Being that it’s Halloween weekend, I thought I’d share a short story written especially for this occasion. Narrated by none other than Julian himself. A bit of his childhood, which will tell you a little of his background…
Halloween has its origins in Samhain. A special time for us Celts. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with a history lesson. I’m no historian and my memory isn’t the best. Being around for centuries does that to you…
There is only one Samhain I remember….I was a boy, living with my sister. My father, our tribe’s chieftain despised me, for my mother had died giving birth to me. Something he never let me to forget. His beatings were brutal until Eoghan, one of our Druids, convinced him to allow my older sister care for me. To this day, I do not know why my father agreed, but I’m glad, for I do not think I would have survived much longer in his care, I use that word with great irony…
On my tenth year, Eoghan told me it was time to go on a very special journey. The instructions were clear. At dusk, on Samhain, I was to go to our sacred grove and wait for him. The area was forbidden to us children, but I knew I had his permission and would be safe.
After traveling for over an hour, I sat under an oak tree to rest. Struggling to keep my eyes open, I dozed off, until rustling behind me, woke me. My heart thumped loud in my ears as I looked around the forest. There was total silence, no creatures scurrying through the undergrowth, no owls hooting, nothing.
I sensed someone standing behind me and turned, expecting Eoghan. When I spotted the woman, I gasped. She smiled and moved closer, allowing me to get a better look at her. She was tall and slim, and her skin was pale, like alabaster. Long brown hair cascaded past her shoulders. Her movements were graceful, almost regal, but she was dressed in rags. I could tell her garment had once been like the tunics our women wore. A deep gash on her throat made me cry out but in spite of that, I didn’t fear her. There was something familiar about her face, with its high cheekbones, full lips and blue eyes. It was like looking in a mirror. I swallowed hard, my eyes stinging from tears as I gazed at her.
‘Help me…’ she said, her voice just a whisper as she knelt by me, her hands reaching out to caress my face, but it was as if she was made of air, and I could not feel her touch. ‘ I cannot go past the sacred forest, it’s as if I fade away when I try…’ she said, her eyes filling with tears. My shoulders shook, as I sobbed, wishing I could hug my mother who I’d never known. She showed me her death, at my father’s hand, and then, she was gone…
All sound returned to the forest, I heard rustling again and spotted a flash of white, Eoghan’s robe. As soon as I saw him, I stood up and ran into his arms.
‘Child…’ was all he said as he held me.
I told him everything, but it was obvious to me he knew the story.
‘Only you can set her free…’ he said and took me by the hand.
We walked through the thickest part of the forest. The area beyond, was a wide open space, with mounds of earth that were man-made. Each mound was circular, with a narrow entrance, tunnel-like, leading deeper into the structure where the bodies of our ancestors rested. Each one in its own separate chamber. I could see all burial mounds were cared for, with the exception of one, which was where we were headed.
I followed Eoghan down the narrow entrance. Soon, we were in darkness. The smell of the damp earth was sickening, but I kept going, amazed an old man like him was able to see in such blackness.
‘Can you see?’ I said, wondering if his eyes had nocturnal vision, like mine.
‘Yes, my night vision is as good as yours. One day, I shall explain why…’
Once in the deepest part of the mound, I saw there were no separate chambers inside, only one large circular room, in the middle of it, I spotted a pile of bones, in disarray, as if someone had purposely disturbed them.
‘No….’ I said, swallowing hard as I hesitated to go further.
‘You will free her tonight, be brave child.’ said Eoghan.
We knelt by the bones. He handed me a dagger, it was my father’s and I knew it had been the weapon that had killed her, for my mother had showed me that too.
‘Her blood runs through your veins, let it drip over her remains…’
My hands shaking, I took a deep breath and used the dagger on my right wrist, the cut was about an inch in length, the pain was nothing to me, if I had been asked to die for her, I would have. I let the blood drip onto her sad remains, whilst Eoghan chanted words I did not understand, then the cut healed. Another one of my special quirks.
I sighed and looked at Eoghan, who smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder, his blue eyes full of warmth. When I turned back to stare at the pile of bones, they looked the same, but the blood was gone.
‘Can we bury her please?’
‘We will, but not in the way you expect.’ said Eoghan closing his eyes. I felt a strong vibration all around, the ground trembled beneath me.
‘Go now…wait outside…’ he said, shouting over the sound that was growing in strength.
I rushed out, just in time as the mound collapsed onto itself. I covered my mouth to stifle a scream and jumped when I felt a hand touch my shoulder.
‘I’m safe, don’t worry.’ said Eoghan with a smile.
Once home, I could not sleep. After tossing and turning throughout the night, I dozed off, right before dawn. When I heard a sound inside the room, I opened my eyes and saw her standing by the fire burning in the middle of our room. My sister was asleep and didn’t stir. My mother moved closer, I ran towards her, noticing there was no gash on her throat.
‘Thank you.’ she said, her hands reaching out to touch me. I expected to feel nothing, like the first time, but I felt her warmth when she hugged me tight. How can I describe how it felt? There was such comfort, peace and love in that hug. I do not remember her leaving. I woke up hours later, knowing my mother’s spirit was finally at peace.