After the evening meal, backs began to straighten and eyes brighten. A shower had crossed Carraig Dubh shortly before supper, but the evening sky was now cloudless. Giedre was up to her arms in water when Stanislovas came to her and told her that the dishes could wait until the morning.
The “colonists” were being given back their shamans to go with the priests that had accompanied them to the vast “compound” in the Carriger mountains. The day before, a wagon had come from the fortress, bringing him back from prison, an emaciated figure in remnants of town clothes besieged by eager men and women begging him for a charm against midges or a word from their dead relatives. He’d been hustled away by soldiers before Stanislovas and Ursula had got to him.
Those who had been older children and adults when they had been deported talked all day in the fields and all night in their cabins about finally being allowed to practise magic again without the fear of being birched for it – or worse. The first solstice festival, Kupolinés, permitted in ten years of exile had only been announced a week ago, not time enough to organise anything large.
The glade where the festival was to take place was a mile away. As dusk fell, the inhabitants of four villages were all on the road together, dressed as much as they could in old town clothes or motley made out of them. Children picked flowers from the roadside and decorated their hair. Men and women whispered amorously to each other. Giedre trotted alongside her adoptive parents, absorbing their excitement without quite knowing what to expect.
There was a curious glow in the air as they approached the priests’ grove. Respectfully allowing the shaman his space, the clergy they had been permitted to keep from their own indigenous worship of Lapiukas stood to one side as the villagers entered the space. Visiting priests of Lugh, the local Galtarai name for the fox-god, stood by their side. Giedre resentfully eyed the soldiers feeding a massive bonfire; the shaman was meditating by it, his rags replaced with clean, new traditional dress and a fur hat styled to look like a fox, the image of their fox-god. Someone behind her muttered “witch” at him disparagingly, but most were smiling.
The moon rose over the mountain to the west. An owl hooted. As if on cue, the shaman stood, raising his arms to the sky. Stragglers still poured into the glade, but everyone fell silent. “protecting” the grove.
The oak tree around which the shaman had tied garlands of flowers erupted with the lights. At first, Giedre thought them merely the fireflies she’d seen on previous visits to the grove, but they twinkled with varying colours, which fireflies didn’t do. With the clatter of wings, the lights took off into the inky sky, scattering to the four winds.
Murmurs started up. The question on everyone’s lips was: Are we freed?
(Image texture courtesy of .Brooke.Anderson., flickr, ‘T 85’)