Dragonhorse and Seeker of the Forgotten Knowledge
When the student is ready, the teacher will come.
Let me begin by giving a definition of magic. Putting it simply, it is the power of influencing the course of events by using natural, mysterious, or supernatural forces.
Beware to those called to the path of magic for you will be tested beyond your limits. The path to Earthkeeper, shaman, healer, wizard, or witch—whatever you choose to call it—is not an easy path…and is for those true and pure of heart; for possessing such power can be subject to misuse if it falls into the wrong hands. The White Wizard is symbolic of the true and pure heart, so if one shows up in your dreams, he is telling you that you are on the correct path. Heed his words wisely…
From a very small child, I wanted to be a healer and knew there was something special I needed to do. It was a nagging feeling deep within I could not suppress no matter how hard I tried, and still to this day it has not gone away. As I became older, I could no longer ignore the calling and set myself upon the path of healer. I remember someone saying on the first day of my first metaphysical class, “Hold on, you’re in for one heck of a bumpy ride!” Little did I know how profound that statement would be.
But for me, as with most women young and old alike, I had to reclaim my power in order to walk successfully upon this path. What I mean by this is, I had to find my voice and speak my truth no matter how it or whom it affected. I had to jump out of the proverbial “box” and walk to the beat of my own drum. It was time to feed my own soul and not feel guilty about it. Though I tried to leave this path many a time, I soon realized I could not ignore who I was and the path I was to lead.
So the last fifteen years I hungrily absorbed everything I could learn about earth-based religions, herbology, animal communication, crystal and energy healing, and more.
I have always had a special way with horses and have always been an advocate for their humane treatment. After graduating from Reiki Level One, I found my first and greatest teacher in the middle of a pasture dying from cancer. Little did I know what I had signed up for, because he tested me to the end and back…literally! This began my journey into true Shamanism and the tests one will have to endure.
With these tests I rescued two more very sick horses and a wolf dog. In turn they have taught me as much as my heart could stand, with the toughest lesson of all being the lesson of death. Since the horse teaches us of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, a good apprentice must conquer and accept this cycle…as sure as the sun rises, sets, and rises again each new day.
Yet, I must also mention the dragon, a very big symbolic part of the story. Yes, the dragons, such misunderstood beings having gone from our third-dimensional plane many millennia ago only to be found in your dreams and journeying. They are very similar to the horse, more similar than you would have guessed, teaching us about death and resurrection. But importantly, they are the keepers of the Forgotten Knowledge and wait for seekers pure of heart to come and claim this knowledge.
These lessons of reclaiming your power, to life, death, rebirth, and resurrection, are the foundation of this story, which all of us have faced and will face within each lifetime.
And so, hidden within rich symbolism and wrapped in words of fantasy, I have written our journey—the fervent wish of my teachers. We tell this story in hopes of setting you upon the right path—interestingly enough, called Tacho Drom by the Gypsy, who is also a large symbolic part of the story.
So before you venture into these carefully written words, let us, the horse and dragon, the wizard and witch, the Gypsy and Fae, leave you with one important, yet the simplest secret to all true and successful seekers of magic: Reconnect to the realms of nature, learn their Creede, and all else will follow.
Chapter 1 The Initiation
The black horse stomped impatiently. The rider reined him deeper into the woods to watch the girl undetected as he had done for the past two weeks. “Soon, boy—soon,” the rider said, stroking the horse’s large, muscular neck. The sky trembled and the rider looked up at the rolling, black clouds, heavy with moisture. For a few moments more, the rider watched the girl dance beneath the threatening sky, then silently turned and rode away.
The ground beneath her tiny, bare feet vibrated as the Sky Spirits boomed out their thunderous tones, evoking the Wind Spirits to awaken. The Wind Spirits awoke and whirled wildly awakening the Water Spirits, who in turn let loose a sheeting fury of rain upon her olive-skinned, slender frame.
She lifted her head, letting the warm liquid slide across her thin, pink lips into her mouth, tasting the sweetness. Her eyes burned as the rain seeped beneath her thick, black lashes. She rubbed the sting away, recalling the time she had overheard a neighbor telling a friend, “That girl can stop a grown man in his tracks with just one glance of those Gypsy eyes. Beware that one; I think she’s a witch!”
Giggling at such a notion, she grabbed her waist-length, chocolate-black tendrils and lifted them as an offering to the Sky Gods. “Cleanse my locks and quench my thirst,” she chanted, whirling wildly, splashing water up under her rain-soaked skirts.
The storm made her think of her father’s words spoken so long ago: “You were born at the hour of Bavol, the spirit of air, my little Shion Mandalen; you are a true child of the wind!”
She fought back tears remembering the day her father left. She was never told why, and only remembered his face; he looked strained and pale as he kissed her good-bye, then turned and walked out of her life forever.
Her mother had died giving birth to her, so she had been left with a family in a very small village called Westenhill, of the vast country of Findhollen, which was located at the base of the great WynterwyndMountains. She spent many an hour staring up at them. Sometimes she would see shapes of magical beings like dragons form out of the massive clouds that hung above the mountain peaks. How she longed to leave this place and follow those visions.
Westenhill was another village under the guidance of the Church, a powerful organization of men who devised yet another way of becoming rich and powerful, forcing the people away from the Goddess and into their own “Houses of God.”
The Churches feared the women of the Goddess the most; it was said that one out of every twenty-five held the power of the ancient knowledge of healing and magic. These elite women were called witches, an ancient word meaning wise one. And so, the last five hundred years had been spent in bloody battle, killing millions of innocent souls branded as witches, and forcing others to die in their Holy Wars, in the name of their one God.
The indigenous people had been dealt the worst blow, not wanting to conform to the Church’s rule. One group of nomadic people called Gypsies had been prosecuted almost to their very extinction. These people had no choice but to send their wise women into hiding to preserve their culture and beliefs.
Shion’s sad thoughts were gladly interrupted as she heard laughter and the sound of hoofbeats approaching. Smiling, she waved at her friend who rode up on her large brown pony. Shion studied her best friend Kailie: small, blonde, fragile looking, with her usual dark rings beneath blue, thinly lashed eyes.
“It’s a drencher,” yelled Kailie as she slid a little too quickly from the back of her pony.
Shion watched with amusement as Kailie’s feet made a strange sucking sound when they oozed beneath the thick, dark, mud. Little Bob, her horse, not appreciating the situation, evacuated the scene, leaving poor Kailie stranded ankle deep in the mud.
“You are a mud puppy!” said Shion, laughing so loudly her stomach cramped. Once the twinge passed, she grabbed Kailie’s arm to pull her from the gushy, brown-green slop. With a groan and a yank, out she came, only to find her boots still in the mud.
“Rats, help me get my boots!”
Acting quickly, Shion grabbed the hayfork leaning against her barn and fished for the boots.
“Catch,” she said as she lifted each out and flung them through the air to Kailie.
As Kailie struggled with her mud-soaked boots, Shion whistled for her mare. With a whinny in reply, the horse suddenly appeared as if she had come out of thin air.
“How does she do that?” exclaimed Kailie. “She wasn’t anywhere near here a moment ago.”
“She’s magic,” replied Shion as she tried to wring rain out of her long, fiery-red mane.
“Don’t say that word,” whispered Kailie, turning her head to see if anyone had been near enough to hear. “You better not let your guardians hear you talk that way.”
“I don’t care what they think,” she snapped. “I can’t help how I feel, and the strange things that happen to me. I feel like something…” Shion didn’t finish her sentence, and vaulted onto Freia’s wet back and grabbed for mane. She urged her mare into a gallop through the sheeting rain, leaving poor Kailie behind to catch Little Bob.
Shion’s mind raced. Bottled up inside Shion was a strong will crying to be released. She could hear her guardian mother say, “You will bring the magistrate of the Church upon us with your notions about the magical world. The Goddess is dead.”
Her guardian father told her on a daily basis how strange she was, and that he wished he had never let her father leave her with them; the money he left was not worth all the trouble.
She knew she was different than their daughter Mora, who was afraid of life and all that it offered.
Shion longed to be free of them. She was different and it was just fine with her. In her frustration she urged Freia faster, uncaring that the rain stung her face.
She winced as another clap of thunder echoed loudly across the darkened sky. Freia, feeling the excitement, surged forward. Shion leaned back and gathered up the reins in an effort to slow the mare. Freia took a sharp, right turn, sending Shion onto the horse’s neck. Looking to her left and down, she noticed a pile of sharp jagged rocks. Her heart raced and a cry caught in her throat; with all her strength she held on.
“Easy girl, no need to race,” she crooned. Gritting her teeth in determination, she bounced herself from Freia’s neck onto her back, before the spirited horse decided to buck her off.
The mare obeyed, and came to a halt, then turned her head to look at Shion. Shion let out a deep breath of relief, slowing the explosive beat of her heart.
“That was not fun!” Shion scolded in response to Freia’s look. “I could have gotten—” Her words were drowned out by another ear-piercing boom of thunder. A flash of lightning streaked down right in front of her, so bright, all that was left of her vision was a blinding white light. Panic set in; blinking furiously she wiped at her eyes. The words, “I’m blind,” flew out of her mouth. But then her heartbeat slowed in relief as the blinding light faded and objects before her began to return.
“Oh…I feel strange,” she said, clamping her legs around Freia as a tingling sensation washed over her body and a vapory mist floated in the air; she looked down and realized it was coming from her hands. Bewildered, she held them up, staring at the vapory mist as it floated up in long swirling plumes from each finger.
“What is this, what is happening to me?” A sudden break of a twig behind her caught her attention and she turned her neck to look around; nothing was familiar. It was as if she had entered into another realm.
“Where am I? Where is Kailie? What is taking her so—” A sudden jolt took the rest of the words out of her mouth, as Freia took off at a quick trot, moving deeper into the woods.
The dampness of the air swirled around them like wet smoke, giving the woods a dark and mysterious feel. Breathing deeply, she took in the pungent scent of decaying leaves. This was one of her favorite smells. The gentle rustle of the new fallen leaves beneath Freia’s feet mesmerized Shion as they went farther along the path. It wound narrowly through the thickness of the towering trees; she studied each one as they passed, having a strange feeling they were being watched.
Something caught her attention ahead; it was ominous and dark. Moving closer, she saw it was the biggest tree she had ever seen. It was much wider than her straw and earth pounded home, commonly known as a cobby. She tilted her head back. The tree was so tall, it went up and up until it disappeared into the clouds. Smiling, she slid from Freia and went to the tree. She put her arms out and enveloped what she could, pressing her face against the solid, cool dampness of its trunk. She dug her nails into its soft, wet flesh, filling them with the velvety wood.
If only I could be one with this ancient sentry, she thought, trying hard to meld herself with it, wanting to know every secret and all its knowledge. Closing her eyes, she unfocused her mind and listened.
With a start she opened one eye, thinking she heard the tree speak. Yes…there it was again! The voice was a deep rumble, slow and halting as if it hadn’t spoken in hundreds of years. She stepped back a bit with hands on narrow hips, listening intently for another word.
“This is the challenge at the door,” the tree’s voice boomed. “Know you, it is better to leave now than to enter with anger, fear, or doubt within your heart! Knowing this, my child, how do you choose to enter?” The tree made a loud creaking sound as one of its long, thick limbs moved away, revealing an entrance.
Before she could think, the base of the tree began to open like the mouth of a huge cave. Cautiously she peered in.
“It looks like it goes very far down, and it is very, very dark,” she murmured to herself, and took a step back. “Great tree of knowledge and wisdom, I enter with perfect trust and perfect love.” The sureness of her words surprised her. How could she have known this?
“Enter, my child,” groaned the tree.
With a feeling of anticipation, she turned to look at Freia, who gave a nod of her head and a shake of her fiery red and gold mane.
“Wait for me, Freia,” Shion whispered, then stepped into the cave of the ancient tree.
She was met with total blackness. She froze to let her eyes adjust, and then curiosity compelled her forward, and she groped with her hands along the smooth tree walls.
Ahead she saw a blue light illuminating the darkness, and she quickly walked toward it. She entered the light, which opened up to a vast landscape of emerald trees and a crystalline river. Everywhere ancient trees with low sweeping branches swayed to the sound of the most beautiful flute music she had ever heard. Enticed, she walked toward the sound, feeling the softness of the mossy ground beneath her feet.
When a movement caught her eye, she froze. A man in a glistening white robe and matching beard glided toward her. His smile deepened the wrinkles around his deep-set eyes, hinting at the wisdom within, and his pale lips peeked out from beneath the expanse of silvery hair that flowed to his chest. In his right hand, he held a long stick with a shining golden crystal at the top. In his left hand, he held a small wooden flute. There were strange markings carved into the long crystal stick he held, markings she could not read.
A strange familiarity rang in his words as he spoke gently to her, “Welcome, my child, my name is Mergus. I see you have survived your…ah…initiation. Lightning can sometimes do more harm in initiation…than good.” He smiled wryly. “But, alas, it is our way…it weeds out the weak ones.” He stood taller and puffed out his chest. “And I am proud to announce you are not weak!” He paused and winked at her. “You are here because it is now time for you to leave your slumber. Though, I must warn you, the dragon is waiting for you to reclaim…”
“Shion…Shion, wake up, Shion!”
With a moan Shion slowly opened her eyes to see Kailie staring down at her.
“I thought you were dead. You were hit by lightning! Gosh, does it hurt anywhere?”
“Oh, my head aches a little,” she answered, pressing her hand to her temple. “The last thing I remember is not wanting to be tossed on those rocks.” Narrowing her eyes, she turned to Freia. Freia pawed the ground and tossed her head in response. Shion turned her stare to a pretty green and purple plant not far from where they were sitting. Pointing to it, Shion asked, “Please pick some of that for me, but not too much.”
Looking bewildered, Kailie did as she bid and handed the aromatic plant to Shion. Shion rubbed the plant vigorously between her hands until the aroma permeated the moist air around them. She breathed deeply of the little healing flower. Her nostrils flared, filled with the sweet coolness of the plant, and rubbed the plant on her temples and back of her neck.
“What are you doing?” asked the inquisitive Kailie, stepping closer.
“Oh, I’m just using this plant to help clear my head.” The pounding in her head did lessen. “There…I feel a little better now.”
“How did you know this?” questioned Kailie as she sniffed the remaining plant with delight.
“I, ah—I’m not sure…how long was I out?”
“It took me quite a while to get you to wake up. I—”
Cutting Kailie off Shion, yelled, “I remember what happened! I was in a cave, a huge tree cave that talked to me. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. And there was this old, white-bearded man…that’s when you woke me,” she finished, giving Kailie one of her steely stares of annoyance.
“You’re mad!” cried Kailie, taking a step back. “Don’t let anyone hear you talk like that. They will put you away or worse, hang you.”
Shion clammed up. Kailie might be her best friend, but there are some things you just don’t discuss with her.
“You’ve been acting strange lately. You better be careful, or they will be comparing you to that awful witch over in old Izzie’s backwoods.”
“There’s a witch—here?” This she had to see for herself, she thought.
“I know that look in your eye, Shion Mandalen; you better stay away from her if you know what is good for you!”
Chapter 2 The Witch in the Woods
“I shouldn’t be telling you any of this…but she lives by herself in the woods with some sick, unwanted creatures,” informed Kailie. “They say she takes them in to use them in some sort of horrible spell work!” She moved closer to Shion and lowered her voice. “Do you know she levitates at midnight and howls at the moon?” she finished with a shudder.
“Oh, Kailie, people are so quick to judge. I like to meet the people and find out for myself.” Shion jumped on Freia, wondering how she could find this witch. “Race you back home!” she yelled, then clucked to the mare.
“Hey, wait for me! Come on, Little Bob, get out of that razzleberry patch, they give you wind!” She hurriedly pulled him out of the bush and clamored to get on for the race.
Shion’s mind raced as they headed for home. What did that vision mean, and how did I know to use that plant? I just bet if I find the witch, she can tell me of these things.
Getting closer to home, she slowed Freia so that she would cool out.All too soon the cobby came into sight through the heavy wet mist. Kailie and Little Bob had lost the race as usual and rode up, both still panting with exertion.
“I think I will just go straight home, Shion, my bum is pretty wet and a little chafed,” said Kailie, rubbing on her backside.
Shion couldn’t help but giggle at her poor friend, and then replied, “With his short little stride, it’s no wonder. We’ll ride again when your bum is better.” She turned Freia onto the path along the stone fence that held their other horses.
Shion searched the pasture for Pippen, a strawberry-roan mare that had an interesting growth on her left shoulder. Shion smiled as she saw her in front of the barn waiting to be let in for her daily treatment.
“Hi, sweet girl, are you ready for your treatment?” Shion slid from Freia and walked her into the darkened barn. “What a ride we had today and next time, you behave yourself!” she lectured and let her go into her stall, slapping her on the rump as she passed.
At Shion’s feet cats of every color circled, wanting a pat or snuggle. She carefully waded through them. “I’ll tend to you guys later, but first Pippen!” She pushed hard on the heavy planked door leading to the pasture; it swung open, groaning and creaking as if in disagreement. The mist and foggy light swirled in along with Pippen.
“Hi, pretty lady, are you enjoying the rain? Yes, it does keep the flies away.” The strawberry-roan mare stopped and stared at Shion as if to answer. “Go on, sweet girl, you know where your stall is.” The mare ambled in and turned to Shion as she picked up a small container and scooped out a handful of mashed-up plants and greasy lard. The cool weather kept the flies away today, so she didn’t have to pick any out. She walked over to Pippen and rubbed the concoction onto the hard, solid mass on her shoulder.
Shion studied the protrusion, thinking she wasn’t sure if this brew of plants was helping, but she knew the mare enjoyed the love and attention nonetheless. She wished she knew more about the strange magical brews that her father once hinted about. She missed him so desperately and rubbed harder on Pippen, trying to push the sad feelings away. The mare, loving the attention, pushed back. “Oh, you do like that!”
She finished with the mare, grabbed the fork hanging from an overhead beam, and forked a pile of hay for both horses.
Shion climbed the uneven, heavy wooden stepladder to the loft. This was one of her favorite places. She stood for a moment taking in the smell of freshly put-up hay that filled her nostrils with a sweet, grass scent. The cooing of the doves above in the rafters calmed and soothed her. Looking up at them, she saw the huge web a spider had spun some days ago. Shion didn’t like to disturb webs if at all possible and left this one as well.
The rest of the horses left outside stomped and banged on the barn. “Don’t be so impatient,” she said and threw hay down upon them. With snorts and swishing tails, they munched happily.
With a deep sigh, Shion plopped herself down on the hay with her arms under her head and studied the darkened rafters above. She could sit for hours and listen to the munching sound as the horses ate. It calmed her as much as it did them.
Burrowing further in the soft, sweet hay, she let her mind go back to the beginning of the day, and the fall that took her into that dream. She had many dreams, but this one was too clear. It felt like she had just stepped into it, wide awake. She wondered how to get back to that place.
Closing her eyes she tried unsuccessfully to empty her mind of all things, wishing for the dream to return. She lay that way for a while, forcing herself into the vision. Having no luck she gave up. She had stalled long enough. With dread she knew it was time to go into the cobby; reluctantly she trudged down the steps and out the door.
The strong scent of wood smoke filled the air, telling her that her guardian father was home and her guardian mother would be busy making supper.
Stalling another moment she looked up at the brilliant, amber moon as it shined down upon her. “You are beautiful tonight,” Shion whispered. She took a deep breath and entered the cobby. She was hit with the scent of baking bread and stewing meat. “Can I help with anything?” she asked, looking at her guardian mother.
She smiled back at her. “Almost done, you can put the dishes out,” she answered, pushing her stone-colored hair back away from her damp forehead.
Shion went to the shelf that neatly kept their dishes. Nervously she walked over to the table and set them down. Her guardian father sat sipping noisily at his cup of brew. He sat in solemn silence waiting for supper to be served. Mora, their daughter, eyed her suspiciously as she sat the last bowl down. Chubby little Mora, her face spattered with tiny brown freckles, was the do-gooder of the family. Shion ignored her as they all sat and slurped their venison, leek, and rutabaga stew.
No one said a word; words were not allowed during supper. After supper was over, it was up to Shion to clean the bowls and tidy the small working area next to the huge glowing hearth. Mora would gather more firewood from the shed and bring it in for the night.
With a breath of relief, she brushed away a stray strand of her chocolate-black hair; she finished her jobs and quickly disappeared up the stairs to her tiny bedroom. It was a tall loft with hand-hewn flooring. The dampness of the misty night permeated the room. Shion ignored the chill and went to her window to look at the beautiful glow of the full moon shining through. She sat in silence, hoping the rest of the family would soon retire so she could escape to find the witch. She had found out that the witch had been living at Izzie Drummond’s old vacant property, which was not far from theirs.
Drumming her fingers on the window, she waited for the house to grow silent. Mora slept on the other end of the loft, separated by a half wall. She had ears like a cat and would squeal on her in an instant; she would have to escape silently.
Soon the house became still. Patiently, she waited a little while longer, to ensure they all slept soundly. Finally her moment had come. Holding her breath to be as quiet as a mouse, she skirted out the window and down the roof to jump to the earth below. She tiptoed around the cobby and ran to the barn, staying in the shadows. Sure that she was safe, she stopped in the darkness to let out a deep breath of air and heard a familiar nicker from the barn—it was Freia. Shion knew she wanted to go too. They were notorious for their midnight rides.
The darkness was eerily alive with sounds of night birds, crickets, and frogs. They each sang their own song, blending in a melody of a moonlit serenade. Clouds clung to the night sky in shades of black, blue, and purple. Tiny fireflies glittered and blinked like millions of eyes following them as they rode through the woods.
The thoughts in her head were so loud, she thought someone was behind her. What would she do if she found this witch of the forest? What would the witch do if she found her spying? These questions reverberated through her mind as she neared old Izzie’s property. Finding a break in his stone fence, they entered and stopped.
“Now that I am here, where would she be?” Shion whispered to Freia. In answer to her question, the mare jolted forward into a canter making Shion grab for mane.
It wasn’t long before the air of the woods began to change. She couldn’t describe it; it was just a feeling in her gut. The trees seemed to look down upon them as they rode by. Remembering the tree in her dream, she almost expected any one of them to speak.
Farther ahead, the trees seemed to have grown closer together, forming a massive wall of tangled branches. Then they came upon a tiny path that opened in the wall and rode through just as a sudden “Hoo-Hoo” chanted in the night, breaking the silence. Through the thickness of the trees they pushed. Finally, like a tiny beacon in the night, a soft glow ahead guided them closer.
“She changes everything she touches and everything she touches changes,” sang the sweetest singing voice Shion had ever heard. Mesmerized and wanting to hear more, they edged closer. Freia suddenly halted and snorted as they heard a low growl right next to them. Shion could feel her hair bristle at the nape of her neck. She forced her head to turn, and was met with two, enormous aqua-green orbs. She gulped loudly and squeezed her legs as tight as she could, which sent Freia into a forward lunge, knocking Shion with a loud thud to the damp, wet earth. She scrambled up looking for the pair of orbs. Her eyes watered as she tried in vain to see deeper into the night.
Then there it was, large as life standing right in front of her, illuminated in colors of silver and black with those piercing aqua orbs. She tried to suppress her racing heart and calm her breath. Don’t let it know you’re scared, she kept repeating in her head. Then it did something unexpected. The silver-blue tail began to wag back and forth, and a little whine came out of its large, fanged mouth. It stepped forward and licked her hand. Shion winced, expecting it to snap its massive jaws shut, tearing her hand from her arm, but it didn’t happen.
“She sees into your heart, she will not hurt you,” said the soft singing voice from the darkness of the woods. “She knows why you have come, as do I.”
“I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean t-to spy on you,” Shion stammered nervously. “We were in the woods riding and I heard your singing.”
“I am happy you did. Come, we will go to my cobby where you may warm yourself.”
Shion stood up just as a burst of silvery light sliced through the denseness of the woods, illuminating the figure with the tiny voice. She isn’t very big, she thought; she doesn’t look like a witch—well, not what’s been described to me. Searching her face for a wart only revealed a sweet sadness underneath what she thought looked like a faerie face. Yes, she looks like a little wood faerie with her golden halo of curly, waist-length hair framing her tiny, heart-shaped face and impish nose. But what caught her attention the most were her haunting blue eyes, Shion felt if she looked deep enough, they would reveal a deep, dark secret held within.
“Your mare is very sweet, what is her name?” she asked.
“Ah, her name is Freia. She loves to take midnight rides.”
“Well, Freia, I am glad your midnight ride brought you to my door,” said the little lady as she turned and walked toward the cobby, the mare following as if she were tied to her.
The soft, silver head of the wolf stayed at Shion’s hand, bumping it in hopes of getting a scratch behind the ear. They walked in silence. Shion had a thousand questions but could not find a single word to express them.
The sound of a babbling spring caught her attention. It glistened and bubbled like thousands of tiny purple and silver diamonds. Past the spring, a warm amber glow emanated from the tiny cobby, complete with grass roof and pounded-earth chimney puffing small swirls of grey smoke. There was also a matching barn. The baa-baa of a sheep and a clink-clink of a cowbell could be heard from within.
“Will your mare stay here, untethered?” the lady asked.
“Oh yes, she will stay and munch on the grass.”
The lady put her hand lightly on the bridge of Freia’s long nose and whispered. Shion strained to hear the words but could not.
Leaving the mare, they both walked into the tiny cobby. Shion, feeling uneasy, stopped for a split second before entering. But the smells and sights within made her instantly forget her unease. Curiosity got the better of her. Stacked here and there were jars of oils, flowers, powders, rocks, sticks, and even things she couldn’t put a name to. The smell was hard to describe, a most pleasant mixture of sweet flowers, spices, grass, and earth. The fire from the fireplace illuminated the jars of oils in hues of gold, red, yellow, and mossy green. Her questioning words escaped her mouth without thinking: “What do you do with all this stuff?”
The lady giggled. “Well, I use them for a lot of things, but mostly I use them for healing. People bring their sick animals to me…they just leave them in my yard.” She paused, holding an expression as if puzzled as to why.
“My name is Lhayan, and I have been expecting you for quite some time. We have much work to do together, little child of the wind.”
Shion sat in stunned silence. She has been expecting me? What could she want with me? And, she just called me the same thing my father used to call me.
Once again words just slipped out of her mouth: “Are you a witch?” Mortified at what she just asked, her hand flew to cover her mouth.
“Hmm,” Lhayan said, looking up in thought. “I am someone who loves the earth, who believes Mother Earth is a living being—like us. I live in tune with nature and respect all of it. Every living thing has its own reason for being here. I try as hard as I possibly can to never harm another. I want to be a sweet whisper as I tread upon our Mother”—her sweet voice deepened—“when others chose to destroy and take, never thinking about the repercussions or wanting to give back.” Looking squarely at Shion, she asked, “Is that what you think a witch is?”
Shion stared back, the words stuck in her throat. This is not what people have been telling me, she thought angrily. “I pride myself on finding things out for myself,” Shion finally answered.
Seeming pleased with her answer, Lhayan smiled. “So tell me, Shion, what is the biggest question in your head right now?”
Shion did wonder how she knew her name but had bigger questions. “What can you tell me…about me?” she said somewhat sheepishly.
“Come, let’s sit by the fire and warm ourselves before we venture into that realm.” Lhayan pointed to the fireplace, where there were two small wooden chairs. “Come, Luna, sit down next to us,” she beckoned to the wolf.
They both sat. Lhayan pulled her chair to face Shion and gently held both her hands. She sat silent for a short moment, with closed eyes. “Good, yes…you feel out of sorts…you feel different…special—like you have a special purpose with this lifetime. But you do not believe in yourself and your abilities…others make you feel unsure of yourself, and say that which you are is strange and bad.”
Lhayan opened her eyes, holding Shion’s hands ever tighter. “You are special. Do not fear those gifts you have—gifts we all have. You need to learn how to use them, but in good time. One can be overwhelmed with one’s own true path…things only come when the timing is right and only when you are ready and have done the work prior.” She paused again. “You are like others among us, but they all are at different stages in their growth. What must be done with you first is to open your healing channel, so that you may allow healing for yourself. This channel is connected by a tiny golden thread to the Goddess—the place of final destination, where we strive to ascend as masters of infinite knowledge.”
Shion was amazed. Everything she said was exactly how she felt. She was hungry for this knowledge, and soaked it up like a parched sponge, wanting more. The dream she had when she fell off Freia popped into her mind. She needed to know more.
“Lhayan…I had a dream the other day. But it ended too soon. Can you tell me how I can go back to that dream?”
Lhayan shifted in her chair and answered, “You will need to find a sacred place, and a way to quiet your mind from this present world. It is difficult at first, but with practice it can come very easily. Breathing helps you to get to that place where your mind holds the knowledge you seek. Here, let me guide you.”
She pulled from Shion’s grasp and stood up, then walked to a stack of oils. “Start by sitting in your chair as squarely and as comfortably as you can. There are herbs and oils that can help you relax and clear your mind. I will apply them. Some of these herbs are for protection also. You must always set up protection for yourself whenever doing this.” She applied the oils to Shion’s temples. “Are you nervous about proceeding, Shion?”
“No, not at all!” she answered, feeling excited and loving the scent of the herbs.
“We will start. Now, begin by breathing slowly and deeply. As you inhale count to four…then hold your breath for four…and exhale for four. Do this a few times until you begin to feel calm and relaxed. As you are breathing and counting, try to relax all parts of your body, beginning with your feet and ending with your head. Keep your eyes closed and I will lead you into a journey, back to your dream.”
Lhayan sat quiet for a few moments, waiting for Shion to relax. Once she felt she was ready, she began to guide her into a journey.
“You are standing in a meadow; it is warm and calm. There is a path that leads down a hill and through an emerald forest. You walk along this path and down and down until you come to a clearing inthe forest…You leave the cool greenness of the forest and walk to a shimmering, brilliant blue lake to stand upon the warm sand. All around you is a buzzing sound. Looking closer, you notice it is a group of honey bees. You are not afraid, and they begin to fly around you like one continuous rope of black and yellow until you are completely surrounded. They are your connection to the Mother, and they are your protection. Now sit down on the warm moist sand in front of the beautiful, clear, glass lake. This lake is the holder of your inner mirror. Look deeply into her and your inner self will be revealed.”
Lhayan paused again. “Now, think back to your dream…recall it in your mind and allow it to appear in the lake. Let the pictures unfold on the mirror calmness of the water.”
Shion opened her eyes to see Mergus standing before her with staff in hand.
“Mergus, I have come back,” replied Shion, feeling the smile spread across her face.
“Yes, it is good. And you have met Lady Lhayan. She has been expecting you as we have!” The wizard held out his white-cloaked arm for her and together they began a descent down the cave of the tree. It was dark and damp; the sent of the musty, wet earth filled her nose, the ground felt spongy and soft beneath her feet. They walked for some time in silence.
The steepness of the cave began to level out and it started to get warmer. Going around what Shion hoped was the last turn, they came upon a beautiful pool of water, the color of liquid amber. She couldn’t resist the urge to go in.
“Go ahead, child, jump in,” ordered the wizard. “You will be guided on what next to do.” Quickly stripping her clothing, she jumped in and was enveloped in a warm, silky liquid. She glided easily as if she were an otter, amazed at how long she could stay beneath the healing water. She wanted to stay forever in this womb-like pool, warm, safe, and happy.
But she felt a pull to leave; remembering the wizard’s words, she climbed from the pool. The cave suddenly illuminated a slice of silvery blue; she walked toward the color. It was coming from an orb sitting on top of a strange cone-shaped stone. She walked forward and put her hands on both sides of this pulsating, sky-colored orb; instantly tiny rivers of electricity rushed through her body, exploding out the top of her head. In that very moment she felt and saw what she thought was the entire universe opening above her. A complete feeling of oneness, compassion, and love permeated through her. As quick as it came, it was gone. The orb stopped pulsating. Wiping tears of released emotions from her cheeks, she turned to look back at the pool.
This time there was another call, this one stronger. It felt ancient, mysterious, and a little unnerving.
Mergus stood waiting for her as she exited the pool and dressed. “You have experienced a cleansing—a release of thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve you. You must first heal yourself.”
“I saw a veil beyond the pool. Who was behind there? I feel I know them.”
The wizard stepped toward her. “You are correct, but they are not ready to reveal themselves to you…”
Chapter 3 The Stag Runner
“Shion, back to the meadow you return safe and sound; thank the bees for their protection and let them go,” urged Lhayan. “After they have gone, dig your toes deeply into the soft moist earth. See them growing like roots to the very center of earth. You’re feeling very grounded…take a few deep breaths…when you’re ready, open your eyes.”
Slowly she opened them. There were no words to describe how she felt. Such joy and love filled her heart. She stretched her arms up over her head and looked at Lhayan, allowing a big grin to spread across her face.
“By the look on your face, I can tell you had quite a journey.”
“It is beyond words. I only wish you hadn’t taken me out so quickly.”
Pointing to the tiny round window, Lhayan answered, “Look, it is close to sunup and my teatime. Will your family not be worried if you are not home when they rise?”
With a slight feeling of defeat, she knew Lhayan was right. Her guardian father would be furious with her. Not wanting to give him a reason to punish her, she stood up, and flipped her long, black braid to her back. “You are right, but can I come back? I want so very much to learn more. There are things I see—things I feel that I do not understand.”
Lhayan put her finger to her lips, thensmiled sweetly and replied, “Yes, you have much to relearn. Now, be gone with you!” She stopped and studied Shion for a moment as if in deep thought, then said, “I think I will send Luna with you for protection.” Lhayan walked forward and hugged Shion good-bye.
Shion breathed deeply of her flowery scent, like a rose dipped in honey. She wanted to smell like her—to be just like her, and know everything she knew.
Freia was waiting patiently outside. It was at the night’s coolest point, when everyone’s breath streamed out like the silvery mist from an earth dragon.
The ride home seemed much quicker. The sun had just begun to start his daily climb; she welcomed the warmth on her skin like she had just donned a soft blanket.
Her heart sank as she got close to home. She could see a single candle glowing in the window in a hue of sooty-yellow, and the first sputters of wood smoke billowed lazily out of the chimney.
. With a squeeze to Freia, they trotted quickly to the barn. Maybe she could say she had already come out to feed the horses. Her next thought was cut short, when the loud bang of the wooden door opened with a loud bang.
“Just where have you been all night?” he snarled.
Shion stared at his glowering face, afraid to answer. His face, distorted from the glow of the candlelight behind him, made him look all the more intimidating.
“I asked you a question,” he growled loudly, striding toward her and shaking his finger. Before he could reach her, Luna lunged at the threatening man, snarling and snapping. The big man went down with a heavy thud; a surprised yelp escaped his lips as Luna stood on his heaving chest, snapping violently, sending sprays of saliva across his face.
Shion was unsure what to do. Should she call Luna off the man or let her rip out his throat?
The answer came when the wolf stepped off the whimpering man; she gave one last warning growl and trotted over to Shion. She looked at Shion and smiled, exposing her pearly white fangs, and wagged her tail.
The man sheepishly stood without a single word, and carefully backed his way into the cobby.
With the wolf at her side, her fear diminished and she did not suppress the tiny smile that emerged.
She climbed down from Freia and led her into the barn. Thoughts of her sacred space now filled her mind. Where would her sacred space be? It had to be a space where no one would find her. Different ideas came and went. Then she heard a tiny voice whisper, “Spirit Falls.”
“Yes, that’s it, SpiritFalls,” she said aloud to Pippen as the mare chewed on her hay. “No one goes there anymore since the sightings.” It was a place filled with magic and stirrings of ancient memories.
A wet nose pressed in her hand, breaking her thoughts. She knew without even looking down that it was Luna, wagging her silver and black tail. She let out a laugh and said, “Yes, you can come too. But after that, you must go back home—I’m sure you will be expected.”
Luna replied with a low ruff and a toothy grin. Shion took that as a yes.
Freia stopped munching her hay and gave them an anxious nicker.
“Sorry, sweetie, you stay home and eat. You had a long night.”
Freia replied with a loud thwack to the side of her stall.
“I’m sorry—you can go next time, I promise.” She bundled up a pile of hay to add to her already large bundle in hopes of making amends. Happily, the fiery little mare tossed the hay around, searching for the sweetest morsels hidden within.
Scooting quickly to the window, Shion peered out to make sure no one was around. “All clear, come on, Luna,” she beckoned, and jumped out of the window, landing heavily, sliding on the dewy grass.
She knew it would be a little hike to reach SpiritFalls but did not care. They walked silently for some time, just happy to be alone in the natural realm. She knew they were close when she heard rushing water. The smell of damp earth mingled with a hint of fish filled the air. Now running, she pushed her way through the thick tag elder. The flickering leaves showed off their new fall colors in a palette of yellow, gold, and red. The sun warmed the branches, which emanated a heavy, woodsy aroma, likened to the scent of old-barn wood after a rain.
She looked around and wondered if faeries watched her. She had never encountered a “Biti Foki,” which was what her father called them. She imagined they were there along with the dragons.
Soon she came upon an outcropping of rocks and boulders. They were stacked this way and that, looking to her like a jumbled pile of elephants. The bowl shapes in the boulders formed from small tiers of waterfalls, eternally emptying from one to the next, wearing the wrinkled stone smooth. She wondered if they had been rubbed that way by years and years of people like her sliding down them too.
With a squeal of excitement, she ripped off her dull, yellow tunic and dingy brown woolen skirt and ran to the top of the rocks where the waterfalls began. Positioning herself in the smoothly worn center of the elephant rock, she slid with a loud “Woo-hoo” and ended with a mighty splash into the cooling water. She sucked in her breath as the intensity hit her. Shaking it off, she swam to the next waterfall to slide again. She let out another much louder, “Woo-hoo” as she descended into the next pool.
Luna found her own amusement as she chased leopard frogs from riverbank to water. There were so many leaping and jumping, she didn’t know which one to go after. Before long she too was chest deep in the river, lapping up the sweet, cold liquid.
Bruised and scraped but refreshed, Shion climbed from the river and flung herself face first onto a dry, smooth boulder. A long “Aah” escaped her lips as her chilled body absorbed the heat of the stone. She turned herself over to dry and warm her backside, and stared up at the white and blue clouds floating aimlessly overhead.
Luna plopped down next to her, tired of chasing frogs. Warmed and happy, feeling connected to the earth, Shion closed her eyes and steadied her breathing. This was the perfect time to try another journey. Remembering her instructions, she began to breathe in for four counts, holding it for four counts, and letting her breath out for four counts. She did this over and over until she felt relaxed and clear of thought.
Birds began to chatter loudly, pulling her from her concentration. Though annoyed, she murmured quietly, “I hear the birds, now go back to your counting.”
Soon the noisy birds did not seem so noisy. Well…that worked, she thought, and made a mental note to acknowledge the distractions, making it easier to go back to practicing.
Soon she felt more relaxed and a little drowsy; the counting in her head began to shift to soft pictures. She allowed the pictures to form, trying not to force them.
She was back in the tree cave, once again in front of the amber pool. Love and peace filled every ounce of her being. She did not feel alone as dark shapes began to form before her; scanning the darkness, she tried to focus.
“The veil between the worlds has been lifted for you, Shion,” said Mergus, walking out of shadow, his voice commanding but softened by the kind twinkle in his eye. “It is time for you to meet an ancestor. She will guide and protect you as you begin your journey further into this lifetime.”
Noticing a change in the darkness, she watched as a form walked to her from behind the veil of the otherworld. This person resembled her—slight of build, with two long braids of thick, black hair that jingled from the many coins and bells that hung from them. Her eyes were black and almond shaped. Her manner of dress was layers of tattered but colorful silken cloth; the skirt ended above her ankles, barely covering her brown bare feet. She walked to Shion with a warm smile upon her face.
“I am of the people of the phoenix, from a forgotten world called Lemuria. I am part of who you were, and who you now are. I bring you knowledge you will need as you begin your life’s work.” The small girl grinned, then stepped toward her and held out a triangle-shaped, shining crystal and placed it into her hand. “Look for me always in your heart, dreams, and journeys. Once there were many; now there are but a few who would dare continue such a daunting role. Once the knowledge you have gleaned has moved from your head to your heart, it will open the way for other guides and teachers to come.”
Shion held out her hand to stop her as the dark-skinned girl suddenly turned and disappeared behind the veil. She looked at the clear, triangular-shaped crystal in her hand as it vibrated warmly, sending tiny sensations up her arm.
“Come, it is time for you to go back to the opening of the cave,” said Mergus, smiling down and putting his robed arm out to guide her. “You have much work to do.”
“I want to talk with her more.” She held up the crystal. “What is this, and why did she give it to me?” she asked, stomping her foot in frustration.
The wizard chuckled at her childish action. “All will be revealed in time. Do not rush your learning, for the journey is the greatest part.”
Then suddenly the rapid pounding of hooves brought Shion back with a jolt. Feeling dizzy, she scrambled up the slippery, hot rocks, hurriedly gathering her scattered clothing. A curse escaped her lips as she tripped, trying to get her foot into the opening of her skirt. The rider had come upon them so fast, she could only yank up her skirt and hold her tunic in front of her. Luna growled loudly as the horseman approached, giving Shion only a slight sense of protection. She noticed with a frown that the knife kept in her skirt pocket had fallen out and was halfway down the rocks.
Seeing the wolf and half-naked girl, the muscular, black horse came to a sliding halt, his deep, red nostrils flared.
“Steady there, my friend, I do doubt this half-naked waif can harm us,” soothed the young rider. The great horse spun; the raven-haired young man craned his neck around. His crystal-green eyes locked upon Shion. His thick, dark brow came together as he studied her and her wolf.
“Are you not afraid of the ghosties?” the young man asked, a slight grin spreading across his face. The black steed reared, pawing the air. “There, there, Black, ‘tis rude not to stop and chat when you come upon a true and lovely faerie of the woods!”
So, he thinks he is charming, she thought. Sticking her nose up in the air to peer at him sideways, she replied, “I have no reason to fear the spirits at this place. I have been coming here since I was a wee girl.” She could feel the heat in her face rise from the fluttering sensations of attraction. Besides his elfish—yes, that’s the word—elfish good looks, she had never seen a man handle a horse in such a controlling, yet gentle manner. That intrigued her more than his appearance—granted, he did have great appeal sitting so confidently upon his stallion, but it was his horsemanship that made her forget she was half dressed. So lost in her self-banter, she was startled when he spoke to her.
“Well, my lady,” he said, then let out a loud laugh, “I will carry on and leave you to your—endeavors. Might I give you a warning first?” He flashed a toothy smile, his eyes expressing the enjoyment of her manner of undress. “I would cover yourself…you just never know who you might meet in these woods. Not all are as honorable as I.” With that said, he clucked to his black steed and they loudly cantered off. He managed to turn his head to take one last look before he disappeared into the tag alders.
Shion stood silent, watching the rider leave. She didn’t realize her mouth was agape until a fly flew in; she coughed, trying to dislodge the bug from the back of her throat.
Who was he and where did he come from? This chance meeting had intrigued her. A sudden breeze brushed against her bare skin; quickly she pulled her tunic over her head, hoping they would meet again. It was going to be Harvest Home soon. She wondered if he had come for the festival.
Chapter 4 The Attunement
A week had passed since Shion was at SpiritFalls. Her guardians kept her busy with plenty of chores preparing for winter. All the while she wondered about the horseman with the raven hair and enticing crystal-green eyes. She found out he was a stag runner—a huntsman hired by the landlord for the festival at the end of the week.
But Lhayan had been in her thoughts too. So that evening after her guardians left for their outing to Piney’s Pub she and Freia snuck away.
It didn’t take long to reach Lhayan’s golden, glowing cobby tonight. When they arrived, Luna bounded from the front door, eager to meet them.
Shion slid from Freia. “How are you, Luna? It’s been a couple days, hasn’t it?”
Luna answered with her usual smile, flashing her pearl fangs.
Lhayan rushed out of the cobby too. Her impish face glowed with a welcoming smile.
“My dear, what a grand night for you to appear,” the woman said excitedly. “I have someone else here who seeks my knowledge also. Come in and take a place by the warming fire,” she ordered, putting her arm around Shion.
They walked into the cobby; the familiar scent of spicy flowers, sage, and oils filled her nostrils. The fire and many lit candles illuminated the area with an inviting amber aura, making the space feel sacred and mystical. Shion scanned the room for Lhayan’s other guest, wondering who else who be seeking knowledge. Her stomach dropped as she saw him sitting next to the fire wearing a broad smile. Her heart pounded; he did look very handsome next to the fire, she thought. Quickly she pushed the thought away, irritated by her attraction. She did have to admit there was something about him; it gnawed at her like an old hangnail—it was to annoying to leave and too painful to take out. What could he possibly want with Lhayan?
Lhayan began her introductions, rescuing Shion from her internal warfare. “Shion, this is Ryven Blackmore.”
Still smiling, the young man stood and motioned to the chair next to him. “We have already meet, except names were not exchanged. Please do sit, I’m almost finished here,” he said and turned back to Lhayan, but not before he gave Shion one last intense stare.
Shion likened the look to an eagle sizing up a tiny mouse, making her all the more weary of him but intrigued at the same time; she pinched her thigh hard to get rid of the latter thought.
Holding out a pouch to him, Lhayan said, “It is all ready for you.”
Ryven moved toward her, bent to her ear, and whispered something, then turned with a smile and a swish of his long black cape and sauntered out the door.
“So you have met,” said Lhayan, giving her a wink. “How interesting.”
“I was practicing my journeying at SpiritFalls when he came and interrupted me,” said an exasperated Shion. “He seemed afraid of the Spirits, called them ghosties, and rode off as hurriedly as he arrived.”
“He came tonight for a magic bag, for Harvest Home—he is the hired stag runner. The bag I gave him is a ceremonial offering to the great stag of the forest, who will surrender his life for the celebration.”
“Oh, so you are reason for his success.” Shion shifted in her small chair, feeling elated at this news, then wondering why she would feel this way. Maybe it was knowing she might get a glimpse of him when he brought his harvest to the festival.
“Well, partly so.” Changing the subject, Lhayan patted Shion’s knee. “Now, tell me, how is your journeying—have you received any more information? Tell me all,” she said, flipping her silken halo of hair behind her, sending the scent of roses through the air.
Shion settled herself in the chair, wishing she could get her hair to smell that way, and began her encounter, “I was able to get back to the tree cave…I talked with one of my ancestors.”
“Ah, ‘tis good,” said Lhayan, leaning closer to hear more.
“Yes, she told me I would meet other ancestors in time, when my heart feels what my head already knows. What did she mean by that?”
“I’m afraid this is something you will find out for yourself. I assure you, in time—it will happen.”
“Hmm, I suppose, but one thing she did tell me—I am a natural-born witch. How can I be a witch, when it is a death sentence?”
“Tacho Drom,” whispered Lhayan.
“What was that?” asked Shion, leaning in closer to Lhayan, thinking she had heard those words before from her father.
“Oh, something I heard many years ago. Please go on…tell me more.”
“That is it…that is when that—that Ryven Blackmore interrupted!” she finished, throwing her arms in the air.
Smiling, Lhayan walked over to a small table and rummaged through her various herbs and candles. Humming, she picked up a twisted bunch of leaves and lit them with her candle, then waved it about the room. The smoke billowed from the grayish leaves with the strong scent of damp earth and wood.
“We must begin your training, little witch…tonight!” Lhayan exclaimed as she waved the burning bundle around Shion. “If you are a true witch, the fear of death will become second to your desire to live as who you truly are.”
Shion sighed as the smoke enveloped her; a strange sensation began to grow within her stomach.
“The strange sensation you are feeling is the sage doing its magic. This special herb has been used since ancient times by many different tribes of people. It cleanses the body of harmful energies. It can also cleanse sacred spaces, sacred objects and dwellings. The smoke carries those energies up and away from that person to be transmuted into something that can be used by our Earth Mother for good. We do this always before any ceremonial rite.”
Lhayan set the herbs in a small pot and let them continue to burn and turned to Shion. “We can now do your first rite of passage as witch and healer here. You are already a natural healer, Shion. Some of us are called to do other things but you have been called to heal. The time has come to begin your journey toward the woman of wisdom and knowing.”
Lhayan sat down and was silent for a moment, then began again. “We are in a time of great trial. Many people have turned away from the Goddess and our Earth Mother. They have chosen instead to become like parasites, always taking and never giving back. These people also persecute and murder the tribes who still honor and live their daily lives harmoniously with the Earth Mother. Those people have forgotten she is alive and that she has the power to shed those from her who keep doing her harm. The way of the witch is for those who follow this ancient earth tradition of living with her, and not just upon her.”
Shion sat quietly trying to absorb her words.
“It is time, Shion, to open the doorway to your path as healer. I will perform what we call an attunement. This attunement will open your channel. This channel will bring the healing energies from the Mother Earth and the Goddess. You have already been able to channel this energy in small amounts, and after this channel is fully open, you will be able to access a stronger flow. Once this flow has been established, it will be there for you always. But first, I must take you on a journey where you will meet some of your healing guides. You may converse with them as I am attuning you. I will begin at your head, then move in front of you. I will be working with the palms of your hands, inscribing sacred symbols into them. When I have completed your attunement, I will lead you back out of the journey.”
Studying Shion’s face Lhayan finished with, “Any questions?”
The excitement and wonder of it all kept Shion from forming conscious words. All she could do was shake her head no.
“Then we shall begin,” whispered Lhayan.
“Now, take a few deep breaths…know that you are completely safe…begin to relax your body, starting from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.” Lhayan paused, watching Shion relax.
“You are standing in a beautiful green meadow; the birds are singing their welcome to you. The warm breezes caress your face, and the sun shines brightly upon you, giving you his strength. It is time to take a short walk…A path opens up and you follow it. Ahead you see a huge stone and a marble castle begins to form…It is intricately carved with precious stones of every color of the rainbow embedded into the walls. It is beautiful and inviting. You see a very large staircase and you are drawn to take it. With each step you go higher and higher. You are so high, you can reach out and touch the misty clouds. Then you see a large golden door and are drawn to it; you clutch the handle and push the door open. You step inside to see a very long hallway of marble and stone. The hallway has many doors. These doors are all closed; you must walk to one of the doors and go inside…Let the doorway call to you. You may feel each door before you decide. Once you have chosen your door, turn the handle and go inside. Waiting will be your healing guides. Go to them and prepare for your attunement.”
Shion studied all the doors, but only one called to her; it was tall, slender, and rounded at the top. It was brightly painted in colors of blue, green, gold, and yellow, and was carved with a very large beautiful red bird. Was it a phoenix, she thought? Its neck was long and slender, and it looked to be calling out to something. There was a nest beneath it, charred and black as if it had burned. She reached for the door handle and turned; the door easily opened. She bent slightly to peer inside; she heard a gasp and realized it had come from her own mouth.
Moving inside, the intensity of the blue waters from the lake caused her eyes to water. Around the lake stood beautiful, emerald trees. They were gnarled and ancient with long slender branches that gracefully flowed down to the lake to tickle the water. The ground was a blanket of soft velvety moss; flowers of every kind sprang up in front of her as she walked. Beautiful pink and yellow flowers emerged from the water as she walked by. The smell was sweetly intoxicating, nothing like she had ever smelled before. Nestled in the trunk of one of the trees looked to be a chair carved within. She walked over and sat in the chair. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye she saw movement. It was large and black as coal. She bent forward, trying to peer through the trees at a rock out-cropping. It jumped from the rock cropping to land right in front of her. It was the most beautiful black wolf she had ever seen. Her eyes were the color of the morning sky after a fresh snowfall. Then the eyes seemed to get bigger and bigger, moving farther and farther away. Suddenly the day sky transformed into a midnight sky and the wolf became part of it, camouflaged by the stars as they twinkled and glittered.
As Shion studied the wolf, she sensed Lhayan working around her. A tingling sensation shot through her whole being as Lhayan held her hand, pressing into it, and she felt a warm breath on her face as Lhayan blew onto her. She did this several times, and with each time, Shion saw streaks of silvery light flash before her mind’s eye.
Then she heard Lhayan’s tender voice calling her back.
“Shion, it is time to say farewell and thank you to your healing guide. When you have done that, walk out of the room, closing the door behind you. Walk down the hallway and out of the large door and down the stairway to the path that leads back to the meadow. Once you are back to the meadow, let your feet dig deeply into the coolness of the earth, our great Mother. Let your toes dig down and down like tree roots to the very center of her being…When you are ready, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes.”
Shion lay still, breathing in deeply of what felt like the cool dampness of the night air. Her feet dug into the ground feeling the damp, moist earth between her toes. Something felt strange to her. Opening one eye, then another, she saw Lhayan peering back at her.
“Welcome back…you had quite a vision quest, my child,” she said.
Shion sat up, bewildered at the sight before her. Gone was the cozy warmth of the cobby. They were now sitting on the bank of a very large pond. The ground was not hard but spongy. The glowing, full moon illuminated the opposite end of the pond, with a large shimmering streak of glittering light. A slight mist eerily hovered above the water. Crickets chirped rhythmically along with the hauntingly lonesome call of the loon. She looked up at Lhayan to find her watching her.
“Listen to the loon; it has never touched me so. I can feel her ancient song in my heart,” whispered Shion.
“The loon is one of your animal guides. She is letting you know that her gifts are here for you. Your cycle of power is as hers, both at dusk and at dawn. Because she is only at home on the water, she is the ancient symbol for the otherworld, lucid dreams, and many other levels of consciousness. She is telling you that you have the power of imagination, very clear strong imagery, and visions, all seeming very lifelike. You will be able to shift easily into the altered states of consciousness. But, be wary of the overactive imagination and separating real from the unreal. This…is the balance of loon magick.”
Lhayan grasped Shion’s face in her hands and bent closer to her and spoke again. “You will never be the same, Shion. This attunement has opened your connections and channels to the Mother and all of her natural realms. You are now filled with the steady stream of the pulsing, living light from the Goddess. This will be with you always. Learn from it, nurture it, and most of all beware it. Now hold up your hands, leaving space between them; envision rivers of light pulsating between them.”
Shion did as she bid. Closing her eyes, she envisioned the light dancing between her hands. Suddenly a hot tingling sensation warmed them; quickly she opened her eyes, feeling her jaw drop. Golden strands of light flashed like tiny bolts of lightning from one hand to the other. It felt as if she were holding them near a fire.
“This is the life force that runs through us. Without it, our physical bodies would not exist. Your channel is now open, making this life force much stronger in you. Through this channel you will receive guidance from your healing teachers, and the ability to send out this life force to heal. Never question your guidance, and never allow your ‘other self’ to get in the way of your healing. I fear this will be one of the hardest lessons you will have to learn. Our ‘other self’ carries the emotional and mental part of us that would keep us from our life’s purpose—it waits deep in the mind, ready to play tricks on us. Try to sense and use what comes from your heart. Take your wolf and loon with you as teachers and as true spirits of the wild rawness of the Mother. They are your family now, and will guard you as they teach you, sometimes strongly and sometimes gently, but always with love.”
Lhayan stood and yawned behind her hand. “Now off you go. Take what you have learned this night and nurture it, for you will need it in the days to follow.” Then she took Shion in her arms and gave her a squeeze. She held her so long, Shion felt she would never let go. “Go into the world and let your light shine brightly.”
On her way back home, Shion mulled over Lhayan’s departing words. She could not stop the feeling that they might be the last words she would hear from the beautiful faerie witch.
Chapter 5 The Dark Road
The festival of Harvest Home had arrived; it was rumored this would be the last stag hunt in honor of this ancient celebration. The villagers, in fear of being accused of supporting “witchery,” were hard-pressed to stop the celebration of this tradition. The ancient and simple ceremony of being thankful for the harvest of the crops and animals was to be abandoned and celebrated in the fashion prescribed by the Church.
Shion found herself thinking about Ryven Blackmore. She envisioned him scouting for the stag, his lean, strong frame sitting arrogantly atop his horse, steely eyes catching every movement in the woods. Stomping her foot in exasperation, she grumbled, “Stop thinking about him!” and waved her hand in front of her face to chase the picture away. She forced her thoughts to the herbs needing to be harvested before the first frost and sauntered through the horse pasture to the edge of the woods.
The sun sinking quickly warned her she had only a short time to search for the green allies which she would hang and dry for her medicines. The horses in the pasture spotted her and trotted over. Pippen got to her first, and pushed her nose against her cheek. “How are you, my pretty lady,” she said as she scanned the mare’s shoulder. The mass was still there, but looked smaller. “I’m on the hunt for yellow dock; can you help me find it?” she asked the horses. The rest of the herd pushed closer, thinking there were treats to be had. With a laugh she pushed them aside and ran down the horse-made path deeper into the woods. They all followed single file, thinking it was a new game.
Spying the tall, red-brown yellow dock, she jumped from the path to begin digging the soft, damp earth. There were many like its kind, and she dug only the ones that gave her permission. Somewhere back in her mind she knew she should always harvest plants in such a manner. It was wise practice to leave enough to replenish themselves, and it bothered her that most people over-harvested the plants, leaving nothing for next year’s growth.
The horses sampled the yellow dock. Some chewed, taking in the herb, and others quickly spit it out. Those who needed it took. Shion knew the herb was a good fall tonic that flushed the internal body of impurities, preparing it for the long harsh winter. Turning back to the patch of herbs, she thanked Mother Earth and the plant for giving its life. With a wince, she yanked a few strands of hair from her head and let them float to the patch of herbs in offering.
Suddenly the horses snorted and ran, frightened by the loud baying of hounds. Shion quickly scanned the woods, knowing that sound always meant trouble. Wondering why they were so close to her property, she laid her harvest down and quietly snuck through the woods to see more. She jumped the stone wall. The baying of the dogs became louder, combined with the sound of thundering hooves. The earth began to tremble as they came nearer. She put her hand to her eyes to see, blocking the setting sun. She thought she saw movement and realized they were coming right at her! With a shriek she tried to run away from the confusion as dogs brushed past her legs. Then she felt someone roughly grab at her waist, yanking her to the top of a horse.
Hearing the loud, “Whoa,” the horse came to a jolting stop.
Before her assailant could speak first, she yelled, “Ryven Blackmore—let me down!” Her voice was nearly drowned out by the chaotic noise of hounds, horses, and the intimidating crack of whips as they all continued by.
With a chuckle and an “As you wish,” Ryven let go of her, and she slid with a thud to the unforgiving, damp ground.
She stood and brushed twigs and leaves from her skirts and belted out angrily, “Since when do you need hounds and other riders to hunt stag? Or…have you lost your powers?”
He urged his mount closer to her and bent low to face her. His thick brows came together as he narrowed his eyes. With a snarling whisper, he said, “We are hunting witch tonight—Lhayan has been accused.”
Her heart sank as flashes of the unspeakable horrors they would inflict upon her tiny frame to force a confession flooded her mind. Then she wondered what Ryven was doing with these men. She knew there was something about him she didn’t trust and this just proves it.
“You take magic from her and hunt her down like an animal. What kind of monster are you?” She felt her fingernails bite into her palms, the urge to pummel him strong. Lowering her voice to a throaty snarl, she said, “Maybe I should tell the others of your true hunting powers!”
“Hush, girl,” he hissed, leaning down closer to her. “I am here to help Lhayan, though I know not what I can do. I deal with tyrants who seek only blood sport tonight!”
Shion’s hand flew to her mouth, feeling the bile rise at his words.
“Shion, go back home, there is nothing you can do. Be wary of your teachings from Lhayan if you do not want to end up like her.”
For a moment both of them locked eyes; she sensed his sorrow. Her heart could not help but soften—a little. Maybe she had the wrong idea about this man. She must not think of him now. She must think about Lhayan. She turned on her heel, wanting distance between her and this man; he confused her and she did not like it in the least. She needed to think of Lhayan. Her eyes stung as hot tears streamed down her cheeks. It was not fair. She did not understand the way of these things and sobbed all the way home for poor Lhayan and a lost way of life—a life that she had just gotten a taste of, only to be ripped away.
The next morning she awoke to much clatter and loud voices in the cobby. Rubbing her swollen eyes, she sat and listened to her guardian father’s ranting. “A hanging tonight at Harvest Home. This will be the first.”
Shion could not make out the words whispered by her guardian mother. She strained to hear more, hoping Ryven had gotten Lhayan safely away. She would see him tonight at the Harvest Home feast and get her answers.
“I know what you have been up to, sister.” Mora sauntered toward Shion. “I hear you climbing out the window at night; I smell the smoke of magic on your clothes as you return. You have been doing bad things with that witch in the woods, haven’t you?”
“Shut your mouth, Mora, or I’ll tell them who you have been meeting at Willows Nook, instead of watching Old Widow Pickens’ children,” Shion fired back.
Moria’s smug expression turned into a frown, and she spun around and exited the room.
Too close, she thought. She knew she could take care of Mora, who had too many secrets of her own to pose any problem to her. But she needed to be wary of her guardian father.
She purposely waited until he was gone before she dressed. Once she heard the loud moan of the heavy front door, she scrambled for her clothing, threw it on, and flew out of her room through the kitchen, and out the door before her guardian mother could stop her. It was Harvest Home and nothing was going to stop her from being there. The small village would be bustling to make ready for the fire feast tonight. People would bring and share their harvest. Along with Ryven’s stag and roasted lamb, there would be plenty to eat and drink this evening. This would be the last celebration, one that would be remembered for a very long time to come.
Pushing away the ugly vision of a hanging, Shion went into the barn to find Pippen. She wanted to check her shoulder. As she entered, she was met with a chorus of whinnies and knickers. Freia, Pippen, and three of last year’s fillies stood with ears alert, begging for attention and treats.
She climbed over the stall wall and stood next to Pippen. She would practice her healing on the mare, hoping to keep her mind off tonight’s events. Shion listened for anyone who might be coming before she began. Hearing none, she rubbed her hands together until she felt heat; holding them slightly apart, she waited for the tiny flashes of light to appear. White and gold streaks began to dance between her hands, making them feel warm and tingly; carefully she transferred that energy to Pippen’s shoulder. The mare, feeling the new sensation, immediately stopped chewing her hay and turned to stare at Shion. Unsure, the mare took several steps away.
Shion followed her, murmuring, “I won’t hurt you.” Then, with a big heavy sigh, Pippen succumbed to the feeling and soon began to relax. Shion watched in amazement as the mare stopped chewing, lowered her head almost to the ground, and closed her eyes. Shion closed her eyes to see if her guides would appear and after a few moments she realized it had become silent. Peeking, she saw all the other horses standing in the same manner as Pippen. They felt the energy too, she thought. Happy with her new information, she pulled her concentration back to the mare. Closing her eyes once again, she could see in her mind’s eye the path of the energy. It encircled Pippen, the colors changing as it moved along her body in tiny rivers of blue, green, gold, and lavender. Suddenly the mare perked up and walked away from her. Shion stood puzzled. Why did she walk away? Maybe she had had enough? Pippen looked back at her and shook her head up and down.
Shion laughed loudly. “You have had enough.”
The day sped by and Shion quickly fed and watered everyone for the night. She was eager to get ready for the celebration and ran to the cobby right past Mora, then flew up the stairs to her room. She strained to hear Mora’s words as she changed her skirts. “They are hanging that witch tonight at the celebration.”
Shion’s heart lurched in her chest, the comb ripping at her tresses as her anger intensified.
“She was living at old Izzie’s place, and I heard it was full of magic potions for demon worship,” said Mora, raising her voice.
Shion could not contain her rage any further. Throwing her comb to the floor, she stomped down to Mora and pushed her finger into Mora’s chest, forcing her backward.
“She does not believe in demons…she cannot worship something that she does not believe exists!” she yelled.
Mora blinked as spittle hit her face, then gave Shion a smirk and replied, “Well, how would you know what that witch believes? Pray tell have you been visiting her?”
Shion looked at her guardian mother and swallowed hard, her usual emotionless face perked with a questioning look.
“I…I don’t, well, I just know, that’s all! I ran across her one day walking through the woods. She was picking wildflowers and seemed like a very likable person. And—and I’m not condemning someone I don’t really know anyway…why should anyone else, for that matter? People in this town have just given up. They rather listen to some fat cat on the hill wearing those ridiculous white wigs, ridden with lice—which are probably eating their brains through their ears!”
“Shion, that is enough, someone might hear you,” whispered her guardian mother in fear.
Shion pointed at her. “See what I am talking about,” she hollered and turned on her heel, then pushed on the door and ran to the barn.
Quickly she saddled Freia and dragged her from her food and out the door. Huffing with anger, she jumped on her back and spurred her into a frenzied gallop. She knew it would not be long before her guardians found out about her connection with Lhayan, and she would be looking at the hangman’s noose too.
Shion barely noticed the people dressed in their finest, chattering excitedly as they walked down the roadway toward the night’s festivities.
A vision of Ryven flashed into her whirling mind. He would be there with his prized stag. He would carry that proud smile across his face as he carved slices of the juicy meat from the well-roasted carcass. People would slap his back in recognition as they drank of honey wine and ate the tasty meal. Secretly she wanted to be there too.
Pangs of fear and unknowing began to grow within her. Where would she go—she did not prepare for a long trip. It was already past dusk and the air had begun to chill. Then she remembered the group of Gypsies who had been in the area, selling their wares and performing dance and music. She will find them in hopes they would take her in. With renewed strength and purpose, she clucked loudly to Freia.
At first the road was heavily traveled. She asked everyone she met if they had seen the Gypsies. Most were happy to help, remembering the gay music and beautiful trinkets they brought; others just gave her a scornful look.
It was not long before she found someone who had seen them; a burley, red-haired man and his shy, pretty wife said they had been through just the other day, and were probably not far from the next village, a full night’s ride away.
Energized by the news, she kept Freia happily trotting on, and it was not long before the road became desolate. The waning moon illuminated the tall growth of trees, casting long, crooked shadows slicing across her path. The shadow dance of the silvery trees, swaying and groaning in the blustery crisp air, made her hair stand on end. Pulling her cloak closer, she strained to see what might be lurking beyond the wall of the black forest; yes, she felt very much alone.
Freia suddenly slowed to a halting walk, and in response Shion squeezed the mare’s sides to push her onward. “What is the matter, girl?” she whispered, afraid of what the mare saw. She held her breath to listen. A faint cry could be heard from the woods. Halting Freia, she sat in silence, straining to hear. There it was again, a cry like a tiny infant. No…it was more like a bleating call. With relief she realized it was just a fawn.
Urging Freia on, they edged toward the call. “I think it is right here, Freia,” she said, her caution gone as she slid from the mare’s back. She scanned the woods for the tiny deer, spotting slight movement in the underbrush. Quietly she inched forward. There it was, caught in some bramble. She sensed the tiny deer was frightened and held out one hand to let the calming energy flow from her fingers.
A snort from Freia warned her something was not right. Once again the tiny hairs on the back of her neck bristled. Freia pawed the ground and moved closer to Shion and the fawn.
“What is it?” she said nervously, searching the darkness for signs of movement or sound. A few snaps and pops from breaking branches echoed in the distance. Her heart pumped wildly as her eyes locked on three pair of yellow, glowing orbs, a few yards in front of her. Low growls cut through the silence of the night. Freia lunged forward at the glowing orbs, causing them to scatter.
“Show yourselves so I can bash your scrawny heads in!” she hollered, grabbing up a long branch, wondering what she was up against. The growls turned into vicious snarls.
“Come on!” she hollered, swinging her branch, knowing they were after fawn flesh. Tightening her grip on the branch, she surged forward toward the eyes, swinging wildly. A loud yelp could be heard as she felt her stick hit muscle and bone. Then she heard the sickening cry of the fawn as the other beast grabbed it, yanking it from the protective bramble. With teeth gritted in determination, she spun and again swung the branch down, hitting the beast with a loud thwack. It screamed and limped into the darkness. Where is the third, she thought as she tried to calm her rapid breath—where was it, dammit? “Come on, you beast of the night, I’m ready for you!” she screamed hoarsely.
Her words were suddenly drowned out by the sound of thundering hooves approaching fast. “I’ll kill all of ya!” she threatened one last time with relief as the third slunk away deeper into the woods.
“Did they get you, little guy?” she asked, her voice shaking as she bent to check the fawn. Gently she ran her hands along the tiny body; her fingers stopped at a spot that was warm and sticky. “Damn,” she cursed. It was bad. Violently she yanked at the branches that held the poor thing; she freed it and gathered it to her.
Closing her eyes, she asked for healing to flow through her hands to the little fawn. Her hands tingled with heat. The fawn stopped thrashing and soon relaxed. A tiny little bleat came from its mouth. Freia nudged closer and put her big nose on the tiny form and blew warm air onto it. “Oh, thank you, Freia,” Shion whispered.
“Well…Mistress Shion, we meet again…and just in the nick of time.”
Shion bristled, remembering the approaching rider. How and what is he doing here, she thought as she recognized the voice.
“Looks like you were in a bit of trouble,” he taunted. Just then the clouds floated away from the moon, illuminating his tall frame atop his black horse.
Still holding the fawn, she studied him, feeling heat rise in her face, thankful for the cover of darkness. His shoulder-length hair blew in the cool night wind, adding to his dark warrior appearance. She thought it strange how they kept meeting each other.
“As you can see, I can take care of myself. An-and, what are you doing here? Why aren’t you at the celebration?”
“I should be asking you the same question,” he replied, bending down to stare at her, wrinkling his thick brow in concern. His expression changed and his voice lowered as he said, “They did not find Lhayan. The village is crazed and neighbors are turning on each other, pointing fingers. You were right in leaving.” He bent even lower to her. “You were leaving?”
“Yes, I was! I could not live with them any longer. Mora was already making accusations.” Her voice lowered. “Where is Lhayan?”
“She is safely away. She is meeting up with the Gypsies, as I am,” he answered, sitting up straight on his horse.
“I’m going with you,” retorted Shion. “I want to see Lhayan too.”
The tiny fawn picked that moment to wiggle and cry loudly. He managed to free himself from her arms and tumble to the earth, his long legs scrambling wildly until he stood.
“So this is what you were defending,” he said with a chuckle. “He sure is a cute little thing.”
“Those beasts were going to kill him. One managed to tear at his flesh…he looks to be fine now,” she explained, reaching for Freia’s reins.
A sudden loud snap made her jump and turn. Stepping into the moonlight was the doe, bravely coming for her baby. The fawn ran to his mother and they both bounded deep into the blackness of the woods.
Ryven urged his stallion closer to her. “If you are going with me, then mount up.”
Nimbly she flung herself into the saddle, all the while her mind racing with excitement; she was on her way to see Lhayan and the Gypsies. Suddenly the dark road didn’t seem so dark anymore.
Chapter 6 The Travellers
They rode through the chill of the night. Her toes were the coldest and she wiggled them periodically in her worn, leather boots, trying to keep them from turning into toe-cicles. She had never been this far from home before, already feeling a slight hint of homesickness, and she wondered if she would have gone this far on her own. Stealing a look at her traveling companion, she grudgingly admitted she was glad he was there. Finally first rays of warming light peeked over the horizon; she couldn’t remember ever being this happy to see the lazy climb of the sun.
Without warning Ryven turned Black from the wagon-grooved road and treaded across a shallow but expansive, rock-laden river. The horses splashed joyfully in the cool liquid, then with loud gulps and slurps, they drank their fill. Once sated, they headed up a low hill into a very large clearing. It was as wide as the eye could see, still lush and green, even though they were near the time of the snows. The rising sun added hues of amber and purple to the new blue sky above. Shion, thankful for the change in scenery, took in the beauty of the land, as it helped to lessen the burden of her heavy eyelids.
They came to a creek and crossed it, then traveled through a small, but dense grove of sky-touching oak trees. The wind played with the gold, red, and orange leaves, filling the air with a pleasant sound. The horses stirred up the layer of fallen leaves, sending the earthy, pungent scent up to her nose. She breathed in deeply; the waning time of the year was her favorite, except for the gray harshness of winter, which was soon to follow.
The horses perked their ears forward and picked up their pace. Ryven reined Black horse closer to her. “We are here,” was all he said.
They reached the top of another small knoll. She sucked in her breath with excitement as the view of many wagons and carts painted in hues of yellow, red, blue, and green spread out, blending harmoniously across the expansive meadow before them. Horses of every color grazed peacefully amongst them. She noticed that the majority of them were black and white, with flowing manes reaching below their shoulders and hooves covered by wispy, feather-like hair. She had seen this breed before only with the Gypsies. The laughter of children floated toward them as they played around the horses. She was surprised as the children ran under and climbed over the peacefully grazing animals, which seemed not to care.
“How do you know these people?” she asked, standing in the stirrups to release a cramp in her left leg.
He shifted in his saddle before answering. “I, ah—they are friends of Lhayan’s,” he replied, his eyes intent on the converging crowd. “She told me where they had set up camp so I could meet her here.”
The Gypsies approached with smiling, black eyes and waved in greeting to their new guests. An older woman walked up to Ryven. She leaned against a long stick ornately carved with interesting symbols and colors. The top, wrapped with strips of hide, held a very interesting stone. It held Shion’s attention.
“So, this is the child of the wind,” said the woman, her piercing, black-brown eyes locked on Shion.
Shion explored the old woman’s well-worn face. Her raven-black hair streaked with thin strands of silver, glinted in the morning sun. Shion guessed that the still comely woman was in the early winter of her years. She wore ropes of coins around her neck and waist that jingled as she moved. Her full, sturdy body was covered in the most beautiful materials she had ever seen, with colors and designs that looked ancient and foreign. The strong presence of the woman gave Shion a feeling that she was of importance, or of leadership in this group. Not wanting to show disrespect, she just sat in silence.
“Bethia, this is Shion,” said Ryven. “The first time I met her, she was climbing rocks half naked, with a wolf at her side. Then a short time later I found her defending a fawn from a pack of beasts.” Ryven glanced at Shion with a grin, hearing the murmurs and giggles in the crowd. “She left home and tells me she is ready to take on the world.”
Shion glared at him, feeling her nostrils flare. “Thank you for the introduction, but I could not live with them any longer,” she nervously said, picking at Freia’s silken mane. “They didn’t understand me or my beliefs.”
“Ah, the world is changing rapidly, it is affecting us all,” said Bethia, waving her ample arm out in front of her. “But, in the meantime, my little pen, come, you are welcome in our camp. I know you must be very hungry.”
Food sounded wonderful and her stomach growled loudly in agreement. Happily she followed them. Everyone chatted in a language she did not understand, the words rolling exotically off their tongues, adding to the air of mystique they possessed. Dogs of every shape and size ran around them, barking greetings. The camp was very large; she counted at least forty wagons and a half-dozen carts.
Shion followed Bethia as she headed toward a very large and ornately carved wood-sided wagon. She slid from Freia, where a young boy waited to take her. Shion looked at him in question.
Bethia laughed and said, “Little Janko will take great care of her—have no fear.” Hesitantly she handed the reins to the brightly grinning, black-eyed boy.
With Freia gone she turned her attention back to the wagon. The sidewalls were made of the most intricately carved wood she had ever seen, extending all the way to the wood roof. She wondered how long it took to carve such beauty. It was gaily painted in colors of yellow and red with accents of blue and green. They walked up three sturdy, yellow-painted steps into the wagon. She couldn’t help but run her hands along the intricately carved walls, feeling as if the wagon were making music in her fingers. Upon entering, she was greeted by inundating scents of wood smoke and spices. Situated on the left sat a small, blackened potbellied stove keeping the wagon toasty warm. At the back of the wagon was a high wooden platform that held a small cozy bed draped with bright orange and mossy-green panels of heavy material. The fabrics in the wagon were worn with signs of mending, but were still brightly colored. Ropes of sparkling beads hung from the top of the wagon, along with bundles of drying herbs and roots.
Bethia pointed to a large overstuffed red pillow. “Please sit down, my pen. I’m sure this pillow is more soothing than the back of your little mare.”
Shion did welcome the softness of the seat. The air in the wagon was very comforting to her and she soon relaxed.
Bethia busied herself making a pot of herb tea. “I think some ginger, cinnamon, and motherwort is just the combination after your long, cold ride,” said Bethia as she bent toward her, offering the cup of steaming tea. “The ginger and cinnamon will warm and wake you, and the motherwort will ground you.”
As Bethia bent near Shion, she smelled a strange mix of flowers and burnt spices that tickled her senses—it was magic, she thought, this woman smells like magic.
Unsure what to say, she began chatting about plants. “I love the many plants of the earth. I don’t know a lot about them…I think it is something inside that I just know.” She sat quietly, waiting for Bethia to pick up the conversation, excited that she found someone else who might teach her.
Bethia studied Shion from the top of her cup as she slurped her tea. “Yes, each and every plant has its own special magic and vibration. And if…we have the calling, the magic is easily revealed. But we must listen carefully; some of them can trick us by not revealing all. The plants and flowers are tended by the Biti Foki; they are of the realm of the Fae, who tend to the plants, trying to keep man from using them inappropriately. Sadly, some people use the plants’ strong powers for bad deeds and to gain wealth regardless.”
“I have seen these little people—at least I think I have,” Shion said. “What surprises me is someone would use the plants to do harm. I have never thought that way…only to help.”
“Shion, you are just showing your young years. Not all people work for your best interest, and some would cause you great harm. You will soon learn to listen to your inner self when dealing with man. It is not easy, but if you listen carefully, it can be accomplished.”
Shion soaked up every word like a parched sponge. The delight in her heart spread to a smile on her thin, pink lips. She held the hot cup of tea tightly, letting the warmth spread into her palms. Herbs floated in the cup and she sipped, trying not to swallow them. The ginger added a sour-sweet taste that tingled in her throat as it warmly slid to her stomach.
“Thank you for allowing me to come into your camp,” said Shion in between sips. “I know how private your people are.”
Bethia chuckled and her many coins jingled softly. “We have learned to discern who comes into our camp. We have seen many sorrows and hardships on our travels. The outside people want to be entertained and have their fortunes read but care not about us. Women of great wealth sneak into our vardos for special potions, advice into their lives, and remedies to relieve them of unwanted seeds they carry, but will not even give us a glance if they see us on the streets. That is our lot, we must carry it.”
Bethia sat silent for a moment. Her gaze seemed to have taken her someplace or sometime far away. “There was a time…long ago…we were looked upon as healers, talented artisans, skilled metal workers and musicians, sought after by kings, now to be thrown into slavery or killed. The papers we carry from the king of Arganistan, proving that we are royalty, no longer gives us safe passage. For our people to survive, we must leave the old ways and go into the hidden realm,” Bethia finished with a sigh; her sparkling black eyes became heavy and sullen.
Shion, unsure what to say, sat looking into her empty cup. The herbs had clung to the side in strange shapes.
Almost as if she had read her mind, Bethia perked up and said, “Here, I will read your cup!” Ripping the cup from her hand, she began turning it around, her keen, black eyes searching for clues. “Ah, yes! There is a leaf in the shape of a man’s head, and another that looks like a horse. Most interesting!” Bethia turned her eyes upon Shion and studied her for only a moment, but to Shion it felt like an eternity.
Shion squirmed on her pillow with anticipation. “What does it mean?”
“There is a man in—or coming into your life, and the horse can mean travel—but it can also mean the cycle of birth, death, and resurrection. This cup of leaves foretell of a long journey—and, of course, with a man!” Bethia laughed. “’Tis cliché—is it not?”
Shion sat in uncomfortable silence. It did not seem cliché to her when Ryven flashed before her eyes.
The silence of the vardo was soon replaced with yells and whistles from outside. Then someone pounded at the door. “Come, let’s ride out,” instructed Ryven.
Shion could not suppress her excitement. She would be traveling with these people, learning their ways and seeing new sights. As the tea leaves had revealed, a new door to her journey had opened, and she walked through without hesitation.
The efficiency of the way they prepared to leave amazed her. Nothing was left; the camp was cleaned in respect for the natural realms that lived there, respecting every tree, stone, animal, and plant. Soon they were heading through the valley toward a main road that promised to bring easy travel.
Bethia explained they headed northwest to a hidden village called Dragonwyck. “It was too dangerous for Travellers to stay in this area any longer.” Bethia noticed the questioning look on Shion’s face. “We no longer use the term Gypsy; we now use the word Traveller. The Church has gained much power turning people against people in fear. Travellers and witches are sought after the most. It is punishable by death to harbor the Travellers; no one dare let us stay on their land for fear of their own lives. The way of the Traveller is over.”
This knowledge saddened Shion. She wanted to live the life of the Traveller. She wanted to sleep under the moon and stars, pick plants for healing and food, converse with the animals of the forest and dance around the fire. Her innocence did not know the great hardships of these people; she could only romanticize about their lives.
“Why the frown?” It was Ryven. He had ridden up to them with Freia in tow.
Shion looked at him with such narrowed intensity, he laughed loudly.
“Well, my little Traveller, you could stop this whole caravan with that stare!” Holding Freia’s reins out to her, he said, “My lady, would you care to ride with me to hunt for tonight’s meal?”
She let her eyes soften with intrigue and answered with a short nod of her head. Climbing from the slowly moving vardo, she easily flung herself up on Freia. They took off at a canter and were soon ahead of the caravan.
It was a beautiful, warm, fall afternoon. It would be easy to catch sight of grazing deer sunning their backs. They rode in silence, both searching the green and blue horizon.
Shion broke the silence. “What happened to Lhayan, why isn’t she with these people?”
Ryven gazed past her and did not speak. Clearing his throat he hesitantly turned to look at Shion. “They do not know what has become of her.”
A thickness filled her throat. She could not speak and just gazed at the lands before her in silence. Images of Lhayan lying dead flashed before her.
“Where have you gone, Shion?” Ryven whispered, concern heavy in his voice.
“I was thinking about Lhayan and the Travellers. Why does life have to be so cruel, why do people have to be so cruel?”
“I don’t have the words to answer your questions. We try to live our lives as best we can.” Ryven held up his hand and pointed off to the east near a clump of tag alder where a stag rubbed his large rack of antlers. It sounded as if someone was chopping wood. Ryven took out a tiny leather pouch, plunged his fingers within it, and pulled out a small pinch of crushed herbs. He tossed the herbs to the east, south, west and north, closing his eyes as if in prayer he reached for his longbow.
Shion watched in horrid fascination as he brought the bow up and silently strung an arrow. It would be a far shot; she didn’t think they were close enough. Just then the wind changed, and with a snort, the mighty stag lifted his magnificent head. He leaped into the air twice, then stood frozen, trying to locate the strange smells. Shion heard a twang as Ryven released his arrow; the stag bucked once, then ran with great speed a short distance. She gritted her teeth to stop the tears as she watched the proud beast stagger and drop to the ground.
Ryven spurred Black into a full gallop. Freia reacted and took her and Shion into the race. Shion groped for flying mane. Tears welled, blocking her vision. It took only a minute to reach the stag; quickly she wiped her tear-stained face, hoping Ryven did not see her weakness.
Ryven jumped from his horse, walked to the deer and knelt beside it. He took out his pouch once again and sprinkled the mixture on the stag. Feeling Shion’s eyes on his back, he turned to look at her.
“This is what I have learned from Lhayan; live by the laws of nature and you will always be taken care of. This deer gave his life so that we may go on. What a great gift he has given us—I honor his spirit so that he may leave to live again.”
Shion understood; she gulped back her pain for the dead stag and nodded her head in agreement.
After dressing the deer and building a makeshift travois, they dragged it back to the caravan. The Travellers had already found a new place to camp for the night and were preparing for the venison feast. A large fire burned brightly in the center of the encampment. A spit had been readied to cook the chunks of meat. All the vardos were arranged neatly near the fire so the women could easily prepare for the evening. The older children were to help fetch water and firewood, and the younger ones brushed the horses with handfuls of thick dried grasses.
The welcoming smell of wood smoke filled her nostrils. Her stomach growled loudly but was drowned out by the sudden screams of the children; they were waving their arms and running to the camp. “Grai” was all she heard.
“What’s going on, Ryven, what are they saying?” questioned Shion.
They dropped the travois and rode toward the children, Bethia and a few others close behind. The word grai was repeated as they followed the excited children and it soon became apparent that grai meant horse.
The large herd of horses had gathered in a group. One mare stood close to her young filly, which lay in a mass of blood. Shion’s stomach rolled as blood spurted with each heartbeat of the struggling filly.
Ryven jumped from his horse and hit the ground running. Children talked excitedly around him, pointing to the horizon as a low black shape slunk out of sight.
Bethia and Shion reached the filly at the same time to see that the little filly had a deep rip that started at the middle of her tiny neck and ran down past her shoulder. The seeping wound had turned the filly’s milky, white coat a crimson red. It kicked and nickered faintly as it tried to stand. The sight of the dying filly ripped at her heart; she could not suppress the sobs that welled so strongly within her.
Bethia squatted near the filly, and in a strong voice began yelling out commands. The children ran around bending and looking through the various plants. Soon one squealed and ran back with a handful of wild herbs. Others returned with pale yellow strips of cloth.
Bethia looked at Shion; strangely Shion understood what the woman wanted, but how did the woman know? She took one hesitant step toward the filly. Shion looked at Bethia again and the woman nodded her head yes, and motioned for Shion to come closer. Bethia chewed on one of the plants, making a mash; she spit it out and packed it into the wound.
Shion knelt next to the filly, feeling dazed and afraid, like she was spiraling out of control. Everything began to go black; just as blackness closed in on her, a pack of wolves appeared within her mind’s eye. They were her guides. How beautiful and regal they were as they pranced and howled before her. She could hear their yips of encouragement and it calmed her as she held out her trembling hands above where Bethia was working.
Bethia acted as if she didn’t even notice Shion. The blood that spurted with each little heartbeat of the filly soon began to slow. Shion kept her hands held above the filly, feeling and seeing the golden, pulsing flow of energy. The children’s excited chatter turned into whispers. The word shuvani could be heard but she did not understand.
It was not long before the blood ceased its river of death. Shion felt a sudden sense of elation overtake her.
“Ryven, please carry this filly to my vardo. It needs nourishment to replenish the great amount of blood lost.”
Once the little filly and mare were settled next to Bethia’s vardo, everyone dispersed and went back to preparing the meal. Ryven accompanied the men and left Bethia and Shion to attend to the filly.
Shion sat next to the filly, having instantly fallen in love with her as the tiny pink muzzle suckled noisily at her fingers. Using her other hand, she stroked along her white and black colored back. The mare munched grass nearby, lifting her head every now and then to check her baby.
Shion could hear Bethia talking to herself inside her vardo as she made a concoction for the filly. Not long after, the door opened and she came out with a jar of creamy-gold liquid.
“You were brave today. A daunting task it is to perform in front of an audience when new to the magic of healing.” Kneeling beside the filly, she lifted her head and poured the thick, sweet-smelling mixture into her mouth. The filly spit out the first amount, but soon began licking and sucking hungrily. They both giggled as the filly greedily slurped it down.
“What is the mixture you have given her?” Shion asked.
“It is of mare’s milk, honey, and nettle tea. It will give the filly the strength needed to fight the loss of life’s blood. This filly was ready to cross into the otherworld until you put your hands on her. Our horses are very sacred to us. They are our gold, our way of life, and our friends. Without them we have nothing. When the time comes that they choose to cross to the otherworld, no matter how much we love them, we are not to intervene. Luckily for you, the filly decided she would live to see another day.”
Shion absorbed the woman’s words, but she knew she could never let anything die. She would save everything that came across her path.
Chapter 7 Glimpse into the Past
After the evening meal, Shion sat at the campfire studying the gaily dressed and cheerful people. She knew of some of the hardships they had suffered, but you could not tell it this night. They talked expressively and loudly; laughter and giggles filled the air, along with the gleeful screams of the children as they ran and played amongst their many Gypsy horses and ponies. She glanced at Bethia as she sat in contemplative silence, smoking her pipe, puffing out the most appealing cloud of smoke. She wanted to try, but having never smoked a pipe before, she felt too shy to ask.
She forced her eyes away to scan the crowd again; the women were as colorful as Bethia. Looking down at her own dingy, colorless adornments made her feel more the outsider. The women too wore ropes of coins about their necks and waists that jingled when they walked. Some wore various stones of soft, glowing amber; others wore stones of blue and different shades of lavender. But the many layers of color did not hide the lines of worry and hardships that marked their beautiful, dark-skinned faces. She did notice, though, these women carried themselves differently from the women of her small village; pride was the only word that came to her. They carried themselves with a sauntering pride. Then her gaze stopped at a small gathering of these women who were giving Ryven a lot of attention—more attention than she liked.
Ryven caught her stare and smiled in return, then excused himself. He walked to where she sat. “Are you enjoying the hospitality of these people?” he asked, sitting down beside her.
“It looks like you might be enjoying it much more than I,” she answered, expressing her irritation. “As for me…yes, very much so. To sit beneath the moon warmed by a crackling fire is so freeing. These people are wonderful and I have been learning much from them and Bethia already.”
Bethia blew out another stream of smoke and joined their conversation. “She is a natural, and is beginning to remember. Soon she will return to the knowing.”
Shion wondered what she meant, hungry for anything that would tell her about herself. But her thoughts were interrupted by the black shadows of men gathering with instruments in their arms. She recognized a couple instruments as violins and another instrument that looked like a violin but had a rounder shape. She liked the sound of that instrument and strained to hear it above the others. It was strummed with the fingers instead of a bow and the sound was exotic and magical. They were joined by the beat of hand drums and tambourines. Everyone gathered as close to the musicians as they could, clapping and swaying to the seductive sounds.
Shion closed her eyes, letting herself float away with the music. It reached to the very core of her being, connecting deep within her. Her body wanted to move with the rhythms; strangely enough she felt as if she had done this before.
The sound of the tambourines raised the tempo; she opened her eyes to watch. The younger women began to dance around the fire and musicians, shaking their tambourines seductively around themselves. She watched in awe as they moved effortlessly, twisting their bodies in arching and flowing movements. Their coins and gems jingled with each step. Skirts of every color fanned out as they twirled and danced. This went on for some hours into the night, with everyone singing, laughing, and dancing—just being in the present. Then the tempo changed. The sound of a flute whistled a sad lullaby and she felt herself relax. She fought to stay awake but soon her eyelids shut and she began to drift off…
She covered her ears to shut out the piercing screams and looked behind to see where they came from. There she saw two hulking, black-bearded men beating a young black-eyed girl. The girl kicked and bit at the men but they only laughed as they held her down. A ripping sound was heard as they tore her tattered clothing from her body. One man lunged forward onto the girl with a loud grunt; the other beat her alongside her head, yelling in a language she did not understand.
She could no longer watch, and rolled to her back and got sick on herself. She lay there trembling and hoped the stench would keep those men off of her, not bothering to wipe it away. The screams of the young girl soon stopped and there was nothing but total silence. She had heard it before and knew its meaning.
The only comfort she could draw from this was that the girl was from one of the other two tribes captured with them.
With the hunger of their captors sated, she knew they would have to get up and begin to walk again. They had been walking for many days, with very little food and very little water. Her tribe tried to stay together, not wanting to be near the other tribes. It was sacrilege to talk to any of them.
Lifting her heavy head, she looked at brave Mesha. He guarded her as best he could. She could see his strength waning, but he was still giving her half of his ration of water. She did not want to take it but he insisted. Not wanting to attract attention, she unwillingly drank. How much longer could he hold out, she thought, breathing in the hot, dry, desert air?
Loud, incoherent mutterings could be heard from their captors. It was time to get up and walk. She dragged herself up with the feeble help of Mesha. They trudged forward, some stumbling, some being dragged. Her feet were painfully cracked and dried to the point of bleeding. Her golden-brown skin was now blackened by the relentless sun and layers of sand and dirt. Sand was everywhere, in her eyes, ears, nose, and mouth; it rubbed her skin raw, caught within what was left of her once satin-soft layers of skirts.
She could hear Mesha talking quietly with another tribe member.
“They are building a city,” said the young man walking with Mesha. “They want our craftsmen to build it. They see the beauty of our own great city and want to have the same.”
“Why must they kill half of us on the way there? They need all of us to build their damned city. Why did they bring other tribes? Do they not know that even though we live on the same island, we are separate? It will only cause them great trouble. We all would rather die than mix our blood!” exclaimed Mesha a little too loudly. This brought the angered attention of one of their captors.
He immediately walked to Mesha and began hitting him with his long, thick saber. Mesha had no strength to fight and crumpled to the ground.
“Shion, wake up!” yelled Ryven as he shook her. “Wake up, girl!”
Shion threw up her arms, confused. She had to get away—she had to run!
Ryven caught her and crushed her to him. “Shhh, you are safe,” he whispered in her ear, feeling her body tremble.
Exhausted, she melted to his chest, feeling his heart beating rapidly against her. Finally finding words, she muttered against his warm chest, “I don’t want to fall back to sleep. It was horrible.”
Ryven held her, trying to soothe her. He too was confused and gave Bethia a puzzled look. Most of the others had gone to their wagons to sleep. Not many had heard Shion.
Bethia sat smoking her pipe, blowing smoke to the blackened sky.
It was Shion who spoke. “It was so real. I was walking and very tired. I was with others and a boy…I knew his name; I called him Mesha. We were captives, and I think they killed him,” she said, her voice trailing off.
Bethia sat blank-faced, sucking on her pipe. Others sat in silence around the dying embers of the fire. Whispers could be heard. Bethia pulled her pipe from her mouth.
“It was a journey, a journey into your past. Remember, little pen, Lhayan opened your channels of knowledge. It is coming now, some of it not pleasant. You must meet your dreams knowing they are only dreams. You cannot be hurt by them; it is only your ancestors and guides speaking to you. Remember this dream of the past. More will come and hopefully you can link them all together some day.” She stood slowly, bones creaking. “This old woman must go to rest now.” Motioning to Shion, she said, “Come, you sleep in my vardo.”
Shion pulled shyly from Ryven’s embrace, once again feeling the heat in her face. The crisp, cool air soon enveloped her body as she left his warmth. She followed Bethia in silence, with Ryven and her dream on her mind.
As they approached the vardo, the mare greeted them with a low nicker. Shion stopped and gave her a pat. She looked to where the little filly slept.
“Ah, the filly is breathing steadily now…she is mending,” said Bethia as she reached for the door, swinging it open and slowly climbing in. Bethia fumbled with matches and candles and soon the wagon was lit with a golden yellow glow.
“You use the word vardo, is that the word for wagon?” asked Shion.
Bethia hid a smile, busying herself with blankets. “Yes, it means wagon, and it is a word from the old language. We use the words only amongst ourselves. As I said before, the word Gypsy is not a word of our language; it is not something we gave to ourselves to be called. So, we prefer to use the word Traveller. But our culture is so that it is hard to hide the truth behind words. We have suffered greatly, for over five hundred years. There are not many of us left.” She straightened with pride. “But the strongest have survived.”
Shion could hear and feel the wisdom in the old woman’s words. She remembered hearing horrible stories about the atrocities done to these seemingly gentle people when she was younger. She was eager to learn the truth of who they were. What is left of their culture, and how different are they now from five hundred years ago? But she knew she would not get her answers tonight. The old woman motioned for her to get some sleep and soon both were snuggled under heavy blankets while the crackling fire burned in the potbelly stove.
The next morning dawned with a hint of late fall. The ground, cold and dewy, sparkled like a million tiny diamonds strewn across the meadows. The horses loved the cool crispness of the air and were eager to get moving. This year’s crop of colts and fillies played around their mothers, kicking up clods of earth and grass as they ran.
Everyone worked quickly cleaning camp, loading vardos and carts, and harnessing the horses that would pull them. When everyone was ready and accounted for, they continued their journey.
Shion decided to ride with Bethia in her vardo. She loved to listen to her stories and absorbed every morsel of information. Shion watched Bethia’s hands as she drove her matched black and white stallions. She drove effortlessly and calmly. The long reins hung loosely; occasionally she would have to just jiggle on the reins as if massaging the mouths of the horses. Bethia sang to them and they twitched their ears back and forth to listen.
“Why are most of your horses black and white?” asked Shion, trying to find a more comfortable way to sit on the hard bench.
Bethia smiled and said, “The color white is symbolic of new beginnings and life. The color black is symbolic of death and transition to rebirth. This mix of colors is a daily reminder to us of the steady cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We do not fear death. It is the same as the sun rising and setting. It has an ending and a new beginning as it rises again the next day. Same as the cycle of the seasons; spring turns into summer, then into fall; fall turns into winter where everything sleeps and is awakened again in the spring. We live, we die, and we are reborn, just as sure as the moon rises each night.”
“Lhayan told me of this when she was teaching me to heal. So I do understand. She also told me about animals and how each has a different meaning to us.”
“Yes, that is right, the horse is the traveler. We can go places with the horse, but the horse also teaches us of that great cycle of life. Horses do not live attached to their bodies as the human does. They can live in our world and the otherworld at the same time. Death to them is a great celebration. One day you will learn of these lessons and you will not fear death. The horse can be a great teacher to you. You have already shown you have a special affinity with the horse. Just be forewarned, their teachings are not always what you think. They will make you feel things you have never felt before. Only strong souls have the strength to take such lessons and grow from them.”
Shion sat in silence, taking in her words, and wondered if she was a strong soul. She loved horses; working with them came easy to her. Helping the little filly to survive the beast attack made her feel whole, like she mattered in this dark world of confusion and hurt.
“My passion is horses,” she said. “I have always loved them. I do want to work with horses to help them and learn from them.”
Bethia laughed and looked Shion square in the face. “Then you have picked the right people to travel with, my pen. When we reach Dragonwyck, you will have much to learn—and learn you will.”
Since Bethia was speaking so freely, Shion felt encouraged to ask another question. “Do you know the way of the witch?”
Bethia chuckled. Her coins jingled. “Yes, Lhayan and I spent many hours together, discussing and sharing in the way of the witch. I know she was helping you to learn how to journey. I can give you more guidance in your journeys to the otherworld. You have already glimpsed a lifetime at the fire last night. That lifetime has much to tell you and you must go back there.”
Shion shivered at the thought. That journey scared her; if it was truly a past life, then it scared her even more. She did not yet understand how a past life could affect who she was today. She wished she had Traveller’s blood in her; maybe she would understand these things much easier.
Ryven suddenly reined his horse next to their vardo. “Bethia, I have scouted ahead. The way is clear and we should be in Dragonwyck before sundown.”
Bethia smiled at him and replied, “This is good to hear. Soon we will be out of harm’s way and can rest. Thank you, my young man.”
Ryven smiled at Shion; sheepishly she smiled back, remembering his embrace last night. “How fare you today, my lady?” he asked.
“I am fit and ready to travel,” was all she could say in return, trying to sound wise.
“Should be an easy day. Will you mount up and ride out with me later?” he asked, giving her his best smile.
“Of course she will!” Bethia answered for her.
Ryven clucked to his stallion and they cantered off to the front of the caravan.
“That boy can sit a horse well. See how good and kind he treats him. If women want a good man, they should watch how they take care of their animals,” said Bethia, eyeing Shion and sporting a slight smile.
Shion nervously played with a torn piece of her skirt, wondering if Bethia felt her attraction for the horseman. “I noticed that right away about him. I have witnessed so many horses abused by the boys—just to impress girls! It always had the opposite effect on me; I thought of them as cruel and cowardly.” She lowered her voice, feeling embarrassed as she finished saying, “Needless to say I have had not many suitors.”
Bethia put her hand on Shion’s hands and replied, “None of them were worthy of you. There is a man out there for you who will fill all of your hopes and desires. It was no accident that Ryven has come into your life.” Bethia laid the reins in her lap and turned over Shion’s hand. She put a finger to her palm tracing the lines. “It shows here that you can have him—if you choose to. But I see here the road to keeping him will be a great challenge with much danger…if you meet the challenge, he will be yours forever…but only if you choose him before the challenge has been completed.”
Chapter 8 Dragonwyck
The road to Dragonwyck was littered with signs of what was to come. The Church, in its striving to change the world for its own gain, left fear and death in its wake. There was a darkness that loomed, sucking the life from man and nature alike.
The Travellers, naturally in tune with nature, felt Mother Earth pulling away. The colors of the forest and meadows faded and the song of the birds had no melodies. The Travellers knew their time was at hand. As guardians of the trees and watchers of the earth, they knew of the coming of the Great Shift, hoping it would restore balance between man and nature. They watched and waited for the time of this shift, the beginning of a new age.
The caravan slowly made its way to the outskirts of the village. Shion stared in wonder at a strange light that encircled the village. She looked around to see if anyone else saw it.
Bethia sat holding the reins to her team of stallions. The team snorted and pranced anxiously.
“They too feel and see it, Shion,” said Bethia as she gently massaged the reins back and forth in her capable hands.
Shion’s gaze locked on Bethia. “You see it!”
“Yes, it is a sign of welcome and safe haven. This village is very special; it cannot be found by outsiders. The Dark One has no hold here.”
“Dark One, what do you mean by Dark One?”
Bethia laughed, then said, “You, my pen, will soon know not all in this realm is white light and laughter. The Dark is the balance of the white, just as female is the balance of male. Without balance, one or the other will prevail and bring chaos and disorder…such as we have seen on the road. The Church has closed the hearts of the people to Mother Earth; they think they no longer need her, nor the natural realms that tend her. This has caused a great imbalance, resulting in the atrocities that you have experienced.”
“But we were unaffected as we traveled here. It was as if—as if we were cloaked,” Shion exclaimed, looking behind her to see if anyone was watching them.
“Protection is something you will learn about soon. There is a great plan at work and we are all a small part of it,” finished Bethia, shrugging her shoulders in dismissal of the conversation.
Shion knew the sign. She turned her attention to the village of Dragonwyck. What a strange name, she thought to herself. She remembered the stories of the dragons and how they ravaged villages, burning and killing, destroying flocks and herds of animals just for sheer enjoyment. She wondered how true these stories were, especially after learning that a witch was nothing like what the Church would have you believe.
The architecture here was different than anything she had ever seen before. Yes, the dwellings were made of the usual pounded earth, but these cobbies were colorful and ornate, with vines of fragrant flowers and herbs growing protectively around them. Strong, twisted, tree trunks seemed to be the support for these small dwellings, giving them strength and life. The smell was intoxicating: floral and spicy, the colors so intense, it almost hurt her eyes. Smells of spicy steeping teas filled her nostrils, making her stomach growl, reminding her she hadn’t eaten since early morning.
The people were as gaily and ornately dressed as the Travellers. They greeted the caravan warmly, waving and cheering as they rode through the village. Shion squirmed anxiously on her seat, wanting to get down and explore.
A woman came forward in greeting. Shion thought she could be Bethia’s sister. Slightly taller than and not as full-bodied as Bethia, but carried the same air about her.
She walked to their vardo with a smile; her brown eyes twinkled brightly. “Welcome, Bethia, you are the first to arrive. We are ready for you, and have the Willownook meadow waiting. You may camp your vardos and carts along the creek, but do stay clear of the bogs, for the lake underneath is bottomless.”
Bethia grabbed the woman’s hand warmly. “Thank you, Soryia, it will be a long stay with much work to be done. When do you expect the others?”
“The winged ones have been monitoring their progress; they should all be here before the first snow. We have asked the guardians of the West to keep the storms around them, which has slowed the progress of the Dark One.
“This is good news,” said Bethia. She turned her attention to Shion. “Soryia, this is Shion; she has been traveling with us.”
Soryia held out her hand in greeting. “Ah, yes, another child of the wind, welcome.”
Shion bristled; she too used the name her father had called her. Quickly pushing the thought away, she put on her best smile and received Soryia’s hand.
“Excuse her shyness, Soryia; she is still a panther cub. The jungle cat will be out soon enough.”
Both women laughed loudly at Shion’s look of bewilderment. Soryia ordered two men to show them to their camp. Shion searched for Ryven and found him surrounded by women, as usual, unable to stop the frown forming on her lips.
Suddenly the vardo lurched forward and single file the caravan marched through the village. The scenery reminded her of a fairy tale once told to her by her father. Everything was green, lush, and heavy with the scent of flowers and fruit, ready for picking. She felt as if she had indeed stumbled into a fairy tale.
Willownook meadow was beautiful and inviting; thousand-year-old oak and maple trees stood guard to the entrance. They seemed to smile down at her as they drove underneath their canopy of thick fluttering leaves. The meadow grass was green but shared the earth with herbs of many kinds. A stream flowed lazily by, glistening brightly under the warm sun, winding this way and that under the trees outside the large meadow. Farther down beyond the meadow was the bog, jutting sentry like out of its murky waters were tall and thinly needled Jack Pines. Some even grew from the mossy, floating islands. Shion knew that beneath the mossy earth was very deep water. Remembering as a child she used to jump from mossy island to island, too lightweight to fall beneath the dark, watery trap. She felt the bog calling to her like an old friend, tempting her to come and explore what new adventures it had to offer.
“It is beautiful here. There’s no denying that,” said Ryven, riding up to them.
She fumed at his intrusion, interrupting her thoughts. Somewhat annoyed she turned her stare at him, letting her eyes lock on his crystal-green eyes. But, as usual his smile quickly melted her annoyance. He had worked his way under her skin these past few days, changing her emotional irritations into something deeper. What hold had this man over her, she wondered. Had he magic at work, like the magic he used on the stags that so freely gave their lives to him?
“It is out of a fairy-tale book, like a story my father told me as a small child,” she said. “I never thought such a place existed, but here it is! But I do feel strange here, do you?”
“Strange?” He chuckled. “No, not strange my lady. All I feel is the sleepiness of a bear ready to enter his den for the long winter.” He yawned and stretched his arms above. His horse let out a heavy sigh and shifted his weight, then nodded his head in agreement.
Shion laughed. “Looks like Black agrees with you.”
Their small talk ended when orders were called out to set up camp. Everyone worked tirelessly setting up what will be the new home. Before long all the vardos were neatly arranged so everyone had room to maneuver. The meadow was large enough to house every vardo, cart, horse, dog, and child, now free to roam. The ancient oak and maple trees provided shade, while the tall, thick conifers provided a windbreak around them. Even though it was close to the time of the snows, the trees still held their leaves of green, as if winter was not permitted in Dragonwyck.
Shion was told by Bethia she would be living with her in her vardo. Ryven would have help building his own cobby. Shion could not understand why he needed such room. Apparently he needed to be closer to the excitement of the village, meaning the women. She fumed at her thoughts. So what if he found someone to share his cobby? She had work to do and did not need him getting in the way. She tried hard to convince herself she needed to keep her head clear and her mind open—it was not working.
The bright sky of day soon vanquished its hold and began to surrender itself to the darkening hues of blue and purple. The bog came to mind and she could not suppress the urge to explore it, no matter how forbidden. Looking around to see if anyone was watching, she snuck away into the shadows of the camped vardos.
The air was cool yet not uncomfortable. The night birds began their songs, with crickets and frogs adding their talents. The closer she got to the bog, the louder the song. A mist was beginning to rise, hovering just slightly above the mossy water. What a beautiful sight, she thought. Stepping closer now, she was at the edge of the bog. A couple leopard frogs jumped ahead of her and landed with a sploosh in the dark murky waters. The ancient song of a loon echoed eerily across the bog toward her, causing her skin to prickle in response. Shion remembered what Lhayan had told her about the magic of the loon, its power strongest in the water as they call to the faerie realm. This reminded Shion of her powers and her strong ability to reach the otherworld, the true otherworld, and not the false darkness.
She wondered if she would ever see the Biti Foki. Sometimes she would see things out of the corner of her eye but never attributed it to them. The call of the loon seemed closer now, and she scanned the open water, seeing its black silhouette floating effortlessly by. She closed her eyes and sent a prayer to the loon to open her eyes to the faerie.
Feeling sleepy she sat down upon the cool, mossy earth and stared up into the silvery haze of the night sky. Suddenly she heard a tiny voice from across the bog. It sounded like singing, but it was too far away to make out any words. She stood and without thought stepped on the closest floating island of moss. Something fluttered next to her ear, and she flicked it away, thinking it was a bug. The flutter came again. Ignoring it she leaped to the next island and the next, until she was quite some distance from shore. The tiny song became louder; she turned her head in the direction she thought it came. A gnarly log bobbed silently in front of her and she realized the song was coming from that log.
Once again the annoying flutter buzzed her ear. She flicked at it, and it dodged around to stop in midair right in front of her face. This time she got a better look at it and it did not look anything like a dragonfly, or even a bee, for that matter. She could not ignore the sudden nagging within the pit of her stomach. This was no bug and it had been trying to tell her something.
The hair on the back of her neck stood as the tiny singing voice was absorbed by a hideous mournful groan. Her heart pumped erratically, readying her for action, but she stood frozen as the groan began to form a shape; it grew out of the water, large and black, cloaked from head to toe. The figure had no face, only a cavern of darkness where there should have been eyes. Its bony hand stretched out from the folds of blackness and pointed right at her. Then the black figure floated effortlessly across the water to where she stood. It overshadowed her small frame and with lightning speed enveloped her, holding her tightly. She struggled violently; her mind screamed no! Vigorously she thrashed her body around to loosen its grip of death. Then the bony hand loomed in front of her face. Bite it! The words echoed in her head, and to her surprise she did, and hard! She waited for the horrible taste to come, trying to keep her lips free from bone. Her tongue touched the stone coldness of the finger and she felt bile rise in her throat.
Suddenly she heard splashing and a loud voice behind her. The embrace of death let go and slid silently back into the cold void from where it came. She sank to the mossy island, shivering uncontrollably and spitting out the vile taste that still clung to her lips. Stand up, you baby—you’re alive. Now get up and shake it off, she bickered to herself. As she stood a feeling of pride over came her. She had been challenged and prevailed! She did not need introductions as to what brought this challenge, for she knew that she had just had her first and probably not her last encounter with the Dark One.
Ryven landed at the island of moss before her, too afraid of upsetting hers with his added weight. He pleaded to her, his voice shaking with emotion. “Shion, please come, follow me back to the shore.”
She did as he bid and they made their way carefully across the swamp and crashed to the bank safely. He grabbed her tightly, yanking her strongly to face him. “What were you thinking? You could have drowned!”
She let him hold her, enjoying the secure embrace. She couldn’t stop the smile that crept upon her face.
Finally he let her go and stood scowling at her. His thick brow lowered. “What were you doing out there?”
She stood in defiance. “I went for a stroll across the swamp! I used to do it all the time back home. I knew what I was doing, Ryven, I’m not a child.”
“Shion, halfway across the bog is a doorway. A doorway to unspeakable things. I know because they were just discussing it at camp. Shion, it has swallowed four people this past moon!”
She could not stop the blossoming smile of satisfaction that spread across her face. “I have just met that unspeakable thing, Ryven, and it tried to take me! I fought it off, I—I bit its bony finger!” she yelled, holding up her own finger in his face.
He scowled at her in disbelief and grabbed her, crushing her roughly to him once again.
Shion struggled against him. “Ryven, let go—I’ll bite your finger too! I’m fine, Ryven, leave me be!”
Both stopped their struggling as they heard a laugh from behind them. It was Bethia. She walked toward the couple, a smile beaming across her face. “I see you have had to rescue your charge once again, Ryven. Do you feel you have the strength to take this journey further?”
“I can take care of myself,” Shion answered, pulling from his lion-like grasp. “I have proved it tonight.”
Ryven laughed loudly. “My lady, might I remind you of the time I rescued you from the jaws of three beasts the first night you declared emancipation?”
Oh, how he exasperated her, but he did have a point. Her anger subsided. Secretly she loved his attentions. Secretly was the key, and she would never let him know how much.
Bethia interrupted, “Come, we have had enough excitement for the night. Let us sit by the fire where the night’s chill is not welcome.”
Many fires were already lit and people were preparing the evening meal. Others, too exhausted to eat, sat tinkering with their beloved instruments. Tonight the sounds were soft and melancholy, songs of long travels and many hardships, songs of lost loves and a lost home.
The music seemed to set the somber tone of the night. Bethia wanted to talk to the children, to instill in them their heritage. They gathered around the fire, wide eyed with anticipation of hearing another story.
Shion too wanted to hear and sat next to Bethia within the protective arms of Ryven.
Bethia sat smoking her pipe, her eyes locked on the heavens. The somber songs of the Travellers played softly behind, melding with the song of the night creatures. It was a natural mixture, both playing together like they have done for a thousand years.
One child spoke. “Tell us about the creation of our people. Tell us how the sun and the moon came together to make us.”
Bethia smiled and puffed vigorously at her pipe. She shifted her weight and leveled her gaze to the wide-eyed children within the circle. “Tonight I tell you about the Earthkeepers.” She paused, turning her ear to the children. “What are Earthkeepers, you ask? They are beings that have been on our Mother Earth from the very beginning of time. They love the Mother very deeply and all of her natural realms. They live in harmony with the natural realms, believing that each and every plant, tree, rock, winged, four-legged, crawler, swimmer, and so on have a soul of their own, just—like them.”
“Does my grai have a soul too?” one small, black-eyed child asked.
“Especially the grai,” answered Bethia. “The grai that the outsiders call horse has a very special bond with the Earthkeepers. The horse can take the Earthkeepers to the otherworld because the grai can live in the otherworld and our world at the same time.”
“Will the otherworld be beautiful and kind to us too?” asked a slight girl with unruly red hair.
Before Bethia answered she took a long drag of her pipe, then blew a long stream of blue-grey smoke out of her mouth.“Yes, most kind and very loving. We will not see any more hardships; we will have a beautiful home that we,” she said, pointing her pipe at the children, “helped to create.”
“Good,” whispered the little girl, wiping a tear that had strayed down her face. “My momma cries every night after they killed Papa here in this world.”
Shion’s heart sank. She felt the depth of suffering in the words the small child spoke so quietly. Ryven must have felt it too and held her tighter.
Feeling the shift in emotional energy, Bethia quickly got the story back on track. “Our good and bad memories will all help with the new world. When we go there, it will all be revealed. So, let’s get back to the Earthkeepers.”
Bethia leaned forward and poked a long stick into the fire. It flickered and shot small sparks into the night, illuminating her face.
“The Earthkeepers have lived lifetime after lifetime watching the Mother, and protecting the natural realms. With each lifetime they lived, they gained more knowledge and more memories. They have had to endure much, and it has been very, very hard for them. They know that what they are doing will be good for all and its creations. They are working for when we all can go to the new world together. But they have a job to do first, and it is very hard.”
“What is the hard job?” another child asked, waving her arm at Bethia with excitement.
“With each lifetime the Earthkeepers live, they have to remember who they are so that they may fulfill their sacred mission. It is like a big game, and in the big game they are searching for the sacred vision,” Bethia answered pausing to stare intensely at each and every child as she spoke.
“You never told us what their special mission is,” said the little red-haired girl.
“Oh well, yes, that is the most important part,” stammered Bethia as her pipe left her lips to land in her lap. “They are to awaken all the sleeping people, to prepare them for the Great Shift, so that we may go to the new world, where we have been storing all of our beautiful memories and creations.”
Bethia suddenly stood and clapped her hands and told all the children it was time for bed. With moans of disagreement, the children slowly stood and unwillingly walked toward their vardos. Bethia winked at Shion, then turned on her heel and slowly strode to her vardo.
Shion still had questions, and wished Bethia would talk longer. Realizing she was still in Ryven’s arms, she turned her head to look up at him. He smiled down at her and she pulled from his embrace.
“Good night, Ryven, I will see you tomorrow?”
“Aye, my lady, you will,” he answered, stood, kissed the top of her head, and left.
Hurriedly Shion made her way toward the vardo and entered. She hoped Bethia was still awake; she had so many questions in her head. “Who are the Earthkeepers?” she asked as she settled snugly into her bedding.
There was a long pause before Bethia found the words. “They are the people that still believe the Mother is a living being. They walk with her and do not tramp unmindfully upon her. They honor all of her natural realms and believe they are not above nature but only part of nature. They have been here from the very beginning, having come from a place in the sky very far from here. We believe as Travellers that we have come from that place in the sky. All of the children listening tonight are Earthkeepers.”
Shion lay in contemplative silence. More questions flooded her mind; none could surface to her mouth but one. “Why did you not tell the children who they really are?”
Another long pause before Bethia answered. “Hearing it in your head does not make it so…finding it in your heart does. They must find it themselves…they too must awaken and remember once again in this lifetime who they are. It is their journey to awaken in their own time. My job is to ensure they do waken.” Bethia shifted heavily upon her bed; with a deep sigh she ended her conversation. “I am tired—enough questions.”
Shion lay there for a long time. What is the new world, and does this include her? Shion wondered if she was part of this and thought about her incident in the swamp. Was that a clue? Why does the Dark One want to take people away, why did it try to take her and fail? The more she pondered this, the more she felt she had a role.
Chapter 9 Ghost Horse
The new morning dawned with the smells and sounds of breakfast. Shion was up and dressed, helping the children carry buckets of fresh cool water from the stream that ran around the meadowlands.
Shion listened intently to the morning chatter about another caravan that had come in late last night. It had set up down the road from them in another location. She wondered if the people were like the Travellers or of another tribe.
Suddenly a bright flash of light caught her eye from across the stream. Seeing the flash again, she threw her bucket down and headed across the water. It was not very deep but very cold; she shivered slightly as she trudged slowly across. The bank was steep and she had to grab some young willows to yank herself up. As she cleared the bank, the flashing suddenly stopped. She watched for another flash, feeling a great difference in the air; looking back at the water, she thought the air seemed heavier here and realized she had left the realm of Dragonwyck.
A sound in the distance made her freeze in her tracks and she listened. Hearing it again, she slowly inched forward through the waist-high grass that crackled crisply under her feet. The sound more audible now was a long, low moan. She tried to see through the long grass, searching for what it could be. She took a few more steps, and suddenly her foot connected with a large mound of white hair, sending her backward on her butt with a grunt. She scrambled to get away as the mass struggled with long, flailing legs. Then an overpowering stench filled her nostrils. She had smelled this before; it was the stench of death. Flies buzzed noisily around the white mass as it rolled itself with great exertion, and after three tries yanked itself to a standing position.
“Oh, you poor thing!” The words just flew out of her mouth at the horror before her. It stared at her with large, sunken, black-rimmed eyes. Those eyes, she thought. Empty. Bottomless. Its nostrils flared and blew at her as if trying to figure out if she was friend or foe. She gulped back the emotion as she took in the sack of bones. The overpowering stench hit her again and she put her hand to her nose. It was quite evident this horse wasdying. Large, fleshy protrusions hung from the front limbs of the suffering animal. A low, tired nicker came from deep within as it took a tentative step toward her. She held out her hand and immediately it began to pulsate. A swirl of white energy lifted from her hand into a stream of glittering gold as it connected with the horse. She stood silently, letting it flow where it was needed. A long, heavy sigh came from the horse as he lowered his forehead right to the center of her palm and closed his eyes.
The immediate heart connection caught her by surprise. The strong emotion coursed through her body and streamed in uncontrollable tears down her face. In that moment they stood together and became one.
“Oh—there you are,” a voice said from behind her.
Startled, Shion spun around to the direction of the voice to see a short, plumb, gray-haired woman with kind eyes standing before her. The woman smiled, walked to the horse, and brushed at his long white mane. The collar around his neck had a metal buckle that Shion figured had made the flashes that caught her attention.
“I see you found poor Nero. I was afraid he had passed during the night.”
Shion stepped closer to the lady and introduced herself. “Hello, I am Shion—I came across the river from the little village of Dragonwyck.”
The lady looked at Shion in confusion. “I didn’t know there was a village across that river, and I have lived here for over thirty years. Well, I guess that tells you I don’t get out much.”
Shion felt puzzled too, thinking, how could anyone miss such a beautiful and lively village?
“I found him down the road this summer. He was just standing alone in the livery stable, no life to him. They were going to…put him out of his misery. But I wouldn’t have it; I saw a spark in his eye. I believe he told me he was once a great horse, of noble breeding. I decided to give him the magic name Nero. You see, Nero was an apprentice of the great wizard Mergus.”
She paused and winked at Shion, then put a finger to her lips and whispered, “You know, Mergus passed by here when I was a very wee child.” The lady paused again and studied the horse. “Yes, I think there is some magic left in this horse. Don’t you?” She took a small step toward Shion, peering straight into her eyes.
Shion felt the intensity of the old woman’s stare and gulped. “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about such things. Someone might overhear us and we could get…well, it wouldn’t be safe,” replied Shion, but at the same time wondering about the wizard Mergus and if it was her Mergus.
“Ah, fiddlesticks! I’ve seen plenty of magic in my day and nobody is going to change the way I live and think.” The old woman smiled as the horse nudged closer to Shion and rested his weary head against her. “He really has taken a liking to you; never seen him do that before.”
“I love horses—I am learning ways to heal them,” she said, leaning in to whisper. “I have gotten very good at using the herbs for all ailments.” She stroked the horse’s white face. Moving closer to him, she whispered into his ear, “I would love to take you with me to help you.”
“Shion…I’m thinking, you could take Nero home with you—to fix him up. He isn’t getting much better with me, but he sure has perked up just standing next to you. I recognize signs when I see them.” She patted the bony carcass. “All I want for this poor boy is to get better. I can’t tell you what has been done to him, or how they used him, but I think a little healing magic is just what he needs.”
Nero pushed on Shion with his large white head, almost sending her to the ground. They both laughed at what seemed to be their answer.
“I would love to take him. Are you sure you want to let him go?” Shion asked, crossing her fingers behind her.
“Little lady, you have yourself a horse. Now get him on over that river and get him healthy.” The plump lady turned, walked back through the crackling dried grass, and disappeared.
Shion stood looking at the towering horse. She pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, then turned to Nero and said, “Well, my boy, looks like you are coming with me.”
Going back across the river was much easier this time. Shion felt the difference in the air immediately after they stepped back onto Dragonwyck soil. Nero too perked up and began to walk with more vigor.
“You feel it too, don’t you,” said Shion as she proudly walked toward the camp.
Ryven was the first to see them. He quickened his steps wearing a slight wrinkle to his brow. Shion knew him well enough now to see he was a little annoyed with her. Lately he wanted to know her every move and accompany her wherever she went. She did not tell him she was going across the river and knew he would be upset.
“Where have you been? Where did you get this—this walking death?” he finished as he wrinkled up his nose in disgust.
“This is Nero, isn’t he beautiful?”
“You brought home a ghost horse. Look at him—and the stench!”
Shion bristled in defense of her charge. “Ryven Blackmore, I don’t expect you to understand. But I can help him and I am not asking for any help from you!” With that she stomped off, dragging Nero behind her to find an empty corral.
Ryven stood silent, mouth agape, unsure how to press the matter further.
“Well, looks like we have some interesting days ahead of us. Ryven, you need to look at that horse. He is different. Feels like magic is afoot!” exclaimed Bethia as she passed by him with a chuckle.
Shion found an empty corral and put the horse in. She stood back and examined him. He was very tall, much, much taller than Freia. But his eyes were so sad and kind. He looked like a lost boy. The large bulbous growths on his legs attracted many flies, and they landed here and there, taking bits of nourishment from his emaciated body. The right front leg had two large brain-like growths, one on the side of his knee and one very large one on the outside of his pastern connecting down to the hoof wall. The hoof was dry and brittle; it splayed out as if the disease was deep within. The leg was inflamed and swollen up to his knee. As she studied his condition, panic began to invade her thoughts. Was Ryven right? Did she bring home a dead horse? How could she fix something this advanced?
“He has lost faith in man, Shion; I can see it in his eyes,” said Bethia as she examined the horse closer. “It will be your greatest challenge to show him there are still good people in the world. The disease is in his whole body. What you see is only part of it. But…I believe you were led to this horse for a very good reason. Only in time will you know what it is.”
“I want to help him, Bethia. But I am afraid that I do not have enough ability.” Just as she finished her sentence, a blue jay landed on the corral and chattered noisily at Shion.
“Look, the blue jay is here to remind you of how and why you use your healing powers. Your powers are very strong and you have yet to know how strong they are. Be careful you do not inflict harm, Shion—you can use that power either way, so be very mindful of it. If the blue jay appears again, remember this,” lectured Bethia.
“I will,” Shion said, kicking at a small stone. “I only want to help this horse…if he will let me.” She ran her hand along the horse, feeling his dry and brittle coat.
“That’s it, Shion. The magic word is if. This horse has the right to accept or reject healing. He could choose to cross to the otherworld at any time—they are not attached to their bodies as we are, so do not associate your human thoughts with the horse, or any animal for that manner. Do not ever try to go against the wishes of a soul if it decides to cross. I warn you it can be a very painful lesson,” she finished, putting her hand on Shion’s back.
“I think I understand what you are saying, but it is hard to think like a horse when I am in this human body.” Shion shrugged off Bethia’s hand and pointed to the river’s edge. “Comfrey grows along the edge of the river. I think poultices of comfrey leaf and calendula will help the growths.” Leaving Bethia, she climbed through the corral rails.
Bethia watched Shion leave to search for herbs. A look of concern creased her brow. She turned and spoke to Nero. “Magic is afoot, but will she know when the work of magic is finished and not intervene in the outcome? Well, old boy, our little schuvani has an important lesson coming her way,” she finished, swatting flies away from the horse.
Shion found the comfrey, tall and lean with deep pink flowers. She knew she would have to macerate them and asked the plant for permission to pick some of its leaves. Permission was given, and she carefully picked the leaves that seemed to call to her and took them to the vardo, where she ground the leaves along with some of Bethia’s rosemary and calendula. She guessed she would have to apply the poultices daily and wondered if Nero would accept it.
With the concoction made, she ran back to where Nero stood waiting quietly. A small gathering of Travellers watched as she worked. They gave her smiles of encouragement and whispered the word schuvani.
Surprisingly, Nero stood like a gentlemen as she wrapped his legs with the herb poultice. Shion knew that he needed more than herbs to heal. And as she worked, she listened for subtle signs of guidance. But, even after Bethia’s warning, his physical body seemed too far gone. She could not suppress her doubts and fears. What worried her most was his emotional state. He could decide not to heal, and she feared he might choose to slip into the otherworld.
Once the herbs were applied, she summoned her energies, and guided her hands lightly along his body, searching for any hot or cold spots. She knew the horse had areas of circulating energy along his topline and ran her hands along them. She stopped above his tail; it felt thick and hot to her touch. She asked for energy to be released into this area and cleanse it. She did this all along his body where needed. It was not long before Nero was in a deep state of relaxation, his head hung low with his bottom lip drooping. The onlookers gawked in amazement. Shion let her hands glide to each of his growths, letting them stay there for as long as it felt needed. The unpleasant smell made it very hard to keep her concentration and she crinkled her nose to avoid it.
Soon Nero stirred from his deep slumber and walked away from her hands. Shion remembered this to be a sign…he had had enough. With a giggle and a pat on his bony rump, she left him to rest.
As she climbed out of the corral, she saw smiles of encouragement from the crowd that had formed. One of the little black-haired children moved forward and tugged at her skirt. “You help grai—grai help you!” she said, her words so mature for such a tiny frame.
“Oh, I will do as much as I can to help him, little one,” she replied to the little girl.
It filled her heart to know she was becoming what she had always dreamed. She was filling the shoes of the healer.
With those thoughts still in her head, she headed to the vardo. She knew Bethia would be there and had more questions.
Bethia watched her approach and held out a steaming cup of herb tea.
As Shion reached for the cup, a look of horror crossed Bethia’s face, and she backed away, pointing to a large wooden bucket filled with water. “Wash first,” was all she said.
Shion, now used to the stench, quickly dunked her hands in. There was a bar of soap inside, and she scrubbed, enjoying the sweet, antiseptic smell of lavender and honey.
“There is a sprig of lavender in there; use it to help mask the smell and kill any sickness attached from the horse,” Bethia ordered. “I also have been thinking…it is time to teach you to journey…shuvani style!”
“What does that word mean? I have heard it whispered many times,” asked Shion, still scrubbing.
“Ah yes, shuvani is our word for witch or wise woman; shuvano is the word for the man. The shuvani can travel between the worlds, just as the horse does,” she explained and took a large sip of her herb tea. “They can talk to the spirits on the other side and find guidance for healing.”
“Do you think I could be a shuvani?” asked Shion.
Bethia studied her from the rim of her teacup. Her large, black eyes seemed to bore deep into her. “Shuvani is a calling. You do not just choose to be one. It chooses you, and only after you passed the challenges.”
“What kind of challenges?” she asked, reaching again for the offered cup of tea.
“They cannot be told. They will come without warning…” She took another noisy sip of her tea and narrowed her eyes at Shion. “The path of the shuvani is very hard—the challenges can break you or make you stronger—remember this when you are at your wit’s end.”
That only confused Shion. But deep down inside she felt she had the calling.
Bethia spoke again, startling Shion from her thought. “The waking dream you had at the campfire on our travel here, was a journey to your ancient ones or ancestors. Shion…we are our ancestors. We have the ability to go back to that ancestor and get guidance. We hold in our body, memories of knowledge and wisdom from the people we once were. We can go back and fix wrongs that have been done to us that are still causing us pain today. Now, finish your tea, it is made special for this journeying,” ordered Bethia before she emptied the last bit of liquid nector from her own cup.
Shion took a sip and rolled the flavor around in her mouth. At first it was bitter and she could not help but pucker her lips. She swallowed and the bitterness changed to a soft lemony flavor. It was not her favorite taste, but she drank it anyway and asked, “What is in this?”
“This is a very old concoction, conjured up from my very first ancestors. It will calm you, center your spirit, and help you to see the devlesko dikkiben—sacred vision. It has skullcap, lemon balm, chamomile, and the juice of the barrel cactus. The barrel cactus has made an agreement with the spirit world that whoever drinks it will be taken there. This is a very powerful plant and if misused, it will bring the most terrible journeys.”
Quickly in silence, Shion thanked the spirits of the plants that were now in her tea, and asked that they help her have a safe and pleasant journey.
She heard the light jingle of the tambourine as Bethia held one out for her. “This is a vastengri, a tool to train your mind and help you cross to the spirit world.”
She put her empty cup down and carefully took the tambourine. Studying its intricate design, she ran her hand around the rounded shape feeling the soft, ancient, well-worn wood. If felt good in her hands. It was her first tool of magic. The goat hide of the drumhead was smooth in colors of grey, white, and tan. She quietly thanked the goat for giving its life to make such a wonderful tool.
Bethia took her long staff and motioned to Shion. “Come, we will walk to the lake where the tree people are deeply rooted. You need to find another tool, which we call ran.”
“I know what it is, Bethia. It is the long staff that you carry. I was so attracted to it the first time I saw you.”
“This tool is another extension of yourself and of your energies. You must allow the stick to pick you. You must listen quietly and search not only with your seeing eyes but also with your inner eye. It will carry and support you; it will also bring protection and insight.”
They entered the edge of the forest near the bog where the Dark One almost took her. Shion closed her eyes, using only her inner vision, which came easily to her. The smells and the sounds of the forest became clearer and more intense. A familiar buzz flew annoyingly across her face. She swiped at it with a fern leaf she had just picked.
Bethia chuckled. “I see you have attracted a Biti Foki, a little sylph of the air. They do not show themselves easily. This shows the natural connection you already carry.”
“Bethia, it was there, the night the Dark One almost took me—it buzzed my face, almost like it was trying to stop me from going into the bog.”
“Indeed it was trying to stop you. Know that you have protection all around; you will have to learn to trust and believe what is around you. The more you trust and believe, the more of them you will see.”
Shion took a deep breath and closed her eyes once again. The blackness began to swirl and meld with the color gold; soon more pictures began to flash within the swirls of the color. A tree began to appear within the confusion of colors. Shion opened her eyes and the very same tree stood tall and ancient right before her. She walked toward it. A brilliant glowing light of amber formed between her and the tree. She stared into the light to see the shape of what she would describe as butterfly wings. As she waited to let it form further, a tiny smiling face appeared, framed with hair of spun gold, or was it swirling light—she could not tell. It giggled at her and whizzed high above her head into the tree. She looked up just in time to see a long branch begin its descent to the ground.
“Look out!” Bethia yelled in time for Shion to jump out of the way before it landed on her head.
Bethia shook with laughter, her coins jingled sweetly. “In all my days, I have never seen such a thing.”
Shion stooped to pick up the long stick. Looking up, she thanked the tree faerie and the ancient tree. She held the long staff out in front of her; it was a perfect height, stopping at eye’s length. One end started narrow and it twisted in a beautiful shape until it came to a thicker base. The bottom was shaped like a cloven hoof. “Do you see this, Bethia? The bottom looks like a hoof of a deer.”
“How appropriate. I will tell you that a shuvani always travels to the otherworld on the back of a deer or horse,” said the wise woman.
Bethia sat herself down beneath the protective tree and patted the ground next to her. “Come, let us sit under this keeper of wisdom; it carries the knowledge of hundreds of years of lifetimes within the rings of its trunk. If asked, this tree can show you many things from the past. Now sit and press your back to its trunk. You must let your energies be absorbed into the energies of the tree. Lay your ran on the ground in front of you. I will now shake the vastengri.” She held the tambourine up and shook it until it filled the air with its song.
“Listen to the vastengri, let the music lead you. We will reconnect with that lifetime you have visited before. That lifetime that you shared with the man named Mesha.”
Shion felt herself stiffen; she did not want to go back to that horrible scene, the sound of the sword hitting Mesha still fresh in her mind.
Bethia stopped shaking the tambourine and said, “I can tell by the expression on your face you do not wish this. Remember, you cannot be hurt by looking at memories. The ones that harm are the ones that stay locked deep within your soul, replaying over and over, stopping you from moving forward in this lifetime.”
Bethia reached out and pulled on Shion’s thick braid of hair and gave her a wink. “But, today we go further back, back beyond the time you were taken captive.” Bethia lovingly ran her hand around her tambourine, making it sing sweetly. “I will shake the vastengri in a quick procession. Let the sound carry you deep within yourself and find the place in your soul where your ancestors await you.”
Shion pressed her back against the strength of the wise old tree, feeling its protection she took a deep breath. The quick and steady one-two-three, one-two-three, beat of the tambourine kept her attention from straying. The outside world melded away and all she could hear was the soft instruction of Bethia as she guided her back, back to the place of her ancestors, back to a lifetime long ago…
Chapter 10 Rite of Passage
A loud bang rattled the teakwood door. “You must hurry; they await you!”
Hurriedly she grabbed tiny bottles and bundles, then stuffed them into her bag. She hefted the wide, wooden door open to greet the impatient young man. His great height towered over her small frame. His jet-black hair danced wildly around his lean, but strong shoulders, falling to almost his breast. His black eyes locked on hers with a look of anticipation. Reaching out, he took her arm and pulled her forward. “Hurry, we must go now! It is too big, she cannot push it forth.”
She scuffled along and patted at her bag. “I have everything I need in here. When did it start?”
“Early this morning,” he quickly answered, pulling her along the hard dusty path. They wound their way through the whitewashed walls of the village to a very large stable.
They turned a sharp corner, where a man paced, his arms grasped tightly behind his back, a line of concern etched across his face as he stopped and looked at her. She noticed his expression matched the ones of the protective deities hanging on the walls behind him—fierce, with determination and great purpose.
“Welcome my daughter, one who carries the blood of her mother, and mother’s mother, the purest line of healers and seers. I called upon you to help my favorite mare,” he commanded, but ever so gently.
Kneeling down next to the sweat-covered mare, she rubbed her hand along the golden silk of her long mane. The mare strained loudly as her body went taut with the effort of bringing forth life. After a few seconds of pushing, she gave up and lay heavily back to the floor of her stall. Her skin twitched with muscle spasms from the great effort, and she moaned again deep and low.
She felt panic rise within. She did not like to hear the mare suffering so, and opened her bags. Quickly she dug out and lit a long slender stick of wrapped herbs; she waved it around the mare that now lay silent. She let a soft chant escape her lips as she began rubbing oils along the mare’s back and spine, ending at her tail. She reached further down and rubbed at her gateway of life. She chanted and ran her hands along the mare’s hardened stomach, which held the large foal inside.
“He is afraid to enter the world. His last lifetime ended too soon and violently. I must talk to his soul, to go back and fix that past life,” she said as she worked frantically. She pressed her face firmly against the mare where the frightened soul lay within. She whispered to the mare’s belly. Reaching for her bag, she extracted a stone the color of water. She rubbed the stone all over the creamy, white belly of the mare, then stood to face her father.
Her father came to her. His large black eyes met hers in question.
“It is up to him now; I have done all that is permitted.”
The quick, rapid jingles of the tambourine rang loudly in her ears. She fought the sensation to come back. She wanted to see more, know more.
Bethia’s voice spoke to her, urging her back. “Shion, you are back in the present. Say good-bye to your ancestors, and thank them for coming. You are back against your tree. Feel the bark pressing against your skin, dig your toes deeply into the soft green soil of the Mother, take a few deep breaths, and when you are ready, open your eyes.”
She opened her eyes and focused on Bethia’s soft round face. She could not contain the excitement and blurted out, “Mesha was there—and a horse. I met my father!” She suddenly stopped and went silent. “That was just my imagination, wasn’t it? I have always had a very vivid imagination. That could not have been one of my lifetimes.”
Bethia clucked in annoyance. “Child, remember the journey brings much, and sometimes it is more than we can believe—even when it is in front of our very own eyes. We must take all the pieces of the pie and put them together, once together they form a whole, and through the bringing together of that whole, we find our way, and find the tacho drom.”
Shion stared at the wise woman, having heard those words before. “What does tacho drom mean?”
“It means true road or true path…this is what journeying is for, so you may learn of your true path.”
“I do look forward to learning, but I also feel I might be wasting your time. Who am I? I am nothing,” she whispered, running her hand along the long smoothness of her new ran.
Bethia snorted in disagreement. “Come, child, we must go, you have a horse that needs your attention. Do you think finding him was of no importance? Ah, you have much to learn and that is how it will be. Come, let us go learn some more.” Bethia turned on her long staff; the crystal at the top sparkled, sending prisms of color through the woods.
Shion looked at her own new ran. Looking in the tree, she searched for the tiny sprite that had dropped it in her lap. She thought she had heard a tiny giggle. Was it really the sprite or more of her imagination? Wishing it to be the sprite, she said, “Thank you,” and followed behind Bethia.
Nero stood motionless in his corral. His ears perked up as he heard them approach. He turned and slowly made his way toward them.
Bethia stroked his long white face. She checked out Shion’s handiwork, noticing the poultices still tied to some of his protrusions. The smell made its way to her nose and she sniffed loudly. “He has one foot in the otherworld; if he chooses life, the smell will leave him.”
“Yes, it is horrible, but I pay it no mind. I worry when I look into his eyes. There is only a trace of the spark. I look at the severity of his disease. It looks beyond help. Bethia, I fear I have taken on more than I am capable of doing. I am afraid. I need your help,” she pleaded. Feeling the embarrassment of her confession rise in her warming face, she turned her back on Bethia.
Bethia’s hand went to her shoulder and turned her back around. “Why do you doubt yourself today? Put your ego aside and listen to your heart. What does your heart tell you?”
She stood in silence, trying very hard to hear her heart. “I can tell you that in just this short span of time, I have come to love this horse deeply. I feel a deep connection—and it grows every minute I am with him. I cannot explain it, but I want to believe that he will choose life; I want him to choose life. But I also fear if he doesn’t, what will the meaning hold for me?”
Bethia put her finger under Shion’s chin, tipping her head up to look in her eyes. Her strong expression softened momentarily.
“Love him, Shion. Through that love, watch him blossom into the magnificent animal he was meant to be, if it be for only a short time or until he dies of old age. Just love him. Your heart will do the rest. But be warned about your thoughts; thoughts can take form, and you can manifest your fears. Do not allow that to happen.”
With that said and with a flick of her hand, she made her usual departure, mumbling something about a cup of tea and her pipe.
Nero nudged closer to Shion. He rested his large head on her shoulder. How could she not love him? She had always had a soft spot for the sick ones. This sick one had worked his way deep into her heart, and that is what made her so fearful.
She stood with Nero for a long time, enjoying the warmness of his breath as he breathed on the side of her face. They stood that way in each other’s company until the warm autumn sun began to give way to the relentless chase of the moon. Tonight the moon would be but a sliver of silver; the Gypsies say it is the most powerful time of the moon. She welcomed the power of the moon and whispered a tiny prayer for Nero.
“With each passing day may the dimness of his light grow bigger and brighter, as you do, until he is once-again whole and perfect. Thank you, beautiful lady of the night.” The prayer made her think of Lhayan, so she extended the prayer to her also.
“It’s going to be a beautiful evening, isn’t it?” asked Ryven. He was so close, she could fell the heat of his breath as he spoke.
“Ryven! Would you stop creeping up on me? One of these days I will stick you with my athame!” she said bravely as she pulled it from the folds of her skirt and pressed it to the front of his chest.
Ryven studied the two-sided blade as it glinted before him. “’Tis nothing but a pig sticker,” he laughed and quickly grasped her arm and twisted it.
She yelped as the pain shot up through her arm. Now, angered at his antics, she glared up at his tall frame. “Hmmm, it is not the steel blade I would fear, Ryven, but the magic it welds within. Lhayan taught me well before she…well, before…” Her demeanor crumbled at the thought of Lhayan. “I miss her so much. Will I ever see her again?”
Ryven shrugged his shoulder. “Only if it be in the cards,” he answered with a sheepish grin, trying to cheer her up if only a little.
“Yes, she always used that phrase, didn’t she?.”
“Come, Shion, there is a gathering of elders tonight. The rest of the tribes have arrived. There is quite a commotion going on. Bethia has asked for you already and you know how impatient she can be.”
Her sadness now turned to intrigue. “A gathering, what sort of gathering?” she asked, shrugging away from his arm as he tried to pull her toward him.
He frowned at her evasion. “I don’t know. All the tribes have gathered and something about initiating shuvanis.”
“I don’t want to miss this!” she said and took off running ahead of him.
A long procession of Travellers walked in front of them and behind them. They all wore smiles and chattered in their strange language. Children ran around laughing as they chased each other. Shion could feel the energy of love permeate this strange village. It enveloped her very being, making her feel safe and welcome. It was very different from what she had been used to.
As they rounded a bend of massively tall trees, she froze. The sight before her made her skin prickle. The gathering was more than she had imagined. The sound of drumming and dance was overwhelming. Her heart quickened with excitement. There must have been over one hundred drummers, the beat quick and seductive, reverberating through her body.
In the center of the drummers roared a huge fire. She could smell the welcoming smoke and the warm flames beckoned to her. Bethia was there by the fire, with four other women dressed similar to her, which told Shion they were all of the same tribe. Shion felt Ryven’s guiding hand as they made their way through the throngs of people to where Bethia stood.
“Good, now we can reveal our surprise for you and the others like you,” said Bethia as she waved the other women toward her.
Shion stood feeling confused and excited at the same time. The other women came forth, each with a girl that looked to be her age. Shion noticed they too wore the look of confusion.
Bethia raised her arms, pointing her ran high above her. The drumming stopped; a hush spread across the meadow. She circled the fire and stopped in the direction of east.
“Tonight we bless these special young women so they may leave here and go out as Earthkeepers.”
Shion’s mind exploded with confusion. What did she mean by leaving—I’m not leaving this place! She could barely hear another word Bethia spoke. The panicked voices in her head drowned all else out. All she could do was watch as the woman began the ceremony.
“Bavol, spirit of air, I invoke thee and ask thee to be present at this most sacred rite. Protect this gathering and bring blessings upon your children of the wind!” She lowered her arms and walked in the direction of south, then raised her arms again. “Yag, spirit of fire, I invoke thee and ask thee to be present at this most sacred rite. Protect this gathering and bring blessings of courage upon your children.”
She lowered her arms, then proceeded in the direction of west, where she began again. “Pani, spirit of water, I invoke thee and ask thee to be present at this most sacred rite. Protect this gathering and bring blessings of cleansing!” She walked in the direction of north. “Puv, spirit of earth, I invoke thee and ask thee to be present at this most sacred rite. Protect this gathering and bring blessings of wisdom!”
With hands still raised, she went back to the east. She tapped her ran on the earth three times. “Ravnos, spirit of the sky, Ana spirit of the mountains, come now and put your mark upon these shuvanis, whose time has come to fully awaken and meet their challenges to prepare for the time of the Great Shift.”
Shion turned to Ryven and met his stare of concern. This look did not comfort her but only added to her confusion.
Bethia motioned for her to come forward along with the other women and their charges.
“These four young women gave themselves as Earthkeepers, at the time of the birth of our Mother. They all are children of the wind, born under the power of Bavol, great messenger himself to the ‘One who is All.’ And in turn they are messengers—messengers of the people! It has been a great plan from the very beginning that has taken much time, hard work, and sacrifice. They have lived lifetime after lifetime watching and protecting the Mother. The Mother is now coming into the time of the snake, shedding her outer layers of solidness. Our job as nurturers, teachers, and protectors of these special Earthkeepers has come to fruition.”
Bethia held out her ran and pointed it at all who watched her. “The era of the Traveller has ended. We have now entered into the hour of the bear, and will go within, until the time to travel into the west. The Dark One has become very strong. We must go where it cannot reach us, so that we may help guide our special Earthkeepers in their process of illumination.”
Bethia motioned to Shion to come before her. “My child, I know you have many questions, but what I speak of is true. You must go forth to watch the Mother for the sign of the Great Shift. You will begin to awaken the outside people so they my take part in the Great Shift and raise into illumination. This is very crucial, my child. If you fail, the Dark One will prevail and we will live in immeasurable suffering and disconnection from the Goddess—just as we have been doing—but much worse.”
She held up an amulet made of black and white braided horse hair, a strange-looking claw, and their most precious golden stone, amber. The amulet hung on a short, leather cord. Bethia placed it around her neck.
“With this amulet of protection, and unfailing connection to me and all who you see this night, I awaken you, Shion, to your journey.“
Shion allowed the amulet to be placed around her head. As it was laid, she could feel a strange quickening within her. A bright spinning orb of amber and orange swirled before her eyes. Something began to beat in her head; it sounded like the thundering hoofs of horses—many horses, and just as she could stand it no longer, a sudden flash of what she thought was the eye of a dragon filled her head.
Bethia proceeded toward the three other young women and did the same for them. When she had finished presenting them with their amulets, she turned to the crowd and raised her ran. The ceremony over, she circled to the four directions and released the protection of all the spirits she had called in. With a nod of her head, the drumming once again began, this time accompanied by the jingle of tambourines.
Bethia smiled and began to move her plump, but agile body to the beat of the drums. With chants of excitement, the valley came alive with music, color, and magic. Everyone who didn’t play an instrument danced and chanted.
Shion could feel the energy build. She could no longer hold onto her feelings of panic and allowed them to be carried away with the beat of the drums. Now caught up in the excitement, she just had to let her body move—and move she did, letting herself be absorbed and lost in the vibrations of music. For a very tiny moment, she felt love and beauty so great, it was beyond words.
Her bliss was shortened by Bethia’s words. “Shion, you belong to the tribe of the horse now. We are the tribe of the horse; you are part of us now. There is a great secret about the horse that you must discover on your own. When you discover this, it will open another door to your journey.”
Shion leaned closer so Bethia could hear her words. “Bethia, at first I was confused and fearful. Once you put this amulet around my neck, I felt transformed and am ready for my journey. I had a vision, Bethia, with the amulet. I saw the horses and I saw…” Shion paused before she finished her sentence, deciding if she should reveal the whole vision or not. Bethia had such an intense stare on her, she had no choice but to blurt out, “I saw a dragon’s eye!”
Bethia threw her head back in laughter. “I have never doubted your abilities, my child,” she said, and flung her arm around Shion. “Come, let us celebrate. Tonight I can dance forever.”
The end of free chapters
Shion and Ryven set off on their journey to the secret of Dragonhorse. There she will find another protector, a dying wolf pup and saves another horse, but is he just a horse? She joins a coven of white witches and her world of forbidden magic is opened. Where and how does the dragon enter into the story? Will Shion ever see a real faerie diva of the woods? Will the Church finally catch up to her and her coven to destroy them before they can finish their quest. How many more characters will enter into their world and what magic will they possess? These are just a few things you read about in the rest of the book. Hope you enjoyed my first few chapters...things really heat up now!
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