(Background notes are at end of the chapter.)
August 1st Present day
Kian’s 28th Birthday
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.
Kian woke with a start. This was the third time in a week she’d had that dream. That’s how she thought of it. It was “that dream.”
Taking her wind-up alarm from the old bed stand, she checked the time. Four a.m., the best part of the morning. No use trying to fall back to sleep. The dream would only repeat itself.
Kian Radha Buchanan rolled her long, lean, freckled legs out of the bed. She slid her orange painted toenails into aqua flip-flops, pulled a tattered tee over her cami-top, and adjusted her waist length red hair into a ponytail. Without turning on a light, she headed down two flights of crooked wooden steps to the large open room that was the main floor of her log home.
She turned left toward the kitchen. It was set off from the rest of the house by an oak counter now yellowed and worn to a fine patina. After turning on the fluorescent light over the sink, Kian entered the walk-in pantry to retrieve a fresh box of K-cups. She popped one into the Keurig® and pushed the handle down, selecting the strongest brew possible. Lucky, her midnight black cat, was not to be forgotten. He rubbed at her ankles, begging for his morning meal.
“Here you go, Luckster, canned mush, your favorite.” Kian set his bowl down on the dingy linoleum tiles. Like most other things in the house, the kitchen floor was on a long list of things needing renovation.
Kian scratched Lucky’s head. She liked remembering the day, just three months ago, when the golden-eyed cat had come into her life. He’d crept out of the woods and jumped into her lap, almost spilling the hot coffee she’d been enjoying on her new deck.
“And who are you, sir?” she had asked. He sneezed. She stroked his back and noted how emaciated he was, wet and shivering too. Another sneeze.
“Well this will not do,” Kian had said as she lifted him up and brought him inside. The cat dined on leftover steak set in a marred plastic bowl used by the many pets in the Buchanan household back when her parents lived there. Given his near-miss with death, the vet called him “Lucky.” The name stuck and the memory always gave her a sense of joy.
Coffee cup in hand, Kian now left her kitchen and walked to the oak dining table positioned conveniently in the center of the huge open space. She grabbed the shawl, the one her mother had knitted years ago, and headed for the back deck. As she passed by her father’s old study, the scent of vintage books caught her attention. One day I guess I’ll have to sort through them, she thought as she unlocked the deadbolt, its shiny newness a contrast to the battered door.
Once outside, she eased onto her porch swing, a sleek model bought from the local home improvement store just last spring.
Today was her 28th birthday. She could only hope it would be better than her 27th.
Sitting there, Kian pictured it all again. A scraggy looking gunman holding a high-powered weapon. She had stepped in front of her patient, a small child, to spare him the sight. The gunman screamed, “Where is she? Where is the red-head?”
In the crowded emergency room that night, all work had ceased, all movement had become as if in slow motion.
Kian’s best friend, Cathy, had not been present when the man broke in and then Kian had seen her walking toward the chaos. Kian tried to motion her back. But it was too late. The wildman had seen Cathy. Nobody dared stop him when he grabbed her and threw her to the floor. Kian remembered how Cathy’s red hair, dyed as a joke just for Kian’s birthday, had flown loose. The man had fingered it, and then aimed for Cathy’s heart. Kian had watched the slow graceful movements of the security guard as he reached behind the gunman, catching him by his right shoulder. It was enough. The bullet had missed its mark and Cathy had lived, taking a superficial wound to her shoulder.
After the attack, Cathy had moved to rural New England with her fiancé, changing from emergency to pediatric nursing. With nobody important left in Boston, Kian decided to move back to her parent’s Hudson Valley home where she found a part-time job as a home-hospice nurse. It wasn’t that she needed the money. She liked the work.
In many ways coming back had not been easy. Aside from Uncle Jacob, now her patient on hospice, all she had of this place were childhood memories and the comfort of the home’s long history. Her father’s great-grandfather had built it on land that had been in the Buchanan family since–well, Kian was not sure how long. Each successive generation rebuilt or remodeled, adding on a bit more each time. Her parents had built the barn for horses. And now she’d added the deck.
Kian wondered if her parents, were still alive somewhere, or if they had, indeed, died. All she knew was that they had left without saying where they were going. And then vanished. At ten, Kian was old enough to experience the loss, but too young to do anything about it. Now she did not know how she felt. Angry? Abandoned? Lost? Yes, that was it, lost. As a child, there had been a sense of security and purpose to her life. Now that was gone.
Lucky scratched at the screen door, urging her to let him out. “No way, young man,” she said. “You aren’t getting lost in those woods again…not if I can help it.”
Kian leaned back and stared out at the trees beyond the small stream as she sipped her coffee now growing cold. She could see the soft glow of the sun as it made its way into the rose-colored sky. The air had a freshness to it and wispy tendrils of fog rose from “her” valley.
The longer Kian sat there, the more her thinking was pulled back to that dream.
But this time it was different; it wasn’t a dream. This time she was the girl in the cave. This time when the tunnel opened up, she felt herself pulled through and she could see something or someone there. She tried pulling back, but couldn’t do it. She looked closer, straining a bit. She saw… what? Two people, a young man and a young woman. The man’s red beard was well trimmed, his eyes blue, his hair down to his shoulders. He was, Kian guessed, about her own age, strong and muscular. Around his curly hair there was a coronet of gold. The woman was younger than the man. She seemed innocent and trusting. Circling her golden hair was a coronet of silver. The couple looked familiar, and then Kian saw her parents kneeling there.
Other people solemnly chanted behind them.
Suddenly a garrote was thrown around each of their necks, their heads were pulled back, and daggers slashed across each of their throats. They fell forward into a dank pool of shallow water, red spreading out in swirling ribbons among the tall swaying reeds. Kian wanted to scream. But she could not.
Then she heard a voice whispering to her. It sounded like Uncle Jacob’s: “Willing Sacrifice. Sacred three-fold death. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Willing sacrifice? Three-fold death? OK? Kian shook herself and, with tremendous effort, she pulled away refusing to let herself think about all the other times she’d had Visions. Some had even been premonitions. “No, not premonitions,” she always told herself, “just coincidences.”
Kian jumped up and bolted inside, letting the screen door slam firmly behind her.
Lammas, August 1st, is one of the pagan cross-quarter days. Half way between summer solstice and fall equinox, it marks the beginning of the harvest. Another cross-quarter day, Beltane, is just three months prior and is the beginning of the planting season. Beltane is, therefore, associated with re-birth and new beginnings. (You may have noted Lucky came into Kian’s life on Beltane.)
Lammas, at the time of the harvest, was also the time the Corn King was sacrificed, his blood soaking into the fields to nourish them for the following year. As the wheat was harvested, so was the Corn King. Thus Lammas has traditionally been the time of sacrifice. But, as I have been told, the sacrifice must be a willing one.
Kian’s 28th birthday:
There is some numerology here. 2+8=10. Ten is new beginnings and for Kian a new stage in her life is beginning. 2+7=9, the culmination of the old life. On her 27th birthday, things changed for Kian and her old life ended.
You will find the three-fold death described in The Life and Death of a Druid Prince: How the discovery of the Lindow Man revealed the secrets of a lost civilization.
Whether the Lindow Man was sacrificed on Lammas, we do not know. But the manner of his death was preserved in a bog near Manchester, UK. That his death was sacrificial is clear.
Staring at the flame of a candle is an old method of scrying—bringing on visions of the past, the present, and the future.
The mysterious Hudson Valley:
Stay tuned. I will have more to say about the Hudson Valley in coming posts.
I suppose I should add here that Kian is fictional, as are all the characters and the plot of this story.
Ross, Anne and Robins, Don (1989). The Life and Death of a Druid Prince: How the discovery of the Lindow Man revealed the secrets of a lost civilization. New York: Summit Books.