Morgan allowed herself only a few short moments to grieve her brother’s future and her own. Their entire lives had been orchestrated by Merlin, and their deaths, it seemed, would also be. But the Mother was the final arbiter; Morgan had faith in that. Perhaps this was not the only path they’d once been offered, for she did not believe in One Fate, but it was a path the Mother Goddess had considered and allowed, and so, Morgan knew, it held some purpose.
She wished it didn’t.
Once she’d allowed herself the briefest of moments to collect herself, she swiped her runes back into their leather bag and cinched it closed, tossing it aside on the work table. Mary Saffron’s unfinished illuminations still sat where they had when she’d left Avalon at the equinox and never returned. Though Theodosia was also well-lettered, she’d yet to feel ready continuing them.
Her Sisters were about their own activities, but the evening was coming on and soon she would find them all in the grove, where the Goddess would be waiting for them. Morgan reached the oracle pool and collapsed against the stone-built edge, her head in her hands. It was there that Nimue found her and rested a hand on her shoulder.
They sat in silence for a moment but the Goddess always gave Nimue something to say, whether Morgan wanted to hear it or not.
“The Goddess has given you a great weight, Sweostor,” Nimue finally observed.
Morgan rubbed at her eyes, and inhaled a deep breath to steady herself. “It is not the Goddess, but the druid.”
Nimue sat next to her, depositing a reed basket by her feet. “Merlin came?” Unease colored her voice before it shifted into disdain. “What could he need from us that magic doesn’t already give him?”
Morgan finally looked up to meet Nimue’s eyes, unsettlingly always the same color as the sky, no matter the weather. “Obedience.”
Nimue removed her hand from Morgan’s shoulder to rub her own, as if by embracing herself she could protect herself from the old druid’s machinations. “Will we give it?” she asked, after a long moment.
That was the question, wasn’t it? Their sisterhood was a woman short, and had been since Christian knights—possibly in service of her own brother—killed Mary Saffron, taking her sword and armor, but leaving her body and magic for Theodosia to find, not far from the failing barrier of mist.
“We must all vote,” Morgan murmured and felt Nimue’s calm acceptance beside her. Nimue was always steady; she had a connection to the Goddess Morgan envied—the Goddess had never spoken to Morgan, not directly. Yet, it seemed as if Nimue walked with the Goddess beside her at all times. What comfort that would bring a woman. Especially a woman such as Morgan, at this moment.
At sunset, the remaining Sisters entered the grove, each bringing a cellar of purified salt and placing it at one of the eight points of the star. Morgan deposited some at Mary Saffron’s point and moved to the center stone to lay her own protective offering. It was Samhain, and the year was pushing towards its death—seemingly, as they all were.
They called down their magic and with it came the mist, spreading out around them and seeping through the trees to the water beyond. It was not as thick as it should’ve been or used to be, but it was needed still. They would need to find another to complete their circle, but messengers to the other temples had come back with disappointing news. Women with magic were disappearing; the Christian church took them to monasteries or gave them to wife to men of their own faith, and those were the ones found alive. The druids were of little help—men, even those with magic, even those who worshipped a feminine goddess—thought nothing of them. Whatever help they would find, they would gather themself.
They pooled their magic and lit a bonfire around the oracle well, a great circling wall of flame taller than they were. Their voices mourned the dying of the light while rejoining in the mysteries darkness brought, for mysteries were the domaine of the goddess, and therefore darkness was its own magic to them. The night rolled in faster than it should have, as their chanting and songs called the darkness down to lay over their shoulders like fox skin mantles, warm and comforting and smelling of the earth. As the stars rose above them, a hum built up all around. The low, chthonic sound of magic rising up from the earth that shared it with them, the sound of it rushing through the rivers beneath the ground, as it traversed ley-lines to temples across the world.
On Samhain and Beltane, witches could travel through their bonfires to those at other temples. And they could cross into the Otherworld, too, where the Fey ruled and few humans returned from. There was no magic without risk; the darkness was what powered it. The fear of what-if and Mother-save-me strong enough to charge their work for another half-year.
Once, Morgan had dreamt of a time when magic would thrive; when their power could be shared with more women; when they could hide themselves away from the Christians and never need to leave or be part of their endless warring. That was a dream long abandoned. She no longer wished for miracles.
This night, they all quietened as the flames settled into an orange glow, the humming of magic not quite eerie around them, but nevertheless noticed. Morgan had never been afraid of walking through the flames. Her aunt had taken her through at just nine years old and she’d done it twice a year since then, but Viviane was with the Goddess now, and all their elders with her. There were so few left of them. The loss of Mary Saffron seemed to have left each of them unnerved by the flames tonight; for if the Goddess would not save one of her own from the Christians, was she yet watching over them tonight?
But then, the image of her rowing her brother’s body through the mist flashed in her mind like a summer charm, and she no longer cared if the Fey took her. The men at court had always said she looked Fey, anyway. Perhaps she belonged there.
Morgan stepped into the fire, bare feet crunching over ashed and hollowed-out wood, the smell of smoke rising around her. But she didn’t burn, and as she crossed she saw glimpses of her sisters in Ys and Lyonesse, both places she’d travelled to, and further away: Arcadia, Themiskyra, Shangri-La, Brittia, Malakut, Atlantis and even cities she didn’t know the name of—all places where Sisters she’d never met were doing the same work this night. Their eyes met through the flames, as priestesses from all these holy cities stepped through their own fires and touched hands as they crossed.
This night, all eight of Avalon’s priestesses made it through the flames.
Once their work was done, they broke the circle and Morgan led her Sisters to the main house. They would vote on how to respond to Merlin’s warning, but first, she would announce a decision she should’ve made months ago.