The Red Bride by Omewenne

THE RED BRIDE by Omewenne

Little Ola was watching her Grandmother walk slowly away into the meadow which lay before The Great Forest; Grandmother who wore her long coarse pale gown, and the waving grain blowing in the cold North Wind. It was late in the day; the sky was darkening. Grandmother looked behind her at Ola so far away, Ola with tears in her eyes. This time her dear Grandmother would not return. Grandmother would simply disappear into the woods, not to go gathering food but to go away forever. Grandmother was the only one who looked after tiny Ola. She had told Ola to stay close to the younger mothers; that maybe one of them would take her in. But Ola had golden hair which meant she was marked for the Wolf Priests. This marred Ola for superstition so other children stayed away from her that is unless they too had golden hair and were little girls. There were only a handful of girls with golden hair. These girls shared curious glances between each other. Ola didn’t know nor did the other little golden haired girls, that they had been marked. The little golden haired girls didn’t know why others avoided them, or what it meant. The marking was a custom but a secret among the adults. Why Grandmother hadn’t told Ola wasn’t clear.

There Grandmother was along with a smattering of other old people. Frail people in fact, all the remaining in the village, now in the meadow, destined for the unknown in The Great Forest. Ola was taught to fear The Great Forest. It was sacred and dark things happened there. The wind was cold so Ola wrapped up in her goatskin to keep herself warm. Her Grandmother had been stripped almost all her garments. Ola could see her grandmother shivering and holding her arms close to her body as she slowly walked without even her stick deep into the meadow. Driving them on were many strong young men who prodded the elders on with great long forked branches while they themselves were dressed warmly in heavy furs of goats and deer, and fur wrapped boots. And so the elders were forced towards The Great Forest. This was the way of the people. There was little to sustain the elderly; no older person wanted to live to be resented for their invalidity. Still the old people looked back at the crowd of younger people watching them from the village with sadness in their eyes, and fear as the older people carried on into the woods. An hour or so must have passed as the light was nearly gone from the sky. When the sky was black, torches appeared in the meadow and drew nearer to the watching villagers. The deed was done, the old driven out. 

Ola ran to her stone dwelling and sobbed uncontrollably. There was now no one to take care of her. No one to gather her food; she would have to do it herself. How was she, alone, to survive? Something in her felt her Grandmother at her side saying,”Don’t be afraid, Ola! You must be brave.” Ola remembered hearing her Grandmother agonizing from time to time in the past,”Oh, I am a coward!” This scared Ola; she would not be a coward; she would be strong and follow the mothers into The Great Forest to gather food in the daylight. Ola would do as she had watched her Grandmother do so many times before, before the time she could not remember, adding the ingredients of her gathering to the cauldron inside the dwelling and making a stew which she could then eat for days in the winter. If she were fortunate perhaps the women would give her goat meat for that is what the people bartered for with the goatherds, the strong young men who had forced out her grandmother. Ola would have to be a big person and do as the big people did. For now she would feel the loss of her beloved Grandmother, pine for her, cry out until she fell asleep on the bed of pelts and dried grasses.

Rain fell for days to come. Ola knew the Great Goddess of the Sky was weeping for the old who had been absorbed into The Great Forest. In some dwelling deep into the woods, Ola thought, lived her Grandmother now. Some day the little girl would go and find her when she was brave enough, and she would bring with her food which she gathered as an act of gratitude. 

On a day of gathering the women villagers drew their children near to them and left their dwellings to go into just the outer rim of The Great Forest for herbs and fungi. Ola ventured as well staying close to one family, mimicking their actions. After awhile the mother of the family, who had dark haired children, hissed at Ola to go away,”You are marked, let us be!”

Little Ola took the few herbs she had gathered along with some water from the stream flowing in a crook in the earth; with the water she filled a dried animal stomach. Ola made her way back to her dwelling alone in the pelting rain, beating in blows against her body in the cold, cold air. She worried she might become sick with the shivers but then thought about her Grandmother’s cowardice and vowed to remain strong.

At the stone dwelling she emptied her collection of herbs into the cauldron and began with her stone striker to set a fire in the little pit in the center of the room. She had never set a fire before but had watched her grandmother-she must be able, her very survival depended on it. She struck and struck, her little fingers beginning to bleed, but finally a flicker, then a flame burst over the bracken and twigs – fire! The cauldron was then very awkwardly lifted and placed (with all the strength in Ola’s little body) atop the fire. All there was to do now was to wait for the cauldron to stew.

So life was for little Ola even when the snows came, when she was sluggish, wanting only to curl up in her bed. The wonder of snow on a child was lost on her.

The day came when one of the goat herders entered her dwelling, scaring her. He said to her,”Come, child! All of the brides must gather for the ritual of the white goats.” She was stripped down to her coarse white under gown by this man.Then the man took a frightened Ola’s arm with great force and so she followed him shyly out towards the center of the village towards the sound of tremendous drumming to where she saw a rather curious thing. Five white goats where suspended upside down from tall wooden poles in a ring where the other golden-haired little girls were brought by other goat herders. All of the villagers surrounded this ring as the golden-haired girls, shivering in the snow, were set beneath each goat.

Suddenly through the crowd came five giant men wearing what Ola guessed were ferocious looking wolf masks made of wicker and fur. These masks covered the men’s entire heads; they seemed also to be dressed in wolf pelts or so Ola thought but didn’t know for certain. These wolf priests terrified the girls to the point where they began to scream. Each of the wolf priests came to stand before each of the little girls and the white goats which bleated endlessly upon seeing the priests. Ola remembered that wolves came from The Great Forest and ate from the wild beasts which roamed there. But why were these tall men dressed as wolves?

Ola summoned up her courage, looking up at the priest but she could not see his eyes through the mask, she asked,”Do you come from The Great Forest? I must find my grandmother who lives there now. Do you know her?” 

The wolf priest looked down at her for some time but said nothing.

Please! I wonder what has become of her!”, Ola cried over the great beating of the drums.

The wolf priest did not respond.

All at once the drums ceased. There was fear in the air. The wolf priests went to their belts and drew out daggers. Ola looked way above her head to the face of the goat, very much alive and hanging over her head. The wolf priest slit the throat of the goat with the dagger. Blood engulfed poor Ola who began to scream. All the little girls screamed. The wolf priests threw off their masks and drank from a potion hung around their necks, gurgling it down. Ola saw that her priest was a swarthy, rough skinned, dark haired man with blood shot, very pale blue eyes and bushy eyebrows which met in the middle. He and the other wolf priests then let out a horrible howling cry to the sky.

The women and men called out now to the little red girls,”Run! Hide! Run into the meadow, to The Great Forest! Run, Red Brides, run!”

Ola and the other Red Brides did just so as fast as their little feet could carry them. The villagers made a path for them to the snow-wafted meadow.

Run, Red Brides, run!”, the villagers continued to cry. Ola did not look back over her shoulder as she made her way for the snow covered meadow where not long ago she watched her Grandmother walk away into. Ola thought she would find her now. Those wolf priests are only men; there is no magic to them! The Great Forest approached as the snowy meadow’s grasses whipped coldly at her little body and the bodies of the other Red Brides. “Keep coming, Ola!’, she heard her Grandmother say,”Come home to me! I am waiting for you!”

Omewenne for Blog

Biography:

Omewenne was adopted from care in Detroit, Michigan into a Catholic Military family and grew up on both coasts of the USA and Japan. Fleeing from her fanatical and controlling, abusive father, at eighteen in 1984 she landed in San Francisco where she shared a friend’s flat. Omewenne reinvented herself and became a kind of subcultural celebrity in the 1980’s and 1990’s on Haight street to start then onto the club scenes in various circles, then as an actress on stage and screen, playwright, singer composer, poet, and short story writer. Record deals and book deals evaded and failed her but she has been captured in photographs and in films including “Never Met Picasso”, “Stroke”, and a pixel portrait by George Kuchar called simply “Omewenne”. Having wrestled with mental illness since a child she became lost in the psychiatric realm. Marrying in 2001 to an Englishman she swapped countries for the Netherlands and began to research her new world. In Cornwall in her cottage in 2009 she had a massive breakdown and fled to Portland, Oregon where she stayed briefly and manged to maintain her poetry and research into ancient texts. It wasn’t until her return to Cornwall that short stories and music returned to her.

~ by Sumiko Saulson on May 31, 2019.

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