Weaver’s Box, Part 5

 

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The weaving studio was a riot of color. Yarns overflowed huge bins surrounding a large work area dotted with a multitude of different looms. Each loom boasted a different project, some large, some small, some in fine threads, others in yarns of varying thicknesses. To her surprise, Sonsee found she wanted to touch each one, to see how it had been done, to experience and relish in the way these pieces came together. 

“When do we start?” she asked, eyes popping with the prospects before her. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. 

“As soon as you pick your yarns,” Ana replied. 

But there was so much to choose from and each time she found something, another color, another texture screamed at her, “Choose me, choose me.” 

“Oh, Ana, which one? There are so many beautiful yarns here.”

“You have asked the right question and so I will give you the answer. First you must choose your warp threads.”

“Warp? What is that?”

“It is your basis, Toko, your skeleton if you will. It is the foundation that holds the beauty together. Here let me show you.”  

She took Toko to the nearest loom. “See the threads that go up and down? That is the warp. You put that on first, then you begin weaving the threads that go across the piece. That is called the weft. Warp and weft, remember that. Now choose your warp first.”

Toko took a skein of dark pink yarn from one of the bins. She liked the spongey softness of it. It would be cuddly and she needed something cuddly to soften her room. Maybe she could weave a blanket for her bed. 

“No, that will not work.” Ana wrapped the yarn around thumb and index finger on each hand and gave a tug. It broke apart. “You need something stronger for the warp. Otherwise it will break every time you beat the fabric.” 

“Beat the fabric?”

Ana smiled. “Yes, beat, but that is a lesson for later. Now come over here. These are warp yarns.” 

Toko was not please with what she saw. These yarns were harder somehow. They had no give, no stretch, no life to them. They just were what they were. 

Before Toko could choose one of the yarns, Ana took a spool of colorless thread from the bin and handed it to Toko. “Here, this is best for a first project.”

It looked more like string. Well, I’ll just find something soft for the…what did Ana call it? Oh, the weft. 

Toko headed back to the softer yarns, but Ana had other ideas. “This way,” she said and brought Toko to a bin labeled cottons. “These will be better for a first project.”

Resigned to doing as Ana told her, Toko found a dark blue yarn and started to match a second color. “One is enough for now,” Ana said. “Time to warp your loom.” 

Instead of finding one of the many empty floor looms, Ana grabbed a wooden frame from behind one of the bins. “This is a peg loom,” she explained.

Toko took it in her hands. It was not hard to guess that the warping string would be wound up and down the pegs. But guessing that was easier than doing that, she soon found. Despite Ana’s careful demonstration, the first time she tried, it was too loose. She discovered that as she wove the first few rows of weft. “Take it out and start over,” Ana said.

The second time, the tension was uneven, some areas of the warp having been applied tighter than others. 

By Toko’s third try, Ana was satisfied. “Now start over again and this time do only four inches. That will be enough to see how well you can control the yarns.” 

Four inches, that was do-able and the loom was only 18 inches long. I’ll be done with this in no time. Then I can do something interesting. 

Ana picked up a smooth piece of wood that had been deeply notched at each end. It was just a bit longer than the 4 inches Toko had warped. “This is a shuttle,” Ana said and then showed Toko how to wind yarn around it. “You will weave the weft with this.”

“But it is so fat. How will I weave it in and out? Wouldn’t a needle be better?”

“Only if you want to be at it for the entire month. Watch this.” Ana took another smooth flat piece of wood, this one thin but eight inches long and an inch wide. “This is a shed stick,” she said as she wove it in and out of the warp, then turned it up onto its side. That created a space between the warp threads, some held up and some down. “The space between the threads is called a shed.” Ana quickly passed the shuttle through the shed, then flattened the shed stick again. She moved it up and then took a comb to push the weft down, making an even line at the bottom. “This is called beating,” Ana explained.

Picking up a second shed stick, Ana threaded it through the warp, this time making sure the threads that had been up were now down. Turning the stick so that it formed a shed, Ana passed the shuttle through again and beat it down. “Now you try.”

Toko removed the second stick, turned the first onto its side forming the shed, and passed the shuttle through. She beat it down, then copied Ana’s steps as she wove the next weft into place and beat. 

“Good, now keep doing that until you reach the top of the loom. I have other business to attend to. The toilet is over there,” Ana said, pointing to the corner. “Do not leave the room. Remember what I told you, there are spies everywhere.” 

Toko wove another  dozen rows, but noted the warp threads drawing in. Her piece was getting narrower. That would not do, she’d never pass onto more interesting work unless she could keep the width even. She removed her work and started over again, this time measuring the width as she wove. After seven rows, the piece remained even. But this was boring, just weaving row after row. I’ll get a second color.

Toko searched the cotton bin, finally finding a skein that was not exactly mauve and not exactly pink either. Nanna would call it a not-this-and-not-that color. It would do nicely, as would a taupe that matched it perfectly. She wrapped a shuttle with the pink-mauve yarn, but before going back to work, she needed to explore the room. There must be a way to escape.

Pretending to be stretching her back, Toko looked out the windows. A garden, beautifully tended, was surrounded by a high stone wall. I’d need more than a ladder to scale that. With only one door out of this room, she realized her options were limited. At least from the weaving studio.

Resigned to spending another day of captivity, she made her way back to her small loom but found herself distracted by the larger floor looms. She studied a few of them. It was not hard to see how the weavers had joined two colors, or how they had made vertical stripes. Well, at least I can add some interest before Ana comes back. 

Toko started with the mauve-pink, angling it out as she wove up the piece. Twice she missed her mark, but she learned and when she had figured it out, boredom set in. Vertical striped were next. But too easy. She had noted that one weaver added short pieces of weft, leaving the tails hanging out the back. She worked in some taupe, too, before noticing that her edges were not clean, not straight. 

She was about to remove the weft and try again when Ana returned. 

“Look at that mess,” Ana scolded. “Rip it out! Rip it out now! Then it’s back to your room with you. And no supper. You must learn to listen to me.” 

“But, Ana, I was only….”

“Do not talk back to me, missy.” She hit Toko hard across the face.

That night, the mark Sonsee made behind her bed was angry and deep. One more day wasted and I am no closer to escaping. 

Weaver’s Box, Part 4

 

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Days past. For each one, Sonsee made a scratch on the wall behind her bed. Eventually M’Lady stopped coming to see her, telling her only that she was now Toko and in training to be a Priestess. Sonsee held her ground. “No,” she said, “I am not going to be a Priestess.”

Others were sent in M’Lady’s place but Ana had warned her. These were M’Lady’s spies, sent to befriend her and to spy on her. So the nameless priestesses came and went, bringing fresh clothes and water to wash up.

At first the food they brought was plentiful and the nameless priestesses sat and ate with her, trying to talk about her father, her life, encouraging her to accept her fate, to become one of them. Sonsee remained silent and as the days passed her food dwindled, finally becoming little more than rations, just meager amounts of bread, cheese, and water. The bones of her ribs showed more and more. Her stomach shrank into her pelvis and she had little energy—barely enough to live, she thought.  Nobody stayed to talk with her anymore and she thought she saw pity in their eyes. Even Ana had said it was too dangerous, she must not be caught in the attic.

One day, angry at her circumstances, Sonsee grabbed the priestess sent to see to her. Shaking her, Sonsee lashed out, “Do you not know who I am? My father is Lord of this Land. He will come for me and when he does I shall tell him about you and all the others unless you help me get out of here.”

“Sonsee-array is dead,” the young woman said, sadness in her eyes. “You are Toko now, the Master Weaver’s apprentice.”

Ana’s apprentice? Nobody had told her that and actually it did not sound so bad. If she could get out of here and work with Ana, well maybe she would find a way to escape.

Sonsee started talking more, asking questions, showing interest in the life of a priestess. As she did, her food rations increased until she was receiving three meals with enough left over to save for later if she wanted.

Finally only one Priestess, Juno, came to her and when Sonsee asked for paper and pens, they were brought. Not knowing what else to do, Sonsee drew, mostly abstract shapes. She asked for paints and they, too, were brought. She enjoyed the work, matching one not-this-not-that color with another. Juno brought pins to hang the paintings and, together, they decorated Sonsee’s room. “I wish I could weave these,” Sonsee said to see if Juno would respond. “Don’t you just love the colors?”

Juno said nothing before excusing herself to get Sonsee’s dinner.

When she returned, she said, “M’Lady has granted you permission to work in the Weaver’s Studio. Be up early. You have been granted an audience with M’Lady before you begin your apprenticeship.”

Sonsee spent most the night awake, anxious, wondering what she should say and how she should behave. Contrite? No. Grateful? No, again. Complaint, that was okay, but not overly so. M’Lady would spot an act, of that Sonsee was sure.

When finally the first light of the morning made it to Sonsee’s window, she heard a knock at her door and the key turn in the lock.

Juno entered with her breakfast, but hurried Sonsee along. She barely had time for the toast and tea before she was handed a robe and escorted to a marble bath. There she was helped to undress. She stepped into the water. It was warm and inviting. It brought back memories of her home, of Nanna, of how she reveled in the warm spring water that fed her own bath. How long has it been? Ninety days. Ninety marks now. Too many. I must get along. I cannot go back to my prison. 

Fragrant oils were added and Sonsee relaxed even more as the Priestesses filed her rough nails and combed out her matted hair. Sonsee had tried as best she could, but dipping her head in a cold basin of water and then finger combing had taken a toll. Even when restrictions were relaxed and the Priestesses had brought shampoo and larger pitchers to rinse her head, some tangles remained. Now they applied oils and gently worked them out.

When finally Sonsee stood and dried herself off, she felt human again. The Priestesses dressed her in a lilac shift and placed the amulet over her neck before bringing her to M”Lady.

“My apologies that I could not see to your needs myself over these last few months, Toko, but I trust my Priestesses kept you well fed and attended to all your needs.  You are looking quite well, I must say, and I hope your time of contemplation has been fruitful.”

Sonsee bit her tongue. She looked into the woman’s eyes and replied, “Yes, M’Lady, I am well.” Now.

“Good. Good. Let me see that amulet of yours. “

Sonsee could not go backwards, she had to move forward and if that meant letting M’Lady see the amulet, so be it. She removed it from her neck and held it out, not wanting to let it go. But M’Lady snatched it from her hands and handed it to the Priestess standing to her left.

The Priestess took it. “I do not believe Iona wove this. Look at how clumsy it is. And these are not Iona’s colors at all. She used pastels, not hard colors such as these.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am sure. This is the piece of an untutored girl, not of master weaver.”

Sonsee perked up. The voice was familiar. Did she know this other woman? It had been months since she had spoken with Ana, but could it be?

“And what of the shell?” M’Lady asked.

“Oh, Nanna did this, I can tell that much. The colors are hers, and so is the design.” The woman flipped it over. “And see, here is her chop.”

“Maybe it was Iona’s first piece, before she learned her craft. Is that possible.”

“I suppose,” the second woman replied. “Look, you can see it has been unwoven and re-woven again. The twist of the threads are different in this middle section.” She held the piece for M’Lady to see, but did not relinquish it. “And what is more, the joins are different. First, at the bottom, they are interwoven, both colors wrapping around the warp. Then in the re-woven section she wraps the weft around neighboring warps. Nowhere does she wrap the threads around one another as a master might do.”

“Anything else?”

“No, except that color selection is limited. It is the type of piece I would have a beginning student do, not a master.” She handed the amulet back to Sonsee. “May I take Toko to the studio now, M’Lady.”

“Not yet. Toko, where did you get this amulet.”

“Nanna gave it to me. I already told you that,” Sonsee explained.

“Watch how you speak to me, child. You are no longer Sonsee-array. You are Toko, a weaver’s apprentice, but only if you watch your manners.”

Not wanting to make eye contact, Sonsee looked to the floor.

One of the priestesses nudged her shoulder. Finally someone whispered, “You must apologize.”

“Apologies, M’Lady,” was all Sonsee could choke out. She certainly was not sorry for what she had said.

“Good. You are learning. Now, was there anything else with this piece?”

“No, M’Lady.”

“Are you sure, a dark box perhaps.”

“No, M’Lady.  Nanna only gave me this.”

“Did she say where it came from?”

“Only that it had been my mother’s and that it was mine now.” “Sonsee shuffled her feet. Moments passed. Was M’Lady expecting more? “As you said it was clumsily made, but it was the only thing I had of hers, so I kept it.”

“Probably her first piece,” the woman beside M’Lady offered. “Many girls keep their first piece. It would not be unusual.”

“Probably was. Too clumsy to have spells or anything else woven in.” M’Lady turned to Toko. “This is Ana, our Master weaver. She was your mother’s apprentice. Your mother promised as a condition of leaving us, that you would take her place one day. So you are Ana’s apprentice now. A trade, a bargain made long ago. Let’s hope we made a good one. Now, go, all of you.”

 

“So my mother did not make my amulet?” Toko asked as she followed Ana to the weaving studio.

“Hush, there are spies everywhere,” Ana whispered, looking back over her shoulder. They rounded a corner and Toko watched Ana smile at a student just standing there, doing nothing.

The Weaver’s Box: Part 3

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The Weaver’s Box

Part 3

For the next two nights, Sonsee curled up by her locked door waiting for Ana’s return. But the lonely days passed with only a visit from M’Lady who brought fresh clothes, food and water to wash up. Sonsee protested her imprisonment, but M’Lady was firm.

“Prayer and contemplation,” M’Lady replied. “Pray for humility and contemplate on that which has been ordained, on your new life as Priestess to the Mighty One.”

More like being a slave.

Sonsee’s mood alternated between hopeful, then angry, then distraught. All she could do was pace around her small dark room, finger the woven amulet, and wonder why she had been brought here.  By the end of the second day she knew every crack in the aging plaster wall, every scuff mark in the dirty floor. Behind the bed, she found scratch marks. Has someone else been imprisoned here counting the days. Next to them, she added her own marks. Surely my father would find me, surely he will come soon.

“Tell me about my mother,” Sonsee said when finally Ana returned. “I barely remember her name. My father forbade us to speak it, once she died.”

“Iona, we knew your mother as Iona. She landed on our shores many years ago,” Ana began. “She had been ship wrecked in a violent storm, she once told me. She and her friend Nanna had clung to boards and to each other until they came upon our island. With the last of their strength they kicked fiercely until they could swim to shore.

“There they built a fire to dry and keep warm. They were found by a Priest of our order. Your mother was tossing small blocks of wood and then speaking softly to Nanna. Intrigued, the Priest watched the two of them for a long time. Only after they finally fell asleep did he come here to find Lady Khyan.

“Things were different then. Lady Khyan was kindly and she welcomed those in need. So it was not a surprise to any of us when your mother and Nanna were brought to stay here with us. They had nowhere else to go. We looked upon them as sisters, not taking our vows but living as one with us in our community.

“Your mother was a Master Weaver when she came to us and she it was who set up our weaving shop. Nanna worked in the clay works studio, turning out finely detailed pieces in colors nobody had ever seen before. She said the magic was in the fire. It transformed even the most ordinary piece into something extraordinary.”

Sonsee fingered the ceramic shell attached to her amulet. Had Nanna made that? 

“I was your mother’s first student. And, oh Sonsee, the pieces she wove. Whether with the finest silk threads or rags, your mother made magic with every weaving. Her work was highly prized at the market. And that was where she met your father.

“We went to the market once every week, your mother and I. I was but a girl then, hardly older than you are now.

“But then lady Khyan died. Some whispered by evil magic, but I do not know. M’Lady was voted in, again I know not how for she was not well liked. Things changed. Lady Raichael, M’Lady, demanded higher and higher prices at the market and scolded us if we could not sell our wares.

“It was then that your mother and Nanna decided to leave the community. Your father wanted to marry Iona and she was smitten by him, too. She agreed. Nanna, well, she was like a sister to Iona and would not be left behind. So the two of them agreed they would leave together.

“When M’Lady heard of this, she was furious and refused to allow your mother out of the temple. Only Nanna could go to the market.

“Now it was not unusual for young men to offer a dowery, or more of a donation really, when a sister left us to marry. M’Lady had other ideas. She haggled and haggled with your father and when he finally offered enough, she agreed. Then she sent only Nanna, insisting Iona was not part of the bargain.

“That was when M’Lady threatened your mother. M’Lady wanted those tiles and even though your mother said they were but a child’s game, M’Lady insisted. The price of her freedom was those tiles and the knowledge of how to use them. Your mother refused and her room was searched, but the tiles were not found. That same day your mother was moved to this attic room, allowed to leave only when she taught her classes.

“M’Lady even set us to spy on her. That was when your mother started the amulet. I came upon her by accident when she was chanting a freedom spell while dying some wools. She begged me not to tell anyone. They would throw her to the crocodiles if they knew.

“Iona worked for many weeks on your amulet, but only between classes or when I was having a private session.  It was very strange because your mother sat on her stool weaving it, then unweaving it, then re-weaving it again. I never knew why. She was a master weaver and she was making such silly mistakes, then correcting them over and over again.

“And then one morning, she was gone.”

There was a long silence. Sonsee wondered about the marks behind her bed. Had her mother made them. One hundred days, her mother must have been locked in here 100 days.

“Were there other girls like me, held against their will.”

“Yes, child, there were and are still. When Kyhan was the Lady, we all came of our own free will and only after reaching our womanhood, the age of  consent. But when M’Lady took over, she stopped accepting all who felt the calling, picking and choosing those with the most talent, those who would help fill her coffers the most. She said the others were a ‘drain on her resources’ and turned them away.

“But even that was not enough. Soon she spotted talented girls at the market and, if their parents were poor, she offered food and money in exchange. Many accepted. Those that did not found their daughters gone. Pirates were blamed but never caught. Most who were brought here became Priestesses, but those few that would not, well they have not been seen again. Sonsee, do as they say, you cannot escape here.”

“No. My father will get me out of here, I am sure of it. My father will find me.”

“No, child, your father thinks you are dead,” Ana replied, sadness in her voice. “He will bury you tomorrow.”

“But that cannot be. I am here and alive.”

“The Head Mistress told him you ran away from your man-servant and fell into the river. The crocodiles had ravaged the body they brought to him. The poor girl was unrecognizable. He had to believe her.”

“But that is a lie. Did Gryffud not tell him that?”

“Gryffud knew nothing of what happened. He was waiting for you in front of the school. He could not have seen what happened.

“The Head Mistress told your father that you ran out the back of the school and to the river. Then slipped on the muddy bank and fell in. She said that she and her nephew chased after you but the crocodiles took you first. She said she beat them away while her nephew jumped in to try to save you, but it was too late.”

Sonsee ached for her father and Nanna. And for herself. They would never come for her now.

Ana continued. “Listen to me. You must go along with them. Learn what they have to teach. Become one of us. It is your only hope. But whatever your mother taught you, do not let them know. Your best chance is to give them hope you will one day come to the visions and see what it is they want to know.”

“Weaving spells and divination? I know nothing of those things. Nor do I want to.”

“Then pretend. So you can live.”

 

 

 

Photo attribution: By Arturo de Frias Marques (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Weavers Box, Part 2

 

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The further Sonsee-array and the Head Mistress traveled through the underground passage, the more Sonsee’s stomach twisted. More than once, she clutched at the woven amulet, now glad she had worn it.  Or had the amulet gotten her into trouble? The Head Mistress seemed to have a powerful reaction to it, one Sonsee did not like. More than once, she wanted to turn and run, but the woman always stood one step behind, leaving little chance of escape.

“Sit!” The woman said when finally they reached an open chamber. It was cold down there, dark, and damp too, matching Sonsees mood perfectly.  She gave a small shiver before doing as the Head Mistress had bid her. And then the woman was gone.

Sensing this as her only chance, Sonsee hurried to the door hoping to make her way back through the tunnels. But it was locked. Maybe she could find an escape through the other door, the one the Head Mistress used to leave. But it, too, was locked. No windows and two locked doors.  Sonsee sat, resigning herself to wait. And wait. And wait some more.

When finally the door did open, Sonsee bolted for it. “I want my father,” she announced only to find herself faced with more darkness.

“Come this way,” a voice told her. A faint light appeared at the end of the corridor, and she walked toward it, not because she wanted to, but because she had no choice. But for sure, I’ll bolt the first chance I get. She was surprised to see a kindly middle-aged woman, one with a welcoming smile on her face.  “Greetings, my child, we have waited long to meet you.”

Confused now, Sonsee stepped into the well-appointed room to face the diminutive woman before her. The woman offered her hand and Sonsee took it. “I am Raichael, the Mother Superior, but you must call me, ‘My Lady’ for that is what the other Priestesses call me.”

The woman seemed harmless enough, but still Sonsee’s senses alerted. “Yes, M’Lady,” she replied. “But may I ask where Head Mistress has gone?”

“Why back to the school, of course. You are with us now.”

She lived with her father. She was not with anyone. Was this her new school? But before she could inquire further, M’Lady said, “Come I will show you to your room.”

“That is fine, M’Lady, but I think my father is expecting me. If you will find Gryffud, he will take me home.”

“This is to be your home now.”

“Then I wish to see my father first.”

“Oh, child, has he not told you? You are one of us. As was your mother before you.”

“No! I do not wish to be one of you. Now take me home.” Sonsee had used that same tone on the servants and they always obeyed, or told her father. Either way, she did not care. She wanted her father.

“Ah, child, you are so like your mother. Strong-willed. But you see what it got her.” Although her smile remained, M’Lady’s tone changed, “Because she left us for your father, she died in pain, leaving you to take her place among us as was demanded and ordained. Do not repeat her mistake.”

Before Sonsee could protest, M’Lady had her arm around her shoulder. “Now come,” M’Lady said, this time with tenderness in her voice, “I will show you to your room and then we will dine together. I have much to tell you about your mother.”

 

The food had been good. Roast duck, potatoes and crisp vegetables, just the way Sonsee liked them. And the conversation was pleasant enough. Sonsee enjoyed M’Lady’s tales about her mother who had come as a young woman, barley older than Sonsee. Indeed, the M’Lady explained, Sonsee was “old” to begin her training, but begin she must.

 

Now with stomach full, Sonsee lay in her bed wondering: Had her father really sent her here? Is that why he had tears in his eyes? And was that the surprise he had for her? If so, she did not like it at all. I should have been asked, not told. And certainly not abruptly yanked from all I knew.

And what of Nanna? Where was she? What of her warning? There is only one way to to know for sure. I need to go back and see them, talk to them, even plead if need be. This was not the future I want for myself.

Sonsee waited until dark, then waited some more. She could not tell the time, so she waited until the Morning Star, her star, appeared in the window high above. It was not until then that she stepped quietly into her shoes and crept to the door. Careful not to make a sound, she tried to depress the latch. It did not budge. She tried again, harder this time, but it was no use. She had been locked in. First anger, then fear set in, then a sorrow so deep it hurt her bones. Will I never see Nanna again? Or my father? Her one last hope was the window high above her bed, the one through which she had seen the Morning Star. Climbing onto her bed and standing on tiptoes, she tried to look out. Too high.

Though her room was sparsely furnished, there was a desk. Hoping it would not tip on the wobbly mattress, she placed it on the bed and climbed up. With effort, she could hoist herself to see out the window. But the view dashed her last hope.

She did not remember climbing so many stairs, but she was now up in a tower, too high to jump down. Too high to even hope some prince would rescue her. She lowered herself back down only to have the desk come crashing over onto the mattress and then onto the floor. She landed safely on the bed, but she was sure the sound would wake the dead.

“Shhhh, they will hear you.” The voice on the other side of the door was hushed, but sounded urgent. “Be quiet. They are very dangerous.”

“Who are ‘they’ that would hurt me?” Sonsee asked crossing over to the door.

“M’Lady and the others.”

“Who are you?”

“Ana. I was your mother’s student and am now the Master Weaver.”

“You knew my mother?”

“Yes, she was kind and gentle. Always with a smile. She was a powerful weaver, too, a weaver of spells.”

Images of woven mats and amulets and tapestries flooded Sonsee’s brain. Prayer shawls, prayer mats, altar cloths. Mostly in lighter pastels, but also in vivid deep greens, mauves, and colors without names. Nanna called them “not this and not that colors” because that is what they were, not this color but not that color either.

“Your mother wove spells so strong that it frightened some and made others jealous. ‘Too powerful’ some whispered when she was not around. But I trusted her. She would never weave a spell to hurt anyone.”

“Why have they locked me in here like this? What do they want with me?”

“They want you to teach them how to weave spells. And about the tiles.”

Sonsee gasped. The tiles. She had forgotten about the tiles. Her heart pounded in her chest. Who was this woman? On full alert now, she asked, “What tiles?”

But Ana’s answer was re-assuring. “When your mother landed on our shore, she had divination tiles with her. Powerful ones, and like all divination tools, they could be used to change the future. Our Lady was Khyan back then and she knew not to press your mother about them. Kyyan knew that in her own time your mother would come to trust and teach us. But then M’Lady took over. M’Lady was young then, and ambitious. And, though your mother was barely more than a girl, M’Lady was envious of her. She tried to force your mother to give us her knowledge, but your mother refused. One day I saw your mother weaving in a way I had never seen before. When I approached, she said I was to tell nobody. She wove her own escape, I think, and we saw nothing of her again. Or of her tiles.

“After a time we heard she had married and was with child. That was when M’Lady cast her own spell and you know the rest.”

“M’Lady killed my mother?”

“I believe so, though I cannot prove it.”

“You need to help me get out of here,” Sonsee said as she heard Ana scrambling outside her door.

“They are coming. I will be back. Tell no one.”

 

 

Photo attribution: By Dominicus Johannes Bergsma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Weaver’s Box-part 1

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She sat staring at the flame, as had her mother before her, and her grandmother, and their mothers and grandmothers for countless generations before them.  Each flame was different and she wondered what this one would bring.  Her eyes softened their vision and she reached out to cup her hands around the candle itself. Cool, it was, cool and smooth, like precious white stone, only softer. The flame flickered then flared and dipped to the right, calling her attention back.  As she stared, the flame grew more intense, expanding its light now until the corona filled the entire cave.  Ah, yes, it was happening, that old familiar floating sensation.  She allowed her eyes to grow softer still and then she saw it, the dark tunnel that brought the Visions. 

The Weaver’s Box

Part one

Sonsee woke with a start. The sun was still below the horizon and classes were hours away. Yet there seemed an urgency about this day, like something needed to happen and happen quickly. The word “ordained” came to her, but from where she knew not.

Sonsee brushed back the silken coverlet and allowed her body to drink in the damp morning air. Sonsee-array was her full name and it meant Morning Star, so she did what she had done every birthday morning since a young child. She slipped her feet over the edge of her bed and sat up, looking for Venus, the morning star, as it shone through her bedroom window. It did, as it had every birthday morning since she could remember.  A good omen for her 13th year.

She once again marveled at the changes that had taken place in her body.  Boney straightness had taken on curves and a budding chest promised much more to come. Just the week before her body had given forth the most important sign of all. She was a woman now. Life held so much promise.

Why am I so unsettled, she wondered as she rose to cross to the window and, for the first time, noticed a wooden box on her nightstand. A treasure box, she thought as she carefully took it in both hands. But who had put it there? Certainly not her father. His presents were always lavish, gold or silver, and usually covered in fine jewels. Sonsee had always wondered if he was trying to make up for something, perhaps the loss of her mother, his adored wife.

Her mind drifted back to the day they lost her, ten years ago, the day of her brother’s expected birth. But of a brother who was never to be.

“Take the child’s life, but save my wife,” her father had roared at the doctors when the child would not appear, its head too big for its mother’s small pelvis. And they had tried, but it was too late.

Her mother lived only long enough to call for her most faithful servant, Nanna. Then, hugging Sonsee tightly to her chest, her mother had looked to Nanna and whispered, “Raise this child as if she were your own. Protect her. You know what to do.” It was Sonsee’s earliest memory.

Sonsee returned to the box. It was not jeweled, but old with a patina that told of the many loving hands that had probably caressed it over the years. It was not from her father. Could it be from Nanna?

Sonsee turned the box to inspect it and it was then that the light of Venus reflected off the copper bands holding it together. She had never seen such a beautiful color, deep and rich, yet delicate. It seemed to draw her in.  The copper latches were not ornate, yet they were elegant. Such a contrast to the rich and luxurious life Sonsee-array had known.

“You have found it then.” Nanna, tall, dark-skinned, and with silver streaking her ebony hair, stood at the door smiling at her. “It was your mother’s. It is yours now. Open it.”

Fingers trembling, Sonsee pulled back the latch as Nanna sat on her bed beside her. “Be careful, don’t spill it. And do not let your father know.”

“Why?” Sonsee asked as she pulled back the lid.

“There is magic in there and your father believes your mother was killed for it.”

Her questioning eyes darted to Nanna’s. She had never heard this before. “But she died in childbirth.”

“There are many ways to kill, many ways to make bad magic on those you envy, those you hate.”

“I do not understand, Nanna.”

“You will in time. Now, are you going to open your mother’s box?”

Carefully flipping the top back, Sonsee saw something woven. Imbedded in it were beads and a carefully crafted sea shell was attached with threads.  She lifted it. There were braided ties and bronze embellishments hanging off the bottom.

Nanna took the piece and placed it around Sonsee’s neck, securing it in the back. “Your mother was a master weaver. And she knew the art of weaving spells. This was hers, an amulet with a spell of great protection. These things are not to be worn lightly, but only when one is in need.” Nanna lifted the piece from over Sonsee’s head. “There is more in the box.”

Sonsee smoothed her nightgown over her lap and pushed it down forming a trough. Into it she poured the contents in the box, wooden tiles, black on one side but with pictures on the other.

“They are for Scrying, but you must know this: Any tool for Scrying can be used to change the future too, if you know how. They are very dangerous.”

The girl brushed her hands over the tiles, looking first at this one and then at another. She barely heard Nanna’s words until they cut through her revelry. “Sonsee-array, look at me! ”

Startled, the girl looked up.  “Never, never ever tell anyone about them. Do you understand me?”

She had never seen her Nanna so stern, so demanding before. “Yes,” the girl replied. “Never.”

“When you get home today, we will start your lessons on spell weaving. For now, we must put these away.”

Together they stacked the wooden tiles in the box and placed the woven amulet on top.

Just then there was a knock at the door. “Sonsee, my daughter, are you dressed?”

“Just a moment,” Nanna replied as she handed Sonsee her velvet robe and then shoved the treasure box under the bed covers, fluffing them up so the box would be well hidden.

As she slipped the robe on, Sonsee admired the contrast of her translucent mauve dressing gown against the deep green velvet. Colors had meaning to them. And vibration, Sonsee knew that. She sensed that in each color there was a promise, perhaps a spell to be woven. Was that what Nanna wanted to teach her?

“Coming,” Sonsee called to her father and with the grace born of her station in this world, Sonsee opened her door to greet him.

Breakfast passed as it most often did. Her father was a man of few words. Some thought him too melancholy, too stand-offish. But Sonsee knew better. He had been a loving father, teaching her many things, always tucking her in at night.

Sonsee rose from the table. “I must get ready for classes now,” she said as she started to leave.

But her father stopped her, taking her hand in his. “Sonsee-array, you have become a woman, I hear, and a beautiful one at that. Each day you remind me of your mother more and more. She would be proud today.”

“Thank you, father.”

“When you get home, I have a surprise for you, so do not dawdle.”

“No, father, I will not.”

He stood and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and then he did something she had never experienced before. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “I am sending Gryffud with you today. And everyday from now on. Daughter, there are those that would harm you if they could. Gryffud will keep you safe.”

Then it seemed he pushed her away and, with tears in his eyes, he turned and walked out of the room.

This had been her second hint that day. Was something bad going to happen? Perplexed now, the unsettled feeling returned. Sonsee returned to her room where Nanna had set out her clothes. But Sonsee did not want to wear the blue Nanna had chosen for her. She wanted to wear deep green. It was her mother’s favorite color, she knew. And set off her green eyes. If only I had red hair, she thought. But instead she had her mother’s deep copper skin and raven black hair. Still, as she surveyed herself in the mirror, she liked what she saw. Womanhood. What would it bring? With a smile, she turned away and called for her Nanna.

But it was Gryffud who appeared when she opened her dressing room door. A sense of foreboding seemed to emanate from the man, darkening her mood once again. She did not like the him. He was gruff, and bulky, and, well, not at all like the servants she had known. Crusted, that was the word to describe him and she wondered why her father had said there were those that would hurt her and set this man to protect her. She had never known real fear, but now she felt its grip tighten around her. Then she remembered the amulet. Nanna said it was for protection.

“Just a minute,” she called to Gryffud as she raced to her bedroom. Once inside, she gently closed the door and reached under her covers. The treasure box was still there with the amulet inside. There, better, she thought as she slipped it around her neck.

The walk to school was peaceful enough as Gryffud trailed closely behind her. But he had not been allowed past the foyer. Sonsee watched as he pounded his fists and threatened the wrath of her father, but no argument would convince the Head Mistress otherwise. “She is safe with us,” the woman insisted. “No harm will come to her here. Now sit and wait.”

As the two were arguing, Sonsee slipped through a side door and to her classroom. There she and her friends discussed what girls have discussed over the ages—boys, and clothes, and parties. They would all be coming of age this spring and potential husbands would be paraded before them. Most of the girls favored two of the boys, both strong and able. But Sonsee-array thought she favored another. Quiet, sensible, and buried in his books—just like her father.

One lesson drifted into another as morning turned toward noon and finally lunch came. Leaving their books and papers behind, the girls headed for the solarium, talking and giggling all the way. Sonsee was right in the midst of the chatter when she saw the Head Mistress beckon to her. What now? Had Gryffud done something to embarrass her? She’d be talking to her father when she got home, that was for sure.

But it was not Gryffud on the woman’s mind. “Where did you get that?” she asked as she pointed to the woven amulet.

“It was my mother’s.”

“Where is your mother that she let you wear such a thing to school?”

Blushing and shuffling her feet, Sonsee-array wondered if she had transgressed. “She’s dead,” Sonsee replied. “My Nanna gave it to me.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirteen.”

“Have you had your first bleeding time?”

“I have. Last week.”

“Come,” the woman said, “We must see someone.”

Sonsee turned back toward her classroom, but the woman grabbed her by the shoulder digging her sharp fingernails in.

“I am going to get my books,” the girl explained, trying to twist away.

“Leave them. You will be back.”

But she never was.

 

 

Part 2 here

Kian and Aidan

 

 

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Late fall passed into early spring. Jimbo finished the cabin and moved in before the first snowfall. “Cozy as a bug in a rug” was Aidan’s comment. Rustic, cozy, and “just Jimbo’s style.”

Things had returned to normal for nearly everyone. Only Owen experienced anything “weird.” He had been walking through town when he spotted Kian with deep black hair, the kind of black that reflected blue in the moonlight. He called after her, but the woman disappeared around the corner. Seconds later, he rounded that same corner, but the woman was gone.

Perplexed, he called Kian that same evening to ask why she had ignored him like that. Kian only said, “You must be seeing things. My hair is still red.”

A doppelganger was Jimbo’s explanation. Aidan just shrugged and said, “Now if it was Raven with red hair I would worry.” The incident was forgotten.

Work on the Book of Knowings continued at a slow pace. Tied up in Washington DC, Aidan could only get away on weekends. It was then that he and Kian poured through the Book, but it was all mundane—births, deaths, years of drought, years of plenty.

Finally bored with the everyday, Kian decided to search further back and randomly chose a page for Aidan to translate. But he could not. Both language and alphabet were unknown even to his cadre of experts. So Kian decided to do what she had done as a child. She took the page in her hands and let the vision come. It was a long tale about a Weaver’s Box.

The first part of The Weaver’s Box will be presented next week.

 

Photo attribution:     By Ji-Elle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 32

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CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

October 31st

Samhain

 

Kian stood at her dining table as the others stood with her.

“Here, here!” Owen declared raising his glass of champagne. “Here’s to the Ark. Home at last.”

“Here, here,” the other three replied raising their glasses to meet his.

“And here’s to my parents,” Kian added with a strong touch of sadness in her voice.

“To Red and Cat,” the other three replied before lowering their glasses and taking a sip.

Kian had found the champagne in Jacob’s cellar when she and Owen had gone back to remove the Ark from its stone sarcophagus. It was twenty years old and, they suspected, intended to toast the return of Red and Cat all those years before. It seemed fitting they should open it now.

“So,” Aidan said to Jimbo when the three had taken their seats at the dining table once again, “you thought more about my job offer?”

“Hey, buddy, not that I don’t appreciate it, but business suits are for jerks. But you can call me anytime you need your sorry ass saved,” he added before dishing up a double helping of mashed potatoes. “Who woulda’ thought it? Scotty sitting in Power’s old seat. A director for the FBI. Congrats, man.”

Aidan took the potatoes from Jimbo and served himself a large portion before handing them to Kian.

It did not take a psychic to know what was on Aidan’s mind. He wanted her to move to D.C. with him. He had even talked about marriage. But she wasn’t ready to leave her Hudson Valley home. Not now. Maybe not ever. “So,” she said turning to Jimbo. “How’s the cabin coming?”

“Too slowly.” Jimbo served himself three generous pieces of roast beef. “It’s those assholes in that building department of yours. Shit, half the stuff they’re making me put in, I’ll have to rip out before I can live there.”

“I know,” Owen replied. “They made me hard-wire smoke detectors just to put in four lousy steps. Outside, no less, on my deck. Jimbo, pass the gravy, can you?”

Kian took the bowl of stuffing from the sideboard and passed it to Aidan. “So I take it nobody’s found any evidence of the demon.”

“Not in any of the local reports,” Owen said.

“Nothing’s come into the FBI,” Aidan added.

“Good, I don’t sense anything either,” Kian said.

“Well with nobody to feed it anger or fear, it should dissipate soon enough,” Jimbo commented. “Power and Raven are gone, nobody knows about it but us, so I think we have seen the last of the demon.”

“One last toast then,” Kian said raising her glass. “Here’s to us and to getting back to normal.”

“To us and to normal,” they all replied.

 

 

 

The old lady sat huddled over her crystal ball. Stooped with age, Power’s mother had never intended to outlive her son. But she had intended to see a grandchild born, a legitimate grandchild. All she had was some half-breed. One he fathered on Raven, a whore he picked up on K Street, no doubt. Still, when you want something you make due with what you have. And I want that Ark.

The old lady tapped her withering fingernail on the crystal ball, then pushed her wheelchair back as she picked up the telephone. “Bring me the girl.”

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 31

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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

Ignoring the scorching heat, Owen pointed to the pile of burning timbers that had been Jacob’s cabin. Despite the water poured onto it, the fire had caught again, this time with an unnatural fury. Owen watched as the flames pranced around, shot into the air, and concentrated themselves in just one area, the area near the old cupboard.

Within seconds a breeze blew through, and then the wind picked up. It whirled and twirled and the cupboard itself was engulfed in red-hot flames that shot twenty feet into the air. The fire was now so hot, so out of control, the men had to move back. All the men could do was stare as the cupboard was consumed and, minutes later, turned to ash. A stronger gust of wind blew in from the north to carry the ashes away.

“Shit, never seen that happen before,” Higgins said.

Then the dance of wind and flames stopped as suddenly as it had started. The pit had been cleared.

“What the…? Man, this fire isn’t natural. That should never happen.”

Deep down close to the bulkhead, there was now a cavity, a dark hole into the earth.

“I’m going down,” announced Owen as he walked over and looked into the pit.

“Oh no, you are not. Not while I’m in charge.” Higgins was emphatic. “You saw what just happened. Fires are unpredictable.”

“Not this one. I need a ladder.”

Higgins ignored Owen and directed his men to point their hoses at the remaining flames, now subdued but moving to consume what had not already fallen to their fury.

Owen quietly backed off, retrieved a ladder from the garden shed, and lowered it. As it came to rest on the ground, the flames moved away from him leaving only wisps of smoke.

Amazed, Higgins and his men just stared mouths hanging open. Owen used their moment of distraction to maneuver his body onto the ladder.

“Get back here,” Higgins bellowed when he saw what Owen was doing, but Owen ignored him. Higgins turned and called to his men, “Get me a proper ladder. Shit!”

At that moment Kian emerged from the cellar. Face covered in soot, she pulled herself onto solid ground. “Aidan’s down there.” She ran to Owen, grabbed his arm, and pulled him toward the dark hole. “Shot. Unconscious.”

As he followed Kian down the steps into the darkness, Owen heard Higgins bark to his men, “Come on, hurry up. Get me that ladder.”

When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Owen found Aidan lying on the ground in a pool of blood. “Be careful,” Kian said. “We don’t want to re-open the wound.”

Owen knew there was no way to get Aidan to safety, not without supporting him under his wounded shoulder. He ordered Kian to take the other side. Together they hauled Aidan to his feet. Aidan groaned. “I can walk,” he struggled to say as he moved one foot in front of the other. He took two steps and collapsed again, his full weight born by Kian and Owen once more.

As they reached the bottom step, Owen saw Higgins and one of his men half way down, coming to them. The two men grabbed Aidan and hauled him up. Then Higgins hoisted Aidan on his shoulders and climbed the ladder out of the pit. He lowered Aidan down to the stretcher next to the two waiting ambulance attendants. Aidan was unconscious now, pale and his breath came in short gasps. The wound was bleeding again.

“Not good,” Owen heard one of the paramedics say before the two lifted the stretcher into the ambulance and slammed the doors.

Just then the final section of wall collapsed, filling the pit with flaming debris once more.

“I told you it wasn’t safe,” Higgins shouted at Owen as the firemen backed away again.

Kian whispered, “Bless you Paralda and all the Kings,” before she fell weeping into Owen’s arms.

 

Photo Attribution:

By South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue (Flickr: Portable cabin fire, ASDA Handsworth) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 30

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CHAPTER THIRTY

 

With the back of her hand, Cat wiped at the blood running down her cheek, blood that had mixed with her sweat. The sun beat down into the stone circle, and Cat squinted into it. There were no shadows here, no cooling shade. Only the unrelenting sun, humid and almost suffocating now. Light, unrelenting light thrown on the darkness of an old feud.

The demon rushed at Cat for the third time, but Cat stood her ground. “Stop this,” she pleaded, “I am not afraid of your pet. It was our forefathers, yours and mine, who first vanquished that thing and trapped it far under ground. We both know it from the stories of old. It will not scare me. Leave this between us.”

Raven continued to circle and Cat followed her dance. “Put down your garrote, Raven, so we can talk. Sister to sister. Blood to blood.”

“You are not my sister, and you are not my blood,” Raven spit out. “No sister would take what was mine. I was born the Keeper, not you.”

Arguing with Raven was futile. Somewhere deep inside Cat knew that. But still she needed to try. Somehow she had to get through. “Sister, I do not understand why you left me that day on the mountain. You were my warrior, my guardian. You gave your pledge freely and together we could have broken through. Gotten to safety. Together we could have held the Ark. I do not understand what came between us.”

“I am not your lackey, your guardian. And I am not some spare part waiting for you to die. There can be only one Keeper. Me. I was born to it. The Ark should have been mine. You stole it from me and left me with nothing.”

“This was not my choosing, Raven, you know that. I would have been content to spend my life in the High Valley. It was the prophesy that sent me out. You know that.”

“Prophesy? Prophesy? Some mumbo-jumbo from an old woman. I was important until you came along, born with your golden hair and then that stupid prophesy. I was the next Keeper.”

Cat continued to circle, staying out of her sister’s reach. “Did you think I wanted to leave, to go live with strangers, to be brought up in foreign ways? I was scared every day, and I cried every night wishing I was back with you and our people.” Tears mingled with sweat stung Cat’s eyes, but she continued to circle, each time maneuvering closer to Red’s body limp lying on the ground. “Raven, I never wanted this.”

Close to Red’s body now, Cat glanced down to see if he lived but she dared not kneel to find out. It would be her end.

“He’s dead, you know,” Raven said. “I never fail. Not with Jacob, not with Red, and I will not fail with you either.”

 

 

Jimbo adjusted the olive-drab bandana covering his shaven head. Soaked through with sweat, he noted. He wiped his sweaty palms on his fatigues then reached down and wiped both hands in the dust below his feet.

He checked his smartphone for the fourth time and, yet again, there was no reply to his message. It was not like Aidan to ignore him and that worried Jimbo. He sent his senses out, but still did not feel anything. He tried texting Kian and when he got no reply, he decided to get to his truck and drive to Jacob’s. At least the air conditioning would cool him off.

Just as he was climbing into the cab, he heard the screaming. Raven. He looked up into the blinding sun and felt more than saw a dark menace spiraling above. The demon. He sent his senses out once again and this time felt an evil coming from the Stone Circle. He’d have a three minute jog to get there. Damn this stifling air.

As he approached the circle, he heard the two women arguing and he slowed his pace. Behind the largest of the standing stones, out of Raven’s view, he stopped to survey the area. Red was down and the two women circled one another. Raven called insults and Cat tried to calm her sister, tried to talk reason to her. Jimbo could see the two women were evenly matched in skill, but he worried that Raven’s rage would give her an advantage. Cat seemed much too calm for his liking. No adrenaline to fuel her fire. That was not a good thing, at least not according to his training.

Still out of Raven’s line of sight, Jimbo stepped from behind one of the standing stones. From there he could rush Raven, take her from behind, end this once and for all.

“Stay out of this.” Cat’s words surprised him and he stopped where he was. “This is between Raven and me. Stay out of it.”

Raven did not flinch. She circled until she caught sight of Jimbo. So much for surprise. Jimbo edged past the two women stopping at Red’s fallen form. He stooped down beside the older man and checked his carotid.

“Dead,” Raven told him. “Don’t bother.” She had not taken her eyes off Cat.

Unfortunately, Raven was right. Jimbo knew a dead man when he saw one. No doubt about this one, either. But he called out, “No, not dead, not even close.” With a gloat, he added, “Care to come over here and find out?” He knew she would not take the bait. Still it would put her off guard, even if only a bit.

 

 

The firemen knew their jobs and were skilled at containing fires within old growth forests. They concentrated on the outer areas, soaking them and then working toward the cabin. It was hot and muggy work, Owen could see, and the harsh smoke stung their nostrils and eyes. There was no wind–not even a breeze. For them a blessing among curses.

Owen approached one of the firemen, a friend from high school. “Higgins,” he said, “Kian Buchanan is caught under there.”

“Under where?” Higgins looked perplexed. “There is no ‘under there’ that I can see.”

“There is,” Owen replied, “a cellar. There is a bulkhead on the other side of the cabin that gets you down there.” He motioned for Higgins to follow.

When the men got there, the bulkhead was a pit of flaming debris. “No way to get down there now,” Higgins said, but called two of his men. “Get some water pressure down there.”

The men brought their hoses around and focused on the bulkhead. It would take a while, quite a while, maybe even hours to get the savage fire under control. Owen knew Kian did not have hours. Had she really said she was shot?

 

 

“The Ark is mine,” Raven repeated for the fourth time, not that Jimbo was counting. His instinct was to end it now, to rush Raven and subdue her. But Cat had insisted he stay out of it. It was something Jimbo understood, sometimes two people just have to settle things between them. “Well, I’ll just wait and watch and see what happens,” he mumbled to himself as he leaned against one of the standing stones, trying to look unconcerned and scraping the dirt from beneath his fingernails with a twig. But for sure Raven was not going to hurt anyone else and she was not getting away. Not this time. He’d see to that.

“No, Raven, it belongs with Kian now. She’s the Keeper. What’s done can’t be undone,” Cat said. “Why can’t you be at peace with that?”

“Kian? Kian?” Raven sneered as she continued circling. “That sniveling brat? Would you like to know where she is right now? She’s roasting alive. Burning like the witch she is. Under Jacob’s cabin.”

Dropping the twig, Jimbo turned to look at the sky and sniff at the air. Smoke. Too much smoke. And where was Aidan?

“Yes,” Raven continued. “Your daughter and her preppy boyfriend are roasting alive under Jacob’s cabin.”

“You fuckin’ bitch,” Jimbo roared as he sprang at Raven, knocking her to the ground. She squirmed and wriggled from his grasp, but he sprang forward and knocked her to the ground again. He was on top of her grabbing the hand that tried to claw his face. It was then he felt a knife bite deep into his gut. The pain shot through him radiating both up and down his body. He winced. From deep within Jimbo called to his animal nature. Grabbing the knife and pulling it from her grasp, he held it high and, with all his weight, plunged it down. Raven rolled to one side. It bit into her just below her collar bone.

The effort caused Jimbo’s head to spin, and he shook it to regain his senses. He rolled off of her, panting and forcing his breath to calm, to slow, to give him the oxygen he needed. He reached over to touch his wound and, pulling his hand back, saw the sticky blood covering it.

He heard Cat crying softly. He looked to find her kneeling on the other side of Raven, her face buried in her hands. “It did not have to be this way,” he heard Cat say. “We should have shared it.”

Then he saw Raven grab the knife and pull it from her shoulder.

“Watch out!” Jimbo could barely choke out the words as he tried to grab Raven’s hand.

But Raven did not go after Cat. Gripping the knife in her good hand, blood streaming down her chest, Raven turned toward Jimbo. Jimbo jerked to his right.

“No, Raven, no.” The sadness in Cat’s voice surprised Jimbo as he rolled out of Raven’s way. Then he saw Cat leap at Raven, pulling her away.

The two women wrestled on the ground, first Cat on top, then Raven, then Cat on top again. Jimbo tried to get himself up, but the pain dug into his side. His breath quickened its pace again, and his head spun. Then, through eyes stinging with dirt and sweat, Jimbo saw Raven shove the knife deep into her sister’s chest. Cat fell forward onto her sister, dead.

Jimbo struggled to his knees. He wiped his sweaty slippery hands in the dirt and, bent over with pain, reached for the garrote still clenched in Raven’s fist.

Raven struggled to push her sister’s body away. Cat had given Jimbo this opportunity and he was not about to waste it. Summoning all the strength he had left in his body, Jimbo pulled the garrote from Raven’s fist, wrapped the garrote around her neck and pulled hard. With a satisfying snap, Raven was gone.

Then, gasping for air, Jimbo collapsed bleeding onto the ground.

 

 

Photo Attribution:

Temple Wood Stone Circle      By Rosser1954 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 29

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CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

 

Using the light from her cell phone, Kian could see Aidan was bleeding but the bullet had gone clean through. Kian did not think it hit an artery as the blood did not come in spurts, but still she did not like how quickly the pool of blood grew under him. He would need to get to an Emergency Room quickly or he would die.

Kian reached into her backpack and retrieved a pair of scissors. From her tee shirt she cut strips for bandages and bound the wound as best she could. The cellar was cool, too cool for just her cami top, but she did not want to use Aidan’s clothing. He was in shock and needed to stay warm more than she did.

As she stood, she could see the pool of blood growing larger. She needed to apply pressure to the wound, but first she needed to reach Owen to let him know they were trapped. “Please, Owen, know how to get down here,” she mumbled just as she realized the key was sitting on the floor next to her. It was safe from Raven, but nobody else could use it either. Would Owen know how to fashion another one?

Kian circled the small room, holding the phone as high as she could and watching to see if any bars appeared. She circled once and got nothing. She tried again, this time more slowly. On the far side of the cellar, she felt a slight movement of air. That must be the ventilation she reasoned, and stood there for one minute before she saw one bar appear. Holding the phone in the air so as not to lose the signal, she dialed Owen. It did not go through, so she tried again, and again. Finally on the fourth try, she heard it connect.

“Kian?”

“Trapped. Under Jacob’s cabin. Hurry. Aidan shot.”

“Bad connection. Say again. Slowly this…,” the line fuzzed out and went dead. Kian hit her speed dial again and waited. The sound of falling timbers crashed above her head and then smoke filtered into the room. Had Raven set a fire near the ventilation shaft? Her one bar disappeared. As more smoke came in, she wondered how long before they would both die.

 

Raven made her way through the underbrush back toward her sister’s house. Cat would either be there or in the cave, she figured. Raven made it as far as the ridge when she spotted movement ahead. A deer? Or Cat? Or that big buffoon that was with that FBI agent?

She sniggered and allowed herself a few pleasurable moments as she envisioned Kian and the agent roasting alive under the old man’s cabin. Was the girl screaming? Frantic, the girl must be frantic by now. Or maybe, just maybe she had opened that cupboard and been hit with a wall of fire. And it was all over. Much too quickly for Raven’s liking. But the picture of her sister’s brat writhing in the flames, well, that was worth savoring. She’d have to cut back and see for herself, but not until her sister was dead, too.

Raven headed down the hill. Whoever it was she sensed in front of her, she’d surely catch them further along the trail. She kept to the underbrush and moved swiftly, but stopped when she saw three deer bounding down the far slope away from the stone chambers. It was unlike Cat to spook animals unless Cat wanted to be spotted. Even so, Raven knew she had the advantage. As long as she kept her patience.

Raven made her way up the far hill and crouched behind a fallen tree. And waited. No movement. No sound. She found a pebble and tossed it far to her left. When it hit a tree, she popped up to look, then ducked down quickly. Nobody. She needed to get closer, so she skirted the area until she found a tall pine, one she could climb.

Raven was sure Cat was around somewhere, Cat and her half-brained husband. Careful, Raven cautioned her anxious self as she pulled herself up the tree. Red was not so half-brained as she wanted to believe.

 

Owen had finished his paperwork. A judge had signed the warrant for Raven’s arrest, and a team was being formed to go find her.

Because he was dead on his feet, Owen’s captain ordered him home for a shower and sleep before returning to the station, preferably not before the afternoon.

Owen had other plans. He would check on Kian and nap at the caves. So, he drove back toward the Buchanan’s.

Out on the highway, Owen saw the dark smoke spiraling into the sky. Then Kian’s garbled call came through. Siren blaring, he sped through the cross roads, and turned left onto Jacob’s road arriving at the burning cabin minutes later.

He jumped out of his car, pulled out his cell, and punched 911 to summon the local fire department.

His eyes scanned the house and surrounding grounds. The fire had by then consumed the roof and upper portions of the walls. Hot burning sparks spit into the air. Small fires caught in the dry leaves surrounding the structure. Owen searched for something to put these out. He saw the open shed and quickly retrieved a shovel. He was beating at the flames when he heard the sound of far-off fire engines. Hurrying to pummel as much of the ground fire as he could before it set the forest ablaze, Owen ran headlong into the discarded kerosene can. Raven. Raven must have been here. This was no accident. This was arson.

 

Red watched Raven circle the stone structures and then climb the pine. He kept half his attention on her and the other half on his wife. Darn fool woman thought she could talk to her sister, reason with her. Red knew she’d only get herself killed. Something he’d risk his life to prevent.

Cat started to stand. He grabbed her arm, pulling her back down, the fear in his heart growing. “She’s still got that rifle,” he warned. “She’ll shoot.” Why does she never listen to me?

“What you see is not the sister I love. It is some stranger. Somewhere in there is my Gaagé, my sister Raven. Not what this world has made of her. I have to take the chance. I have to draw her out. I want to talk to her.”

From long experience Red knew he could not stop her. But he would do just about anything to give her the advantage. “Then wait, dear. She’ll come to you if you just wait.” He was relieved when Cat relaxed and settled next to him again.

Minutes later, Raven descended the tree and boldly walked toward the stone circle. Just outside it, she placed her rifle against one of the standing stones and untied the garrote from her waist. Cupping it in her right hand, she entered the stone circle.

“I know you are out there, Sister Dearest. Show yourself.”

In that instant, Red knew what he had to do. Older and less agile than Raven, he was not sure he would be able to subdue Raven. But he was sure he could take the garrote around his own neck, leaving Raven momentarily defenseless, giving Cat the advantage. Whether he lived would depend on his wife’s reflexes, and Raven’s strength and agility with the garrote.

He stood and, with more strength than he thought he had, Red hurled himself into the circle.

 

Raven caught movement behind her and, as she grabbed both ends of the garrote, she swung around to meet it. With one swift motion, she had the garrote around her victim’s neck, surprised to see it was Red, not Cat that she had ensnared. She gave the garrote a swift twist and, just as Cat leapt toward her, Raven heard Red’s neck pop.

Then, Raven felt herself go head-over-heels. She rolled away and scrambled to her feet. Holding the garrote in one hand, she swung it around her head as she moved menacingly toward her sister. Cat jumped back, but not before Raven, garrote still swinging, caught her in the cheek. Blood trickled down and soaked into her buckskins.

“Ashta-molon,” Raven screamed, “attend me. Now.”

 

Kian felt the room growing hotter, and she could now see whiffs of smoke curling around the cupboard that locked them in their hellish grave. The cupboard would eventually burn through, that much she knew. She hoped smoke inhalation would render them unconscious before the flames got to them. Still, and she laughed at herself for this useless action, she checked Aidan’s wound. The pool of blood under him had not grown bigger. His pulse was thready, but he was alive. Clearly in shock, but still alive.

And he was warm. She’d worried about that earlier. She wished that was all she had to worry about now. In fact she almost envied him. Lethargic, barely alert, Aidan barely stirred. If he was aware of their predicament, he did not show it. Maybe he had the sense to slow his body functions, to keep still so as to conserve his strength, so as to slow the bleeding, so as to preserve life as long as possible. She bent down and kissed him softly on the mouth. Had she imagined it or had a weak smile come across his face?

“I love you,” he murmured. And fell back into silence.

Now it was up to her. Her alone. And then it hit her, “The Ark! I can use the Ark!”

 

 

Photo Attribution:

By MC2 Corbin J. Shea [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons