Happy Lammas Eve!
Lammas is one of those old holidays I had no idea existed until I moved to England for a time. I knew about May Day (May 1) and All Saints Day (Nov 1), but Candlemas (Feb 2) and Lammas (Aug 1) were nothing more than vague names that occasionally popped up in the English novels I read, akin to “Michaelmas,” which at one point in my childhood I thought was the British way of saying Christmas.
But no, those four days mark the four quarters of the year in Britain, and Lammas is the Harvest Festival. Its name is most likely derived from “loaf mass,” and traditionally it was marked by bringing bread made from new grains to the church to be consecrated, thus symbolically blessing the harvest.
Last Lammas, we were still in England, and I was still running my Patreon, writing monthly flash fiction, among other things, for my patrons. Since this story was published a year ago, I think I can safely share it here on my blog now, to mark this Lammas. This particular adventure did not actually happen to me, but such is the magic of Cambridge that I was pretty sure it could have, had I cycled down by the river at just the right time.
By E.L. Bates
It was the first of August, and Effie had just cycled past a two-headed dog.
It flashed past her so quickly the oddness hadn’t registered at first. By the time she whipped her head back to look again, the dog and its owner were out of sight.
Probably just two dogs so close together it looked like only one body, she told herself, but a sense of unease remained.
Usually this was the time of year she liked best in Cambridge: it was warm and sunny, the students had all gone home, the tourists weren’t too bad outside of city centre, and everything was peacefully awaiting the start of the new school year.
Today, though, everything seemed off. As she rode along the Cam, she caught glimpses of oddities all along the other side of the river … a boy with goat horns poking through his curly hair sitting cross-legged under a willow, waving cheerfully at her before returning his fingers to the holes in the panpipes held to his lips … a strange, sinuous creature that was surely no fish raising its head briefly out of the water, green riverweed dripping from its sharply-toothed mouth … a girl in a delicate green dress with meadowsweet crowning her leaf-like hair dancing barefoot along the bank … two owls sitting on a single tree branch though it was the middle of the day, watching her solemnly.
Effie applied her brakes abruptly and skidded to a stop. “Okay,” she said under breath. “This has gotten weird.”
She briefly wondered if someone in one of the houseboats that lined the river in this part had been smoking something that had affected her. It didn’t seem likely, but neither did … this.
“Whooo?” asked an owl.
Effie looked up to see it had left its original branch and was sitting on a tree branch above her head.
“Great, now I’m talking to animals,” she muttered, then cleared her throat and spoke more clearly. “I’m Effie. Who are you?”
The owl stared at her unblinkingly. Effie blushed scarlet and hoped no people had been close enough to hear her. Had she really expected an answer? What an idiot.
She glanced around, but thankfully no one was around.
That was strange in and of itself. Where had everyone gone? Granted this wasn’t the touristy part of the river, past Midsummer Common as she was, but still … there were always some people out and about.
But now, no matter how far she looked in any direction, Effie could see no other human but herself.
The sounds of cars from the road had faded, too. No boats came down the river. A swan floated serenely past, but that was the only sign of life.
Effie swallowed. “This is officially creepy.”
“Whoo?” the owl insisted above her head.
Effie glared at it. “I told you, I’m Effie! What else do you want from me?”
“You’ll drive yourself mad trying to get sense out of old Henry,” chimed in a new voice.
Effie spun around to see the goat-horn boy had crossed the river and was now standing behind her. Now he was standing, she saw that his legs were fully human, but a goat’s tail switched behind him to match the horns.
“Not a faun,” she abruptly said aloud. “You’re a satyr.”
He bowed, eyes twinkling merrily. “Well done! Come along, we don’t want to be late.” He waved up at the owl. “It’s all right, Henry, she’s with me.”
He took Effie’s arm and led her down the path before she could think to argue. “That’s all he wanted, to know whose guest you are.”
“Guest for what? Where are we going?”
“The festival, of course. I have to play for it, but don’t worry, no one will expect anything from you. Guest, you see.”
Effie didn’t see, but her new satyr friend was whisking her along at such a rapid pace she couldn’t spare any breath for questions.
At last they stopped at Stourbridge Common, or some version of it.
Wild, mythical creatures of every description filled the green, some coming up out of the river, others fluttering down from the trees, still more pouring in from every side. They had nothing in common with each other, any more than they did with Effie, save that each one carried a small, round, golden-brown loaf in their hands, talons, mouths, or tentacles.
“I’m off,” the satyr said abruptly. “Must tune up for the dancing that follows the blessing. Join the queue there, and I’ll see you later.”
He vanished into the crowd, leaving Effie utterly bewildered.
With no better options, she joined the end of the queue as suggested, right behind a naiad whose gown clung to her body and legs and shimmered when she moved.
“Um,” Effie said. “Sorry, but—what are we doing here?”
“Receiving the blessing on the loaf,” the naiad replied. “Didn’t Myles tell you?
Assuming Myles was her satyr friend, Effie shook her head.
“That numpty,” the naiad said. “Today is Lammas. We bring a loaf baked from the first harvest, it is blessed, and then we celebrate with a feast, music, and dancing.”
“I … don’t have a loaf,” Effie stammered. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around these fantastic beings receiving a blessing, just as though they were villagers going to church.
And yet, why not? Weren’t they all creatures of the same King?
She could see the priest now at the head of the queue, a centaur with a golden horse’s body and flowing beard, and the wisest, deepest eyes she’d ever seen on any living creature, human or otherwise.
“Here,” the naiad said, tearing her loaf in half and handing part over. “You can share in mine.”
Effie took the bread, suddenly deeply, humbly grateful. She had no idea why she’d been chosen to attend this celebration, why she got to experience this magic, but the memory of it would stay with her forever.
“Thank you,” she said.