Tara stood, breathing heavily over her ‘friend’, trying to understand why she got so angry and lashed out, channeling so much power in her magic to strike the woman crumbled on the ground. Paige was, Tara guessed, a friend, sort of, but absolutely a colleague and someone Tara thought she could trust. But over the last two months, Tara’s attitude towards Paige changed drastically, and the gnarled fingers emanating green crackling light, crunched eyebrows and a tight scowl were a direct result of that change, and a drastic manifestation of Tara’s unbalance with nature.
She looked around the now lonely hollow at the circle of stones, some standing around the edge, a few engraved stones on their side in the middle, all hidden in a valley near Moleswood Forest, home to the Society of Delmora Druidesses, of which Tara was a young (but unusually powerful) acolyte, and a protector of this circle of stones. The smoke from her magic drifted over the center stones, slightly obscuring Tara’s position on the other side of the circle.
A little over a minute ago she quietly crept away from her position, around not only the stones but behind a tall aspen tree near the southern entrance to the stones, and arrived behind Paige while she hummed the morning rites with her sisters (which Tara should have been doing as well.) Then, in anger, born from a jealous rage, she channeled enough of her power to drop a man three times Paige’s size into the back of her dark green cloak. The only noise Tara could hear right now (besides her own breathing) was the smoldering and crackling coming from Paige’s skin, hair and cloak. Bella, the middle Druidess at the circle disappeared, Tara assumed she ran back to the Abby to get Maven Willow. She tried to slow her breathing, but her racing heart and anger didn’t help. Her jealousy finally broke through her control, but why? She closed her eyes and played the last two months out in her mind.
Two Months Ago:
Tara, Bella and Paige returned from the morning rites whispering gleefully about the discovery of a bluebird nest adjacent to the Circle of High Aspen Stones. The spring morning mist still shrouded the cloister of the Society of Delmora Druidesses, and the three young women could barely see the residence halls off to the north as they walked past the kitchen towards the dining hall.
As they climbed the stairs, Maven Willow and several other women emerged from the dining hall. Maven Willow greeted each of the three by name, Tara, Bella, Paige, in order, but Tara noticed when Maven Willow said Paige’s name, she gave a smile and a small nod. Instantly, Tara trembled in jealous anger.
What the hell was that? Why the hell did the Maven give Paige a nod? Who the hell does she think she is? I have been here over 5 years and never got a nod, she has barely been here 5 months and the Maven is giving her a NOD? What the hell?
She turned towards the other two, but Paige took no notice of the inner turmoil alive in Tara. In fact, Paige kept whispering to Bella, like nothing happened.
Maybe Maven Willow nodded to all of us and I misunderstood what happened. Paige is not gloating about it, nor even speaking about it, so maybe I’m mistaken. I should just forget about it.
Three weeks went by and nothing else happened, then, one night near the end of dinner, the Maven walked up to their table and greeted them all again. Tara knew the nod happened this time, in fact, it didn’t stop at the nod. Maven Willow rested her hand on Paige’s shoulder while she talked.
You've got to be kidding me!!! That wench! How has favor rested on her so soon? I have been the fastest Druidess to ever earn the honor to lead a morning rite. I am the first acolyte trusted with protecting the Maven’s library. I am the youngest Druidess of the Society of Delmora to learn how to communicate with the Great Silver Birch and understand the Grey and White Peregrine’s calls. Maven Willow selected me to represent our Society during the mid-summer gathering last year. Yet, I, who is more powerful in magic than all but the Maven herself, have never received a nod. This is not right, not right at all.
Tara remembered several more times Maven Willow gave Paige a nod over the ensuing weeks. Now, as she stood in the valley, eyes closed, the anger continued to build. She dropped her head and closed her fist, ignoring the power spitting from her fingertips. Paige didn’t even understand or know the Maven favored her, and to Tara, that burned hot in her soul. Opening her eyes, she saw Paige’s body between her red curls draped in front of her face.
Maybe I should strike her again. One more time just to ensure the job is done.
“STOP! Do not lift your hands Tara” a harsh command rang through the valley.
Tara turned quickly, causing her red hair to fly across her forehead and the long tresses in the back smacked her opposite shoulder. Maven Willow, Bella and three other Druidesses spread out across the valley, encircling Tara, all with their hands up and fingers curled part way, ready to explode with magic.
“What have you done?” demanded the Maven.
“I gave her what she deserved for trying to upstart me, replace me, cast me aside. She got what she earned!”
“Replace you? What she deserved? Are you crazy? Why would you say that?”
“You nodded to her, more than once, and you never nodded to anyone else, especially me, when I am so much more advanced than she’s ever dreamed about.”
“I nodded to her? What? You got angry because I nodded to Paige? She’s my niece, why wouldn’t I greet her with a nod? She’s my sister’s daughter you fool. You are seriously unbalanced, plus you broke our laws, violated my trust and I know you understand the punishment since I was the one that taught you that lesson 5 years ago.”
“You can’t punish me. I am the fastest Druidess to ever earn the honor of leading a morning rite, the first acolyte trusted with protecting your library, and the youngest Druidess of the Society of Delmora to learn how to communicate with the Great Silver Birch and understand the Grey and White Peregrine’s calls. She was nothing, a nobody, and deserved her fate. I am the future of this Society.” The vitriol poured from her lips, while small spittle fell to the ground.
“You WERE all those things, and, according to the Book of Delmora, you were going to be so much more. Now, you are a disgrace and I sentence you to an eternity of guardianship.”
Maven Willow pulsed her hands, and a grey light sprang forth, hitting Tara as she tried to turn and run. A large SNAP and CRACK echoed in the valley, as Tara froze in place, leaning towards the west, and transformed into a large standing rock, almost perfectly placed in line with the others, yet not standing straight.
Maven Willow walked up to Paige and bent down, smelling burning skin and hair, and placed her hand on Paige’s head.
“She is almost gone, and I doubt we can save her in this form.”
She stood back up and turned to the other women. “Please carry her to the center circle and place her head to the east, where she may see the sunrise.”
The women carefully carried her to the center of the circle, laid her down with her head facing east and brushed her burnt blond hair from her face. Then, Bella took off her own cloak and draped it over Paige’s shoulders, giving her a kiss before she stood up.
Maven Willow walked up to Paige, bowed her head and started to chant. The other women joined her and soon a bluebird sang and a yellow finch chirped in tune. After a few minutes, the Maven bent down, kissed her niece and lay both hands on her. Then, looking down at Paige and changing her tune slightly, the Maven’s hands glowed silver, spreading their light onto Paige’s body.
Maven Willow stood up and all the women stopped chanting. The Maven looked down at a new center stone, laying on its side, looking east towards the sunrise with delicate words etched in gold along the surface, radiating white energy that warmed the circle and the women present.
The Maven nodded at the new center stone, then turned and walked away from the circle.