It was Winter Solstice, Yule in the Saxon tongue. Great iron skewers of geese turned on spits in the great Hearths. The drippings caused the flame to lick up and spit. The chieftain's war band roughly handled the serving wenches who brought them freshly tapped tuns of ale, cheese and barley bread. A great roar filled the hall, and the three days of Solstice had only just begun.
This was the first Yule Feast the new Great Hall had seen. The chieftain, Rolf the Outlaw, now Rolf the Hunter, had built a grander one than even his eldest brother had in the old land. It was constructed of notched whole logs with waddle filling in the gaps. The roof was laid thatch that held in the heat well. The oaken floor was his crowning achievement, one that elicited much comment by visitors.
There were other parts to the axe-shaped building, the chieftain's quarters, the root cellar, the larder, the pantry, the stalls for the cows, but the Great Hall, the "handle of the axe", that was the center of Stedding life. It was three tall timbers long, with room enough for two cooking hearths and a U-shaped head table. The chieftain's kin, landholders and senior war band ate with him at the table. Warriors, servants and the like sat and slept on benches along the walls. How close you were to the chieftain and the food was determined my one's rank.
Progressing down the hall from the East to west, one had the larder and well room the room that connected all. There were two big doors that led into the Great Hall. The head table was closest to the larder and well room. Past the table sat the first hearth in its stone ring. Then the second hearth flamed in a similar ring. Smoke was supposed to rise up throughout the covered smoke holes above, but the hall was constantly in a fog of wood smoke, especially on windy days. Beyond the second hearth, on encountered the inner door. Then there came the wind room, then the outer door. The wind room was designed to give people a place to hang their wet things and to make sure no one let in the cold wind. The construction of the inner and outer doors was special and had cost Rolf a small fortune in silver.
The doors were joined oak and bound with iron belts and recessed iron hinges. The doors would neither split nor shatter nor be pulled from its frame. It would that the sturdiest raiders days to hack through them. In his outlaw days, Rolf had used such tactics on sleeping families to great success, now he feared someone to use it on him.
In the Great Hall, all judgments and laws regarding the inhabitants of the Stedding were proclaimed, disputes settled, foreign merchants bargained with and even the King's men received. Sometimes duels were fought. But tonight was a great feast. The goal was to outdo one's kin in eating drinking, storytelling then boast of great feats of prowess.
Rory Rolfson did not feel like feasting, he felt like fighting. The things he saw in the hall burned in his blood. The skald sang like he had a mouthful of bread, while the honored bard, Fleance The Lame, was left squatting in the corner, with the common troubadours. The warriors lathered and bruised girls of good family; soon the raping would begin, all in sight of the warrior's wives and children.
Rory tried not to retch whenever a warrior passed, so did they reek. Greasy food and worse stained the beard of every one of them. Their breath was fetid. They believed that bathing caused The Scourge and ate with the same hand they wiped their arses with. They had more fleas than their dogs and more nits than dandruff fells from their oily hair. But every man jack of them was a master butcher. Between them all they killed more men than the pox, so Rory kept his comments to himself, for now.
Rory considered having such swine, even dangerous swine, at his family's table, a personal insult. His mother, Gweneth, could see the boy's rage rising. "Rory, the fire needs more faggots. Help me gather a basket, outside." Rory grabbed a great wicker basket; the kind used for carrying stacks and followed his mother outside, to the woodshed. As he piled the faggots of alder into the man- sized basket, he and his mother spoke.
"Rory, you have to control that temper of yours. I did not shelter you all this time to have you slaughtered by your brother's now."
"Half-brothers. Did you not send me away to my uncles' to learn how to fight?"
"No, I sent you to your uncles' to learn The Old Ways, the ways of our people. Half brothers indeed! Next you'll be talking about bastards. They are all our people."
"Our people, our people, always our people! Is it part of the way to tolerate the abuse of my kin? Forced to be servants and serfs when they were once freemen of the land?" He snapped three sticks at once then jammed them into the basket for emphasis.
"Patience is the Way of our people. Our great ancestor, Hern, will protect as always."
"Protect us? The White Stag? Where was he when the king drove Rolf the Outlaw into our lands? Rolf slaughtered my grandfather and raped you when you were barely more than a girl. Then he bought his majesty off with an oath of fealty for him and his forty warriors. It is too late for protection."
"My father had that temper. He refused the king's offer of protection. Rolf saw his opportunity and took it. That's what that temper of yours got our people."
That slowed Rory down. "I am useless."
His mother approached. "Sixteen years ago I sent you to your uncles to keep you safe. Look at us. We have Ahern black, curly hair. We have Ahern green eyes and coloring. In all things, you are Ahern, except you have a bit of Rolf's cool cunning in you. But the cunning is not visible to Rolf.
His other two sons and his daughter are all blonde and blue eyed. He sees you and he sees Ahern. It fills him with dread. You have noticed how he looks at you?"
"Ay, mother, like a wolf watches for a rival."
"Yes, and your brothers are not much better. Harold is an idiotic savage and Wulfgar...wheels in wheels, that one. I suspect him of poisoning. All three men would seek your life."
"But I cannot hide forever."
"Nor do I expect you too. But I do expect you to hide for now. Even the Great Stag uses camouflage."
"Very well mother. I will use my cunning and bite my tongue."
Rory and his mother shook the snow from their boots as the guard re-barred the great door. Then he left the wind room for the Great Hall. The noise was greater if that was possible. The skald was trying to sing to drums now. His mother went to oversee the geese. Rory dropped his basket next to the others and took his place on the bench, at the end of the head of the table.
Only his father, Rolf had a chair, it was the old great seat of Aherns. On the back of the chair, the carved emblem of a stag rampant had been mutilated. After raping the chieftain's daughter, Rolf hacked off its phallus with his great, broad knife, the traditional, Saxe. It amused him to keep the great oak chair as a reminder to all the local idiots that he was the chieftain now.
Rory scanned the room with cooler eyes. His half sister, Dorcas sat at Rolfs' left hand. Rory had to admit, she was a beauty, with waist long red-gold hair and pale skin. She was tall and shapely; with breasts that could have given a dozen children suck. Already foreign men of prosperity had come seeking them for marriage. She flirted with them all and favoring none. Rory pitied the man she married. Sex would ever be a weapon with her. Her children would live only as tools of her personal ambition. Still, he bet she was hot in bed.
So deep in "thought" was he that he did not see Wulfgar coming. "I hear you've become quite the hunter."
Rory had visited the Stedding enough to know that the weasel of a boy could not hunt, fight or do anything useful and he usually scorned anyone who could. Why was he being friendly now? He tried to use some of the cunning his mother said he had. "Anything I know, I owe to my family."
"Yes, your mother's brothers. Been with them a long time, haven't you?"
Rory could tell Rolf was listening, even though his eyes were elsewhere.
"I cannot learn to hunt here."
"Oh? And why is that?"
"Woods are all hunted out." That last part was a thinly veiled jab at Rolf, for it was he who hunted the game to paucity.
"Just as well. I prefer goose and swine for feasting."
"I prefer venison."
"Venison? Don't care for it much myself, but it is our father's favorite. What say you get him some? Prove to our father you are useful in some way."
"Very well. I meant to bring something to the feast."
Triumphant, Wulfgar stood atop the table, putting one foot on a tray of flatbread. "Everyone, the night's first boast! My little half-brother here has sworn to bring a deer to the night's feast!"
The Saxon's cheered but the servants, Rory's people went dumb with shock. Gwen, his mother, dropped her ladle.
Wulfgar was far too happy. Rory wonder just what he had done. Rolf laughed and clapped him on his back.
"Fetch my brave son his gear! At least I have one son who won't force me to eat goose for Winter Solstice!" Other members of the war band congratulated him on his bravery and wished him luck on his hunt.
Bravery? Was there a board or bear in the woods he hadn't heard about? Bravery?" Rory was over his head. He accepted the praise as graciously as he could, but he could see that his mother was at the entrance Wind room, impatient to speak with him. She and two minor kinsmen held his furs and gear.
"Foolish boy! Did I not tell thee to mind thy tongue?" She cinched on his rucksack a bit too tight.
"But mother it is only a simple deer hunt." He belted on his good Moorish knife, water skin and fire pouch.
"Simple he says. In your woods, it is simple. Not here! Here all deer belong to the King and it is death to hunt one. Poaching!"
"How can the King own all the deer?" He slipped on the tether to his short bow and quiver.
"Because he is the King. And to stop fools like Rolf from hunting them to extinction."
"So if succeed, Rolf drags me before the King and is free from kin slaying. If I fail, I am disgraced. Who would follow me then?" He paused to reflect.
"Well, the woods are scarce with deer. You can just go for a long walk and claim that you could not find any."
Rory looked at his mother levelly. He would not do that. He would not lie. He had said he would bag a deer and he would, hanging or no.
"Foolish boy! That temper of yours, just like your grandfather. Damn you men and your pride." She left in tears, dreading the idea that her only son would end his days as a landless villain. Only the two servants remained, an old woman, the other a little more than a girl.
"Is there anything else you require, sir?" The old woman spoke on the Old Tongue.
"Yes. I will need food for my hunt and oats for my pony. Do you still grow fresh herbs in pots?"
"I will require a small pot of those. Keep them in dirt, please."
The old woman left and the girl produced a very odd thing from her apron pocket. Her head remained bowed, under her woolen hood. "Sir, please take this. It might be of help.
"It was a flint knife. Rory knew that her family must be very poor indeed if this was the girl's only kitchen utensil. It was very large, about a foot long with the dull base wrapped in buckskin as a grip. It was the kind used for hunting and skinning by the meanest sort.
Rory picked it out of her outstretched palms. It was sharp enough to shave with. There were no chips on the stone or stains on the suede so it must have been made that day. Still, it was heavier, clumsier and more brittle than his prized Moorish crescent. He tried to hand it back. "Keep it. I have a knife of steel."
"But sir, you are hunting a solstice stag, only a flint blade will do."
"Who are you? Let me see your face."
She pulled back her hood. Chestnut curls framed her lovely round face. Her eyes were black as two onyx stones set into her ivory face. Rory noticed she smelled like herbs, rosemary? "What's your name?"
"Allanna. You're right. If I am going to die, no half measures. Let's do this Old Way." Rory pulled out an arrow and frowned at one of his copper tipped arrows. "I used to be proud of these. Now I'd trade them all for one of Uncle Edden's flint "elf darts."
"Wait here, sir." She pulled her hood back on, ran in the Greta Hall. She was back in flash with a great ash spear. It had an antler point.
"You do know the old Ways" Bless me, a Great Spear! Where ever did you find it?"
Allanna simply blushed.
"It is fine thing to have at least one person aiding me in my fool adventure. How can I ever thank you?" He touched her shoulder. She shivered, but not from the cold.
Before Allanna could answer, the Old Woman returned with the poke of the supplies the young man asked for. The matron sized up the situation in a glance and shoved the small sack, partially filled with stinky cheese, into the young man's face. "Your food, young gentleman."
Rory remembered his manners. "Thank ye, goodwife. Now I go. At least I'll escape the stench of the Great Hall. Take care you two." Then he walked into the snowy forest.
When Rory made his boast, he knew it would be fine night for hunting. The moon was full. The sky was clear. The knee-deep snow would illuminate forest and tracks. He rode upwind from the Stedding. When he figured he had left all signs of man behind, he left his pony, old Hob, in a meadow with a sack of grain to keep him fat and content.
Hob was used to long waits.
At the creek he turned stalked along the ridgeline, keeping a sharp eye on the southern slope. If any deer were to be found, it would be on the slope where the day's sun had exposed sprouts. Hinds would keep to the forest line beside the creek. Every seventh step he would stop, bend and look for moving legs. Movement was always the first thing that gave prey or predator away.
He hadn't seen any sign of any game. Only in his grandfather's time, the woods teamed with life. The Oaken Land was a resource for the whole tribe. In less then a generation Rolf had hunted these woods out. It broke the young man's heart.
There. Was that steam rising above that boulder beside the stream? Rory flattened. The steam was too high up to be a wolf or boar. It might just be stray cow.
The hoarfrost had made the snow as crunchy as walnut shells. So he slipped into the creek, thigh deep and waded to the sign of breath. He used the banks overgrowth to screen his outline from his prey. He was cold, wet and very patient in his approach. Any deer to survive so long would be skittish indeed.
Gods! It was the White Stag. Full fourteen hands high he was. Nine points of antlers at least. His hide was as white as the moon. Just like the stories said. He was just pulling up some grass and began to chew. Then he turned.
The great White Stag didn't look AT Rory. He looked THROUGH him. He considered the young hunter with his eyes, black as jet, then as a show of contempt, he simply sprung across the creek.
Rory's mind reeled, "Impossible! It was impossible that any stag was so huge. It was impossible the White Stag had seen Rory, beneath the overgrowth. It was impossible that any deer could leap so far from a standing start. Impossible."
The stag paused at the top of the hill, like he was letting the young man appreciate his power. Then he sprung off.
Rory's breath was taken away, but not by the frigid, running water. That stag was magnificent. He would never be able to catch it. His blood raced with the idea of the challenge the buck represented.
All deer, even monstrous white ones, have a favorite track. Rory interrupted the great ones route. He lifted himself from the creek. He sucked on some willow gum to thin his blood while he studied the beast's sign. This one was clever. He could see where his kicked his pellets into the reeds, to hide his spoor. He walked on rocks to avoid making tracks. But this was his path all right. He would be back.
Rory re-entered the creek and paralleled the stag's track. Occasionally, he checked to make sure that the deer's path did not leave the gallery forest. Feeling had left his legs long ago.
Two hours walk until he found good ground. There was a patch of bare rock and a no trees for five paces. Rory could get in a spear thrust. But there was also no cover to leap from ambush. If he had a bow, this would be easy. But he could have to use his wit.
A small snowdrift laid only a stride away from the place of ambush. That would have to do.
Rory took the herb out of its pot. It was pungent and smelled a bit like leeks. He laid the greens on the bare patch of stone. Then he got on his belly and, beginning with his feet, carefully wormed his way into the snow bank. In the end he shook his head a little, collapsing snow over his face. Rory gripped his ash spear and waited.
Fears plagued him. "Did I scare him away?"
"Suppose he does not come?"
"Suppose he smells me on the herbs?"
"On the stone?"
"He will see me. Gods, he saw me through brush thick enough to hide an army." The cold crept into his bones. He flexed his muscled to keep from sleep or cramps.
Dawn was not far away when the King of the Woods made his appearance.
He came into Rory's vision. Proud and very, very, cautious. He scanned the area, sniffed the wind and slowly bent to sniff the green herb. The man's plan was to pounce when the animal grazed.
Suddenly, the Great One reared its head in alarm at the scent. Rory sprang in desperation and he threw his spear. But after so much cold and inaction, his muscles betrayed him. His easy toss went short and low, clattering across the stone.
The pole of the spear tripped the stag, ruining his retreat. He stumbled and stood face to faced with his enemy. The stag lowered his head and charged. Eighteen daggers, pushed by two hundred stone drove at Rory's face.
Reflexively, the boy grabbed the antlers and twisted with all his might. Hooves slipped on the icy rock and the buck his the ground with a mighty burst of wind. For the moment, Rory was happy to be alive. He gripped the antlers like a madman. Then the buck began kicking him.
The hoofs cut as they hammered him. The beast's legs moved incredibly fast, inflicting half a dozen serious wounds in a span of three heartbeats.
Rory knew he was loosing. Throwing his weight on the deer's neck, he fumbled for his favorite steel dagger. The buck now scored hits on his legs.
Time slowed. Rory considered the steady, healthy, steel dagger. He dropped it and took out the flint one Allanna had given him. Then he plunged it into the Stag's neck. It slit the hide beautifully and the hart's lifeblood spewed, steaming, out onto the stone and the Rory.
The stag thrashed wildly, its eyes rolled back to stare at him in panic. Rory kept it pinned. As it's struggles subsided, Rory spoke to it. "Sorry, old man. You were beautiful. So, sorry, so sorry." Finally, the blood fountained no more. The King of the Forest was dead.
Rory knew the lore, his uncles did teach him well. Still with flint, he slit the old King's belly open and feasted on his raw, smoking heart, like it was an apple.
The vision came upon Rory with power, a rape of sorts, unstoppable, brutal, and unapologetic. Hern himself stood before him and within him. In an instant, everything he did, everything he was, and everything he would be stood out in stark clarity. There was no point in asking the god any questions; it would be like talking to oneself.
He wrapped his wounds in moss and leather, and then set about butchering the Great White stag. He prepared the stag's intestines, sweetmeats and innards in separate oilskins. He skinned him and dressed himself in its pelt. Rory removed the old King's lower jaw, smashed in his small bones and wore his head as a helmet. It fit remarkably well, but he still lashed it to his chin with leather straps.
Using his hatchet and rope, he lashed together a hunter's sled of birch and ash. Then he pulled it to old Hob. The pony took the towrope well enough, but Rory was confined to walking. It turned out it was good thing that the pony was weighed down.
A pack of wolves, so starved the hunter could see their bones paralleled them. They were drawn by the smell of fresh blood. Only the fear of the supernatural kept the beasts at bay.
Rory was about meet the road. It was icy and his progress would be smooth. But then the lead she-wolf, the one with cubs, blocked his path. She was desperate. The lead male snarled right behind her. The rest of the pack waited.
"Peace. This is flesh of my flesh. You may win it but your dwindled pack will be ended. The vitality of the forest will perish. Be patient but a little while. Come with me. You will feast on the meat of your persecutors. This is Wyrd."
The wolves actually appeared mollified. The lead pair followed and the other four fell in behind them. Fresh snow began to fall, dusting their gray fur.
Winter Solstice was a three-day feast. The First Day Approaching was ended. The Second Day Here, the real solstice was today. He would arrive mid morning. By midnight, either he or the Saxons would be dead and the land be shaped according to the victor.
Gweneth felt a strange urge to go out into the woods. She could have sworn she heard Rory's voice calling her, but surely nothing could be heard through the log walls or above the bawdy din. She couldn't help it anymore. She handed the spit to a servant, slapped on her wool cloak and plowed through the snow, cursing herself all the way.
Someone, a girl by the look of it, had walked into the woods ahead of her. Gweneth looked back and could see Morgawse the elder walking in her path, using Gwen as a snow breaker.Gwen followed the girl's' footprints into the tree line and saw the god. The Great Horned One stood there; his hide was as pale as the moon, and he wore and absurdly large horns upon his head like he was born to them. His chest was bare, colored with dried blood. Stream rose up his body. In one hand he held a spear of ash wood tipped with antler. At his belt he wore two knives. It was just as her grandmother had always said.
Allanna knelt in the snow, prostrate, licking the Horned One's left hand clean. Behind the god, her son's pony waited faithfully. Where was her son?
Her son WAS the god. The Great Stag possessed him. In every real sense, he was no longer her son but the embodiment of the virility of the woods. Gwen bowed immediately in the presence of the King.
Old Morgawse arrived suitably unimpressed. "SO you finally decided to show up, have ye? About time. Where did you go? And why the hell did you leave us to these savages?"
The Stag took no affront. "Any forest's herd grows thin on its own. Rogue bucks from neighboring woods wander in, bring fresh blood. Our people are old, inward turning. Chieftains had begun to shun new blood. We needed new stock."
Neither of the two senior women brought up their kin's death. To the Horned One, death or life, it was all the same. Allanna was lost in idolatry. Her young life had been spent in depravation. Now her faith had been restored.
With her son's voice, Gwen heard the god speak again. "A generation has passed. It is time to reclaim the herd. The old buck's time is done. I will slay my rivals and take the all the hinds.
My host has warned me of my rivals' might. You will aid me, as your mothers did." He held out the sack with the old Stag's intestines in it. "First, give this to the bard."
"Wine? Where have you been hiding this woman?"
"In the secret caves, my lord and husband. I hid it there in the days when the village was becoming a Stedding."
"Why bring it out now?"
"Since the Romans introduced my family to it, a Sol... Yule feast has never been without it."
"Is this all of it?"
"No, my lord and husband. There are many barrels. My family traded with Aquitain often."
"Humph. You will show me these caves when we are done here."
Rolf stood. "Landsman, warriors and honored guests. I have a special treat. I have brought, as no small expense, real wine to our feast. Wenches!"
The crowd cheered in appreciation. Allanna led the host of young serving women in from the larder with pictures and pictures of wine. Drinking bowls and drinking skulls were quickly emptied to make room for the deep red vintage.
Two hours of drinking and feasting later, the war band was growing ugly. They were used to mead and ale, not wine. Fists flew on more than one occasion, but usually ended harmlessly. The wenching was getting serious. Rolf enjoyed the wine's effects on his men or himself. In the safety of his new Great Hall he let himself enjoy the scene.
"I can see why your family liked wine at your solstices, nasty orgies that they were.""Oh this is nothing. I could perform the dance for you."
"Yes, it's a celebration of life, it tells the story of..."
"Ha! I'd like to see you dance. You've been a sour faced old bitch ever since they day I took you. You'd think a chief's daughter would be a better sport about such things."
"Very well. I will dance."
"How, the scald has already feinted from the wine."
"Fleance knows the old tune well enough."
"Bah! A harp is no real instrument. It's soft and womanly."
"He has put on new, strong strings that will make a very manly sound. Besides, the mistrals will follow him."
"Very well." The sodden chieftain swayed and stood while Gwen spoke to the Bard. "Landsmen, warriors and honored guests. My wife would like to dance for us. It's some old pagan dance, but we might be amused."
The servants refilled all the cups and blows, then left the pitchers beside the warriors. Then they cleared the hall away. Gweneth Ahern stood at the end of the hall and waited for Fleance to begin.
The music began frolicsome, as Rolf has expected. Gwen leapt, pranced and skipped down the hall. She seemed twenty years younger. Long legs extended from her skirt. She slewed her hips from side to side, flirting with every Saxon, until his eyes didn't leave her.
The music grew more intense, more urgent. Rolf found himself growing a pole and by the heavy breathing of his men, he was not alone. Gwen leapt on the table and increased her gyrations. Her laces came undone by whirling or her nimble fingers. Her black ringlets of hair flew from side to side.
Finally, her bodice slipped down to reveal two pale, full and heavy breasts.
The music increased its pace. No man in the hall wondered what the dance was being performed before them. It was re-creation of the Dance of Life, or the dance of making life. Gwen bent her knees until her haunches rested on the tabletop.
Undulating her hips with increasing fervor, breast bouncing, head whipping from side to side, she humped an invisible lover. The music matched her fiery lust.
In crescendo, Gwen lifted her head skyward in ecstasy. She hunched her back convulsively, winding down in intensity.
The foreign men pounded the table in appreciation. The wenches simply replaced non-full pitchers with full ones and continued with their cleaning. But the dance did not end.
The music took on a gentle quality. Gowned in a simple white shrift, young Allanna slowly walked forth. She climbed onto the table. Gwen stood, spread her legs and lifted her skirts. The girl crawled underneath.
Gwen's body moved in mock pain and then the young girl emerged from beneath the curtain of skirt, naked. She had discarded her simple gown.
Allanna's curly chestnut hair waterfalled to the small of her back. Her skin was smooth and without blemish. Her teats were modest. Her hips could have been fuller, but she was very fit. Slowly she arose, Gwen's arms welcoming her. Allanna tenderly took a nipple and sucked on the woman's right breast.
Between sucks, Allanna whispered to Gwen. "I am going to mate with your son, mother."
"So be it. Share his couch. Make many grandchildren. Now drink of my life."
Allanna framed Gwen's head in her hands and kissed her fully, passionately on the lips. Their tongues entwined like serpents. Then Allanna slid down Gwen's front, her destination was obvious.
"That's enough!" Rolf roared. "Damn pagans! What is this?"
"Why husband and lord, it is the dance of life. Performed every solstice."
"Od's blood it is! It ends tonight, now!"
"But you haven't seen the end."
"I don't need to see the end."
"Oh, but you do. You see it ends in death."
Rolf was never so drunk that he failed to recognize a threat. He looked round the room. The musicians waited, patiently. The oldsters stood in clump by the wind room door. The serving wenches and lads were gone. And all the weapons and shields were missing from the walls.
"It's a trap! Alarm! Alarm!"
The drunken warriors looked about for a threat and saw none. "The doors, you fools! Guard the doors!"
The door flew open and winter walked in with the Great Horned One. From across the room he threw his great ash spear and impaled Rolf Outlaw to the back of his oaken throne. The antler point protruded just where the stag's phallus had once been. Morgawse handed him a Saxon boar spear and the slaughter began.
The serving lads and wenches trembled in the larder and well room. The screams and sounds of killing permeated the larder door. The lads made a brave show of brandishing knives and crude clubs but they were not men. Only Rolf's men were permitted in the Great Hall, until now. Then hall went silent.
The knock startled them. "Open the door. It is only I, old Morgawse. It is safe."
The people removed the wedges from the door and opened it cautiously. It was only Morgawse. "Come on young'uns. There's work to be done before the play."
As the young one's entered a mighty sight greeted them. Against the table, beside the corpse of Rolf, the Great White Stag humped a blissful lady Gweneth while the naked maiden, Allanna, bathed the two in caresses and licks. "What's the matter? Haven't you seen a woman mounted by the Horned One before? Get used to it younglings. Your fathers and some mothers may not remember the ancient Ways, but we elders do. And this Solstice you are going to start it all anew."
Lady Gweneth suddenly arched her back and gave a great shout of joy. The old woman smiled with nostalgia. Then the Stag thrust his loins in forcefully and grunted. While the buck savored the moment, the doe-eyed Allanna placed her hands on the table lip and presented herself to the new lord's servicing.
The new lord withdrew from Gweneth. His phallus was huge, dark and dripped with hot semen. The girls gasped with awe at the gigantic member. Without skipping a beat the Stag, shoved his massive cock into Allanna. Gwen, legs limp, folded to the floor.
Allanna first yelped, then sighed, then shouted vulgar words of praise and encouragement to her mate. Little drops of blood fell from her womb and speckled the honey colored oak floor. Gwen was still weak from the onrush of rapture. She simply wrapped herself around the Great One's leg and kissed it.
"Well, enough witnessing. Come on, we've got work to do." The avatar had killed or subdued everyone in the room. Most of the war band was dead. Some few were stunned, dead drunk or too wounded to move. The armed elders and musicians held all the Saxon women and children in the corner.
The children were led into the root cellar and bolted in. The Saxons who could walk were forced to carry the dead out into the snow. When the last corpse or drunk was removed the outer door was bolted and they were left to the wolf pack.
"That skald cannot even scream on key," laughed Fleance.
"Bring two barrels of wine." Ordered the new lord. Allanna and Gweneth were licking his phallus clean, savoring each drop of life-giving seed. The servants rolled two barrels in promptly.
"Upturn them." The butler and his steward obeyed. The Stag disengaged his mates and walked towards the kegs. With his elbow, he smashed in the ends of both. Then he picked up one of his leather sacks, the smallest one. He untied the pouch and showed its contents to all present. It was the male part of the first stag. With the flint knife, he slit the deer's sack, allowing its milky goo to drip into a keg.
Then he let the organ follow, dropping it into the red vintage. He picked up a bronze tankard, poured out its remainder and shouted. "Every man here drinks!" he scooped up a cup and gulped it down between breaths. The he refilled and made way for his kin.
The elder men went first. One by one, to keep and eye on the prisoners. Every youth followed. They dared not disobey. The bloody new King cast a baleful eye on anyone who did not fill his tankard to the brim with the first dip. Most men could not swallow so much at one time, so they drank while the Stag executed his next instruction.
He picked up a larger pouch and set it on the portion of the table directly opposite from the girls and women. He untied the oilskin and revealed a large, raw whole liver. "Eat. A bite will do."
Morgawse's eyes grew wide with greed. She took a step forward. "No! Her." He pointed towards Dorcas.
"Absolutely not." Dorcas was ever the chieftain's daughters, even when held prisoner.
"I don't know what got into you Rory Rolfson, but if you think we are simply going to..." Then Dorcas saw sparks. When she looked up from the floor, Gwen, now standing and strong yelled down at her.
"You heard the King you miserable harridan. Now do it! Eat the liver." She kicked the prostrate girl. Then she grabbed a handful of hair and pulled her closer to the table.
Allanna began to beat, pinch and pull Dorcas in a similar manner. The serving girls joined in the fun.
She was bent over the live in short order. "Eat it!" The people demanded. The girl whimpered and cried. "Eat it!" Dorcas tried to get away with a nibble. "No! A whole bite, you foul sow!" A serving girl spanked her with a handled wooden tray until she gave into the inevitable, bit into the black and swallowed.
"Now cage her in a faggot basket. I will have use for them later."
The big girl screamed and resisted, but the other girls had worked their whole lives and so were too strong for her. "Maybe we'll throw you on the hearth!" The girls teased. The lid was tied on the wicker cages. Then the elixir of the Great Stag's liver hit the female's bloodstream. Dorcas Rolfsdotter fell into a stupor."
Crones, sliced up the remainder into hearty bites. Women, prisoners, people, then crones; you will all partake of the Great Stags liver. Throw the rest into the second barrel and then drink of the mixture."
To avoid the same beating the prisoner wives, daughters, sisters and kin ate the liver the crones offered. They were not so proud and they had eaten liver before, though the Rolfdotter's stupor did not encourage them. All the rest partook and the remains thrown in the second barrel. The wine washed it down.
All the women fell into a sleep, which is not what the men wanted. All the men, from the youths to the oldest, were panting heavily. Hard members tented their clothes. Their feet twisted into the wooded floor as they watched the women's breasts slowly rise and fall with each breath.
"Come. Brothers, bathe. The doe's will awaken soon. You there, save these two barrels and bring in the rest."
The men ran to obey their King. After the wine had been moved, they melted snow and washed themselves. For Rory's body, the caked blood was hard to get off at first. But the trail dirt and sweat wiped up easily enough. His hair was sticky and he wiped that too. Then he redressed himself in his pelt. "You played the Song of Life well, bard. Can you play the Solstice Dance as well?"
"Yes, my liege and may I say you have blessed me with the finest harp strings imaginable."
"You are very worthy. Ah. They awaken. Man your harp."
The women, starting with Gweneth and Allanna began to rise. The younger and more vital women awoke first. The elders awoke last.
The women stretched and looked about for the men. The divisions between captive and guard were forgotten. They were women, plain and simple. They cast for the males with slow smiles. The men began their panting.
"It is so hot in here." One of the girls groaned and all the rest echoed her plaintive cry. Slowly, in full knowledge of what they were doing, they slipped out of their garments. Then they stretched. Everyone one of them smiled, savoring the delicious knowledge of the effect they were having on their big, handsome men.
Already naked the stag advanced. It didn't matter which one he took; they were all his herd. Thanks to his liver, they were all in season. And all the men were in the rut. They scattered. It was Morgawse he grabbed first.
As he mounted her, she was amazed. She had gone trough the change ten years ago, but now her womb was as slick and fresh as a maiden's. The liver had worked its magic. Morgawse thought she was beyond the age where life called her to create, make her a Mother. What a wonderful discovery!
"Ughoooo!" Morgawse thought she would split open. Goddess the stag was huge. In and out he slid inside her. She could feel his hot breath in his ear, feel his hands grab her teats. In and out. In and out. She used an old trick from the days when boys begged her for a roll in the hay. She used her inner muscle to clench down invader of her body.
The Stag laughed in approval. "Ha! I see you have spirit, woman! Good! Use all your skill, tonight is for joy!" He renewed his thrusting and she began to loose control.
Something more was filling her. She threw her body about. She ground her haunch into his loins. She screamed, she yelled and she begged the great Horned God not to stop. She wanted him to fuck her forever. Something like a great flood was building. She desperately didn't want it to stop building and she desperately needed release. In the end, the damned up emotion had to burst open. She remembered howling with joy; the rest is a blur.
All around the Great Hall, naked females allowed themselves to be chase by naked, rampant females. When they finally caught them they humped in any one of a dozen positions. Or they didn't use their loins at all, but just used their faces. The wine flowed. As a demonstration of his prowess, Fleance kept the charmed magic in the air, while he pleasured a doe at the same time. Two more females awaited his attention.
"Women always like Bards." The Great Stag remembered.
He had removed himself from the orgy and sat on the bloody ruined throne. He was letting his people have a good time. There were twice as many does as bucks, but that was fine. As soon as a buck pleasured one doe, he moved on tot another, never minding if another buck had been there first.
The females did not mind that fact that the men were constantly hard and ready to rut. After she exhausted a man, all a woman had to do was present herself to a youth and he serviced her with the energy of his young years.
Two pairs of does pleasured each other in the manner of lovers. One poured wine over the other and licked the juice from her breast. The other two had their mouths locked on each other's sex and kneaded each other's behinds like bread dough. Moans of love emitted therein.
Saxon or People, it mattered not. Now they were simply men and women. It amused the Stag no end how people thought they were anything else. Amused him, that is until Rory intruded with a memory of how much strife it caused.
Hours of intense fucking and midnight was near. The people were winding down. The stag ordered the restocking of the fires, bathing and feeding of themselves and the children in the cellar. Then he approached Dorcas. It was clear that the baskets were not to keep her in, but the others out. During the orgy, she had screamed for a good rutting until her throat grew hoarse.
But whenever a buck approached, the Great Stag warned them off. She knew she was being saved. But for what? Human sacrifice? She did not care. She did not fight it any longer. She was a woman, like these other women, sisters. All the silliness, vanity and pride at being something she was not had left her. It was a like a great weight had been lifted from her spirit.
The Stag's time was ending. He called all his people, new and old near. Even as they listened intently, they reach out and caressed each other's unclothed flesh. "You will always be my People, you newcomers as much as the old.Remember to bring new blood into the herd. This new mortal king is a good man and Rory Rolfson has a plan for dealing with him. Listen to him.
I have left you two barrels of wine, imbued with me essence. Place a tincture of them in each new solstice barrel so you will know life still wanders the wood. Remember that I love you, always."
Then the Horned One draped his pelt over the throne sat down and rested his head. When he looked up again, the people roared, "The King is dead. Long live the king!"
All but an echo of the Great Horned One had left Rory. He had witnessed and taken part in all.
Gweneth spoke up to her son. "What now, my lord?"
"Now we rebuild. This hall is a good refuge. We will be gamekeepers for the King. We will use him to guard the woods.
I will keep the name Rolfson, so as to not breed suspicion. But the Stedding will be renamed to Herntown, to remind us of our real allegiance."
"And me, my lord?" Rory's beautiful half-sister, swayed through the crowd. She held her hand behind her back, showing off her udders. Her hair was red-gold both above and below. Her hips were full but not fat, she was ready. "You know I always thought you were handsome."
Rory's blood grew warm and he felt a stiffening below. He looked down. Dorcas followed his gaze.
"Ohh, my lord." Unabashedly, she wrapped cool fingers around the base of the shaft. Her other hand could have wrapped around it too, with room to spare.
"Apparently no all of the Great Horned One's might has left, my lord."
This was the first time Rory, just Rory, was confronted by the fertility magic. It was his half-sister. He hesitated. The People almost stopped groping each other; the tension was so great.
"Do it, sir," Hissed Morgawse. "Mother, sister, maiden. It is The Way of the Triple Goddess."
"Join with her, my son," whispered Gweneth in his ear. "The people need new blood."
"Fuck her, my love." Spoke Allanna, triumphantly, "No woman can resist my man. If you want her, take her." Rory met her lips in a kiss. Her mouth opened to receive him.
A servant brought out a bed of furs so when the two lovers descended to the ground, it was ready for them. The rest of the people moved towards their own favored partners. The earlier screams and barks now moved into gentle sighs and quiet moans.
Morgawse, Gweneth and Allanna stayed with Rory, caressing the two lovers with hands and tongues. The two young people slithered up and down each other's body. They sucked in each other's body heat.
Rory found Dorcas's lips to be more intoxicating than any wine. Her breast sweeter than a honey and her sex, her sex was a peach, a juicy, sweet, nectary peach.
He lingered to savor the juices. Dorcas ran her fingers through his dark curly hair and her sweet whispers of "Oooh my lord, that feels so good." swiftly rose to a shout of joy, "Oh ya! Ya! Yaaaaaaaaa." He wiped his chin on her thighs.
When he stood, she scratched him against her. "I love you. I love you. I love you. Oh bed me now, please bed me!"
Gently, Rory lowered her onto the bed of fur cloaks. Allanna laid our Dorcas' hair so it spread around her head like an aura. She impatiently spread her legs and Rory slipped in to her soaking wet nether lips. She sighed. He hunched his back so they could kiss with the other set of lips as well. Then he bent his hips forward and back in rapid succession.
As the tension built, she broke the kiss and shouted. "Ya. Ya fill me up. Fuck my cunt. Ah my cunt is burning! Fill me up. Och, you are so big. Aya aya ya Aya!!!" Rory arched his back at the same time, spewing his seed deep inside his half sister.
In the afterglow of the lovemaking, Dorcas thought about how lucky she was, how the Stag had saved her form a bitter, fruitless life. She realized, now, that her sex was not a coin. Rather, it was a gift, to be shared with loved ones and celebrated.
As for Rory, he was satisfied he had found a strong, near fearless woman to lead the People, as well as share is bed. Both now belonged to each other.
Mother, sister, maiden, Rory took them all to his new bed, the chieftain's bed. Each woman and all his children brought something to his household. The bounty of babies in the Fall kept the midwives buys.
The king was well pleased with his new gamekeeper and the village that supported him. The Rolfson clan flourished as the Woods prospered. And every Winter Solstice, a bit of the Old Wine was mixed with the new. And thought he effect was not as dramatic, it was still very, very, magical.