Was on a good writing roll last week before a family camping trip. Hopefully, I can get back into the groove Monday.
Muscling through a million pages of introductory material and nonfiction disclaimers to FINALLY reach the heart of the matter. #TheFirstHighPriestess
Every good novel needs a powerful villain. I think I found mine for The First High Priestess. Meet Cathbad, a druid priest with lofty ambitions and a dark malevolent side.
Here’s an excerpt I’ve been working on today:
Cathbad emerged from the darkness of tree cover into the grove. A towering goose-feathered headdress plumed from his forehead, the fringe alternating between vanes of black and grey. Red deer antlers sprouting from either side of his head, the polished spread seven-hands wide, cast a terrifying image in the shadow lurking behind him. Draped in a mantle of wolf pelts, he carried a golden sceptre, pitted with divots that sparkled like starlight in the glow of the torches. Tonight, he channelled The Horned One, Cernunnos, a god of infinite power who ruled over beasts and man from his palace in the Otherworld.
A slight tilt of his head brought his gaze to bore through mine. A shiver ran down my spine as a curl raised his lip. The ritual provided Cathbad a gateway into the realm of the ancestors and access to immeasurable power.
Well, I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting a new writing project. This series would take place hundreds of years before we meet Avelynn but the lineage would be the same. Here, back in post-Roman Britain, in the wilds of Paganism, I’ve chosen to set the stage for the first high priestess on English soil. The following is the very first piece of writing in a story that is as elusive as the mists of time. Will be interesting to see where this one goes. 😀
The hem of my dress rippled along the shimmering quartz path that cleaved the outer circle, the stones of the ancient walkway crunching faintly underfoot, their resting place firmly entrenched by hundreds of reverent feet.
There was a time when entire villages of people—men, women, and children—would walk the path from one side to the other, entrusting the bones and prized possessions of their loved ones to the goddess, but those ages had long since passed, and the inner sanctum was reserved only for the priests.
Though I had been permitted to approach the outer circle with my father, I could tread no further. But even then, standing on the outside, I had marvelled at the earthen ditch, carved from the hill by hands that laboured beyond a time remembered, which marked the boundary between the living and the dead.
I cradled the urn containing my father’s remains, holding it tight to my chest, the weight of my transgression heavier with each tentative step as I passed through the inner circle of polished stone. The smooth surface of the sentinels flickered in the torchlight, blinking as if waking from a dream to see what would happen next.
I stepped onto the stone dais and knelt in front of the timber shelf, a triple spiral carved into its broad surface. I whispered the chants I had been taught, as much out of fear as out of respect, repeating the words over and over until they whirled like tendrils of smoke around the clearing. A gust of wind lifted the hair from my neck and sent shivers down my spine as I placed the urn on the convergence of the spirals and hung my head in deference.
My heart shook and stuttered, my muscles coiled like a caged beast rabid to escape. I had only a few moments before the druids returned. Eyes shut tight, I chanted faster and louder. The words roared like the thunder of waves crashing against the shore in my own ears, until suddenly, the whoosh and clamour retreated into silence.
I knelt not in the clearing on the hill, but in the middle of a great valley, surrounded on both sides by scarred and jagged mountains that clambered to the sky. A mid-day sun shone high above me and I basked in its warmth. A single coracle lapped gently at the water’s edge. Pulled by a force that I could neither explain nor deny, I climbed into the small craft, released the cord tethering it to the bank, and watched the sail billow, leading me across the tranquil surface to the other side.
A faint rustle exhaled from the stretched hide as the bottom of the boat glided ashore and I stepped overboard, my feet sinking softly into the silt. A raven circled, like thread wound round a distaff, its distant call announcing my arrival. When my gaze drifted to the mountains before me, the whole scene ebbed and swelled, undulating like waves of heat rising from burning coals. When my vision cleared a woman appeared before me. Dressed in glowing robes, as bright as the sun, I gasped at her beauty.
Her mouth didn’t move, though, I heard her speak as plainly as if a song bird called out through the trees. Her voice enveloped me.
“We’ve waited a long time for you to come.” She extended her hand and I opened mine in response. She placed into my outstretched palm a ring of silver. The outline of a woman had been carved onto its surface. Her hips and breasts swelled around a deeply indented waist. Her hair swept into the likeness of a bird, and under her feet reposed a wolf. On the inside, Ogham letters stretched from one of the edges to form the word Mother.
The golden vision blurred, the waves transforming until I stood before not one, but four shimmering women. Still, only one voice spoke from the depths of the river and the expanse of the sky. “You are the chosen one, to speak with one voice the echoes of our world. A high priestess of your people, a woman standing with one foot on either side of the great river.”
I slid the ring onto my first finger, the smooth metal nestling into a hollow as if it were always meant to belong.
“As we will it, so shall it be.” The women merged into one and when I looked into the depths of her golden eyes, in an instant, I was transported across lands and time, mist and worlds until I stood shaken in a cold, harsh wind, bathed in moonlight.
I stood in the clearing, my father’s remains resting at my feet. The torches still flickered, though the stones seemed to have dimmed, unmoved by my journey, having turned their shimmering faces away once more. I grabbed the burial urn and backed away, the hairs on my arms prickling, as if a storm had raged over the hill and great forks of lightning had severed the sky. I passed the sentinels of the inner circle, my footsteps faltering in my haste to retreat. It was only when I passed the outer circle, the weight of a silver ring burning into my skin that I turned my back on the power within and returned once more to the world of the living, knowing nothing would ever be the same.