In an attempt to understand why she is being attacked, Alyssa performs a magical ritual. Instead of receiving an answer, she is taken back to a Scottish parish and the life when she was known as Shannon Marie Cullen. As the memories of her past life awakened, Alyssa melds with her former self. Watching the events before her death unfolds, she began to understand how the manipulation of others followed her through the ages. In the past, one man loved her, yet her selfishness betrayed his trust. One man hated her for who she was and for what he could never have. Both have again entered her life. Have they learned enough to put finally put the past to rest or will they again make the same choices that led to murder and revenge?
Shannon Marie did her best to focus her attention on the archers. Yet, Seanair’s words stubbornly echoed. She wished they would either tell her the truth or just stop talking about it in front of her.
The in-between knowing confused her. If it was so dangerous and important they should just deal with it and be done. Talk without action meant nothing. If Richard Connell was a threat to LairdMacDonald, why didn’t he just take his lands? Without the land, he had no voice on the council nor could he be considered to be the next Parish Chieftain. It was a simple issue, simply solved.
George MacMurchy of the Buchanan Clan was the first to shoot. This would be his last year to compete among the youth group. He was the eldest child of his father Lamar. Rumor had it that he would be marrying the youngest daughter of John Lachian, Sarah Anne Marie, at the mid-summer fest. It would not surprise Shannon; their romance was the worst kept secret in the county. They would have been wed last year except for the dowry. She did not understand, but it did not matter; it was not her concern.
Alyssa knew she was asleep dreaming, but she knew it was more than a dream. She felt the connection growing between her and Shannon Marie as the hidden memories unraveled before her and became her own.
Once again, she felt love for Rachael; her wit and compassion resonated within her heart. She suddenly missed the little sister of long ago. They had been able to share freely and openly with an unspoken trust in the other.
She watched their interaction. Part of her wanted to reach out and brush the errant curls from the young girl’s face.
The more she watched, the more she remembered about her. Rachael was more than her sister; they were best friends. They shared their secrets and dreams. More than once, they covered for each other when it came to their mother’s unpredictable behavior.
As she watched them, she realized that in some ways their relationship was much the same as the one she had with Michelle when their mother went off her meds. They had an unspoken trust in each other. To protect them both, Michelle had taken on the responsibility of the family. It was when they started slipping away from each other. The more obsessive Michelle became about protecting her, the more Alyssa distanced herself from her.
Michelle had been stiflingly protective, to the point of being a bully. Only two years older, she acted more like a mother than a sister. As children, she had always insisted on keeping her close and controlling her choice of friends. It was only after she had graduated from high school did Michellestart giving Alyssa some space and focusing on her own life.
But in the last couple of months, the old protectiveness once again reappeared full-blown. It had taken a great deal of persuasion along with many promises from her friends and herself to keep her from driving north and taking care of the deputy herself. As it was, the articles she wrote kept the police abuse of power a hot issue in the newspapers. Having a sister, who worked for the Associated Press, did have some benefits.
It was different back then. Instead of dreaming of careers, they dreamed of being married, having children, and growing old together.
Shannon Marie envisioned herself with Michael. She dearly loved him, but she had long given up on that dream. She had asked her father once if she married a man without a surname if she would then be just known as Shannon Marie, like Michael and Scott. He had looked at her strangely and told her everyone has a surname, it just was not always the same as their father’s and it was just silly how many people put so much account in the last name.
Yet there was more than parentage that stood between them. Although they were soul connected, Michael had dedicated himself to The Druid Fellowship. Within their circle, he had found the acceptance that he would ever find among the clans; to them, he would always be Damien’s bastard son. However, the druids saw and nurtured his beautiful soul. The wisdom they shared with him was nothing short of a banquet to a starving man.
Michael wanted nothing more from this life than to serve Bridget by healing and protecting others. His fellow druids were teaching him the old ways to fight and heal. They said to be able to do one without the other, was a crime against all that was sacred.
Noland was the cousin to Laird McDonald and Arch Druid of the Parish; between them, they had arranged the deception, which allowed Michael to start his teachings early. Even though he could not officially announce his decision until his eighteenth birthday, in his heart he was already dedicated.
When he had trusted her with his deepest secret, Shannon had been honored and saddened, but not surprised. Even though her heart wished it, when Rachael looked ahead for her, she did not see them together. Instead, she saw him walking alone and would say no more.
Yet Shannon and Michael also shared a secret. They had been in Seanhair’s gardens when a single raven flew around them, calling out. He was quickly answered by others, who joined him circling the garden or landing among the trees. Shannon heard them call her name.
Michael had laughed at her until she extended her arm and the largest raven, carefully landed on her forearm. She stroked his breast as she listened to his thoughts. He told her she had been four times blessed as the daughter of Macha and then flew away. Shannon did not understand.
Michael went white when she told him. He would not explain, yet he had secretly begun to teach her what the druids taught him. All he would say is that she needed to know.
Rachael secretly hoped to marry Scott. She said she dreamed it, so it would be. Foresight is the gift she received from the Cullen bloodline. It was said that the Cullen women could see as far as Tir na nog if they had the mind to. Rachael was blessed to see the future. Shannon Marie’s gift was that she could reach those who had crossed over into the realms beyond life.
For a moment, Alyssa was jealous of her past self. Her spiritual gifts were limited. No matter how much work she did, they always seem to elude her control. It was like a part of her was afraid to accept them. There were times she had glimpses of the future and those who had crossed over. But her visions were merely flashes as if pictures were being flipped before her. The harder she tried to see and remember, the fuzzier the images became. Many times she has wished to know why her gifts were so elusive; instead of an answer, she only received flashing pictures flipping before her inner eye.
Suddenly Alyssa felt herself becoming more connected to her other-self. Only this time, it felt like she was being helped through the transition, as to hide it from Shannon Marie’s awareness
“What did Papa want?” Rachael whispered, tugging on her sleeve.
“We need to be careful of the Connells.” Casually, Shannon Marie brushed the curl back behind Rachael’s ear.
“I don’t like them. Why does Elizabeth have to marry William? He is a brute and a bully.” Rachaelwrinkled her nose. “And he smells.”
Shannon stifled a laugh, knowing the bad hygiene of Richard Connell’s family was legendary. There was a joke whispered about comparing their home to a pigsty and not being able to tell the difference between them downwind. “Papa said there is a reason.”
Rachael tilted her head, questioningly.
‘He said it was to make peace with them.”
“Are we at war?”
Shannon shrugged. “Maybe it is the wars that are fought at court that Seanhair and Mother talk about.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Me neither.” Looking past her younger sister, Shannon saw Michael stepped to the line to shoot. For a moment, he looked at her and smiled. She quickly returned it. For an instant, they reached between the distance and she wished him good luck. He nodded and again focused on the target
Everyone knew that Michael was Damien MacNab’s son, yet the old man refused to claim him and his younger brother. He had always provided everything for them and their mother, except his name. Yet there was no question of Michael’s parentage. All the MacNab men had the same Gaelic features and strong bodies. Dark-haired and hazel eyes with angular features, they worked the land, making it prosperous and fruitful.
Although they had tenants, the MacNab clan believed that to own the land you must take part in working it yourself. Damien could just as easily be found cleaning the barn as hosting a grand dinner. He was considered by most as being fair and honest; those who took exception to him were usually the ones who found themselves defending their own bad behavior when it came to their business dealings and the treatment of their tenant.
No matter how bountiful the harvest, Damien MacNab made sure those who worked his land hadenough to last the winter before he took his share.
A year older, Michael had always been her friend and partner in her escapades. It was always the fourof them, Rachael, Michael, his younger brother, Scott, and herself, running through the countrysidechasing dragons and looking for fairy rings. Many times, they were called to stand before LairdMacDonald to explain why they had stampeded the Alexander McGillivray’s sheep or created someother mischief
Always they had been apologetic, promising to never do it again–but somehow the game just alwaysseem to get out of hand and they would find themselves within his valley, chasing the dragons wholived in the caves along the southern wall. It had been several years since they had been able to playthe old games.
Michael was officially apprenticing with his mother’s brother, but he spent little time at the forge;instead, he alternated teachers, learning a little of each of their crafts.
Sadly, most of Shannon Marie’s time was spent learning the inner workings of Seanhair’s estate. Sheloved the older woman, but the scribbling in the accounting books took time from her crossbow. It alsoleft little time for the lessons Michael was desperately trying to teach her. They never seem to find timeto be alone anymore. Sighing, she wondered if they would ever be such close friends again or if theirfriendship was to be left behind in childhood.
“I miss them too.” Rachael echoed her sigh. “Scott had to stay. The monks refuse to honor Beltane. Hedare not ask for a home visit so close. They would start to ask questions.”
“He will be back.”
“I know.” Sadly, she turned toward the direction of the Divine Circling. “I just miss him.”
Shannon nodded her agreement and turned her attention to the competition field.
Michael shot. The arrow hit just left of dead center; not his best shot, but better than the four who had
already taken their turn in the first round. His second shot was off slightly to the right; the third hitdead center.All but the Connell clans cheered and whooped their approval. The Connells stared silently. With acharacteristic flourish, Michael turned and bowed to the crowd, increasing their volume.
Richard Connell nodded and Keith marched to the line, shoving Michael out of the way. For an instant,the two men squared off. The contrast between them was never more apparent.
Michael was not only taller and more muscular, but he also was more confident and secure withinhimself.
Being a half a head shorter, Keith looked younger and was less physically developed. Even though hewas no match for those his own age in a fair fight, his anger and deceptive nature gave him an edgethat brought most fights to a draw.
Shannon Marie never remembered a time when he seemed happy or content; more often than not whenhe smiled it was after he had done something malicious to another.
Although equal in age and social standing that is where the similarities ended. Whereas Michael good-naturedly accepted himself and his parentage, Keith continually fought for what he would never have.
Even though Keith claimed his father’s surname of Connell, he would never be a legitimate part of theConnell clan. Richard Connell had healthy, legitimate sons; he would never openly claim any of thoseborn otherwise. It was no secret to anyone but Keith.
Michael smiled and slightly bowed never taking his eyes off Keith before returning to his clan on thesidelines, where he was met with teasing and approvalWithout waiting for Michael’s arrows to be removed, Keith pulled back and released. The arrow hit thebull’s eye but was outside the ring Michael’s created. A second arrow hit; the results were no better.Keith swore and stomped his foot.
He should move to the crossbow, Shannon Marie thought. His arms are too short to give the arrowenough power to compensate for the wind. With the crossbow or the staff, it did not matter. The weapondid the work
He released his last arrow. It hit the first ring. He was done. He stared at the target, his bow slowlylowering to waist level. Pivoting on his toes, he stomped back to his family. Richard ignored him.
Michael looked up; their eyes met. Their spirits met in the space between them. Like butterfly wings,she felt his spirit touch hers. She reached back and for a moment, their thoughts intertwined and shesaw herself from his perspective.
Despite his decision to dedicate to Bridget in two months, the passion still rose within him. ShannonMarie felt her face flush. Yet there was something else. Something he continued to hide from her. Hefreely shared his other thoughts, yet there was a door he always kept locked to her. Part of her knew that it was important. She needed to know. She sought it out. He turned away and the connection was broken.
Michael handed his bow to his half-brother Jacob. For a moment, he looked down at the ground beforehis eyes once again met her gaze, but he did not attempt to reestablish the connection. Instead, hespoke to Jacob. His half-brother nodded and Michael started walking toward the back path.
Shannon Marie knew where he was going. He did not have to tell her. Their brief connection was enough for her to just know.His secret made him sad. She did not understand why he did not just tell her and be done with it.Whatever he hid, she would do her best to understand; maybe she could even help. But now he neededto connect with Bridget. He always did when she tried to see what was behind that door.
Communing with her was the only thing that restored his peace and calmed his soul. It was like whenShannon tried to see beyond that door, he was forced to look at something he wanted to ignore. As longas she did not ask, whatever it was, did not exist. By asking, she was forcing him to confront it.Shannon hated seeing the pain in his eyes, knowing she had caused it.
There were fifteen more competitors yet to shoot and he never did like the long wait after his turn. Hedid not compete with the others but against himself. Every year he challenged himself to do better thanthe year before.
The crossbow competition was scheduled next, but she was the next to the last to shoot. She had atleast an hour. This time he was going to tell her. She would not let him leave the circling until he did.Leaning over she whispered in Rachael’s ear. “I’m going to the Divine Circle.
Her younger sister looked past her and nodded. “If they change anything, I’ll come to get you.”Quickly she reached into her pocket and pulled out three silver coins. “Honor Bridget, Cerridwen, andDanu for me.”
Looking into her green eyes, she watched the darker outer rings expand. She was seeing beyond thismoment. Shannon Marie mentally made a note to ask her later. “Come with me.”The younger girl shook her head and pushed the coins into her sister’s hand. “Tell her I remember thedream. If I cannot change it, I will honor my promise.”
“I do not understand.”
Rachael sadly smiled. “Please?
Tweaking the tip of her sister’s nose, she smiled and nodded. Taking the less traveled path, she circledaround to Michael’s destination. She wanted to give him a few moments alone with his patron Goddessbefore she appeared.
A large raven screeched from above. Startled, Shannon Marie stopped and spun around, looking up. Itflew downward. She followed its trajectory. Quickly spinning around, she saw it vanish into the forest and for someone to disappear into the underbrush.
Instinctively, she reached for her boot knife. The movement in the undergrowth revealed the intruder’sescape route back to the competition. She released her hold on the hilt but did not drop her guard.
Slowly she turned and continued toward Divine Circle. Although it was necessary for her to payattention to the path, her focus was behind her. More than once, she tripped on a fallen branch and theuneven ground. Just outside the glade, she stopped and looked behind her. The path was clear, yet shesensed someone was watching and waiting.
She reached the forest line around the clearing. The circle was the oldest and holiest place in theParish. It is said that the elfin helped the Druids clear circle to represent the cycle of life. Next to eachother in the center, they place the altars to Dagda and Danu. The glade had been dedicated to themeons before as the father and mother to all the Gods and Goddesses. Spiraling outward, other altarswere dedicated until the coil filled the field. Around the circle, the trees grew lush and tall, but theynever intruded on the holy space. Instead, they stood guard over the shrines and those that worshipedthere.
Michael stood at Bridget’s altar. It is where women prayed for children and farmers left tributes oftheir harvest in fall in the hope she would bless them with bounty again the next year. He had dedicatedhimself to her there and claimed the name Dagha in honor of her father.
Once a month he would travel the half-day to honor her with a tribute. Only Michael did not go to askfor children or bounty, but the ability and wisdom to heal others. Although he was a skilled warriorand hunter, he had no desire to kill. Instead, he wanted to heal both the body and the soul.
He had always claimed that in another time and place he was Druid of the wood, blessed with the skillsof healing and foresight. In spite of the old ways falling away under Christos, Michael chose to followthem. It was this spiritual quest, which filled his heart and soul, giving him inner strength and peace.
Shannon Marie had seen his abilities too many times to doubt his claim. The latter was something heand Rachael had in common. Once again looking over her shoulder, Shannon Marie scanned the forestfor movement. Something was off. Turning fully around, she looked back down the narrow path. No onewas there, yet she expected to see someone.
Suddenly Alyssa was afraid. There was someone out there. She reached out and touched ShannonMarie’s shoulder. She needed to warn herself. It was not safe. Yet she didn’t know why.
About Thersa Chaze
Writer: Theresa Chaze Theresa Chaze is a writer and producer, known for Horses and Heroes, Never Can Say Goodbye: When Love and Hate Survive Death, and Saving Our National Treasures: Protecting Yellowstone National Park’s Wolves (2013).
To connect with Theresa Chaze on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theresa.chaze
Theresa’s IMDb page is https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4183095/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0