The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day
by Aline deWinter
In my Gothic fantasy, The Roses of the Moon, the thin veneer of Christianity cracks under the pressure of ancient rites of demonic magic practiced by the Countess of Castle Szeppasszony, Orzsebet. In this very early scene, nine year old Marcsa Virag goes with her nurse, Katalin, to the procession of Saint Lucy to pray that the evil secrets of her mother, Countess Orzsebet, be left hidden in the darkness for all of their sakes.
We came out of the gloomy castle into sunshine and snow so bright that I had to pull my large, soft hood low to shade my eyes and keep them from weeping. Katalin pulled her hood up as well, though I knew it was to hide her face. Over the stately tolling of the bells the most beautiful singing swelled, reverberating around the mountains to the heavens above.
We hurried north along the icy lane to the Chapel of the Angels. It was all the way over on the other side of the River Kigyo at the base of the Mountain of the Moon. In ancient times the chapel had been carved out of the living rock. It was faced with a deep portico of stone spires that rose through the air before the cliff like ladders, encrusted over with mystic carvings. Souls of the blessed and damned, devils, angels, and saints floated, bending around the majestic figure of Christ at the Last Judgment. Gothic niches housing statues of angels climbed the sheer face of the cliff above the chapel to a ruin at the top. Lights sparkled at the feet of these angels lit by the monks who climbed a thousand stairs to reach them. A paved courtyard went around this majestic façade and out over a ledge to the edge of the river chasm. A wide bridge spanned the gap to the gate in the northern curtain wall. It was quite splendid to see the horses flying over that broad viaduct during my father’s rituals of war, or the processions of monks coming across in the twilight carrying lighted candles as they wound through the castle on their way to the cathedral in the village.
On Saint Lucy’s Day, the gates on both sides of the river were open to the throng. When we arrived at the bridge, the procession was already making its way around the courtyard. Many of our courtiers stood along the inner walls wearing their best fur hats, long cloaks and jewels that sparkled in the mystic light of the lamps they carried in honor of Saint Lucy. We found a place in the back of the crowd, but I could not resist squeezing through the farthingales and cloaks to get a closer look.
Smoke of frankincense and myrrh poured out of golden censers that were swung by three priests in rich, glittering robes at the head of the stately pageant. Our sublime choir followed the priests. The deep voices of the older men thundered forth mixing with the soaring high tones of the boys’ voices in such celestial harmony that I shivered with emotion. The singers carried a white, flaring candles that cast damp halos around their faces. Frost streamed from their mouths, and their cheeks burned bright red. The dragging hems of their cassocks grew dark with wet snow. Painted icons of the saints and martyrs in golden frames bristling above them on long, golden stems came towards us like an advancing army. The censers swayed, the voices boomed and rose as if moved by the breath of God.
In their midst, altar boys rang musical hand bells to herald the arrival of Saint Lucy. Her holy relics were carried high above the crowd on the shoulders of six stout clerics. As they passed, I saw Saint Lucy sitting on a tall chair inside a litter of golden filigree. Struck by a ray of sunlight, her ivory face gleamed, her hair streamed like a river of gold, but the sockets of her eyes were the empty holes of a mask. The eyes that lay in her golden dish were pale blue sapphires.
I prayed to Saint Lucy to forgive me for seeing wrong things, and asked that all the bad luck I had caused be buried deep in the earth with my doll. I prayed that the magical link to my doll be broken, and that my moon baths have the power to wash all evil away.
Katalin was weeping. I went back to hold her hand, but just before I did, I saw my mother following the procession in a long blue cloak that dragged behind her in the mud and snow. Her ladies came after, watching their steps, carrying their Saint Lucy’s lanterns in one hand and daintily pinching their skirts up above their ankles with the other. My mother’s hooded head was bowed as if she was in deep prayer, fingering her beads like a nun. But I was not sure she really was praying, for she walked in the shadow of the bier and the darkness clung to her like soot. When she passed I did not think she saw me, or if she did, she paid me no mind.