Sun Quest - Part 2
by Ruwen Rouhs
Cantu was excited! "Everyone will be speechless! Nobody expected that we will have guests at the spring celebration! My parents will be taken aback. Nobody has ever met a black-skinned man and a red-haired pale-skinned one. Believe me, Buri!" He exclaimed getting his wet loin-cloth and trying to climb out of the dugout even before it was moored to the boat-bridge. He just couldn't wait a moment. He jumped ashore and pelted to his father's house calling at the top of his voice, "Father! Mother! We got visitors! You can't guess what kind of visitors! They are from the end of the world, from the south and from the north! The one is black as coal and the other has hair like fire!"
Cantu's mother, knowing her son, stuck her nose out of the door winking with the broom, "Whom did you pick up, Cantu! Is it the strömkarl, the water spirit, is it a mermaid with big boobs, did you just catch a giant catfish or is it just a water vole, a tiny little water vole?" But then she went speechless watching Aegir and Buri climbing up the trail to the village. "You, you….!" She was just able to utter before she dropped the broom.
Having shocked his mother, he turned to the chieftain's house calling, "Hermo, Hermo, homeboy! I told you this morning you will miss something exiting by staying at home! Look! I got a new friend! His name is Buri! He is black and never needs to wash his face!"
Hermo, the youngest son of the chieftain, came out of his father's house, caressing a young dog in his arms. "I told you I had to find Blue-eye, my blue-eyed doggy." and he kissed the dog's nose. "I was right Cantu! My poor Blue-eye was caught in a fox trap and hurt his leg!"
Aegir liked Hermo from the spot, not only because of his fair hair, but because the boy clearly suffered for his wounded dog. He considered moving over, but before he could offer his help to the boy, he and Buri were surrounded by curious villagers and yelping dogs. Cantu's call had not only alarmed his mother but every other villager at home at the time. While the men were absent, the women took command and shooed away the curious kids. They and the girls closed in on the two strangers looking cross and worried at the same time. Not one of them had ever met a black-skinned man before. The friendly smiling black young man looked so cute! He didn't resemble the Blackman of the tales at all! Could they trust him or was it a ghost? Surely not, he looked so innocent! And the foxy-haired youngster, should they mistrust him, just because of the red hair? No, never! His looks were so attractive!
Luckily Kester and Ver showed up at this moment. They calmed down the concerned women and reassured them. "They are friends of ours, mom!" Kester told his mother and Ver added, "They may look strange, but they are serious men, really! They were so grateful when Kester and I invited them to take part in the Spring-celebration!" The elder women were still uneasy and this uneasiness was felt by the babies and toddlers, who started crying. The sobbing and wailing of the small ones made the situation worse. The mothers shooed away the young girls knowing their daughters well. "Presto, presto, back to your work!" The girls looked bashfully to the ground blushing with embarrassment but at the same time got the hots.
The situation did not really relax till the chieftain together with other men arrived on the scene. Kester's father edged his way into the circle surrounding the two just arrived and welcomed the strangers hiding his surprise he welcomed the strangers. Aegir took over the task of a spokesman and provided the information required by the villagers. And he had to talk and talk and talk.
Meanwhile Cantu helped Buri to escape the curious folks by pulling him to the back of his fathers homestead, "Quick come, I have to show you my bird. It's a young hawk, a tercel. I snatched the baby-bird out of his aerie last summer. Look how it has grown! I will train it for pigeon hunting!"
After Kester's father had renewed the invitation, the crowd dispersed. Only Hermo stayed, still carrying the injured dog in his arms. "How is Blue-eye?" Aegir asked, "Is his leg fractured?"
First Hermo backed away anxiously, but then he plucked up courage, "I don´t know. Last night my Blue-eye got caught in a fox trap and now he is limping. Look here, his hind leg is full of blood!" Looking up to Aegir he smiled, "You eyes are as blue as his! I do trust you! Can you heal the injured leg?"
After a closer inspection Aegir comforted the boy, "It's not fractured, Hermo. It's just chafed and swollen!" He petted the fearful dog, "No problem, Doggy!" and then turned to the boy, "Does your mother have some groundhog grease?" when Hermo nodded, Get it, then I will clean the cut and then salve the leg." After it was done he reminded the boy, "You have to apply the grease every day till his leg is alright again."
Aegir was hungry. He hadn't had a bite the whole day over and now this! He and Buri had been invited by Kester for the evening meal. His whole family had gathered around a big bowl of soup in Kester's mother's kitchen. While the spoon passed from one participant to the other Aegir whispered to Buri, "I thought they would feed guests with roasted meat and now all we get is watery barley broth with last years parsnips and green nettle leaves. Even salt is missing. There are pigs outside in the pen, an old one and piglets and the sheep and goats are grazing in the pasture. But no meat in the soup and there aren't even globules of fat floating around!"
Buri grinned, "Greedy-guts, calm down, remember we are visitors, unexpected visitors even!"
Kester had overheard their whispering! Poking Aegir in the side he burst out laughing and announced loudly, "Don't complain my friend! Don't you think we aren't hungry also? Everybody is hungry today! Everybody has to stay hungry, that's tradition. It's the day before spring equinox and everyone has to go for a fast the day before. I tell you even if the messenger of gods himself, Hermod, had had announced your arrival in advance you would have had to stay hungry! Mother would make sure of that! Wait till tomorrow. Then you can stuff your belly till it's bursting!"
Everybody laughed and Kester's mother added, "I have been cooking for three days now to prepare the feast! Believe me you want stay hungry for tomorrow! It's time to get some rest. We have to get up before midnight to arrive at the Holy Circle in time."
The night was stormy. The storm from the south drove heavy clouds to the north. Up and on the curtain of clouds opened and the pale spring moon shed its light on the well trodden path from the village by the river to the Holy Circle, the Sun Henge, in the back country. The pattern of the march was the same as far back as the people could remember. The boys and unmarried young men headed the line, followed by the girls and unmarried young women. Then the group of stately men came, headed by the chieftain, followed by their women carrying the small children in carrying frames on their backs. Some elderly people were limping behind.
The forest along the trail was breathing spring. For the first part of the walk the villagers stayed silent listening to the darkness, to birds taking wings aroused by the unexpected footfalls, to small game rustling through last year's leaves, to dogs barking in the distance and the howling of wolves pursuing their prey.
Later Ver's father raised his voice to strike up a hymn. First only the men joined in later the women, finally young people. Even the old ones joined in the praise with scratchy voices:
The dark half of the year has passed,
Now do the days grow light,
The Earth grows warm again,
We summon the spirits of spring,
Who slept in darkness so long!
Wake up Ausos,
Let flowers sprout!
Wake up Astri,
Let hares come out!
The first hymn was followed by others, and by invocations, and prayers. Names of the gods were cited, names of awe-inspiring deities, names of the primordial being and names of terrifying giants. The prayers, the invocations, the hymns chased away the darkness and with every hymn the night withdrew to the west.
Cantu and Hermo led the small group of their peers heading the pilgrims. Suddenly Cantu pulled Hermo to a halt, "We have to get Buri and Aegir. They are walking with the married men. That's not right! They are not married and therefore have to walk with our group!" Hermo felt uneasy, "They are grown up! They have passed the rites of passage! They are nearly adults!" thinking over his worlds, "However they don't look as old as Ver or Kester! Buri doesn't even have fuzzy cheeks and Aegir sprouts just a few hairs on his upper lip! They don't look like adults do you agree Cantu?"
Nodding Cantu retorted, "You are right as always Hermo. And I want Buri to walk with me!"
"And I would like to walk side to side with Aegir." Hermo whispered longingly "Beyond that the two are our guests of honour. They have to be the first to enter the Holy Circle!"
Both turned back and searched for their new friends in the group of adults. Cutting in on the conversation between Ver and Buri, Cantu begged. "Buri would you and Aegir head the pilgrims together with us boys? Neither of you is married, thus you have to walk with us at the head of the procession." Looking for an even stronger argument to achieve their goal smart Hermo added to Cantu's appeal, "Our High Shaman surely is expecting you to be with us unmarried men. He insists on the tradition!"
"Go, go join the boys, Curly-head!" Ver assisted his brother smiling, knowing this nagging brother all to well, "Cantu is right! I bet the old shaman knows about you already and will be waiting for you to pay your respect to him!"
Kester added, "Yeah, go ahead you two. His Holiness sure is bound to tradition more than anyone else and he gets furious easily!" then he added in a low voice "The old man always wants to be the first to get hold of cute strangers like you!"
Ver, trying to soften the remark, added, "He sure likes to bid welcome to strangers first. Anyway we have to stay back with our wives and the other married people."
The trail was uneven and overgrown with roots and after running along the forest edge wound up as an level sandy path through a wide grassy clearing. After stumbling through the night from midnight till grey dawn everybody was tired. The chanting of the pilgrims had ceased, only the small ones walking on their own tired legs complained quietly. The toddlers however were silently sleeping in the carrying frames on their mothers´ backs.
Only the teens were chatting animatedly; they were full of expectations because of the things to come. It was not only the celebration of the equinox itself which made them so excited and edgy. It was first and foremost looking forward to meeting relatives who lived further away. For the younger ones it was the prospect of meeting with the girls and boys of their own age and for the older ones to meet with possible mates-to-be. It was the prospect of a lavish feast after the lean months of the cold season, for dances around the fire and for kissing under the cover of the bushes.
Once at the head of the line Aegir and Buri immediately became the centre of the group and both, boys and girls, tried to be as close to the guests as possible, asking questions and trying to touch them. This intrusiveness turned out to be a problem for Cantu and Hermo who expected to have the exclusive privilege of associating with the two strangers. So Cantu was happy, when the sanctuary became visible on the foggy plain. Pulling on Buri´s arm he pointed into the mist, "Buri, look ahead; there the slope ahead of us. It's the bank with the high fence surrounding the ceremonial site, it's the Holy Circle, our sanctuary, the Sun Henge!"
Hermo pointed into the dusk around the Sun Henge, "Look Aegir, big brother, can you see the columns of men approaching the sanctuary! The people from all the villages around are on their way to the Sun Henge. They are coming from near and far, even from the grey mountains. All clans will worship Father Sun this morning!"
From the distance the sanctuary resembled a supernatural molehill in the fog-shrouded plateau overlooking the forest at the far end of the shrubby land. From close up the earthen bank was not more than two head-high crowned by a wooden fence of about the same height. The fence was surmounted by a thatched roof that seemed to belong to an enormous house occupying the whole interior of the sanctuary.
Headed by Cantu and Hermo the people from the fishing hamlet at the river entered the Holy Circle. Passing a V-shaped breach in the bank they crossed a wooden footbridge over a muddy ditch and entered the house-like construction of the sanctuary. It was not a house but just a thatched roof supported by wooden posts running around the circular celebration ground of the Sun Henge. The level ground was grass-covered so that the worshippers sheltered by the roof had a good view of the altar of man-sized stone slabs in its centre.
Shamans in grey cloth walked in measured steps around the big altar chanting hymns quietly. At each corner of the square altar, incense holders emitted grey-white clouds filling the air in the holy circle with the scent of pine resin, juniper berries, lavender and mugwort. The powerful scent rose to heaven and the fresh southern breeze blended the scent with the foggy air hovering over the plateau. There was a pole in the centre of the altar, a wooden pole so slender and high that it seemed to touch the sky.
The Sun Henge had three entrances, one to the north, the second to the south-east and the third to the south-west. The rays of the sun would never enter the sanctuary through the northern entrance. It was reserved for pilgrims visiting the sanctuary. The high gate in the south-east was the opening through which the first rays of the rising sun would gild the altar and the tall pole in the middle of the Henge. The gate in the south-west however allowed the shamans and people to bid farewell to the setting sun.
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