This is for Sue Vincent’s photo prompt.
The old folk said nothing when they sauntered past in their baggy, tatty-looking clothes, their piercings, tattoos, shaven heads, long plaits or thick beards, all laughing, jabbering about mother goddesses and earth renewal. The old folk looked darkly and turned away. Some shrugged, some shook their heads sadly. Some muttered about what the gardai were thinking of letting the eejits go ahead with their nonsense. But it was Muldoon’s field and he’d let anyone traipse across it, as long as they steered clear of the bullocks and paid for their places on the campsite.
The followers of Mother Danu set up their vigil in the tiny room at the end of the short passage. It wasn’t an imposing grave, no king or queen had been buried there, but that did not mean it had no importance. The disciples had no notion who occupied the passages beneath the hill. They insisted the room was a temple to the sun god or the moon goddess, or was it both? Old Peig had tried to tell the ignorant fuckers.
“It’s a grave. And what are you after finding in graves? Dead things.”
But they had just laughed in their superior know-it-all city way and headed up to the rath with their white chicken and black cock, except it wasn’t a cock, it was a capon, but the jackeens didn’t know that.
The lad who was the leader of the band and old enough to have known better organized the rigmarole of making an altar of flat stones in the round room at the end of the passage. They were to wait for sunset, he said, when he reckoned the sun would shine through the entrance to the temple and light the place where he’d built his altar. Except there was no sun, why would there be? It was December. In West Meath. They were lucky there was no rain to speak of. So they waited for moonrise which might or might not have happened behind the thick cloud there was.
The lad with the beard said not to worry, the moon was just about where he reckoned it would have struck his altar had the weather been better, so they caught the two chickens by the feet and the lass with the long red plaits took out a vicious-looking kitchen knife. It took five of them to hold down the white chicken that had no intention of being sacrificed without putting up a fight, and the lass laid about it with the knife. There were feathers and blood, not all of it the chicken’s, everywhere before she’d finished, and the black capon, lying trussed up on the floor, was raring to sell its life dearly. The lad with the beard, not liking the looks it was giving him, said the white sacrifice would be enough, so he put a match to the pile of twigs and sticks in the entrance and lifted his arms to the sky, calling down the power of the moon, or so he said.
The white chicken was a sorry heap of feathers now, and more than one of the followers had a tear in her eye while she listened to the bearded lad telling some half-arsed tale about blood renewal and the bones of the earth. The night was dark and the flames from the little fire looked pathetic in the vastness and the silence of the rath in Muldoon’s field. But it sent shadows racing and leaping, filling the little space with movement. The capon watched with curiosity the way the smoke lifted and curled, cocked its head and clucked in approval.
The followers were trying to find the moon behind the clouds, repeating the magic words of the bearded lad and swaying to the uncertain beat of a bodhrán. They seemed not to have noticed that the fire had died, yet the shadows still danced around the walls and the smoke still twisted and curled. Only when the string that bound the capon’s feet broke, and the bird leapt into the air with a squawk and a flurry of broad, untidy wings, did they realise that they were no longer alone.