Dedicated To Lady Olivia Robertson, Laura Janesdaughter, Linda Illes and deTraci Regula
Aisling looked around the stone cottage. She had to be packed up and ready to be moved to a new one by the time noon came. The morning sun came in through the leather coverings of the door and the windows. The sun was still low in the sky and wouldn’t be much higher in the hour or so before noon. Aisling really missed the sun at this time of the year.
Samhain was a few sennights past and the Chief Druid had told then that in the new year she was ready for her next step as a student. She looked around again. Had she forgotten anything? She was scared and more than a bit excited. She had finished the first three sun returns of her studies. She had studied the beginnings of every craft and lore the Druids practiced. She had studied herbs and healing, poetry and storytelling, history and the lineages of her people. She’d learn the beginnings of brewing and animal lore, she’d learned about the stars and their stories and the paths they traveled in the heavens. She’d learned the beginnings of how bodies worked and the things people and animals need to be healthy. She’d spent time learning how and what the Druids knew about how the worlds worked but now it was time to move to the next step. She had come here when she was just past 6 summers and now she was just past 9 summers and so much had happened. She had met the Fae and she had met some of the deities her stories had told her about.
She looked down at her freshly whitened tunic and new trews. She’d helped spin the wool for them and watched it being woven. She’d collected the dye plants that had coloured the wool. She loved the stripes of blues and greens with the browns. They made her feel proud that her hands had learned to do these things.
She was done packing and she grabbed the staff she had made. She wanted to go sit for awhile before the ceremony. She walked out of the cottage for the last time and up the hill. Someone would move her things later in the day.
At the top of the hill she sat down and looked over the valley. The lambs that had been new this spring were almost grown and ranged around her stolidly eating and ignoring her. The sky was the piercing blue it becomes it late fall when the sun is low. There were light clouds starting to stream by in the west. Rain would come tomorrow. The grass around her was browning this late in the year before the winter rains would set in.
Tomorrow would start her first year with the Bards. Then she would have to decide if that was what she would keep studying. She was glad that the winter would be spent with the storytellers. She knew she would be learning how to tell the tales as well as many stories. Stories that taught their beliefs, stories that taught history, stories that could make people cry or scare them on a cold winter night when some of the dark Fae might be around and you only felt safe when you had a cup of hot cider and a friend sitting near the fire.
She knew she would have to study with the Chief Bard at some point and she wasn’t looking forward to it. She thought he still was mad at the Raven. Raven couldn’t help being attracted to his pretty, shiny white hair but she didn’t think the Chief Bard cared that Raven couldn’t help liking it. Raven was circling over head in the clear sky. She would soon have to come in for the winter and be inside and Raven hadn’t liked that much last year but Raven wasn’t interested in going where other ravens went it seemed. Aisling closed her eyes to the sun and rested.
Raven landed on her shoulder with a thump and Aisling her a hoarse voice say, “GO!”. She’d fallen asleep and was going to be late if she didn’t hurry. Aisling ran down the hill and through the village, her braids flying behind her and holding her staff high so she wouldn’t fall over it.
She made it to the stone circle just as the lines were forming. Her teacher had been looking for her and grabbed her. “No, you need to go in on the other side this time.” And she pulled her around to the other side of the circle. The side the celebrants used to enter. She was coming in from the East for the first time. She joined the 5 others who would be moving on with her. She was last in line and smallest as usual. She straightened her tunic and smashed down her bangs which like to curl and stand up. She sighed to herself, almost late again.
The boy in front started to walk into the circle and the rest followed. They walked three times around in front of the rest of the village. The Chief Druid and Chief Bard were standing by the altar set up in the center of the ring. The Chief Bard looked very dour. Did he know she’d almost been late? She saw Raven land on a stone in front of where they had stopped.
The Chief Druid stepped forward. “We are gathered here to witness and bless these children and to lead them into the next step on their paths.” He turned to the gathering. “Do you so witness this and agree they are ready?”
Aisling shivered, she just new someone would say she wasn’t ready but all she heard was cheering and she relaxed just a little.
The Chief Druid turned to the six of them standing there before him. “Are you ready for to take that step on your journey?”
Aisling answered “Aye!” with the rest of them.
The Chief Bard stepped forward. “Do you swear to do your best to learn the lore of our people? To keep it safe and dear until it comes time for you to pass it on?
Aisling answered, “Aye” and hoped she would be able to do it.
The Chief Druid took a cup from the altar. “This water is a symbol of the blood that moves through all of us. It is a symbol of the water that runs though and over the land as its blood. It is a symbol of what relates us to the land and every being that lives on it.
The Chief Druid marked each of their hearts and foreheads. He smiled at Aisling and winked just a tiny bit and he turned and nodded to the Chief Bard.
Chief Bard took the small bowl of salt and raised it. “This salt also ruins through our veins and the veins of all living beings. Too much can kill as well as not having enough. It can burn in a wound or season our food. May you always know when and how to use it.” He motioned for them to stick out their tongues as he dropped a few grains on them.
The Chief Druid moved forward again with a small bottle. “This oil is scented with the herbs and gifts of our goddesses and gods and is a symbol of their caring for us. May this oil bless your hearts, minds and tongues. May it bless your feet as you walk upon the Earth. May it give you strength when you need it. May it give comfort when you are filled with fear or grief. May it give you wisdom and the sight to see your path. May it bless you all of your days.”
“What gifts do you bring you goddesses and gods?” Time he turned to Aisling’s end of the line for the answer.
Aisling was terrified for a minute and thoughtfully answered, “My heart.” The Chief Druid smiled at her and once again she was relieved. She’d given the right answer. It was all she really had after all.
The Chief Druid went down the line asking each the question. And Ailsing looked at the rest of the village gathered around them. Aislng thought that there were a few extra people in the back but she couldn’t be sure as she turned her attention back to the Chief Druid and Bard.
The Chief Bard took a wreath from the pile on the table. It was made of fir, pine, holly and sage. He placed it on Angus’ head and held his hand on the crown of Angus’s head without saying anything. He moved to Catriona and did the same. Aisling wondered what was happening but knew she’d find out soon. The Chief Bard moved down the line until she came to her. She was almost afraid to look at him closely. He’d never been particularly nice to her but he smiled and placed the wreath on the brow and his hand on her head. She felt warmth spread over her and she smiled. That wasn’t so bad.
The Chief Druid held his staff in front of him. “This staff is a symbol of finding your way. It will keep you on solid ground, it will protect you from harm, it can be a guide to inspiration as you walk. May it be a comfort when you are alone and a symbol of your learning that you are not alone.”
The Chief Bard took something from the table and moved to Angus as he dropped the talisman around his neck. These are a symbol of your path. They are all different as our paths are all different. The Chief Druid and your teacher selected the symbols. Do not look at them until we are done.
It took all Aisling’s might not to look at the talisman. She wanted to know so bad what it was but they were trusting her to be grown up enough not to look.
Aisling was getting tired of standing there in front of everyone. She knew she was supposed to be reverent and absorbed in the ceremony but now she just wanted it over so she could think about it all. She looked up and the Chief Druid winked at her. Did he know how she felt? Did he ever feel the same way?
The Chief Druid and the Chief Bard turned to the village. “Behold see your new Bards, listen to their stories, hear their songs and welcome them to your hearts!” The village cheered and started to move towards them. Time for hugs and time for the feast and she hadn’t done anything to disgrace herself for once. Aisling was just starting to enjoy it when the Raven swooped down and grabbed her wreath from her head and flew off.
“Hey! Come back here you thief!” She cried and started to run when she felt her shoulder grabbed.
“Stay! She’ll return it if it’s meant to be returned.” Aisling turned around and her eyes widened. She’d been right about the extra people. Brighid, Lugh and the Green Man stood before the initiates.
“We’ve come to bless these children on their path. These are the blessed ones, whether they believe it or not.” Brighid smiled down at Aisling. “Go forth in sunshine and in shadow, in twilight and moonlight, by hearthfire and bonfire!’
The goddess and gods stepped back in the crowd and were gone. The village stood around in silence. That had never happened before. Even the Chief Druid looked a bit bemused.
“Aisling, I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again. You have the most interesting friends.” He turned and picked up his staff and led them out of the stone circle.
Aisling hugged the moment to herself. She was a Bard.