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The Sisterhood, Part 1 - Defeat

"And so it begins..."

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Author's Notes

"There is little evidence to prove anything about the druids; it is mostly supposition and conjecture. The following, however, may be helpful. A Ban-Draoithe is a female druid. Legend infers that many women were druids, at a time when men and women were possibly equal in all ways. Druidic beliefs evolved from the Shamanistic philosophies of an early people who merged to form the Celts. These behaviours were deeply rooted in the "Ways of Nature" and the Otherworld, a belief structure centred around the concept of "balance in all things". It is also worth remembering that it is the victors who write history. Who knows what the defeated would have said, and how the history books would differ? As for the gods — well, I suggest you face the world with an open mind and relish the improbable."

In the beginning was Chaos. And Chaos detested organisation and structure. He was roguish and full of mischief. Whenever order and logic looked likely to prevail, he would chuckle, wave his divine hand and delight in thwarting such impudence.

Exasperated, the other gods sighed. How would the mortals below ever be able to prove themselves with such troublesome interference? It was always the same; the wheel turned, and mankind managed to make a mess of everything. Again.

The debate continued to rage; the older gods insisted that, without constant help, mortals would destroy the Earth within a few thousand years. Others insisted they would learn and that only if Man was left alone would they know for certain.

But all agreed that, in the beginning, the humans were much too young and would need guidance. The question was always when to step back and let them get on with it.

And Chaos, that dribbling old grandfather, really wasn’t helping anybody.

Meanwhile, Gaia sulked. It wasn’t the Earth Mother’s idea to let People loose on her unspoiled playground. In her view, it could only lead to disaster. And it always took such a long time to nurse her garden back to health. Left alone, the gods knew how much trouble Man could cause.

Fed up, some of the younger gods decided it was time they took a hand. A sleight of hand so to speak; a counterpoint, perhaps, to Chaos and his cronies. Nothing too conspicuous, obviously, and some of the older ones would no doubt express their disapproval. But at least they could give both the Earth and the mortals below a fighting chance.

Maybe this time — THIS time — they might prove the cynical old gods wrong.

Only time would tell.

And now it was the bright young gods who chuckled as they formed their plans. The old fogies hated it when you messed with time. It really got their goat.

Speaking of which — Pan could be heard cackling to himself somewhere in the mountains. The mischievous old sod was anticipating some fun coming his way…




AD 61

Chapter 1 – Eve of Battle

I gave Eógan one last kiss before saying goodbye. Checking I’d got everything, I looked at him fondly for a moment. He gave me a cheeky grin in return.

“Make sure you get some rest,” I whispered sarcastically. Without a backwards glance, I walked silently away, making my way through the encampment. It was more subdued than normal. A number of fires were still lit, but the usual noisy banter was noticeably missing.

Thus it tended to be on the night before a battle. Who knew if you would see another sunset? Whether you would feel the warm embrace of a man or woman again? Tonight each of us were saying their desperate farewells the only way they knew how.

It hadn’t been the first time I’d crept away to spend time with Eógan, and I hoped it wouldn’t be the last. He was fun, and I liked his sense of humour, though he was sometimes a bit too serious.

Deep in contemplation, I meandered between the restless bodies. I tried not to think too much about the morrow. Bloody Romans.

I smiled when I saw Jenna waiting by my own sleeping place.

“The camp is quiet tonight, Jen,” I said softly.

“Of course it is, Bri. Same as always before a battle, you know that.” She paused for a moment, a touch of censure in her expression. “Your mother was looking for you. I think you were expected to attend the ceremony.”

I knew that. Stuff them! I thought selfishly.

“Pfff. Not tonight, Jenna. I’ve not even been initiated yet. I’m sure Boudega can manage her war magic without me.” I took Jenna’s hand. “There are people I’d much rather be spending time with rather than chanting along with a load of wrinkly old druids.”

“You underestimate yourself, Brianna; you know they think the sun shines out of your backside. And your mum’s not wrinkly. They may not need you, but I’m damn sure they wanted you there. Where have you been anyway?”

I laughed. “With Eógan. But what I really wanted was to be with you.”

"Oh, is that right? And you think that’s okay, do you — Hmm? When you're neglecting your duties?”

“Well I really did hope so, yes.”

I stepped forward to kiss her, but she pulled back, a furrow appearing between her bright eyes.

“You take advantage of me,” she complained.

I gave her a disappointed smile. “Well, I try…”


Afterwards, we settled down by the embers of our fire. I watched a sentry patrolling in the distance, his outline barely visible.

“Are you worried?” Jenna asked.

“Worried? Of course I’m worried. We’ve been lucky so far, I think. The Romans aren’t stupid. We just caught them by surprise, that’s all.”

“Your mother’s one of Boudega’s leading warriors. What does she think?”

“She’s too wrapped up in the rebellion. She’s not thinking straight.”

“You sound like you think we’ll lose.”

I shrugged. It was a distinct possibility. But I didn’t want to say it out loud — it would be bad luck.

“That’s probably why they wanted you at the ceremony,” Jenna pressed. “Why didn’t you go?”

“My sister’s there. She’s who they really want.”

“Lanis isn’t the warrior you are. And they listen to you.”

“They listen to me when they want to listen. And Lanis is more in tune with their thoughts than I am. People may look to me occasionally, but – I don’t know. I think she will be much more powerful than I ever will. She's the one that needs to be there.”

“The two of you are so different.”

I sighed. “Yes, we are. But we’re also the same.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“It does and it doesn’t.” I closed my eyes, suddenly weary. What could I tell her of my uncertainties, the visions that often haunted my sleep? I'd already said too much.


Dawn crept in unannounced. I woke to find our camp engulfed by a thick morning mist. People had been moving about well before first light — such as it was. Those with a stomach for it breakfasted on last night’s leftovers. Jenna and I prepared ourselves carefully for the upcoming battle. We checked each other to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything; sword, shield, and sling amongst the most important things. Jenna was a fearsome warrior and a match for any man I’d yet met. She was fast and full of guile. We worked well together, and she had saved my life more than once. Even so, it didn't stop the nerves in the belly.

The scouts coming in confirmed that this would indeed be the day. The Romans had assembled a strong force that would only get more powerful if left unchecked. Boudega had declared last night’s ceremony a success, and that the gods were with us. We would therefore engage as soon as we could gather ourselves.

My mother gave me a disappointed look when she saw me, and I felt a moment of guilt. Despite my misgivings, I reassured myself that they wouldn’t have listened to me anyway — they were resolved to fight regardless of what the gods said — or, if I was generous, what they interpreted them as saying.

Fucking Romans! I drew my sword and checked the blade one more time.



Chapter 2 – Dreams

It didn’t go well. In fact, the day was an utter disaster; a complete rout. The gods damn those Roman bastards! I knew we were being overconfident! Our scouts had led us into a false sense of security. We may have outnumbered them, but this time they outmanoeuvred us right from the start. Not like Londinio or Camulodūnon where we had caught them unprepared.

The Romans didn’t give us any quarter — not that we expected any. They were quick, efficient and ruthless. How had we forgotten that about them so fast?

Eógan was gone – I had seen him struck down by a javelin in the first minute.

My mother? She was riding her chariot when I last saw her; hair flying and eyes blazing like nothing in the world could touch her.

She was wrong about that. But I did not have time to mourn her; not now. Nor any of the others that had met their end on this savage day.

And now the few of us who were left were on the run, fighting to remain alive.

My sister had remained in camp with the other young ones — well away from the battleground. But the Roman cavalry was already there when I sought her out. Fortunately, she was hidden where we’d agreed if it all went wrong. There were two others with her — Lanis’ friend Erin, and a young lad called Atlan. He wasn’t a day over twelve, but he was putting a brave face on the sudden reversal in our fortunes.

Jenna had been wounded. She’d taken a slice across her lower back. I didn’t think it was deep, but it would need looking at sooner rather than later. Time was against us, however, and it would have to wait for now. I hoped the sword had been clean; I’d seen what a dirty blade could do.

The next few hours were a tense game of cat and mouse. As we tried to move stealthily through the terrain we occasionally heard the cries of others when they were found by the victorious hunters. I gritted my teeth and hurried on. I couldn’t help them now, and it was essential to get my sister to safety. She was too important to risk.

It didn’t stop me feeling bad though. I would know many of those who were being hounded through the woods. I felt rage at my impotence and wanted to lash out. It was difficult to remain calm and focus on the survival of our own little group.

We headed North. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but it felt like the right thing to do. Within a few hours, the terrain started to change; the woodland becoming much denser. By now we would be in the territory of the Coritani. We couldn’t trust them. They were known to aid the Romans — they had sold out to them shortly after the invasion and would undoubtedly give us up if it was in their interests. It didn’t matter that the Iceni had done the same; we would have to try and avoid any contact.

I could feel weariness beginning to overwhelm me as nightfall approached. It had been a very long and difficult day. We halted close to a spring so that we had water. Jenna’s wound was worse. What I really needed was hot water but I daren’t light a fire. My healing skills were pretty good, though perhaps not those of a fully trained Ban Draoithe. Those of us who were destined for the priesthood were taught many skills, but what my strongest gift was likely to be had not yet become apparent; Seer, Teacher, Healer, Leader — I was still an enigma to the council. Unlike my sister — her talent was all too obvious and made her an important asset to the future of the tribe — if there was any tribe left, that is.

And of course, her ability more apparent, my sister had also been trained from an earlier age. Less inclined to the sword, she was lethal with her sling, which she had mastered at the tender age of twelve. Now sixteen, she was also a natural healer; almost as good as I was, despite the fact that I was three years her senior.

But it was her visions that singled her out; that made her special.

Our band had grown through the day; we had found three more terrified youngsters in hiding, and they had joined us. Jenna and I would have to take turns keeping watch tonight. The others were both too young and too exhausted to be of use; we were very vulnerable.

As we settled down to try and rest I consulted with Jenna.

“Where are we going?” she asked as I tried to clean the wound in her side. She hissed as I worked on her.

“North. I’m not yet sure why — there are just as likely to be Romans in this direction, but — but I — I feel a pull this way.” I couldn’t really explain it, but to be honest, it was almost a compulsion.

“Well, as long you know what you’re doing.”

I wasn’t entirely sure that I did. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’d made a decision based purely on instinct. It was one of the things that singled me out. I made choices, decisions, that turned out to be fortuitous. Others — the druids, especially — had noticed this at an early age. And remembered.

I slept badly that night, disturbed by a series of dreams that kept intruding into my weary and vulnerable consciousness. Whilst some were vaguely familiar, others were new — perhaps prompted by our pursuit. I saw images — flashes of things I didn’t recognise. I saw a tall, standing stone which spoke to me with huge, protruding lips; then I was running through a strange forest with trees of a type I didn’t recognise; there was a drum beating in time with my heart as I moved. Then the vision switched, and I was suddenly drowning, water swamping me as I struggled to breathe. This last dream — the one where I drowned — woke me several times that night, leaving me gasping desperately for air.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

The following day we travelled more carefully. Speed was no longer the most important thing; remaining undetected became our overriding priority. Plus, I didn’t want us becoming so tired that we made costly mistakes.

We were in the forest nearly all the time now. I’d heard it said that a squirrel could travel from one coast of this isle to the other without touching the ground. I could well believe it, seeing the trees; yew, hornbeam, ash, and rowan in particular. And oaks — these last, huge and ancient, seemed to beckon to our little rag-tag band of fugitives.

I led us unerringly through the undergrowth, still unsure exactly where we were headed. The others’ trust in me was overwhelming and made me very conscious of the responsibility I had for their young lives.

During the day, we managed to stop and gather berries — the only nourishment we could afford. We stopped by a stream late in the morning for a rest and took the opportunity to eat and drink. Jenna’s wound was looking better and I was thankful that she was a quick healer.

As darkness approached once more, I again began looking for somewhere to halt. We were now completely exhausted and desperately needed sleep.

The place I found was ideal. There were no paths nearby that I could see, and it was well hidden by undergrowth. Eyes drooping, we bedded down for the night. I felt we were finally far enough away not to post a guard; besides, I wasn’t sure I could stay awake any longer.

On this second night, I again dreamt. This time the visions seemed more intense, more visceral somehow; it was extremely disturbing.

This time I saw a town. It was the largest town I’d ever seen, with huge buildings reaching up into the sky. Was this Rome? I wondered. The stone was there again, only this time there were several, all with hideous mouths laughing at me. There were huge flashes of lightning and stupendous bolts of thunder; a gigantic storm, with rain battering my body. It seemed as if the storm were trying to pummel me into the earth, but then the water rose up and started to fill my nose and mouth, and for the umpteenth time I started to drown...

The last time I dreamed, I glimpsed a face. Pale, with freckles; red hair, and deep green eyes searching, boring into my skull, looking for something inside me. I was haunted by this face; it was both young and old, smooth and lined, real and not real.

There was no way I could go back to sleep after that. Except somehow, I finally did.

When I woke in the morning, my body ached like it never had before. Far worse than sparring with Jenna; worse even than the battle we had so recently lost. The rigours of that battle and our consequent journey were finally catching up with me, and I was feeling the weight of leading our group.

That day too, we kept heading deeper into the forest, still compelled by my instincts.

Was it my instincts? Or was I being pulled somehow? I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I had a sudden premonition, a sense, that I was being purposefully directed. It was not necessarily a comfortable thought and I resolved to be extra careful.

We heard occasional man-made noises during the morning, but as the day wore they became less frequent. I thought we had probably lost any pursuers from the battle, though that didn’t mean there weren’t still people or beasts out there that might be hostile to us.

Before we knew it, darkness was once again starting to close around us. I was looking for another safe place to sleep when we entered a forest glade. There was a tiny spring at the edge, and the twilight gave it an ethereal glow.

I immediately sensed something different; there was a powerful presence here, though I could not tell exactly what it was. But it didn’t seem unfriendly and I assessed that this location was too good a chance to pass up. And anyway, I didn’t think we could manage to go any further. Jenna was strong, but still not yet recovered, and the rest were on the edge of collapse.

I still wasn’t confident enough to consider lighting a fire, though.

That night – our third since the battle, I snuggled up to Jenna.

“What is it?” she mumbled, her eyes already closed.

“Nothing. I just want to be close to you.”

I realised it sounded a bit lame.

“I want to make sure you aren’t eaten in the night by wolves,” I added jokingly. And I really hope that tonight I can sleep without being disturbed by the dreams, I didn’t say.

I fell asleep with Jenna in my arms. The others were also snuggled up for warmth, and I could see Lanis with her arms around Atlan, making sure he felt looked after. He was the youngest, and her maternal instincts were strong. I thought good thoughts about my sister as my eyes closed.


I did dream again. But this time it was difficult to tell what was real and what was not. I could smell the damp earth, and salt from the sea. I could reach out and touch, and feel the air around me. As before, the images I saw were confusing and full of contradictions. The stones again, only this time it was just a single menhir, beckoning, calling to me; drawing me in. This rock was tall and smooth — taller than a man. The mouth had gone, but I could hear a voice inside my head; it was an ancient sound, much older than the trees in the forest around us, and full of history. This time, the images I saw were almost reassuring, like they portended good news, rather than doom.

Even when I was in the storm, with lightning filling the sky, and rain engulfing me; even though I could feel myself drowning, whilst at the same time dying of thirst, I felt that I would come through it. I did not know why — only that I would not die in that moment. I felt invincible. It was refreshing and subconsciously, it made me wonder what had changed.

Then there was the town again — huge with those enormous buildings, each made of iron and reaching high into the sky. And there were also gigantic iron birds soaring like eagles, circling around this strange town. I couldn’t make any sense of it.

And finally, that face — ageless with the pale skin and freckles. And flowing red hair, the same colour as my own. From behind I thought she might even have been me, only I knew, without a doubt, that this was someone else. Someone a long way from here but also close by. Nonsense, I know, but I didn’t know how else to describe it. The vision of this girl — this woman— had such sad wisdom in her mystical eyes; knowledge beyond her years that would surely tear me apart. I didn’t want to meet this person, yet felt irretrievably drawn to them, for I was sure they were real. Who are you? I wondered.

⚢⚢⚢ ⚢⚢⚢⚢

The woman woke with a gasp. The vision had been so clear.

“Merlyne — what did you see?”

“It was the same vision as before. The one who has been appearing in my dreams. She also dreams of me, now — amongst other things. And she will need us soon. She is on the run and…”

“And what?”

“I — I’m not sure. There was so much to see. I’m not sure I got it all. I saw a city — a modern city, but she is from the past, this sister, not the future. And she is not alone.”

“Is it time, then?”

Merlyne frowned. “Not yet — she is close, but also far. And she may have to travel a lot farther before we can reach her. I — she has not yet been tested. Her path is not yet set, and…”


Merlyne shook her head.

“She is my kin-sister. Of that, I have no doubt. But the vision wasn’t completely clear — it was like seeing a double image.” Merlyne hesitated. “We will have to wait a while longer, Gwen. But we must be ready.”

Gwen sighed. “It’s taken long enough.”

“We’ve had our own path to follow, Gwen. You know that.”

“So you keep telling me. But it’s been so quiet since — you know.” Even now, Gwen couldn’t bring herself to say his name. His passing had been devastating to everyone who knew him — who had given everything for him.

“Yes, I know, But I think the sign we are looking for has finally made itself known to us.”

“Let’s hope so. We’re not as young as we used to be. Well, I’m not anyway.”


Chapter 3 – Baetylus

In the morning, I woke much later than usual. Utterly drained, I had finally fallen into a deep, restful slumber. As I looked around at the others still sleeping, I suddenly remembered that we had not posted a guard. What was I thinking! I’d been foolish; we would never survive if I continued to be as lax as this. I was responsible for the safety of our little group. The only other warrior was Jenna, and she was still hurt. All the others were so young and inexperienced — though Lanis could certainly look after herself. I looked across at my sister. She was agitated, moving in her sleep. Angry at myself, I rose and sought a convenient bush not too far from our camp.

As I squatted, I sensed a sudden change in the atmosphere. A presence. It was the same sensation I had felt the evening before when we’d first arrived. Now, I could feel a pulsing —da-dum, da-dum, da-dum — like a strong heart beating. The air was suddenly thick and hazy. When I stood up and turned, my blood ran cold.

In front of me was a large, tall rock. How had I missed it? It was nearly twice as tall as I was, and maybe half that distance round, tapering towards the top. Was it my imagination, or was the beating coming from the rock? Was this what I had seen in my dreams?

My insides were churning, and I could hardly breathe. Entranced, I reached out and placed my hand flat on the smooth surface of the stone. I felt a shock — an energy seemed to flow from the rock into my being. The hair rose on the back of my neck, and I could feel goosebumps spring up as fear started to take over. I tried to withdraw my hand, but it was stuck fast. A red haze started to descend over my eyes and I was becoming dizzy. I could hear a buzzing that grew louder with every moment, and throwing my head back I opened my mouth and soundlessly screamed as images from the previous night flooded my head. The pictures began to overwhelm me as they flashed past and I could feel myself falling into an abyss…

I gave a startled yell as I was hurled back onto the grass with a crash.

My voice roused the others. As they leapt up, confusion in their eyes, I heard more shouts.

Yes, indeed, we should have posted a guard. What kind of leader was I?

In front of us were a band of armed men.


“Who are you?”

They weren’t Romans, thankfully. Their dialect was different to ours, but one thing seemed obvious; they were extremely agitated by our presence. Their weapons were drawn, sending a very clear message.

We stood very still.

“What are you doing here? Step away from the Baetylus!”

Baetylus? I looked back at the rock behind me — to check it was still there if nothing else. No, my senses had not deceived me. There it was, looking completely innocuous at one edge of the glade.

“This stone?” I asked.

“Yes. I ask again — who are you, and where did you come from?

Sometimes the best defence is attack. My mother had taught me that at an early age.

I drew myself up to my full height.

“I am Brianna, daughter of Zenevieva, leading warrior and High Ban-Draoithe of the Iceni.”

I saw shock cross the eyes of the leader, and the others looked visibly disconcerted. What was going on?

“You are a druid? Why didn’t you say?”

I wasn’t yet a druid, but didn’t think it was the moment to say so. Besides, I didn’t have the tattoo, so he should know better.

“What I am is no business of yours.”

He frowned at me. “You touched the Stone?”

I hesitated, not wanting to lie, but also not wanting to upset these men if I had inadvertently caused some offence on their lands.

“I did, yes.” I could hear the note of defiance in my voice.

“And what did it show you?”

His question caught me off guard. Again, I hesitated. I wasn’t sure I wanted to share my recent experience with these strangers. But then I decided it might be better if I were honest and clear with them.

Instinct again. I hoped it was the right decision.

“It showed me many things. Things I did not understand. But I am not sure it is your business what I saw.”

“If the Stone spoke to you, then it is very much our business. The Baetylus is our responsibility. We look after it.” He paused.

“Are you also a Traveller?”

Again, his question took me by surprise. By his knowledge of druid talents if nothing else.

“I – I don’t know. My direction has not yet been decided.”

He looked at me uncertainly, a remnant of suspicion lingering on his face. Was I a Traveller? It was one of the rarer gifts. A walker between worlds didn’t occur very often — usually only one every few generations or so in any particular tribe. Even my mother had never met one.

A Traveller moving between worlds? Was that what I was seeing in my dreams — another world? The dizziness started to overcome me again, and I dropped to one knee, but I couldn’t afford to show weakness in front of these people. I stood up straight and…


I awoke to a huddle of people around me. Lanis was leaning over me, looking worried, but I could sense that the tension had gone. Maybe fainting had not been such a bad thing after all.

I was still annoyed with myself though. I could not afford such fragility when others looked toward me for strength and leadership.

I pushed Lanis away and slowly got to my feet.

The leader of the armed men looked at me with much more friendliness in his eyes than before.

“The ways of the Stone always drain your energy," he said. "We can look after you. But you must come with us. The High Druid will want to talk with you.”

Considering our situation, I didn’t think we had much choice. Inwardly sighing, I resigned myself to explaining what I had seen.

“You are Coritani?” I asked.

“Yes, we are. But don’t let that worry you too much. The Romans are not particularly fond of our village, and the feeling is very much mutual. I know they are looking for those of the Iceni who escaped their grasp though, so we must be careful. And it looks like you need some attention for the journey you have undergone.”

He wasn’t wrong; his help would be welcome. We accompanied his warriors along an almost invisible track winding its way through the forest until, after about twenty minutes, we reached a small settlement in a large clearing.

Word had obviously gone ahead. Waiting for us appeared to be the whole of the village, along with their chieftain or head druid — I wasn’t sure which as his markings were somewhat confusing. Our guide exchanged words with him, and he then turned back to us.

“I am Cinuchan, primary warrior of the Coritani in this village, and This is Gildas, who is our chieftain; he is also our druid and High Druid for all the villages in this part of the forest.

Gildas stepped forward and looked me directly in the eye. Then he looked intensely at my sister. Lanis blushed at his frank appraisal of her.

“I see two here who are claimed by The Stone.” My eyes widened. I hadn’t considered that Lanis might also have been having dreams, though it made sense. I mentally kicked myself for not discussing my visions with her. She was the one who was supposed to be strong with this gift, not me. But she often held back and was much more likely to hide things than I was. I was missing too much!

“Do you know the magic of The Stone?” Gildas asked. “The Baetylus is sacred to all the Coritani. This village has the responsibility for its protection, and for that reason, the High Druid for the Coritani always resides here. There are many lines of energy that cross the earth, and some of the most powerful intersect here, at the point of this Stone. Those amongst us who are skilled in the druidic arts can feel its vibrancy. This Stone is endowed with a life force; a spirit. You are still a young Ban-Draoithe and not yet initiated; you may not yet know the power of the sacred stones, but legend tells us that it is a gateway to other worlds. It is one of the Baetylus, placed on the Earth many generations ago, in the time of the war in the heavens.

“When the young gods rebelled against the old gods, it is said that a series of passages was created that will allow a chosen few to move between the worlds. We call them Travellers. Have you heard this term before?”

I felt the hairs raise up on my arms. I remembered hearing my mother speak of these things to others, but I knew almost nothing about them. I gave a brief nod.

The druid eyed me carefully. “You are Brianna, daughter of Zenevieva?”


“Your mother is known to us; I completed some of my training with her.” Surprised, I drew in a sharp breath. Today was a day full of revelations.

“She is a powerful Ban-Draoithe. Perhaps the most powerful on this island. There are others across the sea, in Ireland, who may be her equal, but here, she is recognised as the First. And word of her talented daughters has also reached our ears. Many have spoken of their potential and how, one day, their sorcery may surpass even that of Zenevieva.

I felt pain at his words, realising that I would never again see her smile, and how I had defied her wishes on that last night. I would miss her terribly and I had to fight to stop the tears flowing.

“My mother fell several days ago, during the battle," I said carefully, trying not to let the emotion show on my features.

I saw a deep look of sadness cross his own face, though I think he had already guessed.

“I will mourn for her, and for you also. She was important to all the tribes in Britain. Not just the Iceni. She will be missed by all who knew her.”

He eyed me carefully. “Will you share with me what the Stone showed you?”

I hesitated, collecting my thoughts, my head still thinking of my mother. I hadn’t realised how well she was known outside our own tribe. I would also miss her counsel.

“It showed me many things. Confusing things. Things that have been in my dreams since the battle. A journey I believe I am destined to undertake, a ferocious storm sent from the heavens, a foreign land where I will learn my fate, a huge town with strange tall houses built in a way I do not understand."

I tried to accurately describe the images I had seen but did not find it easy. I didn’t have the words for some of the things I had glimpsed; they were too unusual.

“I saw those things too.”

Startled, I turned towards Lanis, whose low-pitched voice had joined our conversation.

“And what is your name, little one?” asked Gildas.

“I am Lanis. Sister to Brianna, and youngest daughter of Zenevieva.”

“And you saw the same things as your sister?” he asked carefully.

“Yes — only — I think I perhaps saw more. In my dreams, the city was on fire, and I also saw a mighty sword with unusual carvings on it.”

I had not seen that. What did this mean — was there significance that the visions Lanis had seen were different to mine? But then, I knew her gift was stronger than mine.

Gildas and Cinuchan whispered to each other before eventually turning back to us. “It is rumoured that your mother was descended from the Faeries,” he said. “It is clear that you are both naturally gifted. Yet you do not have the tattoo of the Ban-Draoithe."

“We were due to be initiated in the Spring,” I said. “When Lanis could count one more year.”

“Hmmm — I understand. Initiation is important, but should not be undertaken when you are too young. Your mother was wise.”

He deliberated. “We can offer you shelter tonight, such that it is. Maybe even tomorrow. But you must not stay long. You are lucky. Roman patrols have been here already, looking for fugitives from the battle. They have gone to Ratae Corieltauvorum but will undoubtedly return. You will need to move on. I would be happy for my warriors to accompany you.”

“To where?”

“To the coast, I think. You cannot stay in Britain if you wish to keep out of Roman reach. Not now. And if your visions are to be interpreted correctly, you must cross the sea; Ériu may be where your destiny lies. There are ships that might take you if you find the right captain — though you must be careful; some are in the employ of our invaders.”

“Then we are grateful for your help.” I hoped it was true, and that it was not a ruse to keep us here for the Romans. Yet I felt that Gildas was a man who could be trusted.

The High Druid was looking at me strangely. “The Stone does not talk to many. This is significant. I am concerned that you are still outside the Priesthood. Time is no longer something you can count on. I think you would do well to consider completing your initiation ceremony sooner rather than later."

Gildas looked like he was choosing his words very carefully.

“We would be honoured if the Coritani of the Sacred Stone can help complete your journey into the Ban-Draoithe. It is short notice, but given the circumstances, we could hold the ceremony this evening. This would normally be a big occasion, but we will forsake some of the requirements. And you will be able to complete your training more easily once you cross the sea.”

It would also bestow prestige on this tribe if they initiated us; I knew that. It would be difficult to refuse — we were very much in their debt and he knew it.


Chapter 4 – Rite of Passage

The youngsters were well looked after and would not be part of that night’s proceedings, for which I was thankful; it would be confusing and frightening for them to see. Whilst I had never been allowed to watch what happened, I knew what to expect; my mother hadn’t left us totally unprepared. She knew it was going to happen someday, and any decent mother would prepare her children for what was coming.

There were many parts to the ritual, but the key elements took place once the sun had set. The villagers were excited. They had not hosted such a ceremony for a while, though only those who were part of the priesthood were usually allowed to attend.

Encircled by softly chanting druids, Lanis and I sat cross-legged as the sun went down. We sipped the tea that we had been required to prepare earlier. Though I had never drunk it before, I knew what it would do. I had been shown where the mushrooms grew locally. The trick in the preparation was not to overdo it, or it would end with our deaths.

It had an earthy flavour, this powerful brew. I could almost taste the beginning of time as the liquid passed my lips. Lanis and I passed the wooden bowl between us until all the tea had gone. I could see Lanis looking worried; this was much scarier for her, and though she would soon count seventeen years, much would be new for her tonight.

There were guards posted, we knew. Feeling safe from intruders or prying eyes was essential. The glade we were in was the very one where we had camped the previous night. The Stone was now very obvious in my mind. It was almost as if it had a mind of its own, deciding when to let itself be seen. I could feel its ethereal presence on the periphery of my senses.

Fires were burning. There were several watching, including Jenna, who had been allowed to be part of the proceedings at my request. Gildas had been reluctant, but did not deny my wish.

The chanting increased. I was not cold — even though the heat had gone out of the day; I could feel the heat from the fires, and the tea was starting to take effect.

My spirit began to rise. Looking down I could see myself still sitting in the clearing next to my sister. Once more, I found myself in the midst of a series of confusing visions.

We were running fast through the forest; when I looked down I could see my hooves dancing as I raced between the trees. Behind, the others howled as they chased us, their feet hardly touching the ground. They were part of this — part of our initiation. The drug they had taken was subtly different but would allow them to join us in spirit as well as body.

I couldn’t focus properly. Was I still running? I was surrounded and could hear cries all about me. I stopped, confused. I could see my breath steaming in front of my face; it was suddenly cold and there was a swirling, clawing mist close to the ground.

Then I was back in the circle lying on the grass next to the Stone. As each moment passed more of me became Ban-Draoithe imbuing me with a power that would exceed any possessed by the others here tonight.

And they understood. They knew that I would be more than they. And they accepted it, for was it not foretold that the power of woman would surpass that of man?

I was becoming at one with the great Earth-Mother and was welcomed into her bosom. She wanted me, needed me, for I would be her weapon in the coming war! For a moment everything was clear, and then I frowned as everything became mixed up again. No — it would not be as straightforward as that. I would be tested and would need to be strong to succeed. My future was in turmoil, and I would need help to fulfil my destiny.

I was moving again, rushing along like the wind; I was the wind now and I was going back, back to the beginning…

All sound started to recede. I could feel the Otherworld welcoming me. Everything started to shimmer as I began to cross to the other side. I heard a deep, cackling laugh. In front of me now was a human figure with a heavily muscled hairy chest, full beard and eyes that twinkled mischievously. Were those horns on his head? There was something funny about his legs...

Ahhh — a creature from the heavens; something half-man, half-goat. It was Cernunnos, or Pan, as he was known elsewhere. His intention was clear, and I welcomed him into my mind. We accepted one another, and I felt the promise he gave me; he would be there when I needed him.

And then I was gone.

Instead, I saw a tall, handsome young man with dark eyes that looked deep into my soul. His skin was honey-bronze — he was beautiful, this man, but his brow was furrowed in confusion. He was in my future, and I wanted to touch him. I reached out...

But then he too was gone, and I was back running through the woods, speeding silently between the trees again. Only now I was low to the ground, and when I looked I could see my big paws reaching out as I bounded. I heard a sound to my right and my hackles rose and I let out a growl; then I realised it was just Lanis, running with me, her lithe wolf-like form smaller than mine and glad of the momentary company. We were together once more and I was grateful for my sister and didn't ever want to lose her.

Was this real, or were we still in the Otherworld? How would we get back? I didn’t know, and I didn’t care! I was in such ecstasy I never wanted to leave.

My eyes could see so much now! Everything I saw was intense and full of incredible detail. So many images passed through my head!

And now the gods were laughing at me. It was confusing; They spoke directly to my mind, showing me glimpses of the journey I would have to undertake in the real world. Many would play a part, but not all would be there to help.

I was leaping through a circle of stones, with unfamiliar stars in the clear night sky. This, I knew, was a very long way from my home. Then I was torn away again and I was suddenly in a cave, huge and luminescent, filled with narrow teeth that pointed both up and down. Were these the jaws of a giant beast, about to swallow me? I shuddered and felt the cold seeping into my bones.

Now there were warriors fighting. Fighting, maiming, and killing! Everywhere I looked, I could feel hate and anger. The images changed, the dress and armour evolving, the shape of the swords different, unfamiliar. There was the sound of thunder as men fell, blood spurting from their bodies where they had been struck by invisible blades.

The image faded, and the town appeared before me once more, reaching into the sky. It was burning, with giant plumes of smoke swirling upwards, just as Lanis had described.

Then I saw her; Lanis, looking sad in her human form. She was distant, alone, and forlorn, and I suddenly thought, 'I’m going to lose you!' What wasn’t she telling me?

The pale face with the red hair was suddenly there again. She was with me, this stranger — with me even through everything, even when I was in the heavens with the goat-man. I could sense her presence in my mind, feel her reaction as I experienced these wild visions. She could feel the same emotions I could. The fear, the joy, the despair, the loss.

And from her, I could feel love and a sense of coming together. She was in my future, this red-haired stranger, and she would be there to help me when I needed it most.

And I knew one other thing, too. Gildas was right. The answers did not lie here in Britain. They lay across the sea. That is where I must go. That is what the voices told me; ‘Your destiny is not in this land, but elsewhere. Head towards the setting sun, and you will find what you seek.

I could see my body lying there by the stone, and now I was sinking back into it, at one with myself once more. And then there was nothing.


“You saw her again?”

“Yes. The veil was very thin – I could feel her presence. She is so close now, but is on a journey that will take her a long way before we can find her.”

“I hate it when you talk in riddles.”

“She’s important, I can feel it. Vital, even. There’s a bond between us already, like we’re related.”

“Do you ever get the feeling that someone is just messing with us?”

Merlyne sighed.

“All the time, Gwen, all the time…”


Part two of "The Sisterhood" will be coming soon...

Written by TheShyThespian
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