An Imbolc Tale


“Now the phoenix burst, as phoenixes will do,” the boy’s Nonna said, “into flame, but our hero didn’t see it.”

“Instead, he was focused on the small well to the East of his Nonna’s yard. When he had climbed down from the tree, determined to look underneath his feet, inside his Nonna’s land, and to connect with what was there, he had stopped worrying about the phoenix. Instead, he had turned his attention to the darkness at the heart of the land, trying to discern what his ancestors had brought across the ocean that gave the trolls a foothold there.

“For many and many a day our hero sat staring deep into the well. Sometimes the sun shone into the well, making sparkling jewels on the surface of the water and our hero tried to discern a message. And sometimes clouds covered the sky and the water was as dull and steel-grey as the trolls’ factories and our hero tried not to shiver too much. And sometimes snow fell from the sky, and settled on a thin skin of ice that sat upon the water, and our hero huddled into himself, wishing that he were back inside, under the covers, drinking hot chocolate, and eating chocolate croissants, and not worried about the trolls. But because he was a hero, every time that he was about to give up, he would remind himself how much he wanted to free his lands from the trolls and that would help him to stay just a bit longer, staring into the well.

“Now a day came when it seemed to the hero that sunrise came a bit earlier than it had been coming. And it seemed to him that the sun warmed him a bit more than had been its wont of late. And it seemed to him that the local fox hunted with a special urgency that almost smelled of kits deep inside a den. And it seemed to him that he could see some movement at the bottom of the well. He blew into his hands to warm them and he watched as the tiny white blossom of a snowdrop opened up at the base of an old maple tree.

“‘Been here long?’ the strong woman asked. Our hero almost jumped, and he did stand, quickly, as he had been always taught to be respectful, and he touched the knitted cap upon his head and answered, ‘Yes, Lady. I’ve been sitting here since Yule, since the shortest night of the year. And I’m not sure what day it is, but I do know that it’s been a long time because the days are starting sooner and the snowdrops are opening.’

“‘What would make a fine young person sit outside from Yule to Imbolc?’ the Lady asked, and our hero noted that she carried a small flame in her hand and that a young lamb suckled at her breast. He felt warmer as she came nearer to him and he could see more snowdrops opening in her footsteps. Her footsteps sounded as if a hammer were striking a musical anvil somewhere far away, maybe deep underground. And each step brought her and her warmth closer and closer to where he stood beside the well.

“‘I want to free my land from the trolls and their factories and evil mimes,’ the hero said. ‘And an old man told me to find the phoenix because she could tell me. And the phoenix told me to look into the heart of the land to find out what my ancestors brought with them to this land that gave the trolls a chance to work their greedy magic. And I’ve been sitting here, looking into this deep well, all Winter, but all that I’ve seen has been sunlight, and clouds, and ice, and snow. And sometimes I wanted to go inside and get warm, and eat, and drink, but I don’t want to leave until I know the answer. Can you help me, Lady? Please?’

“The lady smiled, and said to the hero, ‘You don’t remember me, do you? I was there when you were a day old and had jaundice. I have an interest in newborn children and I was there when they had to prick your heel with a needle to test your blood. Do you remember at all?’

“Wait!” the boy said. “Nonna, that’s just like me. Remember you told me how I had jaundice, which means yellow, and how you were there when they stuck a needle into my heel? And how the nurse from England swaddled me up so it wouldn’t hurt too much? Remember?”

And Nonna said, “Yes, the hero was just like you in that way. And perhaps some others.” And she continued:

“And our hero wasn’t completely sure whether he remembered it of his own doing, or if what he was remembering was from the time that his Nonna had told him about it, but he did, somehow, remember the pinprick in his heel, and a sense of warmth that helped him through that, and, just now, he could feel a tingling in his left foot. ‘Lady,’ he said, ‘I think that I may remember it, a bit, and I am grateful to you. My Nonna told me how happy my mother was to finally bring me home and how my father, who later taught me to hike the mountain, smiled when they put me into my mother’s arms to go home. Because Nonna was there and she saw it all, and somehow, maybe you and my Nonna are mixed up in my memory, as if she would sometimes try very hard to bring your energy into the room, but, well, really, I don’t know . . . . Can you help me to save my land?’

“‘Well, as to that,’ the Lady said, ‘I am She Who Attends All Beginnings and, so, of course, I was here when your ancestors came to this place. And I saw what they brought with them, off of their ships, and I have watched how some good came, and some evil came, and how, as is always the case, there have been Unintended Consequences. There’s a history that is the focus of this month. But what I could tell you wouldn’t help you; you must find out the truth for yourself. And I must know if you are true of heart and can work for your land and not be overtaken by greed. So, look, now, deep into the well and tell me what you see.’

“And the Lady held her flame directly above the well, and our hero looked as deep into the well as he had ever looked, and there, below the surface of the water, pictures began to take shape. Our hero saw flat pictures of ships, ships smaller than the one his hoary ancestor had sailed, ships that slipped between waves, heading ever towards the West. He grew sleepy, watching those ships, and finally, warmed, at last, by the Lady’s flame, he fell asleep, dreaming of ships and lands to the West. And just as he fell all the way asleep, he saw deep into the holds of the ships and cried out in despair, while a jazz riff played softly in his ears.

“And now,” the boy’s Nonna said, “it really is time for sleep.”

“Wait!” the boy said. “What did he see? Did he save his land from the trolls? What happened?”

“That,” Nonna said, “is a tale for a warmer day.” And that was all that she would say.

Picture found here.


3 responses to “An Imbolc Tale

  1. OOooo — lovely! Many thanks for a true-told tale!

    Many thanks for each and every one of your words!

  2. What a wonderful story! How fortunate the young hero to be told it. And to be given chocolate croissants, too. Thanks for sharing this delight with the rest of us.

  3. I shuddered at the look deep into the holds of those ships. Plying the Middle Passage were they?

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