Fiction

Wolves Don’t Fly

 

Her looks were unusual: was she really who she seemed to be?

The wind was high that gray December afternoon as we passengers stood obediently in line to board the jet from Dulles Airport to Seattle. Looking out the windows next to the jetway entrance I could see the wind blowing a man’s hat off and a windsock flapping in the stiff breeze. But then I forgot about the wind as I walked down the jetway to the plane and rejoiced that my frequent flyer miles had secured a good seat in Row Eight for me.

The Deer at Lammas Tide

 

 

Aylwin thought she had all the answers—until the Goddess showed her otherwise

 

All seemed well in the orchard that morning and in the woods beyond.

Walking from the Big House through the orchard, Aylwin paused on her way to breakfast to drink in the sight of a cluster of rosy-yellow apples against the pale blue sky that showed through the branches of the apple tree. She stood very still and breathed deeply, trying to fix the color and scent of the apples in her mind.

She’d risen at dawn as usual, in company with her colleagues, to gather on the veranda of the Big House that served as their dormitory while the Great Barn’s bedrooms were undergoing repairs. They sat on the wide veranda drinking coffee and talking in low voices while they watched the grey mist rise slowly from the wet lawn to reveal the shadowy deer coming out to nibble around the edges. They were mostly does and fawns, although the occasional buck appeared.

Resuming her walk through the rows of apple trees, Aylwin turned a corner and stopped again. A doe was standing beneath one of the trees, nibbling apples from a low-hanging branch. Two dappled fawns, one on each side, stood close to their mother. Sunlight filtering through the foliage highlighted the spots on the fawns’ backs and the lustrous dark eyes of the doe.

Aylwin did not breathe at all, but sent up a prayer. Thank you, Diana, matron goddess, for giving me this moment of pure beauty and joy. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.

The wind shifted slightly; the doe became aware of the human. In an instant she and the fawns leaped away through the orchard into the woods.

In a mood compounded of exhilaration and reverence, Aylwin resumed her walk. It was time for breakfast in the Great Barn, where most of the commune’s business was conducted. There was a great deal to do because it was the day before Lammas Eve.

Tomorrow she and several others would spend the day baking the bread loaves for which the sabbat was named: “Lammas” derived from “loaf-mass.” The day after would be market day, which this year would fall on Lammas itself. Half the loaves they made would be sold at market; the other half would be retained to feed the commune. And two loaves would be placed on the altar, of course, in thanksgiving.

I am lucky to be here, Aylwin thought as she savored her breakfast of granola and blueberries. I never thought I’d be doing anything like this—living miles out in the country, doing farm chores.

Indeed, it was an unlikely thought for a city-bred teacher of high school English. But during an Ostara ritual several months ago, in which the leading priestess had invited everyone to aspect a patron god or matron goddess, Aylwin had received the message that was to change her life. Diana had delivered the message in no uncertain terms: “You are too contented with your home and hearth. You need to get out into the woods more. You need to spend a great deal more time looking at the moon than you have been.”

Struck by these words, Aylwin had mused on them for some time afterwards. It was true that she loved her life: loved her little walled city garden with its beds of herbs and flowers, its espaliered peach trees, its pots of strawberries and lavender. She enjoyed making her way around the city by bicycle if the weather were fine, rejoiced in the slow change of the seasons, took great delight in curling up with her books at night in her favorite recliner with a cat or two. Yes, she was far too content.

By sheer chance an opportunity to work on the farming commune had offered itself through a flyer at the local farmers’ market: free room and board for two months in the summer in exchange for eight hours’ work a day, six days a week. Aylwin’s request was accepted immediately, and now here she was—windblown, tanned, and insect-bitten, but happy.

Just as she was lifting the last spoonful of granola to her mouth, the voice of Falcon, one of the commune’s administrators, boomed through the room. “I have a few ANNOUNCEMENTS!”

Across the room Red Hawk, Falcon’s husband, held a finger to his lips. Falcon grinned in acknowledgment and resumed his speech. “Okay, folks, you probably don’t want to hear this but we’ve had a visit from a county board member and a landowner. They’ve declared a deer cull on the land adjoining ours, which means—” Falcon held up a hand to hush the murmur of protest that rose from twenty outraged throats—“that we will not interfere with the hunters in any way. No attempts to engage them in conversation, no attempts to stop them, nothing! You know the trouble we’ve had getting permission to rent this land. The owners think we’re a bunch of hippies that drum all night around the fire circle and go skinny dipping in the lake. We’ll have to just ignore the deer hunters and go on with our work.”

Someone raised a hand. “When does the deer cull begin?”

“Today. And oh, by the way, I checked—it’s bow hunting, not guns. Be careful as you go about your chores and don’t wear anything white.”

Someone else raised a hand. “More important, when does it stop?”

“Saturday will be the last day. Now, with regard to the Lammas ritual, the ritual planning team will meet in the Big House this afternoon and…”

Aylwin, who was not a member of the ritual planning team, returned to her breakfast, seething. A deer cull! Blast the county board, the landowners, and all who would participate in the deer cull! She thought of the entrancing sight she’d been granted just half an hour ago and felt a wrench of the heart at the thought that any of them, doe or fawns, might be killed.

A thought struck her: as soon as she finished this morning’s chores she’d visit the Queen Oak in the woods, where she had put up a little statue of Diana and erected a small altar of fieldstones. She would implore the Goddess to spare the lives of the wild things in the woods—the deer, the rabbits, the squirrels, the birds.

After lunch, hurrying through the woods to the Queen Oak, Aylwin picked as many wildflowers as she could fit into the jar of water she carried with her–white Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed susans, blue wild chicory, yellow lady’s slipper. After placing the jar on the altar she bowed her head. “Diana, Goddess of the woods and all that is wild, please accept my gift of flowers and protect all your beautiful creatures. Let them come to no harm! So mote it be.”

As she straightened up, still looking at the statue, she felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. She sensed she was not alone. Someone else was there: someone in the woods, perhaps, watching her. Slowly, she turned around. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a sudden flicker of movement behind the trees but she could not discern whether it was animal or human.

Well, back to work. It was her turn to pick the lettuces for tonight’s dinner. Aylwin made her way quickly back to the Great Barn and the greenhouse. She stopped to laugh at the sight of the white duck chivvying a group of hens away from the barn toward the springhouse. The white duck reminded her of a drill instructor in charge of a gang of raw recruits: the chickens appeared to be in awe of him, scurrying along every time he flapped his wings and quacked.

That evening after Affinity Group Ritual, Aylwin, still deep in thought, found herself walking behind two of the priestesses, White Crane and Silver Oak, back to the dining hall for the usual after-ritual “grounding” meal. This was simply apple cider or herb tea, along with nuts, honey, and slices of fruit bread.

There was a sudden noise ahead, then the two in front stopped dead and exclaimed in surprise and concern. “Great Mother!”

Coming up alongside the priestesses, Aylwin saw that a bird’s nest had fallen from the eaves of the dining hall, along with two sinuous black snakes. The baby birds’ cheeping was quickly stilled as the snakes swallowed them, made short work of the two unhatched eggs, and slithered off.

“Oh, how awful!” Aylwin clutched White Crane’s arm. “Did you see? Oh, those poor babies!”

“Aylwin, dear,” White Crane said, “it is the way of Goddess. There is nothing we could have done and nothing we should have done. It is not for us to interfere.”

Silver Oak patted Aylwin’s arm reassuringly. “We don’t like to look at ‘nature red in tooth and claw,’ my dear. But it’s part of the endless cycle of life. The big fish eats the little fish and we eat the big fish…”

“Not I,” Aylwin said. “I’m vegetarian.”

“But still. You drink milk from cows, you eat eggs from chickens, you consume honey from bees. All part of the cycle, Aylwin, remember that.”

Aylwin bowed her head in assent. The priestesses were right. She was as guilty as anyone of exploiting the animal kingdom. She resolved to become a vegan.

Sick at heart, she could barely force down the tea and bread, and went to bed still in a somber mood.

The next morning found her in better spirits. It was Lammas Eve, after all, and there was nothing like Lammas tide to put a smile on one’s face. How good it was to mix the yeast with the water, to add the flour and lovingly knead the dough, how fine to set the dough to rise in the great ceramic crocks. As the kitchen was cooled only by fans—the Great Barn wasn’t big on modern conveniences like air conditioning—some of the workers stripped to the waist as the day went on and the temperature rose.

The smell of baking bread always soothed Aylwin’s soul. She admired the perfect loaves as they were turned out of their pans and set to cool on wire racks. “Wish we could have some of it now, don’t you?” Lily Waterdaughter whispered to her.

“I do indeed! But at any rate, we’ll have it for dinner tonight.”

The workers finished at mid-afternoon. Leaving the loaves to cool, they wandered off in twos and threes—some back to the Big House for a nap, some to the lake for a swim, some to simply sit somewhere cool and do absolutely nothing.

_________________________

On Lammas Day Aylwin woke just before dawn. There were so many things to think about: the Lammas feast, for example. That night they would enjoy roasted vegetables over pasta, along with the bread they’d baked. Berries were traditional food at Lammas, so she and Lily would make strawberry tarts, blueberry cake, and blackberry rolypoly for dessert. After dinner there would be an outdoor ritual with a huge balefire shooting sparks toward the heavens. As they danced around it they would symbolically cast the qualities they wished to discard from their characters into the leaping flames.

Time to be up and doing. Quickly Aylwin washed and dressed, leaving the Big House just as day was breaking. Before she began the day’s work she would gather flowers again to place on Diana’s altar at the Queen Oak. Today was to be the last day of the deer cull. To be sure, she’d already asked the Goddess to keep the wild ones safe, but the wildflowers would have withered by now. It couldn’t hurt to make a fresh offering.

She enjoyed what she always thought of as “the summer smell” of dew-heavy grass and moist earth. The grass was so thick that although it left a sheen of moisture on her boots her passage through the woods made no sound. Aylwin picked an armload of flowers and made her way to the Queen Oak.

A shaft of sunlight struck the glade just as she reached it, lighting the scene that met her horrified eyes. With a gasp she let the flowers fall to the ground and ran to the altar. “Great Mother!”

There were fresh wildflowers in the vase, although the flowers she’d offered the other day should have died by now. But it was the dead deer lying at the foot of the stone altar that shocked Aylwin.

It was a doe. Oh, please, Diana, let it not be the doe, the mother! But no: this doe appeared to be young and slender, not a female in the full flush of maturity.

At a sound behind her Aylwin whirled around. She saw the man in hunting clothes, bow and arrow in hand, his face a study in bemusement.

“You,” she said, and the single word shot like an arrow through the stillness. “You did this!”

“I didn’t kill her.”

“You must have!”

“I didn’t, I swear! Look, do you see any arrow marks? Not one, not one. No wounds of any kind.”

Aylwin looked. It was true, as far as she could see. No punctures or bullet wounds were visible.

“I watched you the other day. I saw you put the flowers there. Yesterday evening I picked flowers too and put them on the altar. I prayed to Her.”

He turned to look at the statue of Diana and said in a tone of wonderment, “She heard my prayer and accepted the flowers. When I came here this morning I found this, Her gift to me.”

He picked up the deer, slinging it across his shoulders. “This will feed us for a couple of months, along with what we grow.”

“Why don’t you eat just what you grow?” Aylwin said angrily. “Why do you have to kill?”

He met her gaze. “I have growing children. They need protein. I can’t afford to buy food, and the food banks are empty, the demand is so great. I was an engineer before I was laid off. I’ve sent out resumes, I’ve interviewed, I’ve called, I’ve walked the streets trying to find work. It’s been a year now and I still don’t have a job.”

Aylwin continued to look at him, not speaking.

“Do you have a job?” the man asked.

She nodded.

“Can you afford to buy anything you want to eat?”

Tears sprang to her eyes. She nodded again.

“You’re lucky. I hope nothing happens to your job. Good day.”

Turning once more toward Diana’s statue, the hunter bowed his head. “Thank you, Goddess.” He shifted his burden more comfortably across his shoulders and turned to go.

Aylwin heard the voice of White Crane echoing in her mind. It is the way of Goddess.

She looked at the hunter and lifted her hand in farewell. “Warm hearth and sweet medicine.”

“The same to you,” he said, and walked away.

Going back through the woods to the orchard, Aylwin realized what she had to discard: her arrogance toward those who didn’t believe what she herself believed, who didn’t follow her religion or her way of life. And there was something else she had to acknowledge—that there were events in which she could not, should not interfere. She thought of what Silver Oak had said. “It’s part of the endless cycle of life, Aylwin.”

Reaching the orchard, she turned for one last look in the direction of the Queen Oak. “Thank you for giving me the gift of acceptance, Goddess. So mote it be.”

The End

Bearly There

Was she a bear—or something more?

She was dreaming in the cave, with the cubs snuggled against her broad chest. They dreamed together while outside the wind swept snow pellets through the trees and the deer hunted desperately for short grasses by the half-frozen creek. Her dreams were of warmth and plenty, of her twins gamboling in the rich, juicy grasses of spring, of the taste of ripe berries in summer. She dreamed of fish in the stream and wild honey in a hive nestled in a tall tree that would present no problem at all to her climbing skills.

The Deer at Lammas Tide

Aylwin thought her way was the only way—until the Goddess showed her otherwise.

 

All seemed well in the orchard that morning and in the woods beyond.

Walking from the Big House through the orchard, Aylwin paused on her way to breakfast to drink in the sight of a cluster of rosy-yellow apples against the pale blue sky that showed through the branches of the apple tree. She stood very still and breathed deeply, trying to fix the color and scent of the apples in her mind.

Out of the Sea

Priestess

 

She thought her life was over—until the Goddess Thalassa called to her

 

That first week in Australia Stella decided that her new home was very much like her previous home in Texas. The weather was the same—boiling hot. The people were similar—tall, tanned, laid back, and friendly, although they didn’t wear cowboy boots; and everyone had two things on their minds: football, which they called “footy,” and the lack of rain.

Roses at Imbolc

 

 

The ‘farewell’ roses broke her heart–until the Goddess Brigid stepped in

 

The Imbolc ritual was to be held at Green Dragon’s house that year. She lived in an outer suburb of the city in a house whose backyard gave way to woods. Although we all grumbled at the necessity of driving so far when snow lay six inches deep on the ground, the roads, thank Goddess, were mostly clear owing to the hard work by city snow plows for the past two days. However, it was Green Dragon’s turn to play hostess, so we put on our boots, grabbed cloaks and scarves, and drove to our destination.

We—that is, Rhiannon, Gladwyn, Arielle, and I—arrived late in the afternoon at the house where Green Dragon lived and practiced with several members of her coven.

“Well, you got us here all right, TigerLily,” Rhiannon said. “Thanks for driving. I wouldn’t have liked to drive myself—I’m nervous about black ice on the roads.”

We walked up the path to the front door and knocked. Green Dragon, wearing a gold fillet that circled her forehead and disappeared into her long, crinkly brown hair, smiled a welcome as she opened the door to let us in. As I stepped over the threshold I almost reeled back—so much magic had been worked in that house that its aftermath had an almost physical impact. But it wasn’t physical, nor even emotional—like that lurch of the heart when the love of your life hoves unexpectedly into view. It was more like a sudden shock—the kind you’d feel if someone told you that you’d just won the lottery.

“Is everyone here?” Gladwyn asked as she slipped off her boots.

“No, we’re waiting for Rowan,” Green Dragon said. “She should be here any minute now, and then we’ll begin.”

Green Dragon’s living room had chairs and sofas arranged in a circle around a table in the middle, covered with a white cloth. On it were white narcissus, which scented the air with its delicate perfume, and red amaryllis. There were also unlit white candles and an empty bowl. Rosemary incense sticks, to be lit just before the ritual, stood ready in the incense holders.

Just as we’d settled ourselves, a knock sounded on the front door.

“I’ll get it,” Green Dragon said.

But before she could leave the room the door opened and Rowan stalked in, carrying an armload of long-stemmed red American Beauty roses. As she came into the living room we could almost see sparks shooting out of her eyes—normally hazel, but now looking green with rage. Her face was white and set. Silently she handed each of us a rose and placed the remaining three on the altar.

“What on earth has happened, Witch Sister?” Ceres Vegetina asked.

Rowan looked at her. “He left me! Just bugged out of town for good! I want nothing to do with him, I never want to speak to him again, and I will not keep his gift.”

“But…Witch Sis, tell us what happened,” Coventina urged.

“I’ll tell you what happened!” Rowan said furiously. “He sent me a note to say he was leaving for California right away because his first love had come back into his life and all he wants is to be with her! The roses were ‘a parting gift for all the wonderful times we had together,’ according to him.”

A universal chorus of disgust arose from all of us Circle sisters.

Green Dragon let us vent for a few minutes, then sighed and said, “Okay, sisters, we’ve all expressed our feelings. The guy is a total jerk. Since we’re all a little upset I want to calm us down with some of Brigid’s healing massage. Rhiannon, will you help me?”

Rhiannon nodded and rose to accept Green Dragon’s instructions. 

“Here,” Green Dragon said, producing two bottles of hand lotion. “You take this half of the circle and I’ll take the other. We’re going to rub lotion into everyone’s hands and wish her peace, love, and healing.”

It was most agreeable to have lotion, smelling deliciously of lavender and vanilla, massaged into my hands. “What’s it called, Green Dragon?” I asked.

“I made it myself last week and charged it in a ritual dedicated to Brigid,” Green Dragon said with a smile. “It’s called ‘Enchanted.’ Okay, has everyone been tended? Yes? Good. Rowan,” she said, turning to her, “are you spiritually ready for us to begin the ritual?”

Rowan nodded. She looked more at peace, although still pale.

“I’m going to turn out all the lights in the room and then light one candle,” Green Dragon continued. “Each of you will then take one of the candles on the altar and light it from mine. We’ll place a candle in every window of the house and then go outside to look at them—just for a moment, I realize it’s cold! Your coats and boots are still in the hallway.”

My gaze fell on the roses we’d laid beside our chairs during the healing massage and it gave me an idea. “I know, Circle sisters! Why don’t we gather up the roses and lay them in the snow as an offering to Brigid? Think of it—the colors of Imbolc are red and white, so red roses against white snow…”

“I like it!” Coventina said. “Rowan, would that be all right with you?”

“The roses are yours to do what you like with,” Rowan said. “But I do think offering them to Brigid is a wonderful idea.”

Everyone seemed to approve, so I gathered all the roses and laid them on the altar until we were ready to go outside.

It was rather nice, lighting candles in the semigloom and putting one in each window of the house. Afterwards we put on coats, cloaks, and boots again and went outside to look at our handiwork. At the last minute I took up the roses and Green Dragon took the empty bowl from the altar. Our boots sank into the snow, still soft from the most recent snowfall, and the cold wind stung our eyes with its sharpness.

But the sight of the lighted candles flickering in the blue-grey twilight reminded us that spring was just weeks away.

At a nod from Green Dragon, I took the armload of roses I was carrying and laid them in the snow beneath the oak tree in the front yard. “O Brigid, born with the dawn, known in Scotland as Bride and in England as Brigantia, please accept our offering to you. Goddess of magic and healing, help us to lift up our Circle sister Rowan. So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” the Circle sisters echoed.

Smiling now despite the cold, we trooped back into the house. Green Dragon, the last to come inside, bent down and scooped up some snow into the empty bowl she’d taken from the altar before we went out. “This will symbolize the element of water for our altar,” she said.

Back in the living room, she used a cinnamon broom to sweep away the old energies in the room and make way for the new. “Imbolc is a time for Witches to clean the house, repair or mend whatever needs attention, pay bills, and file tax returns,” she said as she lit the rosemary incense. We all breathed in the aromatic scent.

Then she cast the circle, with Rhiannon, Gladwyn, Ceres Vegetina, and Jaguar Priestess calling the quarters. We stood in a circle expectantly as Green Dragon invoked the Goddess Brigid, whose festival this was.

“Brigid, triple goddess, be with us now during this, your fire festival of Imbolc. Brigid, presiding over the fire of healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of inspiration for creative work, watch over us as we dedicate our rites to you tonight. So mote it be.”

“So mote it be,” we murmured.

“Let’s sit down,” Green Dragon said. “We’ve just been outside to see the blanket of snow covering the earth, but beneath the snow life is stirring anew. The candles we lit a little while ago symbolize the lengthening days and the approach of spring. Have you seen any signs of spring, Circle sisters?”

“Snowdrops in my garden,” Jaguar Priestess said.

“I’ve started my herb seedlings in pots,” I said. “I’m adding a few new herbs this year.”

Gladwyn smiled. “I saw a robin this morning. Well, really, I’m told, our American robin is a kind of thrush.”

“And I’ve been receiving all kinds of exciting gardening catalogues in the mail,” Ceres Vegetina said.

“Let’s all think about Brigid,” Green Dragon said, looking round the circle. “We know that Brigid is the only goddess that was assimilated completely into the Christian religion—and that was because her followers refused to give her up.”

“Interesting,” Passionata observed. “She must have meant a lot to the Irish.”

“She sounds as if she had a lot to do,” Arielle said. “Goddess of healing, and of the forge, and of poetry?”

Green Dragon nodded. “She sounds like one of us, don’t you think? Multitasking. Can’t you just picture Her racing from the smithy, where She’s been beating out ploughshares and shepherds’ crooks all morning, to the hospital in the afternoon, where She goes from ward to ward healing the sick? And as if that weren’t enough for a day’s work, after dinner in the Great Hall She sits down by Her harp and makes up songs as She plucks the strings.”

Green Dragon lowered her voice. “Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Now breathe in again and breathe out…ahhh! Concentrate on Brigid. Are you as ‘fulfilled’ as She is, or is there a ‘you’ that’s submerged by your usual life roles, that you’d like to flower into full being? If you spend your days as an auto mechanic or computer jock, is there a part of you that longs to be a healer–whether of people, animals, or Gaia Herself?

“If you spend your day ministering to others as mother, healer, or teacher, is there a part of you that longs to express yourself as freely and joyously as you did when you were a child? Is there a lost self in you somewhere that wants to dance, sing, paint, act, or write?

“If you spend your days in creative endeavors, is there a part of you that longs to show how practical you can be by building your own garage, laying out a labyrinth in your backyard, or repairing old bicycles to donate to charity? This is a time of new beginnings and growth, so think of the goals and dreams that you will ‘plant’ for this coming year.”

Green Dragon’s voice trailed off and for a few minutes there was no sound except the soft breathing of the Circle sisters.

“Now open your eyes,” Green Dragon said quietly. “Come back to yourself. Let your thoughts about the near future flourish quietly in the seedbed of your mind. By the time the Wheel turns to Ostara your hopes and wishes will be well on their way to fruition.”

All the Circle sisters opened their eyes, sat up in their chairs, and looked around at each other.

“Now,” Green Dragon said, “how can we help our Witch sister Rowan, who needs comfort?”

“Brigid rewards those who offer gifts to her,” I said. “So She may be disposed to lend a little of Her magic to us tonight.”

We all thought hard, then Gladwyn suddenly sat forward in her chair. “I know! Let’s do a metaphorical ‘stone soup’ for her—we’ll go around the circle, each of us contributing an idea to lift her up. Would you be okay with that, Rowan?”

“Not only would I be okay with it, I’d greatly appreciate it,” Rowan said.

“Excellent,” Gladwyn said. “Coventina, why don’t you begin?”

“I suggest travel,” Coventina said, turning to look at Rowan. “Once I experienced the same situation you’re in, Witch Sis. So I went to the bank, withdrew some savings, and went to Paris for two weeks. Believe me,” she said, looking around at us, “Being in another country, having to speak French and think in French, not to mention all the different experiences, got me over the worst part.”

There were murmurs of approval. “Great idea.”

“Would you like to go away for a while, Rowan?” Green Dragon asked. “Is there any country that appeals to you?”

Rowan looked thoughtful. “Yes, I’ve always yearned to go to Australia.”
“Australia! Great Goddess, I’m going there next month!” Eyes wide, Jaguar Priestess turned to look at Rowan.

“Really, Jaguar? How long have you been planning this?” Ceres Vegetina inquired.

“Not long.” Jaguar Priestess cleared her throat. “The thing is, I sent Yule greetings to an old flame in Sydney. She e-mailed back and we’ve been having quite an exchange for the past month. The upshot is that she’s invited me to visit her and I’m going.”

“Are you sure she’s an old flame, Jag?” Arielle asked, with interest.

Passionata said, “Oh, stop talking about old flames! You’re reminding me of everything I’ve been missing since Yule.”

“Never tell me you’ve been celibate all this time, Pash,” Arielle said. “So, um, different for you.”

Passionata tossed her long red hair. “I said I’d do it and I’m doing it! Just wait till Beltane, though.”

Coventina chuckled. “That’ll be something to see, I bet.”

“Anyway,” Jaguar Priestess said, “My friend Windsong will be happy for you to stay with her, Rowan. She lives in a nice apartment not far from The Rocks, and she’d be glad to put you up.”

“Rowan, my cousin Star Crone lives right outside Melbourne,” Gladwyn said. “You could stay with her too. She’s got a fabulous temple right in her back garden.”

“You know,” Green Dragon, frowning as she thought, “I have a friend who works for the airlines. He could get you a reduced-fare ticket, provided you meet certain conditions.”

Rowan was sitting on the edge of her chair, looking alert and interested. “You’re all so kind! I can’t believe it!”

“I can stop by your place a couple of times a week to water your plants,” I said.

“And I’ll be glad to look after your kitties,” Arielle offered.

“You can borrow my iPad for the trip,” Rhiannon said. “You’ll need a lightweight computer of some kind.”

Rowan glowed. “You all are the best Circle sisters ever! This might just happen if I can get the time off. I’ll talk to my manager about a leave of absence.”

“Absolutely,” Ceres Vegetina agreed. “No point in going if you’re only going to stay a week or two. Go for a month! You could cycle around the Outback and stay at youth hostels or with friends of friends.”

“This is a marvelous ‘stone soup,’ Circle sisters,” Green Dragon said approvingly. “All right, let’s have dinner before we devoke and open the circle. As most of you know, ‘Imbolc’ is a Celtic word deriving from “ewe’s milk,” because this is the time of year that lambs are born.”

“And the colors of Imbolc are red and white, as TigerLily reminded us,” Coventina said. “Red for the blood of birth and white for milk.”

“Exactly,” Gladwyn agreed. “So for dinner we’re having a milky main dish, which is macaroni and cheese, with white cauliflower and red pepper on the side.”

“I’ve made the vegan equivalent of mac and cheese,” Ceres said. “And there’s vegan cherry pie to follow.”

Rhiannon looked at Ceres in surprise. “I thought you’d gone back to vegetarianism at Yule, Ceres.”

“Oh, darling, I tried it for about a week, but all that dairy didn’t agree with me,” Ceres said. “Besides—it only takes half an acre to feed a vegan! So veganism is better for the environment and for me.”

After the last vestige of cherry pie, hot chocolate, and herb tea had disappeared, all of us sat back in our chairs, replete. From the living room came the soft sound of Celtic music playing in the CD player.

“The magic is working,” Rowan said. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears but from her expression, it was plain they were tears of joy. “Thank you, blessed Circle Sisters, and thank you, blessed Brigid. Just think—the next time the Wheel turns in the heavens, I might be celebrating Ostara Down Under!”

Jaguar Priestess shook her head. “Um, it’ll be Mabon, actually. Our March is their September. Still, we know what you mean.”

We rose from the table as Green Dragon beckoned us into the living room, where we devoked and Green Dragon opened the circle. “A blessed Imbolc to you all, my sisters!”

“And to you,” we said as we shrugged into coats or fastened cloaks. “See you at Ostara!”

The End

Saving the World Through Sex

Chapter 3

The mission of the International Tarts Society is to prevent world leaders from declaring war by distracting them with the delights of sex. Although they work as office assistants during the day, at night the Tarts’ assistance becomes quite personal. Carmela Sandoval, twenty-two, accepts the most important mission of all: that of distracting the president of the Deeply Divided States of Vespuccia. Will she succeed?

At first dismayed that the president hardly seems to notice her, Carmela finds ways to dazzle him with her feminine wiles. As time goes on, the president’s increasingly erratic behavior convinces Carmela that he will soon involve the country in a world war. Her decision to employ the ultimate Tarty Technique to stop him results in a shattering climax that changes world history.

Chapter 3

Prunella Parsons was having a bad—no, a really horrible—morning at The Mansion. Not only had Blackie Hart, her ex-boss and the current Mansion Chief Policy Strategist, told her sharply to do a better job of entertaining foreign dignitaries, but Dooby McManus, the Mansion Chief of Staff, had cut her budget.

It would be simply impossible to bring off the state dinners, not to mention the numerous minor functions she was expected to mastermind as the official Mansion hostess, on such a reduced budget. As the niece of the recently elected president of the DDSV she was serving as Mansion Social Secretary and hostess because Venetia, the wife of President Eric Tayshun, refused to leave the luxurious family-owned apartment building two hundred miles away. Her excuse was that Goldie, the couple’s teenaged daughter, could not be torn from her friends and fellow students at the expensive private academy where she’d just begun her freshman year of high school.

Not only did she have problems with Blackie Hart and Dooby McManus, but Prunella also had issues with the president himself. Although she was married to his nephew, Zebulon Parsons, who served as Special Adviser to the President, Eric Tayshun apparently saw nothing wrong with harboring incestuous longings for his female relatives. Whenever he hove into view he leered at Prunella, and when he wanted to emphasize a statement, he patted her derrière. Only yesterday, when he’d encountered her in the hallway, he’d kissed her on the lips. She knew the fact she was married meant nothing at all to him, but now she wondered uneasily if he had a thing about nieces. Rumors in the corridors of western history whispered that both Adolf Hitler and General Patton had had a thing about nieces, even going so far as to actually—no! She refused to go there, even in her mind.

Prunella shook herself impatiently. There was work to do, although she couldn’t help sighing when she thought of how simple her workdays had been before the election. Three months ago she’d been working for Blackie, who obliged her to spend her days thinking up ad copy for the campaign: “Save the nation/Vote Eric Tayshun!” “Keep the DDSV free/Vote for Eric T.!” and other such asinine slogans.

The Mansion intercom buzzed. “Yes?” she said.

“Ms. Parsons, an applicant is here to interview for the position of your assistant. It’s Miss Sandoval.”

“Send her in,” Prunella said. How tedious: now, instead of working on the state dinner slated for next month, she’d have to lose an hour talking to this applicant. On the other hand, perhaps the applicant would turn out to be the perfect person for the job. Heaven knew she needed help. She looked up as the door of her office clicked open and the receptionist ushered Miss Sandoval in.

Prunella stood up, came around her desk, and shook hands. Too pretty, she thought immediately, then checked herself. The applicant was evidently trying to tone down her appearance by wearing a prim brown tweed suit with a high-necked ecru blouse, and a severe hair style that pulled her dark tresses into a French twist. However, Prunella’s sharp eyes detected the lissom figure inside the suit, the luster of the luxuriant hair, the long-lashed eyes that even dark-rimmed glasses couldn’t disguise. She wore only enough makeup to conform to societal norms.

“Do sit down, Miss…Sandoval, is it?”

“Yes. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me this morning. I realize how busy you must be,” the applicant said. “Oh, in case you haven’t had a chance to review my resume, I have a copy here.” She pulled a sheet of paper out of her bag and handed it to Prunella.

“Think nothing of it. H’mm, I see you have a degree in world geography and you speak five languages, correct?”

“Yes, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German.”

“That’s impressive,” Prunella said. And potentially very useful, she thought.

Aloud she said, “You graduated from a university in Germany. Why did you go to school in a foreign country?”

Miss Sandoval opened her eyes very wide and smiled. “It was free. That’s why I learned German. I hoped I’d be good enough to get into a college over there, and of course, attending that particular university really helped my major in geography and my minor in languages. I traveled extensively during vacations.”

“Impressive,” Prunella said again. Quickly she made up her mind. This applicant would do. With her background she’d be able to deal with almost anything, including excitable foreigners. “Miss Sandoval, I’d like to offer you the position, which, of course, is contingent on your reference check. I see you already have a security clearance.”

“Yes, that’s right. I’d really like to work for you, Mrs. Parsons. This is an exciting opportunity and I’d love to help lighten your workload.”

That settled it. The Latina background was a little awkward, considering the president’s attitude toward people of that ethnicity, but fortunately, he was unlikely to bump into Ms. Sandoval in the ordinary course of business.

In the weeks that followed, Prunella’s hopes were fulfilled. The first week, of course, was spent showing Carmela the routine of the office and how the communications system worked. Carmela learned quickly, came to work on time, and volunteered for even the most tedious tasks, such as filling out the Acceptances spreadsheet for the state dinner. By Friday afternoon Prunella was sharing her frustrations concerning the menu, the decorations, and the music for that occasion.

“President Tayshun has invited the president of Mexico to the Mansion. Of course they absolutely loathe—that is to say, they’re barely able to be polite to each other. But with the severe budget cuts, I don’t know what on earth to put on the menu for dinner!” Prunella raised her eyes to the ceiling. “The budget simply won’t run to the usual Mansion fare for a state dinner, and as for flowers, I have no idea what we’re going to do. We can’t even go out and pick them from the All-White Garden, considering it’s late February.”

Carmela considered for a few minutes. “I have an idea. What do you think of this? Why not honor the Aztec history of Mexico by using the ‘Three Sisters’ theme for the dinner? You know, base the menu on squash, corn, and beans. It would be a subtle compliment to the Mexican president, and dishes based on the Three Sisters would cost a lot less than filet mignon, truffles, and caviar.”

Prunella’s face lit up. “Brilliant! Will you do the research and give me suggestions for a menu? Then we can hammer it out with the Mansion executive chef and start thinking about decorations.”

“I’ll have it for you by Monday morning,” Carmela promised.

At the beginning of the next week Prunella ran her eyes over the menu Carmela handed her. “Okay, we begin with Corn Soup with Chipotle Sour Cream—there’s our soup. For fish, Lemon Garlic Shrimp Tostada, good. For the entrée, Chile-Rubbed Roast Turkey, Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa and Black Beans, and Cuernavaca-style Cucumber Salad, good. And two desserts, Pumpkin Cheesecake and Mexican Chocolate Torte. Why two, Carmela?”

“To give the impression of opulence,” Carmela said. “Also, it will make the guests feel spoiled, having two to choose from. And don’t forget, both chocolate and pumpkin are New World foods. The Aztecs definitely used them.”

“And they don’t look too expensive, either,” Prunella said, flipping through the sheaf of recipe printouts Carmela handed to her. “Oh, what a load off my mind! This will be a small dinner as state dinners go. We’ll have no more than fifty people in all, including the Mexicans and the president’s own staff.”

“Does the president like this kind of food?”

“Good heavens, no,” Prunella said. “He’ll eat the occasional taco salad, but basically he prefers hamburgers and fries. Well, he’ll like the cheesecake. His home town is famous for it.”

“This particular cheesecake has caramel sauce and rum-infused whipped cream with it,” Caramel said. She smiled as she thought of the pun on her new nickname.

“Sounds good, but leave the rum out of the whipped cream. He doesn’t do alcohol.”

For the next hour they discussed the wines and other drinks that would accompany each course and the Mexican-accented coffee that would end the meal.

“You’re a godsend, Carmela,” Prunella said. “Thank heavens you walked through my door! I think I might actually get some sleep tonight. Oh, who’s in the hallway? Why, I believe it’s—”

The president of the DDSV strolled through the door accompanied by several of his staff: Dooby McManus, a dapper little man who looked as if he’d just climbed out of a bandbox, Blackie Hart, who resembled a lumbering bear in an ill-fitting suit, and two agents from the Nervous Service. “Good morning, sweetie, how are ya?” he asked, bending over Prunella’s desk.

“Good morning, Mr. President,” Prunella said. “Sir, may I introduce my new assistant? This is Ms. Carmela Sandoval.”

The president turned his head to look at Carmela. “Pleased to meetcha. Now, Prunie, I need you to do me a favor.” He bent down to whisper into Prunella’s ear. “Can ya do that for me?”

“Why, certainly, Mr. President, I’ll take care of it right away.”

Dooby McManus fidgeted from his position near the doorway. “Not to rush you, Mr. President, but we’re due at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs in the Crisis Room in exactly two minutes!”

The president nodded. “Yeah, sure, I hear ya. Okay, guys, let’s march! ’Bye, Prunie, see ya later.”

The president and his entourage surged out of the room, leaving Prunella frustrated yet again.

“Carmela, the president just asked me to make sure that Zeb and I will be seated at his right hand so he doesn’t get bored during the dinner. So that means you will have to act as hostess in my place.”

(For the full novella, please follow this link):