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Official website of Science Fiction and Fantasy Author Carol Hightshoe

Midnight Ritual


Harailt reined his horse in and took a few minutes to study the village before him. His father had ordered him here after finding out he had been studying magic. As a minor noble, perhaps because he was only a minor noble, his father had been quick to prevent the scandal that would have happened if anyone had learned one of his sons was consorting with evil. He pressed a hand against the papers he carried in his pocket and smiled as he continued to look at the village. Although his father’s decision to send him here had been strictly a political ploy to protect their family’s position, he, as well as the Lady Acacia had written him letters of introduction to a woman named Briana who was the healer for this small community.

He shook his head as his gaze rested on the building in the center of the village. Even here, where the power of the old ways was rumored to still be strong, a church of the Christ stood. He didn’t understand the attitude of many these days. At one time, they had welcomed the Fey and their magic, now they shunned and reviled them—all because some priest told them to do so. Surely, there was nothing evil in a tool, only in the way it was used. But, these priests wanted to argue that only their God and those who represented him should have that type of power. They said those who use magic to change the world around them, instead of using hard work and toil, were challenging God’s authority and therefore could only have gained their power through some sort of pact with the demons who had once rebelled against their God. Still, if this Briana was known as a woman of power, then perhaps the priests didn’t have as strong a hold over these people as they did in other places.

Harailt tightened his knees slightly and his horse began working his way down the narrow path to the village.

~ * ~

“We will be performing the ritual at the Solstice,” Briana said as her gaze moved from Leathan to his younger brother, Stephan. She felt a chill wrap itself around her as she looked again at Leathan. His form wavered and she heard a mournful howl fill her ears as he dropped to the floor and shifted into a wolf. Another image overlaid Leathan’s; Adairia, tears shimmered in her dark blue eyes and her black hair hung lank and dull. A shadow passed over Leathan but there was something else there, a feeling of hope and rebirth. She blinked and the images faded.

“You still plan to ask Adairia to marry you, despite the risks” she said.

“I still do not understand why I cannot stand alone during the ritual,” Stephen said interrupting Leathan.

Briana shook her head. “That is not the way the binding works. All children of the current generation must partake in the ritual or we all will be cursed.” She hid the sorrow she felt after her vision with a smile. “It is probable you will be the one chosen to serve as Guardian, Stephen. Yours is the willing heart with no ties to another. While I do not understand how the ritual chooses whom it does, it has never claimed one unwilling—when there was a willing heart.”

“However, you still feel my proposal to Adairia is inappropriate.” Leathan’s gaze was locked with hers for a moment then he dropped it to the floor.

Briana felt him flinch as she reached out and took hold of his chin and forced him to look up at her. “If you love her, then you will wait until after the ritual to continue your relationship. Would you ask her to suffer losing you if you are the one chosen to serve?”

“No.” He paused and took a deep breath. “May I tell her the reasons? She should be allowed to understand what the risks are and make her decision based on knowing. It is also not fair for her to be put off at this point and then if I am chosen to serve to never know what happened to me.”

“She is an outsider,” Stephen said.

Briana stepped back and nodded. “He is correct. However…” She raised her hand to stop Leathan’s protest. “However, I do agree—she should know what might happen. The two of you are bound together—true soul mates—through life, death and unto life again.” She closed her eyes and saw Leathan as the wolf with Adairia. “Yes.” She nodded her head slowly. “She should know about the ritual. Let her make the decision once she knows the risks.”

Leathan nodded. “Thank you.”

“Be careful,” Stephen said. “The nature of our family’s guardianship has been a tightly held secret for several generations.”

“I understand,” he whispered.

“Leathan,” Briana whispered. “She must know all of the risks—not just the risk you may be chosen, but also that one of your children may be called as Guardian in the future.”

“Do we have your blessing?”

Briana nodded. “If you explain everything to her and she agrees, then you do indeed have my blessing. However, there will be no formal engagement or announcements until after the ritual is completed.”

Leathan bowed his head then left.

Briana watched her grandsons leave her shop. Bound together—true soul mates, she thought. Through life, death and unto life again. She smiled. Yes, Leathan and Adairia would face sorrow, but they would come through it together.

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