Chapter One


Snake does as required and brings Morghan to me.

It is time for her to see, to see without misunderstanding, why the veil is coming back down.

And what is at stake.

These human ones, they know the veil is shredding and are afraid – and well they should be careful. But they don’t know that they feel fear for the wrong reasons.

It must come down. Things must return to the way they were, long ago. So long ago now, that none of them remember.

Which means that I must make her reach back to me, make them all, her, and the others – you, if you are one of them, reach back to see.

It is time.

She has been here before, flown here on the wings of her Hawk, come to this Isle of Healing where she has danced under Grandmother tree, tied boons to her limbs, and leaned against the warm and ancient stones of the circle here, but she has not seen the extent of this place. Nor its full purpose. 

This time, she comes not on wings across the ocean, but Snake has swallowed her, travelling fast and deep, through the ancient tunnels that link all our worlds. Down and down the wide, obsidian steps.

I expect her to be out of breath when she transforms back from Snake, but she is good, my other self, and stands poised, looking at me, her wolf – our wolf – pressed to her side as he always was to mine. Our great protector. Our great reminder. 

I turn to lead her, wordless, because she must see for herself. 

And I hope she is strong enough to survive the seeing.

We go through the Hall of the Ancestors, and I feel her gaze upon the great stone statues of our gods. I am used to their shadowed gazes and lead her without stopping out into the light of day. 

The trees stare down at her, uncurling their twiggy knuckles and she lifts her face to see how high they rise. Her astonishment shimmers in the air but I do not slow. These trees breach the sky and hold up the roof of the world. They are our history keepers and their spirits are tall and old and proud.

It is the view from the clifftop that I want to show my visitor in her modern clothes, a silver oak leaf and acorn on a chain around her neck, along with the egg, of course. She has long claimed that symbol, without being fully aware of its importance. I would marvel that she is me and I am here, but I am used to such things and it has been a very long time since I walked upon the Earth as she does.

Will she be strong enough to see this? To understand what I am showing her? Yes, I am all but sure of it.

Although living with it will be the trial. Because things must not merely be endured, but changed. She must change it. She and her Grove and all the other Groves, and every individual besides who thinks and cares.

It is miraculous that my Grove continues. The one I started all those millennia ago, during the time of the Great Turning.

When the way was lost.

I quit my own brooding thoughts for we are here now, Ravenna of the Grove, Lady of the Forest, Lady of Death, and Morghan Wilde, who does, and must, along with others, with each of you, claim the same titles. Lady of the Wilderness, Lady of Life.

Her gaze has already turned towards what I have brought her to see.

I spread my arms wide. Look, I gesture. Look, and understand.

She looks, the breeze pushing her thick hair back from her face, and I stand while her grey eyes take it all in. She understands in moments. I see it there in her face. The anguish.

But still. Understanding it is not breathing it, living it. Above all, it is not acting upon it. Which is what is required.

She stares across the water and I follow her gaze. Her world is over there, and I can feel the weight of its darkness from here. For it is dark over there. From our viewpoint, the sun does not rise there anymore, and the sky is a torment of thunder and lightning, despite the brilliance of the noonday light here on our Isle.

But there is still hope. It is not too late. We have not left it too late to act. Her world spills forth a glitter of golden lights from the darkness; not however, the lights of a million cities shutting out the shine of the stars, but the lights of a billion good souls. Souls who hope and dream and still, deep inside them, reach for us.

Altogether, it is a criss-crossing map of light and dark, a map of chaos, beautiful and deadly.

There is a sound below us and she drags her gaze away from the sight across the churning ocean to the gentling lap of water at the bottom of our cliff. Her hands are clenched fists. The bow of a boat grinds against the sand of the cove. I watch as she watches, silently, as the people on board are helped to shore, their legs unsteady, eyes wide like those of panicked deer.

Now she turns her gaze to myself, and I can see from the pain in her expression that she understands what I am showing her. The world over there, the lost ones being brought ashore. There is knowledge in her eyes, in the tightening of the skin around them. In the press of her lips together.

And then she surprises me, when I thought I could no longer be so startled. With a quick movement, she steps forward and into myself and I am me and I am her, and she is herself and also me.

I let her look, for what else is there to do? And perhaps looking will sustain her as it sustains the rest of us.

I look with her, for what she sees with new clarity is what I am used to, and although it never dulls, I admit it gives me a quickening of delight to see it through her unfamiliar eyes for this moment.

She turns us from the sight over the sea and looks instead over our land. I know she is seeking for a moment the far reaches of it, and she is right and also wrong. A flash of understanding. Yes, it is an island upon which we stand. The Isle of the Dead. The Isle of Healing, but it has no real borders. The seas surround us, and yet, the trees and meadows are endless. The Summerlands stretch onwards from it.

And all is alive. I feel her gasp at the sudden clarity with which she sees the truth behind everything. The way the very air hums with the web of energy that crosses it in an endless stream of knowledge, of understanding, of information. Life. The web is the lifeblood of all the worlds. It cannot be broken, but it can be forgotten. Not here, but over the sea, in her world.

She shifts my gaze from it and looks at the trees instead, at the stones, the blades of grass, each alive, aware, part of the world.

I hear her sigh at the beauty of it, at the vividness of the colour, of the way the energy permeates everything.

And then she is standing again in front of me, and one hand touches the egg on the chain around her neck with its leaf and acorn. Down below us, on the shore of the cove, the refugees are being given each an egg.

An egg to represent the soul.

I take a breath and look back out over at the far world. I would whisper to you all there, if I could.

I would tell you that there is a web binding us. That you must take the egg of your own soul and crack it wide open.

And reach for us.



Chapter Two


Minnie shivered, crouched between the low branches of the elder tree, and tried to tuck her cloak tighter around her knees. It was only made of fleece, the cloak, and she wished she’d been able to buy the wool one, like Morghan’s and some of the other’s.

At least her own was black though, like a proper witch’s. And she’d get a wool one soon. Hopefully.

She had a view of the cave from here, and shook her head, wondering what the woman was doing in there. Morghan Wilde. Minnie had made sure to learn the names of everyone she thought was part of the coven or grove or whatever it was.

Morghan Wilde was the priestess, Minnie knew, but what she didn’t know was why she’d gone into the cave, and what was taking her so long in there. Minnie had already seen inside it, on one of her many explorations, but she didn’t know what it was used for. She’d tried to come up with ideas about it, but it was only big enough in there under the heavy old stones to sit and do what? Meditate, she guessed. Or pray. Did witches pray? She wasn’t sure, didn’t think so.

It wasn’t big enough to do magic in, that was for sure. That she knew. And besides, you needed tools for doing magic. An altar – she was setting one up at home, in her bedroom. In the wardrobe, to be exact, so that Tiny wouldn’t mess with it, because of course, Tiny messed with everything. But she had one started anyway, and so what if it was just a small table that her Gran had had a pot plant on? Her Gran hadn’t noticed it was missing, or if she had, she’d not said anything. And the pot plant was all right on the windowsill instead. Probably got better light, for that matter.

She had a candle in a terrific candlestick she’d found at the junk shop. It was silver, she reckoned. Or maybe just silver plated, but that didn’t matter when you were starting out, did it? Of course, what with being in the wardrobe, she had to bring it out to light it, but she was seriously considering bringing the whole altar out into the bedroom, and just threatening Tiny if she dared touch anything on it.

Her mother would be easy to deal with if she wanted to complain about it. Minnie would just tell her to go mind her own business and she’d scuttle outside to suck on a cigarette the way she always did, pushing her lank hair back from her face and squinting down at the ground. 

The candlestick had ivy and grapes twined around it. The guy in the shop had said it was Victorian, which made it really old. It was part of the reason why she’d only been able to afford a fleece cloak, not a woollen one, but Minnie guessed she didn’t really mind, because the candlestick was really cool, and just right.

What else did she have? She comforted herself thinking about her altar while waiting for Morghan to come back out of the cave. It was better than thinking about how her right foot was going numb from the cold and from not moving for like an hour or more. What was Morghan Wilde doing in there?

Minnie shook her head. She’d been watching Morghan on and off for a couple weeks now. Since she’d learnt who she was. In a little while, not this time probably, but maybe next time, she was going to step out from behind the trees and talk to her.

Minnie’s throat went dry.

She was going to ask to join the coven or grove, or whatever it was. She belonged with them, she was going to say. She might just be a beginner witch, but she was a witch all right. She knew it in her bones. Was there such a thing as a bone witch, she wondered? She’d been trying to figure out what sort of witch she wanted to be, but there were too many to choose from. She didn’t fancy being a kitchen witch or whatever. She hated cooking.

She’d tried telling her Gran about being a witch, when her Gran had asked why she was dying her hair black, but her Gran had threatened to totally flip out, and so Minnie had lost her nerve. She guessed she was still in the witch’s closet.

That made her stifle a laugh and think about her altar again.

She needed an athame. That though, she’d have to order online, she reckoned. Even if they could go to Banwell – and they couldn’t because her mum was totally freaked out about the virus – she didn’t think she’d find one there. Not even in the cool junk shop where she’d got the candlestick.

She needed a job so she could save enough money to buy an athame and the other stuff she needed. Like, a scrying mirror. They were cool. She wondered what she’d be able to see in one of those. Someone on Etsy was selling black obsidian ones, and Minnie was almost in a fever of need for one every time she thought of it.

And a chalice. She needed one of those.

Not to mention candles, and essential oils, and like, all the rest of it. You couldn’t be a witch, not really, if you didn’t have the right tools. Everyone needed tools, right? No matter what they were doing.

But she didn’t have a job. Her mum didn’t even have a job anymore; that was why they’d moved to Wellsford eight weeks ago to live with Gran. Minnie would have thought it was really shit, and she had to begin with, especially as her mum and Gran never stopped fighting, but there was one thing about this place that made it okay.

And that was Wilde Grove.

And Morghan Wilde.

Minnie remembered the Halloween bonfires. Samhain bonfires, she corrected herself carefully. It was Samhain, the most powerful date on the witch’s calendar. Morghan – Minnie let herself use the woman’s first name, because soon they’d know each other well, she thought – had been pretty fab up there on the stage. Minnie had taken in every detail of what Morghan had been wearing, the way she looked. She’d had a long red dress on, pretty simple, really, and Minnie had wondered if she ought to take up sewing. Her Gran had an old sewing machine no one was using. It might be cheaper to buy material than something already made. Minnie filed the idea away for later and tried shifting again where she crouched, careful not to make any noise.

She couldn’t help the low groan anyway. Her foot really had gone to sleep and now it was all pins and needles and awful. She gritted her teeth and considered leaving her hiding place and going back home. She could go to Haven for Books instead and lurk there for a while, see if they had anything new.

Maybe if she was real brave, she could ask for a job there. She was trying to get up the courage to do it. The woman who ran the place was American and had a great accent. She was pretty nice too and didn’t seem to mind when Minnie came in just to have another look around without buying anything.

Minnie was pretty sure Krista – that was her name – was part of the coven as well. Part of the Wilde Grove coven.

She’d wanted to follow them the night of the bonfires too, when she’d seen them all start to leave, but her Mum had stopped her, insisting they all stay together, and that Minnie watch Tiny and Robin.

She’d burned all night wanting to know what they were up to in the woods.

She rubbed surreptitiously at her ankle. Her sneakers were almost worn out. She’d try to find a pair of black boots when it was time to replace them. That would totally be better than just another pair of cheap, no-brand tennis shoes.

Anyway, she’d ended up doing her own ritual that night. Once Tiny was asleep, she’d lit her candle – not in the wardrobe, obviously – and done what she could. One of the books on witchcraft at Haven had a page on Samhain in it, and she’d secretly taken a photo of the page with her phone, and she’d done some of the things it suggested, doing it at midnight in the room she shared with her sister. It had been a bit spooky, if she was honest, but thinking about it still gave her a thrill, and she knew what had happened there in the corner of her room had been a sign.

A sign that she was a real witch.

That reminded her, she needed some tarot cards too. It was all very well doing the candle thing, and she had to admit that worked better than she could ever have imagined, but she wanted some cards too.

Being a witch was getting expensive. She wondered if she dared steal a pack from Haven.

If she didn’t get a job there, that was.

Maybe she should ask her father about that. See what he had to say. He’d probably say it was okay. He was being surprisingly cool about stuff like that.

There was movement across the clearing and Minnie narrowed her eyes, peering out from her hiding place. About time, she thought, desperate to know what Morghan Wilde had been doing in there.


Morghan blinked against the dimness and tightened her fingers into a fist in the dirt. She closed her eyes again, but the vision was still there, and she panted in the darkness of the cave, trying to gather the shreds of her wits about her. The air tasted of soil and chilled against the hot skin of her cheeks. She groped for the covering over her eyes and tore it from her head, squinting against the shadows.

She was on her hands and knees. Somewhere during the travelling, she had moved from her calm sitting position and now a stick dug into her knee. She shifted slightly, raising her head, breathing deep and slow, getting her bearings.

The cave was small, made who knew how many thousands of years ago, a sheltering of stones big enough to sit in.

Big enough to crouch on hands and knees panting for breath, still seeing stars.

Still seeing the yellow firefly lights of one world, and the web of the other.

Morghan pressed a hand to her chest, willing her heart to slow, to stop its loud pounding in her ears. She leaned forward and touched the dirt of the cave floor again, flattened her palm against it, then sank down and put her forehead there, closing her eyes.

The web. She’d seen it so clearly, looking through the other’s eyes. Were there even words to describe such a thing? She groped for them, knowing that if she could find words for it, she could begin to process it, find her way back to it, let it sustain her. The glimpses she’d had of the web before paled into insignificance with how it had been to see through the ancient one’s eyes.

She’d seen the expression in those eyes. Those deep, dark eyes. The expression that demanded she live with what she was being shown, across that sea, in the world where she lived, her world – live with its reality, so that she could…

Do what?

Morghan’s hands tightened in the dirt. How could she possibly do anything about this? The task was too big. Too much for one person.

Too much.

She could not reverse centuries of wrongness. Could not take humanity back to where it belonged, to the understanding it once had, needed again. She was one person.

What could one person do?

She felt the cliff’s edge under her feet. Felt the chasm between the two worlds. It split open her chest and left her gasping, her body heaving against the cold stone of the cave, shuddering on her knees in the dirt.

It was a chasm that had never been meant to exist, not in this way.

And how could she live like she always had, now she had seen? Had seen the world through the other’s eyes, the true brilliance of it, the sheer life of it, where everything in it had consciousness, where everything contributed to the web. She would spend the rest of her life seeking to touch that again, no matter how fleetingly.

And the web itself. She didn’t know what to call it but the web, because it spread out over everything, seen and yet unseen, filaments of energy connecting everything, all carrying so much information.

None of it negative.

So much love.

Morghan wept, her face in the dirt. This was what had been lost. This is what humanity had turned away from, forgotten. What they had chosen darkness over, become entangled in. 

When she was hollow of tears, Morghan opened her eyes and lifted her hands to push her hair back from her face. It had come loose sometime during her travelling. She crawled from the cave and stood on legs that wobbled beneath her. How far she had gone this time. She’d never been so deep down into the Otherworld. And Snake had taken her so quickly, she’d not had time to look around, to slow and take it in. He’d simply swallowed her, then rushed off through the Wildwood, and down the great black stone steps. She frowned for a moment at the eye-covering in her hand, then shoved it into her pocket and took a step forward.

She knew this clearing like the back of her hand. Better, in fact, because age was changing her hands, wrinkling the skin to a crone’s, darkening them with age spots. But this clearing changed only with the seasons. Past Samhain now, the grass was wet underfoot with discarded leaves, and the trees stood bare in a circle around it, shivering in the breeze that whispered of winter’s coming embrace.

But she could barely see it. Turning her head, Morghan looked, eyes wide open, and yet what she saw wasn’t the small clearing, the stones of the cave at her back, the trees leaning towards her with their great twiggy heads bare.

What she saw was the hill-top where she’d been in her journey. She shook her head. That wasn’t right. This one wasn’t on the Isle of Healing. She was back, standing above the world she lived in, the view of her vision reversed. She lifted her hands and held them to her cheeks. Above her, the sky screamed over her head, a great chasm of sky torn by lightning.

The veil.

Eyes closed, fingers digging into her skin, she stood high above everything, and around her the sky raged, and she teetered on the top of her hill, looking around, mouth open in a scream that echoed the roar of the thunder that shook her where she stood, and when she looked, she saw that the veil between the worlds was coming down.

She saw a vision of the Shining Ones – the goddesses and gods and ancestors and the faerie, and the spirits of those humans who touched and yearned to touch the web. They shone, and their numbers were great, but all around them were swaths of writhing, flocking darkness and Morghan flinched. Here were the restless and trapped soul aspects of humanity’s own dead. Those who had not died well. Those who had not been sung on their way.

Those who did not believe in the singing.

She staggered, caught in the vision of the screaming sky, in the air that churned with the unveiling. Then forced her eyes open, looking for the familiar clearing in the Grove.


Morghan swallowed, tried to focus, lurched sideways, off-balance. A hand clasped her elbow, steadied her.

‘Clarice,’ she said, and her tongue was thick in her mouth, her throat dry.

‘Are you okay?’

How could she answer that? She laughed and shook her head. ‘Far from it,’ she croaked.

The hand moved, and Clarice lifted Morghan’s arm, draped it over her own thin shoulders. ‘The Queen summons you,’ she said. ‘I’m to bring you to her.’

The ground swayed under Morghan’s feet, and she could feel the wind swooping and screaming around her as though she stood still on the clifftop, watching the battle scene that was the earth.

Swallowing, she shook her head. ‘I don’t think this is a good time,’ she said.

Clarice’s hand was warm against her own. Warm but firm. ‘I’m sorry, Morghan,’ Clarice said. ‘But you don’t have a choice.’ Then, because her stepmother staggered against her as if drunk, her eyes swivelling in her head as though she was not seeing what was in front of her, Clarice asked. ‘Where have you been? What did you see?’

Morghan swung her head from side to side. ‘I saw what we are facing and the choices we must make to save it all,’ she said, her words slurred. ‘And I do not know…’ She swayed where she stood, found her voice once more. ‘And I do not know how we are to do it.’

Clarice tightened her grip on Morghan, one hand around Morghan’s fingers against her shoulder, the other gripping Morghan’s waist, holding her upright. ‘The choices?’ she asked.

Morghan’s eyes slid closed and she breathed deeply in, filling her lungs, and holding the cold air inside before letting it out, slowly, steadying herself. She took her own weight but kept her hand on Clarice’s shoulder.

‘The veil is being brought down,’ she said.

Clarice looked at her, lips pursed, delicate white brows twisting in a frown. ‘What? All at once? That will cause complete chaos!’

‘Hmm,’ Morghan said, and felt for a moment the humming touch of the web around her like an alternate reality. ‘Not all at once. It has been happening for some time already, I think.’ She paused. ‘But even a slow thinning has consequences.’

Clarice stared at her, unable to think what to say. Her mind hunted for the meaning of what Morghan had told her. She spent her days going back and forth between the realms, spending as much time with the Fae as she did with her own family. But there was a reason there was a border between them, was there not? That for each, the other was behind the mists. ‘What does this mean?’ she asked at last.

Morghan took another deep breath. ‘It means either the hope of the world, or that madness of many sorts is coming,’ she said, pressing her fingers against the fine bones of Clarice’s shoulders. ‘Let’s go and see what your Queen has planned, shall we?’


Chapter 3


Burdock’s ears twitched, then twitched again. He wrinkled his snout, not wanting to wake up. He was comfy where he was, curled around himself on his nice soft bed that his person had brought upstairs and put right by the fire. He was toasty as a marshmallow.

But there was that sound again. Just a slight noise, and he lifted his head. Then gave a low growl deep down in the back of his throat. It sounded like someone was outside – and an actual person too, not just one of those pesky birds that were forever teasing him.

He uncurled himself and sat up, glancing over at his mistress under the covers of her own bed. He sniffed, but she wasn’t having one of her dreams that smelled of iron-cold water. She was just regular dreaming. His ears caught another sound, and now he was sure. Someone was prowling around outside. How dare they? Didn’t they know this was his place? His and his new person’s?

‘Woof,’ he said, and then repeated it, louder. ‘Woof!’ His toenails scrabbled on the floorboards as he dashed down the stairs to the front door, in full throat now.

Erin sat up blinking, her body rigid with the sudden shock of waking. She glanced towards the window, but it was barely light out there. Not that that meant much, since the sun was late in rising these days, and even later in making an appearance over the Wellsford hills.

She groped for her Grandmother’s dressing gown, shivering as she pulled it on. She hardly touched her own clothes anymore. They were still in the suitcase in the spare room, but not on the bed anymore at least. She’d shoved them into the small wardrobe in there.

Burdock was going crazy downstairs, and Erin snagged her phone from the bedside table, flicking the screen on, looking for the time. Just gone 8am.

‘I’m coming, Burdock,’ she said, stumbling down the stairs while trying to both knot the dressing gown tie around her waist and open up the phone app, just in case she needed to call the police. Or maybe, she thought at the bottom of the stairs and heading for the door, pushing Burdock out of the way, maybe the video recorder would be more useful. The nearest police were probably in Banwell, after all.

Burdock shoved the door open and dashed from the house, his chest vibrating with his deepest bark. He’d been right, he thought – there were people here, men here where they didn’t belong.

‘What are you doing?’ Erin cried from behind him. She hurried forward, phone still in her hand, holding it out in front of her like she really was going to take a video. ‘What are you doing to my car?’

The man who had been bent over at the back of her little Mini slowly straightened, eyeing Burdock warily. He spoke out of the side of his mouth – god he hated it when they had dogs. Still, at least he’d been warned this job that the dog was huge but harmless.

‘Got a warrant to repossess,’ he said to the girl standing there in a red dressing gown, eyes wide with shock.

Her mouth fell open. ‘What?’

At least she had her hand on the dog, and he, giant beast just like the kid’s father had warned, was staying put. Had even shut up the barking.

‘Repossessing your car,’ he said, spelling it out to her. He glanced over at Russell, who hung out the driver’s window of the tow truck and shrugged back at him. They’d hoped to get the car and be gone before the kid woke up.

‘I heard you,’ Erin snapped. ‘But it’s all paid for and everything. You’ve got the wrong one.’

This was a shit job, even for them, Baz decided. A guy having his own daughter’s car repossessed, now that wasn’t really cool. What had the chick done to tick off her rich old man? Baz scratched his cheek and eyed the dog again. Whatever it was, he was inclined to come down on the girl’s side. The dad was one of those pompous jerks who thought they were better than you just because their wallet was fatter.

Not for the first time, Baz wondered if he was in the right line of work. Seemed to him, he was always taking cars and shit away from the ones who needed them the most.

He sniffed. A job was a job though, and he wasn’t getting paid to question the whys and wherefores of anything. He was getting paid because he had a knack for breaking into cars and hustling them away before anyone noticed. And at least he was doing it legally these days.

She sure was cute though, standing there in her dressing gown, the big hairy dog beside her. Baz glanced at Russel again and straightened his shoulders. In a moment, he’d finish hitching the line to the sweet little Mini Countryman and Russel would haul it up onto the flatbed. Then they’d deliver it to the old man, collect their bonus, and be out on the street again, onto the next job.

‘Your Dad’s taking it back,’ he said to the girl. ‘Reckon you got yourself in his bad books.’

Erin gaped at him. Blinked at the tow truck and back to the guy standing in front of her car like he had every right to be hitching a chain to it.

‘My father?’

The guy shrugged, then bent down to the car, and a moment later her little Mini was on the back of the truck. Erin pressed a hand to her forehead, trying to process what was happening, and was still standing there in disbelief as the truck drove away, taking her only means of transport with it.

Burdock looked up at his person. He licked at her hand, wanting to tell her that everything was okay, and that the metal box on wheels had been way too small for them anyway. He’d had to tie himself in a giant knot every time they went anywhere.

He looked at his person and woofed, telling her the good news.

But she was just staring, mouth open.

Erin couldn’t believe it. Her father had ordered her car to be repossessed? How was that even possible? They’d paid cash for it; she knew they had. There was no dealership to take it back to.

Which meant that her father was just getting it shipped back to him, to be put somewhere. Out of her reach.

But why?

Another thought tumbled on the heels of that one, and Erin spun around, running back to the cottage. She was gasping by the time she’d pounded up the stairs to the small room she’d set up as her office and lifted the screen on her laptop.

She had Internet service now, although she was trying to use it only for business purposes. For loading her art onto her Etsy store, for the website she was starting. She bit down on her lip as she waited for the browser to open and her banking page to load.

And then she sank into the seat. Downstairs, the front door slammed shut in the wind, but she barely heard it. Right now, there was only the page on the screen in front of her.

The one that showed her credit cards had been cancelled. All of them. Cancelled, closed, gone like the car.

Burdock pressed his cold nose into her palm, and she patted him, a lump in her throat, tears springing to her eyes as she checked the date against her bank balance. She should have got her allowance yesterday. It always went in the same day every week, a good, generous amount. Her parents had never begrudged it to her before. They’d insisted on it, even back when she’d talked about wanting to find a part time job. They had said it would continue no matter what until she was married.

Well, she was no longer getting married, and they’d stopped her allowance anyway.

Which would be okay, in the scheme of things, but now she had no money.

Erin closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling of Burdock’s warm head under her hand. It was bony, the top of his skull flat, the fur thick but coarse. She felt his head under her fingers and the seat under her legs, and listened to her breathing, trying to stay calm. Her phone was on the desk beside the computer and she opened her eyes and stared at it. Should she call her mother? She touched cold fingers to her throat which was tight and constricted. She swallowed. What would she say to her mother?

She already knew why they’d done it.

Hadn’t they threatened to, sort of? They had, but Erin hadn’t taken them seriously. She shook her head. The idea of Wilde Grove being a black magic cult? It was too ridiculous to entertain, and she’d told her parents that, over and over. Much as she hated to admit it, her birth mother had fed them a line of bullshit.

Erin let out a long, shaky breath.

Her parents didn’t believe her, no matter what she said. It was a cult, they insisted. She was brainwashed already. Indoctrinated. Why else would she have decided to live in Wellsford? A small village in out-of-the-way nowhere?

And that was why she had no money anymore. So that she couldn’t give it to the cult.

The knowledge made Erin tired, and she thought about getting up and walking out of the room and back to bed. It would still be warm in there, and she could pull the covers over her head, lie there in the dark and concentrate on not thinking about any of it. She could deal with it all another day. Or later. Or something.

Burdock looked at her and whined, his brow furrowing in a doggy frown. If they were up, could he please go back outside? In the excitement, he hadn’t visited the apple tree, and now that he thought about it, he was hungry too. It was breakfast time; he was sure of it. She could have a cup of that tea stuff, or that bitter smelling coffee stuff, and he could crunch up some of his biscuits.

That was a fine idea. He went to the door and looked hopefully back at her.

Erin stared at the dog, then nodded her head. ‘You’re right, Burdock,’ she said. ‘I can’t just go back to bed and hide from this.’

He woofed in agreement. He knew the word bed, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with breakfast, which was another word he knew.

‘I don’t know what I’m going to do though,’ Erin added, looking at her bank account again. ‘What with getting the Internet set up, and everything else, there’s not much left.’ Enough to buy groceries for two or three weeks. In other words, just a few hundred pounds. She was going to have to get a job if she wanted to stay here.

Which didn’t sound easy in a place as tiny as Wellsford. And there were lockdowns happening again, so Banwell was out of the question too. She didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. She needed some sort of income. That was the way the world was. She’d starve without money.

Burdock woofed again, but only quietly, and Erin sighed. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘Breakfast.’

Or breakfast for Burdock, at least, because now things were done a little differently. It had been hard, at first, getting into the new habit, but Erin had discovered that if you simply made yourself do it, it got easier every day. Besides, it was interesting. Fascinating, even. 

She shivered as she plucked her cloak from the peg at the back door and drew it around her shoulders. Now that Samhain was past, and the winter solstice – not Christmas, but the solstice – was coming up, the wind had developed an extra bite to it, a sharpness that nicked and cut and told of great adventures in the ice-bound north. Erin was glad of the thick wool as she left Burdock crunching into his biscuits and wove her way through the garden towards the well.

Pushing up the lid, she had to take a deep breath as she always did when she saw the fathomless cold water. Her throat tightened as some part of her suddenly stood ankle deep in Kria’s loch, stuck there in the deepest mists of time.

She hadn’t yet found the way out of the glen, hadn’t yet discovered the key to the initiation, and often, when she closed her eyes, she was there beside the cold water, the bones of her long ago self bleached the colour of white shell on the shore with her.

Her breath was ragged but deep and she blew it out slowly between pursed lips, then took another, steadying herself where she was, and forced herself into awareness of her own body, of where she stood in the garden of Ash Cottage, of the wind blustering against her face, bringing with it the scent of winter, of the clacking of branches from the woods behind the wall of her garden. She lifted her head for a moment and gazed at the sky, thick and damp with clouds, the brightening etching of light from the far rising sun threading between them. Then she looked at the garden, dim in the heavy dawn, the soil dark and deep, the plants curled over themselves, fingers drawn in, tucked still away in their dreams.

She looked at herself, saw her hands, saw the rim of the well under them, and made herself aware of everything – of her breath, herself. Of the garden beyond her, of the world beyond the wall. It was a strange sensation, and one she couldn’t yet hold for long, the sensation of being both inside herself and everywhere else. Of being calm inside herself and detached in observing what was around her. She looked down at her hands again and saw them, working her perspective so that she saw herself seeing them, and breathed in deeply, relaxed yet focused. It was in this state, Morghan had told her, that she could begin to truly see.

Morghan hadn’t elaborated on what Erin would begin to see, but Erin was starting to understand anyway.

The answer was everything. Or almost everything, she supposed. Certainly, a lot more.

It was an odd sensation, but freeing. You didn’t have to be stuck up in your head all the time, she’d discovered. You could be in your body, and in the room, or in the garden, in the world, all at the same time.

Morghan had called it flexing the spirit and insisted on it being the first thing Erin did each day. That and give thanks.

Erin looked down at the water, a deep black hole in the low light. She could smell it, the cold, metallic tang of it, and she could sense how deep it was, how it filled the well from far down in the darkness and mystery of the earth. She leaned a little closer over it and breathed deeply, letting herself feel the life of the water through her chest, with her heart rather than her head, as she was being taught. Then she straightened and looked around, holding stubbornly to the sensation of being inside herself, in her heart, and fully part of her surroundings as well.

‘Blessed water,’ she said. ‘Blessed earth, air, and fire.’ She thought of the rising sun, of the glowing embers in the firebox of her cooker.

‘Spirits of the north, east, south, and west, I greet you, in peace and blessing.’ She breathed in again, swallowed. Said the last line, the one that still made her shiver.

‘I am called to weave the world with you. I am called to keep the weaving safe.’ She remembered the shimmering threads she’d glimpsed crossing overhead the stone circle at the Samhain ritual and let out a breath between pursed lips.

She dipped her fingers into the water of the well, and the coldness was a shock that almost had her tumbling back to the valley where a long ago aspect of herself had lived and died, but she resisted, breathed through it, and continued with the now-familiar ritual, touching her wet fingers to her forehead, chest, shoulder to shoulder.

‘May we be in peace,’ she said, and sighed, closing the lid to the well and feeling the burn of cold water above her brow. She drew her cloak tighter around herself and headed for the warmth of the cottage and Burdock waiting for her in the kitchen.

Later, when the sun was higher in the sky and Morghan finished with her own morning devotions, Erin was due at Hawthorn House. She pulled open the door to Ash Cottage and stepped inside, hanging up her cloak and wondering what she would be learning today. Being still stuck in the long-ago initiation in the valley was complicating matters. 

She filled the kettle and put it on the cooker to heat, looking around for Burdock. He grinned at her from his favourite chair, then went back to watching the morning lighten outside the window. Erin stood in the middle of the kitchen, fingers knotted together, thinking about her laptop upstairs, and the page that showed her almost empty bank account. She squeezed her eyes shut, realising again with a shock that went through her body like a wave that her car had been taken away that morning.

There was only one way she was going to get the car back, and the credit cards, and the allowance.

And that was by standing in front of Morghan Wilde today and telling her she’d changed her mind.

That she could no longer stay in Ash Cottage.

Could not continue with her training. 

She’d had a month to decide. Now it was December, and she’d been reasonably sure she’d made the right decision. Until today.

How was she going to find work?