As I stood on the threshold of his home, I moved to enter when I remembered something. Glancing up, I noticed how he stared at me-- his eyes dark and penetrating, expectant and hungry for something. What was it my mother and father had once said?
"Lennon Merrick is a priest, a holy man, but he is still a man who is working. As such, he will expect something in return for his services. A gift, money-- something worthy of a Druid priest and his own gifts, which he will use to assist you on your path." Papa's words rang in my head, clear as a bell.
Starting, I hastily pulled my backpack around and began to rummage through it, searching for the gift. Lennon expected a gift to pass – like paying a toll to a troll to allow you to cross his bridge. I had to stifle my giggle at the crude comparison-- my friends would have no doubt approved of this description. I knew his favorite fruit were pomegranates and his favorite liquor was single malt whiskey. So, I brought a bottle of my father's favorite whiskey and a small basket of my mom's most prized pomegranates. When I laid them down at my feet, he smiled and moved into the house, expecting me to follow.
Lennon's house was built out of the logs of fallen evergreens and pine. He had no electricity, so his lights were all gas flames and the steeple gave you a sense of doom as you climbed the steps of the porch. The house was a monster all on it's own-- one that you knew would consume you, if you intended it and its master harm.
There was a beat up Chevy truck parked on the right side of the house. I found the mechanical machine rather odd, as Lennon struck me as someone who would deem cars as "devils' invention" or something. But I ignored this, instead focusing on the interior of the cabin, which was at odds with the outside. You ever watch BBC's Doctor Who-- a time traveler with a time machine that was bigger on the inside versus small on the outside? That was Lennon's cabin, though less high tech and inviting.
The interior of the cabin was unlike the exterior. Everything was antique or slightly kitschy, and reminded me of the vintage Addams Familyor The Munstersproduction sets I watched on TV-Land when I was younger. He even had a stuffed bear and mounted stag heads, lending to the peculiarity and macabre nature of the cabin.
The only source of warmth was the grandiose fireplace that sat deep within the cavern of the hall. He kept his caldron in the kitchen. I assume that's why my nostrils were hit with the putrid aroma of a bubbling broth resting over a dull flame that could be seen from the open floor plan of the house.
There were vaulted ceilings, bearskin rugs covering the floors and an overstuffed sectional beaten and ripped beyond repair in the living room. You'd think that with as much power he had, he'd fix his furniture. Oddly enough, I didn't see or sense dust. Thank the Goddess because I was highly allergic to dust particles.
With a snap of his fingers, the wicks of the candles flickered on-- illuminating the entire main floor. Above me was the open upper hallway with doors that could have only led to the sleeping quarters and bathrooms. I found it odd that he had these-- one, two, three-- almost five rooms and perhaps three bathrooms. Why would a priest need so many rooms?He must have had quite a lot of visitors, I thought, though why anyone would want to visit a hermit priest in the middle of nowhere is beyond me.
As we entered the living room, I noticed with some trepidation that the walls were bare and painted black or it was soot from all the burning sulfur of the candles. Not a photo or art hanging on his walls. Legend has it, sorcerers don't like photographs: they think their essence can be trapped within the images that are generated by the camera flash. All that were visible were the dusty remnants of empty frames hanging. He just had sage, rosemary, thyme, and jasmine hanging in baskets on the wall or left upside drying. You could smell the faint scent of incense.
"Please make yourself comfortable. Though I was expecting you, I am afraid I had other business to tend to before your arrival and it ran longer than expected," he admitted casually. He pointed me to an overstuffed threadbare armchair, urging me to be seated.
"Give me at least ten, fifteen minutes, and I shall be right as rain," He said, leaving me in the great hall. Placing my bag on the floor, I sat near the fireplace. Twiddling my thumbs, I finally decided I had had enough of the silence and pulled out my phone to listen to some music.
I nearly smile at the thought, images of Tanner walking around cupping his family jewels for a week or more conjured inside my head.
The wind shifts again and this time, I smell anise and cinnamon in the air and a low chuffing sound – Wren. The ground outside is thick with twigs, falling branches, and wet leaves. The mist that hangs low to the ground is proof of an early morning rain. Plus, I could smell the droplets that remain from the heavy canopy showers.
The leaves above rustle wildly and I can't keep myself from giggling. Wren is overhead, within the thick foliage of the trees, trying to camouflage himself, swinging and jumping from tree to tree. He doesn't think I know, but I do and secretly, I love it. As I begin to turn, a thought strikes me and gives me pause by the window. Could I communicate with him like I can with Jerry? Biting my lip, I am eager to test this theory and, carefully scenting the air to make sure Lennon and no one else is nearby, I open my mind and begin to think freely.
What the heck is wrong with boys? Especially Tanner and Jeremiah: they have both been treating me strangely for a while now. And I can't understand why. We used to be as thick as thieves-- best friends, even. Now, Tanner barely speaks to me and when he does, he's a mean dumbass to me. Even though he's not around as much, Jeremiah is still sweet to me. Usually, he has had to comfort me numerous times because of how Tanner treats me and I have had enough of it! Now, all I do is run interference and avoidance.
As I turned away from the window, I heard something on the roof-- hopefully, Lennon won't come out and ruin the moment. If he knows I was followed, or who followed me...my mother's fears weigh on my mind, spurring me forward. I needto end this, get Tanner and Wren away, just in case. I don't want him to hear me or report me to my mother-- I have to think quickly.
As I moved to the window on the other side of the cabin, the aroma that once was there vanished-- at least for a few seconds, then it felt as though the sweetness returned with vengeance. So, I played one last time with my unwanted tag along.
I don't leave my room when he comes over. I have a mini fridge in my room and snacks-- I can just lock myself in when he visits. There have been times I have felt him standing outside my bedroom door-- just standing there and not moving until he's beckoned by Jensen to his room to play video games. I miss him, but ever since my birthday party and I found him with Meri hooking up in my house, he's been treating me like crap. To top it off, he pulls thispossessive act on me today!
The trees outside the window shift, followed by a low thud on top of the roof. I look up just as some dead leaves and dirt fall from the eaves above. I hear something coming from one of the rooms up above-- no doubt Lennon has likely heard something by now. I look at my watch-- it's almost been fifteen minutes. He will be back soon. Intent on getting him away and proving my theory, I act rashly and allow the more negative thoughts to unwind.
Why should he care where I am going? I'm too young to know if he's my mate and even if he was, I'd reject him. The words reverberate inside my head and, with a sudden snap I feel something come into focus-- feelings and images of outside from the rooftop flash through my head with such suddenness I forget myself and gasp.
It is then that Wren gives himself away, unleashing a deep guttural howl that resonates and reverberates against the forest floor and up into the canopy of trees. It suddenly dawned on me, then – he heard my thoughts. We have a bond like me and Jerry...I open my mind again and that is when I feel it: nothingness. Emptiness-Wren's presence was no longer felt, his smell vanishing along with the lingering warmth of the day. Now, standing in Lennon's cabin, I truly felt alone and scared.
And the research begins
"So, what brings you to my humble abode, wee girl?" I heard his Irish brogue coming from behind me, but when I turned around he wasn't there. As soon as I spun away from the window, he loomed in front of me with the creepiest grin on his bearded face. I bit back a scream-- I wouldn't scream, allow him to scare or cow me. Standing tall, I lifted my chin and admitted why I had come here this morning.
"I had some questions for you for my lycan-history class. I'm doing a research paper on mates: reject or not reject." I said. His smile faded for a moment, but his eyes gleamed with perverse delight. It was as though he expected something else but for some odd reason, liked this answer better. Before I could say anything, he sprung away from me and with a wave of his hands, bid me follow.
"Well, don't just stand there, girl! Be of some service to me." He ordered, moving toward the kitchen. I was starting to get too warm with the fire roaring in the hearth, so I removed my jacket and followed after him into the kitchen.
"Are you making some kind of potion or casting some spell?" I asked excitedly, looking at the cauldron and its putrid smelling broth. Lennon sighed heavily behind me, causing me to turn away from the mess inside the cauldron. He held out a bread knife and a loaf of half-cut dark brown bread. When I did not take them right away and just stared at him blankly for a moment, he rolled his eyes and plopped them into my empty hands. Turning away, he cracked two eggs and removed some strips of bacon from the refrigerator. I felt my face burn slightly-- I must have sounded like a naive child.
"No, girl. Priests and sorcerers have to eat breakfast too. It's the most important meal of the day, ya know," He reminded me. Feeling my stomach growl, I quickly set to work. He held the broken eggs in a bowl as I put four pieces of toast in the oven. "How do you take your eggs, scrambles, sunny side up, or omelet? Milk, cheese?"
"Sunny side up sounds good." I answered nonchalantly as I shrugged my shoulders. I remembered fondly that that's how my Papa liked his eggs-- runny so he could slop up the yolk with his toast.
"Coming up, m'aingeal." He smirked with a secret behind his eyes. I turned, my skin prickling at the endearment. He did not appear to be disingenuous, yet still...
"My Papa used to call me that," I said softly, my voice trailing off as my thoughts stirred. I tried not to project my thoughts, because there were rumors that as payment for his services, he'd use those thoughts against you. He smirked again, turning his face to look more closely at me.
"Mmm-hmm, did he now . . ." he responded lazily. Feeling uncomfortable beneath his gaze, I quickly turned to check on the toast. As he continued cooking the eggs and the bacon, he ordered me to set the table. The coffee perked in the pot on the wood-burning stove while some tea steeped inside a French press in the middle of the kitchen table.
"You should try the tea-- mint, rose hips, rosemary, and horehound. I grow the herbs myself. Brilliant blend for peace of mind and digestion, as well," He admitted proudly. I stared at the French press and watched the herbs float amidst the murky water. I was going to drink the coffee. If I didn't make it clear before, I didn't exactly trust Lennon. How could anyone trust a hermit?
After I was done setting out the plates, utensils, and cups he brought out the trays of food so we could both take what we wanted. Sitting down, he immediately began to partake while I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer to the goddess as well as the Catholic God, as my mother had taught me. Only then did I begin to eat.
"So, m'aingeal, ask me anything you'd like," He said as he thrust an entire piece of Canadian bacon into his mouth, chewing with a food filled grin. Watching him consume his food was grotesque to say the least. He obviously didn't have many guests in his home. Eager to get answers as well as halt his disgusting chowing down, I took a single sip of my coffee and a bite of eggs before hitting him with my first question.
"Well, I guess we can begin with the most basic question. Who came up with the myth of mates?" I asked pointedly. Choking on his food with surprise, he hastily put down his cup of tea and wiped his mouth with a napkin. Thinking I had stunned him, I smirked when suddenly a strange grating rumble tickled my ears. It took me a moment to realize that the sorcerer was laughing...at me. He shook his head, finding my skepticism amusing.
"What makes you think mates are a myth?" He asked carefully, sipping his tea and sucking the food remnants out of his teeth down his throat. He turned to me, then-- his eyes glittering. From mirth or something else, I couldn't quite guess. Before I could answer, he asked me another question.
"Have you found your mate yet?" He inquired pointedly. I bristled at his question, dropping my fork-- suddenly feeling off my food. Trying to remain calm, I glowered at him over my coffee, not liking being on the defensive.
"I'm not of age, yet." I responded coolly. He blinked, surprised at my tone. I quickly took another bite of my food, trying to keep myself from saying anything more, or from biting the priest's head off. I had been cold in my tone, my tongue unusually sharp-- I don't know why, but his question bothered me a little.
"So, you have not yet shifted. How old are ya, anyway, girl?" He said, watching me from over his tea. I wanted to be snippy-- respond with something akin to, "You're the sorcerer and clan priest-- you tell me." But I bit back my snarky retort-- knowing all too well that would not do me any good. Taking a bite of my yolky toast, I watched him right back as I answered.
"Fourteen, sorcerer," I admitted before chomping down on my crunchy toast. My skin began to prickle beneath his gaze, and my little talisman bag had begun to feel slightly heavy against my hip. Just where was he going with these questions?
"Ahh, so you have a year, maybe two more until you are pleasantly surprised by whom your mates... hmm, sorry mate is," He said smoothly. I blinked, the toast halfway to my mouth when his phrasing struck me. It sounded like he was going to say the possessive mates.But, that would be impossible, right? The goddess only granted us one mate for life...didn't she? I logged away this question for later and continued with my questions.
"So, are you trying to tell me that the mate stories are-- what, real? That we base everything we are --our relationships, our love lives, our marriages --on a celestial being that no one has ever seen or heard from? A being that doesn't know us – " I began, waving my fork around absently. He cut me off, and also removed the fork from my hand and placed it back on the table.
"Oh, but wee girl, she doesknow us. She knows us better than anyone in our lives knows us. She picks your other half because she created you." He said, his voice holding a hint of condescension. I bristled at his tone, the knife in my hand groaning under the pressure of skin and bone as I squeezed.
This fairytale he was trying to spin was just making me angry. I wanted to stab him with both my fork and knife. Why was it that everyone in my life felt the need to treat me like a child? Telling me stories to satiate me, or rather placate me-- the fucking nerve! Tamping down my anger with a sip of coffee, I tried getting back to my questions.
"Doesn't she ever make mistakes?" I asked, barely registering what I had said until it was too late. As soon as I asked that question, his face changed colors to a crimson red, an inferno was being stoked within him and I was soon going to be set ablaze. I need to redeem myself. Quickly.
"I-I mean, surely even a goddess can get it wrong? I mean, what about humans as mates to beasts? That can't possibly be acceptable?" I asked, grasping at the most debated topic amongst the clan. Though I did not have a problem or prejudice against humans mating with Lycans, I had wanted to test this subject on Lennon-- see what he thought.
I struck a nerve. We all knew that his views on human and beast mating was wrong, so I merely pretended to be on his side of the coin to get my answers. After a moment of deep breaths in and out, his face returned to its pale hue and his breathing was once again under control after a shot of whiskey he kept in a flask in his breast pocket.
"You're absolutely right, my dear. It is an abomination to have a weaker race as a mate," He hissed, his eyes dancing in anger. He took a sip of his tea before continuing, "That is why I stress a very controversial method to rid the pack of these situations. But, let us first get into a history lesson."
Unable to ask any more questions, I tried my best to eat the rest of the food on my plate. After we finished the rest of our meal in silence, we left his house to stroll down to the creek that ran alongside his house. It was the last border of the land that belonged in the Silver Bullet territory, while the other side of the creek was the beginning of another pack's territory-- a smaller clan and close ally to us, the Golden Wolf Clan.
"Why are we here?" I asked, looking at the border that ran between our land and their's. I looked back at the cabin and the path beyond it, wondering absently if Tanner or Jeremiah might be nearby. I hoped Meri Newton would not rat on me.
"I just needed to collect some more herbs and roots for one of my prized tonics," He said, indifferent to my feelings of unease. He was making a tonic for an elder in the clan with terrible arthritis. This was how he began his lesson.
"Centuries ago, there was the Goddess of the Underworld and of the Moon, Cerridwen. I am sure you have been told of the tale of how and why she created the superior species of Lycans. Her son was nowhere as beautiful and talented as her daughter that she had with the Sun God." He paused for a moment, giddy at the truffle he found resting in the ground.
"So, she created a potion that would alter his makeup, but her bumbling slave ingested the potion himself. Cerridwen was so infuriated, she tried with all her might to get rid of him, but he outsmarted her." We continued along the creek, searching for various herbs and roots. As we continued on our search for herbs and critters, I noticed with growing unease that Lennon was becoming more agitated. "But, he outwitted our Goddess: allowing her to catch him and allowed her to ingest him-- essentially giving birth to him."
I was getting more nervous. I wasn't sure where we were or how far out Lennon was taking us into the forest. I carefully tried to open my mind, see if Wren or Crow could hear me. When Lennon turned to look at me, my mind instinctively closed with a snap-- all of my thoughts and attention focused on him.
"That child was the first of your kind." He said slowly, though his eyes darted to the trees. The wind barely stirred them, then he turned his eyes to me.
"And how does that correlate to Goddess Cerridwen having a hand in who we are mated to?" I asked carefully. I was still confused as to why it was considered wrong to be mated to humans. "If she sees all, knows all, and plans all, why is it considered an abomination for Lycans to mate with humans then?"
As Lennon continued to dig through the leaves and dirt, he would hand me his spoils and I would lay them within a large woven pouch. Then, as he had this morning during breakfast, he laughed at me. It was a light, almost humorous laugh-- as though he knew the answer to a joke I was not privy to. I really wanted to slam the pouch over his head and just go home.
"Well, then, I suppose the Goddess is susceptible to make mistakes, like you thought, "He admitted with a shrug. Finished foraging, he grabbed the otherside of the pouch and we walked back toward his cabin.
"The reason why human and Lycan pairings are wrong is because they create a lesser species. You see, the gene that creates Lycans is dominant, but in many cases where Lycans paired with humans, they either produce human children or worse, werewolves. Or, as I like to call them, wet dogs." He spat, grimacing as though he had smelled or tasted something foul.
The way he spoke with such malice and disdain concerned me. It made me think he wasn't speaking from the truth of the Goddess. I decided I would continue to listen and make notes, but also offer the opinion of what I had been learning in class.
"But if the myth of mates is true and that other races of people can be matched to Lycans, it must be because the Goddess loves us all in her image and that having a mate of another species is not an abomination, but a blessing. And, if a human wanted to turn, it would only strengthen the bond and the clan, not weaken it." I reasoned. Lennon said nothing, his lips pursed and his brow furrowed in thought.
"That's what we were taught in school, at least, and many in the clan seem to feel it is true," I reasoned, adding this on so as to appear in alignment with his beliefs. His lips curled back in an angry sneer.
"What you learn in school now is a fallacy. If I had it myway, the old teachings would have continued." He snarled, nearly shaking the ground when he said that. I jumped back in fear, nearly dropping the basket. He turned, yanking the bag out of my hand.
"For Goddess' sakes, girl, be more careful or we will be out here all day!" He snapped. After a moment's silence, I continued with my questions.
"How do you feel about rejection? Is that something that's accepted here?" I asked carefully, dread bubbling up in the pit of my stomach. I swallowed the lump in my throat hard, worrying about his answer. His earlier vehemence gone, he shook his head.
"Not here, but other clans still allow the practice. I have offered my services to those in this clan-- in secret, of course, who have rejected their mates for various reasons. The rejection is easy to say-- the acceptance is, too. But, the aftermath is unbearable, for both sides. So, I provide a service to the one who did the rejecting that makes the effects go poof," he snapped his fingers as he said poof. "Go away."
"What do you offer people?" My voice quivers as he slithers towards me. His hand covers one of my own, causing me to shiver. His smile is sickly sweet, almost kind...but his eyes hold malignant delight.
"In time, my wee one. All in good time..."