On Beltane eve Marion goes to bed early. She places sprigs of heather and mint beneath her pillow. Her room in the priory is sparse, with a lone straw bed and one window where the beloved moon shines its silver light. Marion, an orphan, has been raised here by the good Prioress. She has been well cared for. But she longs for more, she longs to be free of the confines of the walls, the trap she never asked for.
If Marion wakes in this night surely it will be the fairies come to take her away to their underground home. Each year she prays for this; each year it does not happen.
On Beltane morning she rises at dawn. She goes with the other girls to the gardens where they collect hawthorne and wild flowers. They weave garlands to wear on their heads. They return to the village where the men have built a maypole. Large and mighty, the pole towers, decorated with ribbons, every color of the rainbow. At noontide the matrons serve a great feast; mutton, spring greens, porridge and violet cakes.
There is a legend that on Beltane the Green Man comes to the forest to claim his lover, the May Queen. She is wife of the Winter King, and he is lack to give her up. But the Green Man persists and eventually wins the lady. The Winter King is defeated until Samhain when all things of summer will die. The mummers in the town square reenact the story and Marion watches as the lovely May Queen is taken by the Green Man. He sweeps her in his strong arms, her long hair cascading against his bare chest. Marion is jealous. When will such a love come for her? Surely now she is of age, having reached her eighteenth name day. The Green Man and his lady then retire to the forest, for nuptials of their own.
There is dancing. The revelers braid strands of the maypole together and step to the music. Lass, lad. Lass, lad. Even the Sheriff and the Friar and Prioress join in. Great fires are lit as the sun sets low. Those brave of heart and long of leg dare jump over the Beltane fires. Not Marion, for she has been raised to be cautious.
After the maypole dancing, when the embers of the fire grow low, many a couple traverse to the wood. There, they too will bless the land in their own way, making it fertile for the summer. Although Marion has no man to claim as her own, she follows. Alan of Dale and his girl Eleanor hide in the bushes, as do Will Scarlet and Lucy Sprint. Marion knows what they do and she dares not look. Instead, alone she walks deeper into the forest, her flickering rushlight guiding her way. Orion’s constellation twinkles above her. It is then she comes upon the ring of mushrooms.
Oh, she knows the legend well. Were she to stand in the middle of that circle for long enough — so goes the tale — the fae folk will come for her. And never will she see the mortal world again. She has been warned, all her life she has been warned of this. And yet, it is what she has longed for. But is this tale true?
Marion stands, still as rock till the sky swirls purple around her. And then, like a fall down a well, a sweep of wind and soft landing, she is there, in the underworld. They surround her, these peculiar people, bent of ear and wide of eye. It is then Marion sees him, a man in green robes with a hood. He is handsome. Dark eyed with thick hair that brushes his shoulders. “Milady,” he bows, “I am called Robin, and your escort I shall be.”
What follows is much merry making and drinking of elder flower wine. The fairies play fiddles, music loud and jaunty. There is Dancing. Dancing in a circle, faster, much faster than ever at the maypole in the village. And Robin. He takes Marion’s hand, spins her in a reel and she twirls beneath his arm. Then he leads her away to a place of seclusion, a place in the meadow where the ground around is soft. There, he removes her kirtle and skivvies and she lies mother-naked before him.
He plays her body like a harp, plucking its strings and secret places, a thousand butterflies released as his seed spills inside her. One time is not enough to satisfy either of them and they repeat the act, again and again until at last they fall to each other’s arms exhausted.
Oh, how she loves him! Truly and deeply. She loves him as she has loved the moon and her dreams, for he is the forest itself. He is animal and outlaw, dangerous and forbidden. He is all of life and all she desires.
Finally the sky splinters pink daybreak and the sun peeks its gold rays. She sleeps in Robin’s arms.
In the morning of May 2nd she awakens in her priory bed. The sprigs of heather and mint still reside beneath her pillow. But there is more. A lone lock of hair, and a note stitched on a green cambric swatch. “To my May Queen ,” it reads. “From Robin, with love.”
It will be a long wait until the next Beltane.
Want to read more Marion? Continued here: A Beltane Tale: Part Two