FREE READ – Imbolc

This is the tale of young priest who is introduced to a satyr by a beautiful member of his flock. Deep in the Black Forest, they break bread, discuss religion and learn the horror of the burning times.

“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

He stacked the last of the logs on the sheltered woodpile, picked up the coarse shirt and wiped sweaty dust and dirt from his barreled chest. Smiling to himself, he took a moment to appreciate the rugged beauty of the forest with the occasional, stubborn snowdrift accenting the deep browns and greens.

It was warmer than usual for January and the soft breeze held a faint scent he couldn’t name and yet it filled him with an odd longing.  He had taken advantage of the fine morning to replenish the woodpile and it was already past noon. Prayer and something from the larder to break his fast would be a fine thing.

He smiled at the familiar warmth of the dark woolen robe draped over his shoulders. Then, he tied the simple rope belt, hung the silver cross on its chain around his neck and kissed the savior’s tortured image before opening the back door to the church.

As he entered the chapel, he saw an unexpected supplicant, kneeling in prayer. He knelt at the altar, crossed himself and turned to the beautiful golden hair bent over before him. “Good morning and blessings upon thee, daughter. Are you well?”

She looked up and he was struck by her beauty. Eyes deeper in blue than the spring sky stared back at him from above an impressive expanse of soft bosom. With an effort, he pulled his eyes back to her face and saw a whisper of a smile. She well knew the effect she had on men, even at such a young age.

“Ah, it’s you, Brynhildr. And what, may I ask, brings you to the Lord’s house this fine day?”

“Bless me Father, for I may have sinned.”

“May have sinned, is it? Well, I’m not sure if that is clear enough for me. Perhaps you should explain?”

She stared at the ornate golden crucifix on the altar and bit her lip for a moment. He sat on the pew next to her and waited patiently for her to gather courage.

“I’ve met a demon, Father Walkürehosten. In the forest… You know?  In that little glen where the faery circles always seem to form every spring. I really didn’t want to meet him. He was just there… and he played such sweet music and spoke so very softly, I just couldn’t help myself. I had to stop and listen and…” She bowed her head, crossed herself and stared once more at the altar.

He thought for a moment. This didn’t really sound like a story made up to cover an early spring affair with one of the neighboring farm boys. Although she’d make some lad a fine, hardworking wife, she wasn’t very imaginative and he didn’t think she would make this much of a fuss over a roll in the hay with one of the lads.

“Music you say?  You say he played music?” Nobody within a day’s ride played an instrument. Musicians would be here from the next valley for the St. Brigid’s Day celebration so maybe one had come early.

“Yes, Father. He had a set of pipes like I’ve not seen before. They make such soft, lilting sounds that seem to come from the very trees themselves.”

“And what makes you think he’s a demon, lass?”

“Oh that is obvious from the start, Father. He has horns… and very hairy legs… and hooves.”

His eye brows went up a bit. “Horns and hooves you say? Hhhmmm… I think I must go and visit this demon then. If he’s as you say, I’ll have to invoke God’s blessings to drive him from our lands.”

Her face seemed to fall. “But Father, do you think that is strictly needed? Perhaps he can be saved.”

“Saved it is now? So I’m supposed to be savin’ demons that the good Lord has tossed from heaven all by myself? Why would you be saying that, lass?”

“I’m not sure, Father. It’s just that he truly hasn’t touched me in any way. On the contrary; he saved my life when a wolf attacked. We merely spoke for awhile afterwards and I listened to him play his pipes. He seemed very lonely and not at all the evil being I had imagined a demon to be.”

“Well, you let me be the judge of that, daughter.  Now give another prayer to the Good Lord and then run along to your chores. I’m sure your parents are wondering where you are by now.”

He watched as she whispered softly, crossed herself, smiled at him, and hurried out the door and down the broad path towards her father’s farmstead.

Taking a worn leather bag from where it hung on the kitchen wall, he filled it with a half loaf of yesterday’s bread, a wedge of cheese wrapped in a scrap of cloth and a bottle of wine.  If he was to confront a demon on such a lovely day, he’d do it on a full stomach.

As she hurried down the path, a shadow moved from behind a large tree. The boy was big and strong and not very bright. He knew what he wanted, however and the creamy white breasts and the faint shadows of her nipples in the cool spring air had driven his lustful dreams for several days. He remembered his grandfather telling tales of seeing his grandmother running from her village as they drove their longship unto the beach. He chased her until she fell exhausted and then had his way with her on the beach. This seemed like a fine plan to follow.

Arms folded over his chest, he stepped into her path. “Good morning, Brynhildr.”

“Oh! It’s just you, Leif. I’m sorry, but I’ve not the time to play today. I’m late for chores…”

“Late for yer chores and yet you’ve plenty of time to be cavortin’ with that silly priest. I’ve much more interestin’ things to be showin’ ya, lass.”

She folded her arms under her breasts and hugged herself defensively. Too late, she realized this just seemed to draw his eyes to her bosom and the dark areola and prominent nipples barely covered by the thin blouse.

“Please step aside. I must be going.”

“Too late for that, lass. I think it is time you and I got to know one and other.” He took her arm and started to pull her towards the forest.

She yanked away from him, turned and ran back towards the church.

Smiling wickedly, he gave her a few feet head start, and then lunged after her.

“HELP! FATHER! HELP!” She screamed.

Hearing her scream just as he stepped into the warm spring sunshine, the priest hiked his robe with one hand and ran down the path. There was another scream, more desperate this time, just as he rounded the curve and they came into view.

Leif had her on the ground, her blouse was pulled down and she was punching ineffectually at his face. He was between her legs with one arm pinned over her head and his other hand was trying to get her skirt out of the way. His trews were already below his hips and his cock was jutting obscenely as he rolled from side to side.

The priest knew he was going to be too late, and then a movement from the tree line made him stop. A naked man… No, not a man, a… He wasn’t sure what it was, but it stood upright and it was watching the incipient rape.

Suddenly, he realized he was watching the ‘demon’ that Brynhildr had told him about. Then, she screamed once more and the demon hurled a small rock! It hit Leif on the forehead, he yelped and rolled off her.
He jumped up, swearing and looking towards the woods, but there was no one to be seen. By the time he turned back to his intended victim, she was standing. The angry kick she delivered to his groin, almost lifted him from the ground! He folded in half, howling in pain as she turned and ran for home.

Father Walkürehosten walked up and stood over the boy as he got his breath back. He was muttering to himself, “That bitch will be sorry she…”

“She will NOT be bothered by you in any way. Understood lad?”

“Father! Did you see? She attacked me…”

“I saw a young fool try to ravage an innocent and she kicked him in the balls for his trouble. Do you want it known among your friends in the village that you were bested by that little girl?”

Growling low in his throat, like the brute he was, Leif scrambled to his feet and limped away.

When he was well out of sight and earshot, the priest turned to the woods and called softly. “I saw what you did and that didn’t look like the act of a demon. Will you show yourself?”

For a long moment, there was no response… Then slowly, a figure stepped from behind a large tree. His legs were shaggy and goat-like and ended in wide, splayed hooves that would leave little trace on the forest floor. Except for a finely wrought silver torque about his neck, he was naked and exceptionally well-endowed as a man. The dark brown, curly fur of his legs and groin was matched in the shaggy locks tumbling from his head to below his shoulders. A pair of short horns were set high above his forehead.

“You made quite an impression on that young lady. And I thank you for saving her from the rude buck. Do you speak or just play the pipes?”

Glancing nervously down the trail, he gave a soft smile as he replied. “I speak, priest. What do you wish of me?”

“I am Father Robert Walkürehosten. What is your name and what manner of man are you?”

“If you have one’s name, you have great power over them. Are you aware of that, priest?”

“I have heard of that but my name is known to many and my heart to God. If you truly wish me ill with your magic, I know the Good Lord will protect me.”

His smile widened. “Well spoken, priest. In that case, we shall share names. I am called Sileni Sh’lrlm and am from an island off the coast of the land you call Greece. My people are called ‘Satyr’ in your tongue. But I am confused. Your given name is ‘Robert’ and that is not a name I’ve heard before… And yet your surname is from this land. Why is that?”

“My mother was from a distant land to the west and my father is of these mountains. I recall hearing of your kind in the monastery where I was taught to spread the word of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Are you a Christian?”

He shook his head. “No, priest. I am a creature of the mountains and forests. My kind worship the sun and moon and we celebrate the seasons. I have no quarrel with your church, but if you wish me to leave in peace, I shall not bother you or your flock…” He stepped back, as if to fade into the trees once more.

“Wait. We have shared names Sileni. Does this not mean we can put aside our differences and speak as friends?”

Tilting his head and looking aside for a moment, the satyr considered carefully before answering. “I would like that. But do not expect to see me in your church or other human dwelling. I feel as if I must remain outside, in the cool, clear air of the wilds. I have been chased by men on many occasions and will not be trapped and killed as a beast.”

“Very well then, let us sit and learn more of each other.” The priest walks over to a fallen log, sits down and unslings his leather pouch. “Will you join me in a meager meal?”

Straddling the log, the satyr licks his lips and smiles. “Do I smell wine and cheese there, Robert?”

The priest bows his head over his pouch and whispers his thanks for the Lord’s bounty, then breaks the bread and cheese and offers half of each to his companion.

“If I recall my ancient texts properly, your name translates in our tongue as an elder demon.” He smiles to show he means no offence. “I wonder if that was merely out of fear of your appearance.”

Between bites, he replied, “That may be the case of it. I know my kind are few and far between now and although I take delight in lovemaking with your women, we cannot reproduce in this manner. Only another of my kind may bear my child and that seems to have doomed us. It has been many years since I’ve seen another of my people since most of my tribe died in the great flood, many years ago. The rest of us were scattered to the four winds.”

“How long have you been in this forest?”

“More than two hands of years now. I lost track of the passing of time long ago. I’ve been living a simple life up that pass when I saw Brynhildr passing my home with a few sheep. I could smell an old wolf nearby and knew that it would probably hear the bleating of the flock and come looking for an easy meal. I followed her a short distance and when it attacked, I used my sling to crack its skull with a stone. She couldn’t help but see the whole thing and like most young women, wanted to thank me.”

The priest raised his eyebrows and his face grew stern at this telling.

“Don’t worry, Robert. Her virtue is still safe. At least until that lout from her village catches up to her when we aren’t around. Although she is lovely and would be fun to frolic in the greensward, I’ve no real taste for virgins. Let her bear some children and get bored one summer’s night, and I’ll not hesitate. But for now, I’ll merely play her a tune or two and accept her friendship.”

“Heh! Fair enough, Sileni. I might make a Christian of you yet.”

The satyr says nothing for a little while, merely sipping from the wine flask and chewing on a heel of bread and a morsel of cheese. Then, he motions upward. “Would you not say, Robert, that your God has provided a fine light with this sunny day for our feast?”

Startled at the strange turn of phrase, the priest looks about for a moment and nods. “Yes, I would say it is a fine day indeed.”

“In the back of your church, there is a small window, high up the wall that has many colors in it, is there not?”

Once again, the priest nodded.

“When you are inside and praying to your God, does the light coming through that window make you think of his beauty and love for you?”

“Yes, it does, Sileni. Why do you ask?”

“Follow me for a moment. I’ve something to share with you.”

The satyr led him between the trees and a short distance off the trail. They came to another fallen log, with a forest of ferns growing around it and wildflowers scattered in the cracks of some rocks. The satyr straddled this log and motioned for the priest to sit as well.

“Do you see how the sunlight here is not as bright as out on the path? Notice how lovely it is as it streams through the canopy of leaves with those golden streaks.”

“Yes, it is very peaceful and pretty here. I think I see what you are trying to show me. This is very much like the colored light from my stained glass. This is your church, is it not?”

The satyr broke into a wide grin. “You DO understand! God makes the light and we each must come to know his light with our own eyes and in our own way. Christ and his church is your path and mine is right here.”

“We are each not so different, I guess.  Although my Bishop would probably have me stoned as a heretic for saying that.”

The satyr unslung his pipes and started to softly play.  Each note seemed to be echoed by the birds and a whispered counterpoint was the wind, sighing in the branches.

The music was lovely, but not appreciated by Leif, hiding in the bushes. Using the pipes to cover his sounds, he slippe away and hurried to the village.

After some more conversation and another tune, the priest stood to leave. “It is almost dark and I must be about my chores. I thank you for the company and I hope we shall meet again, soon.”

“I’m sure we shall, Robert. Fare thee well and when you’ve a mind, you need merely whistle a bit and if I’m about, we’ll break bread once more. I’ve a flask or two of Greek wine I’ve saved that you may appreciate.  Here, let me show you a shortcut.” He led the priest down a hidden trail to the churchyard.

As they came in sight of the church, the satyr suddenly froze in place. His head snapped from side to side and he sniffed at the slight breeze.

“There are others here.  I smell them. Something is not right, Robert.”

“Where are they?  I don’t see them… Wait! Look! There’s Brynhildr at the door.”

She saw them and waved. “Run! Run for your life! They’re all drunk and coming for you!”

There was a whistling sound, a thump and the satyr staggered to one side with an arrow in his shoulder. Another arrow caught him on the upper arm and pierced the muscle. Still another grazed his rib cage as he twisted behind a tree and winced in deep pain.

“I got him! I got the devil!”

“I got him too!” Another voice cried out.

The last rays of the sun faded behind a mountain and the priest could see there were more than a dozen of the villagers and several had torches. He stood in the center of the path and held his arms wide, his hands open. “Please! Stop! He is not a devil. He is merely…” An arrow struck his shoulder and toppled him backwards. The satyr grabbed and pulled him behind the tree just as several others whiz by.

“Here! Here is sanctuary!” The girl whispers as she grabs the priest’s one arm. “Inside the church. They’ll not attack us inside a holy place.”

“I’m afraid you are naïve, little one. But with them surrounding us, it looks like we’ve no choice.” He winced and grabbed the priest around the waist.

“No, Sileni! You can escape in the deep woods. Go! Leave me to talk to these fools.”

“And why would I abandon my new friends, priest?”

Hanging on to one and other, they ran and stumbled the short distance to the church door. As they entered, several more arrows thudded into the hard wood. The priest set a pair of heavy boards to bar the door and they sat back on the pews.

Brynhildr stared in horror at the blood flowing freely from their wounds. “How… how do I get the arrows out?”

“Behind the altar, I have another robe you can use to help staunch the flow. But for now, I must pray for our deliverance.” He staggered to the altar just as there came a pounding on the door.

“Go ahead father… pray to have your sins expunged. But it won’t do you any good!” Leif’s drunken voice calls to them. “We see now that you have both been cavorting with the devil and now we’re going to send you all back to hell, where you belong.”

“Looks like it’s the end for us.” The satyr pointed to one of the small windows. “I smell fire. They are using the torches.” He shook his head, wincing at the pain and pulled one arrow the rest of the way through his arm. Hot blood spurted and he dropped to one knee, alongside the praying cleric.

Weeping softly, Brynhildr knelt on the other side, crossed herself and started to join him in prayer.
Glancing to the side, the priest tried to smile. “Will you not accept my blessing so that you may join us in Heaven?”

“I’ve no need of heaven, Robert. I’ll be journeying to a place of forests and mountains where there is plenty of fruit and friends and always the warmth of summer. Enjoy basking in your light and I shall dream of you in the summerlands.”

Robert nodded, smiled softly and returned to his prayers.

They grew silent. Each deep in their own thoughts as the outside walls of the church took light from a dozen torches. The crackling sounds of dry timber turned into a roar as the walls grew warm around them.
With that, suddenly every candle in the church sprang to life!

“Father! Look!”

The priest and the satyr stared in disbelief at where she was pointing.

The golden crucifix on the altar was flanked by two large candles that were normally  used a few times a year for special celebrations. The air between them was glowing brightly and flickering with blue-green flashes of St. Elmo’s fire. A ball of white light formed and expanded to obscure the altar and, as their eyes adjust, they saw a lovely meadow, framed by two white columns and golden gates. The gates swung wide and there was the sound of lyres, pipes and drums playing a cheerful tune. Several figures turned towards them and waved, beckoning them to come forward.

“That man! He’s my father!” Despite his pain, a broad smile creased the priest’s face.

As if in a trance, Brynhildr stepped forward, feet lighter than air as she passed the gates and her tattered rags faded away; to be replaced with a pure white gown. All traces of fear and pain were gone from her face and she turned and smiled back at them.

The priest stepped forward, hesitated at the gate and smiled back… “Are you coming, my friend?”

Undecided and wary, he looks longingly towards the deep forest behind the angels. “Well actually, I’ve always wanted to know what Valhalla was like…”

A faery band of valkyries, riding ravens, burst one at a time from each of the votive candles and circled the satyr for a moment, laughing loudly. Then they flew over Robert’s shoulder and into the heavenly woods. The priest and the satyr smiled, hesitate for but a moment… And, placing an arm on each other’s shoulder, they followed the sounds of merriment towards summer.

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