Categories > Movies > Wicker Man

The Wicker King

by screamingferret 0 reviews

The crops have failed again.

Category: Wicker Man - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Horror - Published: 2006-04-04 - Updated: 2006-04-05 - 1577 words - Complete

Disclaimer: The characters and the island of Summerisle itself are the creations of Anthony Shaffer and Robin Hardy. I do not pretend to have made any money from this whatsoever.

The author would also like to thank the late Lord Summerisle and the people of his island for their assistance in compiling this strange account.

The Wicker King

"Animals are fine, but their acceptability is limited. A small child is even better, but not nearly as effective as the right kind of adult." -Lord Summerisle.

To the people of Summerisle, conditioned to believe that the gift of the Willing Fool would encourage the gods to bring forth bounty in their shrivelled orchards, the subsequent crop failure felt something like a betrayal. Perhaps that Fool, seated at the feet of his Lord, was able to feel a small spark of vindication at their expense, perhaps not. Nevertheless, the seasons turned and Time continued his inexorable march towards that point when the blossoms once again hung heavy and promising on the bough.

It is near sunset, and only the seagulls and the hares bear witness to that ancient and sacred rite once again played out on their clouded hills. There are no outsiders this time, no one to intervene, and no one to scream blasphemies against the wild gods of this land. After all, the villagers considered, perhaps it was Sergeant Howie's alien faith that was unacceptable to the gods, and thus resulted in the failure of the harvest. Only a son of Summerisle itself could set things right again.

A solemn procession crowns the hilltop for a moment, before wending its stately way into the sacred hollow. The King of Summerisle leads the way, as always. Perhaps if the seagulls and hares were capable of thought and reason, they would have remarked upon some unusual differences in this march, as compared to all those that have taken place in springtimes past. The ritual is not the same as before.

The King of Summerisle is robed in flowing white, and he sits upon a snow- white mare, barely two years old and unmounted by any stallion. She is restless with the unaccustomed weight on her back, and the mighty Oak holds her head and calms her with soothing words. There is no man-horse today; the King and his mount combine the qualities of both. Punch is also conspicuous by his absence. Superstitious village elders now consider his inclusion to be unlucky. Only Macgregor misses his opportunity to chase the girls.

There is no man-beast, no Punch, and no mysterious man-woman, but some elements remain the same. For a brief moment as the procession comes over the horizon, it seems as if the hilltop is crowned with antlers. The animal spirits are very much in attendance today.

Reaching the sacred ground on the rise, the procession comes to a halt. The skirl of bagpipes mingles with the discordant wailing of the gulls upon whose cliff the faithful are stood. The King dismounts. He is tall, and the pony-sized mare seems to be glad to be rid of him. He strokes her long white neck once, in thanks, and steps away. The mare raises her head, ears pricked and nostrils flared. Perhaps she senses the anticipation in the air, perhaps her senses forewarn her, but she cannot act upon them. Oak holds her head as the six swordsmen come closer. The eldest approaches man and horse. The mare reaches out and nuzzles his hand for treats, and he halts by her head. Oak takes that head in his huge hands, and the men's eyes meet over her arched and trembling neck.

It is quickly done. The swordsman holds his blade under the mare's soft throat. With one swift cut and she is loose, blood spraying in bright arcs from her severed jugular, head high in fear, eyes wild, white coat stained red. Her legs suddenly cannot support her weight, her forelegs give way and she is down on her knees on the heather, crimson still gushing from her throat. She cannot breathe, she cannot cry out, and now she collapses on her side, hind legs lashing out in her death throes as her life drains away into the receiving earth. The assembled stand silently by as the light fades from her brown eyes.

The mare's blood has marked this ground, cleaned the policeman's taint from it, and made it sacred again. This sacrifice complete, it is time now for the next, and greatest, of rites.

Had an outside observer witnessed this, the sight of the mare thrashing on her side as her blood stained the ground would no doubt have filled him with horror, had not his attention been seized and forcibly held by the sight of another most silent spectator, that awakens ancient, almost forgotten terrors in the hearts of most.

When Caesar came to Britain, he described the religious customs of the native Celtic peoples in some detail. Perhaps he exaggerated somewhat for the benefit of his fellow Romans, and painted a more gruesome and bloody picture than was strictly true, as scholars believe. But regardless of what the scholars believe, the Wicker Man rises gigantic here on this green hill, full of mute promise and wrath.

The King is dressed in white. No harsh ropes bind his hands, and his dark eyes are faraway, as if he sees things that the others, the lesser folk around him, cannot. The King is a very different creature indeed from the Christian Fool that went before him. The King possesses understanding and acts accordingly, whereas the Fool can merely react. And the King is silent, where the Fool screamed and cursed in fear. The King understands, that is his gift.

The congregation remove their bestial masks. No longer birds, beasts and fish, they are but men. They are farmers, shopkeepers, fishermen and doctors. The women surround the King, touching his robe for luck, kissing his cheek. The sultry Willow smiles, and the smile is returned. Standing over all, the Wicker Man waits.

The gulls are skreeing high in the red-tainted sky, the hare bounds off across the heather. It is time.

The King is not bound, his feet carry him willingly towards the titanic effigy, and he sets one bare foot on the lowest rung of the crude wooden ladder.

There is nobility in giving one's life so that one's people may live. The King understands this, but would the grandsire, with all his Victorian pragmatism have torn down the altars and banished the ministers if he could have foreseen his own posthumous blood sacrifice?

The King climbs the ladder slowly. The fretful wind whips his robe around his legs. It is springtime and the evenings are cold. His hands feel the splinters and knots in the rough wood as he ascends, and stalwart Oak follows. While the folk of Summerisle hold their King in great esteem, they are people of a practical nature and fully realise that even the great Lord Summerisle himself cannot be trusted not to attempt a panicked escape once the flames are licking high.

The sturdy cage door is shut and locked. Oak descends. The King braces his hands against the rough wooden bars and looks towards the west, at the dying sun, the last sunset he will see as a man. His people are below him in a wide semi-circle, men, women and children. In this most sacred rite, not even the youngest are excluded. There are smiles and laughter. A drummer, who beats out the slow rhythm on his deep-voiced drum, joins the lone bagpiper. The King's heartbeat drums too, faster, hammering against his ribs. He tastes fear, sour under his tongue. He looks down upon his people and sees Oak carrying forward a torch, the flame guttering in the brisk breeze. The big man tilts his head back, looking up to catch sight of his lord. Their eyes meet. Even imprisoned, the King's will is strong, and Oak acknowledges his master's superiority with a low bow. Then he casts the torch into the faggots at the base of the Wicker Man's tree-trunk legs.

The fire climbs swiftly, the scent of wood smoke and burning tar fill his nostrils before the smoke begins to choke his lungs and cloud his senses. Below his lofty cage, the bright faces of the faithful are lifted to the magnificent sight of the Wicker Man, ablaze in all its terrible glory.

Over the roaring of the hungry flames, he cannot hear their voices raised in joyful song, and he can no longer see them through the smoke. He knows the words, though, and his lips move silently as his hands clench the wicker bars of his prison.

The sacrificial fire rises higher, beautiful in its rage, and it seizes the heart of the Wicker Man, swallowing him whole. He cries out once, not in rage or pain, but in gladness, then he is gone.

The great wickerwork head slowly sinks onto the burning shoulders, then tears loose and crashes to the blackened and scarred ground. The seagulls shriek, the sun is setting and Sumer Is A-Cumen In. The harvest shall not fail again; they know this to be true. Their King has told them so. But should the Countenance Divine turn its face from this land, what then? For the King of Summerisle, it matters not. He is a seagull now, and he has a lovely time.

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