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Oct 22, 2016

Triple Junction excerpt: The Dance of the Dead

Just in time for Halloween, Samhain, or Kala Goañv in the Breton language, an excerpt* from Chapter 6 in book 5, the final book of The Schattenreich, Triple Junction

The meandering trail through gentle hills led us into a bowl-shaped dale. A single-file of forlorn souls marched downwards from the hills opposite us. Hagen called a halt when we reached a jumble of moss-covered boulders to the right of the path.

“Just find a place to sit comfortably. We won’t have long to wait,” Hagen said.

 Heinrich slung his binioú kozh in preparation for playing, and Sebastian sat next to me, taking my hand in his.

“Who are they, Tadig?”

“Those who’ve departed but have not yet found peace.”

“What are they doing here?”

“Celebrating. And remembering. Like us. Look. A few of the Tud join us.” My father pointed behind us, to the path we had just taken.

A line of about a dozen Tud, one of several races of beings who inhabited Ande-dubnos, came our way. These were the tall ones with fair skin and long silvery hair. They stood near a group of boulders to the left of the path. A couple of them nodded to us, and they watched Heinrich expectantly.

Then I saw Ankou. He stood where the path opened out to the grassy dale, where the dead had just passed. He wore his black cloak and wielded his iron-tipped staff, his legs spread. His hair blew behind him, his skin an unearthly white. He waited until the last of the dead passed by. When they were all gathered in the middle of the downs, Ankou rapped his staff on the ground three times.

The dead began to sing. Ankou rapped his staff three more times. Some danced, but mostly they
moved amongst each other in a grim Irish wheel, touching one other as they passed, many of them turning, gazing as if searching for someone or something, the short cropped grasses not even marked by their passing. Hagen gazed in the same way. He tapped Heinrich on the shoulder.

Out in the middle of the dale, Hagen and Heinrich’s mother Isabel glided past the other souls. Her face had none of the life and hope so visible in the pictures Heinrich had shown me in Dinard, but she was beautiful, with a kissed-by-moonlight paleness contrasting her long dark hair and slender form.

Beautiful and dead. So near but so far away.

Heinrich played a few notes on his bagpipe, then stopped to sing to her in Brezhoneg, not a funeral dirge, but a song that sounded both happy and sad. Heinrich’s clear voice conveyed respect and longing.

Isabel glanced once our way and then continued her search. Was she looking for Hagen’s father Theodor? One of the dead men took her hand and led her in a slow dance. She didn’t resist. The others joined them, swaying and turning to Heinrich’s song.

Ankou kept a close watch on his flock. When one of them strayed too far towards us, he would call them back with a commanding voice that touched me in the deep place where my fear of him still lived. But what could he possibly threaten the dead with?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to that question, but as I turned to ask Hagen, Ankou stood before us. He had moved across the dale in less time than it took me to open my mouth to speak, as quick as the dead men who had led us here. I turned my face away, unwilling to meet Ankou’s eyes.

His claim on me had not yet come to pass; he would have to wait. I was here with the man of my heart’s desire tonight and was still very much alive and a part of his life. Ankou bowed and reached out a hand to me. Was he asking me to dance?

I shrank back. Hagen reached me and took my hand in a tight grip. He held out a hand to ward off Ankou’s advance. “Your claim on Katarin is not yet due. What do you seek from the living?” A ring of light glowed a ghostly white on Hagen’s little finger.

Ankou bowed. “A dance to celebrate Kala Goañv and the day of your promising.”

Was tonight's joy to be the cause of hostility? Hagen couldn’t tell me about the unfinished business between them because of a geis. But if all Ankou wanted was a dance, then I could do that. I took my hand from Hagen’s and extended it to Ankou.

A light touch on my shoulder made me turn my head.

“May I have the pleasure of a dance with you, milady?” Brionne, the Tud I met at the Sea of Dreams, the night Heinrich and I made love for the first time, stood next to me. For the evening’s festivities, he wore a burgundy red suit featuring a double-breasted long-tail coat that went well with his platinum hair. Hagen smiled and nodded his head in approval.

Brionne bowed to Ankou and turned back to me. Ankou’s face betrayed no emotion, but a brief smile of acknowledgement appeared.

I gave Brionne my hand. “I’d be honored.”

The other Tud danced with us, their long arms and legs swirling, rising and falling. Ankou swiveled his head to watch us. Their enthusiasm pushed me into a frenzy, just like on Kala Hañv, the Maifest, when I ran with the Tud to honor Eduard’s passing. Here it had none of the urgency of the Wild Hunt I had fled.

I didn’t need to escape Death. Not tonight. Not yet.

Hagen joined Heinrich in his song, his voice higher but in harmony. I’d never heard him sing before. The words poured out evening a rich timbre; although I didn’t understand their meaning, the carefully contained emotion behind them seemed clear. Sebastian added his voice to the chorus, and put his arms across their shoulders. Heinrich ended the song with a few plaintive notes from his Breton bagpipe.

I curtsied low to Brionne and thanked him for the dance before turning again to the dead. The souls in the middle of the downs continued their own songs, voices strengthening and then fading away. Sobs and cries issued forth. They intensified their movements as if working up to a grand finale. At a signal from Ankou, they abruptly turned and began the climb back to where they had come from.

Hagen took a few steps closer to Ankou. They faced off, their words swallowed in a wind that swirled around them, a wind Ankou caused with a flourish of his iron rod, so that none of us were privy to their conversation. Heinrich held me around the waist.

Finished with what they had to say to each other, Druid and Death regarded each other across the short distance between them before Ankou turned and followed his flock, his long hair flowing around him. He turned once more and bowed to me before continuing on his way. Hagen started after him, a momentary sadness lingering in his expression, until Sebastian clasped him by the shoulder.

We began the trek back home.


Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful Kala Goañv

*redacted to minimize spoilers.

Illustration credits:
Spooky Forest, j. s. suley via istock
Pompeii bronze, K.-G. Hinzen
Dancing in the Moonlight, Demoncic via istock
2015 Pumpkin carved by K.-G. Hinzen