Story Excerpt Sunday: from Guardian of the Balance by Irene Radford

Guardian of the BalanceGuardian of the Balance

Merlin’s Descendants Book 1

by Irene Radford

KA-THUMP-THM. Ka-Thump-thm-thm. The drums echoed Myrddin’s heartbeat. Faster and faster the drums beat, calling the college of Druids to Beltane revelries. Myrddin Emrys stepped into the center of the Giant’s Dance. Reverence for the ceremony he was about to preside over tinged the edges of his senses. But something was missing in this time-honored ritual. He watched the revelries taking place all across the broad plain. The huge twin bonfires roared just east of the Heel Stone. The community’s livestock had been driven down the processional avenue between the fires to purify them for the coming year.

Woodsmoke, singed hide, and the earthy aroma of livestock bunched together grounded his awareness of his duties. The future and fertility of his community depended upon his proper performance of ritual tonight.

The community danced a serpentine pattern around and between the bonfires. All was in place. Myrddin bent to his task, his ritual knife poised to cut sigils into the dirt—Pridd, the living Goddess.

The four elements, Pridd, Awyr, Tanio, and Dwfr, were present. The omens indicated a season of bounty. He should begin.

Higher and higher the bonfires leaped and danced in imitation of Belenos, the sun. Naked youths broke away from the dance and jumped over the bonfire, defying the growing flames. Red and orange sparks seemed to fly from the bronze torcs encircling their necks. Ale and sacred mead flowed freely among all of the participants. The pattern of life continued in the age-old celebration.

Myrddin downed his third cup of the honey wine, barely tasting the blessing in each swallow. No one should hide from Dana, the Goddess, tonight by wearing clothing. But he was forced to wear a white robe, woven of the finest virgin wool. He must remain separated from the revelries while presiding over them. Only he among the current generation of Druids had been gifted with prophecy. Only he was commanded to remain separate from the celebration of fertility.

He returned to the solitary ritual the chief Druid must perform. Ka-Thump-thm. Ka-Thump-thm. The drumbeats called him away from his duties. He deliberately blotted out the images of the annual drunken celebration. He needed concentration to maintain the continuity within the patterns of past, present, and future.

He cut the sigils into the Pridd. Male, female, birth, death, infinity. The same symbols snaked up his arm in vivid tattoos. Life unfolded in unending patterns of sigils, portents, and choices. Druids interpreted for those who lost sight of their patterns in the midst of the loops and whorls of change. Tonight Myrddin had difficultyfinding his own pattern within the sigils he cut into the earth.

Ka-Thump-thm. Ka-Thump-thm-thm. His concentration wavered as he caught sight of the naked virgins proceeding toward the bonfire through the ritual maze cut into the turf. He needed to join them. Join with them. To the strongest and bravest of the young men leaping over the bonfires would go the privilege of accepting the gift of virginity from the prettiest maid in the community. Myrddin had never tasted that glorious honor. The smell of sweat and musky anticipation pulled his concentration away from the sigils.

Tonight the men of the community would scatter their seed among the women. Tomorrow they would scatter different seeds in the freshly plowed fields. Powerful symbolism to entice the blessing of the Goddess. The wool of his ceremonial robe rasped against his skin. The drums called to him, taunted him with the knowledge his seed would never take root. His gaze lingered on Deirdre, the priestess who led tonight’s procession. Sight of her full breasts and gently rounded hips made his palms itch to touch her. A deeper itch grew within him. The mead heated his veins.

He downed another cup of the sacred wine of the Goddess, knowing it would inflame his desire. Yet he needed a degree of alcoholic numbness to proceed with this ritual. Total stupor would make his duties easier, but then the magic would desert him and the symbolism of tonight’s ceremonies.

All of Britain needed his sigils, properly and lovingly drawn, to bind together tonight’s revelry with tomorrow’s planting. Myrddin turned his back on the sight of Deirdre dancing on the opposite side of the bonfires. Still, the heat of the flames sang in his blood.

Ka-Thump-thm-thm. Ka-Thump-thm-thm. A strong young man prepared to leap over the growing flames of the bonfire. The tempo of the drums built to a driving intensity, inciting the athlete to greater strength and agility. The drums changed rhythm, creating a new pattern; one Myrddin couldn’t interpret. What was different about tonight? Why couldn’t he ignore Deirdre’s enticing beauty when he had resisted her for most of their adult lives?

Ka-Thump-thm-thump-thm-thm-thm. Faster and faster, the beat echoed in his heart. His body ached for release. He closed his eyes, begging Lleu for control. Never in his thirty-two summers had the geas of celibacy pressed so hard upon him. He couldn’t see a pattern in the intensity of his temptation.

Male, female, birth, death, infinity. With the tip of his bronze athame, his ritual knife, he traced the lines of the sacred sigils. He concentrated on the embellishments that tied them to Pridd, Awyr, Tanio, and Dwfr. After each straight line, loop, and spiral, he chanted a prayer. The beaten earth surrounding the altar stone of the Giant’s Dance became a living tattoo, writhing in the flickering light of bonfires and torches. The living tissue of Dana, the Goddess, parted easily under his sharp blade.

A blast of horns announced the winner of the contest. The last young man to leap the bonfire had bested all other competitors in a triumphant feat. The sleek muscles of his long thighs rippled with power. He raised his arms in victory. His penis rose proudly to meet the challenge before him. He alone would accept the gift of virginity offered by the Queen of the May.

She stepped forward from the array of maiden attendants to meet her champion. Her firm, high breasts brushed against his chest as she stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek in acceptance of him as her consort tonight. Myrddin’s chest burned beneath his robe as if the virgin pressed her body against him and not the local champion. The Queen of the May trembled in excitement. Moisture slicked her brow and the pale hair between her thighs. The throb in Myrddin’s groin intensified.

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Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between.

Guardian of the Balance is on special for $.99 during the month of March.

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