"Marcus, must you?" Cottia groans, pulling the blanket over her head. "Surely it will wait til the morning."
"It must be at midnight," Marcus says, reaching over her to kindle the lamp. In his pallet on the far side of the little roundhouse, Esca mutters something unkind in British and flings his arm over his eyes against the light. "And it will have to be midnight the day after tomorrow, and then two days after that as well." He has explained it once already, but she and Esca will still complain, even though Esca had helped the last two years, when Uncle Aquila's household had kept the ritual.
This is the first time it has been Marcus' responsibility, and he will freely admit to taking it quite seriously. He would not start off this new life they are building with broken traditions and ill omens. And, though he will not let himself dwell on it, it is in the back of his mind that his father, and all his father's men, had no proper rites in the wilds of Caledonia, save what Guern might have done in his own fashion.
He tugs at the corner of the blanket, exposing the top of Cottia's head. She smacks his hand and burrows obstinately underneath her pillow. "Go say your words and throw your beans, then," she mutters. "I am going back to sleep." Esca makes a noise suspiciously like a snort of laughter.
"It would be an ill omen for the woman of the house not to take part," Marcus coaxes. "Come, Cottia, it will take but a few minutes."
Cottia groans and puts the pillow aside, sitting up. Her hair is an unruly mess, and she thrusts it back from her face impatiently.
"Praise be to the Horned One that the ghosts of my and Esca's people do not need this kind of fuss," she grumbles. "Get up, Esca! If I am to be dragged from my bed at midnight to bang on pots, then you must be as well." Cub cracks one eye open as Marcus goes to scrounge through Cottia's storage baskets on the hearth, where he had put the sack of black beans bought specially for the ritual.
"I would swear I left them just here--"
"The black beans?" Cottia asks. "Do you mean that they were not for eating? I put them to soak for tomorrow's pottage." Marcus cannot help the woeful look of disappointment that creeps over his face before he sees her shoulders quaking with badly suppressed mirth. "Oh, Marcus, of course I did not. They are there, by your altar." Esca is wearing a suspiciously blank face and will not meet Marcus' eyes.
Marcus scowls at them both and goes to wash his hands and dedicate the offering, as Cottia pulls down two of her bronze pots from their hooks. "Do you be careful not to dent it!" Marcus hears her mutter under her breath to Esca.
"You remember the words to say?" Marcus asks.
"Of course!" Cottia says. She glances at Esca.
"Manes exite paterni," Esca supplies helpfully. Cottia raises an eyebrow at him, and Esca shrugs. "It is not my festival, do not ask me. That is just what they say."
Marcus decides that now is not the time to try to explain again, or they will never get the ritual finished. He holds a finger to his lips for silence and begins to scatter the beans over his left shoulder, walking round the perimeter of the cramped little roundhouse.
"Haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis," Marcus says, thrice three times, careful to enunciate clearly and precisely. At his signal, Cottia and Esca loose their clamour, the bright noise of the clashing pots ringing over the low, uneven murmur of their incantation. Cub startles awake with a bark, his hackles rising. Thrice three times, and then the silence falls again, although it seems to Marcus that the echoes beat in his ears long after the actual sound has faded. Cub puts his head back down on his paws and goes instantly back to sleep.
Marcus washes his hands once more and says, "There, it is done for now. An auspicious beginning!" He is full of a quiet sense of satisfaction that comes from having carried out his duty to his household, though they had grumbled about it. That is all right. They have their own ways and rites, as he has his, and there are some ways that they are making anew together. There is room enough in this house for all of that.