Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(Account of Six Friend's Life in the "Dark" Age)
Going Through the Rites of Passage
-- The Challenge -
On St. John's day Bastian woke up before dawn. He felt absolutely whacked. He had tossed and turned the whole night. This was his great day, the day of his rite of passage. From midnight on he would be a man not a boy anymore; he wouldn't be a shepherd boy, he would be a herdsman. From midnight on he could spend the whole summer alone at a mountain pasture responsible for a big herd of valuable cows. He would have new obligations and responsibilities. He would be responsible for the safety of the village. He would have to guard the village like the adults and have to defend it if necessary. Also, he was expected to date girls and to get married.
He was neither afraid to stay alone for days and weeks at the mountain pastures, nor do to his duty as village guard. He was good in wrestling, fighting with sword and truncheon, using an axe and the bow. There was only one matter that bothered him. Unlike his twin brothers and his peers he had never fancied girls. He had his new brother, the one he had adopted and cared for since he arrived in the village seven years ago. This dark haired Ruwen was all he needed for happiness. They were spending every free moment together, at day and at night. Where Bastian was, Ruwen was also.
He got restless, he needed Ruwen's advice. He punched him slightly in the back "Hey Little Bro, do you think I have to get a girlfriend if I win the contest tonight? Would you still be my best boy, like now? Would you still hold me tight after I come back from a date?"
"Hey Big Bro, its still not dawn, please let me sleep!" ...then, a little later ... "Don't worry Bastian about girls now. Your chances to become the Midsummer Night Prince are one to seven. And if you succeed and get the Sun-Stone I will outrace you to the Holy Tree! Then you have to fulfil all my wishes!"
At late afternoon the whole village gathered in the clearing of the Big Wheel. A feast of bread, sausages and meat was prepared by women and girls. The men took care of the beer. A small band was playing merry tunes. The sound of a hurdy-gurdy, a psaltery, a bombard, of flutes and drums filled the air and blended with the happy chatter of the people. As the sun was touching the horizon and fireflies were studded the bushes at the edge of the clearing a big bonfire was sparked off in front of the Altar and the villagers waited in suspense for the ceremony to start.
Small girls clad in white robes, the maidens, entered the circle of people reciting a poem to the tune played by the hurdy-gurdy and placed the covered up white and black baskets onto the Altar. The music stopped suddenly and the suspense of the audience rose. In the resultant silence Aliah, the midwife, called forward the six blindfolded girls to be initiated and Klas, the provost, the seven boys.
At first each of the girls picked a stone from the white basket, then three of the girls lined up on the right and three on the left side of the Altar. Then it was the turn for the boys. The first one selected a stone from the black basket. Removed the blindfold and called out the mark, "Star!" One of the girls answered "Star" and he went over and took her hand. Then the next boy called out "Earth" and he moved to the girl with the "Earth-Stone", and then followed "Moon", "Water" and "Wind".
Now only two pebbles and two boys were left, Benno, the miller's son and Eileen's new brother, and Bastian. Both lads were tense. Who of them was the lucky one to pick the Sun-Stone? Benno had to draw the first. He searched the basket nervously and finally selected a pebble. He took it out and called out "Fire". He was frustrated.
Bastian trembled. He was excited and frightened at the same time. He was the winner of the first part of the chance game. He was proud! Bastian removed the last pebble from the basket and showed the Sun-Stone to the audience. Applause arose, at first tentatively, then the cheers got louder as the twins, Bastian's sisters and friends took the lead. Three maidens approached him and decorated his head with a wreath of yellow flowers.
Klas addressed the folk full of pride "Is there anyone to challenge the aspirant for the title of new Midsummer Night Price? Who wants to test his abilities? Who will pass the second test and present a stone that equals the Sun-Stone! The challenger should advance into the circle and place his stone into the left pan of the beam balance on the Altar!"
Following the tradition a ruckus arose. Seven challengers stepped into the circle, four girls and three boys, all of them younger than Bastian. Winning this part of the chance game was the possibility for the winner to be initiated prematurely. Even more important was the prospect to beat the aspirant for his title in the race through the Big Wheel. If a girl won this third challenge, she became the Princess and the Midsummer Night Prince had to serve her, if not, she became his first maiden. If the challenger was a boy and lost to the aspirant he became his knave. However if the aspirant lost the race, the younger boy became his master, he became the new Midsummer Night Prince. The chance for such an outcome was poor. As far the villagers could remember the aspirant had never lost the competition.
Ruwen had pondered for days and weeks if he should join the challengers in case Bastian was the winner of the first part of game of chances. In the morning of St John's day he was in deep thoughts while he was preparing a potion against milk crust for a baby in Aliah's medical cabinet.
"Ruwen watch out, you just wanted to take the wrong herb for the cure. You have to mix pansy powder into the potion and not arnica. What's wrong with you? It's a happy day today, a big feast!"
After a while... "Oh Aunty, not for me!
"You should be happy, because Bastian will be an adult tomorrow!"
"But not I!" stomping with his foot, "I am sure he will never be the same again! All these new commitments of his...!"... and little later "There is only one possibility to stay with him, I have to compete with him in the race through the labyrinth if he wins the Sun-Stone."
"Ruwen remember, you will have a chance to win, only if the Norns decide so!"
"Aunty, but I don't even have to be the winner; even as the looser of the race I can stay with him as his knave! But I have to pick the proper stone first, the one with the same weight as the Sun-Stone. Please Auntie, help, you are the Wise Women, you know everything!"
"Trust your heart! You have to gamble with high stakes! Remember, you have to risk the treasure that's closest to your heart to win a treasure."
Looking through all his hoarded treasures he decided that the golden stone was a worthy counterpart for the Sun-Stone, only. His golden stone was the present of Bastian to the birth as his New Brother seven years ago. It was the opening present to a new life. If there was a stone to match to the Sun-Stone, it must be the pyrite stone with its golden flakes.
The seven challengers lined up in front of the Altar, first the boys then the girls. The girls, all dressed in white with flowers in the hair, were whispering excited. They giggled and were jostling each other. Everyone tried to get the first place in the beeline. The two boys participating besides Ruwen were sturdy lads, known as real jerks and trouble makers. They despised Ruwen as an outsider and he disdained the two because of they were bullying weaker kids all the time.
"Hey Ruwen-Baby, do you dare to compete with your brother? Are you kidding? He chews you up for breakfast, he is man enough, he doesn't need a wise guy like you for a knave!?"
"He needs a real fighter as support, not a frail kiddie!"
"You better throw away your poor stone and piss off. At least line up at the end, or we will beat you up later."
Ruwen didn't want to cause trouble so he changed to end of the line behind the fourth girl.
The decisive moment was close. The first jerk placed his stone into the pan of the balance. Too heavy, it outweighed by the Sun-Stone by far. Then the second jerk did his try. His stone was also too heavy. Then it was the turn of the first girl. Her stone was far too light, as well as the stone of the next two girls. There was only one girl left. She was the girlfriend of Ruwen's sister and admired Bastian ever since both were small kids. She had no luck also.
Waiting for his turn, he planted a wet kiss upon the stone and prayed to the Wyrd Sisters, "Please, make my stone equal to the Sun-Stone, you are weaving the tapestry of fate, please help!"
Ruwen stepped forward. He didn't dare to look up to Bastian. Slowly he placed his golden stone into the pan of the balance. The needle of the balance vibrated and slowly, slowly it came to rest. Both pans were in equilibrium. The Sun-Stone and the golden stone were in balance. He relaxed.
Bastian turned to Ruwen and smiled. He turned to his father, then to the audience and announced beaming, "Ruwen and I will race for the victory!" He embraced Ruwen.
The villagers closed around the Big Wheel. The shrubs and the weed of the labyrinth were trimmed low, so everyone could see the layout of the courses, the short track running at the outer edge of the labyrinth and then to the tree and the long path meandering in nine recoiling loops up to the tree. The full midsummer night moon was high in the sky and its silvery light illuminated the scene. After a short hug Bastian went to the starting point at the right and Ruwen to the one at the left.
The music stopped suddenly and Klas recited an inherited prayer, "Holy sisters, Urd, Verdani and Skuld, you are waving the tapestry of fate; be gracious and help these two chosen youngsters to master this run with honour as well as their further lives and escort them to their preordained goal. Amen!"
A loud drum roll broke the silence and the unequal race started. Bastian began to hurry in reverse along the outer path, while Ruwen rushed forward into the meandering track. The onlookers started cheering, most of them for Bastian, the anticipated winner, but some for Ruwen also, whose chance of winning seemed nearly zero. Bastian had already passed one third of the distance to the tree as the boys encountered each other for the first time. But suddenly something weird happened. The Big Wheel started to pulse. While the outer path, the course Bastian was taking, expanded, the inner path contracted. The closer Bastian advanced to the Holy Tree, the shorter seem to be the distance Ruwen had to cross to arrive at the destination. Ruwen seemed to fly through the track, while Bastian hardly advanced despite his fast moving legs. The loud cheers began to fade, silence prevailed the clearance. Only the panting of the two competitors was heard.
The head start of Bastian was nearly gone as Ruwen speeded along the last turn to the tree. Bastian emerged in front of the World Tree just a short moment before his challenger. Ruwen, still running at full speed, saw Bastian approaching the tree. He was not able to slow down fast enough and bumped into his friend and both touched the World Tree, the Yggdrasil, at the same moment. At the foot of the tree they collapsed fade to face, Bastian holding Ruwen in his arms.
No cheers were heard from the villagers, wonder struck silence commenced for long moments.
Finally a faint voice was heard, "Come closer my dear nephews, come closer my dear princes. The Norns have granted us a great miracle. They have awarded the village a great blessing!" and addressing the stunned villagers with her piercing voice, "The Norns have bestowed us with two winners! This year we have two Midsummer Night Princes, an outcome nobody has ever heard off before! Let us express our thanks to our Lord and the three Wyrd Sisters! Celebrate this miracle like we have never celebrated a midsummer night feast before!"
Then cheers broke out loud, the bonfire was fueled till its flames illuminated the whole clearing, the music commenced, people ate, drank and danced the rest of the night. As the flames went lower the initiated boys started to jump over the still blazing bonfire. Traditionally the honour of the first jump belonged to the midsummer night price. This night Bastian took Ruwen's hand and both flew high above the fire like birds released from a cage. Then other newly initiated villagers jumped over the blazing bonfire. They jumped pair wise, always a girl and a boy holding hands, like established by the game of chance. Later all the other young people joined in. Still later, as the flames slowly extinguished, the newly formed pairs retreated into the underbrush to experience the pleasure of their newly gained adulthood.
Ruwen and Bastian however stayed at the bonfire with Aliah and Klas discussing the past and their future lives. As the sun rose above the horizon the young adults took the Sun-Stone and the golden stone, carried both to the Urdborn and led them sink to the ground of the wellspring as an offering to the three Wyrd Sisters.
I would like to express a special thank to Paul and Storylover for editing the writings of a non native English writer.
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Copyright Notice - Copyright © June 2007
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