The Solstice Singer
The Solstice Singer is the first in a series of folktales centered around a pantheon of my own creation.
It is said that each year upon the arrival of sweltering mornings stretching long into the heavy crispness of parched air, She will arrive. It is said that She travels upon the wavering air burning quietly above bramble trails. Upon the day of the sweetest blackberries weighing heavy on bent boughs, She descends to gather her harvest.
The Summer’s Daughter, the Lady of the Solstice, her song catches on the breeze as it brushes the wheat stalks. The blackcap calls in response and the melody plays upon the throats of those alighted in a softness of joy and mirth. Long days of sweetness and light fill us with such innocence and ignorance. To hear her song is to be taken. To succumb to the lilting (or even worse, to partake in it) is a fool’s task, it is known. The hazy heads of maidens laying soft in the field under the lackadaisical clouds prove a favoured rest for the Summer’s Daughter. Drawn into its intoxicating repetition, with a mindless, skipping gait, they hum and twirl their way to the markets where she awaits. She loves the harmony of the bustle, the call and response of the hawkers. Find Her there amongst the churlish men, on the tune of the busker begging with each strum for some pitiable coin. He knows not what he brings to him upon the air.
Her presence isn’t noticed at first, surely. The hooper wipes his brow. The blacksmith licks parched lips. The songbirds ring the market, unseen in their lofty perches. Their song rings clear and true, sharp and sweet it does cut through the low reverberations of grunts and improprieties of the men at market. It will not be until they feel the impact of her song that they lift their notice from their drudgery. It will not behoove them to notice until the gravel tongue of the meandering country pathways offers up the soft step of the surrounding villages’ daughters. Until their eye falls upon their own progeny, taken with the frenzy of Her song, gyring their way through the bramble and thorn into the square. In the hush that falls over the market, the pulse of held breath, her voice is the twine that pulls, the line of butcher’s paper crossing over itself.
Though fear beats its caged panic in their chests, they know what this arrival heralds. Many a memory of evenings as children spent whispering tales of her arrival, of their departure, weighing on their tongues, stilling their cries for but a moment. What unearthly song is this to press so easily upon the air. Her arrival borne of song and stillness, her spell only to be broken as she reaches the center of the market. What was brusque and tarnished, now shrill and desperate. The calls of commodity making way for offering. A different sort of bartering. She is not here for such lowly goods. Coins dull and dented, rough cloth, crops borne of her goodly nature. Yet offer they do, voices growing hoarse, eyes darting with desperation as they see their sweet daughters traipse and twirl toward the market square. In the crescendo of their anguish, she brings her melody to its resolution, and with her final note her maidens come to rest in a ring of flushed chests and fluttering hearts about her feet.
It is now that the hawkers begin a dance of their own. The price is known, the cost steep. The Solstice Singer lets fall the furs from her shoulders. Unsheathed and gleaming upon the sunbeam from which she was borne upon the market rests a dagger in a delicate hand, still in the crushing heat of midday. Her song, now different, less a lilting and joyous call, now a murmuring, mocking round. The forms surrounding her humming under each note, resonant and dim.
The price is known, and some are quick to barter. Some such salesman steps out of the ring of the grease-laden and garish. Standing over Her furs, he holds out his hands. Palms upward, fingers shaking. He looks to Her and speaks only a number. One. One, one, one one the echoes weaves through the maidens in their soft swaying. She smiles, not in warmth or comfort. Keeping in time with the hum and harmony, she glides the blade across his palms. Once. Blade pointed downward, a pitiful dripping, She tilts her head appraisingly. Runs tongue over lips. Her smile continues, pushing flushed cheeks toward her sharp eyes. A small shake of her head. He wails, indignant. He shakes, his fingers curling up into his palms and pressing into the fresh wounds, soon to be thick and unwieldy scar tissue reminding him of his foolish undercutting. Though he will need no bodily reminders. The Daughter of Summer lends no aid to the crops of those who have crossed Her. He is known to be foolish, brash, the murmur waves over the crowded men. He has for many suns mocked and jeered at those who believed. He heard the tales over his countless brimming pints of ale with skepticism and gruff laughter. He offers her some insulting lack, some small part believing any offering of blood to be sufficient. A fool’s offering is met with its equal. All must bleed, sacrifices must be made.
She cleans the blade on her breast and offers it out once more. As each man steps forward, some make offerings bold and brazen, palms shredded to ribbons. For some it is enough, the blade drawn up to Her lips, Her appraising stare boring into them, she nods. They shall have their pitiable harvest in the coming years. She shall keep their daughters, shall keep their blood, still offered in its warm viscosity to the furs below her, now soaked and sodden.
Each man in his turn makes his offering. She is satisfied as the last takes the bite of the blade as the echo of twenty plays upon the lips of the maidens, still patiently kneeling about Her. Her final cut opens up his first finger and his face betrays the fear, the feeling. She slows her pull. She smiles. She nods. Her lips, red as the berries in the brush, part and let loose a note that brings life to the trees, the susurrus of songbird wings afore they take flight. The Summer’s Daughter lifts into the air the heavy furs, dripping and stained. With a flourish of note and form, drapes it across her shoulders. Her pale skin leading rivulets of their offerings down over her hips, her calves, and leaving behind her a gruesome trail. Each maiden in turn stands and begins their slow, charmed dance behind her. They follow her through the throng of blooded and destitute men, wending their way out of the market through the treeline. The market’s din remains drawn and hushed. It is known to be time to collect one’s thoughts, to see what is taken, what is missing, what is to come. Time to count what is soon to be a delicate and precise account of what these men were willing to part with.
The Solstice Singer’s song sends crowds of birds from the treetops and into the sky, sun slowly setting over the hills as they trill alongside her. The line of maidens follows, though it is not known to where. Some shall surely be heard from again, in the song of the nightingale, the robin upon the holly bush.
Ballad of the Summer’s Daughter
“I wound the solemn wooded path
To hear the Solstice Singer
Upon my hair were holly crowns
And rings upon each finger.
I brought no coin nor salt with me
No creatures for the slaughter
Yet blood would be spilled on this day
To praise the Summer’s Daughter.
In ashen fur laden I see
Fate Herself begin to sing
Drew forth the bated breath of men
Lungs full with fear and longing.
I brought no warmth nor joy with me
No purity to offer
Yet blood would be spilled on this day
To line her righteous coffer.
I sought the maiden in her song
And I shall succumb afore long.”