“You were born on a full moon as the new year turned over.”
Uther had heard this story a thousand times, maybe a million. His mother told it to him a certain way, usually on nights when the full moon shone bright in a clear sky. His grandmother told it another way, usually when Uther had annoyed her – or when Uther’s father had done so, or when Uther’s grandfather or uncles or, sometimes, Uther’s mother had irritated Grandmama.
His father told it to him once a year, on his birthday, with a big sip of the celebratory wine, and he told it a different way.
But this was the Priestess, and her way was different still.
“You were born on the Occluded Moon, the Full Moon we cannot see. The skies were black as you came into the world, child, and the old year winked itself out like a candle at its end, and the new year, like you, were born into darkness. The rains fell hard and nasty that night, ice sticking to everything, and your mother cried as the moon refused, even in its fullness, to look at you. You were born to a dark moon, child, to a dark year, to an ending rather than a beginning.”
It was more like the way Grandmama told the story than the way either parent did, but there was a malice in the Priestess’ voice that even Grandmama could not quite match.
Uther did not speak, because he had not been given leave to, and the Priestess could cast him out of the village with a gesture. He was not, he thought, ready to be cast out, to find his own road.
“The moon is full again tonight. We know this because of the calendar, and because it was nearly full last night. It is full again tonight, and occluded again tonight, and the storm blows heavy tonight.” The Priestess looked him up and down. “The old year is guttering out like a sad candle, child.”
Uther tensed. There was something going on here, although he knew not what, and it worried him.
“The turning of the year will bring nothing but darkness to the coming time, the way this night is going. It will walk in darkness over the threshold, and death and plague will follow it.”
That was no prophecy but common sense; it had been a hard summer, a drought year followed by flooding. Starvation was looming close by.
Still, Uther said nothing. To be cast out was bad enough. To risk being cast out in a storm as midnight approached was to court death. To do so on the Turning of the Year was to court misfortune for the next year if not the next 7 years, and to do so on the turning of one’s birth was misfortune for all those turnings to come.
“You were born under a bad moon, child, to a dark year,” the Priestess repeated. “And we are now seeing a dark time and a bad moon again. The new year will be a dark one – unless.”
The unless was new. Uther looked at the Priestess’ face and waited. None of the stories of his birth had involved the word unless before.
“There are gifts given to those who are born int he darkness, and one of those is that they can, in turn, walk safely in those bad moons. The occluded moon sees over you as its own. And you – you, child, can bring light to the new year.”
The Priestess lifted a lantern from her altar. Uther recognized it; it was lit not with flame but with the light of prayer and hope. Four burned on the altar all year, fueled by their songs on the holy days and their prayers in the quiet time.
“Take this to the tower in the center of town. No other could carry it through this darkness, understand. Even for you, it will not be an easy journey. Carry this light, the way, on a dark moon those years ago, a woman born to a dark moon in turn did for you. Take it to the tower, child, and hang it from the hook there. Light the turning.”
She patted his shoulder as he hesitated. “Those of us born to the darkness must take our blessings where we can. And this blessing – the one that we can give – this is one of the hard ones, of course, as are all of our blessings. But it’s a good one, child. Take it. The dark moon cannot light us tonight, so you must, instead.”
Uther grasped the handle of the lantern with both hands. From temple to the tower was a simple walk of perhaps fifteen minutes in the sun, in clear weather. In the storm of tonight, it might be an hour, or a lifetime.
“To the tower,” he repeated.
“As we all must do, in turn. Parii Daughter-Yoni gives birth tonight. Give her child what I gave you. Give this coming year a little hope.”
Uther bowed to the Priestess. He bowed again to the altar, and again to the moon he could not see through the windows designed to catch the night-time light. He bowed to the storm, and he began to walk.
“You were born on a full moon as the new year turned over,” he told Parii Daughter-Yoni’s unborn child as he walked. “You were born on a dark night, as the storm ate the moonlight. You were born to the darkness of the turning of the year, and in that darkness, the prayers and love of all the village lit your way.”