Rock of Ages Past--Part 15

Copyright©1999-2000 Elaine L. Becker

All Rights Reserved

DISCLAIMER: This story is an original creation and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, real or fictional are unintentional. Any words to any songs or any poetry used in this story are attributed to their original artists in the story itself. Television and/or radio programs that are referred to in the story are not to my knowledge, real program content, but created by me solely for use in this story.

This story is about two women in love and may contain language or sexual scenes unsuitable for children or others who are easily offended by material of this nature. This is a story about same gender relationships. If you have a problem with same gender relationships, you should probably see your therapist. Hate is an illness that love can cure.

Comments or suggestions should be sent to:

Finian stepped out of the shower to the sound of the phone ringing. 'Thank the Goddess for answering machines,' she thought as she leaned forward and toweled her long, black hair.

She wrapped the large bath towel around her body and grabbed the hairbrush, pulling it through her long hair as she padded to the kitchen.

"Hi, Fin, it's me, Marty," she heard as she pushed the play button and walked to the coffeepot. "I was wondering if you had time to run by the shop sometime today? I talked to Linda and Nancy about the circle and everything's a go. Give me a call."

She took a sip of her coffee and felt the hot liquid travel down her throat, through her body, warming her insides, reminding her of what she had been trying so hard to avoid thinking about for the last four hours.

She sat down quickly on the stool, placing her cup on the counter and drawing the large towel tighter around herself, trying in vain to hold back the involuntary shudder that coursed through her.

She felt her cheeks redden when she realized that a certain part of her anatomy that she had dried thoroughly after getting out of the shower, was no longer dry.

Finian felt the old fear and shame start creeping in. That same feeling in the pit of her stomach that she had felt when she was five. The old tapes were extremely difficult to erase. Even though she had finally admitted to herself and her closest friends that she was a lesbian, she was not thinking about the intimate aspects of lesbianism. She was simply admitting to her attraction for women.

'Woman,' she mentally corrected herself as an image of a fair-haired, green-eyed lass flashed on the still surface of her coffee and just as suddenly disappeared.

She remembered that she had not allowed herself to feel physically aroused since she was fifteen or sixteen, since Patty and Diane. And if her memory hadn't taken leave of her like her bodily control had seemed to, it was nothing like what had happened to her last night. The very fact that their two souls had sought and found one another through a barrier such as time was a testimony unto itself, to the power of their bond.

'That's what scares me,' Finian thought. 'We haven't even met in person yet and I am powerless when our hearts and souls connect even across such an unimaginable distance.'

For a moment, she almost panicked. 'What if I just lose all control when I finally do meet her and just ravish her?'

'No, I wouldn't do that. I certainly have more control than that, no matter what the situation. I was asleep; it was only a dream. If I were awake, I wouldn't even dare touch her. I've been under a lot of stress and my body just found a way of releasing it,' she mentally tried to convince herself.

'Well, your body never released stress with a wet dream before,' her other self echoed back. Finian pretended she didn't feel the little flutter in the pit of her belly when she heard her alter ego throw its two cents worth in.

When she had finally convinced herself, however loosely, that there really was no intimate relationship, at least physically, and that there was nothing more to have to think about along those lines, she took a long draught of her lukewarm coffee and picked up the telephone.

Finian pulled into the parking lot of the rock shop and was surprised to see that she had to actually look for a parking space. She glanced next door to the Italian restaurant and saw that their parking lot was relatively empty, so it wasn't overflow from their lunch crowd.

'Business must be hopping,' she smiled as she grabbed the bag off the seat and stepped out of the Ranger.

She waved at the blond woman standing behind the counter, as she let the door close behind her and glanced around the shop. There were several people milling around the different areas of the shop and Finian was pleasantly surprised to see that most of them were women.

Marty was waiting on a customer, with two more waiting, so she decided, rather than interrupting her, to just wander around and look at the things she had missed the first time she had come shopping here.

The tall woman laughed to herself when she thought about how she and Marty had met and what a shock it had been to walk in here the first time and find the blond, brown-eyed woman standing behind the counter. Since that first meeting, they had become good friends.

Finian wondered if the reason she felt so comfortable with Marty had anything to do with the fact that the small, blond woman looked so much like she imagined Caer would look.

She glanced over at Marty, who was busy waiting on customers, and nodded slightly to herself. 'That's possible,' she thought, as she turned her head back to the bookshelf in front of her, 'but I surely don't feel anything more than friendship toward her.'

The dark haired woman let out an audible sigh of relief when her body had no response, which caused the woman standing closest to her to glance over at her. Finian felt the warmth rushing to her cheeks and quickly turned around to peruse the titles on the shelf behind her.

She knew that she was feeling much too vulnerable to stick around if there had been any kind of physical reaction to the blond woman at the cash register and was very relieved when there had been none. The only thing she had felt was the bond of friendship, much like she felt with Bobbi and Michelle, but as she thought about it, her short friendship with Marty, felt much more like a kinship than a friendship.

She was one hundred percent sure that it was not Marty she had been dreaming about and doubly sure that she was not seeing Marty as a fill-in for Caer, no matter what Michelle might think.

Finian knew that her best friend didn't completely buy the story she had told them the other night and would demand her money back after Finian told her that Marty was going to drive her to place of departure when it came time for her trip to Ireland, instead of asking her and Bobbi to drive her.

If she had managed to convince Michelle in the least, that she had no romantic interest in Marty, telling her that, would convince her that Finian had been lying all along about the blond, brown-eyed woman. She didn't have any doubt where her attraction was and wished that there were a way to share with her best friend what was going on.

'Well, she was right about one thing,' Finian thought as she leaned forward to pick up a book that had caught her eye. 'There definitely are some things that I have unconsciously avoided thinking about, that seem to be demanding attention. Although they didn't stay in the realm of the unconscious last night,' she mused as she started flipping through the pages.

Blue eyes perused the words so intently, that the tall woman jumped when she felt the slight touch on her shoulder. She closed the book and glanced quickly to her right.

"Find something interesting?" Brown eyes smiled up at her.

"Ah, yeah, as a matter of fact I did." Finian turned the large, paperback book toward Marty. "I picked it up while I was waiting for things to settle down a little, and opened it right up to a page that put into words how I've been feeling ever since we discussed going to the circle."

Marty was eyeing the brown, paper bag tucked gently under the taller woman's arm. "What about the circle?"

Finian laughed. "I guess it's a good thing I brought lunch, it doesn't look like you've had much of a chance to breathe, let alone get out of here to get something to eat. Glad I went with my instincts."

"Yeah, me too. Thanks. It smells great. Let's go sit down; there are only a couple of people still wandering. Now what was it you were saying about your feelings concerning going to circle?" Marty looked up at her as they started to move toward the back of the store.

They sat behind the counter, near the cash register, so Marty could monitor the customers in the shop while they ate. She hated to think that people who were supposedly searching for and expanding their spirituality, which was the majority of her customers, would steal. But experience had taught her differently.

"Do people ever steal things from the store?" Finian suddenly asked.

"Funny you should ask that," she said as she glanced out across the sales area. "I was just thinking that I hate to have to sit here and watch the customers. So, in answer to your question, yes, they do. One day, I was doing inventory, and I was counting the Tarot cards. I picked up one box that was much lighter than the rest. I was shocked when I opened it and the cards were missing. My shock only lasted for a minute though, until I started thinking about the person who was going to use those cards."

Marty laughed and her brown eyes sparkled. "I am a firm believer in Karma and I wouldn't want to be them."

Finian had stopped eating and had placed her sandwich on the shelf under the counter. Marty saw the questions flash across the cerulean eyes that watched her.

"What is it, Fin?"

The dark haired woman hesitated a moment before answering. When she did, it was in a much quieter voice than they had been using.

"Do you. . .did you do rituals to punish the people who steal from you?"

Marty put down her sandwich beside Finian's and looked at the other woman.

"No. I believe, as I said, in Karma. I don't have to do a thing to that person. The very act that they committed will grow seven-fold and come back to them. They will reap what they have sown. It may not always be fast enough, or instant enough to please me and in most cases, I'll never even know when it happens, but I have seen it work too many times not to believe that the Goddess works in mysterious ways." Marty smiled across at her new friend.

"Though I've got to admit, I do enjoy seeing instant Karma way too much for it to be very spiritual, at times." She winked as she reached for what was left of her sandwich.

"Let's talk about what you mentioned earlier. You said that the book you were reading when I came out to get you described how you have been feeling about going to circle. Have you changed your mind about going?" At that moment, the last customer left in the store from the earlier rush interrupted them, to pay for her purchases. Finian took the opportunity to take a sip of her Pepsi and try to gather her thoughts.

When she was finished, Marty sat back down and turned back toward Finian, who immediately began speaking.

"Being brought up in the church, in my case, the Catholic Church, although I don't really think it matters what organized religion you were raised within, one of the basic beliefs that we were all taught, was to have no graven images, no other gods before Him. And Him was always capitalized, so you got a good visual along with the spoken. There was never any hint of anything maternal associated with God and every ritual in the church is conducted and shared by only men, except communion. The closest thing to the Goddess in the Catholic religion is the Virgin Mary. And even she was subservient to God." Finian paused to take a long drink from her Pepsi can.

"So, I realized today, when I looked at that book, that part of me feels unfaithful and then guilty when I practice Goddess worship. I understand now, the real reason that I lost interest in it when I was a girl. I was afraid because it felt so much like I was doing something wrong. Something that I could really get in trouble for; capital T with the big G." Finian smiled over at Marty, remembering as she did the other question the brown-eyed woman had asked her.

"And, no, I haven't changed my mind about going to the circle. I'm really looking forward to it. I've just been wondering why I've been feeling butterflies in my stomach, so to speak, every time I think about going. It's a lot like I felt when I was a little kid and would get invited to a Protestant Church. I always felt like I was being disloyal and I was very uncomfortable the whole time I was there and hardly ever heard a word of the sermons. My total attention was always on my stomach, which was literally tied in knots. Although this hasn't been quite as bad as that," she smiled.

"I guess it just really hit me, standing there, that the lessons we were taught in our churches during childhood and are still being taught today, are actually coercion." She finished, the smile fading from her sculpted face.

Marty picked up the thread.

"You're absolutely right. Threats. Threats that were started during the time when monotheistic religion was trying to get a strong foothold upon the land and often used violent and malicious means to convert the populace to Christianity.

There were so many symbols, so many places of worship, so many writings and teachings of the Goddess and the matriarchal religion in evidence all over the known world that the Church finally gave up on trying to rid the world of anything Goddess related. Instead, the Church found ways to thinly disguise and use within its own doctrine, many of the vestiges of Goddess worship. Even adopting and altering our festivals, our holy days and many of our rituals to fit in with their monotheistic creed. Many of the false gods that the Christian religion originally threatened us with, were actually Goddesses." Marty paused for a second and got a grin on her face.

"I've always thought that it was pretty lazy of them to just take our rituals and change the names, the meanings, and the purposes instead of creating their own. I mean, what kind of guidance did their god offer if he couldn't even supply them with their own means of prayer and ways to honor him?"

The brown-eyed woman answered herself.

"See, that's just it. The people didn't know. In fact, most people today still don't know. It is just another way for the patriarchy and Christianity to maintain power and control. Keep the truth from the common people. Okay, I'm finished now. I'll step down off my soapbox," she grinned over at Finian who was listening to her with interest.

"Now for the reason I called you here," Marty began again, still smiling. "Linda, Nancy and the group have extended an invitation to you to attend and participate in, if you feel comfortable," she added, " the summer solstice circle."

"Thanks, Marty, I really appreciate everything you're doing to help me and you hardly even know me. I'm not sure if I'll participate yet or not. I guess it will depend on how I feel when we get there. I really don't know much about the rituals associated with summer solstice, but I will try to learn all I can before June twenty-first, so I don't embarrass you." Finian smiled and joked with the smaller woman.

Marty stood up from her stool and stretched her back, which had become a little stiff from sitting on the backless stool for so long.

"How about if we get together a few nights before solstice and I'll sort of walk you through what will happen and answer any questions you might have? We could do it here, but it has been really busy in here today and I'm afraid we wouldn't get much accomplished. See?" She cocked her head toward the door just as the doorbell sounded.

"Sounds like a good idea. I can use all the help I can get and I've kept you from your work long enough for today." She grinned as she lifted her tall body off the short stool and pulled herself up to her full height, stretching out her compacted muscles. "How about Monday night? If you'd like to come by my place, I'll order pizza and salads."

"That sounds perfect, but I think it's my turn to spring for the meal," Marty said as she nodded her head toward the small piece of her uneaten sandwich that still rested on the shelf under the cash register. "In fact, this one should have been my treat. You paid the last time we had lunch together."

Finian reached out her long arm and placed her hand on the smaller woman's wrist as she reached for her purse.

"Please, Marty, let me do this. Paying for a couple of meals is such a small way of showing my appreciation for all the help you are giving me with all of this." She let go of the other woman's arm and waved her hand in the air indicating everything.

Marty chuckled softly and hoped she wasn't over stepping her bounds.

"Okay, you win, but be prepared to answer some questions yourself. Now that I know you a little bit better, I have a few questions to ask about the journey that we are preparing you for." Marty watched the dark haired woman for a reaction. She remembered how unsettled Finian had seemed when they had briefly talked about it before.

Without batting one of her sky blue eyes and giving away the little flutter she felt in the pit of her stomach at the mere thought of the green eyed woman, Finian answered her almost immediately.

"I have several questions myself," she smiled down at the shorter woman. "I'd really like to talk about it. I tried again the other night to tell my friend, Michelle and her partner, Bobbi, but Mich won't even give me the chance to tell her what is really going on. She thinks I'm telling her one story to cover up another story. So, I did." Her raven hair glided back and forth across her shoulders as she shook her head in frustration at her absent friend.

Marty's eyes opened a bit wider, her brows rising with even more questions than she had a moment ago, but she wasn't to receive satisfaction for any of them until next week.

The young man chose that precise moment to approach the counter and began asking to see various items from the display case, forcing the blond woman to put her curiosity aside and say a hasty good-bye as the tall, lissome woman slipped around the end of the counter and out the door.

Finian sat staring at the computer screen. The short, plump, faceless, stone figure with large, full, pendulous breasts and wide, childbearing hips rotated slowly on the dark background in front of her.

'The Goddess,' she thought as she marveled at how simply the ancient artist had gotten the idea of mother, nurturer, and life-bringer across. The small stone figure depicted all of the female attributes as giver and sustainer of life. Faceless, as she is every woman.

Finian let herself play with the ideas of masculine and feminine for a while, letting herself experience the differences in the nature of the two forces. She allowed the idea of a feminine principle to replace the Supreme masculine host and let the changing energy wash over her as she released the masculine prescript of God and felt the timeless, ageless, sense of creation come over her and with it, a definitely feminine intelligence.

She let her eyes close as pictures of babies being born, flowers blooming, trees budding, water rushing through mountain streams into rivers, which emptied into a sea teeming with life, began to flash through her mind like a slide show.

Finian's eyes flew open as she had what she called, a 'running and returning' thought. A thought that takes off then suddenly seems to return and smack you in the forehead. The problem being that most of the time you don't remember what smacked you because if happens so quickly. It's almost like you dash out of your body, grab a treasure from the universe, and snap back like a rubber band, loosing your grasp on your treasure in the suddenness of the return.

For a split second, she felt jubilation at having complete enlightenment and understanding and just as quickly the thought that had been developing and had led her to that feeling, evaporated and try as she might, she could not recapture the knowledge that she had so fleetingly grasped.

The dark haired woman returned her focus to the computer screen in front of her. With a quick click of the mouse, she closed the window and leaned back in her chair, her mind still searching for the abstraction that had ignited the blast of enlightenment, only to fizzle out and leave a residual sense of truth. Finian knew that she had gained some kind of insight tonight. It had seemed that for a moment, time had stood still and she had gained an important truth; and from that truth came understanding that she would need to complete her journey.

Once given life, a living thing must use its will to survive. Whether that will manifests itself in a search for a mother's teat or a search for ground water to dip its drying roots in, it is the active force that pushes all living things to survive and strive.

Finian suddenly realized that it didn't matter anymore what the Church had tried to teach her. She had found her own truth. The Goddess was the giver of life; God was the will to sustain it. God, without the Goddess would not exist, having nothing to be created from and nothing to create with. Neither could exist without the other.

The tall, blue-eyed woman rose from her padded chair and moved toward the dark kitchen. As she flipped the switch on the wall and the room became illuminated, Finian began to understand a good part of the source of her former distress. She realized that it wasn't just fear of God's wrath and possible rejection that had made her uncomfortable, although that was a good part of it, she had also always felt in her gut that she was being taught something that wasn't quite true or that something was missing, being kept from her.

The vibration of the coffee grinder brought a picture of the large stone at Mystery Hill to her mind, which reminded her of the upcoming circle that she was going to attend. For the first time in her memory, there were no accompanying feelings of discomfort anywhere in her body, no twinges of guilt. Instead, she felt a peacefulness settle over her, and although she knew she wasn't there yet, Finian felt that she had finally discovered a path that rang true for her spiritually. She had felt it once before, but at the time she hadn't had the skills or the understanding to sort out the conflicting feelings that she had experienced.

The raven-haired woman finished setting up the coffeepot for the morning and grabbed a Pepsi as she headed back to her office. Marty would be here tomorrow evening; so she knew she wouldn't get any work done and the class she was teaching at the community college started Tuesday. She felt pretty well prepared, but there were still a few things that she wanted to go over to make sure that she hadn't left anything out. Sometimes she cursed her Virgo-ness; at other times, she loved it. It kept her disciplined and on task, most of the time, but at other times, she almost felt a little obsessive/compulsive and something of a perfectionist.

'Although these last several weeks I've been acting more like a Gemini or a Libra, than a Virgo, with my thoughts running off in a million directions and the only grounding I've found has been in my dreams,' she smiled as she thought of the small, green-eyed woman. 'Soon.'

Finian shut down her browser, opened Word, and found the file with her teaching schedule and syllabus. After a quick review, a few minor changes, and some quickly typed notes to herself, she saved the file to a disk, slipped it into her laptop case, and shut down her computer.

* * * * * * * * * *

Caer stared into the huge fire. 'Midsummer's Eve,' she thought, 'four more cycles of the moon until she comes.'

"I will surely go mad before that time comes," she said aloud just as she felt a presence move into the space beside her and sit down.

"Perhaps that has already happened," Da'an smiled over at her surprised friend.

Caer smiled back at the dark haired woman and leaned into her, causing the other woman to brace herself by placing her left hand on the ground to keep from toppling over.

"Hey, take it easy," she laughed, "I was only teasing. Now what is it that is going to drive you mad?"

Caer glanced around her and noticed people carrying blankets, babies and baskets of food, beginning to drift toward the large bonfire. Those that were not infirm, would spend the night in the warmth of the huge fire and welcome the Sun King as he rose over the hills in the east and kissed his slumbering helpmate, Mother Earth, waking her and filling her with warmth, prompting her to give birth to an abundant season.

"I was just thinking about how much longer it is until Samhain and I was wishing that instead of being midsummer, we were already into the harvest. It is still more than four full cycles of the moon, Da'an," she said in an almost pleading voice as she looked at the young priestess.

"I don't want to wait anymore. I feel like I've waited so long already. I don't know how, why, or when we were separated and lost touch with one another, but my soul aches for her return." Caer felt the hot tears welling up in her eyes and she tried to will them from slipping over the lids and sliding down her cheeks.

Da'an reached out and brushed a tear, with a will of its own, from the top of the young healer's cheek before it could slide down the rest of her downcast face, and placed her arm around her friend's shoulder, squeezing lightly.

"I'm sorry, Da'an. I shouldn't be feeling sorry for myself on the eve of the one day that I should be giving thanks for the blessings that the Goddess is about to bestow upon us and here I am carrying on like a child who isn't satisfied with what she is given and cannot see the promise of what is to come."

The brown-eyed woman pulled back from her friend and became more serious. "You have seen the promise of what is to come to you, Caer. That is what makes the waiting so much more difficult; it is not like having your beloved in the next village or even as far away as the city. You cannot walk or ride to meet your love, as I and everyone else can. You can only wait until the Goddess sends her through the veil and I had not given thought to the frustration in not being able to do anything to cause an earlier reunion; and for that I am sorry, but" she winked at the small, blond woman, "Anticipation can be a good thing."

Caer couldn't keep the smile from her face as she lifted her eyes to meet the other woman's and Da'an was glad to see the sparkle returning to the emerald eyes that looked shyly back at her.

"And a very maddening thing."

Da'an thought she detected a double meaning in the other woman's words and smiled back at her.

"Does she come to you often in your dreams?"

"Yes, almost nightly and in other ways, too." Caer replied softly, her cheeks suddenly beginning to warm as she realized the sound of what she had just uttered.

She watched as the other woman's eyebrows started wriggling around suggestively and a grin that could have lit up the night crossed her face.

Caer dropped her head and began stammering in her attempt to explain to her grinning friend exactly what she had meant.

"No. N…No. That's, that's not it at all. Da'an, stop it!"

She knew her friend, and knew that Da'an had always taken an older sisterly sort of pleasure in teasing the slightly younger woman, but Caer really was not in a mood to be teased. The stress of the past few days when she thought that she had lost Finian and the shock of finding the rose and longing for it's giver, had taken it's toll on her.

"Da'an, stop it. Stop teasing me. I'm serious and you're the only one I can talk to about all of this."

The dark haired woman immediately traded her grin for a sympathetic, apologizing smile when she saw the look of seriousness that had settled onto the other woman's face.

"I am truly sorry, Caer. You are right. I should not tease you about something that is so serious and so dear to your heart. I must learn to keep my musings better hidden. It is only that you have not had any suitors before that I could tease you about. When we were young you had your days of teasing me and the child still within me, could not resist the chance of getting revenge." A brown eye winked at her in the semi-darkness of the large fire.

Caer had to smile at the other woman's continuing attempt at humor. She did have a way of saying the right thing at the right time.

"Alright, you are forgiven. I guess you are allowed a little revenge, but now is really not a good time." She smiled affectionately back at Da'an, who returned it.

"I have been duly chastised. Now just exactly what did you mean by your earlier statement that gave me the wrong impression to begin with?"

Caer almost felt guilty for not telling her friend that she really didn't have the wrong impression. Finian was coming to her in ways that, though not physical, were causing very physical reactions in the young woman's body, but Caer did not intend to discuss those reactions with Da'an or anyone else. She wasn't yet sure that she was ready to even think about them; she was definitely not ready to talk about them.

Caer told Da'an about receiving the rose and the dream that she had about it beforehand. She told her friend about the vision she had experienced after their last meeting in the fields and how she had thought that somehow she had become tangled up in some kind of karmic threesome. She told her of her panic when she thought that somehow she had forced herself into Finian's life through the woman that she had seen Finian sitting at the table with.

When Caer had finished, she looked up from where she had been studying her fidgeting fingers as she spoke, to the face of her unusually quiet friend. She was surprised when she saw, not Da'an, sitting beside her, but the Priestess.

"Go to the Mother's waters. Drink ye a cup of her milk. Listen to the words she whispers. The circle is almost closed."

Caer watched the dark haired woman shudder slightly as her eyelids fluttered open, revealing solemn, brown eyes. She remained silent until the other woman had a moment to get her bearings, but before she had a chance to say a word, Da'an began to speak as if she were responding to Caer's story; as if the Priestess's directive to her to go to the sacred well had not been given.

"Caer, I feel that I know this friend of Finian's; the one that she was sitting with at the table. When you were telling me your tale, I had a deep sense of connection with this person. I sense that Finian's friend is a sister, a Priestess sent by the Goddess to assist her." Da'an paused and looked into Caer's eyes.

"Finian's friend is aiding her in her journey. She is doing all that she can to make certain that your anamchara finds her way back to you. She has become somewhat of a teacher to Finian, reminding her of much that she once knew, but has forgotten. She is no threat to you or Finian. It will be from her help that Finian finds her way to you."

Before she could respond with more than a nod, Da'an glanced upward, noting the position of the moon and then at the eastern sky, noting the degree of contrast to the sky above her. She quickly got to her feet.

"I must go, Caer. It will not be long until first light." She nodded at the people who were beginning to stir from their temporary beds in the warm glow of the fire.

Caer glanced quickly at the fire pit. She was surprised to see that the huge fire she had sat down near earlier had burned down considerably. Her eyes scanned the perimeter of the fire pit and Caer saw that the people were waking up and preparing to take themselves to safer vantage points in preparation for the running of the cattle and sheep through the fire.

The animals would then be herded from the upper pasture, where they had wintered, to the lower meadow, south of the small village. There, the animals would spend their summer, eating the sweet grass, mating, and growing stronger, as well as giving the upper pasture time to heal and time to prepare itself to support the animals once again, through the coming winter.

"I must prepare myself to assist our Lady." Da'an said as she reached her hand down to assist Caer to her feet.

She gave the flaxen-haired woman a quick, tight hug and a kiss on the cheek and she was off across the field, headed for the small building at the base of the Tor.

Caer smiled when she saw Kennet come around from behind the Tor, where the animals would be penned until the break of dawn, when the rising of Sol would signal the beginning of the blessing of fire. She watched as Da'an picked up her step to close the space between herself and the young man who hastened his gait to match hers.

The sudden shift in her emotions surprised her when she felt the tears well in her eyes, as her best friend connected with her lover and they became one before her. She closed her eyes against the longing that the scene in front of her, once again, brought to the surface of her consciousness. How she wished that Finian were here now. She could almost feel the other woman's strong arms around her, holding her close, allowing her to feel protected and safe.

Caer forced her eyes open and was slightly relieved that Da'an and Kennet had disappeared and had taken the visual reminder of the ache in her soul with them. She drew her mantle close around her in an unconscious effort to ease the physical ache that had moved through her body and settled in the pit of her stomach.

She glanced around her as she reached for her basket and was surprised to see that she was one of the few still near the fire. She noticed that those who had moved out of the path of the coming stampede had settled back into sleep. Caer glanced up at the sky as Da'an had done just moments earlier. She would be back in time for the beginning of the day's festivities, but now she had to go to the sacred well.

The small woman moved silently around the fire, avoiding the few bodies that still lay snoring in the warmth of the waning flames. The fire would be little more than embers when the animals where herded through it at the break of dawn, to be purged of disease and illness and blessed by the Goddess of fire, with fertility and good health, on their way to the pastures that had been blessed the night before when the members of the small village had carried torches through the meadows and gardens at midnight, asking for Aine's blessings of growth, protection, and abundance.

As Caer approached the opening in the trees near the base of the Tor that would lead her to the glen behind the hill and to the sacred well, she heard voices approaching from the path. She stepped aside, into the deeper shadow of the trees, to let whoever was coming, pass.

As the voices got closer, Caer recognized them as belonging to two young women who were training to become priestesses. She could hear them speculating as to what Tara might be shown in the sacred water that they carefully carried in the heavy cauldron between them. She could hear fear in one of the voices as they spoke of the vision that the Goddess had shared with them on Beltaine.

"Perhaps the Goddess will tell us that we must leave here." She heard a quaver of fear in Rhianna's voice, which came out just above a whisper.

After a moment of nothing but footsteps, she heard the other voice reply, "We must have faith that She will not let us come to any harm. In Her time, She will tell us what we must do and we must continue in our faith and listen and follow Her no matter how fearful we are."

Caer waited a few moments until the women faded into the early morning darkness then she slipped through the opening in the trees and moved silently along the well-worn path. As she walked she thought about the small part of the conversation that she had overheard. She suddenly felt guilty for not sharing all of her dream with Tara and Gregor. She had felt strongly in the dream that Finian had been leading them to a new land, to the place called America, and she had not told the Lore Mistress and Master all of what the Goddess had shared with her.

As Caer crossed the small clearing, she told herself that she would share her withheld information as soon as she could meet with Tara and Gregor, no matter what their reaction or level of belief was.

She still didn't feel that she wanted to share the truth about Finian with the rest of her people just yet, but felt obligated by her duty to the Goddess to share all of what she knew. She knew that they were all raised and schooled in the old ways, but the religion of the Christians and their monotheistic all-male god had infiltrated and in some ways limited the knowledge and beliefs that preceded their generation. Many of the events of the past that had been passed down through the ages had been changed from truth to legend over time. Hers was a story of legend, one that would be difficult for even Tara and Gregor to believe.

Caer placed her basket on the ground and shook off the heavy mantle that she had draped over her shoulders to ward off the chilly late night air. She tried to recall exactly what it was that Da'an had said. 'Go to the Mother's waters. Drink ye a cup of her milk. Listen to the words she whispers. The circle is almost closed.'

Caer knelt at the edge of the slightly rippling water and closed her eyes. As she breathed in, she could smell the scent of the water. The rocks and earth and plants that held the Mother's milk, all came together to create the unique scent.

She opened her eyes as she dipped her hands into the clear, cold water and filled them with the colorless liquid, bringing it to her lips. She sipped the sweet liquid and closed her eyes again as she felt it soothe her smoke and talk-irritated throat. As she felt the sacred water begin to trickle into her now empty belly, cooling it, she lay down on the thick mantle, wrapping it tightly around her.

The sound of the gently flowing water lulled her quickly to sleep. She dreamed that she was in the Mother's womb, surrounded by warmth and being softly rocked with the motion of the water. She floated up and out of her body and felt herself being propelled along a pulsing cord, to hover over the circle of stones on the other side of the Tor.

After a few moments, Caer felt herself being drawn toward one of the large stones, which seemed to flicker like the flames of a fire. As she felt herself falling slowly toward the earth and the huge stone below her, she saw that somehow the dwindling flames from the fire where she had sat with Da'an were reflecting brightly on only the one stone that she was coming to rest against. The other stones that made up the circle stood like giant's shadows in the darkness that enveloped her.

Continued in Part 16.................

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