The grass of the glade was cool under their feet after the long dusty path down from the stone circle. They had woken in the black night, lit by the waning moon and climbed the steep slope to where the stones stood silhouetted against the sky. A cool breeze wafted the scent of the heather towards them. They had no words, as they sat huddled together waiting for the dawn.
Theirs was the silence of watchers, unsure of the future and with little experience of the past to guide them. They had come on a whim, a chance desire to do something for the first time. Neither of them had seen the sun rise on midsummer morn before. Sunrises, yes there had been many, but caught after a night of revelry on the way to sleep, rather than woken and anticipated with the dawn.
Although the circle was high on the moor, silver birch trees encircled the stones. Three ancient pines and a stunted oak tree stood over to one side, as if watching too. Their branches shivered in the wind, sighing. How many sunrises had they waited for, the girl wondered - hundreds, thousands, singing their songs of welcome with the wind whether or not others chose to join them in their rite.
Her mate nudged her as the first signs of grey crept across the sky.
"We need to be over there, " he said, pointing to a spot behind the tall stone standing alone outside the circle. "When the sun rises, it will hit the marker stone so that the shadow enters the circle and covers the Goddess stone."
"Not another fertility symbol," the girl groaned and saw her mate grin mischievously.
"Of course! The God enters the Goddess and their issue ensures a plentiful harvest for the earth."
"But I thought we did all that at Beltane," the girl complained.
"We did, " the boy draped a long arm across her shoulder and held her close, "but you can't have too much fertility if the earth is to provide all our needs."
The girl leaned her head against his shoulder, hugging her secret to her. She'd not told him yet that their Beltane loving had been successful. She wasn't sure if he was ready to leave his youth behind and take up the responsibilities of fatherhood. He was a loving soul, but bold and impetuous, seizing each opportunity and wringing it dry with enjoyment. How would he cope with the need to hold and nurture another life, providing a safe environment for them all to grow within?
The sky began to pale and colours crept back into the world. From the paleness of a blue/grey sky, tiny wisps of clouds floated across, tossed by an unseen breeze.
As the light brightened, they scrambled to their feet and stood apart, the time of waiting almost over. It seemed as if they blinked and there was the golden orb spilling across the horizon, it's first rays hitting the marker stone. The shadow grew, stretching along the grass until it touched the Goddess stone. The girl drew in a short, sharp breath as if the God had indeed entered her and sought to fill her soul with the love that he bore for the land.
Too soon, it was over and the sun had risen, the early warmth giving rise to the promise of heat within the day. The girl picked leaves from the oak tree and wove them into the boy's long hair. He whooped and sang, leading the girl in an intricate spiral dance around the stones. Together they celebrated life and love and joy and it seemed as if all the creatures and birds joined in their chorus of praise.
They slept for a while amongst the stones, but the fierce heat of the sun drove them to seek the coolness of the glade below. A stream ran amongst the trees and they could hear the water gushing over the rocks, long before they came to it.
The girl sat down on the bank and dangled her bare feet in the cool water, but the boy seemed troubled. He searched along the stream bed until he came to a place that was deep enough for swimming. Casting off his clothes, he jumped in and swam towards the dark bottom of the pool. The sound of the water filled his ears but as he neared the pebbled floor he began to hear singing and the flashes of reflected sunlight appeared as stars twinkling in the depths. A white shadow shimmered above a circle of smooth stone and as he blinked, it took the form of a beautiful woman, her curves enhanced by the unborn child she carried.
The Lady bad him welcome and he stood before her.
"You know what I seek of you this day?" she asked
The boy grinned, "You have so many moods, I know not which cloud I am supposed to part to see the sunshine, Lady, but I am, as always, at your service." and he swept her a low bow.
The Lady nodded, a slight smile on her lips rewarding him for his impetuousness before her. "Will you seek my cauldron willingly, Angus Og, King of the Oak? Will you renounce your claim upon the earth, give up your youth and your crown to the Holly King, that he may rule for the next half of the Wheel?"
"'Tis your time, Lady," he replied, "you are my Lady, all that I am is yours."
"Aye, all time is my time, all then and now and tomorrow and I seek you to be with me, my son, my lover and my consort that we two may be balanced within the circle.
"As you wish, Lady, " his voice was sober now, ""It will be as it has been since the beginning of time, our dance through the seasons."
"Will you enter the cauldron willingly, of your own volition, to be born again?"
"Always, beloved, and again and again."
The darkness within the pebble circle rippled, like the surface of a boiling cauldron. The lady held out her hand "The only way to me is through the cauldron." he heard her say, "I will be with you through the darkness of the cauldron's waters and back into the light."
The boy stretched out his fingers and as he felt the touch of her hand, he was suddenly dropped into the dark waters. They swirled around him and he had no idea which direction was which and where he should go. After a moment of panic, he relaxed and allowed the water to lead him.
Soon he saw again the light of reflected stars shining behind the lady's head and there was her hand held out to him. He grasped it and felt her draw him out of the cauldron. She set him up by the side of her and greeted him with a kiss.
"Welcome to you, Holly King. Come, take your place at my side, beloved." She offered him honey cake from a golden platter, saying "Eat, that your body be nourished and that you may never hunger," and they shared it until not a crumb remained.
Then she handed him a steaming goblet, "Drink, my love, that your body be warmed and that you may never thirst." and again they shared the mead until the goblet was empty. When they had finished, the Lady took his hand and placed it on her belly. "Feel the fruits of our love and the abundance of the earth. Go now and return to the world as the man that you are, knowing that love sustains all in the fullness of time."
He smiled at her and nodded, kissing her first upon the cheek, then upon her hand and lastly on the soft curves of her womb. Then he sprang up and shot like an arrow to the surface of the pool, droplets of water of water flying off in a crystalline arc from the mane of his hair.
He found the girl asleep in the shade of the trees. Quietly, he lay down beside her, watching the way her eyelashes curled against her cheeks. Her hand rested protectively across her growing stomach and he realised then that it had not been by chance the Goddess had sought him out to make the change from Oak King to Holly King.
The girl's eyes opened and she was surprised by the gentle way he looked at her.
"Come and see what I found," she said, leading him along the trees until they came upon a young holly, hidden behind an ancient crab apple. She pulled down the green branch until he could see the white flower petals bent back to make a globe that would turn green and then red as the year progressed.
"Aren't they beautiful!"
"Yes," the man agreed, "and so are you and so is the world on this Midsummer Day" and the trees echoed his joy as he bent and kissed her.