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The festival

Exert from one of Janiece’s lost diaries describing Deanwood's midsummer festival attended by Karnoss, the forest spirit. Read Strengthening Spirit for more of Karnoss' story and more about the plight of Deanwood in Janience's descendants' time.

Ma and Grandma have been cooking since yesterday evening. Everyone helps with the festival and of course, some people think it’s a perfect opportunity for a little competition. Ma spent ages on the decoration for her spinach tart and Grandma’s made her famous fruit cake again. I helped stir the mixture. I’m sure she’s made enough for the whole village to have at least ten slices each! Holli and I have been getting ready all morning; helping each other with our dresses and hair and makeup. Ma says I shouldn’t put any paint on my face but Holli has some colours from her aunt who lives in the city and says that all the most beautiful women there paint their faces.

When we were finally ready, we walked down to the meadow together. All afternoon there were games and competitions, drinking and feasting. The fires were lit once the sun had disappeared behind the mountains on the far side of the village. By then, Karnoss Forest, which dominates the entire length of the meadow (and for many days’ travel to the north, south and east of Deanwood) was thick with shadows. I kept glancing into the impenetrable gloom beneath the towering canopy.

Karnoss, the forest spirit, always comes to our Midsummer Festival.

I was leaning against the Talking Tree, this incredible, ancient oak tree at the edge of the meadow, taking a break from the music and dancing, when he emerged from the forest. He’s tall and muscular and graceful. His footfalls are silent. He has wild, dark brown hair and the most incredible eyes; a deep mahogany brown ringed with holly green. Some claim that he can change shape, that he can take on the form of an animal. I thought about asking him but didn’t this time. Maybe I will next time but I don’t want him to think I’m rude.

He walked out of the forest and stopped right in front of me. He greeted me by name. He remembered my name! I’d made him a wreath of daisies and cornflowers. I took it off from around my own neck and held it out to him. I thought he would take it from me but he lowered his head and I placed it around his neck. He’s really quite intimidating close up. I hope he didn’t notice how much my hands were shaking. He asked me if I had any honey drops and I handed him the paper bag of them from my pocket. I’d really wanted to eat them. I’d been resisting all week. I knew how much he liked them. He emptied the sweets on to his palm and put the whole lot in his mouth. I couldn’t believe it! But his eyes lit up with joy and I was so glad that I’d saved them for him.

Karnoss’ mouth was too full of sweets to talk but he held out his arm and we walked together back into the thick of the festival. It was such an incredible night. I’ll never forget it. All the music and dancing, the leaping firelight and the laughter. The whole village was celebrating the summer and our very own forest spirit was there with us.

We danced late into the night, the stars bright overhead. It was a magical night, with so much joy and fun. I wish for every summer to be like this. The prosperity of our village comes from our bond with Karnoss. We invite him to our festivals and leave him offerings and pay him due respect. In return, he allows us access to his forest, so we can harvest the valuable malii.

Some people find Karnoss intimidating, frightening. He certainly has an aura of power and he isn’t tied by the same rules and restrictions as us. His eyes, too, are unnerving, as if they can see right into the truth of you. But, at the festival, he acted like any of the young men, drinking and feasting and dancing. When his arms were around me, spinning me through the fires, he felt as real as any man. When he kissed me goodnight, his lips were warm and soft against my cheek.

It was a magical, incredible night I’ll never forget.

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