An extract from Memory Seed for today, May 1, Beltane.
On Beltayn Eve, Haquyn, acolyte of the Goddess, chaperoned children around southern Kray, helping them in their task of decorating twigs and branches earlier snapped off by defending groups. The younger children – at least, those who did not spend time teasing their elder siblings – made crossed hoops of bedecked cane, straw dolls and garlands for decoration.
Meanwhile thousands of young friends met at inns serving free ale throughout the night. From safe roofs and from the open windows of high towers came the sounds of horns and drums, klaxons and conches, and reed pipes three yards long, accompanying the festivities.
But in the Green and the Archaic Quarters, in the passable districts of the Andromeda Quarter – even down as far as the Temple of Felis – and in those parts of the Carmine Quarter smothered by plants overflowing from the Gardens, there was silence. Silence, except for the swishing of trees and the pattering of rain. North Kray heard no music. This year, Beltayn was confined.
At sunrise Arrahaquen returned to the Carmine Quarter with her charges, everyone singing, then let them go in order to begin the house decoration; well-liked people would be favoured with flowers and leaves around their windows and doors, while the unpopular had nettles and creepers thrust upon them. Gifts could then be requested from Kray’s older residents. Arrahaquen looked upon all this with the eye of one who had lived most of her life in the bland buildings of the Citadel.
Collecting Zinina from the house, Arrahaquen led the way to a dew pool. It was the custom for women to bathe their faces with dew to ensure what in Kray was the ultimate beauty – a clear complexion.
An hour after dawn, they walked south. A light mist of yellow drizzle fell from bright clouds, filling the air. Already, feats of strength, singing and dancing, pyuter graphics and archery were being exhibited in the streets. Food and drink was to hand in every road – free from the Food and the Water Stations. Arrahaquen gazed east towards the Citadel. Somewhere atop its summit the Portreeve would be sitting at breakfast, apart, with a sour face.
Mystical figures appeared as the dances became more boisterous. The Leaf Man, a woman jigging in a bulky costume, danced along the street, flowers and coloured ribbons decorating her face. Elsewhere stalked the Moll and the Fool, the latter, dressed all in white and attended by girls in white jumpsuits, attacking those already drunk with a bladder affixed to a hazelstick. Arrahaquen, not quite able to join in with the jollity, feigned insolence and was rewarded with a clout on the head. Zinina laughed at her, but Arrahaquen’s face remained glum.
They walked on. The drizzle stopped, though the sky remained overcast. Music swelled from windows and from street bands led by aamlon conductors with leaves in their cuffs. Noon passed by. The two women walked to the garland-strewn Market Square, where this year’s Kray Queen was to be crowned. It would be a momentous occasion for many since it was widely believed that today marked the city’s final Beltayn. Girls wreathed in flowers danced around poles, the slabs below their feet a ring of colour where their adornments had fallen away. Others sat on leafy posts that they had made, comparing size and quality with those of others. From behind a vacated post Arrahaquen watched the tall, blonde and rather mysterious priestess Tashyndy crowned. She had nominated herself Kray Queen on Vert Day.
Taziqi, the High Priestess of the Goddess, had departed the temple to see her spiritual student crowned. People avoided her. Dressed in a sheath of lime and emerald silk, emeralds on her fingers and toes, she wore a three-faced mask, to the left a maiden, central a woman, to the right an old woman. When she spoke in encouragement, silence fell…
Beltane is for love.