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Pays de France, c. 974

The little girl's hands wiped themselves on her wool tunic. Clean, they reached up to receive a roasted garlic bulb.

Mature fingers dropped the treat into the child's cupped palms, then brushed black hair out of her eyes before pushing her lightly on her way. Breaking open her bulb and nibbling on a sweet, sharp clove, the girl watched older children pile up brush for the bonfire. It was St. John's Eve, the longest day of the year. When the sun finally went down, the big fire, like the garlic, would scare off the evil spirits that would otherwise gather strength as the nights grew longer. Later, the men would ignite wheels of straw and roll them down the hill from the bonfire, round and bright like the sun. Nights as well as days were warm; food was everywhere; even the sternest adults were in good cheer. This was her favorite holy day all year.

Why evil spirits feared the garlic and fires that she loved, Janette did not wonder. It was how things were — which was to say, how they always had been, and always would be.



End