“The Council of Elders has summoned you,” Elsbeth blurted out as soon as she stepped into Olivia’s studio. As soon as she saw the look of fear that crashed down her daughter’s face, she wrapped her arms around her to comfort her. She kissed her hair, trying to soothe her trembling. She hugged her as tightly as she could. Elsbeth knew that she may not get many more chances once whatever was coming towards them unfolded.
“Why?” Olivia asked with a small voice as she looked up at her mother. “I have done everything they have asked me to do. Both of my cords are intact. I have been diligent in my studies. You know that I can do so much more than the other first degrees!” Olivia complained, as the panic over being summoned made her stomach clench. Her voice sounded whiny, even to her own ears. It was never a good thing to get called before the Elders, and she knew it. She worried that she had done something accidentally and had not been aware of it.
“I don’t think it is that. This might be for a Calling,” her mother whispered as she continued to smooth her daughter’s dark auburn hair.
“A Calling? They still do those. I thought there had not been a Calling in decades. Why now?” wailed Olivia. The idea horrified her. This was not something she had prepared herself for in any shape or form. For most witches, the Calling was a theoretical obligation that disappeared after the critical twenty-eighth birthday. For her, that was only a year away.
“We won’t know until you speak to them. They expect you there by moonrise. Please prepare yourself so you are presentable to the Council. We all must do as we are told. We all serve the Goddess,” Elsbeth said softly as she tried to give her daughter a reassuring smile.
Olivia envied her mother’s calm. She wished she could feel that way. “Yes, Mother. I will do as you say,” Olivia answered in the subdued tone she always used when she wanted her mother to know she was not happy with whatever the edict would make her do. That this summons was for a Calling scared her even more than if she was in trouble again. She started cleaning up the paints she had been working with, her worry ratcheting up with each minute that passed.
She thought through everything she had been doing with her magic lately and could not think of a single thing that would get her called in front of the Elders. The last time she had gotten into trouble, she had rightly deserved it. She had known she had reached entirely too far with her magic, but being a pre-teen at the time, she had led with her heart and not her common sense to disastrous results. She had seen the images of the cattle starving and the ranchers crying over losing generations of hard work on TV and felt like she just needed to do something. So, she had conjured a tropical storm by combining the elements or air and water in an attempt at big magic to help to ease the drought in the Texas panhandle. The particle waves had wobbled out of shape, drifted south, and combined with a much stronger storm coming out of the Gulf causing catastrophic flooding of the Llano River basin in Texas. As a First-Degree Witch, she should not have had enough power to even attempt such a spell, much less cause such devastating effects. She had just wanted to give them a little rain. She still felt bad about the results every time she thought about it, which of course, was every time it rained. She had not expected the power of the quantum gravity on the storm particles, so she had not compensated, which allowed the storm to wobble. She had made amends to the Earth by drying things out quickly to prevent the damaging molds and told no one of her foolhardy attempt. She could not successfully do any magical task using even one-tenth of that effort under her instructor’s watchful eyes so she could advance to the next level. Her magic just refused to cooperate.
The Council of Elders represented the eldest witches from among the Covens. The High Priestess and the Council ruled them all and made all the major decisions just as the Coven Priestess and Elders made the major decisions for the Coven. Being summoned meant that something significant had happened regardless which group did the summoning. Or someone had done something significant that had affected them all. Olivia took great care in her every action to follow the rules, a few accidents notwithstanding. Her mother had always preached that with great power came great responsibility. Although the Elders felt Olivia had somewhat weak magical skills, she still had much more power than the surrounding humans. She was careful never to take advantage of that fact.
She and her mother lived a simple life. Olivia sold her art, and her mother sold herbs and vegetables at the local farmers’ market. They shared a small farmhouse that had once belonged to her grandmother near to the Coven House in Columbia, South Carolina. They had two acres to grow vegetables and herbs. The weather made it possible to harvest three out of the four seasons, giving the ground time to heal itself during the winter. Her mother, having a deft hand at growing things, had a side business growing rare and costly herbs and flowers in the hothouse on their property that witches around the globe sought for their spells and medicines through the Coven’s website. Olivia’s paintings had become coveted after her first art show in high school and frequently garnered several thousand dollars each. She was happy with their life and tried to avoid the scrutiny that might take it away from them. It made the summons even more disturbing.
Olivia showered quickly and dried her hair, fixing the thick waist-length auburn tresses into the traditional braid worn by all Neophytes and First-Degree witches. She had the same Magic stripe of color in her hair that showed that she had mastered all the first skills learned by all Neophytes witches. The color in the stripe typically appeared at the tip and grew up the hair to the root as all witches mastered their skills in the element, they were most adept in. The depth of the specific color showed the strength of the power. Most witches could only generate a small amount of color until they had finished their Second-Degree Advanced training. There were a few Third-Degree witches who had only a pale color, showing mastery but limited strength.
Olivia’s stripe was unusual in more ways than one, causing no end of insults and derision from other witches in her coven, both skilled and Neophyte. It was significantly wider than the normal one inch. She was forever trying to twist it to make it appear smaller. The most disturbing difference was the color of her stripe. It just added to how different she was from the others. Normally the stripe took on the color of the witch’s primary element. It typically was yellow for Air, green for Earth, red for Fire, blue for Water, and white for Spirit. A rare witch might have orange for a combination of Air and Fire or even teal with a combination of Water and Earth. Olivia’s was purple. Bright, neon purple from the roots to the tip. Fire and Water power cancelled each other out, so it was never a primary-secondary affinity combination. Yet another example of her failings as a witch. One that her peers had no problem rubbing in every chance that they got. Most girls her age were Second-Degree if not Third-Degree at this point in their training. The Coven Priestess, Isabelle, did not think she had “matured enough” to handle the additional knowledge, so she did not advance Olivia to the next level. It still bristled Olivia when she thought of it. She tried to be accepting of the Elders’ decision not to advance her graciously, even if she did not like it.
She dressed in her black long-sleeve lace gown. It was snug around her bodice in the corset-style, showing off her thin waist and an ample amount of cleavage. She hated wearing it because she always felt like her breasts were on display. Not that her modest B-cups were much to look at, but she did not like showing that much skin. She applied mascara to her dark lashes, making them stand out around her violet eyes even more. She was always self-conscious about them since they looked so different from anyone else’s. She must have gotten them from her father. She had gotten her mother’s features in everything else except her mother’s eyes, which were an emerald green. She added a light blush and lip gloss. It was as good as it would get. She never wore much. She sent a prayer up to the Goddess that she would have the strength to accept whatever the Elders ordered with grace. She did not want to embarrass her mother.
Olivia slipped on her black granny boots and slipped the button loops over the buttons. They were a throwback style, but she loved them. The three-inch heel helped to add some height to her five-foot two-inch frame. Between her short height and small build, no one took her seriously. How could they? There were middle school kids bigger than she was. She needed any advantage she could get today. She took one last in the mirror. She frowned at what she saw. There were just too many flaws that she noticed. She would never be a great beauty. She just sighed and turned to head downstairs.
Her mother was ready and waiting for her. She wore a black gown also, but the cut and style were even more conservative than Olivia’s dress.
“I hate the way this thing fits,” said Olivia, tugging on various parts of the dress. It fit her hips snuggly and fell to the floor from there. A slit from the hem to her right knee enabled the ability to walk smoothly and kneel in the close fit.
“Why?” asked Elspeth as she put in a pair of earrings.
“It shows too much skin, first of all,” huffed Olivia.
“Is that all?” chuckled Elspeth.
“It is a dress. I own a ridiculous number of them. Who needs four gowns? If it were up to me, I would never put a dress on. Ever,” groused Olivia.
“You have four gowns because it is never optional to appear before the Council of Elders in anything less than a floor-length gown. You need to remember that these women were forced into dresses longer than they have had freedom to choose pants. Pants were not socially acceptable until World War II,” Elspeth reminded her.
Olivia sometimes forgot how old they were. Her mother was not old enough to be an Elder. She certainly did not look like she was nearly two-hundred years old. When the women were standing side-by-side, they looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. The main difference was her mother’s hair was loose about her shoulders with a bright blue stripe that started at the crown of her head like most witches and not from the base of her skull like Olivia’s did. Her mother was a Third-Degree Water witch, so she had no restrictions on how she wore her hair. Her mother did not have a single gray hair. Even if one had shown up, a simple spell would have covered it, but Olivia knew her mother would not bother being that vain. Even if she were to spell a gray hair away, Olivia would see the spell.
That was the one unique talent that she kept hidden from everyone except her mother. She could see the spell of any magic cast by another and unravel it. She had unraveled spells since long before she could cast them. She had told her mother about her ability early on, and they had both kept that detail quiet. Her mother had told her that other witches would be afraid of her if they knew what she could do and insist that she have her magic bound. Elspeth did not want that for her daughter. It was bad enough she was already bound by the second cord. The shame of being completely bound would be too much to bear.
Typically, the seven-knotted cord was placed on a young witch to control the budding magic and the emotional wreckage caused by puberty. It kept them all safe by preventing accidental uses of magic as they matured. Using magic in front of humans could be disastrous. Olivia had hers placed when she was nine years old after the flooding debacle. The High Priestess had placed the binding herself to control Olivia’s magic. The High Priestess added a second cord six months later. The fact that it had taken more knots than her peers had needed still rankled her every time she looked at. Typically, once a witch had advanced from being a First-Degree, the cord would have a colored bead placed that curbed the hormones and desire to help maintain chastity until the witch passed the critical birthday. When Olivia had turned twelve, she had received two Chastity beads, one colored and one clear. Olivia just viewed it as another way that she differed from other girls her age. Worse, every one of her peers could see it plainly on her wrist. The less kind ones pointed it out again and again.
Even chastity was a throwback to a former era. Witches were the only natural mates of Vampires because they were the only paranormal species that could breed with a Vampire. Vampires could mate with any paranormal and even humans. They just could not have children together. Fate picked all paranormal mates. Because there were only a few unmated Vampires and so few natural-born witches, the pool of potential mates was ridiculously small. An ancient treaty gave the Vampires first crack at the chaste young witches. Vampires preferred that their mates be untouched. A paranormal knew instantly once they met if they were mates. The Vampire could smell their mate and a Witch could see their mate’s aura.
If there were unmated Vampires of age and situation to care for a mate, there would be a Calling. Before any girl old enough to date could do so of her own choosing, she had to first go to the Calling to see if she was a mate. There were rules about who could attend a Calling. A witch had to be a certain age to attend a Calling. She must have had had her first menses, no longer be a Neophyte, and she must have reached adulthood. Ages 18, 21, and 27 were considered the most desirable. The number 3 was equal to the Triple Blessing of the Goddess, giving the family and the Coven special blessings from a paranormal union. The number 9 was like the supernatural version of the lottery because the witch would be Thrice Triple Blessed, which was very rare. Witches matured late and most did not start menstruating until they were 15 or 16, so the requirements kept the younger girls out of the Calling. Some Covens enforced the traditional rules like hers did while others were only concerned that the girl was over the age of 18. Olivia just turned 27 soon, which made her a possible Thrice Triple Blessed mate.
If there were no pairings from the Calling, the girl could consider herself free of her obligation and could look for a mate elsewhere or just date if that was her choice. If the Council did not hold a Calling before the witch’s Chastity Binding was removed on Imbolc the year she turned twenty-eight, she was free of the obligation.
“Mother, you ready?” Olivia asked softly.
“You look lovely. I love you, sweetheart. I am proud of you and who you have become,” she smiled before kissing her on her forehead. “I knew the time for you to join your rightful place was coming. Your father, had he lived, would have loved to see this. He had always talked about how you were going to shock a lot of narrow-minded witches.”
“I know. You have told me. It is such a shame he died before I was born,” sighed Olivia. It was more common for a witch to be raised in a matriarchal house than in a two-parent one, but it still made her sad not to have known him. “Besides, I doubt that he would be all that proud since I am still a First-Degree witch at my age. I have no idea how to prove maturity,” groused Olivia as she made air quotes around the word.
“Sweetheart, not everything is what it seems. We have all been protecting you until it was time,” her mother explained.
“What are you saying?” Olivia said in a panicked voice, staring at her mother. Alarm just seemed to spin throughout her at those words.
Her mother just ignored her question, which she tended to do any time Olivia asked a question she did not want to answer. It frustrated Olivia to no end. “Don’t let go of my hand. We are going to The Rede,” Elsbeth said as she wrapped her hand around her daughter’s.
“Oh, my Goddess! I thought our Elders summoned me, not The Elders!” Olivia exclaimed as they faded from their living room.
The next thing Olivia knew was they were materializing in a large, ornate chamber. She hated teleporting. Even though she understood the quantum mechanics behind dissolving herself into particles and then using particle waves and string theory to move to another location, she always worried she would lose bits and pieces between the start point and the end point. It took power to hold the particles together enough to ride the wave, losing nothing but loose enough to enable transport. She was not sure she would ever have enough power to manage teleporting herself, much less a passenger. What if she ran out of energy before she arrived? The thought made her shudder. This time her mother had done the teleportation, so there was no risk. Even with such a skilled witch moving them, it always took her several minutes until she felt normal again. Not that she expected to this time. The panic of being summoned wrapped itself around her.
“Worrying about losing parts again?” her mother asked with a chuckle.
“Hey! I like my parts right where they are, thank you very much,” she smarted back. Olivia took at the surrounding room in awe.