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Chapter Four

Even this late in the day, there was a faint crispness to the air. September in Cork county held the warmth of summer under the cool hint of autumn on the verge of harvest. Alanna pulled her sweater off, tying the sleeves around her waist, and welcomed the kiss of sunshine on her bare arms.

Climbing up onto the stone wall at the edge of Cardamon’s property she walked a long the top, humming the latest Taylor Swift hit under her breath. Coming to the corner where a wall intersected, she turned and looked up, gauging the distance to the ruins. The sun was starting its dip to the horizon, but if she kept moving, it was doable.

As she crested the next hill on the climb toward them, she glanced down to toward the cliffs in the distance. And nestled there, at the end of the road she could see led from a deserted parking lot, was a circle of stones. The iron gate was closed, but from here, she could follow the wall right to them.

Making note of where she turned, she continued along the top of the wall, but the rough hewn stones disrupted her trip along the capstones. Jumping down she continued, trailing her hands along the stones, noting the odd hum pulsing into her fingertips. Power throbbed here. What was it Grammie said?

I remember. The stones speak to those who seek. Answers come from Goddess drums as heart song weeps and thrums. Maybe I can find the reason for my dreams. I need to know why she keeps returning. I can see her clearly even now.

The sun hit the king stone behind the altar stone, and Alanna stood with her arms stretched over her head.

It’s equinox, I forgot. Last year Astra chose Uncle James. I miss them, so much.

She placed her basket on the altar, and the shadow inched its way across. As the sun left the yarrow flowers, they faded from bright yellow to deep gold, and before her dazzled eyes, they disappeared.

Will anyone believe me if I tell the story? I have to go, I have to touch, I need to know, it means so much.

Drawn by a force she could not resist, Alanna inched her way forward to the king stone, and stepped onto the granite slab at its foot. Placing her palms against it, she felt her body slide down as she flew free. Watching from above through misty tendrils of fog she saw her. Making her own sacrifice to the Goddess Aine.

Muireanne stood at the stones, the setting sun blinding her as it hit the king stone, and the shadow swallowed the altar. Her basket of wheat stalks, and root vegetables emptied as the shadow made its way across the granite slab, and she knew the Goddess was pleased.

It was warm, the frosty air of Samhain not yet noticeable today on the day when the hours of night equalled those of sunlight. It was the tipping point toward harvest. Wheat and grains were first. Edible roots were big enough to dig out of the ground and would only grow before icy morning frost turned leaves brown. There were gourds and squash, which would store in a room she had dug into the hill behind her cottage.

I would love to make cast a circle, to stand here clad only in my skin and offer myself to the Gods. It isn’t wise. I’m already the talk of the village. My knowledge of herbs and spells are my salvation and my curse. I’m the midwife, I’ve helped more souls into the world than seems possible in my twenty four summers. Yet I still yearn for motherhood.

She slung her straw basket over her arm and turned for home. She would spend an hour before she slept, writing in her shadow book, recording the recipe for the tincture of bread mold and mint. The recipe seemed to cure the festering, malodorous ooze of battle wounds. Somehow, she knocked the green crust of an old loaf of bread into the bindings of a warrior’s wound.

She knew her chant had helped to heal it as she called on the Goddess Aine to stand by her. She could feel the power as it seeped from her palms where they lay on either side of his injured thigh, stopping the pulsing draining of blood. The yellow putrid infection was something beyond her control, or so she had thought. She washed it with the solution of boiled marigold petals, cleaning the offending pus away until only raw flesh and bright red blood remained.

She remembered hitting the table beside her bed, with her elbow as she wound clean cloth strips around the leg, but the light was dim, only one candle lit her cottage. She hadn’t noticed the old crust fall, and only discovered it missing when she went to scrape the last hunk clean of mold to give herself an inadequate meal as she watched the knight.

He’d been feverish and delirious the first night. And then he improved, recovering quickly. When she took the dressing off to check, his wound was clean, and healing quickly. The soggy, moldy crust came off with the bandage and she wondered at the miracle beneath them.

Whispers of witch, evil, had sprouted in the village when the knight told his tale in the tavern over ale. For how could a mere woman, with out the blessing of the prayers of the priest, heal a soldier who came to her in a wagon almost dead?

And now she as she went into her cottage, and smiled at her stores of dried herbs, and precious bottles of potions, she wondered if her knight would remember her, and the single night of stolen passion they shared.

“Wake up girl!”

Alanna winced, and her hip ached where it pressed against the stone.

“What’s wrong with you, wake up!”

She shivered and opened her eyes.

Where am I? And who is that? And where’s the cottage? I was in the cottage, all my herbs, crystals, the lovely lavender scented candle, and my book of spells and recipes? Where is it?

“Ah, there you are. You’re back. The stones had you.”

She looked up into the concerned eyes of a young man, his eyes bright hazel green. His hair a mop of carrot red curls and freckles dusted his nose. A generous smile bloomed

“Is that what happened?” Alanna asked.

“It would seem so.”

“I need to get back, Cardamon will worry.”

“Ah, so you are the healer the old man has been talking about.”

“Yes, and who are you?”

Alanna tucked her legs under herself and pushed up, balancing against the king stone. Funny, it wasn’t humming anymore. The boy wasn’t much older than her, but he was taller, and he offered his hand to help pull her up.

“I’m Liam. Liam Moore. I’ll walk with you. The moon is bright, but the fields are rough.”

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