Morg was cross. She was more than cross,
she was furious. She had been chosen to mind her little brother, again.
Normally she quite liked him, as he stumbled after her on his short
legs, babbling in a way that made her laugh, but today there was
something much more exciting happening. The men were preparing to go on a
hunt. There hadn't been a hunt for months. First there was too much
rain and then there was too much work with the harvest. But now the
wheat was in and the grain was all stored in pits. The Druid was here,
bringing blessings from the gods and medicines for the villagers. So the
chief had decided that it was time. Outside the men were gathering and
the Druid was chanting. Morg longed to be there.
Morg was not allowed to go. She wasn't even allowed to watch. Her
brother was unwell. He had an evil spirit in his chest which was making
him cough and cough. He had to stay warm, and to do that, he had to be
in the hut. Therefore, while her mother was fetching water, Morg had to
stay in the hut too.
It was dark in the hut. A warm,
rich, thick darkness, lit only by the glow from the fire which burnt in
the middle of the room. Later, the fire would be built up so that flames
would lick the round black cauldron and heat the stew for the evening
meal, but for now turf had been laid on the logs. The fire would stay
hot and alive, but would not need to be fed. Morg knew that fires were
as ravenous as the wolves she heard howling in the woods at night.
Morg could smell the fire and the smell was as familiar to her
as the smell of her mother. She could sniff and tell in a moment whether
the family were burning ash branches or hazel, hawthorn or coppiced
elm. To Morg, it was the smell of home.
The glow from
the fire lit the face of the boy who lay next to it asleep on the
blanket. Morg swept the floor around him savagely. Any crumbs or
discarded meat would make food for the rats, and her mother hated rats.
Morg decided that today she hated her mother. She knew her mother was
anxious about the cough because her sister had coughed in the same way
before she had died. That didn't stop Morg from muttering a curse
against the unkindness that kept her inside the hut. As she said it, she
wished she could swallow the words back, but it was too late. She
looked around worriedly. Maybe nobody had heard. She chanted a good will
incantation, and crossed her fingers.
Outside, she heard a hunting
horn, loud and sharp across the village. Morg sidled towards the
doorway. She could see light through a gap in the planks, but that was
not enough. She opened the door a crack. Maybe she could watch them from
here? She might just be able to catch a glimpse of what was going on.
But she couldn't see anything. The fence that kept in the pigs was
blocking her view. She opened the door wider, and an icy blast of wind
whipped it out of her hands. It banged crash against the side of the
hut. Behind her the fire crackled into life and the baby opened his
eyes. Morg did not notice. She fought for control of the door. She
wedged it with a stone, so that it still looked closed at first glance.
She slid out and across to the corner of the pig fence.
Morg threw herself into the grass that lined the fence. It was
crackly with the first frost of the season and Morg shivered. It was
always cold and windy up here. The village was built on the flat top of a
hill, a hill that looked as though someone had sliced the tip off with a
sword. Morg knew that in a sense they had. One of her father's stories
told of his grandfather's grandfather, who had come to this hill as a
small child. He had been there when they had dug and burrowed and carved
away the top, stone by stone, until it was flat and smooth and ready.
The hill had been chosen because it was high and from it you could see
for many miles across the forests and the river valleys. No-one could
creep up to this hill without being seen. It was a good hill.
From where she lay, Morg could see ten or twelve round huts with
their pointy thatched roofs scattered roughly around a circular space
of grass. Splodgy brown goats, tethered to thick posts, were grazing. A
couple of fowl scratched beside her friend Olwig's hut. She could see
the tall earth ramparts around the edge of the village which kept them
all safe. Near the gate in the ramparts, the men were standing in a
group. They were still and listening. Their long blond hair was blowing
so hard in the wind Morg could hardly see their faces. Then a gust
revealed her father, on the far side, standing between the horse and
Arlen the hound, who he was holding by the scruff of his neck. Arlen's
teeth were bared and he fought against her father's grasp. Arlen liked
hunting, but he did not like waiting. There, beside her father, was Col,
her brother. Morg gritted her teeth. This was the second time he had
gone on the hunt, and he was only seven, one winter younger than her. He
was shuffling his feet, bored by the Druid and his incantations,
impatient to be off. She would not have been so insolent.
Behind her was a shriek, and a
high howling. Morg leapt to her feet and was in the hut and beside the
child in a moment. His face was screwed up and tears were spurting down
his cheeks. He was waving his arms and arching his back. He hit Morg
hard in the face but she managed to pick him up. She tried to soothe
him, but he would not quiet. Then Morg smelt burning. A log lay
smouldering on the blanket. Quickly thrusting it back into the fire, she
stamped out the embers and guessed what had happened. The fire had
flared. The child had seen the pretty flames and crawled towards them.
He'd grabbed at a log. She looked - one of his hands was tightly
clenched. Hurriedly, she grabbed the leather water bottle and sloshed
water into a bowl. She thrust his hand into it. The palm was red and
blistered. She had caused this, she realised, with her curse. Slowly,
slowly his howling gentled. She smoothed his face and hummed gently to
him, rocking him backwards and forwards on her lap.
Morg heard the door creak open. It was her mother. She had carried the
heavy clay water pot all the way up the hill on her head. The youngest
baby was strapped on to her back � the god of fertility had looked
kindly on the family. Morg's mother looked exhausted. Morg stared at the
"Burnt," Morg muttered, as the howls started up again. Her mother strode across the hut.
"Tell," said her mother as she picked up the child. Morg
explained. Her mother aimed a swipe at her head. Morg ducked out of the
way, but her mother was more weary than angry as she comforted the
"Oh, useless Morg," she said. "Go. Spend the day with the sheep. I do not want to see your face."
Morg turned away and left. It was the freedom she had wanted. But somehow she didn't want it any more.
slouched out of the hut. She heard the horn blast again � the hunt was
away. She saw the men leap astride their shaggy horses, controlling them
with hands laced through long manes. All except for Col. His horse,
Branrin, was wheeling, refusing to let Col mount. Morg clenched her
fists. There is a knack to mounting Branrin, she thought. Even Col
should know that. At last he was up, face burning red with shame.
The horses stamped and tossed their heads, their breath like
smoke in the cold air. The dogs barked impatiently. Her father, as the
leader of the hunt, led the throng through the high walled passage that
linked the village with the outer gate. The watchman waved as they
passed. Morg stared as the long line disappeared. She scowled.
"Morg!" She heard a shout. It was her friend Olwig. "We're late
taking the sheep down to the lower field. Will you come?"
Morg could not decide. To refuse to look after the sheep would make
her mother angrier. On the other hand, she wanted to follow the hunt.
However, the hunt was gone. Even the Druid had gone back into his hut.
"All right," she said sulkily. "Where are they?" Olwig pointed
and Morg saw Olwig's tiny brother Pridoc chasing three of the sheep with
a hazel switch. For a moment, he had them cornered, until they turned
as one and each jumped straight back over his head. He was so surprised
he sat down in the midden. Morg was forced to laugh.
"Come," she said to Olwig. They were the experts. They set off to round up the flock.
This was a winter job. All the villagers' sheep stayed out in
summer, but now the nights were darker and longer, and the sheep were
easy prey. So each night the children took turns to drive them all in,
and out again each morning to the fields for food. Today, the sheep were
skittish and jumpy, perhaps sensing the excitement of the huntsmen and
the dogs. It took all of Morg and Olwig's skill to calm and herd them
through the narrow passage to the gate. As the final ram passed, Morg
patted its thick, dense wool. In the spring, as the sheep started to
moult, the wool hung off them in lank, brown strands. The children had
to pluck the wool to be made into cloth � if they could catch the sheep
first. Only the very fleet of foot could race the sheep and corner them.
Morg remembered that she had cornered the most sheep, and plucked the
largest bundle of wool. Her mother and father had been so proud of her.
They will be proud again, she
thought fiercely, and she aimed a kick at the ram, who jumped nimbly
out of the way with a swift flick of his heels.
"May the goddess Alos bless the hunt, eh?" shouted Olwig back to Morg.
As Olwig said this, as she had said a hundred times, Morg had an
idea. The goddess might bless the hunt. She might bless Morg too. She
might lift the ill wishes Morg had so foolishly let loose. Morg herded
the sheep through the heavy gate to the fort. She was deep in thought.
The ground sloped steeply down from the gate and the way was
treacherous. She had to watch where she stepped to avoid losing her
footing. The tribe kept the path rough to deter any unwelcome visitors.
The sheep skipped down lightly. They knew their way to the recently
harvested field. They would find food for themselves, and fertilise the
field for next season's planting at the same time.
"Olwig?" wheedled Morg, when the sheep were grazing and settled. Olwig knew this voice and she was not happy.
"I am your friend, am I not?"
Olwig was wary, but she nodded.
"Would you do something for me? For me, your friend. I would be
forever in your debt." Morg bowed humbly to her. Olwig sighed.
"I need to go. I need you to look after the sheep."
"Alone?" Olwig was surprised.
"I will come back soon."
"Where are you going?"
"I need to go to the grove." Olwig's eyes widened. To go to the sacred grove alone was a fearsome prospect.
"What will you offer to the goddess?" she asked, at last.
"This," Morg said simply and
she fingered the brooch at her throat which was holding her thick brown
cloak around her neck. It was a twist of beaten bronze, with curling
patterns dancing on it. Her father had bought it for her when he had
travelled away some moons ago. She remembered him leaning down from his
horse, his hair tickling her face. "And this is for my little Morg,"
he'd laughed and he'd pinned the brooch on her tunic. She loved the
brooch more than the world.
Olwig gasped. She knew Morg was serious.
"Go now," she said. "The gods be with you."
Morg turned and walked away into the forest. Olwig stared into the trees long after she had disappeared.
loved the forest, and she was afraid of it. Her people needed it to
survive, but sometimes it swallowed them up. Morg knew the edges of the
forest well. She was often sent out with Olwig to collect hazel or beech
nuts in the autumn. The tribe would store them in pits, like the
squirrels, and make them last through the barren winter months. Morg
loved picking the blackberries that appeared in late summer. Her tunic
was still stained purple with their juice. Her father had laughed and
asked how many of the blackberries they'd picked had actually reached
the village. Morg knew where to pick the leaves of the green melde the
family liked to eat with meat, and where to find gold of pleasure, the
plant they crushed to make oil.
Indeed it was Morg
who had once found mistletoe, the sacred all-healing plant. She had
shown the Druid where it hung and he had been pleased with her. He had
placed his pale hand on her head and looked deep into her eyes and told
her that she had done well and that she would be blessed by the gods.
Morg was so proud she thought she'd faint. The mistletoe had been
gathered on the sixth day of the moon, and the Druid had sacrificed
three fowl to the Mother Goddess to bring good fortune. He had taken the
mistletoe into his hut, and Morg imagined that there he would make
healing potions for the tribe.
That was three seasons ago,
in the spring. Now Morg did not feel blessed by the gods. Ever since the
new baby had been born, in her mother's eyes she could do nothing
right. Her mother was always tired and angry. She walked with a heavy
step and Morg had twice seen her doubled up, clutching her stomach,
weeping with pain. Morg wondered whether the mistletoe could drive out
whatever possessed her.
Morg thought about her mother
as she tramped into the forest. It was a long way, and she would have
to go into parts that she did not know. As she walked, the path became
narrower, and less well used. The trees were closer together, and Morg
could hardly see the grey sky through their bare, interlaced branches.
She knew that as long as she kept to this path, she should get to the
grove, but she was nervous. She reminded herself that the last time
someone saw a wolf was when neighbour Daroc's near-grown lambs had been
stolen and that was a full three moons ago. Wolves would not attack in
daylight, she thought. A twig snapped behind her and she broke into a
run. She ran and ran, until her breath was ragged and she felt as though
a dagger was pressed into her side and she had to stop. She looked
fearfully behind her. There was nothing there. Keep calm, she said to
herself, keep calm and you will be safe. Still, she tried to walk
soundlessly and kept her fingers crossed against the evil eye.
The path started to climb upwards. Soon it was very steep. Even
the trees leant into the hill to stop themselves sliding down. The path
was treacherous, covered in loose rocks. Morg had to scrabble to keep
her footing and used her hands to pull herself up. Then she heard
tumbling water and she knew she was nearly there. A few minutes later
she clambered over the last rocky ledge and came out of the trees. She
had arrived. The grass in the clearing was fresh and green, greener than
she had seen for moons. Facing her were two enormous rocks, crushed
against each other. From the crack between them flowed a steady stream
of cool, clear water. Where it ran, the grey rocks shone red and black.
Overhanging the spring was an oak tree, so huge that even if Olwig and
Morg had held hands and stretched as wide as they could, their arms
would not have reached around its trunk. This was the sacred grove of
Alos, the goddess of the forest.
Morg hesitated. She was
suddenly afraid. What if the goddess decided she had been insolent? That
she, alone and a child, should dare to approach her without a priest or
priestess? Morg sank to her knees, and then bowed her head to the
ground, reaching her arms out to the spring.
Goddess, protect me and bless me," she mumbled. "I'm sorry it is just me
here. I mean, that I have not brought a Druid or anyone. There was no
time you see." She looked up. She hoped that Alos would understand.
"I've brought you this," she said and she unpinned her brooch.
Her cloak slipped off her shoulders. She held the brooch tightly in her
"It is my favourite thing. I want to give it to
you." She held the fist out under the spring water and slowly opened it.
The water ran through the twists of bronze. It looked so beautiful, and
her fingers clasped over it. Perhaps she could offer something else. A
shiver of wind passed through the oak leaves. It was the answer. It had
to be the brooch.
"I'm sorry for my curse. Please,
make my mother better. Drive out the spirits that inhabit her. Make her
proud of me. Make her love me again."
Then, she couldn't help it, it just slipped out, "I want to go on a hunt. Col can go, why can't I?"
Morg let the brooch slide out of her hands and into the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
"Is that too many things to ask?" she said. She stepped back. As
she did so, the grey clouds lightened, and a pale sun came out. It made
the brooch glitter under the water and lights dance on the surface. The
goddess had accepted her offering.
Morg took a step
back from the stream and looked around. The grove was silent and still.
Morg felt cold. She didn't know what to do. Perhaps she should just go
As she tried to decide she
heard a fearful crashing and clattering. Out of the trees on the other
side of the stream burst a full grown boar. It squealed with surprise
and skidded to a halt. It stood facing her, its tusks so sharp they
could gore a man to death. Its mean little eyes stared at her.
Morg stared back.
boar was as tall as she was, but wider, heavier. The eyes were level
but its snout was long and covered with short black bristles. Its ears
were pricked in her direction. She could see the wetness of its nose,
and how it could hardly close its mouth over the long sharp teeth. She
could see its tusks, jutting out past its jaw. She could hear it taking
short, ragged breaths and she could smell the rank smell of its sweat
and its fear.
The goddess had not protected her. She had put her in mortal danger.
Morg's scalp prickled as the hairs on her head stood up. Her
mouth was dry. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She
wanted to run, but she heard her father's voice in her head, "Never run.
Never show you are frightened."
The boar lowered its
head. It snorted. Morg realised that it was about to charge. She
thought back to her father's words. "Pretend you are a boar." She
screamed, a high-pitched, resonant scream. Morg raised her arms and
flapped them threateningly at the boar. She screamed again. It was not a
scream of fear, but of threat. The boar was startled. It hesitated,
then turned and crashed back into the forest.
took a deep shuddering breath. She started to tremble and clasped her
arms to stop them shaking. She felt cold, and turned to grab the cloak
that had fallen off when she was praying to the goddess. When she turned
back, Arlen the hound emerged from between the trees, nose to the
ground, following the trail of the boar. He caught Morg's scent and
barked with joy. He leapt up at her and licked her face all over. Morg
laughed and pushed him away.
"Off, Arlen. Get off me," she said.
One moment there was just Arlen, then the grove was full of
hounds as the rest caught up. They sniffed the ground, tracing the
boar's movement. Then one of the dogs howled. He had caught the scent.
He plunged back into the forest and on to the trail of the boar. The
rest of the hounds followed. Arlen, with a backward look at Morg, went
The grove was empty. Morg could hear the hunting
horn in the distance, and the yells of the huntsmen as the hounds
picked up the scent. But they did not come into the grove. No-one saw
her victory over the boar.
Morg sat flat down. She
thought for a moment of finding the hunt, of telling her father what had
happened. But she'd never catch them, and anyway they would not believe
her. When the boar had turned and gone back into the forest she'd
thought that the goddess had answered her prayer, that the boar was a
test. The boar was, after all, a sacred animal. Maybe the goddess had
taken on its form. She had hoped it was a sign that she would be allowed
to go on the hunt. But now the hunt had moved on and she knew that
no-one had heard. Her voice was too small, too unimportant. Probably the
goddess was angry with her.
Morg was hungry. She had
forgotten to bring any food with her. She did not even have the chunk
of flat bread her mother would usually send with her into the fields.
She cupped her hands and drank some of the water from the goddess'
stream. Perhaps it would bring her fortune. She needed it, she thought.
Suddenly she shivered. It was getting colder. All the warmth had
gone from the sun and it would not be long in the sky. The nights were
squeezing the days hard at this time of year. Morg slung her cloak
around her shoulders, and started to scramble back down the bank.
was tired. Her legs were as heavy as the trunks of trees. Her stomach
rumbled with hunger and misery. She dragged herself on, eyes to the
ground. The path to the sacred grove was usually well-used by the tribe,
but there had been no ceremony there for some time. In places the way
was not always clear. So Morg did not notice that she had strayed off
the path, and that now she was walking along a new track.
Morg was thinking about the cold in her toes and wiggling them as
she walked when she heard a rustling in the undergrowth to her left.
She hesitated. She should go on. It was getting late. She did not want
to be in the forest in the dark.
Morg heard the
rustling again. Curiosity overcame her. She had to know what was in the
bushes. The noise was coming from a group of low thorns. Walking round
she saw a space that she could slither through. As she slid along on her
front, she heard thin squeals. Something knew she was coming.
The thorns opened out and she came upon a clearing in the centre
of the bushes. A shallow bowl had been scraped away and lined with
leaves. On the leaves were four little wild boar piglets. They were each
the size of three of her hands, and they were squealing and tumbling
over each other to get to her. They can only be days old, thought Morg.
Pale brown and cream stripes ran from the tips of their snouts to their
tails, which were twitching with excitement. They're just like bumble
bees, she smiled. But it was late for a boar litter. She knew that they
usually had babies in the sowing season, that was when boars were most
dangerous. Perhaps this was a second litter.
frowned. Where was the piglets' mother? Female boars stayed close to
their babies, to protect them. Which meant it was not far away. Which
meant that Morg needed to get out of the bush quickly. She hesitated.
She'd had an idea. Everyone was going to be cross with her when she got
back to the village. But if she came with some boar piglets....
She reached out for the
nearest one. It slipped through her fingers. She crawled slowly towards
another and tried to grab its tail, but it twisted away from her, then
looked back over its shoulder. This is a good game, it seemed to say.
She ground her teeth. She threw herself on to the third, but somehow it
squeezed from under her. It was like trying to catch water. Then her
cloak hooked on one of the thorns and she had a thought. Holding the
cloak on both edges, she threw it over the nearest piglet, and then
threw herself on top of it. The piglet wriggled and squiggled under the
brown wool cloth. Standing on two of the corners with her feet, Morg
scooped the other edges under the piglet and grabbed all four corners
into her hands. She had a brown wool bundle with a piglet squirming in
She looked around. The other three were
nowhere to be seen, hiding in the undergrowth. She felt the weight of
the piglet. It might be young, but it was heavy. One was quite enough.
She'd better get moving before the boar came to find her offspring. She
started to crawl along another tunnel out of the thorns when she bumped
into something soft.
It was a dead boar. She must have
been the piglets' mother. Morg realised that was why she'd been able to
catch the piglet - it was exhausted and hungry. Morg crouched over the
boar. She'd been killed a couple of days ago, Morg reckoned. She looked
harder and a chill ran down her spine. She saw that the boar had been
killed by a wolf.
Morg scuttled out of the bushes as
fast as she could. It was only when she was back on the path and
walking a walk that was nearly a run, that she realised she did not know
where she was. The path started to drop down through a steep sided
gorge she had not seen before. Her throat tightened. She was lost.
For a moment Morg panicked. It was almost dark and she was lost
in a forest full of wolves and no-one knew she was there. Then she took a
deep breath. Then another. She decided she had two choices. She could
go back, and hope to join the old path. Or she could go on and hope to
She thought hard. Perhaps the
sun could help her. She couldn't see it, but she could tell the sky was
lighter ahead of her than behind. If it was lighter, that must be where
the sun would set. She'd walked towards the sun when she left the
village, in the morning. The sun had crossed the sky since then and was
now going down. Head towards the setting sun, she thought. She hoped
that she was right. As she was deciding she heard a noise, not very
loud, far, far away. She was not sure, but it sounded a little like the
howl of a wolf.
Morg set off at a brisk trot. She
started to chant a prayer to Cerunnos, the god of wild beasts, but then
changed her mind. She should stay loyal to Alos, who had helped her so
far. The boar had been a test, and the piglets, somehow, an answer to
her prayer. Alos had chosen her own way. Would the goddess now help her
She did not hear the wolves again. She
decided that she had imagined the sound. Or that they were hunting in
another part of the forest. But she kept her ears pricked, and the hairs
on the back of her neck refused to lie flat.
path became muddy. Morg squelched on, trying to keep to the firm grass
hillocks, jumping from tussock to tussock. Her shoes were made of thin
leather, and they were soon soaked. The path had disappeared into a bog.
Morg hesitated and looked around. The trees were thinning. She could
see the beginnings of a stream, and maybe a clearing. She took a step,
and went in up to her knee. She nearly lost hold of the piglet. She
pulled out her leg. It was coated in thick, stinking mud.
I mustn't lose courage now, thought Morg. If I do, I'll never get
home. Clutching the piglet with renewed determination, she took a leap
onto a patch of grass. Soon, she was through the trees and she was
right. There was a clearing. Best of all, from the clearing she could
see her hill, rising tall and black above the forest. Morg nearly sobbed
As she did so she heard a
howl, the long wailing howl of a hungry wolf. Goose pimples rose on
Morg's arms. The howl came again, rising high over the dusk of the
forest. It's nearer, she thought, I'm sure it's nearer. Morg started to
run. She could see the hill, but she was still a long way away from
safety. She reached the edge of the fields where she had put the sheep
just that morning. They were empty now, the sheep all safe in the fort.
The howl came again, and then a second and a third. Of course there are
more than one, she thought, as she stumbled on. A whole pack. They are
following me, they are definitely following me.
she realised. Of course they were following her. She smelt like a boar,
carrying the piglet in her cloak. What an idiot I am, she thought. She
was about to drop the cloak and let the piglet free, when she paused.
No, I've got this far, she thought. I can't just leave it now. Not after
all this. She started to scramble up the rocky path to the gate. I'm
nearly there, I'm nearly there, she thought. The howls were so close
Morg thought she could hear the snapping of the wolves' jaws and feel
the warmth of their breath on her heels.
The gates of the fort were closed. Morg summoned all her energy.
"Open! Quickly!" she screamed.
A pale round head appeared over the ramparts and looked down.
"Who goes there?" called the watchman.
"It is me. Morg. The wolves -"
The watchman disappeared and Morg heard him shout out a warning
inside. She heard footsteps running down the passage to the gate. He
"Let me in!" gasped Morg. She turned to
look behind her. She was sure she could see yellow eyes glowing in the
darkness. The guard slammed the gate tight shut behind her.
guard tried to take her bundle but Morg's fingers were frozen to it, so
he led her along the twisting passage through the walls. By the time she
came out her father was there swooping her into his arms. "Morg, Morg," he whispered into her hair. "My dearest girl. My brave girl." Something squirmed against his arm.
"What is that?" he said, nearly dropping Morg.
"It's a piglet. A boar," she told him. "I thought it would please you. And mother."
Then her father threw back his great head and roared with laughter, his whole body shaking.
"Morg, have you been out this late hunting piglets? This prize indeed." And he laughed again.
"Father," murmured Morg. "I'm cold." She started to sway. He
stopped laughing abruptly. He took off his thick red cloak and wrapped
her and the piglet together in it, scooped the bundle into his arms and
strode across the enclosure to the hut. He kicked open the door.
"Brigd. Morg is back," he said and to Morg's astonishment her
mother dropped the pot of water that she had been holding and ran
"Morg! My beautiful Morg," and her mother hugged her tightly, kissing her face. "I thought I had lost you."
"She is cold. She used her cloak for the piglet," said her
father, and as he did so Morg's fingers, warmed by his cloak, unclasped.
The piglet wriggled from its bundle and ran squealing into the hut.
Morg's father beat it to the door, which he kicked closed, and then he
tried to catch it. But the piglet was fast, and furious at its
captivity. Round and round the fire they raced. Col joined in, trying to
head the piglet into a corner. Two bowls of water were smashed. The
loom was knocked over. The piglet squealed. Morg's mother grabbed the
baby. Morg's father flung himself at the piglet, but only managed to
land face forward on the blankets. Col grabbed at the straw to make a
wall, and Morg's father pushed some wood and the edge of the loom to
form a pen, and the piglet was trapped. Morg's father and Col were
exhausted and Morg and her mother were weak from laughter.
"What a demon you have brought us, daughter," gasped Morg's father. Morg smiled.
"But now it is caught it is good. It can breed with our pigs to
strengthen them. The boar will bring us luck. You have done well." He
turned and left the hut.
"Come near to the fire,
child," said her mother. "Drink some of this," and she offered Morg a
cup of something hot and delicious.
"It is mead," said her mother. "It will warm you." Morg sipped the honey drink and felt the ice melt inside her.
"Mother," she hesitated. "How is my brother?"
"The Druid treated the burn with herbs, and bound it. He has coughed less today. See, here he is sleeping."
Morg looked at her mother. Did she look different?
"Mother? Are you better?" she said.
"Perhaps. The Druid gave me an infusion. He burnt some mistletoe
to drive out the foul spirit inside me. I feel more myself now."
Morg smiled to herself. She knew that it was Alos that had cured her mother. She was glad.
The door burst open.
"Are you warm now, child?" said her father. "Because it is time for the feasting."
Morg's mother took the lid off the wooden chest that stood at
the head of her straw pallet. Inside were the best cloaks, that the
family wore for feast days. She carefully took them out, one by one.
Col's cloak was the yellow of buttercups. Her own was the green of new
oak leaves and Morg's was the colour of the sky at twilight, a misty
grey-blue. Morg stroked it and remembered choosing the colour and dying
the wool. They had found the weld in the forest, and soaked the plant in
hot water. Then they had taken the wool that they had spun and laid it
in the dye. She giggled to herself when she thought of her mother
telling her to squat and wee into it.
"It will fix the colour," her mother had said.
They had left the wool in the dye for days, just stirring it
occasionally, until the colour had taken. Then she had helped her mother
set up the loom and watched as the threads went back and forth and
built up the cloth that would form her cloak. She loved this cloak. It
was soft and delicate and the blue matched her eyes.
She put it over her shoulders.
"Pin it child," said her father and Morg hung her head.
"I gave the brooch to the goddess," she mumbled. Her father
crouched down and looked into her eyes. Was he angry? she wondered.
"What did you ask for?" he said quietly.
"For mother to be well. And to love me again."
"Your mother loves you very much," he said. "And I think she
will be well now. Here." He unpinned the brooch that held his cloak in
place. "Just for tonight," and he used it to pin her cloak closed.
Then Morg dared.
"I also asked if I could go on a hunt," she said and she looked
at him, her eyes full of mischief. There was a moment, before her father
"The goddess cannot do everything," he said.
When they went outside the fire was already burning huge and
bright in the centre of the ring of huts. Turning on a spit was one of
the boars that the hunters had caught earlier in the day. It crackled
and splattered as the fat fell into the flames. The smell of roasting
meat filled Morg's nostrils and her mouth watered. She realised she had
not eaten since the morning. The villagers were gathered around the fire
and Olwig's father was slicing great hunks of meat off the beast. Morg
elbowed her way to the front.
"Little Morg, some for you,"
said Olwig's father and she grabbed it and tore at the flesh with her
teeth, burning her tongue and her lips with the scalding fat. It was
delicious. Morg's stomach was still hollow with hunger. It took barely a
minute before she had swallowed the last morsel, and was back for more.
She grabbed at another slab. She saw Olwig and Pridoc on the other side
of the spit, surrounded by neighbours tearing at the meat, fingers and
mouths glistening with fat, laughing in the firelight. Although the
villagers occasionally slaughtered their pigs and sheep, it was moons
since they had had meat in such abundance. There was more than enough
for everyone, with some left over. The bones would be picked clean, then
boiled for their goodness before they were carved into spoons and
combs. Not one piece of this prize would be wasted.
Gradually, stomachs were filled. Blankets and straw bundles surrounded
the fire and the tribe lay back on them, happy. Now was the time for
fun. The mead was flowing. The drums were brought out, and the drummers
started their rhythmic beat. Dancers began to sway. Then Morg's father
called for silence.
"I want to tell you a story of
the goddess Alos, our goddess of the forest." People hushed. He was a
good storyteller. He told a new story, of Alos and Morg, of a small girl
who had dared to ask the goddess and whose wishes were granted. The
crowd cheered and Morg smiled. She didn't mind, she thought, that not
all the wishes had come true. Not really. But she had to squeeze her
lips together very tightly to stop herself crying.
When the drums had started up again, her father sat down next to her on the straw. He didn't look at her.
"I'll need to take Arlen into the forest soon," he said. "He
needs practice with some of his hunting skills." Morg was very still.
"But I can't manage on my own." He looked at Morg. Her eyes were full of hope.