Chapter 6 – Cloaks and Dangers

The preparations for Samhain will require more attention than I want to spend on them, but since Zeke said we’d go, I figure I’d better get ready.  I want to make us new matching cloaks.  It’s been years since I made the ones that we’ve been using and they are looking a little ragged.  For some reason I also feel it’s important we have ones that clearly mark us as a matched pair.

I ask Rhyssa to suggest some place that I can find decent materials.  I know that she manages to have a new outfit for each ritual—at least the ones that aren’t skyclad—and some of them have been pretty amazing.  Being Monday, we can go buy it today and I will sew the cloaks immediately since I don’t figure on having much time during the week. She picks me up right after breakfast and we leave Zeke puttering in the shop’s kitchen to head out to her favorite fabric store.  She is full of news from the coven and I listen to it with a new sense of awareness about the group’s dynamics.

“Lord Candeur has had us practicing for the ritual.  Mike and Shelly have been doing most of the preparations for it.  Mike has even built a new altar in his backyard.”

I am curious as to why everyone else has Craft names and the Johnsons do not.  I ask Rhyssa.

“Oh they are novices.  They won’t get a real name until after their second initiation.  Anyway, Shelly has been complaining about having us over every night, but how else will we learn our parts of the ritual?  Mike has been working on the main altar and that’s coming along real well.  They are both mad that Artemis isn’t home to help because they have so much to do after they get home from work.”  She pauses for a breath.  I take the chance to ask my question.

“Laurie Bradford?  Why would she be there?”

“Don’t you know?  She is Mike’s daughter from his first marriage.  Her mother died about 5 years ago, and she just showed up on Mike’s doorstep.  He didn’t even know that he had a daughter.  Apparently he had left the woman before she knew that she was pregnant and she had never bothered to tell him.  Just kept his address, I guess.  He’s kind of strict with Artemis, because as Shelly says, he’s afraid her mother’s bad blood will show up in her.  Shelly always calls her ‘The Slut’.  I guess she slept around while they were married.  He doesn’t talk a lot about it.  Most of it I’ve heard from Shelly.”

“Shelly calls Laurie a slut?”  I am amazed and a bit confused with all the pronouns.

“Oh, no!  She calls her mother that, but she never says it in front of Artemis.  Mike won’t allow that.  Shelly says that genes will tell and that she will end up being just as much of a whore as her mother was.  She is forever telling her to wear more clothes at ritual.”  Rhyssa makes an exasperated sound.  “Shelly won’t go skyclad.  She doesn’t seem to understand that being naked has nothing to do with sexual promiscuity.  Although if I were as fat as she is, I guess I wouldn’t run around with my big ass hanging out, either.”

I have to agree with her on both points, even if the fat comment is just a bit catty from someone who is not exactly thin.  It puts an interesting spin on the Johnson family.  Before I can ask it, Rhyssa answers the other question I have.

“Artemis has her mother’s last name.  She won’t change it because she says it’s the only thing she has from her mom.”  She takes a breath and changes the subject.  “There’s going to be a lot of people there.  Lord Candeur has invited quite a few new people to attend the ritual.  I’m not sure about that.  But if he’s going to initiate Apollo any time soon, we may end up splitting into two covens.”

I make some noncommittal noise that indicates I am listening to her.  She burbles on, fondling material as she talks to me.

“Lady Eleanor will portray the Crone at ritual.”  I try not to snicker with how inappropriate that bit of casting is.  Lord Kiss My Ass’ wife is the most nondescript non-person I have ever met.  She is totally eclipsed by him in every situation and the most I have ever heard her say is “Yes, dear.”

I have a hard time imagining her with enough presence to represent the aspect properly at a ritual that usually has the Crone as a major part.  I have to wonder what John Robert is up to by putting her in a starring role, as it were.

Rhyssa continues with her chatter.  “I get to call the East Quarter.”  This piece of casting is perfect, as East is concerned with messages and communication.  Zeke calls her Gertie the Gilled Wonder in reference to the fact that she seems to talk endlessly without taking a breath.  “Apollo will call North and Artemis is going to call the South.  I think Shelly calls the West, but she’d better memorize her lines or Lord Candeur will have to replace her.  He hates having it read during the actual ceremony.

“He insists on knowing it well enough to deliver it with feeling.  That’s why we practice so much.  I mean, he works so hard to write the whole thing out.  It’s positively inspired!  He has such a gift for creating rituals that really do something.  You can feel the energy.”  She closes her eyes to remember some particularly moving ritual and this gives me a chance to roll my eyes.

Her eyes open and she takes a breath.  “It’s very humbling to know that he works through all kinds of pain.”

This is news to me.  John Robert is in less than perfect health?  I ask her about it.

“Well, I’m not quite sure what it is.  I think he has a bad heart, or high blood pressure.  Something like that.  I know that he has to be careful about taking a lot of ginseng because of his medication.  It would thin his blood too much.”

I know of one major use for ginseng and I’m not surprised to hear that John Robert is supplementing his sexual performance with herbs.  I just wonder how much of that use Rhyssa knows.  I hope that she is not one of his…harem.

“His children are a constant source of grief to him.  Sara has become … well, Gothic.  She insists on being called Lilith and is never home.  I think she’s dating Apollo.  I saw them at the movies a couple of weeks ago.  They acted like they didn’t see me, so I guess they are trying to hide it from Lord Candeur.  Ah youth.”  She makes a face that I suppose is trying to express the fondness for these young people but just looks more like she has smelled something nasty.

“John Junior is apparently getting into trouble at school, but that’s been going on for years.  His mother always takes his side and so he gets away with murder.  Well, not real murder, but there was talk about some forged checks.  Mother made good on it of course, but they ended up having to change schools.”

I would make some comment except that I have just laid eyes on the perfect material.  It comes in several colors and I can make our cloaks with a lining which will let me use two colors.  Then we can wear the same color or alternate them.  The fabric is rich brocade with an Oriental pattern and I know that Zeke will like it as much as I do.  I choose the black and the red and then get white frogs to use as cloak clasps.  I am pleased to find a luxurious white piping that I will put along the hoods’ edges and the sides of the cloak.

As I check out and the clerk is bagging it all up, I realize that I have chosen the Goddess colors of red, black and white.  It seems auspicious.  We don’t come back to the topic of the coven.  She asks me to join her for some lunch but I beg off to go home and start sewing.  Rhyssa drops me off at the door and I go in to show Zeke what I’ve found.  He is as pleased as I knew he would be.

I spend the rest of the day happily sewing up our cloaks.  They come together without any fuss, which is sort of surprising since my sewing skills are not the greatest.  Vader wanders in and out of the attic as I work, and Zeke brings me tea on a regular basis.  About the fourth time he does it, I realize that he is marking how much progress I am making.

“I am working as fast as I can on these, darling.  Is there some reason you want them done quickly?”  I ask.

“You caught me.  Yes.  I need to prepare them for Saturday night.”  He puts his hands on my shoulders.  “I want to do all that I can to protect us in the middle of those people.  I don’t trust Lord Kiss My Ass.”

“Ok.  Oh by the way—“ and I tell him what Rhyssa told me about Laurie and the rest of the coven.  He looks thoughtful but doesn’t say anything more than “Interesting.”  He does snicker about John Robert and the ginseng comment.

I am attaching the frogs to the cloaks when he comes back in the room with his hands clutching stuff.  He gestures at me and I hold up my hands in the universal position of receiving.  He pours the items into my hands and I look at what he has just given me: a pair of quartz crystal points with wire wrapping so that they can be attached to something, four patches that have embroidered pentacles on them, and four onyx wolf totem animals.  I look at the wolves and see where Zeke has drilled holes through them, which will let me hang them on the cloaks.  He holds his hands over mine and he murmurs several words.  I know that he is blessing them and I add my good thoughts to this.

He leaves again and I finish up.  He has already claimed the black as the outer color for his cloak, so I will wear the red.  We both tend to throw back a side over our shoulders anyway so we will be well matched.  This pleases me; it seems right.  I sew a pentacle on the left and right fronts of our cloaks; I string the wolves onto tassels and hang them off of the ends of the frogs.  I attach the crystals to the button part of the frog and make sure that we can thread them through the loop when we fasten it.  It works and they are complete.

I call this news down the stairs and he comes up like he’s been shot out of a cannon.  He takes his from me to put it on and it is impressive to see the rich black fabric swirl and float around him.  He stands so that I can check the way the wolves and crystal points hang and how the pentacles line up.  It presents almost an appearance of armor: the star, the wolf, the crystal, another wolf and the other star.  It slowly dawns on me that he has done exactly that: he has put armor on us.  I pull on my cloak and stand next to him as we look at ourselves in the mirror.  He smiles, but it is a grim one and I am uneasy.

We take off the cloaks and I hand mine to him.  Zeke lays both cloaks out on the bed and walks out of the room.  He comes back with a large plastic bag that is filled with herbs.  He scatters some of this on the cloaks, then folds them and scatters more herbs, repeating this until they are both folded up neatly when he puts them on the altar.  He stands there a few minutes, his lips moving but I can’t hear what he’s saying so I just wait and try to think good thoughts.

Once he’s done, he turns to me.  “Please don’t touch those again.  Let them stay here.”

“Of course.  Is there something I can do?”

“No, but thank you.  I think I’ve got it covered.  Ummm.  I will order more frankincense, I was pretty free with it and your supply is pretty well shot.  I think I can get more here by the end of the week.”

“Ok.”  I don’t press for an explanation of that use because I trust him.  I look at him and see the dark circles under his eyes that mean he’s been pushing too hard.  “Why don’t you go turn on the TV and I’ll find us something for dinner?”

I putter around in the kitchen and make us some food.  When I walk out to the sofa, he’s asleep and Vader is lying next to him.  I set the plates down and Zeke’s eyes open.

“Want to eat, or would you rather go to bed?”

“I’m hungry and it smells good.  Let’s eat and then go to bed.”

We share our meal in companionable silence, sitting side by side on the sofa with our thighs touching.  The contact seems to help him and by the time we finish, he’s almost lively again.  He won’t let me do the dishes, so I go in the bedroom while he washes up.  He walks in to find candles lit all around and me in his favorite lace nothing on the bed.  Even though his eyes perk up, I can tell he is tired so I smile and lead him to the edge of the bed.  I remove his clothes, kissing him slowly as I take off each piece.  His hands rest on my hips and he lets me care for him.  I push him back down on the bed and slide up over him, kissing and stroking, trying to show with every touch how much I love him.

I can’t imagine life without Zeke and I want to let him know that.  He catches my hand as it slides over him and he smiles at the ring that glints back at him.  He kisses my finger tips and I run my other hand along his jaw.  As I kiss and nuzzle, he begins to make sounds that are suspiciously like a purr.  He is not quiescent now; his hands roam over me and somewhere along the line I’ve lost that little piece of lace.  I am straddling his body as he lifts me and then impales me.  I cry out with the wonderful sensation of fullness, but manage to keep enough control that I am leading the action.  He lets me, I admit this…but soon he is meeting my action with reaction and we are both moaning.

We don’t often find our climax at the same time, but we do tonight and it is earth-shattering and eternal.  I barely hear him say “I love you, I love you” as the waves break over me but I know that he has only echoed what I am saying to him.  I drift back to this mortal plane to find myself held up against him and he’s already snoring.  I smile and snuggle closer, joining him in sleep.

I am in the forest again and this time I don’t want to walk into the clearing.  I can see the snake, coiled up and waiting for me.  I stand at the edge of the open space, just looking at the snake.  It stares back at me.  It slowly, very slowly unwraps itself and begins to slither towards me.

“Prepare to learn what you need to know.”  I hear this as a sibilant whisper in my head as the snake weaves its way over to me.  Like running in many dreams, I try to flee but cannot move.  The snake lifts its head higher and higher, coming to my eye level.  I am aware of a motion near my feet and when I look down, there is a fox there and it is standing between me and the snake.  The snake realizes that it is there and strikes at it.  The fox jumps out of the way and the snake lands heavily on the ground.

I suddenly have a dagger made of green glass in my hand, and I stab at the snake with it.  I miss a death thrust, but catch the snake just enough to cut it open.  Where the dagger hits it, green smoke rises off the snake and it screams, pulling back into a coil and is suddenly at the center of the clearing again.  The fox sits at my feet and grooms himself.

As I watch, the doe comes out of the forest from behind the snake and goes up to it, licking the wounds that I have inflicted upon it.  I stand and watch as the snake curves its body around the doe and they both glare at me.  I feel soft warm fur up against my leg and when I look down, the wolf has joined me.  I know that it is Zeke and I let him lead me back into the comforting depths of the forest.

I wake up to Vader licking my face.  I shudder and take a deep breath, looking around at the familiar room that seems so strange.  The dog paws at me and I pet him.  I’m not sure who is soothed more by the action.  I have slept long enough that there is no sign of Zeke.  I wander downstairs and outside to find him in lotus position by the pond.  His eyes are closed but as I approach, he opens them to smile at me.

“I had another dream.”  I tell him without preamble.

He stands up and takes me into his arms.  I lean against him and hear the rumble of his voice as he asks me to tell him about it.  I do so, leaving out no detail.  He listens as we walk back inside to get his notebook.  I watch him writing it down and try to consider the meaning clearly but the lingering effects of the dream won’t let me think coherently.  He finishes the entry and closes the book.

“Mattie, take a deep breath.”

I comply and he continues.  “Let it go.  Don’t worry about what it means; don’t waste energy trying to figure it out.”

“Ok, but why?”

“Obviously there is a message coming through here, but it’s still cryptic enough that it can mean several different things.  I suspect that there will be other signs, possibly other dreams that will help explain it in good time.  I don’t think this is imperative.  We have some time.”

I have faith in him and know that he has his own good reasons for saying this.  It means I can relax.

Chapter 7 – The Thin Veil

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