Word Count: 3337 | Estimated Reading Time 17 Minutes
In Chapter Seven, Kit is searching for clues in Xanthe’s bedroom and comes across the charred pictures of the house. He decides to try and find the journalist who wrote the death notice for Stella, Xanthe’s mother. Meanwhile, Melanie has taken the moonstone and a phial of ash from Kit’s room.
Melanie’s errands turned out to be hanging out with the girls from the centre, who had all skipped school. The storm clouds of the morning had moved on, but more were gathering in the East and the humidity was overwhelming. Kit was relieved to drop Melanie off, having felt really uncomfortable with her being so close. She held on much tighter than she needed. She waved him off at the same time as talking to her friends behind the back of her hand. About him, or Xanthe, no doubt he observed in his wing mirror as he sped off. Once he had got out of town, he texted his dad and asked him to pick Melanie up on his way home, then after checking the address on maps turned his phone off. He didn’t want to be disturbed.
The road out of the village was really twisty, known locally as corkscrew bends, and the recent rain had made the surface really slippy. He slowed right down as he navigated the corners to the right and left time and time again, going downhill. The road then rose again and opened up across the Blackmore Vale. The views were stunning and you could see for miles, but Kit wasn’t interested. He focused on his next move. He turned off the main road, along a dirt track, and followed it for a couple of miles before the rain pelted down. At the end of the lane was a small, pretty cottage with a garden full of lavender and roses, the heads of which snapped about in the wind which had picked up. He ran up to the front door and removed his helmet. He hadn’t even thought about what he would say. Just come out with it, he supposed. He took a deep breath and knocked. He heard a bark and a voice telling the animal to quiet.
“Who is it?”
“Erm, my name is Kit Stevens. I’m the son of Doc Stephens. I just wanted a word with Mrs Hart? Brigid Hart?”
He listened at the door as footsteps approached and the handle of the door turned.
“I don’t need no doctor.” A small woman peered back out at him. A large dog stood behind her snarling, his white teeth bared. She turned to the animal. “In your box, now.” The dog narrowed its eyes as she gave a hand signal and it trotted off to a large plastic bed full of blankets.
“No, I know. I wanted to talk. Talk about the time you worked at the Dorset Daily?”
The door opened a little more, and she beckoned him in. She wasn’t as old as he had first thought, but there was something wrong with her. Her gait was lopsided, and one foot dragged along the floor. The dog eyed him with malice.
“Don’t mind him. He’s all bark and no bite. I promise.”
“Okay,” said Kit as he took a wide berth around the dog, who snarled once more.
“It’s a long time since I worked on the paper. What on earth would a young lad like you want to talk about?”
They entered a tiny kitchen, which was packed full of pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and open racks filled with dishes. A small table stood in one corner and a large wing-backed chair beside it. The woman lowered herself down. She dragged a stool from under the table and indicated that Kit should sit.
“I don’t get many visitors,” she said and lifted her left arm onto her lap. Kit realised that she must have had a stroke.
“Oh, I don’t mind. That’s why I live off the beaten track, don’t want to see much more than I have here. But my tarot reading this morning suggested I might have a visitor. So I’m intrigued.”
“Tarot reading?” Kit frowned. He was sure his mother had Tarot set somewhere.
“Yes, but never mind that. Now what do you want?”
Kit pulled out the article from his jacket pocket.
“Bit hot to be wearing leathers this time of the year, isn’t it? She asked.
Kit laughed. “Yes, but I’m on my motorbike. It’s protection. And yes, boiling.”
He handed her the piece of paper and the woman squinted as she read. Her face paled, and she swallowed several times.
“What do you want with this nonsense?” she handed it back to him and shifted slightly in her seat.
“Well, you wrote it, didn’t you? I mean reported on the death and the ritual. Well, the accident.” The air had a definite chill about it.
“May have done,” she answered in a clipped tone.
“Did you know Stella Rivers?” Kit felt as if he was intruding.
“Once upon a time.” The woman took a deep sigh. “Look, I don’t know why you are here, but I really don’t want to drag up old history. It’s all in the past.”
Kit scratched his chin. “I’m sorry. I know it all seems odd. But I’m just trying to help a friend. Xanthe…”
The woman’s head snapped up at the mention of Xanthe’s name. Why was that? He tried to keep himself composed. Don’t get too excited.
Brigid stood up with some difficulty, refusing any help from Kit, and walked to the counter where she switched a kettle on. “Cup of tea?”
“No, thanks. A glass of water would be good.” He would have to bide his time, he realised. Go through some niceties. Of course, he couldn’t expect to come in and have answers provided on a plate. He looked around. There were several pictures on the wall. One must have been Brigid some years back. She was beautiful. His gaze fell on a photo of a group of women. Thirteen, to be exact. And they were standing by a standing stone. Like the one mentioned in the article.
“Here.” She placed a glass of water on the table and he took a big slug. She reseated herself and sipped from a large china mug.
“Lovely photos,” he said.
“Mmm.” said the woman, gazing at him.
He pointed to the group. “Isn’t this where the accident happened?”
“Maybe,” she replied. “No-one believed it. Not one person. And Lord Rivers had it all covered up. That’ s what money can do for you. Bury the facts and the people.” She was talking into the kitchen. Not at him. As if she were acting out something that happened.
“That’s why they sacked me. No one wanted to listen to the truth. And so that was that. After she left, there seemed no point.”
“Who left? Asked Kit a little too quickly. He smiled and took a gulp of water.
Brigid sighed. “Why do you really want to know, Kit? I’m tired of being thought about as some silly woman who—”
“I don’t think you’re silly. No. I just—I’m not sure you’ll believe me. That you’ll think I’m stupid.”
She leant forward and took his hand in hers. It felt cool to the touch. Really cool. “Try me.”
Kit gave some scant details about Xanthe, about her being left at the centre, and about how they thought Stella Rivers might be her mother. That a tattoo had appeared on her neck.
She sat and stared at him for several minutes, then stood up, with some effort, and picked up a pile of papers that were hidden under a cushion. “I was going to throw them away. But something always stopped me.”
It was as if she was talking to herself. She flicked through the papers, licking her fingers to separate them. She shoved one at him. “Is this the tattoo?”
It was the same image as on Xanthe’s neck. He nodded.
“The Moon Princess? Stella was telling the truth. I knew it.” She sat back down again. Her hands fluttering over her lap. “I was Stella’s friend. Lord Rivers didn’t like it. He thought Stella was far too influenced by things out of his control. He wanted to keep her on a short rein. But of course she rebelled. I tried to talk some sense into her but she wouldn’t listen.”
Brigid was rambling and Kit found it difficult to keep up, but he didn’t want to interrupt her either.
“Then after the incident,” she looked at her hands and Kit noticed the scars, burns. The skin puckered and pink as if it had shrunk. “After the… sorry, after the fire, he tried to control everything. Got rid of all the evidence and forbade us all from seeing Stella again. That was the last time I saw her.” She bit at her lip and turned to Kit. “She’s not dead, you know. It was all a cover up. I know it was. I can’t tell you why, just that I know it was.”
“But why would he want to say his granddaughter was dead? If she wasn’t?”
“Because he wanted to control everything. Stella said he was losing his mind. And the coven—” she glanced at Kit and waved her hand at him. “Enough. I can’t go through this all again.”
Kit nodded his head, though he didn’t quite understand. “It must have been awful. I’m so sorry. Your hands…”
She lifted her hands to her face. “This was the least of my worries. I had the stroke just after leaving the paper. I couldn’t do anything. But that suited me. I just wanted to forget.”
“If Stella is alive, where is she?”
Brigid shook her head. “I don’t know anymore, Kit. I’m sorry. I’ve told you all I know.”
He knew she hadn’t told him everything, but he really didn’t want to push it. “Xanthe’s not sure she wants to find her mum. Feels that if she really wanted to see her, she’d make the first move. I’m trying to bring them—”
“Where is Xanthe now?”
Kit shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno. We kind of fell out. He held out his burnt fingers. She started—”
“Yes, she didn’t mean to, though. It’s been difficult for her. She thinks… well, I don’t know, to be honest.” He pulled the drawing of the house he’d pieced together from his pocket. “This is all I found in her room after she left. I’m worried about her.” He hung his head.
Brigid took the paper and smoothed it out. “That’s Lord Rivers estate, the big house on the estate.”
“It is? Where?” Kit perked up and perched on the edge of the seat. It was a slim chance, but it made some sort of sense.
“On the estate, of course.”
Kit frowned. “I live on the estate. And there is no house like this. I know every inch. Honest.”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course I’m sure. I’ve lived there all my life.”
“Then it’s being deliberately hidden.”
“By a concealment spell, of course.”
A coarse prickly sensation ran across Xanthe’s nose. She forced herself awake and scurried back up to the bed. She stifled a scream. Cobweb sat on her stomach, looking at her through his imperious green eyes. Today he wore a mask of gold and pearls, through which his two ears stood straight, like a pair of antennae. They twitched ever so slightly every second. He licked his poor and ran it over his nose.
“Time to rise, Your Highness,” he jumped lightly onto the floor. Two tiny wings fluttered on his back. He looked thinner and larger than she had first thought.
“Don’t call me that.” Xanthe stretched her arms above her head. She hadn’t slept like that in what seemed like forever.
“Since when did cats have wings? “she asked, thinking she might be hallucinating. The snake bite could have been poisonous after all. “What do they call you, Birdie?”
The cat ruffled and stuck his tail high in the air, like a marker. He extended the wings made of lace and dotted with tiny green gems, which caught the light and twinkled like tiny lights. Xanthe couldn’t take her eyes off them.
“My name is Cobweb, your Highness, as you well know after our introduction last night.. And my mistress gifted me these… these appendages for want of a better word. I think it may have been a spell which went wrong. She often tests things out on me first. They are far too small to enable me to fly, don’t you think?” He sniffed as if there were an unpleasant smell under his nose.
“Pretty cool, though, just the same.” Xanthe reached out to touch the feathers, but Cobweb folded them back quickly.
“And your mistress?” Xanthe glanced at the door.
“The Truth Weaver. You’ll have plenty of time to become acquainted. She has been expecting you.”
“Expecting me? I hardly knew I was going to come here until recently. How on earth would she know?”
“Not for me to say,” Cobweb yawned, his jaw extending and revealing pin sharp tiny teeth. A black line picked out the contours of his nose, almost as if someone had drawn it on.
She glanced at the wolf tattoo. “What time is it?”
Cobweb shrugged. “I don’t know. We pay little attention to time. But you have slept for three moons.”
Xanthe threw the covers off her and swung her legs out of bed. “Three moons? Does that mean three nights?”
The cat’s tail twitched with irritation. “I have no concept of your nights.” His whiskered trembled with disdain. “Only that my mistress is ready for you.”
Xanthe yawned and reached for her shoes. She had slept in her clothes and had brought nothing else with her. She had not come prepared at all.
“Do not worry about your clothes,” Cobweb padded over to a small wardrobe and the door swung slowly open. “She chose some more suitable attire for you.”
Xanthe ran her fingers over a line of dresses. She counted seven of them. All in shades of moonlight.
“I don’t wear dresses,” she responded as she pulled on her jumper.
“As you wish,” sniffed the cat. “She is waiting for you in the temple.” And he flicked his tail and strode out of the room.
“Hey, wait for me! What temple?” Xanthe hopped on one foot as she pulled a boot on and then another before following the cat out onto the grounds. She squinted in the bright early sunshine. The aroma of wet soil filled the air after the storm. A rumble told her it had still not finished.
She glanced around. There were several stone figures scattered, reminding her of the Moon People cast to stone by the evil dryad, Toovah. She ran her fingers down the arm of one and she jumped back as the arm moved slightly in response. Cobweb continued to trot across the ground, bouncing on each paw. She backed away, but she must have imagined it. It was stone, not an actual person.
She rolled her sleeves down, covering the tattoo and pulled up the collar to cover her neck. It was part of her morning ritual. A cover up. A bit like her life.
As they walked through an arch which was covered in large fat creamy roses, the aroma made her feel nauseous. She saw a round structure at the far end of the lawn. Cobweb disappeared into it through a small arched door at the bottom.
Once inside the temple, the temperature dropped considerably, and Xanthe shivered. The walls cast shadows from the light coming through the ceiling, which was shaped like a moon with two crescent moons on either side. Someone had carved out a line of steps into the wall of the building to a second level, which was covered with lichen and fungus. They were slippy under foot and with nothing to hold on to, Xanthe slipped several times, grazing her knee.
Finally, they reached the second floor, and Xanthe gazed down at where they had come from. It was a long way down, but she could make out a circle etched into the stone floor. A central wheel with 12 equal portions, like the slices of a cake. She squinted, trying to focus, but it was a long way down. There were lots of symbols centred within each segment, whirls and squiggles, and the words Life, Death, and Rebirth around a smaller inner circle.
“I trust you are rested?” the soft voice of The Truth Weaver bounced around the walls and Xanthe turned and nodded.
“Yes, yes thank you, I am.” It was the best night’s sleep she’d had in a long time. And no howling.
“You must be hungry. We prepared a feast for your awakening.” She followed Xanthe’s gaze towards the circle on the floor. “The Witches Wheel. It will all make sense, eventually. You are only just at the next stage. It’s a very important day for the Seventh Coven.” She smiled. “When I saw the moons—”
“The Moons?” Xanthe repeated automatically. “There is more than one moon, here, like in the Kingdom?”
The Truth Weaver laughed, throwing her head back and the candle flames threw dancing shadows around the room.
“There are always more moons, if you want to see them, that is.”
Xanthe followed her gaze upwards to the domed glass ceiling. The sky had turned black, like night. Two large moons crossed over immediately above them, surrounded by a blanket of twinkling stars. “The sun, the moon, and the stars are all connected in our world,” she said. “They should work in harmony but for some time now…” she shook her head softly. Taking Xanthe’s arm, the Truth Weaver led her to a table covered with small bowls and plates.
“Some sustenance to give you back your strength, your meaning and your purpose. I know this has been tough, more than you could have ever imagined, but there was truly no other way. However, the Seventh Coven and the prophecy were much more important.”
The Truth Weaver offered Xanthe a bowl of ripe figs drizzled with sweet honey. Xanthe’s stomach growled with anticipation and she took one, biting into the soft flesh. A line of honey dribbled down her chin. She wiped it up and sucked it from her fingertip. It was like nothing she had ever tasted in her life. She took another and felt her energy rising.
They sat down cross-legged at a low table covered with a pale orange and yellow cloth, their movements mimicking each other naturally, without thought. Xanthe relished each small taste, some sweet, some savoury, the tastes mixing and lingering on her tongue, a sensation of delight in every mouthful. The women handed her a small bronze goblet and picked up another. Xanthe peered into the cup. The liquid seemed to sparkle and gleam like gold.
“What is it?” Xanthe brought the goblet to her lips.
“It is from the river of the Moon tribe, blended with some rare fruits from the forest and ice from the mountains. It’s a restorative potion.”
“Yes, it is a special potion only known to one.”
“Nokomi,” Xanthe said. The Moon goddess that Xanthe had once thought was her mother.
The Truth weaver moved with great surety despite her blindness, selecting items for her to taste and occasionally offering something to Cobweb. He refused and turned his back.
An air of calm and peace filled Xanthe’s chest, despite not understanding why she was here or what on earth the Seventh Coven was.
“They have tricked me before, you know.” Xanthe played with the fraying edges of her jumper. “Nokomi told me certain things, made me believe certain things. I won’t be tricked again.” Her voice broke, betraying her intention to challenge.
The Truth Weaver stepped forward and held out her hand. A fine gold chain ran from her wrist over the top of her hand, with sections connected to a ring on each finger and thumb. She glanced at Cobweb. Like a spider’s web. “I have no intention of deceiving you. Nokomi did what she had to do to start you on your journey. Time was of the essence. The Moons had decreed it so. Now it is up to you. You decide whether you want to seek the truth and complete the wheel or not. It is totally within your control.”
Xanthe’s head drooped, her chin almost on her chest. “Nothing seems within my control,” she whispered. “Nothing has ever been in my control.”
The ninth episode of Thunder Moon will be posted next Friday at midnight. This first book in the the serialisation of The Luna Legends is free to all my subscribers and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much for your support.