37. The Ceremony
I couldn’t have run faster in my life at the information my mother gave. My brother was awake! Suddenly, the cloud of gloom that’s been hovering us all has lifted and for the first time, I could breathe properly.
My brother was awake!
Mom took a detour to collect Hailey and tell her the good news. The whole place was in chaos. Loud chatter filled the corridors and more people than I was used were in the pack-house, probably hoping to see Hunter themselves. There was a buzz in me that I never felt before but most of all, there was the sensation of relief. Relief that he was alive.
I swung the door open, catching Phoenix squeezing the life out of Hunter in a tight hug. He chuckled throatily, rubbing her back gently before kissing her head. She pulled back and her cheeks were stained with tears. Hunter wiped them away with his thumbs and held her chin, coaxing her not to cry. She sniffled, wiping her nose with the tissue she had in her hands.
I stood stock still, watching the interaction, feeling my breathing deepen the longer I stared at Hunter. The minute he turned to me, I burst into tears. They were big, fat ugly tears that I couldn’t contain. Raising his arms, I took it as an invitation and rushed into his arms so fat, he grunted as we shifted back slightly.
“Hush, Izabella,” He said softly, rubbing my back soothingly as I continue to cry those ugly tears I could never perfect. Embarrassed to move away, I buried my face into his neck, glad the smell his scent knowing it would’ve been lost forever if he’d succumbed to the darkness. Hunter tugged my hair lightly, forcing me up to meet his blue gaze. “Hello, Alpha,”
I pulled away, lowering my eyes to the ground while biting the inside of my cheek. “We didn’t know when you were going to wake up,”
“It doesn’t matter, I’d been planning to step down for a while. I’ve been at it for two decades, Bell. I’m not getting any younger, clearly,” He said, waving at his form.
I giggled. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Hunter,” Dad grinned, grabbing the nape of his neck while patting his shoulder. Hunter wrapped his hand around his wrist and they did that manly stare that only they did as a form of communication and affection. “Welcome back, my boy!”
Seeing both of them bonding, as father and son, increased the light bulb of happiness that was growing the longer I observed them. At first glance, Hunter was healthy but with closer inspection, his skin was slightly pale. He looked exhausted despite being in a coma for so long. Other than that, he was fine.
I stood next to Phoenix and we both watched them as they conversed. Phoenix move and as if reading her thoughts, I draped an arm around her shoulder, hugging her tightly into me. Since she was so small, the position fitted us perfectly and my tears were drying as hers continued to fall.
“Where’s my girl?” He questioned, glancing at the room before turning to dad. The door opened and behind mom, Hailey entered with Bella-Elizabeth snuggled against her chest sleeping soundlessly.
Hunter’s mouth fell slack at the sight of them and with a small smile, I stepped away, almost making a path for Hailey to walk over to him. With tears in her eyes, Hailey settled Bella-Elizabeth into him and she made small noises before dozing back to sleep. Hunter was in awe, staring at the little girl who looked so tiny in his big arms. Hailey nudged a pacifier into her mouth and like a little champ, she sucked eagerly.
Silently, mom and dad slipped out of the room. Phoenix and I should’ve done the same but watching the three of them – as a family for the first time – made it difficult to just turn away. Seeing Hunter as a father was something else, something so precious I wanted to store in my memories.
“She’s beautiful,” He whispered and his eyes were misty with tears. Were those tears I could see? He took her little hand and she clutched onto his finger tightly. He kissed her knuckles softly and then lifted his head to see Hailey. “She’s perfect.”
At this point, Hailey was sobbing and she sunk next to him as together, they watched their sleeping daughter. He lifted her chin and brought his lips to hers in a hard kiss. After what felt like years, they pulled away and Hailey placed her head on his shoulder.
“Her name is Bella-Elizabeth
Hunter’s brows shot up and directed his gaze onto me. I grinned proudly, resting both hands on my hips. I shrugged casually and folded my arms.
“I mean, I am the cool aunt,”
“Get in line, sis,” Phoenix interjected, smirking. She leaned over the baby, stroking her head lovingly. “I’m gonna spoil this girl silly with so much love and gift-”
“You’re gonna use her as your personal doll and play dress up with her,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“And what’s wrong with that? She needs to be the prettiest baby in this whole pack!”
“She is,” Hunter grumbled, scowling at Phoenix that she’d make such a suggestion. Bella-Elizabeth was my brother’s and Hailey’s first and last child. They never really wanted many pups so she was the one and only successor of mine. She’d be protected, loved and cherished, even a little sheltered. She’d be one of the first she-wolve that was trained to lead and not to follow.
“Okay, okay chill!” Phoenix raised both hands to calm him. “She is a Steele after all,”
“Did you guys do the welcoming ceremony?” he asked, glancing at me and then to Hailey.
“That’s why I’m here. After first we wanted to wait for you to wake up but we weren’t sure when,” shrugging, I continued. “It’s been scheduled to take place tomorrow. The day after that, I need to return to The Bloodstone.”
The full Moon was near which would be perfect or the welcoming ceremony and for me to go home to Basil. Two days away and my whole body yearned for him. I made a mental note to make a call. Hearing his voice would be enough.
Hunter nodded, looking relieved. “Good.”
Phoenix turned to me with a pointed look. She grabbed my arm and tugged me towards the door. “Let’s give them some time.”
I didn’t argue with her as by the looks Hunter and Hailey were passing to each other, they needed some time alone with their daughter. Silently, we slipped out of the room and I breathed out a long, content sigh, feeling for the first time in so long, things were going to go back to normal.
The sky was clear the next evening, clear enough that I could see the stars. The Moon made her presence known. Well, partially. She revealed Herself through a half Moon, appearing bright and beautiful against the darkness around her. Absentmindedly, I flattened my hands down my white dress.
White represented purity, a new life which was Bella-Elizabeth. She too would be wearing white and Hailey has picked the perfect dress. Mom and Phoenix had a hand in it and like me, Hailey wasn’t into the fancy shit. I gave Hunter the rundown of everything that would happen tonight as he couldn’t really double check it himself. For caution, the doctors suggested he stayed in bed the whole day. Tonight was his first time leaving his bedroom.
Light taps on the door pulled my attention in that direction and I turned to find my brother’s best friend, Daniel, standing by the threshold. He stepped away from his position as second in command gracefully. I think like Hunter, he was ready to step away from his responsibilities. His kind blue eyes smiled at me with warmth.
“We’re ready when you are,”
“Thank you,” I beamed. “How’s Zainab and the kids,”
At that, his eyes brightened even further. “They’re good, thank you. I’ll let them know you thought of them.”
“Has there been any news on those who question me.”
I didn’t need to elaborate and from the way his face tensed, I knew it wasn’t good news. My nostrils flared as I breathed sharply and I gritted my teeth to control my restless wolf.
“A majority backtracked and accepted your authority. There were some who were willing to leave.”
“And they’re gone?”
It was for the best. I didn’t want any wolf to leave our system but if they couldn’t follow the rules. They couldn’t stay. I couldn’t risk it so I had to let them go.
“It’s better this way.”
He nodded in agreement. “You know what’s best, Alpha,”
He made way for me to exit the room and followed behind me. We headed for the back door of the pack-house leading to the forest. We were all bare-footed in case we felt the need to shift for a run. Knowing the wolves, it was likely. Most preferred to run under the Moon as a form of worship. They felt at peace under the Moon, her reappearance every month forming as a reminder that She was watching over her wolves.
Where the ceremony was taking place wasn’t too far. About a mile away from the pack-house, there was a part of the woods where the trees didn’t grow. At the centre, there was a stone, the middle cut in a dome-like shape enough to place a baby on it. Once the Moon reached her highest peak, Her light would shine upon Bella-Elizabeth, making a visual declaration of her as the future Alpha.
People gathered around the stone a few feet away, forming a neat circle, standing side by side. Some had their eyes closed, praying while others were already in their wolf form. My whole family stood next to the stone with Hailey holding a sleeping Bella-Elizabeth. When I got nearer, Hailey positioned her in my arms and I rocked her gently while playing with the small hairs on her head.
I took a moment to collect myself, watching my beautiful niece. I did this for her, being Alpha and pushing for change, and for her to have a fulfilled future. One day, no one would question her authority and the path to succession would be easier than mine.
I raised my hand and the chatter around us silenced as the pack paid attention. This was a monumental moment not only for The Nobles but in wolf history. A female was to be destined as Alpha under the Moon’s eyes and no wolf could question that.
“Fellow members of The Midnight Moon, we have our newest member and our future in my arms,” I said loud and clear so every single one of them could hear me. I didn’t waver or show any hesitation. I lowered my hands to her sweet, innocent face and kissed both her cheeks. “Bella-Elizabeth Steele,”
Whispered travelled around but I tuned them out, stepping up to the stone and placing my niece on top of it. “Here, on this stone that has been in our family for centuries, from me to you, you will carry on our blood, our legacy and lead our people into victory.”
Petting her head, I turned to Hunter who handed over a small needle. This was the final step of the ceremony as through blood, Bella-Elizabeth would be able to form mind-links with the family and everyone else. It was the official initiation of the pack, making her completely and fully a part of the pack.
Raising her tiny little thumb, I pricked the skin and she cried loudly, her face becoming blotchy and red. Immediately, I picked her up, rocking her from side to side while nodding at Hunter to come forth. He stabbed the needle harder than necessary on his thumb and didn’t flinch at the pain. He smiled softly while gazing down at his daughter and then connected his thumb with hers so that their blood would intermingle.
As if sensing her father, her cries reduced to little whimpers. Hunter leaned even further to kiss her cheek, her nose and her forehead. We continued this for the rest of the pack and slowly, the Moon rose higher and higher until Her light shone directly upon us.
Something inexplicable coursed through me and my insides expanded as I gazed at the Moon. A sense of weightlessness settled over me and everything from my peripheral blurred as I was focused on Her. On us.
I was in a moment of peace, of serenity that I’d never experienced in my life. It was as if some sort of mutual understanding came over us, knowing that we were holding the future in our hands.
This was a new era for all packs.
For The Midnight Moon.