Mabon, The Victory of Darkness




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It had been a hot, relentless summer, and all the people of the land were weary. King Goldhelm, whose reign had begun with such promise, was now old and brittle in his ways. He tolerated no violation of his law, however minor. Food and drink were hoarded in his castle, and the people subsisted on rations of bread and water.

Now the air was turning cool, and a great harvest was brought in: sweet apples from the orchard, grapes from the vineyards, luscious ripe vegetables and fruits of all description. The people had toiled all summer, drawn by the promise of harvest time, when there would be feasting, dancing, and wine for all.

But King Goldhelm's men came and took the apples, the grapes, the fruits and vegetables, and put them in locked stores in the castle. Orders were issued that work could not yet stop, but the people must till the fields each day until frost came, must repair fences and buildings, and pave the roads with new stones.

Some people began to say that the king held celebrations in the castle each night, where the finest wines were served and the feasting went from sunset to dawn. In fact, this was not true, as King Goldhelm had become old, and no longer cared for festivities such as these. Rather, his evenings were spent in long, brooding conversations with his counselors about how best to sustain the rule of law and civilization he had brought to the land and its people as a youthful king so long ago. For Goldhelm lived in fear that if he ever dropped his guard, the people would take advantage of his weakness and return to savage, lawless ways.

Now word came to him of the grumblings of his subjects, who were weary and felt the king had deprived them of the rewards of their labor, denying them the blessings of the harvest they had worked so long and hard to bring in. This news stoked the king's fears, and now he saw plots of rebellion everywhere. He had his guards double their watches, and proclaimed all manner of new laws, regulating each small detail of life. A curfew was put in place, a ban was set on public singing and dancing (not that there was much of this happening), and homes and gardens were inspected for signs of disrepair or neglect. The king pored over the reports of his guards with fierce intensity, convinced that each violation pointed to a potential usurper or disturber of the peace.

So it was that the people began to whisper in secret, bringing to life the memory of a different king, who had ruled long before: King Hollyhorn, who wore holly leaves and antlers on his head, and whose halls were open to all and flowed with food and wine. The people began to dream of King Hollyhorn's return, and to say that he still lived in exile in a distant country, waiting for the proper moment to come home and rescue the people of the land from tyranny.

When these stories came to King Goldhelm, he ordered a great wall be built around the land, and the gates leading in be manned with guards, day and night. On the very evening of the day the wall was finished, a stranger appeared at the gate. He had raven hair and bright, wild eyes. The guards on duty ordered him to halt and they questioned him.

The stranger explained that he had brought a special shipment of wine for King Goldhelm, and that it was expected for a great feast the very next night. The guards suspected a trick, and asked the stranger to show them his wares. The stranger obliged, and then lowered his voice and spoke softly to the guards, as though sharing a confidence:

"Gentlemen, I must confide that I fear for my safety. Your king is known far and wide as a person of very particular tastes, and I do not know if this wine is good enough to please him. If you would do me the honor of sampling some before I enter, I can better choose whether to bring this to him, or to turn back now and so avoid his anger."

Now, the stranger's story was very persuasive to the guards. Indeed, they already suspected that King Goldhelm was drinking and feasting in his castle, and his exacting standards were common knowledge. Furthermore, the guards were weary from helping to build the wall, and were despondent at having a long watch ahead of them before they were allowed to go to bed, so the prospect of a taste of wine to refresh them and ease their cares a bit seemed quite welcome. And, after all, were they not doing their duty to the king, by subjecting the stranger and his goods to a thorough inspection?

What happened, of course, was this: the guards became drunk with wine and fell to sleep, and the stranger (who was indeed Hollyhorn), slipped into the kingdom and walked among the people, listening to their tales and smiling knowingly when his own name was mentioned.

The next day, all the king's guards were searching busily for Hollyhorn, but to no avail. The king ordered all his subjects to stop their working and assemble in the great yard in front of the castle. He thought that in this way, the stranger would no longer be able to hide. News had traveled throughout the land about Hollyhorn's return, and when the great throng assembled in the yard, they began to chant Hollyhorn's name. This was against the king's law, of course, but there were too many people for the guards to seize - and, indeed, the guards themselves were chanting too.

Hollyhorn emerged from the crowd into the open space before the castle gates. From high above, King Goldhelm on his balcony shouted "Seize him!" A few guards moved uncertainly toward Hollyhorn. The young man with raven hair raised his hand and spoke in a loud, clear voice like music: "Most excellent King Goldhelm, what courtesy is this? For I too am a king, although perhaps it has been too long since any here have visited my land. Will you not come down, so that we may meet as equals?"

King Goldhelm, although he feared Hollyhorn had come to usurp his throne and kill him, could not ignore such an appeal to proper custom, nor would he dare to appear as a coward before his people. A few moments passed in silence, and then Goldhelm emerged from the castle, wearing a crown of finely wrought gold, his long white beard waving in the cool breeze of the autumn afternoon.

Hollyhorn bowed with a flourish, then spoke: "King Goldhelm, your time has come and gone. The people are tired; your law is a burden on their backs, and soon it will break them. Their work for you is done, let them drink and feast now!" The crowd roared approval, and Goldhelm suddenly felt very much alone.

"Seize him!" Goldhelm shouted to his guards. But Hollyhorn raised his hand and the guards stopped in their tracks.

"If you will not leave willingly, Goldhelm, then we must fight!"

"I will never abandon my people to your barbarity again," the old king shouted. He raised his sword, but his arms were old and weak, and Hollyhorn took the sword from him.

"As you would have it, then," said Hollyhorn, as he killed the old king with his own sword, beneath the setting sun of the first day of autumn.

True to his name, Hollyhorn donned a crown of holly leaves and antlers, and was made king of the land to much rejoicing. He opened the castle doors, and a great feast was set forth. The people ate, drank, and danced through the night, wild and careless, and did not sleep until dawn, thankful that the long summer of heat and toil, and with it Goldhelm's tyranny, had come to an end at last.

Seasons of the God is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2007 Tom Waters