A bit of flash fiction* to mark May Day - Beltane Flame

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rocketscientist
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A bit of flash fiction* to mark May Day - Beltane Flame

Postby rocketscientist » Wed May 02, 2007 11:43 am

Beltane Flame


“Light the fire boy, bach.”

The walls of around them glistened with sweat. A tiny spring bubbled from the ancient stone. Bran leaned over the pile. Not quite a bonfire, but more than a cookfire. Since they were poor it was the best they could do. Before he lit the wood he glanced once at the open sky and nodded to the goddess wheeling overhead.

“It’s your first Beltane, set the spark well, bach.” The old man hunched against the broken stones, grizzled cheeks and pale eyes shadows in the twilight, as different from Bran as a goat from a sheep but love bound them. The old man nodded and gestured with his hands, “Get on then!”

Bran hesitated and then plunged the costly taper into the brush. He blew on it until a resolute flame shot up through the pile like a bright plinth, feeding on everything in its path. Pleased, he sat back on his hunches and looked to his father for approval.

“Well done,” the old man muttered and stood to do his part.

“Ye Fey that hark to our lonely flame, I present the boy, Bran McUruhu. Mark him well, and favor ‘im if ee will. He be a good lad as done no Man nor Fey wrong. The best son an old man could ask, and I thank ‘ee well, as a basket ‘o apples each year on the hill will tell.”

Settling again, the old man smiled at Bran, a quick lightening of his sharp face. Bran smiled back and took off his shirt; he pulled his drum around and gripped it between his knees. He let the fire be his muse and pulled a rhythm from the stretched hide. Joy and dread sent tingles down his spine.

Would they hear? Would they come?

Bran had seen one of the Fey in the wood not long ago. She had been as pale as he was dark, hair hung to her thighs like black vines. Her eyes had wounded him and she stayed a moment to look him over. He knew better than to pursue her before the Beltane fire was lit and he was chosen. Once the Hard Men had perused the Fey and nearly enslaved them – before they had run. Now they were seldom seen aboveground. Tales were told of their caverns and their magic. The way they carried light without fire and never seemed to want for food.

He began to sing -- a song of hope without words.

“Ah – yah yah yah – Yah. Ah yih yih yih.” He swayed with the rhythm. His hands flashed across the surface of the drum. The fire leapt up to greet the falling night. It would blaze bright, but without a blessing it wouldn’t last long.

Bran lost himself in his song. If he sang well, if he pleased them, next Beltane there would be a bonny lad, new pearl teeth ready for their first taste of porridge. Howling and healthy. Bran smiled at the idea of a son. Sweat began to drip from his hair. His hands leapt faster, each finger bloomed with a note. He almost forgot his task in the glory of the music.

Long ago the Men and the Fey dwelt together, but that time was gone. Those Who Killed had wanted to own their own kind. The Fey had trumped them in the end and hid underground. Now all men had to walk alone, without their grace. But in the end there was peace. Now, once a year, Men and Fey met on Beltane – Mayeve. In this manner the men got their sons and Fey got their daughters, and so life went on. Legend said someday they would walk together again, when they both forgot how to kill.

Bran thought of the lamb slaughtered at Sunreturn.

He started, terrified, and opened his eyes wide to the dark beyond the fire. Lights shown from the wood, steadily growing closer. Their eyes gleamed under the pinpoints of light they held aloft. Three girls (two pale and one as dark as he) smiled down at him and stood before the fire. The black haired one was with them. They began to dance to his rhythm, the fire danced with them.

Bran sat straight; the ropes of his hair swung as he played a flourish upon the drum and grinned at his wives. Next year there would be a boy. He was sure.




*Flash fiction (as I understand it) is an idea that you jot down without much self editing. It can be very liberating, but it also means it's not very refined, so please forgive, but feel free to mention any criticisms of the writing.
Last edited by rocketscientist on Wed May 02, 2007 12:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: A bit of flash fiction* to mark May Day - Beltane Flame

Postby Windwalker » Wed May 02, 2007 12:10 pm

Kathryn, thank you for sharing the flash fiction with us. It is a flash in more than length: it works like the lighting of a match in a darkened room, leaving us with an evanescent but powerful afterimage.

It is no secret to anyone here how much I enjoy layered stories, and this is one of them. I love the fusion of the past with the present, the way the story deftly and seamlessly morphs from Celtic fantasy to post-apocalyptic SF. In a way, this is a gendered retelling of the Eloi/Morlock split in The Time Machine -- with the difference that here the women have retained vestiges of the technology that may allow for a comeback (shades of Sheri Tepper!).

The description of Bran's emotions, the mixture of hope and dread, reminds me of the haunting image I used in my Star Wars essay -- the Hassidic lad trying to touch the shadow of the girl dancing on the other side of the separation curtain. And yet, in the end Bran looks forward to having a son, rather than a daughter, making me wonder if there will ever be a reunion.

The style fits the length and subject well. It is spare, yet vivid and gives just enough glimpses of what happened to bring about this present.

Lovely spark from the Beltane fires!
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby rocketscientist » Wed May 02, 2007 12:41 pm

Athena, you're the sort of reader that never misses a thing. I love it when you read my writing!

Of course it's also a two edged sword - no lazy work allowed. :D

Yep, it's set in the future and was inspired a bit by the movie Children of Men (yes, I make odd connections). I haven't read the book, but it's on the list.

Also the children left are not those of the "father", as evidenced by the fact that Bran and his father are not of the same race. Don't know if that comes across - as you know, when you create a world very little of it shows. Bran wants a boy because it's what he expects. Girls aren't given, for good or ill.

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Postby Windwalker » Wed May 02, 2007 12:49 pm

rocketscientist wrote:Yep, it's set in the future and was inspired a bit by the movie Children of Men (yes, I make odd connections). I haven't read the book, but it's on the list.

I haven't read it either (though I read most of P. D. James' Dalgliesh stories) but I understand it's very different from the film -- for one, in the book the sterility befell the men, rather than the women.

Also the children left are not those of the "father", as evidenced by the fact that Bran and his father are not of the same race. Don't know if that comes across - as you know, when you create a world very little of it shows.

It does, on the second reading -- if you add a word here and there about Bran's coloring it will become completely clear. At the same time, I remember that one very subtle point in LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness was that the Ecumen envoy, Genli Ai, was black. It is mentioned only once throughout the story, and then very obliquely. So you're in good company there!
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby rocketscientist » Wed May 02, 2007 12:56 pm

At the same time, I remember that one very subtle point in LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness was that the Ecumen envoy, Genli Ai, was black. It is mentioned only once throughout the story, and then very obliquely.


I remember! It's remarkable how much that book influences me still - so much so that I don't even notice it often.

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Postby Windwalker » Wed May 02, 2007 1:16 pm

rocketscientist wrote:It's remarkable how much that book influences me still - so much so that I don't even notice it often.

Yes, The Left Hand of Darkness is... what is the female equivalent of seminal? (*laughs*). Without a doubt, it has become part of the collective unconscious in SF.
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby intrigued_scribe » Wed May 02, 2007 3:32 pm

Arresting, beautiful work!

From beginning to end, the vivid overtones of the story draw the reader directly into the tapestry of the world in which Bran lives, and the primal tones and setting emphasize the sense of the ancient and the otherworldly. Though there are minimal hints of the history that has passed between the Human race and the Fey (which detracts from this piece not in the least), it makes for a rich foundation that unerringly drives home the reasons why the two races have lived through their cycle of violence, separation and exile (of more than one kind).

The blending of apprehension, uncertainty and fear with hope and the potential for a better future come through clearly to me as well, and this:

Long ago the Men and the Fey dwelt together, but that time was gone. Those Who Killed had wanted to own their own kind. The Fey had trumped them in the end and hid underground. Now all men had to walk alone, without their grace. But in the end there was peace. Now, once a year, Men and Fey met on Beltane – Mayeve. In this manner the men got their sons and Fey got their daughters, and so life went on. Legend said someday they would walk together again, when they both forgot how to kill.


A truly captivating passage, which perfectly encompasses one of the foremost themes running through this piece, as does the joining of Bran with his wives at the end. That, in my opinion, reflects and represents possible future unions of the two races as a whole as well as between individuals, and underscores the hope of coexistence regained.

Brava, Kathryn; many thanks for sharing this briiliant tale! :D

Heather

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Postby rocketscientist » Wed May 02, 2007 7:51 pm

Thank you Heather! I'm glad you liked it. :)

Tension - in this case whether the Fey and the Men will unite - is something that makes a story worth reading. There are some writers who are so sublime that they don't even need that - but they're few and far between. Although the story came to me in a flash, I knew without it most writing is just not compelling - so I'm gald it drew you in. Means I got that part right.


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