Excerpt from DARK BIRTHRIGHT – from a chapter called A MAGICAL TIME
October 31, 1635
Louden Wood, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
The stone cottage was drafty. A candle illuminated the room, casting shadows. Keira stood naked in front of the fire. A bowl of water, rosemary and lavender sat on the table. She dipped a wool sponge into the water and ran it down her arm to her fingertips. “As I cleanse this body, I purify this mind so my actions may please the Goddess. So mote it be.” She placed the sponge in the bowl and picked up her robe.
“Gaze into the bowl after the purifying ritual,” Isobel whispered. “Ye may see the future.”
She took the sponge out of the bowl and waited for the ripples to subside. Candlelight danced on the surface, yet she saw it clearly. Nay, it canna be. Keira dressed in a black robe, feeling the soft wool on her skin. She smoothed the sleeves and tied her hair back with a ribbon.
“Ye look beautiful, child.”
Keira hugged herself. “I’m nervous. What will happen if I forget the words?”
Isobel smiled. “Ye won’t forget. Elspeth spoke the words many times.”
“I know. I wish Mother could see me. Sometimes I talk to her, as though she’s next to me.”
“Perhaps she is. We know that love transcends death.”
Keira picked up a black ribbon and tied it around her neck. Her fingers held the sacred charm, a pentacle within a circle. “Great Goddess. I’m not worthy of this.”
“It’s in yer blood, child.”
Keira blushed. “Michael is coming. I must go with him to prepare the sacred space.” She slipped on her brogues and felt the fur lining between her toes. “Alistair and Janet will walk with you. Will you be all right? You could stay with Regan.”
Isobel’s voice quavered. “I wouldn’t miss this for the wisdom of the old ones.”
Keira hugged her tightly. “I love you.”
There was a rap on the door. “Ho!” Michael said. “Are you there?”
Keira drew her breath in sharply. The words would not come out.
Isobel stared. “Come in Michael, she’s ready.”
Michael entered the cottage, in a long black robe that reached the floor. His eyes swept over Keira, from head to toe. “You look like a true priestess, lass. Are ye nervous?”
She clasped her hands to keep them from shaking. “Aye, a bit. Shall we go? I want you to show me one more time.”
He wrapped a cape around her shoulders, and glanced at Isobel. “Will you be all right, Mother?”
Isobel nodded. “Go on, Son. Alistair and Janet will walk with me.”
“Have ye the sacred anointing oil?”
Keira reached into her pocket and felt the bottle. “Aye.”
“Then let’s be on our way.” He opened the door and looked back. “Peace be with ye, Mother.”
They left the cottage. Michael picked up a basket and handed it to Keira. She pulled back the cover and saw a bowl, an apple, a pouch of salt, a flask, and a knife. Keira’s throat tightened. “I forgot. What do we do with the apple?”
Michael smiled. “Don’t worry. I was nervous the first time too.” He grasped her hand and sighed. “Let me tell you how I felt. When we realized that Kale wasn’t coming back, the responsibility fell to me. Oh I’d seen it done a hundred times, and Kale made it look so easy. But the words! We’d lost him, our friend, our leader, our very heart. And here I was this imposter who struggled with words. Everyone looked to me to heal the wound we’d suffered. Would my crude prayers please the Goddess?”
“Oh, dear. That’s how I feel. It comes naturally to ye now. No one would guess that ye struggled.”
“It took time and practice. People were patient, as well as the Goddess. Kale was with me in spirit. If you ask, your mother will stand with ye.”
Keira pressed his hand to her lips. “Thank ye, friend. You’re a dear man.”
Michael picked up a leather pack, slinging it over his shoulder. “The stones await us. Do ye not hear them calling?”
Wood smoke drifted in the night air as they turned south towards the old forest. Keira looked back at the village. Familiar faces emerged from the cottages, bundled in warm clothes and carrying torches.
“Don’t look back,” Michael said. “Think about your sacred duties.”
Keira took a breath and looked forward. They walked through the forest in silence. Wood smoke faded, and the smell of pine needles prevailed. Leaves crunched as they followed an overgrown path. A great owl hooted in the distance. She took his hand. “It feels like a place out of time.”
“Exactly. You’re a quick study, lass.” They passed the tree that bore the mark of a pentacle and followed a hidden trail. The standing stones were just ahead.
They entered the circle of stones and separated. Wind scattered the fallen leaves. His face was serious as he held out his hands.
She felt his energy as he spiraled it through his body and released it through his fingertips. Did he know that she felt it too? “Mother help me,” she whispered. She looked around the circle at her place of sanctuary and placed the basket on a stone bench. The earth beneath her feet vibrated like the wings of a thousand birds. “Great Goddess. I belong here, as my mother before me.” She faced him. The moon was rising, illuminating his face.
Michael smiled. “You feel it too.”
“Aye. I’m not afraid anymore.”
“Excellent. Our friends are gathering outside the circle. We must prepare ourselves.” Michael led her to the stone bench, where they sat on either side of the basket. “Start with me, lass.”
Keira opened the basket and took out the bowl. She added sea salt and filled it with water from the flask. Together, they dipped their hands in the bowl.
Michael prayed. “As rain washes the mountains, as oceans wash the beaches, I cleanse this body with water and salt. May it please the Goddess.”
“So mote it be.” His fingers brushed hers, and she felt the heat rise in her. For a moment, she forgot what came next.
“The oil, lass.”
Keira reached in her pocket and took out a bottle. She opened it, dabbed oil on her forefingers, and drew the sign of the pentacle on his forehead. “How do ye enter this circle, Brother?”
“In perfect love and perfect trust.” His eyes searched her face as he dabbed the oil and drew the sacred sign on her forehead. “How do ye enter this circle, Sister?”
“In perfect love and perfect trust.” Her heart pounded with anticipation.
“They’ve arrived,” he whispered. “You’re my priestess. Anoint them and welcome them in.”
Keira looked behind her. Kevin and Morgaine stood with young Robbie, his arm in a sling. John put wee Angus down and tried to fasten Nessia’s coat around her pregnant belly. Behind them, the McFay children stamped their feet against the cold. She saw the torches of others entering the clearing.
Michael pressed the bottle into her hand and led her outside the circle. “Your flock awaits ye.”
The others had arrived. The Wests, Cummings, Rosses, and Davies stood with their children. Cawley and Florag leaned on each other and Alistair and Janet supported Isobel.
Michael spoke. “Behold your new priestess! Come so that she may anoint ye. You can begin, lass.”
Keira waited as her friends gathered. She anointed Kevin and Morgaine and young Robbie.
Morgaine touched the lad’s shoulder. “My son has something to tell ye.”
Robbie looked up. “Thank ye, priestess, for fixing my arm.”
Keira reached out and tousled his hair. “You’re welcome, lad.”
“I will be calling East,” Kevin said. He led his family into the circle, taking a position to the east.
John and Nessia stood before her, holding young Angus. She anointed them and watched them enter the circle. Torry and George and Aileana grinned as she drew the symbol on their foreheads.
“I’m South,” Torry said. “I’m so nervous. I hope I remember the words.” He grabbed Keira and kissed her cheek. “I can’t believe you’re priestess.”
Aileana slapped him. “Clot head! You’re not supposed to kiss the priestess.”
Michael’s voice was stern. “You’re on sacred ground. Enter the circle, young ones.” He took her arm and led them to the south end.
Keira anointed the families along with their many children. She was gentle with Cawley and Florag, whose wrinkled faces studied her. “Welcome, old ones.”
“I’ll be calling West,” Florag said, in a shaky voice. Cawley took her arm and they shuffled to the western end of the circle.
At last, Alistair and Janet Murray stood before her, supporting a tired Isobel. “Are ye all right, Grandmother?”
“Thank the Goddess I lived to see this day.”
Keira drew the sacred sign on their foreheads.
Janet whispered. “I’ll be calling North. May my actions please the Goddess.” They took the northern position.
The ritual was about to begin. Michael and Keira entered the center. His voice was strong and clear. “Blessed are those who witness this ancient rite. Within these stones, I cast sacred space. We stand in a world between worlds.”
Keira smiled. “What is between the worlds can change the worlds.”
“So mote it be.”
“Friends,” Michael said. “We gather to celebrate the harvest. The year ends, fields lay fallow, and beasts sleep. Hearken, for the darkness of winter comes.”
“It’s a time to honor the wheel of life, the cycle of rebirth,” Keira said. “The Goddess opens the gates of Summerland to departed souls.”
“The veil between worlds is thinnest,” Michael said. “We honor our dead and ancestors by remembering them. Though it is a time of darkness, rejoice! ‘Tis one turn upon the wheel, to be followed by rebirth.”
“May the shining ones join us in the light,” Keira said.
Everyone faced east and held out their hands. “Spirits of the East,” Kevin said. “Element Air. Source of light, wisdom and thought. Winged creatures! Sparrow, eagle, and hawk. Hail and Welcome!”
They faced south. “Spirits of the South!” Torry cried, his voice shaking. “Element Fire. Source of energy, will, and blood. Um… Creatures! Horse and Leaping Salamandar!” He drew a breath. “Um, I forgot. Hail and Welcome!”
They faced west and held out their hands. “Spirits of the West,” Florag said, in a faltering voice. “Element Water. Source of purification, emotions, and love. Creatures of the sea. Fish, Seals, and Mermaids. Hail and Welcome!”
They faced north. “Spirits of the North,” Janet said. “Element Earth. Source of knowledge, speech, and silence. Creatures of nature great and small. Hail and Welcome.”
They turned and faced the center. “Dear Friends,” Michael said. “We welcome Spirit, universal energy. Source of life, death, and rebirth. Creatures Raven and Owl. Hail and Welcome! We thank our ancestors, who built this stone circle with their magic. Ancestors and deceased, stand with us tonight.”
Keira smiled. “As we go around the circle, each can name a soul who has gone before us. Torry, you can start.”
“Me Father, Alan McFay.”
“Mother dearest, Jean McFay,” Aileana said.
“Aunt Beathas,” George said. “Bring us your gooseberry pie.”
And so it went around the circle. “Sean”, “Uncle Hamish”, “Fia”, “Grandmother Bonnie”, “Silly Mary”, “Little Bryan”, “Old John the Tanner”, “Father Brodie” …
Keira reached into her pocket and closed her fingers around a sprig of rosemary. “Father… Mother… Hail and Welcome.” For a moment, the voices of the dead whispered around them. Gooseflesh rose on her arms.
“Call the Goddess, lass.”
She took a breath and held her hands to the sky. “Great Goddess! Mother of all. Help the souls pass into the Summerland. Stir the cauldron of life. Comfort those waiting to be reborn. Grace our circle and witness our rite. Hail and Welcome!”
Michael kneeled and placed his hands on the ground. They joined him. “Children of the stones, we send healing energy to the earth to benefit all people.”
“So mote it be.” They all stood.
Michael took the apple out of the basket and held it up in the moonlight. “Behold, the fruit of death!” He handed it to his priestess.
Keira cut the apple crosswise so the seeds formed a pentacle and showed the sacred symbol. “Which is also life! See how it forms the star of rebirth.” She sliced the apple and placed a piece on Michael’s tongue. “Taste the fruit of rebirth, Brother. Dear friends, share in the miracle of rebirth.” They passed the apple around the circle until each tasted a small piece.
Michael looked up at the full moon. “Friends, the wheel has turned. Return to your homes and light the fires.”
Keira smiled. “We thank the shining ones who joined our circle. Goddess! Our Lady. Be with us always.”
“Ancestors, beloved deceased,” Michael said. “Lend us your strength. Powers of Spirit, Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. We rejoice with you! Hail and Farewell! Friends,” Michael said. “May the circle be open but never unbroken.”
Keira smiled. “May the peace of the Goddess be ever in our hearts.”
“Good night, all.”
Keira breathed a sigh of relief. She’d served as priestess and hadn’t made a mistake. She watched as parents gathered their children and left the circle, flanked by the old ones. The young lass walked to Alistair and Janet, who stood with a tired Isobel. “Oh, Grandmother. You stayed the whole time.”
Isobel hugged her. “I’m so proud of ye.”
“I’ll be home soon. Michael and I must pack up.”
“Take as much time as ye want. He’s yer intended, after all. Alistair will help me light the fire.” She clasped Janet’s hand and left the circle.
At last, it was quiet. Only the sound of the leaves rustling in the trees remained. It was so cold they could see their breath. Michael held her hands, rubbing them to warm them up. He was so close that she felt the brush of his wool robe. She wondered if he could hear her heart beat.
He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. “You did well, lass. I knew ye would.”
He pressed his lips against the hollow of her wrist, and lingered there. “You’re beautiful.”
A fire burned deep inside of her. Great Goddess! Is this happening or am I delirious?
I hope that you enjoyed this excerpt. The story continues in DARK BIRTHRIGHT, book one of the Dark Birthright Saga: