Authors: Deborah R Stigall
MUST you insist on sneaking up on me?” she snapped, whirling around to face Jared. Throwing the handtowel at his broad chest, Kaitla pushed past him to the dressing table in the bedroom. Plopping down on the small stool before the table, she attempted to tame a few of the snarls out of her tousled hair.
Forgive me, Kaitla, but ye DID call for me,” Jared observed quietly as he neatly folded the towel, then placed it on the dresser beside the bathroom door.
Called for you! I wasn’t even thinking about you!” Kaitla snarled, yanking the brush through a handful of hair, successfully tangling the mass of curls even worse.
Aye, ye did call for me but perhaps ye dinna realize it. Here, let me help ye with that rat’s nest.” Jared gently took the brush out of her hand. Slowly, he began brushing out the worst of the snarls, carefully picking out the tangles. “Since I’ve sworn to serve your father and take care of ye as well, whenever ye’re in need of me, I’m able to sense it, ye ken?” He continued running the brush through the auburn gold tresses with slow deliberate strokes. “’Tis only natural, these feelin’s your havin’. Etain has allowed me to view snippets of your life for years to prepare me for this time. I’ve been watching o’er ye for years. But today was the first day I’d seen the memories from the very beginning.”
Even though her hair hung down her back in a smooth shimmering river, Jared continued mesmerizing her senses with the slow methodical brushing. Filling both his hands with her silky tresses, Jared softly murmured, as he ran his fingers through her hair, “I didna’ realize what a past ye had survived until I saw everything in its own time, as it was today.”
Slowly opening her eyes, Kaitla focused on Jared in the dressing table mirror. Carefully, Jared placed the brush beside her on the table. With one hand, he tenderly held aside the mass of hair, leaning down to gently kiss her neck. Without realizing she had been holding her breath, Kaitla slowly exhaled, closing her eyes against the emotions threatening to surface. She could feel her heart pounding, her senses heightened by the closeness of Jared’s body. She could feel his warm breath against her throat as he tenderly brushed her neck with his lips. She could smell him. A fresh woodsy sort of smell, as though he’d spent his entire life deep within a forest. His hands gently squeezed her shoulders as he barely brushed her skin with his lips. “Kaitla…I’ve trained to protect ye for years….but I had no idea the feelings ye’d stir inside me when I actually met ye.”
Struggling to the surface of her emotions as though gulping for a breath of air, Kaitla pushed away from the dressing table, sliding from under Jared’s ministrations. “I t-think I feel better now….I think it’s t-time we started that training.” Kaitla stammered through her clenched teeth as she moved towards the door. “I just want to go find Etain. I have to learn more…. I’ve got to find a way to sort through it all.” Kaitla couldn’t stop her body from trembling, as her huge golden eyes reflected her inner turmoil.
Jared smiled sadly, “Of course Kaitla, I’m sorry. I dinna mean to frighten ye.” He drew a deep breath, turning to open the doors to the veranda. “Etain is waiting for us in the gardens. It’ll be much easier for ye to feel your powers outside, closer to the elements. A breeze blowin’ through your hair will help to whisper the secrets to your soul.” Kaitla followed Jared outside, proceeding down the marble steps on the other end of the patio. She saw Etain up ahead, waiting for them in the midst of one of the herb gardens, seated on one of the wrought iron benches. The pungent smells of sage, rosemary, and basil filled the air around them. Kaitla noticed Etain had a handful of the herbs, idly crushing the leaves and tossing them to the ground.
Raising her head at the sound of their approach, Etain first smiled at them in welcome, then her face gradually settled on Jared with a disapproving frown. Glancing quickly at Jared, Kaitla watched him avoid Etain’s gaze and silently wondered what had passed between the two of them.
Kaitla took the bench opposite of Etain. Jared seated himself beside her. It was a beautiful clear day with a cool breeze rifting through her hair. Kaitla could hear the trees rustling in the wind behind her as though stretching and reveling in the sun. It was serene in the garden surrounded by the aromatic herbs and the songs of the various birds. Jared had been right. Coming outside had calmed her. Kaitla could feel the peacefulness of her surroundings soothing her worried mind.
Verra good, Kaitla” Etain remarked quietly, as she observed Kaitla’s gradual calming. “Ye draw strength from the wind, the earth and the living things around ye.” Etain, too, seemed more relaxed, perhaps even younger then before. Apparently, the confession of the past thirty-five years had done a great deal to lighten Etain’s soul. She had suffered unbearably over the years, unable to help the orphaned child growing up alone in a realm far away for fear of revealing Kaitla’s presence. But now the time had finally come for Kaitla to return to her home and reclaim the life that was rightfully hers.
The first thing ye must learn and commit to your heart is that those beautiful eyes are your greatest source of power and protection.” Etain looked deeply into Kaitla’s eyes, as if she was probing to the depths of her soul. “They help ye to focus yer powers, as well as ta’ see things that not everyone is so gifted ta’ see.” Etain surveyed Kaitla thoughtfully, as she continued, “Ye also have the ability to change yer form should ye have need of it.” Etain stood, gathering another handful of sage and continued to crush the leaves, filling the air with even more of the spicy perfume. “We dinna have time to train ye properly or show ye the many gifts ye have; but ye shall become aware of them as ye need them. Ye see child, the closer ye are to yer own realm, the stronger ye are and yer gifts will cease to lie dormant.” Etain walked over to Kaitla, brushing a stray tress out of her eyes, pushing it behind one ear in a motherly gesture. “The most difficult thing ye will find is learning to stop listening with your mind from this world and learn to listen with your heart and soul from Clas Myrddin,” she reflected with a gentle smile.
Kaitla looked doubtfully up at Etain, “What can I turn myself into?” The thought of shape shifting was sounded more then just a little intriguing. She’d been scolded more then once as a child, for straying too often into the land of make-believe. From what Etain was telling her, perhaps it was just her natural gifts attempting to assert themselves at a young age. If she was to be trapped in this strange new destiny, she might as well start exploring it now.
You mean I can really turn myself into the shape of something else?” Kaitla repeated in amazement. The more she learned of her legacy, the more astounded she became. It was as though all the legends she had read and enjoyed were actually history lessons…true accounts of the past.
Why, ye can become anything ye wish, child. Although the smaller varieties are usually a bit easier at first.” Etain once more seated herself beside Jared on the bench. “Ye must imagine that ye are what ye wish to become. Ye must try to feel what that form would feel... Try something,” Etain urged gently.
Well…let me see,” Kaitla nervously tapped her fingers on the bench. Finally settling on a creature, she closed her eyes, trying to envision herself as a powerful cougar she had once seen pacing back and forth within its cage at the St. Louis Zoo.
Sudden laughter startling her, Kaitla flattened her ears, hissing and growling at Jared. Oh, she had managed to assume the shape of a cougar…one that was perhaps about eight weeks old. Kaitla sat with disgust, flipping her tail angrily against the stones of the path. Jared quickly bent and scooped her up, “Aye, what a cute wee cub!” He scratched behind her ears and in spite of herself, her furry little body was soon rumbling with a throaty purr.
Etain reached over, retrieving Kaitla from Jared’s lap, and settling her back on the walk. “Concentrate, Kaitla, that’s the key,” she smiled, her eyes still sparkling with suppressed laughter. Kaitla waddled over to the other side of the walk, slightly stumbling over her over-sized paws and finding it impossible to slink gracefully with her round, pudgy belly and short, fat legs. She plopped down on her rump and tried again.
This time she was rewarded with applause. Kaitla stood regally before Etain and Jared, a full-grown cougar, sleek and beautiful. She stretched her powerful paws, extending the razor claws as though sharpening them on the stones. Muscles rippling silently beneath her tawny coat, she gracefully walked over to Jared, butting him off the bench with her massive head. “Hmmm, this might not be so bad after all,” she thought to herself, reveling in the powerful body of the creature she had become. Leaning over the bench, Kaitla licked Jared full in the face with her raspy tongue, as he sat sprawled on the ground where he’d fallen.
Ugh, Kaitla, stop that!” rolling to get away from her, Jared retreated behind the bench on all fours. Before returning to her original form, Kaitla couldn’t resist one full-throated roar that scattered all the birds from the surrounding gardens.
Etain couldn’t contain her laughter any longer. “Oh Jared, mmmmmhmmhm” she giggled uncontrollably, her shoulders shaking with mirth. “Ye’ve been yearnin’ for a kiss from the wee lass...Ye finally get it and ye tell her to stop! Heeheehee!” Jared glared sullenly at Etain from his place behind the bench.
Resuming her original shape and form, Kaitla sat on the ground grinning at Jared. Sheepishly, he looked up from behind the other bench and slowly grinned back. She couldn’t resist the sparkle in his twinkling gray eyes and soon found herself giggling along with Etain. Jared’s deep rumbling laughter joined their giggles and snorts until the three of them were wiping tears from their eyes. “Well, done, lass! Well done!” Etain hiccuped uncontrollably.
Aye, lass!” coughed Jared picking himself up from the ground, brushing the leaves and dirt from his trousers. “Ye did a fine job but ye can keep that rough raspy tongue o’ yours to yourself!” Jared mopped his face once more to try to remove the last traces of her
from his face.
Arching her brows mischievously, Kaitla replied, “Fine! I’ll remember that!” Jared’s deep gray eyes widened, his jaw dropping in surprise.
Smiling at Kaitla’s teasing, Etain held out a hand, “Come now, Kaitla. Let’s leave Jared to compose himself. We have much more ta’ discover.” Taking Etain’s hand, Kaitla couldn’t resist one last glance behind her. Sitting on the bench with his elbows on his knees, Jared winked at her with an embarrassed grin, watching with growing affection as Etain and Kaitla disappeared deeper into the garden.
Etain and Kaitla slowly made their way through the herbs lining the narrow stone path. Ancient and cracked, the weathered stones were grouted with spongy green moss. The path methodically wound its way through the gardens of the estate, ultimately ending up at the stone-lined spring they were now approaching. An ancient Pictish cross stood at the mouth of the gurgling spring. It had been positioned so the clear fresh waters poured forth from the center of the cross, the waters cascading into a deep pool below. The stones lining the pool were covered with slippery green algae, slowly blackening, as the water grew deeper.
Etain perched on a nearby stone bench, silently inviting Kaitla to do the same. Great oaks and hazel trees surrounded the peaceful spring. The leafy branches intertwined overhead forming a sun-dappled cathedral of tranquility below. The soothing sound of the bubbling waters was musical and healing. Kaitla began to understand all the myths of the healing waters and springs as a sense of peace slowly pervaded her senses.
Kaitla watched Etain closely, wondering why she had brought her here.
“What does she expect me to do next?”
she thought silently to herself.
I expect ye to listen and talk with me, child
.” Kaitla clearly heard Etain’s words and yet she had not spoken aloud.
Etain?” Kaitla started to speak but quickly stopped, as Etain raised her hand for silence.
Nodding her head slightly in Kaitla’s direction, Etain gently smiled as she gazed deeply into Kaitla’s eyes. Kaitla clearly heard her voice again, “
Think to me, Kaitla, and listen to me with your heart.
Finally understanding, Kaitla stared hard at Etain thinking, “
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?”
Bursting with laughter in Kaitla’s mind but merely smiling visibly, Etain replied, “
Don’t try so hard, child. You’re fair shoutin’ at me!”
Kaitla tried to relax a little, smiling sheepishly at Etain,
She tried to think
and calmly but it was more difficult then she thought. Everytime she wanted to say something, well, she wanted to SAY something, not merely think it!
That’s because of the way ye grew up, lass,”
Etain thought clearly to Kaitla.
“Here in this realm, the people are too busy to take the time to listen with their hearts and souls. Those that do --fear what the others will say or do to them once their abilities are revealed, so, they usually keep their gifts a secret.”
Etain rose, strolling over to the bubbling pool. She filled her cupped hands from the spring, then gently let the water escape in droplets through her fingers. The tinkling drops giggled merrily as they joined their fellows in the pool below
. “Ye must cleanse yourself of the bustle of this world, child. Listen to nature, the water, the wind…all these things will teach ye more then I ever can.”
The more Kaitla watched Etain, the more she began to feel at one with all the rhythms of nature. Her heart began to fill with peacefulness. She could feel a small core of inner strength beginning to glow within her like a coal in a deeply banked fire.