Vi's festival of lights
A hunter’s moon had risen earlier in the evening. Initially a deep orange as it appeared over the horizon, it was now the colour of clotted cream with indistinct patterns on it that could have been celestial landmasses. Moonlight flooded the woods and the autumn trees stood in silhouette, their leafless branches making a lacy tracery against the moon.
Lights of all descriptions had been hung in the trees round the glade. Huge pumpkins that had been hollowed out were placed in a large circle. These ones didn’t have the garish Halloween faces carved in them but lots of round holes in symmetric patterns, which allowed the light to spill out. Gourds, which had been hollowed out too and had patterns pierced in them, hung from branches.
A large trestle table had been set up in the centre. Covered in a white cloth, it was already groaning under the weight of the food that had been piled on it. All the gypsies in the camp had been busy cooking for days in preparation and a sharp spicy smell hung in the air.
In the camp the fires burned brightly casting shadows over the coloured wagons. At Lavengro’s suggestion, one of the gypsy women had gone with Vi to Pandora’s Wardrobe to help her choose something to wear for the evening. It had been a difficult choice and she was just putting the final touches to her costume. She now appeared at the top of the steps of the wagon. She was wearing long heavy silk pants, a long sleeved silk shirt, a jewelled waistcoat and jewelled slippers. A kerchief covered her hair edged with little golden coins and she also wore a large cape, which billowed as she moved.
She came carefully down the steps and immediately four children seemed to appear from nowhere. Each of them carried a lantern. A woman behind them carried a glass pitcher of water, which would be sprinkled in libation before the meal began. Other figures now drifted into the firelight and sounds of laughter filled the air together with a multitude of different accents. The firelight lit their faces and their gaily-coloured costumes for everyone had rummaged to the bottom of their clothes chests to get out their finery for this festival. The air was still and the fires burned with steady flames.
When everyone had assembled Lavengro called for silence and as the last chatter died down his strong voice resounded round the camp “welcome travellers one and all to this festival of lights for Vi”. Loud applause greeted this announcement. “We will proceed to the glade of enlightenment where we will make the blessing and give thanks. The meal will be followed by music and dancing. Michael will now play the proceeding song” and a man standing on his left shouldered his violin and bowed out the first notes. As the last notes faded away the crowd processed towards the glade and in the silence that followed only the night birds could be heard.
There was a gasp of awe from the children as they entered the glade and saw all the lights. They fanned out in a large circle around the table. The woman carrying the glass pitcher walked into the centre of the circle. She poured water first on the ground and then on her hands and threw the water up into the air, droplets spinning out in all directions. “For and with this water we give thanks for our food and for our lives”. Lavengro, taking Vi’s hands in his own and holding them up in the air, added “and for Vi." He clapped his hands and said, “let the feasting begin”.
There were purple figs, with their masses of red seeds gaping through slits in the skins, golden persimmons glowing in the light and fat dark dates. Stews flavoured with wild mushrooms, wild duck eggs, and a hot dry goat stew flavoured with red chillies vied with each other in the aromas they gave off. The Indian gypsies had provided mounds of sweetmeats, wrapped in the fine edible silver foil. There were baked apples with walnuts and cinnamon, desserts of wild damsons and jugs of ruby wine. The crowd fell to with a will and for a while, only the sound of people eating broke the silence that had descended over the glade.
At length, when all the food had been cleared away the crowd moved back to the camp for the music and dancing. As the feast was in Vi’s honour, Lavengro led her in the first dance – a slow, graceful dance involving lots of swirls, which showed off Vi’s costume. After that the dancing and music began to speed up and would get wilder later on. Carpets had been dragged out of the wagons and colourful cushions were piled up so that the non-dancers could sit and watch the fun.
The Enchantress was one of the first to get up and dance and looked stunning in her blue dress from Pandora’s wardrobe. Anita Marie had decided to wear her skin-tight black leather “Avengers” cat suit with black high-heeled boots, which unfortunately hindered her dancing as they stuck in the earth. Gail was wearing a flowing multi-tiered red skirt, a black top, gold hoop earrings and soft black shoes that seemed to be moulded to her feet. Karen was dressed in wood green and had garlands of wild flowers twisted in her hair. Monika, the hermitess, wore a pumpkin coloured gown with necklaces of seeds and Traveller wore a dress of green and purple, echoing the fluorite necklace she wore.
The musicians played their assortment of pipes, drums and stringed instruments until people could dance no more and their voices had grown hoarse from singing. Many hours later when the fires had burned down to embers the last musician wiped his violin and, wrapping it up in a soft cloth, walked slowly back to his wagon. A dog barked once and it, too, lay down to sleep.