I love this time of year! There are so many terrific Halloween hops going on. Many thanks to Melissa Snark for organizing this hop! For this hop, I am going to give you a sneak peek at my forthcoming Lady Macbeth: Daughter of Ravens! The novel will be released on December 3rd, but for this hop, I want you to see how Lady Macbeth (called Cerridwen/Gruoch in my novel) celebrates All Hallows. Here we have a sneak peek at an ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain! Enjoy!
It was sundown when Druanne finally emerged from the forest. She wore long, black robes and carried a vial of red liquid and a small wooden goblet. Her face looked very pale, and her eyes had a faraway look. Her arrival marked the beginning of the night’s ritual.
“Where’s Sid?” I whispered to Uald who was standing beside me. I had recovered from the vision the blood had prompted early that day, but Aridmis’ words and the tenor of the day left me feeling shaky and on edge. It was as if I could feel the worlds thinning between us as we moved toward midnight. What was real, what was past, what was present, all were starting to get confused. I was beginning to feel like I was losing control, and I hated the feeling.
My stomach dropped, churning with worry. “Gone where?”
We gathered at the center of the coven, standing in a circle around the star we had laid with stone, the five fires at each point, the center cauldron fire burning brightly. Druanne came to stand in the middle. Once she was in place, we began.
“Once the wheel has gone around,” Druanne called.
“Once again the year has come and gone,” Balor echoed.
“And with time, we too shall fade. And with time, we too shall die,” Epona called.
Her words chilled me. I glanced sidelong at Banquo. What did Aridmis mean that our love would result in one of our deaths? Was she right? Already she had prophesied that I would wear a crown, but what crown? But was she right? Could she be trusted?
“But not this night,” Druanne answered.
“This night we live and bid you spirits rise!” Bride called.
“By the Morrigu, by Scotia, by the Crone, join our feast,” I called.
Banquo spoke next: “Ancient ones, cross the divide. Join us on this night.”
“In peace,” Bergen called out, striking a cord on his harp. The discordant sound carried across the night’s sky.
“In goodwill,” Ivar the bard added then began beating his drum rhythmically.
“With our thanks,” Druanne called.
“So mote it be,” Balor intoned.
“So mote it be,” we all answered.
As Ivar beat his drum, Druanne began her progression. One by one, she went to each person and offered them a drink of the potion, whispering something in their ear. After, everyone stood in quiet contemplation. I saw Aridmis swoon, struggling to keep her footing. Behind Druanne, Bride followed with her basket of masks. Epona donned a mask with long silver and red horsehair, the face made from a horse’s skull. Seeing her costumed like that made me shiver.
A moment later, Druanne stepped in front of me, blocking my view. I was surprised to see how . . . changed . . . she looked. Her eyes were very distant. Her skin was pale, the blue veins on her forehead protruding. She looked almost ethereal.
“Blood of MacAlpin,” she whispered in my ear. “Honor your ancestors,” she said, handing the potion to me. Her voice sounded hollow.
Her hand was shaking as she held out a small wood cup full of the potion. I drank the sharp liquid then handed the cup back to her. It tasted bitter; my tongue caught the taste of mushrooms, berries, and acorns. There were other sharp, herbal tastes I didn’t. When the liquid hit my stomach, I almost vomited. Taking a deep breath, I held the liquid down.
With a smile, Bride handed me the raven mask. “Now, my sweet girl,” she whispered.
I pulled the mask on, again hit with that same dizzying sensation. I stared out through the slits in the eyes, and this time my vision seemed sharper. I felt like I could see from far away. I looked at Ivar who had, at some point, had put on some odd mask formed from a bear’s skin. I blinked. For a moment, it seemed like it was a bear standing in his place.
Once everyone had drunk the potion and donned their masks, we all walked around the circle counterclockwise, meeting again at the feasting table. Epona stood at the head of the table. Silently, we all stood behind one chair at the table. Banquo stood across from me. He was wearing the stag mask, looking out at me through the socket’s in the stag’s skull.
“We call you ancestors. The walls between the worlds are thin tonight. Join us from the beyond. Dine and dance with us this night. Come amongst us. Take pleasure in these earthly things. Whisper your secrets and feel our love,” Epona called.
“Call your ancestors!” Balor ordered.
“Thomas!” Epona called.
“Aiden!” Bride called.
“Dorrit!” Uald called.
They went around until they came to me: “Emer!”
“Brighid!” Banquo called. His sister, I guessed.
Once we’d all evoked our ancestors, Balor called out: “Ancestors, you are welcome. Eat! Dance and be merry so you may remember the feel of flesh and the pleasure of life!”
With that, we all filled the plates before us. I never knew my mother. I had no idea what she liked to eat. I knew nothing about her. Feeling miserable, I set her plate and poured her a glass of honey mead not knowing if she would have preferred ale or wine. Behind my mask, tears streamed down my face. In the end, my mother was a stranger to me. She would never come. I was alone in my misery.
“Come, my dear,” I heard Bride say, putting her soft hand in mine. She wore a dark mask that covered her face with black lace. She led me to the fires. There, the bards were playing wild music. Aridmis and Epona began to dance. The place seemed to shimmer with glowing orbs and silver and while light. I looked around for Banquo, but he was gone.
I felt hot and very dizzy. The entire world seemed to be spinning. I looked out with the raven’s eyes and saw the world in double vision. The music clanged strangely. Everyone looked deformed in their masks. It was a strange sight. And suddenly, the coven seemed to be full of people. I sensed a great number of spirits lurking there with us. Intermixed in the crowd, I swore I could see the smiling faces of maidens, priestesses, and druids, who’d come before us. Their clothes, from courtly dresses to animal skins, hinted at ages past. The dead, our ancestors, had heard our call. For a glimmering moment, I saw Epona standing face to face with the shining spirit of a young, handsome man. Their eyes were locked on one another: her wild boy. Had his name been Thomas? Was that who she’d called?
And then I felt someone very close to me. I turned to look for Banquo, but it wasn’t him. A woman had touched me gently then turned and walked into forest. I squinted with my raven eyes and studied her. She hand long, daffodil-colored hair and green robes: Emer. She turned and smiled at me, beckoning me to follow her. Like a fey thing, she floated over ferns and fallen logs deeper into the forest on feet that never touched the ground.
“Mother?” I called after her.
She turned and smiled at me but didn’t stop. She beckoned me forward, leading me deep into the forest. I moved swiftly after her. I prayed she would stop, would talk to me. I would have given anything to hear just one word from her. I desperately wanted to look at her face to face: my mother had come. I rushed deeper into the woods, following her. We passed through a thick stand of trees then came to a clearing. At the center of the clearing, bathed in moonlight, stood my druid: Banquo.
Intrigued? Lady Macbeth: Daughter of Ravens, Book I in The Saga of Lady Macbeth, is available now for pre-order!