Imbolc is the goddess Brigid’s day. It’s a day that looks forward to the beginning of spring as winter’s grip is still tight on most of the western hemisphere, especially the British Isles. In GODDESS WITH A BLADE, Rowan travels to Ireland every February 1 to preside over Imbolc celebrations.
GODDESS WITH A BLADE by LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2011, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, Carina Press
Her hands worked without much thought. Twisting and bundling, she aided the acolytes and the few nuns who tended the Goddess’s flame in their own way. On the table, a small hill of Brigid’s wheels rose. They’d be hung on or above doors to mark Imbolc.
This place, this time every year was her refuge and her spa weekend all at once. She’d arrived two days before. Harried and exhausted. She’d walked out of customs to find Susan there waiting with Sister Alma.
It had taken all her willpower not to fall into their arms crying. Instead, she’d cast it off. Every last bit of upset, anger, sadness. She’d sloughed it like dead skin and embraced her purpose once again.
And she’d understood just exactly why it had been necessary to come. All different things came to her, she used different parts of her brain, of her emotions and her skills. Parts she needed just as surely as martial arts or hand-to-hand fighting.
The train ride to Kildare had been good. Sister Alma plied her with tea and cakes while Susan had knitted and told them about her trip to Spain as they moved, rhythmic, soothing, down the tracks, away from her life as Hunter and to the center of her existence as a Vessel.
Here, in Ireland, she was blissfully happy. Her job was sometimes difficult, yes, but this homecoming—this connection she had with the magical part of her life—it satisfied. Her agitation settled, smoothed away with an utter certainty of purpose.
Rowan’s mother had died before she could teach Rowan to make the wheels, so it fell to Sister Alma. Sister Alma who’d shown up at the Keep along with the Mother Acolyte, Rachael.
They’d demanded Rowan be turned over to them for a set period of time every year. She’d come to Kildare because that is what her mother would have done for her.
None of them knew, at the time, that it had been Theo who’d ordered Belinda Summerwaite killed. Rachael had been doing her duty to raise Rowan as an acolyte as Belinda had been. But that she had barged in and demanded Rowan be trained, demanded it of The First, had been an act Rowan had admired all of her life.
And at that very first Imbolc, as the three-year-old Rowan had learned to make the wheels, they’d discovered she was not meant to be an acolyte, but was in fact Brigid’s Vessel.
And then Rachael had moved to Germany where she was allowed contact with Rowan once per week for six hours. It had been in those sweet, all-too-rare lessons where Rowan had learned how much more she’d been. She was more than a descendant of a family of service. More than the favored human to The First.
He hadn’t liked her divided affections. But to his credit, he’d never stood in the way of her training, not that Brigid would have allowed it. But he added to her training.
“A shadow crossed your face, Rowan. Blow it away, there’s nothing but our flame here,” Sister Alma murmured.
Alma had taken over when Rowan had left the Keep and started her life as a Hunter. Rachael had been getting older, less able to travel. There were pictures in an album at home, sisters to the ones she knew Rachael, Alma and now Susan had. Sitting at this very table. Year after year as Rowan had grown.
These women had been her mother in one way or another. Rowan smiled, relaxing after she pushed the memories of Theo’s lessons from her head. She was home and surrounded by people who loved her. There were far worse places to be.
“Are you ready, Rowan?” One of the acolytes came to the door. She needed to go out to burn the old wheels and hand out new ones.
She stood. “Yes, thank you. Can you all please give me a moment?”
The others got up, gathering the rest of the wheels into the basket Rowan would carry.
Susan pressed a kiss to her forehead and they went out, leaving her alone.
She padded in bare feet over the smooth, cold stone floor to the hearth where a hearty fire played.
She willingly gave of herself, letting Brigid rush through her, letting the Goddess do the driving. This was for her, this was part of who Rowan was and she fell away.
As Rowan walked outside, the cold slapped at her exposed skin. Sister Alma tutted at her, motioning to the boots near the door.
Properly chastened, she slipped them on and thanked Susan for the snow-white wrap.
A knot of people had gathered in the courtyard near the flame. Brigid was pleased to be remembered, pleased to see not so much the wheels themselves, but that the rituals had not been entirely lost or blotted out by others who came after and tried to downplay her importance.
Brigid, whether one wanted to call her the Bride or a saint, was the same as she had always been. She had little care for what other symbols were wielded around her, only that her memory did not die.
The acolytes, together with the nuns and several who’d come to Kildare to settle and live in Her presence, tended Her flame openly and reverently. Her shrine was near the well, miles from the old cathedral. Rowan had been happy to see just how many houses bore the wheels on doors, how many stores in town had been selling candles.
The events of that day blurred together. She visited with the people in town, was driven about the countryside blessing farmland.
Rowan only knew that when she slipped between the covers in the lovely, overstuffed bed in Sister Alma’s guest room, it had been pleasing, the kind of day that chased all her troubles far away.
Rowan looked out the window at Las Vegas spread out beneath the plane. Lights everywhere. Life. Death. Everything in between.
Never in her life had she felt so totally connected to it all, the tides of life and death as they brushed against each other.
When she’d woken up on her birthday, before the dawn to ready for a long day of Imbolc activities, she’d felt a little uneasy. Anticipatory perhaps, though it was hard to remember what it was like…before.
Salt for purification.
All in white, she’d entered the field, each line she spoke, each time she stopped to mark another part of the ritual, the bell was rung.
And then she was washed away from herself. Away from all anchors. Frightened at first until she realized it was meant to be. She let go, went under and did not drown.
With a gasped breath, she came back to herself, full of wonder that she could stand after what felt like swimming forever and ever. But it was then, then as Rowan opened her eyes, that she realized this was what her mother had alluded to all those months ago at the ranch house.
Life. So much life pulsed within her she wouldn’t have been surprised to find herself a kaleidoscope of color and pulsating energy. It hummed low, delicious. A counter to the sharp-edged power resting a little higher, that power that pushed her to take what she needed to make things happen.
When she bent to grasp the bundle of rushes at her feet, a line of green leaped from where she stood. Grass shot up several inches higher.
That had been two days before. Two days and she’d realized through much meditation and discussion with Alma and the new Mother Acolyte, Lara, this was healing and life. This was fertility and sensuality. The maiden had matured.
She wasn’t sure what to make of it, but had decided the Goddess would let her know just exactly what she was supposed to make of it when it was time. Rowan knew this because the connection to Her was constant in a way it hadn’t been before. In the past, Brigid had ebbed and flowed as Rowan had needed her and called.
But now they were intertwined in a way that words failed to describe. Rowan only knew it felt right and that it would serve her mission.
Five days. She’d only been gone five days but it’d been revolutionary. All her life she’d had small and even some major revelatory moments, but the last five days had brought her a whole new level of knowing and understanding her path.
Certainty was a rarity in her life, so she accepted the way things worked, knowing that at least they did. So she didn’t know what to expect when she landed, but she knew it would be something. But she knew she’d been led to this very point in this very way for a reason. And the closer she got, the more that something felt very, very wrong.
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