“This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang, but a whimper.” ~T. S. Eliot
The car left the glow of the last town’s lights far behind and wound its way into the darkness of the mountains. It was getting close to one in the morning by Gaelin’s estimate. He couldn’t know for sure; the clock in the dashboard of the car was broken and showed 11:07. “Well,” he thought to himself, “even a broken clock is right once or twice a day, but not now. I wonder where we are going.
Gaelin drifted into a doze as trees flashed past in the blur of the headlights. He did not wake until the car came to a stop and the door opened, letting in a chill breeze.
“Get out. We have a bit of a hike now.” His uncle sounded for all the world like they were out on a spring picnic instead of an increasingly bizarre night trip. Gaelin obeyed sleepily. Once outside the car, he became more alert and began to take stock of his surroundings. The headlights of the car lit up the woods before them, and a small trail heading off into the trees stood out to him. His uncle and the priest headed toward it without another word, their shadows dancing starkly among the trees. Behind him, the headlights of the car turned off and the only light was the moon and the bobbing lights of the flashlights the two men up ahead held.
The dark was huge for a moment, but within a couple seconds Gaelin could see enough to walk to edge of the woods. He hesitated; this was getting weirder by the moment. The car door slammed behind him and heavy footsteps approached. The driver, a friend of his uncle, pushed a third light into his hand.
He muttered, “You’ll be alright kid,” then stumped back to the car. Gaelin found the man’s intended assurance extremely troubling, but he flicked on the flashlight and quickly followed the other two men up ahead. The trail was narrow and little used, and sometimes he lost it altogether and merely made a beeline for the lights ahead. He had just re-found the trail again after such a time when he caught up with his uncle and the priest.
“Well, it looks like they are already here.” His uncle was saying as he came up behind the priest. Now they were walking in a loose single file, each with his flashlight trained on the ground before him.
“Who are already here?” Gaelin asked.
“Some old friends and distant relatives, you’ll see.”
“What’s going on?” Gaelin tried to push past the priest to walk next to his uncle. “What the hell are we, or anyone else, doing out here?” The priest wouldn’t let him by, and the underbrush was too thick for Gaelin to want to get off the trail to get around the priest.
"You watch your mouth,” was all his uncle replied. Gaelin was feeling less and less like he was on an adventure. This was starting to feel more like walking through the dark woods with two people who were certainly not his friends. Adrenaline rushed through him, but he was willing to wait this out. It wasn’t like he could really get out of this now; whatever this was.
The moon floated overhead, the waning crescent dying slowly; turning gold and amber like a glowing autumn leaf. "Tomorrow," thought the weary boy, "there will be no moon. A new month by the druid’s calendar. Which one?" He wasn’t sure right then, but he was sure that the man walking in front of him knew. In a flash of understanding, he realized that he was being taken to do a rite of some sort. He shivered. He did not really understand his family’s ancient faiths, but he had long been taught to obey. He was told that one day he would continue the practices and arts of moon, stone, water, leaf and fire himself. "Let’s get on with it then," he thought. "I hope it isn’t much further. I know they will want to do the rites while the moon is still in the sky. "
It wasn’t long afterwards that the three came out in a clearing, overgrown with matted grass and some brambles. Gaelin’s eyes were drawn to a dark, squarish shadow of a cabin across the clearing. A few smaller shadows detached from it and came silently to meet the trio. The priest passed Gaelin’s uncle and went to meet the figures first, and Gaelin finally reached his uncle’s side. As they neared the others, the shadows resolved in the dim moonlight into the figures of three women; a young woman, a middle-aged one, and an older woman dressed in a druid’s robes.
With a few words to the older women, the priest turned back to Gaelin, then grasped his arm and pulled him over to a patch where the grass had been cleared and the soil bared and smoothed. He could only tell this by feel and by a sort of fulfilled expectation of the setting of many bygone rites. The youngest woman, a girl really, about his own age he guessed, was led to stand next to him. She was also obedient and moved stiffly with tiredness. Gaelin heard her yawn, then yawned himself. Her head cocked toward him, and he thought she might have smiled, but the light was too dim to tell.
The priest and druidess stood before them, and now Gaelin’s heart began to pound again. Whatever this was, it would begin in seconds. He jumped when the girl’s hand touched his hesitantly, but then he took it. She must have been much more frightened than he. Perhaps she knows what is going to happen. Now isn’t that a comforting thought?
First the druid sang in the old language while the priest knelt and quickly kindled a small fire at Gaelin’s feet. Then he rose and chanted his own part while the woman paced around Gaelin and the girl, drawing a circle in the cool earth, enclosing the small fire as well. That done, a small bottle of water was produced from the robe of the druidess. The light of the flames glowed on the silver. This would be holy water, thought Gaelin. The priest also drew a blade from his robes. The girl’s hand tightened on Gaelin’s. For his part, he held to the hope that the driver of the car had been telling the truth that he would be alright.
The priest, still murmuring in the old tongue, took the two by the shoulders and directed them apart, so that they were positioned across from each other with the fire at their feet between them. He took the girl’s left hand and drew the blade very swiftly across the heel of her hand, just above the wrist. She paled slightly, but made no sound. Gaelin was ready when it was his turn. The cut was shallow and stung and blood welled from it quickly. The priest drew his hand to the girls and made them clasp each other’s wrists, so that their bleeding cuts touched and a few, mingled drops fell into the fire below. The singing became louder. Gaelin felt a little dizzy. He planted his feet carefully and looked straight at the girl to keep his balance. His skin felt numb, his wrist throbbed, and the heat from the fire blazed on the underside of his arm. Silver caught his eye again as the woman brought forth the holy water and poured it carefully over their clasped hands. Drops of water, some tinted pink, fell steaming and sizzling on the fire.
As the last drops emptied from the bottle, the druidess’ voice became the only one singing, then it too died off with a sigh. She stored the bottle in her robe again as she backed away. Gaelin’s uncle and the other woman came forward, he had nearly forgotten they were there. He now saw a much smaller shadow with the woman, a child?
His uncle spoke, “You are now married, and bound to this place, Gaelin and Trista Windsor.”
“...what?!” The girl, Trista, dropped his hand as if it was a snake. It fell limply to his side.
“You belong to this earth, you belong to this water, and you belong to the moon. You will not leave this area unless you are sent for, and you will care for your son Dion and raise him. The child was gently detached from the older woman and led to Trista. She stared them, then picked up the little boy, who relaxed into her arms and nestled his head on her shoulder. Gaelin watched with a sort of curiousness, feeling as if he was watching a movie.
“So be it.” said the priest.
“So be it.” Said the druidess. The woman and Gaelin’s uncle repeated this, then they all began to walk away. Gaelin began to follow them, but his uncle turned and gave him such a look that he stopped in his tracks. He stood where he was until his uncle disappeared. They were not using the flashlights now. The moon had set but dawn was probably only an hour away, and a grey light had seeped into the air. The fire smoked and went out. Gaelin shivered, and turned to face his wife and son.