When the time for communion approached, I slipped out of our pew as if I was heading for the bathroom. I stood in the drafty hall behind the organist’s cubby for a couple of minutes, then came back and fell in line with the people who had just taken communion. I took my seat, dabbing my lips as if I’d just sipped from the chalice. My mother gave me a questioning look but didn’t say anything. Leaning back, I let my thoughts drift away once again.
Suddenly Father Hotchkiss’s booming voice startled me. From the pulpit he thundered, “Does the answer lie within or without?”
It was like a bolt of lightning. I stared at him.
“For us,” Father Hotchkiss went on, gripping the pulpit, “the answer is both. The answers lie within yourselves, as your faith guides you through life, and the answer lies without, in the truth and solace the church offers. Prayer is the key to both. It is through prayer we connect with our Maker, through prayer we reaffirm our belief in God and in ourselves.” He paused, and the candles glowing behind him seemed to light the whole nave. “Go home,” he went on, “pray thoughtfully to God, and ask him for guidance. In prayer will be your answer.”
“Okay,” I breathed, and the organ started playing, and we stood to sing a hymn.
After church my family had lunch at the Widow’s Diner as usual, then headed home. Up in my room I sat on my bed. It was time to take stock of my life, decide where I was going. I wanted to follow the path of Wicca, but I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. It would need more commitment from me than the things I was doing. It had to be woven into the everyday cycles of my life. I needed to start living mindfully in every moment.
Serious Wiccans maintain small altars at home, places to meditate, light candles, or make offerings to the Goddess and God, like the one in Cal’s
I wanted to set one up for myself as soon as possible. Also, I had been meditating a bit, but I needed to set aside time to do it every day.
Making these simple decisions felt good—they would be outward manifestations of my inner connection to Wicca and my witch heritage. Now for another outward manifestation. Quickly I changed into jeans and a sweatshirt. When the coast was clear, I retrieved Maeve’s tools from behind the vent and threw my coat over the box.
“I’m going for a drive,” I told Mom downstairs.
“Okay, honey,” she replied. “Drive carefully.”
“Okay.” Out in Das Boot, I put my coat on the seat beside me and cranked the engine. A few minutes later I was approaching the edge of town.
Surrounding Widow’s Vale are farmlands and woods. As soon as we had gotten our driver’s licenses the year before, Bree and Robbie and I had gone on many day trips, exploring the area, looking for swimming holes and places to hang out. I remembered one place not too far out of town, a large, undeveloped tract that had been cleared for lumber back in the 1800s and was now covered with second-growth trees. I headed there, trying to remember the turns and forks, looking for familiar landmarks.
Soon I saw a field I remembered, and I pulled Das Boot over and put on my coat. I left the car on the shoulder of the road, took Maeve’s box, and set off across the field and into the woods. When I found the stream I remembered, a sense of elation came over me, and I blessed the Goddess for leading me there.
After following the stream for ten minutes, I came upon a small clearing. Last summer, when we’d found it, it had seemed a magickal place, full of wildflowers and damselflies and birds. Robbie and Bree and I had lain on our backs in the sun, chewing on grass. It had been a golden day, free of worries. Today I had come back to partake of the clearing’s magick again.
The snow here was deep—it had never been plowed, of course, and only faint animal tracks disturbed it. With each step I sank in over my ankles. A boulder at the edge of the clearing made a convenient table. I set Maeve’s box there and opened it. Cal had said that witches wore robes instead of their everyday clothes during magickal rites because their clothes carried all the jangled, hectic vibrations of their lives. When I had worn Maeve’s robe and used her tools a few days ago, I had felt nauseated, confused. It had occurred to me today that perhaps it was because of the clashing vibrations of my life and my magick.
Father Hotchkiss had advised us to pray, to look within for answers before we tackled outside problems. I was going to take his advice.Witch style.
Luckily for me, it was another one of those weird, warm days. The air was full of tiny dripping sounds as snow melted around me. I shucked my coat, sweatshirt, and undershirt.
It might have been warm for late autumn, but still, it wasn’t summer. I began to shiver, and quickly pulled Maeve’s robe over my head. It fell in folds to midcalf. I untied my boots, took off my jeans, and even my socks.
Miserably I peered down at my bare ankles, my feet buried in the snow. I wondered how long I would have the guts to stick this out.
Then I realized I no longer felt even the tiniest bit cold.
I felt fine.
Cautiously I lifted one foot, it looked pink and happy, as if I had just gotten out of the bath. I touched it.Warm.As I was marveling about this, I felt a focused spot of irritation at my throat. I touched it and found the silver pentacle Cal had given me weeks ago. I was so used to wearing it that I hardly noticed it anymore, but now it felt prickly, irritating, and regretfully I took it off and put it on the boulder with my other things. Ah. Now I was completely comfortable, wearing nothing but my mother’s robe.
I wanted suddenly to sing with joy. I was completely alone in the woods, enveloped in the warm, loving embrace of the Goddess. I knew I was on the right path, and the realization was exhilarating.
I set up the four cups of the compass. In one I put snow, then took out a candle. Fire, I thought,
and the charred wick burst into life. I used that candle to melt the snow into water. It was harder to find earth, but I dug a hole in the snow and then scraped at the frozen ground with my athame
I’d brought incense for air, and of course I used the candle for fire.
I made a circle in the snow with a stick, then invoked the Goddess. Sitting on the snow, as comfortable as an arctic hare, I closed my eyes and let myself sink through layer upon layer of reality. I was safe here; I could feel it. This was a direct communion between me and nature and the life force that exists within everything.
Slowly, gradually, I felt myself joined by other life forces, other spirits. The large oak lent me its strength, the pine, its flexibility. I took purity from snow and curiosity from the wind. The frail sun gave me what warmth it could. I felt a hibernating squirrel’s small, slow heartbeat and learned reserve. A fox mother and her kits rested in their den, and from them I took an eager appetite for survival. Birds gave me swiftness and judgment, and the deep, steady thrumming of the earth’s own life force filled me with a calm joy and an odd sense of expectation.
I rose to my feet and stretched my bare arms outward. Once again the ancient song rose in me, and I let my voice fill the clearing as I whirled in a circle of celebration.
Both times before, the Gaelic words had seemed like a call to power, a calling down of power to me. Now I saw that it was also a direct thread that connected me to Maeve, Maeve to Mackenna, Mackenna to her mother, whose name, it came to me, had been Morwen. For who knows how long I whirled in a kaleidoscope of circles, my robe swirling, my hair flying out in back of me, my body filled with the power of a thousand years of witches. I sang, I laughed, and it seemed that I could do it all at once, could dance and sing and think and see so startlingly clearly. Unlike the last time, I felt no unease, no illness, only an exhilarating storm of power and connection.
I am of Belwicket, I thought. I am a Riordan witch. The woods and the snow faded around me, to be replaced by green hills worn smooth by time and weather. A woman strode forward, a woman with a plain, work-lined face. Mackenna. She held out tools, witch’s tools, and a young woman wearing a clover crown took them. Maeve. Then Maeve turned and handed them to me, and I saw my hand reaching out to take them. Holding them, I turned again and held them out to a tall, fair girl, whose hazel eyes held excitement, fear, and eagerness. My daughter, the one I would have one day. Her name echoed in my mind: Moira.
My chest swelled with awe. I knew it was time to let the power go. But what to do with it, where to direct this power that could uproot trees and make stones bleed? Should I turn it inward, keep it within myself for a time when I might need it? My very hands could be instruments of magick; my eyes could be lightning.
No. I knew what to do. Planting my feet in the churned snow beneath me, I flung my arms outward again and came to a stop. “I send this power to you, Goddess!” I cried, my throat hoarse from chanting. “I send it to you in thanks and blessing! May you always send the power for good, like my mother, her mother, her mother before her, and on through the generations. Take this power: it is my gift to you, in thanks for all you have given me.”
Suddenly I was in the vortex of a tornado. My breath was pulled from my lungs, so that I gasped and sank to my knees. The wind embraced me, so that I felt crushed within strong arms.And a huge clap of thunder rang in my ears, leaving me shaken and trembling in the silence that followed, my head bowed to the snow, my hair wet with perspiration.
I don’t know how long I crouched there, humbled by the power I myself had raised. I had left this morning’s Morgan behind, to be replaced by a new, stronger Morgan: a Morgan with a newfound faith and a truly awesome power, gifted by the Goddess herself.
Slowly my breathing steadied, slowly I felt the normal silence of the woods fill my ears. Both drained and at peace, I raised my head to see if the very balance of nature had shifted.
Before me sat Sky Eventide.
Sky was perched on a snow-covered log about fifteen feet away from me. Her eyes were almond-shaped pools of black. She looked pale with cold and very still, as if she had been waiting a long time. Kicking in after the fact, my senses picked up on her presence.
She casually brushed off one knee, then clasped her gloved hands together.
“Who are you?” she said conversationally, her English accent as crisp and cool as the snow around us.
“Morgan,” I was startled into replying.
you?” she repeated. “You’re the most powerful witch I’ve ever seen. You’re not some uninitiated student. You’re a true power conduit. So who are you, and why are you here? And can you help me and my cousin?”
Suddenly I was chilled. Steam was coming off me in visible waves. My skin was damp and now turning clammy with sweat, and I felt vulnerable,
beneath my robe.
Keeping one eye on Sky, I dismantled my circle swiftly and packed away my tools. Then I sat on the boulder and dressed, trying to act casual, as if getting dressed in front of a relative stranger in the woods was an everyday thing. Sky waited, her gaze focused on me. I folded Maeve’s robe and put it back in my box, and then I turned to face Sky again.
“What do you want?” I demanded. “How long have you been spying on me?”
“Long enough to wonder who the hell you are,” she said. “Are you really the daughter of Maeve of Belwicket?”
I met her eyes without responding.
“How old are you?”
A harmless question. “I just turned seventeen.”
“Who have you been studying with?”
“You know who. Cal.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Who else? Who before Cal?”
“No one,” I said in surprise. “I only started learning about Wicca three months ago.”
“This is impossible,” she muttered. “How can you call on the power? How can you use those tools without being destroyed?”
Suddenly I wanted to answer her, wanted to share with her what I had just experienced. “I just—the power just comes to me. It
to come to me. And the tools . . . are mine.They’re for me to use.They
me to use them.They beckon me.”
?” I asked, thinking it was time she answered some questions herself. “I know you’re Sky Eventide, you’re from England, you’re Hunter’s cousin, and he calls you Athar.” I thought back to what I had learned during the
thing with Hunter. “You grew up together.”
“What are you doing with Bree and Raven?” I demanded.
After a pause she said, “I don’t trust you. I don’t want to tell you things only to have you tell Cal and his mother.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Why are you even here? How did you know where to find me? Why do you and Hunter keep spying on me?”
Conflicting emotions crossed Sky’s face.
“I felt a big power draw,” she said. “I came to see what it was. I was in my car, heading north, and suddenly I felt it.”