Weaver’s Box, Part 8

IMG_3192.JPG

 

Days passed into weeks as Toko felt the time slipping away.

Each night she continued making marks behind the bed, but now they had more urgency. Instead of counting her days of captivity, they counted the days until her doom. Six months, M’Lady had said. Six months and if she did not give M’Lady the tiles, they would be fed to the crocodiles. 

Try as she did, Toko could not get away from Matron long enough to explore the passage that would lead to her escape. But on her way to the laundry she did pass the different priestesses as they went to the market each day. She smiled and made small talk with them as they packed up the days’s wares. A couple were friendlier than the others and she made a point of bumping into them whenever she could. One in particular called her “Lil sister.” Marta, Toko learned, was the woman’s name and she sought Marta out more than the others.

Marta had an inviting smile. “One day I will take your weaving to the market. It will sell, I am sure of it. Then you won’t have to work the laundry any more. Won’t that be nice?” Nice, Toko thought, was an understatement. She hated the laundry. It was hot and sticky. Her clothes stuck to her sweaty body and perspiration soaked her hair.  

It would be worth it, though, if only she could get a look down the passage that would take her out of the temple. But Matron was too careful. Try as she might, Toko could find no way to get away from her watchful eye. 

If I can’t get out, I’ll get a message out. To Nanna. She will come and find me. 

But the message had to be disguised. Something Nanna would recognize. Something in her weaving. Yes, that’s it. I’ll weave something so beautiful, M’Lady will have to send it to market. She only hoped Marta would be the one to take it. 

For three days and three nights, Toko focused on what her weaving should be. Household linens sold best, that she knew. But there was little room to make her piece special, different, something Nanna would recognize. Rugs? They were harder and took much longer. No, it had to be something smaller, something she could do easily. But most of all, something Nanna would recognize.

An amulet, that was it. In colors like the one Nanna had given her all those months ago? No, too obvious. Similar, but not the same, she decided. She’d use Nanna’s not-this-not-that colors.  She could see them in her mind. Yes, yes, like the ones on the big hanging in her father’s great hall. Nanna would certainly recognize that! 

First she had to dye the yarn. That was easy. Ana liked her not-this-not-that colors and often let her work with Juno in the dye shop. 

But would Ana let her make an amulet? Of that she was not so sure. Ana had her doing more mundane pieces. She had gone from placemats to longer table scarves, but so far none had been sent to market. No, Toko decided, she’d have to make the amulet in private, in her room at night after she’d been locked in. When nobody would see her.

Little by little, she sequestered her materials. The yarn was easy. From the large quantity she dyed, she tucked a few small hanks into her underclothes. She found a soft board on which to pin the design and was able to slip up the stairs and push it under her door when nobody was watching. Pins were always easy to obtain. It was the beads that worried her. She needed beads to set it off and Ana had not yet allowed her to go to the ceramic studio. So, in her head  she started to chant,

Beads, beads,

Bring me some beads, 

Just the right hues,

In corals and blues.

She chanted it as she worked in the weaving studio wondering if they would, indeed, appear. Her chanting seemed to work in the past, but would it now?

But the next day she saw them, just as she imagined. Whole vials of them stacked next to Ana’s loom along with the yarns Toko had dyed. Just as Toko was about to risk taking some, Ana swept into the room. “Beautiful aren’t they. They will make a fine cloak for M’Lady, don’t you think?” 

“Beautiful,” Toko said, brazenly opening one of the vials and holding a bead up to the sunlight. Rainbows shot all around the room. She opened a second and then a third vial, holding more beads to the light. 

“Put them away, you stupid girl,” Ana shrieked. Toko feigned nervousness and knocked all three vials to the floor. Beads scurried everywhere.

“I’ll get them, I’ll get them,” Toko called out,  falling down to her hands and knees. For every handful of beads she gathered, she put one into her pocket. Reaching under one last table to scoop out a few more stray beads, she saw something even larger. Pulling it toward herself, she noted its colors, corals and blues. How it got there, she could not even guess. But it would be perfect as a centerpiece in her amulet. 

 She knew she would pay a price for her “clumsiness,” but whatever it was, it would be worth it. She now had her beads.  

That night, alone in her room, Toko gently touched the welts on her back. The beating had been harsher than she’d thought, and all for a “clumsy” act. She wondered what would happen if she outwardly defied them? Crocodiles, or maybe worse, she imagined. 

The marks behind her bed were mounting each day. 265 days had passed. How many left, she wondered. By her reckoning, only 100. Or maybe less, or maybe more. It all depended on M’Lady’s whim. She needed to get that amulet done. And out to the market.

Weavers Box: Part 7

Historic_American_Buildings_Survey_N._E._Baldwin,_Photographer_December_28,_1939_LARGE_TUBS_FOR_BOILING_CLOTHES_IN_LAUNDRY,_ALSO_SHAKER_MADE_TUB_-_Shaker_Church_Family_Washhouse_HABS_MASS,2-HANC,14-19.tif.jpg

 

Toko lay awake that night, her mind in a whirl. Storyline after storyline filled her head until she thought she would burst. Her heart raced, her stomach clenched. 

Ana and Juno were in on it with M’Lady. They were not her friends. She had to escape somehow—on her own. She had no help, no one she could trust. She pictured herself finding the tunnel out, racing down it, and out to freedom. She pictured all the steps it would take. The tunnel was close to M’Lady’s office. She knew that because she had been taken there when she first arrived all those months ago. It had not been a long walk, that Toko knew. But hard as she tried, her mind was too jumbled to remember the way to M’Lady’s office and from there to the tunnel. 

Her mind then raced to Ana’s and Juno’s fate if she did escape. They would be thrown to the crocodiles, of that Toko was sure. How can I be the cause of their pain, their death? The very thought filled her with dread.

But they would all go to the crocodiles if Toko did not tell them about the tiles—but she could not. She did not know the secret of the tiles and she did not know the secret of weaving spells on her loom. And that, certainly was what they wanted of her. Could she make up something, tell them what they wanted to hear? But then, when the spells did not work, she would surely go to the crocodiles. 

Maybe I can say the tiles were burned. I saw it as a child. Her mind raced to how she could do that, what she’d say, how she’d behave. She rehearsed it over and over. She’d slip it into conversation with Juno. Maybe when Juno prodded her about her memories of her mother? “You know this one night I saw Nanna and my mother take this box out to the fire and dump something into the fire. I asked Nanna about it after my mother died, but she would not tell me. I still wonder what was in that box. They seemed so secretive. I don’t now why, but Nanna would never talk about my mother or her life here.”

Just as Toko was about to accept this as her best option, another thought intruded. No, she argued with herself. She was only of value if they thought they could get her mother’s secrets from her.  I’d be dead within the hour for sure if I said that. The thought made her shudder. 

Besides, Juno and Ana were victims just as she was.  They would all escape. Yes, that was it, they would all escape. 

But then, what if one of them tattled on her, told M’Lady just to save herself. No, surly they would not do that, Toko argued. But then she was not so sure. Surely she would not tattle, but then again….. Toko did not know what she would do. 

No, my best option is to escape this place.

She fell asleep, pictures of sneaking past M’Lady’s office and down dark passages finally filling her with a sense of calm. 

But when she awoke the next morning the terror was back.

Hours later, sitting at her loom, she only wanted the fear to go away, so she brought back the pictures that had filled her with calm the night before. She rehearsed the scene over and over, with each pic of the shuttle, she saw her escape past M’Lady’s office again and again. It gave her a rhythm to her weaving and she noticed her tension had improved, her rows were more even, her selvages straighter. Along with throwing the shuttle from one side to the other she chanted to herself.  

Past M’Lady,

Past M’Lady,

To my freedom.

Past M’Lady, 

Past M’Lady,

To my freedom.

“Toko.” M’lady’s voice was harsh and demanding. “Put your shuttle down and come with me.”

Toko stood, her sense of calm now shattered. She followed M’Lady out of the weaving studio and down the familiar hallway. They turned left past the stairs to Toko’s attic room. Is she taking me to her office? If so, it was too good to be true. She made up a jingle as they walked:

Past the attic,

To the statue,

‘Round the bend, 

And over the carpet.

Just outside her office M’lady said, “Sit,” pointing to the same settee Toko had seen on her first day. Pleased with herself, she sat and repeated the rhyme over and over, each time walking past the attic, to the statue, around the narrow bend, and over the carpet until she reached the office. Again and again, she saw every detail, exactly what this statue looked like, exactly where the carpet was placed, its colors, its texture. She was at the office and now she knew the way. Half her journey to freedom had been revealed.

Now she needed to discover the way to the tunnel that would take her to freedom. Pretending to stretch, she looked around. M’lady’s office was to her right but there were three other passages. 

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Over and over she repeated that, falling into a rhythm once again. Nothing came to her but she just kept repeating it. Until M’Lady broke her revelry.

“All our priestesses have a daily task and you will be no exception. You will work in the laundry for two hours everyday. Come.”

M’Lady took her down the narrowest of the three passages, past the kitchen and to a room so steam filled Toko had trouble seeing to the other side. 

A dour faced woman stepped from behind one of the vats. 

“This is Matron. She will collect you every day before your lesson and bring you back when you are finished here. Do as she says.”

M’Lady turned to Matron. “Make sure she works. No dawdling. She has been useless for too long.”

For the next two hours, Toko sorted linens, folding them neatly and stacking them in piles according to type. Bed linens, tablecloths, towels, placemats. They all had to be folded in just the right way. To pass the time, Toko repeated her little jingle, memorizing the way from her attic room to M’Lady’s office and then, when she saw herself at the three doors, she repeated again and again:

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Finally, just as Toko heard the dinner bell ring, Matron came over. “Come,” was all she said and Toko followed her back down the narrow passage. As she walked, she continued her chant,

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Just as they reached M’lady’s office, she heard two women approaching their voices echoing down one of the passages.

“It was a good day. M’Lady will be pleased.”

“That she will. The market was kind to us today.” 

Had these two voices been outside the temple enclosure? I need to know which passage.  But Matron was moving too fast. Toko feigned a trip, pretending to catch herself as she fell onto the settee. 

Matron turned to look at her, annoyance obvious from the look in her eyes. “What now?”

Toko massaged her ankle. She could hear footsteps on the stone floor. But which passage? 

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

This time there was urgency in her plea. She could not let the opportunity go. But Matron was impatient. 

Toko continued to rub her ankle as if in pain. The voices were closer now. 

“Get up,” Matron demanded. 

Toko stood, pretending to test her ankle as she did.

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Just when Toko thought she could hold off no longer, two priestess appeared wrapped in heavy woolen cloaks. Snow still clung to their fur lined hoods. 

Stepping gently onto her ankle, Toko nodded to Matron. “I’m okay, just a cramp I think. From standing so long.”

“Stop complaining,” was all matron said before turning and hurrying Toko to her dinner. 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Attribution: Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Weaver’s Box, Part 6

 

 

Drop_spindle_with_wool_of_alpaca_Peru.jpg

 

Only allowed to work in the morning when the studio was unoccupied, it had taken Toko two more days to finally satisfy Ana. 

“Perfect selvages,” Ana said with a smile. “You are learning quickly. It has taken some of my students a full week to get this far. And then some never do. 

“Now you must learn to spin. It is the only way to feel the properties of threads and yarns.  And that, my Toko, is what makes a master weaver.”

My Toko? Toko bristled but held her tongue.

Ana took her down the hall to a room where three priestesses sat at  spinning wheels. Juno was among them and that pleased Toko.

Toko thought she saw disdain in Ana’s eyes as she was nudged into the room. “When she has spun enough to warp her loom, let me know,” was all Ana said before turning and abruptly leaving.

“Ah, you must have passed your weaving.” Juno gave her a welcoming smile. “That is good for if you did not, you would spend your life spinning with us here.”

“Or worse,” the skinny short priestess piped in. “You’d be sent to the Priests and goddess help you then.”

“But only if you cannot pass spinning either,” the oldest of the three said. She was plump and jolly with two long thin braids that she kept tossing back over her shoulders. “Don’t worry, dear,” she chuckled. “Spinning isn’t that hard, once you get the hang of it.”  

“Both literally and figuratively,” Juno added. “You are going to start with the drop spindle.”

In this room, there was a whole new set of terms to learn. The drop spindle was just the first of many. Roving was unspun fiber.  It was twisted and whirled with the spindle, finally forming into a neat yarn. Toko watched intently. The quicker she learned this skill, the quicker she’d be back weaving. 

But seeing and doing were worlds apart. More than once the twisting threads separated and her spindle fell to the floor with a resounding “clunk.” This always amused the skinny one who, despite disapproving looks from the older woman, delighted in responding, “Yes, the priests will love this one.” It made Toko nervous, so nervous she could not relax and settle into a rhythm. The spindle hit the ground again and again. 

At the end of a second frustrating day, Juno bent over Toko and whispered, “I put a spindle and some roving in the toilet. Tuck it in your apron before I take you up to your room.  You can practice in peace tonight.”

By the third morning, Toko could spin well enough to keep the roving from separating. The spindle no longer fell to the floor. “Now, let’s see if it is strong enough to warp,” Juno said, giving it the same tug test she’d seen Ana use. It broke easily. 

“Give it more spin, not more fiber,” the older woman said as she pointed to a spider weaving its web. “Strong but delicate, that is what you want.”

Toko tried and then tried again. But each time the tug test was applied, the thread broke and the skinny one laughed even louder. “Like I said, the priests will love this one” she continued to comment.

That night and the next, Toko practiced in her room. The thread seemed to be getting stronger, but still it broke.

Toko was about to give up for the night when a spider floated down from the ceiling, dangling just in front of Toko’s face, then drawing itself back up. It stayed just above her head, not moving at all. It was as if the spider was staring at her, watching as she twirled her spindle. Spider, spider on my wall. Make mine strongest of them all.  

She found herself chanting her little rhyme as she practiced, finally relaxing and falling into a rhythm. Then, when she had no more roving left, she gave it the tug test. It held. She tugged again, this time harder. It still held. 

I’ll pass tomorrow she thought finally crawling into bed for a deep sleep.

Indeed, the next morning she did pass, filling her spindle with fine strong thread until the spindle was too heavy to spin any more. Juno tugged and it held. The older woman gave it a try, too, and still it held. Finally the skinny woman said, “Give it here.” Gritting her teeth, she tugged at it so hard it bit into the skin of her hands. “Ouch,” was all she said before passing it back to Juno.

Juno inspected the thread again. “Very good and even, too. But not long enough to warp a loom. Let’s find you a spinning wheel.”

That, Toko learned, was a whole different skill. But persistence won and within the week, Toko had mastered that, too. Over the next few day she spun and spun and chanted her rhyme. 

Spider spider on the wall, 

Make mine strongest of them all. 

Juno was finally satisfied. “Come, now,” she said. “Off to do some dyeing.” 

Toko was pleased to find Juno was her teacher here, too, and with nobody to distract them, they fell into a pleasant companionship. Juno showed her how to mix and set dye, but Toko was the master at seeing and producing colors. Once she got past her shock that just three dyes would produce any color she could imagine, she quickly sensed how much of each she’d need to nuance not-this-not-that shades. 

They worked with many different fibers, many different textures of yarns, each absorbing and holding the dyes in different ways. 

Dyeing was easy, Toko decided and more than once she wondered if she might be able to stay here, doing the dyeing, never spinning again, never having to go back to Ana to learn to weave.  She trusted Juno. She had even opened up to her companion, talking about Nanna, about her father and about her life before being brought here. If she had to stay here in the dyeing studio, well maybe this was not so bad after all. Maybe she could make peace with herself and her fate. Maybe Juno and I can be true friends. I need to tell someone about my mother, about the tiles, about how I was kidnapped and imprisoned here. 

Over the past few weeks, Toko found she had more and more freedom.  Though still locked away in the attic at night, she could wonder the textile studios as she pleased, have meals with the other priestesses, even wonder in the garden and talk to them when not at her lessons. She used these walks to explore her surroundings but soon discovered the high wall surrounded the entire building with no obvious gate or entrance. The exit must be underground, Toko reasoned, it was the only explanation. 

When Juno told her she would be returning to Ana, Toko made her decision. She’d go talk to Ana, ask for permission to stay with Juno in the dyeing studio.

After lunch, while the other priestesses strolled in the garden, Toko went in search of Ana. She was not in her office, so Toko went to the weaving studio where she wondered among the looms, hoping Ana would come along soon. 

Piece after piece intrigued Toko. In many of them she recognized her not-this-not-that colors. But what fascinated her the most was how her colors worked together, how they blended when used one with another. Dyeing yarn meant working with only one color at a time. But here in the weaving room she could put her colors together. And not just the colors together, here she could work with texture, too. Maybe I do not want to be stuck in the dyeing studio, maybe I do want to learn to weave. 

The yarns were stored in huge bins against the back wall and Toko decided to explore there. Standing on low stool, she was bent over one, rummaging through it when she heard someone coming. Ana? Could it be Ana? Standing and turning too quickly, she fell off the stool, hitting the floor hard. It took a minute to regain her composure but then she heard M’Lady screeching. Toko crawled behind the nearest bin, hoping it would hide her.

“The girl’s made no progress at all. None. We know nothing and it has been what? Almost a year?”

“Six months M’Lady, only six months. Juno is trying, I know she is. She knows the consequences of failure,” Ana pleaded.

“Does she? Does she? And do you? I should have fed you to the crocodiles all those years ago. I know you had something to do with Iona’s escape.”

Iona? Iona was my mother.

“But M’Lady I swear I did not know she was leaving.” 

“So you say. But what proof of that? None. Absolutely none. Iona did not get out of here without someone’s help.”

“It was not me, M’Lady, I swear.”

“Six months. That is all you and Juno have left. Six more months. And if I do not have those tiles, both of you are going to the crocodiles, along with the girl.”

 

 

 

 

Photo attribution:

By Peter van der Sluijs (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

Weaver’s Box, Part 5

 

IMG_3111.jpg

 

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

 

7f12dbe090dcf94949ea9d88dc6d36d0

 

 

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

Crocodile_Feast_AdF.jpg

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

 

Bergtocht_van_Vens_naar_Bettex_in_Valle_d'Aosta_(Italië)._Bomen_langs_bergpad_in_dichte_mist_04

 

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

Willing Sacrifice: Chapter 32

20091027_1102.jpg

 

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

South_Yorkshire_Fire_and_Rescue_Portable_cabin_fire,_ASDA_Handsworth.jpg

 

 

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

Temple_Wood_stone_circle_near_Auldgirth.JPG

 

 

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