The Whitsuntide Mummers – a story of May

The mayor’s response was the same as everyone’s.

“A newcomer as May King? Never!”

Kristjan redoubled his efforts. He informed the mayor that it had once been customary for an outsider to take the lead role in the Whitsuntide mummery. It may even have been true. He suggested that the Lord’s new gamekeeper, Juhan, was a fine rider and would make for a wonderful chase – adding that most of those in the village did not yet know how fine…

He watched the mayor’s eyes, and saw the gleam of an epiphany. The man was already working out how much he could make from unsuspecting peasants during the inevitable betting. Kristjan made his offer. In return for spreading the word about how poor a horseman Juhan was, he would take a cut – and to his own role in the proceedings of course.

When the mayor gathered the villagers and informed Juhan that he would play the traditional role, Kristjan saw the joy of acceptance in the man’s big, blue eyes. His broad shoulders relaxed slightly. It was never easy being a newcomer, especially here. Generations might pass before an outsider’s family was considered ‘one of us’.

Juhan looked prouder still as he donned the costume of bark and flowers, and crown of gilt paper. He set off on his horse, pursued by the menfolk, and it was indeed a merry chase. But in the end, Juhan could not escape so many men, who knew the countryside better than he. Smiling broadly, he was returned to the square. Kristjan noted with satisfaction the mayor’s glower.

“Executioner! Executioner!” the crowd cried, and Kristjan stepped forward. “One, two, three, let the king headless be!” he shouted, and swung his axe – his real axe, not the customary wooden prop – which sunk with a wet thud into Juhan’s neck. He had intended to dissemble, to claim a dreadful mistake, but once the act was complete he could not bring himself. As the villagers screamed and stared, Kristjan simply gazed across at Vaike’s eyes, watching in them her horror, loss, and eventually, realisation.

© Matthew Willis, 2013

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