Beltane, a Tale of Love




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Warm days had come at last. Ashling was at work in the fields, planting beans in the dark earth. He heard the voices of girls in the distance, bringing water back from the river. As they drew near, he glanced in their direction, casually, not wanting to stare. Alderleaf was there, her soft white skirts shifting in the breeze. His eyes were drawn to her partly bare legs, smooth and shapely. He longed to touch her, and he thought she was beautiful.

But she would reject any attention from him, he knew. They had grown up together in the village, and he knew she saw him the same way all the others did: an unattractive, unmanly youth, too serious and moody. So he kept his thoughts to himself, and was secretive even when his other male friends talked about girls and their sexual fantasies.

As the weeks passed, Ashling's frustrations and despair grew intense. Would he ever find a girl to be with? Who in this village would ever take him seriously? Would he be left alone, after everyone else had paired off? No adult would have understood his urgency, but Ashling was seventeen years old, and it seemed to him that he had already been left behind. He watched boys and girls younger than him flirting, touching, kissing . . . and he had heard stories from his friends of their conquests. He wasn't sure whether to believe these stories or not, but his mind dwelled on them just the same, constantly.

Although Ashling could not have imagined it, Alderleaf did not consider herself beautiful, or even pretty. She thought she looked boyish, with her lanky frame and thick eyebrows. She envied the other girls, round-breasted and curvaceous. Her girlfriends complained frequently about the boys who pestered them and made crude sexual suggestions. Alderleaf participated laughingly in these conversations about the shallowness and immaturity of boys, but privately, she felt strange and uneasy that she did not receive this kind of attention from boys herself.

The spring revels were approaching. The more forward, flirtatious boys and girls were full of anticipation. There would be dancing around the fires at night, and couples would steal away secretly (or not so secretly) to make love in the woods under the light of the full moon. For those less sure of themselves, however, the approaching festival was met with anxiety and dread.

Today, the meadow at the edge of the village was being made ready. The boys were setting up wooden posts in a large circle around the place where the maypole would be set. The girls followed behind them, decorating the posts with garlands of feathers and leaves. Alderleaf joined Ashling as he finished straightening and securing a post. "Can I start on this one?" she asked.

"Sure, I just finished," he said, but he was slow to move away from the post. Alderleaf caught the intense look in the boy's eyes, and she knew that he wanted to touch her. What would happen? Would he say something? Would he just reach out and grab her? Ashling stood silent, apparently incapable of either speaking or leaving. Alderleaf broke the tension of the awkward moment by kneeling down and attaching a garland to the base of the post. As she did so, her hip and side brushed against Ashling's leg. The touch, although brief and accidental, was electrifying. Ashling became instantly aroused, and then felt suddenly flushed with embarrassment and walked away, mumbling something inaudible.

That night, Ashling lay in bed, reliving his encounter with Alderleaf, and fantasizing about her and what might have happened if he'd only said or done the right thing. When the fantasizing was over, and he came back to earth again, he felt terribly alone and worthless. He fell asleep sobbing.

Alderleaf stayed up late that night, talking with her older sister. She shared what had happened, and her sister was full of smirks and friendly teases. After the giggles died down, her sister asked "So, do you like him?"

Alderleaf was quiet for a moment. "I never thought so before. He was always just there, you know. In the background. But now I think he's kind of special. He likes me, but he's shy. He wasn't rude or anything, but it's like he has everything bottled up inside him, ready to pour out. That's kind of exciting."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"What would you do?"

"Well, you need to give him some help. Say something to him, or ask him to dance the fires with you tonight. If he knows you've noticed him, he'll be more comfortable."

Alderleaf thought about this for awhile. Did she really want to do this? Was she ready for that kind of attention from a boy? This boy? But every time she tried to work it out, she remembered the passionate look in his eyes, and the intense feelings when they brused against each other, and she felt drawn to him, unable to think about anything but his touch - real touch, intentional touch, a true caress. As the hours passed, the self-questioning just fell apart and got swept away by her longing to be touched again.

That afternoon, as the villagers assembled in the meadow for the revels, a stranger appeared among them. She was a tall woman of extraordinary beauty, dressed in flowing veils of green, yellow, and red. She moved among them, almost like a ship moves through the sea, gliding. All eyes were on her, and she seemed luminous in the slanting gold rays of the westering sun. She smiled at each person she saw, and held their gaze with her eyes. Such was the power of her presence that conversation seemed impossible, or perhaps unnecessary. No one even asked her who she was or where she came from.

The fires were lit, the drumming started, and she began to dance, casting off her colored veils as she danced around the meadow. Villagers joined in, dancing behind her and singing. The mysterious woman was now completely nude, and more beautiful than she had been even in her flowing veils. Some of the villagers were also casting off clothing now; the spring air was still balmy, and the bonfire grew hotter and brighter. Everyone was dancing now.

Everyone except a young man, sitting on the grass, some way away from the fires and the dancers. The stranger noticed him, and walked toward him. As she grew closer, Ashling gazed at her in wonder. His heart filled with overwhelming joy, and he knew that he was in the presence of magic. The woman took his hand, and led him into the deepening evening dusk, away from the fires. They walked into the woods. Ashling stopped, because the moon was rising now, its silver light flowing over the distant hills and between the tree trunks.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" The voice was soft, musical, richly feminine. Ashling turned to answer, but the stranger was no longer there. Instead, he looked into the eyes of Alderleaf, her fair skin and white gown glowing softly in the moonlight. She was more beautiful than the stranger had been, and his gaze spoke that truth more eloquently than any words of love he might have found to say.

"Yes," he said, not even caring to ask how she came to be here. "It is a night like no other night."

"Will you kiss me?" she asked, and Ashling took her in his arms, and kissed her - tenderly at first, then passionately, caressing her arms and back.

They wandered the woods together all that night, sometimes making love in grassy hollows, sometimes cuddling together in sleepiness under the protection of the ancient trees. With his arms around her, the angst-ridden boy of yesterday became a memory. Everything had changed.


Seasons of the Goddess is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2008 Tom Waters