In this scene from The Mists of Na Crainn, a Celtic-inspired tale, Lyric Doherty and her friend Andrew Devlin, both searching for their respective mothers, meet a woman who may hold the key to where they both can be found. She takes them to a monthly festival in the town of Murrain, a place located very close to the Otherworld of the Sidhe.
In the clear crisp evening, clouds laced the sky like strands of cotton over the silvery palate of night. In spite of the brilliant moonlight, Lyric’s hands grasped the sleeve of Andrew’s coat and they both took care as they walked. Cliona’s hand rested on Lyric’s shoulder as they followed the path single-file. Both Lyric and Andrew sometimes tripped as they made their way, and at times Cliona would shout, “Watch for the sapling!” or “There’s a large rock on the right!” Cliona knew the path well enough that though Lyric and Andrew often lost their footing, she never did.
“There’s the wood,” she finally said, and the trees opened to let them by. Almost immediately, they sensed the presence of others gathered about who created a narrow opening through which the trio could pass. “Watch where the sky darkens, just above your head. Then stop right there.”
They both looked up. The sky appeared as if it were covered with mesh.
Cliona removed her hand from Lyric’s shoulder. “We’ll wait here a few moments. You’re in for quite a surprise.”
Music played as singular notes. From off to the left side, at a level just above their heads, a procession of bright light came toward them, then another just like it on the right side. The light rose higher and shadowy figures were lifted up on the shoulders of others along with their baskets of light. The notes came together in a dramatic crescendo. The mesh parted, then suddenly filled with the most remarkable brilliance that either Andrew or Lyric had ever seen, creating over their heads a ceiling of solid radiance.
Cliona cried out, “Winter light bugs and sea-foam butterflies!”
“Thousands and thousands of them!” Andrew shouted.
The area surrounding them suddenly appeared as if it were drenched in a silvery daylight coming from the clouds of insects above their heads. The light revealed long tables, all filled with platters of food. Beyond the tables, an organist perched high above the crowd continued to play the soaring melodies. Near the organist, one person stood alone in the center of an empty stage.
A white-haired man in the shape of a ball spoke from the stage bathed in illumination. “Travelers and traders, welcome to the opening of Arbor Fair!” A cheer came up from the crowd.
“There’s food for all, from all corners of the globe, thanks to the brave sailors of the Seanachai and their courageous captain, the renegade Caitlin O’Malley!” Another great cheer rose up from the crowd, though Caitlin did not appear to receive the accolades. “She sends her regrets as she has an urgent matter to attend to, but many of her shipmates are here among us. So enjoy the festivities!”
At that moment, the crowds arranged themselves into lines and approached the tables, all finding seats in an orderly fashion as if they’d done it many times before.
“Here we go.” Cliona took both Lyric’s and Andrew’s hands and lead them to a spot with three seats together, made possible with a little rearranging by the others at the same table.
“These are the collectors,” Lyric whispered to Andrew as she took her seat and looked around at all the people. The rough demeanor the traders exhibited when they were in the midst of trading fell away and they could not have been more gentle and generous at the meal.
Great platters of food made their way down the table, with each person taking a little and passing it on. When each platter reached Andrew at the end, there was just enough left for his plate, the last plate. Still, the platters continued to be passed.
Dark red fruits swam in a pink liquid, but did not taste sweet on Lyric’s tongue. Vegetables stewed in a rich broth were to Andrew more flavorful and appetizing than any dessert. A gauzy blue mound Lyric spooned into her mouth immediately disintegrated and popped against the inside of her cheeks. So much, so good, and both of them wanted more of each, but knew that there’d be no room in their stomachs for all the rest on their plates. Neither wanted to miss a bite.
The people who earlier distributed the light now dispensed warm bread from the huge baskets, and pitchers were passed to fill glasses with a frothy water more refreshing than Andrew or Lyric had ever tasted. When the helpers were done, they took their places saved for them at the table. While the bitterness of winter hung in the air, the insects above them emitted heat with their light, creating a cozy spot below them for the feast and diners.
The music started up again. Some among the crowd climbed onto the stage and began to dance.
“We should try to convince Cliona that we can’t stay too late,” Lyric whispered to Andrew, reminding him of their plan.
“I know. Do you see anyone from the Otherworld?”
“I don’t know who I’d be looking for. Have you seen anyone?”
He looked around. “No. No one I can tell. The people here all are friendly now. I don’t know why I was so suspicious of them.”
“Oh, these are good folk for the most part,” Cliona interrupted, reaching into the basket for another slice of bread. “Occasionally you’ll find one that’s up to no good, but that’s not the case with the majority. Don’t let their demeanor when they’re bargaining fool you, for driving a hard bargain is what they do. But unless they’re trading their goods, a more kind and giving people you’ll not find.”
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