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Archive for the ‘fantasy’ Category

“It wasn’t that bad was it?” He whispered to Becca.

She just nodded at him and kissed him. There were some tears in her eyes. He hoped they were tears of happiness. “Everything is all right now though.” She brushed at her eyes.

Melanie gave them both a big hug and kiss and they watched the rest of the show together.

Kevin and Zee had put together a crazy puppet show complete with a small stage. The story was about two Apprentices that partnered up for the winter and fell in love. They proclaimed undying love for each other and then later wore black tunics and fought each other all the time in a bizarre twist on the Journeyman degree until angels came in airsleds and carried them away. The crowd thought it was funny. Tobal wondered where they got the ideas though and asked them as they came off the stage.

Zee joked, “Why from you and Becca of course. Good to see you’ve finally come to your senses.”

Both Kevin and Zee congratulated them and gave them hugs. It seemed that Zee and Kevin were really happy exploring their new relationship and staying warm as possible this winter.

It was Kevin that asked, “So are you two going to partner up for the rest of the winter?”

Becca glanced first at Tobal and then at Melanie. “We are both going to keep training newbies through the winter. Right?” She looked at Tobal expectantly and gave his arm a squeeze.

“Uh, that’s right,” he mumbled. “Got to keep training newbies. We can partner up as Journeymen.” He knew he had given the right answer as Becca brightened and smiled widely.

They turned their attention back to the stage as Sarah sang some beautiful Celtic music she had learned from her father. Her voice and the songs were haunting and left a hush over the crowd. Tobal looked and could see tears in the eyes of some of the listeners. There was definitely love and romance in the air.

Mike and Butch took the stage next and had everyone gasping and rolling on the floor at their stand up comic routine. They were natural clowns and comedians and loved to entertain people. They concluded their act to wild applause and a break for dinner. As people broke for dinner a line formed to congratulate Mike and Butch. It seemed they had really made a hit.

Sarah came over and they all gave her a big hug and told her how beautiful her songs were. The six of them left to get some food and drink. Later they met with others and headed back to watch more of the talent show. The remainder of the evening was a lot of fun even though Tobal didn’t know many of the performers. It was almost as fun watching the antics of the audience and chatting with friends.

Mike and Butch showed up after dinner in high spirits and were looking to have some fun with the girls. Their comedy routine had made them very popular and like celebrities they were surrounded with groupies. They were party animals and liked to play with the girls at circle where it was fun and light. There were lots of girls that liked fun too and Tobal guessed neither Mike nor Butch would be sleeping alone tonight.

Becca noticed his jet and amber necklace and asked about it. He suggested they go back to the teepee where they could talk. They helped each other undress and slid into the blankets to keep warm. It was about an hour later when Becca reminded him about the necklace.

Slowly he told her the story from the beginning and showed her the necklace, the hospital bands, the ceremonial dagger and the wand. She was quiet and didn’t say very much after that.

They made love once more and fell asleep. In the morning they both agreed the sweat hut sounded like a good idea. They laughed as they sat in the steam and told stories as the sweat ran off them. They dared each other to run outside and roll in the snow and run back in. To the amazement of several onlookers they were both crazy enough to do it although their hair was frozen all most immediately once they made it out side. Once was enough and the next trip was to get their clothes. It was refreshing and did put them in a good mood.

Becca made up her mind to take the stage at the talent show. She was a surprising gymnast and did some cart wheels, head stands and hand springs that showed just how good of shape she was really in. She topped it off with a back flip that brought cheers.

Then it was Tobal’s turn. In desperation Tobal painted his face and did a pantomime routine about claiming sanctuary, how bad the food and water were how it took his things and did the med exam. He pantomimed all of it down to taking a shower without clothing much to the hoots and laughter of the crowd after they finally realized what he was doing. The newbies especially thought it was funny and everyone had a good laugh out of it. Later people came up and said how they had enjoyed it.

Next on the stage were Nick and Tara. Tara had gotten Nick as drummer and did a strip dance for the entire group to enthusiastic applause.

Tobal and Becca talked with them after the show. Nick and Tara looked happy together. They had settled for the winter at her base camp and Nick had done lots of heavy work getting things ready for the winter. Tara boasted they even had enough firewood already cut to last through the winter. Nick had made stone axes for both of them and they had worked at it till it was all done.

Nick flushed at the praise but there was a quiet glow of acceptance in knowing he had earned it. Tobal realized Nick had matured a lot in just the few months since he had worked with him and known him. Sometimes relationships did that to a person. Nick had shown his stone axes at the talent show earlier.

The celebration was not all fun and games though. The Ox showed up for the Yule party, he had two chevrons and was boasting about beating Rafe, which almost got him into a fight there. Rafe was well liked and no one likes a bully, especially one that rubs things in. After a bit he stuck with some of the rowdier Journeymen and concentrated on getting drunk.

Drunken Journeymen brought their own share of problems into the camp. That week the entire camp went through the emergency beer supply and ran out. Tobal thought that might be one of the reasons people started the cold journeys back to their own base camps by the end of the fourth day.

Nikki was planning to try for another newbie. She was determined to at least try training in the winter time and see if it suited her or not. She really didn’t look forward to spending the entire winter partnering with anyone and was trying to avoid it if she could. She liked both training and the solitude of being alone at times.

She already had two chevrons and was tied with Becca and Melanie. Having a little fun at the parties once a month was just fine for her. She wanted to be a citizen and didn’t want to waste precious months and years camping out in the woods like Wayne and Char. Tobal had noticed Nikki really seemed to not like Wayne and Char for some reason and couldn’t figure out why.

Melanie and Becca were competitive enough that they hated the thought of Nikki advancing ahead of them and someone needed to train this month’s newbies. All three girls tried talking him into going to sanctuary with them but he really felt like he needed a break. There had been too much happening and he needed some time to sort things out, especially about Becca and himself.

Late January was bitter with sub-zero temperatures. There were several cases of frostbite that needed tending at the gathering spot and the medics made a point to question everyone if they needed to be treated. Frostbite if not treated could lead to infection and the loss of a limb.

Sarah proclaimed her newbie, Ben as ready to solo. There were two others willing to solo and the elders grudgingly gave their approval after issuing strict warnings about the dangers of these extreme temperatures. Each soloist had two weeks supply of food they had prepared ahead of time and warm clothing. They felt they were ready.

Four more people had gone. They just packed up and headed west toward the coast. The medics kept track of them until they were out of range. The winter months were the ones when they lost the most people even though it was the most dangerous time of year for travel.

That month not many showed up at circle. Zee and Kevin continued staying together and didn’t show up at circle. Neither did Wayne or his soloed student. Tobal suspected they were waiting out the winter together. Char and her partner didn’t come either and it was probably because of the bitter cold this time of year. Tara and Nick were not there either. Those were just clansmen Tobal had hoped to see but didn’t.

Mike and Butch showed up in high spirits and looking to have some fun with the girls like last month. They were hoping for a little casual sex with no strings attached. Just something to release the tension of cabin fever that started to grow this time of year. Last months’ week long celebration had given the two eternal optimists much encouragement and they hoped to push their luck again. The trouble was no matter how much they tried none of the girls seemed interested.

Crow was back and talking with the others when Tobal got there. They all looked as he came over. Becca slipped into his arms and gave him a passionate kiss.

“Everyone knows,” she whispered in his ear.

“Knows what?” He said with a grin. Teasing one of her stray hairs back in place.

“About the rogues, your parents, Crow’s parents, Sarah’s parents, the massacre and the possible attack on the village.”

“What!” His smile vanished.

“I told Melanie and Nikki,” she confessed. “On the way to sanctuary last month. It seemed important. They are both very concerned. But Crow has been telling everyone else since he came in this morning. He’s getting a group together to go to the village to ensure its protection.”

He turned to listen to the rest of the group. Anne, Derdre, Seth and Sarah were all going to visit the village. Sarah was hoping to meet Howling Wolf and ask about her mother. Anne, Derdre and Seth had just come from soloing and didn’t feel like training any newbies in the extreme cold. They needed a little social time after an entire month of being alone.

The village was within the area the medics monitored and it wouldn’t be as if they had left the area. They had heard stories of the rogues and believed Crow when he said it wasn’t the villagers causing the attacks.

Crow looked at Tobal, “Grandfather says it is good if I bring as many others as I can. He says it will help ensure the safety of the village. He says you can come if you want.”

“You have been in contact with your Grandfather about this?”

Crow nodded, “We are only planning on staying there for a month and then coming back. The main point is to show there is good will between the village and us and that we are in contact with each other when we need to be.

Grandfather thinks the city needs to know this. We will all be leaving in the morning.”

Tobal couldn’t think of anything useful to say. “Can you talk to Ellen before you go?”

“Sure,” Crow replied. “Things will be fine.”

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Sleep Walker

Deeply dreaming she wanders
Without fear,
A radiant joy suffuses
Her tender cheeks.

The moonlight wraps around
Her slender limbs,
Ecstatic, enraptured, she smiles
As she looks down at you.

You call to her, she comes,
Then watch her fade away,
As she lies down at your feet,
Prepared to die.

-Mia Holm
translated by Joe Bandel

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Chapter 19

Tobal glanced over the fire and noticed the girls had left. He saw them by the food table and he went to refill his tankard with hot grog. He wondered what he was going to tell them when he ran into them again. He felt like avoiding them.

Then his mind turned to the strange greeting they had given him when he had sat with them. What had been going on? What had prompted both of them to kiss him that way? He was even more interested in his own reaction to Becca when she kissed him. He knew he had done or said something wrong and didn’t know what it was. He hadn’t meant to hurt her.

Tobal in spite of himself became more curious about Becca and watched her as he sipped the hot grog. It pleased him that both Melanie and Becca had completed their own base camps and were training some newbies during the winter months. They were both obviously very talented and competent in the art of survival.
Zee and Kevin came up to the beer barrel where he was standing and sipping his
grog.

“You’ve got to try this grog.” He told them. “It’s Dirk’s special recipe!”

Dirk laughed and handed them a small bowl to sample.

“That is pretty good,” Kevin remarked. “I think I will try some instead of beer.”

“Me too,” Zee laughed.

“You guys seem like you are having a good time.” Tobal grinned. “How about
some Yule Tide Carols?”

“You know any?” Kevin challenged.

“How about O’ Christmas Tree?”

They laughed and burst into a rousing chorus of “Oh, Christmas tree” that Dirk and Tobal joined in with. Soon the idea caught on and later even the drums kept time to timeless Christmas classics that dated from old eon Christianity as well as modern Yule songs. The ancient Christian tradition of Christmas was not completely forgotten and the Lord and Lady celebrated the birth of the Christ spirit within each person’s heart as well. It was a curious mixture of old and new that stirred memories of the past and brought hope for the future.

Tobal mingled and mixed with people he only knew by sight introducing himself and getting to know them. Later he accidentally intruded on an amorous couple as he was searching for a warm spot to sleep for the night and stumbled out in embarrassment.

It made him wonder if he was ready for a romantic relationship with anyone. The events of the past year had been so intense he had always pushed the thought away without carefully examining it. Now in the dead of winter with romantic couples all around it was rubbed in his face. He was thinking about it as he finally fell asleep.

Each night was a drum circle and dancing that went well into the morning hours and it was a luxury to sleep in and have nothing pressing to do except play games with friends. The late mornings and early afternoons were spent just doing camp cores and making everything ready for the evening’s entertainment.

The second day was bright and cold. This day was spent mainly in honor of the soloists that would be leaving in the morning and missing the rest of the celebration. There were talent shows with singing and juggling acts and other interesting demonstrations. These took place in one of the heated permanent log buildings.

Everyone was expected to participate and share some skill or talent. Tobal enjoyed watching the talents of others but dreaded his turn. He didn’t know what he was going to do and didn’t feel he was that good at anything. Luckily those going to solo went first and it would take a day before it got to him.

Crow dazzled everyone with magic tricks and sleight of hand that had the audience laughing and left them wondering how he did it. Especially his final disappearing act when he simply was not there anymore leaving only some smoke. Tobal wondered if he had really disappeared but then later wondered if he had really been there at all.

Perhaps he had done his entire act while his physical body lay asleep in one of the nearby teepees doing that bi-location thing.

Anne was a palm reader and kept the crowd entertained as she did private readings for anyone brave enough to hear their future. She had a corner set up with a table in the beer brewery where it was warm and quiet. There was a long line waiting to see her. He noticed Melanie, Becca, and Nikki were all waiting in line together laughing and chatting.

Seth surprised everyone by reciting long poems from memory and putting a lot of feeling into it. It seemed he had a photographic memory and could remember every word he ever read. He chose Edgar Allen Poe’s classic, “The Raven”, and “The Face on the Bar Room Floor” by D’Arcy. Tobal cheered and yelled with the rest of them. Seth really was good! Tobal was really impressed since he had trouble remembering anything at all.

When Derdre’s turn came Tobal felt himself wondering what she would do. He was really amazed when she was an artist and willing to make caricature drawings of anyone. He couldn’t resist and waited in line with a piece of paper and pencil for her to make a quick caricature sketch of himself. He was delighted with the result and couldn’t wait to show some of his friends later that evening. He never did get his own palm read. Maybe he could do that later.

Misty as HighPriestess led a very special meditation and ritual for the Yule celebration and the blessings of the Lord and Lady. Tobal was wearing his mother’s jade and amber necklace and his father’s dagger. He carried the hospital bracelets with him in his medicine bag that he carried about his neck and the wand strapped to his left leg above his boot. He was wearing these things during the ritual.

His eyes were closed and he was imagining sitting on the floor of the secret cave beneath the waterfall. He was sitting in front of the central fire and had a heavy fur robe draped over his shoulders so he was warm and comfortable even outside in the dark.

He had been practicing the meditation Crow had taught him and the impressions were becoming extremely vivid when his right arm was jostled and he opened his eyes in annoyance and looked up.

A man was sitting cross legged grinning at him. The man reached over and placed his hand on the dagger before Tobal could react.

“Hi son,” he said. “Your mom and I have been waiting a long time to get this chance to sit and talk.”

“Yes we have,” a rich melodious voice joined in from the left. “I see you have found some of the things we left for you.” She leaned forward and touched the necklace and he felt energy like electricity flow through it and fill him.

As his father touched the dagger and his mother touched the necklace they both seemed to take on a more solid appearance. They also seemed to have more strength and energy.

They were both sitting cross legged on the ground in front of him. His father was on his right side and his mother on his left. They were dressed in the red robes of Master. Tobal drank in the sight of them, faces he had not seen since he was two years old.

He wanted to burn this moment into his memory for eternity and always remember his parents as he was seeing them now. His mother wore her hair long and in braids. She had beautiful lips and gray eyes that twinkled at him. He saw the rise and fall of her breasts through an opening in her robe. He reached out to her and she held him tightly against her. His eyes burned and he blinked back tears.

“Are you really alive?” He blinked hardly daring to hope.

He turned to his father and gripped his hand firmly. His father had long dark curly hair and a thick beard with strong muscular arms and shoulders. Suddenly he was in his father’s arms being crushed in a loving bear hug. He felt his father’s hands on his shoulders gently pushing him away and back down on his cushion.

His father and mother looked at each other and then back at him. There was love in their eyes and humor too. They got up and stood in front of him. Suddenly they seemed taller and more powerful as the room radiated like the sun and his eyes squinted against the brightness. Their robes dropped and they stood as High Priest and High Priestess before him in nude splendor holding hands like the figures in the gold medallion.

“We are the Lord and Lady of the Oak.” They said and seemed to swirl and move like heat waves until they turned two dimensional and receded back into the life sized images painted on the cave wall above the altar. “You have our blessings always. We will talk more later.”

Tobal felt a snapping sound at the base of his neck and suddenly found himself no longer in the secret cave but in the circle at the Yule celebration ritual. Misty and the High Priest were standing in front of him with their arms extended in blessing.

Above the central fire he could see the smiling faces of his father and mother. He was elated and shaken by what had happened and wanted to talk with someone about it. Crow was probably getting ready to leave. Maybe he could find Ellen and ask her. She was supposed to know about talking to the Lord and Lady.

He noticed Angel taking part in the ritual as helper and wondered if she was going to be taking Misty’s place soon. He found an excuse to talk with her and found out she was training but it would be several months until she was ready to take Misty’s place. Serving on the ritual team was not a mandatory part of being a Master.

Only those that felt called to serve on the ritual team did so. Since all ritual positions of all three degrees were voluntary there was quite a change in the number of qualified people. She had seen Ellen around but didn’t know where she was. Tobal thanked her and moved on.

He suddenly remembered Crow would be leaving soon and he needed to give him his present. Crow was chatting with some of the others as Tobal pulled him aside and gave him his gift and wished him well on his solo.

Tobal had finished his little carvings and it was time to give them to his friends as Christmas presents. He had carefully polished them and laced them on rawhide thongs to wear around the neck like amulets. As he gave them away he loved the looks of surprise and pleasure that lit his friends faces as they accepted the gift.

He found each of his friends and pulled them aside for a minute to quietly give them their gift. He gave Rafe the fox, Melanie got a loon, Sarah got a beaver, Ellen got an eagle and Crow got a wolf. He had made an owl for Nick but Nick was with Tara and he didn’t have anything for her.

As everyone was showing each other their gifts he noticed Becca sitting by herself and looking a little lost and lonely. Summoning up his courage he went over to where she was sitting. He looked down into her troubled green eyes and felt himself being helplessly pulled into them. Tearing his gaze away, he averted his eyes and held out the owl to her.

“Here,” he said gruffly. Then he turned around and walked away, his face contorting with the conflicting emotions he was feeling. Mostly he felt glad and happy. It was like he had finally lain to rest a demon that had been tormenting his inner soul.

He noticed Becca seemed strangely happy and had gone over to share her gift with the others and was chatting gaily. It was good to be with friends, he thought as he made his way to the beer barrel for another tankard and some light conversation with Anne, Derdre and Seth before they left.

This was the first time he was able to really catch up with what was going on in the lives of other clansmen and he took advantage of it as much as he could. The first one he really had a chance to chat with was Wayne. He seemed to have gotten over his breakup with Char and was very protective of his newbie.

Tobal noticed wryly that Wayne’s newbie was a cute brunette with an impish smile and a little girl look that made her appear more helpless than she really was. She had already soloed so he knew she was able to take care of herself. He didn’t understand why she chose to act like she couldn’t. She was very clingy with Wayne and it seemed she was going to wait out at least a few of the coldest months with him before trying to train on her own.

Wayne seemed to be taking it all in stride and was very comfortable with the situation but Tobal noticed that Char kept glancing over at her and didn’t seem too happy about the arrangement. He could feel the tension in the air and mentally reaffirmed something Rafe had told him about not getting into romantic relationships with newbies.

It seemed like it only led to problems and often the newbie didn’t have the skills to just up and leave on their own. Rafe had always told him to get the solos out of the way first and watching this thing between Wayne and Char, he found that he had to agree.

He spoke with some of the others he didn’t know very well and then went over to the drum circle and sat near the fire feeling the beat of the drums against his body. It was restful and he had many things on his mind. He didn’t really feel like dancing. Much later he decided it was time for sleep and headed for bed.

He cleared a spot for sleeping in one of the teepees and spread some furs on the floor. He put more wood on the fire in the center and pulled his clothes off. He was sliding in between his blankets when the door flap on the teepee opened with a gust of cold air and in the fire light he saw Becca slip in through the door and reclose it.

She turned toward him and in a husky voice asked, “Can I sleep here tonight?”

Wordlessly he sat up and took her pack setting it down to one side. He helped her out of her furs and she slid under the blankets with him feeling warm and smooth against his body. Their hands stroked and explored each other gently and then with more urgency. She moaned and gasped at his touch. His body thrilled at her touch. Soundlessly their lips merged and later their bodies joined in an explosion of uncontrolled passion.

Tobal woke up to the crackle of the flames in the fire. Becca’s arm was across his chest and she was cuddled up against him. He moved a little and she smiled but didn’t wake up. He spent the next hour laying there looking at her face lying next to him. He didn’t want to wake her up. He just wanted to remember forever.

Morning came and the flames died down to the point it was getting cold in the teepee when Becca finally woke up. Seeing she was awake he took advantage and slipped out of the blankets to stir up the fire and put more wood on it.

Any other sleepers had already left for breakfast and they had the teepee to themselves. He was aware of her green eyes watching his naked body as he moved about the cold room and dived back under the blankets. She moved away from him.

“You’re cold,” she whispered. Her eyes laughing.

“Then warm me up,” he challenged and she did. They missed breakfast, but hunger pangs forced them out for lunch.

The third day of the Yule festival was Sunny and bitter cold. But Tobal hardly noticed as he and Becca grabbed some food and headed over to watch the talent show. Melanie gave an impressive knife throwing exhibition that drew applause from the crowd and also a growing respect as she hit several thrown targets while they were still in the air. As she left the stage she saw them at the back of the room and moved toward them smiling.

“It’s about time the two of you storm clouds got together,” she teased. “Now maybe the rest of us can have some fun without getting rained on.”

“Storm clouds?” Tobal asked puzzled.

“Don’t give me any of that crap,” she put her hands on her hips. “I’ve not only had to listen to you, but I’ve had to listen to her,” and she pointed at Becca who was smiling. “When ever the two of you are within six feet of each other there is so much static electricity in the air that it makes my hair stand up and anyone else’s that’s was around you. The whole camp has been making bets on when the two of you would finally get together.”

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I Don’t Know What

It comes to me, I don’t know what,
It comes to me, I don’t know how.
It climbs into my eyes, moist;
It fills my heart with harmony.

It blows me like flowers in the wind,
Seems puzzling, and yet so clear,
It is not God; It is not my child,
And yet is as wonderful as both.

-Mia Holm
translated by Joe Bandel

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“I can see that,” Rafe nodded. “Sure, I’ll be there. Where are we meeting anyway? It’s cold out there.”

“You getting soft in your old age?” Tobal joked. “You just keep lots of that grog on hand. I was thinking of meeting out by the central fire like we did last time.”

Rafe sighed, “Ok, right after circle then. Did you see Dirk made his fifth chevron?”

“Already congratulated him, how about you?”

“Maybe next time,” Rafe said. “The fights are getting more even. I can’t wait till you get to be a Journeyman and get your butt whipped all the time.” He chuckled.

“Well I’ve got to leave and get hold of Ellen.” He turned toward the door.

“Sure, changing the subject,” Rafe laughed as Tobal went out.

It was mid afternoon and he arranged with both Crow and Ellen to meet immediately after circle by the central fire. Ellen had changed into her robe and was getting ready for circle. She was one of the few non-ritual team members that was going to be wearing a robe. It was so cold most of the others including Tobal were wearing their furs to circle. He asked her about it.

“Oh, I’ll be alright,” she laughed. “I’ll be next to the fire and can keep warm there.”

“Well, I’ll have some extra blankets or furs by me if you get cold,” he told her.

“Thanks Tobal, but I won’t need them really. Especially tonight since I’m so keyed up.”

“What’s up?”

“I’m training to be High Priestess of the Journeyman Circle. It is quite different than this one. Misty will keep doing this one for awhile yet.”

“That’s great,” he grinned. “You will be High Priestess when I become Journeyman. You will probably get to initiate me again.”

She smiled, “we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ve got to get to the circle now though. See you later, ok?”

With that she gave Tobal a hug and he went looking for the girls. More and more he looked forward to the circle time he shared with Melanie and Becca and sometimes Nikki. He had come to think of it as something they did together as friends.

He had noticed the last few months that Melanie was spending a lot of time with Becca. Part of him was sad and upset but part of him was honest enough to realize Becca was a lot different than he had imagined her to be. He had been thinking about her quite a bit these last few days and didn’t really know why. She wasn’t at all what he had expected. She hadn’t shown the vicious, aggressive behavior she had during the disastrous night of the Halloween dance.

Instead, she seemed more aloof, unemotional and withdrawn as if she was hiding some deep secret or misery and keeping it to herself. It was only with Melanie that she seemed to cheer up and laugh about things. Several times he suspected they might be laughing about him but pushed that thought away. He was hoping to get a little time alone with Melanie. But it seemed that was not to be and with good humor he filled his tankard and moved over to sit beside the two girls.

“There any room for me?” He teased.

Melanie and Becca both jumped with delight and took turns giving him a hug and a kiss. Melanie’s hug was delicious and his arms folded around her as their lips met in a kiss that was longer and more passionate than he had been expecting. He took his time thoroughly enjoying it and almost regretfully stepped back.

“My turn”, Becca quipped and stepped up to him with a glint in her green eyes he didn’t recognize. She pulled the hood off and shook her red hair so that it cascaded freely around the fur of her jacket. Then she reached up and pulled his own hood back and ran her fingers through the hair at his temples till her fingers found the back of his neck and pulled his lips down to hers.

It seemed as if the universe had stopped and there was only this one moment frozen in eternity as he breathed her essence into his lungs and heart and breathed his back into her. Almost reflexively his arms tightened around her and crushed her against his body. Their lips fed on each other with a passion that consumed them in a whirlwind of feelings he had never felt before.

He moved first lifting his head up and shifting his grip as he stepped back. Her eyes met his in a soundless plea that he couldn’t answer. He saw the hurt come into her eyes as he moved back and looked away.

“Wow,” he said. “ I need to sit down after all that and I’d better sit between you two so you don’t fight over me.”

Instantly he knew that he had done and said the wrong thing. Both girls instantly went from being glad to see him to cold as death itself. He pulled the hood back up and so did Becca. They sat in frozen silence.

He tried joking and asking about their month but nothing worked. He was actually relieved when Nikki came over to join them. If Nikki noticed that anything was wrong she didn’t mention it and soon all three girls were laughing and telling stories between initiations.

They were however, very curious and envious of his new decorative clothing. He told them Crow had taught him. He opened his fur coat and showed the beautiful beadwork and porcupine needles stitched carefully and decoratively on the comfortable buckskin clothing he was wearing.

“How does Crow know these things?” Becca asked curiously. “I thought you were supposed to be training him. Not he training you?”

The girls laughed and Tobal blushed. “I just got lucky,” he said. “Crow grew up in a village about two hundred miles west of here.” He instantly wished he hadn’t said anything about the village.

“You mean the rogue village?” Nikki asked.

“You really need to talk with Crow about that,” he said. “I’d really like to stay and chat,” he said. “But I’ve got to talk with Rafe and Ellen right now.”

“You are always talking with Rafe or Ellen.” Nikki pouted. “You spend more time talking with them then you do with us. What’s that about anyway? Are you too good for us?”

That last comment had a little bite to it and Melanie and Becca looked at each other. Tobal didn’t like to leave things that way. It just didn’t seem right. He sighed.

“It’s about increased rogue activity,” he said. “I’ll tell you about it later if you are really interested.”

“You promise?” Melanie asked suddenly suspicious. “There’s something going on that you are not telling us. You can’t lie worth a damn Tobal. No one is in danger are they?”

“We don’t really know.” He pleaded. “I’ve got to go. I’ll talk later ok?”

Then he stood up and left before they stopped him or asked if they could come with. He went around to the other side of the fire circle and waited, painfully aware that Nikki, Melanie, and Becca were not leaving the fire circle either. They were going to watch the meeting from across the fire.

Rafe was the first to join and then Crow. Ellen came last. She had changed out of her robe into furs. She smiled at Tobal.

“I almost took you up on that offer.” She said shivering. “I was freezing on one side and roasting on the other side all night. You were right. I should have worn my furs. I didn’t really need the robe.”

She looked at the others, “Are we ready?”

Tobal cleared his throat hesitantly. “We might have a problem.”

All three turned to look at him expectantly.

“Becca, Melanie and Nikki are on to us. They know something is up and want to know about it. They are sitting across the fire from us now.”

Crow, Ellen and Rafe turned and looked across the fire and the three girls smiled and waved at them.

Ellen sighed, “I still don’t think we should tell any more people than we need to about this. This could be very dangerous and I don’t even want you talking to any of the other medics about it. Please?”

Reluctantly they all agreed and turned back toward the issue at hand with Ellen taking the leadership role.

“There are still many tracks around the lake area.” She told them. “I continue to patrol it every other day but never see anyone. I am convinced they know when I am coming because of my med-alert bracelet. They know I am coming and hide.”

“It gets worse,” she said. “There is a growing rumor the rogues are from the primitive village west of here. There is another rumor that the city is planning an attack on the village to make the area safe for all those that are claiming sanctuary.

“They are planning to attack my village!” Crow demanded. “Why? We have no technology to track people like you say the rogues do. We do not even have med-alert bracelets. I need to leave immediately and warn my grandfather.” He got up to leave but Tobal stopped him.

“You said your grandfather, Howling Wolf has trained you in the ways of the shaman?”

Crow nodded in the affirmative, his dark eyes flashing. “Yes, that is true.”

“Well,” Tobal suggested. “Can you get a spirit message to your grandfather instead so you don’t have to travel there physically?”

Crow pondered the question and Tobal could see he was visibly relaxing. “Yes, I can send a message to him that way. I will do it tonight after this meeting.”

“Good,” he said. “That means you can use next month to complete your solo. It would be a shame to not finish your solo since you have worked so hard at it.”

“I will ask Grandfather,” Crow said stiffly. “I will do as he suggests. My own parents were massacred and buried in a mass grave. I don’t want my grandfather or my village to suffer the same fate.”

The mention of Howing Wolf jarred something loose inside Tobal’s mind and he tried fitting things together. Howling Wolf just knew too much and was in the center of too many things. He had trained his parents in bi-location and hand-fasted them together. He had built the cairn over the mass grave by the waterfall. He was somehow in contact with Sarah’s father. Perhaps it was Howling Wolf the rogues were interested in and not the village itself.

“Maybe they are interested in Howling Wolf and not the village?”

“That would mean my sister and I would be in even greater danger,” Crow told him.

Rafe said, “We need to know more about the village and the city of Heliopolis. We also need to know more about the sanctuary program.” He looked at Ellen. “Is there anyway you can research some local history on the computer and find out what the official story line is on all this stuff? I’m getting so many versions that my head is going to split.”

Ellen nodded, “That’s a good idea. I’ll see what I can dig up for our next meeting. Now”, she turned to Crow, “Can you fill me in on what you’ve told Tobal.”

Crow again told the story of the Lord and Lady and the research at the lake. He told of the part his parents and his grandfather had played in it. He also mentioned how the Lord and Lady had taught his grandfather and the others in a secret location to go on special journeys where they would disappear and return at a later time bringing objects back with them. That’s when he floored Ellen and Rafe by saying the Lord and Lady, Tobal’s parents were still alive and needed their help.

Ellen was visibly shaken and didn’t know what to say. She finally asked how the Lord and Lady spoke to him and questioned him about his experiences. Tobal had forgotten Ellen was training as a High Priestess for the Journeyman degree and was expected to speak with the Lord and Lady. She was obviously having some trouble with the concept that the Lord and Lady were Tobal’s parents and that they were still alive as physical beings.

It was shortly after that when she excused herself and the meeting was over. Crow went to warn his grandfather the village might be attacked and he might be in danger. Rafe stayed for a few extra minutes talking with Tobal.

Tobal wondered why Ellen felt none of the Masters/medics could be trusted. It seemed strange since Rafe knew several of them and trusted them. Perhaps it was not the people, Rafe suggested. Perhaps it had something to do with the job of being a medic that made it dangerous to confide in them. Anyway it was a puzzle with no ready answer.

Perhaps Rafe would learn the answer when he became a Master. He was at four chevrons and could get his fifth and sixth at any time. Rafe especially would be seeing Ellen on a regular basis at Journeyman circles and could get word from Tobal to her in case of an emergency. On that note they separated and went on to other things.

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Difference

The bright tears, like light dew,
That my lovely boy cries,
Dry quickly, when the warm
Summer sun shines once more.

But mine are like rain drops
In a bleak autumnal world,
Frozen to ice over night,
And fall down, tear after tear.

-Mia Holm
translated by Joe Bandel

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Chapter 18

By the middle of December Tobal felt he had learned twice as much from Crow as he had learned from Rafe and was certain the boy could have soloed any time he wanted to.

He had also been practicing the drills and exercises Crow had instructed him in and was getting steady results. These exercises always stirred up deeply buried and repressed emotions from his past and troubled his dreams with threatening ghostly images. His dreams were vivid and violent. As he persisted with the exercises his dreaming self became more powerful and he was able to change the outcome of his dreams.

“The shaman must be able to travel in three worlds,” Crow told Tobal one evening in the middle of December. “There is the underworld that contains the land of the dead and creatures of the earth. There is the spirit world that is full of wondrous creatures of light and there is the real world.

The shaman must be able to travel in any of these worlds because he never knows where a missing soul part has been taken. The hardest and most difficult soul retrievals are when the missing pieces are taken to the land of the dead. Even the most experienced shaman fears this place and will only go there with a protector. The Lord and Lady are my protectors,” he said proudly. “They brought the spirits of my parents out from the land of the dead and allowed them to speak with me.”

“There is something missing in your aura Tobal,” he told him. “That is why you need a soul retrieval. A part of your soul is missing and needs to be brought back before you can become whole and happy.” Crow said, “You were right about no evil within the circle. The Lord and Lady protect it at all times. But they have told me they are growing weaker and able to protect clansmen as they once were. There is trouble coming soon and I will need to do another soul retrieval besides yours. They said it is very important that I be prepared.”

They did the soul retrieval for Tobal one night the week before circle. Crow made him lie down on the mat and then started drumming in the small teepee. That was all Tobal remembered because he fell asleep. When he awoke Crow was grinning at him and shaking him gently. He was holding a hollow bone in his hand.

“Tobal, wake up,” Crow was shaking him. “I have the missing part of your soul right here and am ready to give it back to you.” He continued, “You left it with someone and they don’t want it anymore. But you do need to give this person a gift in return. It is very important. Do you understand?”

Tobal nodded groggily as he was not yet awake. Then Crow put the hollow bone to his mouth and blew into Tobal’s face and on
his chest. A small dust like powder came out of the bone and covered him. He felt a wave of emotion and energy enter into his lungs and heart as tears of joy formed in his eyes. He didn’t know what had happened but something dead inside his heart was rekindled in a blaze of light and happiness. He wondered at the change in himself over the next couple days. He also wondered who and what Crow really
was.

Tobal noticed the medics flying around much more during the winter months as they kept closer tabs on everyone to see they were doing all right. When Tobal announced at circle that Crow was ready to solo many elders were concerned about his size and age. They almost didn’t allow it. It took the testimony of several medics to confirm the activities of Tobal and Crow during the past two months before the elders agreed. Tobal was shocked at the extent his activities had been monitored. He had suspected some monitoring but never suspected the true extent the medics monitored things. He was gladder than ever that he had not tried going back to the lake.

Anne, Derdre and Seth were proclaimed ready to solo. The elders were giving the same exhaustive grilling to each of them they had given Crow. In this bitter weather there were no second chances and accidents did happen. There had been one death this past month. A Journeyman had gotten caught in a snow slide and the medics had not been able to rescue him in time. Any type of solo activity was kept to an absolute minimum if possible. The medics especially kept a close eye on the newbies that were soloing during the winter months and encouraged everyone else to partner up and use the buddy system.

The Circle of Elders consisted of Masters and was voluntary. They determined if newbies were ready to solo and mediated any disputes among clansmen. They also awarded the chevrons to both Apprentices and to Journeymen.

Ellen had always served on it since Tobal had been there. It had been her support that decided the other elders in favor of letting Crow solo. Of course she knew Crow was Howling Wolf’s grandson from the village but she never mentioned it. Tobal made a special note that he needed to talk with Ellen later that night. He wanted to know if she had found out anything about the rogue attacks.

He saw Sarah bundled in her furs and walked over giving her a big hug and a kiss.

“How are things going?”he asked.

“I didn’t realize how cold it gets out here.” She grinned. “I don’t think I’ve really been warm since I left home. We spend a lot of time getting wood for the fire.”

“How is Ben doing?” He laughed. “He’s getting his initiation tonight right?”

“Oh, he’s really doing well,” she grinned excitedly. “He will be initiated tonight and train with me for another month. If he can solo in this weather, he can survive in anything. I think he will be ready to solo next month if he wants to.” Her face got serious. “I wouldn’t force him to solo in this weather if he didn’t want to. I wouldn’t force anyone to solo in weather like this. You have to be part crazy to enjoy being out in weather like this living off the land.”

“It gets easier the longer you are out here,” he comforted her. “Either that or we just get crazier the longer we are out here.” He chuckled, “Perhaps there is some of both.”

Tobal was really proud of how well Sarah had been doing with Ben. She had come a long way from the girl in the antique shop he had once known. She had strength and a confidence that made her very attractive. This had been good for her.

There was a howling wind with blowing snow and no one seemed in any hurry to get into his or her robes. Everyone kept wearing their furs and stayed huddled together close to the fires. Warm spiced drinks were even more popular than the beer was. There was a festive feeling in the air and people were in high spirits.

This was the Yule celebration and the celebration of new light into the earth and into the spirit. It marked the time when the days started getting longer and carried the promise of spring. It was half way through the winter season and by now a person knew if they were prepared for the winter or not. It was also a time of giving and sharing with others. Cabin fever often made the long winter months difficult and this halfway spot gave everyone relief. As many clansmen as possible tried making it into circle for the Yule celebration and the relief of having other people to talk to.

Zee, Kevin and Wayne’s newbies had each completed their solo and were being congratulated. That made two chevrons for Zee, Kevin and Wayne. He made a point to go over and congratulate them too. Soloing in the middle of the winter was not that easy. Many of the Apprentices still had some trouble just surviving and staying warm. This was Tobal’s first winter and he wasn’t finding it that easy himself. Or rather it wasn’t a simple walk in the park like summer had been.

In the winter you really had to work for food and firewood and you had to deal with the long nights cooped up in the teepee. Especially if you were by yourself. The loneliness was very hard to deal with.

Wayne had been Char’s teacher. Char came to Yule with her partner. He spent a little time chatting with them but Char was obviously not in a good mood and he soon gave it up and moved on.

The Yule celebration was to be an entire week of feasting and celebration. Since travel was so difficult most clan members elected to stay a few extra days and party. It had become the tradition. Hunters went out and brought enough food to keep the camp in meat. People brought dried herbs and vegetables they had saved for the communal stew pot.

Tobal had brought more honey as a special treat. Some of the medics had somehow managed to find flour and baking supplies. Bread was a welcome change in a diet that had so much meat during the winter time. They also brought frozen vegetables from somewhere that reminded everyone of the coming spring and lush vegetation.

The newbies that were going to solo were allowed to stay for the first and second day of events but then needed to leave. The first day of the celebration was like a normal Circle day with the initiations and drum circle in the evenings. The second day continued with a talent show in the afternoon and a special Yule Ritual and meditation in the evening. That was when Tobal planned on giving his gifts to his friends before Crow left on his solo.

The things Crow had told him about his parents kept going through his mind circling restlessly. Was it possible they really were alive after all these years? Could he train himself enough so they would be able to talk with him like they did to Crow? What about his uncle? Why had his uncle not told him these things?

Was it because of the classified nature of the project or didn’t he really know. It was pretty obvious his uncle didn’t believe anyone was still alive that worked with his parents or he would have agreed to let him go to Old Seattle in the first place.

What did they mean when his parents told Crow they were getting weaker? Were they dying? Is that why the rogue attacks seemed to be increasing? They needed to find the secret meeting place his parents used before they died?

Tobal hoped not. His uncle had said he had closed the program down. Why were his parents still captive?

Questions that just led to more questions and no real answers. They made his head spin. All he knew for sure was that Crow needed to talk with Ellen and Rafe before he left. He had better set a meeting up for tonight during the party. With that in mind he first turned to look for Rafe at the Beer barrel and brewery.

“You’ve got five chevrons now!” He slapped Dirk on the back and raised a foaming mug in salute. “Soon you are going to make medic and be riding one of those drafty air sleds all over the mountains saving our asses.”

“Next month,” Dirk grinned. “I’ve got it planned. Going to challenge someone I know I can beat. It’s a sure thing.”

“Are you really that sure of beating this person?”

Dirk grinned, “I hope so. I can use a change of life style. Kind of boring making beer all month except when I’m getting beat up. Hey, try some of this hot stuff Rafe and I cooked up. It’s like a spiced grog.” He handed Tobal a wooden bowl full of a hot liquid with floating things in it.

Tobal suspiciously sipped it, “That’s really good! I think I’ll have more when I finish this beer. It’s warm too! Just what I need right now. Where’s Rafe hanging out? I need to ask him something.”

“He’s in the brew house getting another batch of grog ready.”

“Thanks, I’ll go check on him.”

“There you are!” He called as he stepped inside the warm log building that served as a brewery. Rafe looked like a mad scientist hunched over a steaming bucket of grog he was stirring vigorously. He smiled as he looked up.

“Tobal! What brings you here? Are we out of grog? Did Dirk send you?”

“Not really,” he said. “I’m just trying to get together a meeting between you, Ellen, Crow and myself tonight after circle. I think it’s important and want to get it over with before Crow leaves on his solo. That makes tonight the best time.”

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