Here’s something I wrote close to the end of my degree last year and I think it fits the Samhain idea of death and rebirth and hope.
We looked at each other, the bound prisoner and I. Calm grey eyes met terrified blue ones. I winked. Don’t worry. It will all be fine.
It had been the worst year in memory. The drought-ridden summer had shrivelled the grain in the fields. Rivers dried to dust, leaving fish to writhe epileptically as they choked to death on the foetid air. Stream beds cracked into misery. The autumn rains failed to quench the land’s thirst, gathering slightly in puddles and then evaporating, leaving a stinking sludge behind that bred flies and disease, fever stalking in a septic dance from house to house.
Winter though, winter was the destroyer. With no stores from summer set by we were reliant on forage from the woods, soon buried under snow. The deer herds moved south, and we were without meat. Those that the plague had spared in autumn soon fell to a dreadful cough that turned into bloody, choking death. Mothers left their newborns in the forest because they had neither food nor firewood to keep them alive. Brothers killed each other over black and rotten potatoes, and if, after such a fight, a family suddenly had enough meat to keep them fed for a while, nobody said anything.
It will all be fine my wink said, and I wanted desperately to believe it. I wanted – no, needed to believe that the spring would bring a good crop. I needed to know that there would be food. Those frightened eyes found me again, deep in their starved sockets, and I held his gaze. The prisoner was handsome, or he would have been if famine hadn’t tightened his flesh around his bones. Tattoos coiled along previously well-muscled arms and his shrunken chest: A wolf and a bear climbed each bicep to bite at the twin suns on his shoulders while snakes curved around his chest like a pair of fists to challenge each other below his collarbones. Blonde hair was tied back from his face in a braid. There were scars where spear and axe had found him in battles past. He was a fine gift for the Gods, even though his tied hands shook and chapped lips were nervously licked.
I poured all of my ravenous hope into a warm smile for him, my chapped lips splitting and bleeding. My stomach growled at the taste of my own blood. After a long moment, he returned it, all former fear replaced with love. The priest untied him and waved him forward. The crowd parted. The man suddenly had a clear path to freedom, but he went to the altar as though meeting a beloved friend. He would give his gift gladly. He settled himself down on the wooden table, graceful as a cat. He had been cleansed, skin gleaming in the watery sunlight, the hot blood of his predecessors still flowing, nearly black in its redness. The man wasn’t looking at me now. His eyes were fixed on the skies above him as he lifted his chin. He still smiled. The priest’s knife came down, the man’s steaming blood collected in the gold bowl beneath the altar. The eight men that had gone before him, holy now in death, were hanging from the World Tree, blood dripping onto the leaves and feeding the starved earth.
It will all be fine.