptible at first, but then it spread out in waves and grew into a low-pitched, haunting hum. It sounded like a wind gust when it moans through the pines on a windy day or through the rigging of a sailboat.
Leaf blew on the whistle three times and then stood there waiting patiently. He had to be very still, so as not to spook the timid creatures. Slowly, a Unicorn emerged from the wood into the clearing near Leaf. It was his favorite one. The one he called Fancy, because she had a smooth, pink horn with a golden spiral. Her mane and tail were a beautiful, shiny, golden color with copper flecks that looked like fiery sparks in the sunlight. Her coat was thick and a soft iridescent white that shone like mother of pearl. Leaf loved Fancy and the creature seemed to understand these vibrations. Unicorns are very sensitive and they can tell if someone will treat them well or not.
Fancy nudged Leaf’s shoulder with her muzzle in greeting. Leaf offered her a small lump of maple sugar, which she accepted from his hand. They bowed to each other and then Fancy knelt down on her forelegs to allow Leaf to mount her. Leaf climbed carefully onto her back and patted her neck while crooning to her in a soothing way. She stood up, raised her proud head and gave it a shake then galloped through the clearing with leaf holding on to her mane. Leaf loved the feel of the icy wind as it streamed through his long pink hair. His sense of exhilaration mounted as he noticed his brother, Jack, riding toward him full tilt with his Unicorn’s head down in battle position! You see, jousting with a Unicorn is a bit different than what the knights do on their horses. In the case of the Unicorn the jousting pole is their horn. The rider hangs on tight to the creature’s mane in order to guide the animal. Then when they are close enough to their opponent the rider gives a subtle command by pulling gently on the Unicorn’s mane. This triggers the Unicorn to try to throw the other rider off his mount by womping him with his horn. The Unicorns wear special armor during the competitions and the trolls wear heavily padded, fur suits, helmets and boots, so they won’t get hurt. During their practice sessions, however, Leaf and Jack didn’t put on the full regalia or the armor on their beasts. They just exercised more caution and practiced coordination skills more than actually trying to compete.
Jack roared past Leaf on his trusty stead, Diablo. Jack’s favorite Unicorn was not as colorful as Leaf’s. Diablo was shiny, ebony black with a pale silver mane and tail. His mane and tail glistened like brightly polished sterling in the sun. His horn was also a deep shiny black with a ropey spiral of thick, twisted silver. He was a formidable and powerful looking beast. The two trolls squared off on their Unicorns and Jack called the challenge.
“Two times around the clearing and then we separate and pass through the middle!”
“You’re on, called Leaf, but instead of riding deosil we go widdershins!”
Widdershins means counter-clockwise and this would be slightly confusing to the Unicorns who usually raced around the circle of the clearing deosil or clockwise. Leaf was hoping the little ploy would give him the advantage, as he was left-handed and also this way he could aim with his good left eye. Jack looked mildly amused as he figured out Leaf’s plan, but he agreed to the terms and off they went.
The Unicorns faltered at first until they understood the new direction, but then they sped around the clearing as fast as lightning! After the second turn around the circle, Leaf pulled up a little too sharply on his unicorn’s mane and the gentle beast was so startled she reared up abruptly hurling Leaf off her back. High into the air, head over heels the little troll flew until suddenly his forehead connected with a fat pine tree limb. He was then boomeranged off the limb and landed flat on his back on the cold, snowy ground.
Some of the local brownies who had been sitting around wagering on the trolls looked on in absolute horror. Jack rushed to his brother’s side. Leaf was not moving and for a split second Jack thought he might be dead. His right leg was twisted under him and a blue knot on the center of his forehead had swelled so it almost looked as if Leaf was trying to grow a horn there! Was he breathing? Jack, with his heart beating very fast, bent over his brother to check, just as Leaf suddenly took a big, deep breath. He evidently had the wind knocked out of him for a few seconds.
Jack knelt down in the snow beside poor Leaf and took his small, cool hand into his big warm one. Even though Jack was a big, tough troll he was fighting back tears of fear and sympathy for his younger brother. Leaf wasn’t regaining consciousness and was moaning softly. Leaf’s right leg was twisted the wrong way and Jack knew he had to get Leaf out of the cold snow and back to the troll village quickly. He threw his warm, wool cloak over him and sent some of the brownies to fetch the faeries for help. They needed all the help they could get! When the faeries heard what happened they flew as fast as they could go to the scene. Meanwhile, Jack and the other brownies had gathered some pine branches to make a travois on which to carry Leaf to the infirmary. The faeries padded the travois with thistledown to make a nice, soft litter for Leaf. They also devised a splint made of some soft pine boughs to slide under Leaf’s leg and hold it as still as possible while they traveled.
Leaf’s Unicorn, Fancy, was quite spooked by the whole episode and was trying to get a reaction from Leaf by nuzzling his ear with her soft muzzle.
“I’m sorry, Girl, Jack spoke gently to Fancy. I don’t think he’s going to wake up or be ready to play for quite a while, but you can help us.”
Jack wanted Fancy to pull the travois. Diablo was too high strung and Jack was afraid he would not be able to keep the spirited Diablo in check long enough to go slowly and steadily through the pine woods back to the troll village infirmary. The faeries explained to Fancy how they would attach the travois poles to her sides by wrapping some sturdy lashings made from flexible pine roots around her girth. Fancy bowed her head in agreement and held very still while they got everything attached properly. Then they all made a circle around Leaf and ever so gently lifted the little troll onto the soft, sturdy litter of the travois. They packed snow around his leg and head to try and help prevent swelling. Then they bundled him in a magical blanket provided by the faeries, so the rest of Leaf’s body would stay warm and not hurt while they made the journey to the infirmary. Once they were all set one of the faeries flew ahead to warn Nurse Hester and Doc Roy about what had happened and that they were on their way. The other faeries flew in front of Fancy to help guide her while Jack and the brownies fell in behind to monitor Leaf while they traveled. To be continued...
If you would like to read the rest of the story, come visit me at the following link http://amazon.com/author/sharonmerlier to purchase your Kindle Edition of The Green Cloak and find out what happens to poor, poor, Leaf!