Decisions

Decisions
Written by Shana Aber, as Selena Stargazer

“Selena, why are you packing?” Stanrick asks as he walks in after a pack meeting, eyeing me while I casually throw clothes into my travel bags.
“Crows Landing is having a market faire. Puckerman mentioned it during his lessons today. He wants to go home for it and I want to go with.” I state plainly. Stanrick frowns at me.
“What?” I ask as I look up from folding my shirts.
“But you are pretty far along.” He frowns.
I sigh “I have at least three months yet. I also have two formal students, Puckerman and Echo, that I would like to understand their non-traditional ways a little more. If I understand what it is he does or will be doing and where he came from, I can alter lessons so it will be easier for him to understand. “
Stanrick is still frowning “I am not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?”
I smile at him “And just like the swamp, you are going to follow me anyways…”
He glares at me a little. “Not funny”
I walk over and kiss his forehead “Sorry. It will also do you good to get out of here for awhile. Besides, I miss you. I haven’t seen much of you the last few weeks.”
Stanrick sighs. “I know. The Pack is still trying to sort things out after Soulviegs Death.”
I nod “I know. I can see evidence of that all over the village, but they will be fine without you for a while. You need some time to sort things out in your own head as well.”
Stanrick goes and pulls out his travel bags from the storage chest. “I know you are right.”
I frown. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. It’s not like I am heading out alone. I am going to be traveling with Puckerman. Bridget and Keres are coming with as well. Bridget and Keres haven’t been outside of Everspring much, so they want to take the opportunity to see other places as well.“ I smirk. “It’s a pack trait. The curiosity to see and learn new things.”
Stanrick rolls his eyes at me “You know full well I can’t let you travel without me. It’s my job to protect you, not Puckerman or Keres.”
I sigh but am quietly glad he’s coming with. He may not remember, but I do. The New Aldorian market faire was the night that we first talked till the wee hours of the morning and first time he stayed with me. There may have not been mating the first time, but that was the place where he caught my attention.
That was about a year ago now.
So many changes in a year.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Stanrick do you have a moment?” Someone calls to him and he walks off. I sigh, again, as he leaves me to wander the faire. This has been the theme for much of the Market Faire. I don’t know why…no wait. I know exactly why. The Civil War is still a plague to everyone, not just Ulvens, though it is our problem. The Outsiders want to see someone in charge doing something. They have no understanding of how our political system works. They want change right away and no patience to let it come in its own time. They had all been to the Outpost at some point or another and they longed for stable, forceful leadership there, even though it’s not their home. Never mind our own traditions and the way things work.
I sigh grumpily and munch on various food stuffs. I have to admit, some were quite tasty and I am going to have to see about starting a couple Cherry trees up by the Swamp. These things could made some beautiful wine. I will have to tell my Uncles about them. I watch Stanrick as he spends most of the day talking to various people, though he did stop by and check on me every so often. It’s not what I was hoping for but in all honesty, I shouldn’t be surprised. Stanrick does what he does best. Talk.

I watched how the Rangers deal with things and giggled a little. I think they had a stark awaking to what it’s like when your home is the center of attention. I do hope it translates to better behavior and more support when they are at the Outpost.As I watch everyone move and flutter about, it makes me reflective. I watch a young mage out of the corner of my eye trying to connect with nature. I don’t think he found what he was looking for though. I watch Anne as she was suddenly deemed not a Pirate and apparently that young mage is also one of hers as well. I am not sure what that means but wish them luck. It’s going to be hard to get rid of a reputation that you tried so hard to build in the first place, though I think it will make her stronger. She understands the value of remembering where one came from.

I gave my respects to the Prince of New Aldoria. Stanrick, like normal, spent more time talking to him than I. If you want to understand the culture, you talk to the common folk. I feel more comfortable there than talking to the elite classes. It was that way with my own job. I hate talking to Clan Leaders and even Chieftains. I think that’s why I stumbled so much when I had to talk to Khulgar. As I sit in my chair under the shade of the umbrella, it dawns on me what I have to do next, but I don’t want to…

I spent time talking to the Silver Syndar, Phaedra. I learned a lot about their culture and class system. She has access to a Syndar Library. The Idol popped in my head, reminding me that I still need to answer to that. Like a subtle reminder of ‘yes your path is changing, you still need to find answers but to different problems now….’

No, there was nothing subtle about what came next. I would have had to be a fool for not noticing it. I spent a lot of time talking to the Richtcrag Armors mate. He kept dragging off my mate so I spent time talking to his. I learned about her culture and what they believe, it’s remarkably similar to our own. They even have markings…their eyes change. Apparently becoming blue like the sky in winter. Though I am unclear if they are born that way or if they change sometime later. They do not get the animalistic touches like Ulven do, but I do wonder if the Winter Wolf touched them somehow. There are some differences, especially when it comes to how females are treated and trained, but she asked me if I could teach her. She will probably be easier to train than Puckerman, mostly because she is already female, even if she is an Outsider.
Apparently in their culture they like to know if they are having male or female pups so they have a ritual that will tell them. I let her perform this ritual on me. I want to see what it was like and to get a feel for what she already knows. We may have run into the same problem that happened when Puckerman tried to use the dagger before he understood the ways of our magic. I think some sort of feedback loop or magic hiccup happened. According to her magic, she thinks I am having both a male and a female. I just shrug. We are not known to have multiple births and nobody in my family has, so I have no reason to think that it was an accurate reading.

That pretty much made my decision. Three students and I am not even a full Witch. It’s pretty clear on what my path should be. I feel like I want to cry as now I know what I need next. The only person who knows I have made my decision is One. I haven’t even told Stanrick yet. I think it’s because I just made it and I needed to say it out loud to someone to make it seem real. I am fairly shaken by my decision, yet I know it’s what I have do. Gaia’s been giving me signs all day…some not subtle at all.

Surprisingly, One understands why it was such a hard decision to make. He also understands my plight and says he will send me information when he could. Apparently he too is going to be stuck in one spot for a while. I tell him to not tell Stanrick yet…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Are you okay Beloved?” Stanrick asks as we lay in the tent after having left the Market faire. I have been restless all night. I can’t seem to sleep.
“I am leaving my pack and clan.” I whisper
He sits up and looks at me. I can see the smile pull at the corners of his mouth, though he is trying not to. “You sure?”
I close my eyes. “No, but Gaia was quite clear at the Faire on what path she needs me to follow…”
He kisses my forehead. “It’ll be okay. You’re still going to be part of your family. “
I sigh and look at him. He really believes it. I didn’t have the heart tell him that while I will be welcomed at pack gatherings and the like, I will be treated as an outsider. I won’t be able to help with rites, I will have to trade for things, not just given them because I am a part of the pack. I may still be family by blood, but that doesn’t mean much when you aren’t dedicated to supporting the blood.
Stanrick cuddles in close and whispers in my ear. “Just like I told you that first night…Everything will be okay.”
I didn’t reply. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes and didn’t trust my voice not to betray me. He remembered…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“How could you?!” Keres screams at me. “What about Tradition?” Bridget and Keres both figured out why we were heading to Everspring instead of back to the Outpost after about three days.
“Because I have to.” I state quietly.
She gets up in my face. The hurt and betrayal is written all over her face as clear as day, tears stinging the corner of her eyes.
“That is mordok dung and you know it. You always have a choice and now you are choosing him over your pack and your duty.” She snarls.
“What is going on here?” Stanrick growls as he comes back with an armload of wood. He drops the wood and grabs Keres by the collar of her shirt and pulls her back.
“They need me more. With the death of Soulvieg, they don’t even have a full witch. Rill and I are on the same level but she doesn’t know how to handle the corruption, she has never really taught anyone. She is a great organizer and knows how to maintain the village but not much else.” I state.

Keres shrugs out of Stanrick’s grasp. Her eyes blazing with rage and pain. “We need you too. The Pack still doesn’t have a Witch since Grandma Freya died.“
I sigh. “Yes I know…but there are also many candidates for that roll. Your own sister being one of them. You also have High Priestess, Morrigan, as well. The Longfangs even don’t have that. There is no Higher Clan structure for them to turn to. I could bring that, even if it’s indirectly.“
“Females don’t leave. Males come to us just as the Great Wolf Joined the First pack. You are going against Tradition here.” She yells.
look at the ground. “I know.”
Keres stomps the ground, tears on her cheeks “Fine. Go throw your life away.” She turns and storms off.
Bridget stands there and looks at me. Tears in her eyes but she comes up and hugs me. “I understand, but I don’t like it. You will still teach me right?” She asks.
I hug her back. “Of course I will.“
Stanrick comes up and looks at Bridget. “Go find your sister. She was yelling loud enough I think half the territory heard her. I don’t want her getting jumped by something in the state she is in.”
Bridget frowns. “You don’t think she can handle it?”
Stanrick smiles a little. “No. I think she will not know when to stop if something does find her right now.”
Bridget sighs “Yeah, probably. You do know she is going to blame you?”
Stanrick nods. “I would rather have her blame me than Selena. She will get over it.”
Bridget nods and goes to find her sister.
I sink down by the fire, grabbing a piece of wood that Stanrick had brought and placed it on. I wipe my cheeks on my tunic.
“Are you okay Love?” Stanrick asks.
“No.” I state quietly as I watch the fire. “That went as well as I expected but it still hurts.“
He pulls me into his arms as a fresh batch of tears start down my face…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Selena was fast asleep now. After everything that happened, she had a hard time falling asleep and would not let go of Stanrick. She tried to hide her tears, but it was no use. They heard Bridget bring Keres back, but she was still really upset and this made it even harder. Finally, she exhausted herself so badly that she could not keep her eyes open and she fell asleep. Her grip loosened and Stanrick slipped out of bed to check on the fire.

Bridget looks up and was curious to see what would happen, though Stanrick could tell her muscles are tight, ready to spring up just in case.
“What?” he asked as he tosses a log on the fire, watching Keres glare at him out of the corner of his eye.
“I want to hurt you.” Keres growls as she sits sharpening her sword with a wet stone.
“Yeah? Then do it. Get it all out because I rather you go after me than go after Selena.” Stanrick walks over and stands before her. His chest was exposed and the heat steams off him in the cool night air. She looks at his scars, stands up and socks him in the abdomen. She thought it would have more give, but it didn’t. She hit it again and again, with each strike the tears began to flow.
“Feel better?” he asks when she falls to her knees sobbing before him, knowing full well she did not.
“No! This doesn’t change anything! All it does is just hurt me!” she cries out while rubbing her knuckles.
“Yeah, that’s all it ever does. Now do you want to talk about all this?” he asks as he kneels down beside her.
“I hate you! How could you do this to us? How could you take her away?” she says in angry sobs.
“Do what? I did nothing. Selena made her own choice. I cannot tell her what to do. This was what she chose to do and it was not an easy choice. No choice is. As Ulven, we are lucky in a way that most choices we make in our lives are small. What we want to eat or what tunic we want to wear. The big choices are made by a Chief, Clanleader or our Priestesses. We are spoiled that way. But one day you will find that you have choices, big ones, life changing ones, and they are hard. I made the choice to protect your cousin rather than go with my shield brothers. We make choices and do what we believe is right and we have to live with that choice no matter what others may think of us.” He pulls out a small piece of cloth and gives it to Keres.
“You chose to be with her? I thought you were ordered.” She says as she wipes her eyes.
“No. I made that choice, Soulvieg gave it to me to this day. I do not know why. Selena gave me the choice to say no when she chose me to mate with her. I knew what she was doing was important so I could not let her go on her own. I also chose to take her as my life mate. Keres, I care about her more than I knew I could. I make choices not only to protect my pack, but my family, and above all others protect Selena. I swore an oath to do so in this life and in death. I know you feel like she is leaving you, but she will always be blood. No changing of pack can take that away. You’re not losing anyone. The stress that she is going through is more dangerous. You do not just hurt her, you hurt little one too.” Stanrick calmly states.
Bridget walks over and sits by them, moving close to stay warm. “But why can’t you just join our pack? You would be welcome. You could probably become the Warleader if you wanted.” She says as she leans in and puts the blanket over his shoulders.
“Then what would become of my pack? They lost their warriors and their leader. Yes, I could, but not all would be as welcomed into the fold as I would be. Not all of them are as open minded about things.” Stanrick replies. “I don’t pretend to fully understand what you’re going through. I can’t, but I do know what it’s like to lose family. You need to also realize that family is not just pack loyalties, but blood and the ones you keep in your heart. You two are also my family. I was just surprised that you saw me that way.”
“Is it ok if I join you?” Asks Selena from behind them. She was wrapped in the heavy rabbit fur blanket. No one knew how long she had stood there.
“I am sorry cousin.” Says Keres with a sob.
“I know. I also know you are still going to be angry for awhile…and it’s okay.” Selena says. They sit and watch the stars a while…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The walls of Everspring rose up in front of us as we walk down the path. My heart sinks lower and lower the closer we get. Bridget looks at me. I nod and she sprints off ahead. Stanrick is about to stop her. I grab his arm and shake my head.
“This needs to play out as Tradition demands. Otherwise I will never be able to come back.” I state solemnly. Stanrick frowns at me but nods and takes my hand. We are all very quiet the rest of the way to Everspring.

I had already been trying to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for this, but my walls feel very fragile. I just hope they hold.
We stop at the Drunken Uncle to drop off our things. Bowmen looks surprised when I come in, but then gets very serious as he studies my face. He knows something is up. Without saying a word, I place three rabbits on the counter and head upstairs to stash my stuff and change my clothes. I come back down in the best outfit that I can manage to get around my ever enlarging belly. Normally I would throw on my best gambeson, but I can’t get it closed around me currently. I can barely get my boots back on by myself. I straighten my torc and look around the room. Bowmen comes around the counter and hugs me. I am pretty sure Stanrick told him what I am about to do.
“You’re always welcome here. Your father would find me in the Great Forest and kick my ass up and down the pathways if I didn’t take care of his daughter, regardless of what pack she is in.” He whispers in my ear. My lip quivers and I can feel the baby shift uneasily in my tummy. All I can do is nod. I am afraid my voice will crack if I try to speak now.

Stanrick takes my hand and leads me to the Great Hall. Keres opens the doors for me. Of course the Great hall is packed full of people. It was the middle of the afternoon. I wouldn’t expect it to be anything less. Large and flashy and in front of a lot of people. Word travels fast, for that there is no question…I suddenly feel very vulnerable.

I weave my way to the front to stand before Clanleader Cahal Spiritclaw and High Priestess Morrigan Sol Fire. Bridget stands to the left of the High Priestess and next to Chieftain Faelan. Chieftain Erin Stargazer stands next to Gjerta and Henrick. Henrick is looking confused and uneasy as he picks up on the emotions of those around him. I know Bridget told them everything. They all wear solemn expressions. I can feel the energy in the room changing.

I gather my courage and voice. Clanleader Cahal gets to his feet and slams his cane down. Everyone becomes silent. I can feel myself waiver, but I pull myself up tall.

“Clanleader Spiritclaw, I wish to present to you my last report as a Truthseeker and beg for release from my duties so that I may pursue the calling that the Mother has put before me. “ I state loud and clear for the whole room to hear.
He looks down at me. “What Duties do you feel she has laid before you that are heavier than the duties to your pack and clan?”
“I wish to join and aid Pack Longfang. With Soulviegs passing, their Daughters lack the ability to figure out new solutions to the ever growing Corruption. I have already taken on three students in less than a season’s time. Gaia is using my skills that I have developed as a Truthseeker and now has me asking a different set of questions to a new set of problems. I feel I would be failing both duties if I tried to split my time between the two.” I state.

“You wish to leave Pack Stargazer as well?” Chieftain Erin asks.
“Yes Rhya. I know I would be the first female to leave in three generations, but if I am going to help Pack Longfang, they need to see me as one of them.” I reply. I feel Stanrick shift uneasily beside me. Both Erin and Cahal look at Stanrick.
“She is correct, Rhya. Pack Longfang doesn’t like outsiders, regardless if they are Ulven or not. “He states plainly.
Cahal turns to consult both Morrigan and Erin, though I think it’s mostly for show.
“Truthseeker Stargazer approach.” Cahal states. I approach the stairs and he nods. I remove my torc from my neck. He takes one end while I hold the other.

“You have served your pack and clan well. I release you to fly free and pursue what your heart desires. Your work was honorable and truthful. May it ring his ears.” He states loudly for the room to hear.
“Thank you Rhya.” I state. I look to Erin.
“Meet at the stone tomorrow. I will gather the Elders. “She states solemnly. I nod.
“Selena. Meet with me for dinner and give your final report. That shall be your final duty as Truthseeker.” Cahal says to me.
“Yes Rhya.” I nod. I look down at the torc and I have to force myself to let go of my end. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard. I bite my bottom lip to keep it from quivering and turn and walk down the steps. Stanrick nods to the Elders and walks with me.
“That went better than I was expecting.” Stanrick says as he helps me down the steps.
“That was the easy part.” I sigh.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Selena walks in the front door of the Drunken Uncle and she looks exhausted. She turns to her mate.
“I am going to go lay down for a while.” She states.
“I’ll come too.” Stanrick smiles. Selena shakes her head.
“Don’t. I need some alone time.” She frowns. Stanrick frowns after her as she walk up the stairs.
Stanrick sits down at the bar with a huff.
“She will be fine.” Says Bowmen as he fills a mug for Stanrick.
“I don’t understand why this is so hard for everyone. Everyone is acting like she is going to go into the Black or something.“ Stanrick shakes his head.
Bowmen frowns. “She didn’t tell you, did she?”
“Tell me what?” Stanrick asks over the rim of the mug.
Bowmen sighs. “No, of course she wouldn’t. Because she is stubborn and thinks she needs to shoulder it all herself. “ He pulls a stool around to the other side of the bar so he can sit. “Your into the black analogy isn’t all that far off. Physically, yes, she will still be of the blood but she is choosing to leave. Socially, she will be treated as an outsider. She no longer has the protection of the clan so if past mistakes come back, she has to endure them on her own. She can ask for help, but she has to earn it now or barter for it just like any other outsider.“ Bowmen shakes his head. “Though really, that isn’t what bothers her. I am assuming she needs to go meet with people at her Homelands, correct.”
“Yeah, we are doing that tomorrow.” Stanrick states.
Bowmen frowns. “Tomorrow they are going to sever her connection with the Homelands.“
Stanrick looks up from his drink and nearly spits it out. “They can do that?!”
Bowmen nods “It’s painful for a Daughter. They are connected stronger to their Homelands than your standard pack member. She can still give energy to the barrier and protection spells since she is blood, but if they fall, she will never know. It also means when she dies she will be unable to find the Homelands, which means she will never see her family or her first mate or her other children again.”
Stanrick blinks in disbelief. “Do you think if she wanders the Great Forest she will find them?”
Bowmen shrugs “I don’t know. Unless she joins another pack and ties herself to their Homelands, she will wander the forest, never knowing the comfort of a home. Basically becoming a Ronin spirit.“

Stanrick frowns. “She is going to join my pack so there is no worry there.”
Bowmen smiles “Good. I didn’t think you would let her wander the forest, though this is going to be really hard for her. “
“What about the pup she is carrying? “ He asks absently.
Bowmen shrugs. “If they die before marking, they go live with Luna. I suppose they would have a choice which homelands to return to, though I would guess they would return to yours since that is where you guys will be.”
Stanrick nods. He doesn’t bother correcting the notion that they don’t have a homeland. Nobody in the family remembers where they were from originally. Stanrick stares into his mead absently.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dinner was solemn. Even Henrick was fairly quiet throughout dinner. Nobody wanted to ask if I was sure about my decision because they all knew the answer. I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I want to know. I don’t know if I can have meetings like this again. I can’t leave and not know.
I set my fork down on my plate and look at my Elders. “You all knew that this was going to happen, didn’t you? This is why you sent me to Onsallas to study outsider culture instead of New Hope or Crows Landing where an assignment like that would’ve made more sense.” I say accusingly.
Cahal and Morrigan look at each other before looking at me. I narrow my eyes a little. “Don’t lie to me. I may not be an official Truthseeker anymore but I still have all the skills.”

Cahal smirks a little as sighs. “See? I knew you would figure out something was up. Soulvieg asked me to make sure you were up at Onsallas. I don’t know why. I figured she wanted to train you personally in something. I also knew with the death of their elite war pack, Stanrick was going to be needed up there as well.“ Cahal smiles and takes Gjerta’s hand. “I knew he would follow you anywhere and I couldn’t have that, so it was easier to just assign you to the same place I knew he was needed. “

Morrigan shakes her head. “I knew I had to train you beyond just being a normal Witch, the runes had shown me that. Soulvieg’s letter to me asked as well, though she stated the Corruption at the Outpost being the reason. You had many paths before you, you had to pick one. You can be indecisive sometimes trying to make everyone happy. Though once the letter came that Soulvieg had died, I knew it was more than a possibility that you may leave. The fact that Soulvieg had no one to replace her was well known among the other Priestesses. Your skills as Truthseeker probably made it clear to you that there was no one to take her place either.

I frown. “Rill has the skills to maintain the village. She’s been doing that since she was little, but she doesn’t have the skills to teach others. Soulvieg was a powerful Priestess, but from what I have pieced together, she was sick most of her time so she wasn’t a good teacher and Rill had to take care of her. Rill excels at things. I don’t like runes and potions. I excel at things like rites and cleansings. Rill should be leaps and bounds ahead of me considering she started training much, much younger than I, but we are on the same level with different focuses. I think we could really could do well together but right now she would rather see me eaten by Mordok.”
“I don’t think it’s that bad.” Stanrick frowns.

I sigh. “She blames me for Soulviegs death. That is clear as day. She has had a chip on her shoulder since I first appeared in the village and even more so after my one meeting with Soulvieg. She shoulder checked me when I went to go do the laundry after getting back to Onsallas, after our winter stay here.”
“She did that?!” Stanrick growls.
I nod.
“She does it again, I will wipe the floor with her.” Stanrick frowns at me.
I shrug. “Either way, we are going to have to work together in order to succeed with the Corruption spot outside the outpost. Neither of us are strong enough to do it on our own right now. The Longfangs are used to taking orders from one person. Now that’s gone and they appear lost. “
“Well, that not entirely true.” Stanrick states.
I frown. “What do you mean?”
Stanrick smiles. “They voted me in as Chieftain before we left for Crows Landing.”
Everyone’s heads snap up to look at Stanrick in surprise. I glare at him to the point where he shrinks back in his seat a little before rising up to his full height. “Stanrick Longfang, Chieftain of Pack Longfang.” He pauses to take a deep breath. “Even I still think it sounds weird.”
Gjerta grins at me. “Trust me child. This will not be the last thing he does to make you glare at him. You are going to get so many more opportunities, especially now.”
Stanrick frowns. “I don’t want that to go beyond this room.” He glares at the guards who shift uneasily.
Cahal tilts his head. “What are you planning?”
Stanrick replies, “I want our enemies to think that the Longfangs are still floundering for leadership. I want them to think that we are vulnerable. That way we can be more than ready for them when they come. We know they will, especially when they hear we sent people to go raiding with Axhound. I am expecting Grimward to try and use that to their advantage and attack the Outpost, quite possibly the village as well.“
Cahal smiles. “This is why you have the reputation as the clever Longfang.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Morrigan shakes her head. “It appears we are all done here. Come Selena. Let’s leave the males to talk fighting. We have a different fight to get you ready for.” High Priestess Morrigan, Gjerta and Erin stand and help me up. We head towards Morrigan’s Study.
“I can’t believe…he didn’t…Had I known, I wouldn’t have had us leave.” I snarl.
Gjerta smiles. “Get used to it. There is going to be so many more things he doesn’t tell you because he feels that he needs to keep you safe.“ She winks at me. “You will find them out anyways, given time…he just doesn’t know that yet.”
I growl under my breath as I take a seat in a chair in the study.
“You’re really going to leave us, aren’t you cousin?” Erin asks.
I look down at my lap. “Yeah. “
Morrigan frowns. “You know what that means…”
I nod. “I will lose my connection to the Stargazer Homelands. I will be able to add strength to the shields since I am a blood Stargazer, but should the shields go down, I will never know, nor will I be able to find the homelands when I die.“
Erin frowns. “Are you going to keep the name?”
I shrug. “Probably for a while. I won’t be able to join the Longfangs till after the pup is born. They won’t let me do it while I am pregnant. Too afraid of hurting the pup. If I change it, I’ll let you know.”
Erin nods. “I am going to go and start gathering the elders.”
I nod. Erin leaves and closes the door behind her.
Gjerta nods. “I am going to put Henrick to bed.” She gives me a hug. “You will be fine. Remember what I told you before you left. You are always welcome here, regardless.”
Morrigan is gliding across her room gathering things. “Now that they are gone, please tell me what’s on your mind.”
I frown. “The Longfangs don’t have a Homeland. Stanrick’s Mother left a book, which I don’t think he has ever fully read. Most don’t know where they had started from. There is a loose family history, but that started with Soulvieg’s generation. I think she was the last one who knew where they were from and she never told anyone else. So even when I join their pack, I am going to be doomed to wonder the forest.”
Morrigan looks at me. “How many of the blood rites to you know?”
I frown. “I know the individual joining and severing of a pack member.”
Morrigan nods. “There are others. If you are going to walk this path, you need to know them all. If they don’t have one, make them one. Make them a proper pack spiritually. That is your new job, to guide them spiritually. Rill and you may be on the same level right now, but I see you going so much farther. After the pup is born, you are to come back here and finish your training. Understood?”
The conviction I heard in Morrigan’s voice was pretty astounding. I just nod my head. “Yes Rhya.”
“I will also gather supplies and transcribe some rites for you to take with back to Onsallas that should help you deal with the Corruption better and hopefully figure out a way to cleanse it. Until then, drink this.” She hands me a cup of what appears to be tea. “It will protect the pup from the shock of the severing tomorrow. Unfortunately, that is something I can’t protect you from.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I drag my feet as we head up the path. I am going slowly on purpose. I want to savor this feeling. This connectedness. I am terrified. Stanrick is pulling the cart next to me. Keres and Bridget are already at the site, probably helping set up. We break into the clearing and I stop dead in my tracks. I think Erin gathered half the pack. There is a processional line on either side of the path from the entrance to the rock.
“Gods.” I swear as I inhale a shaky breath and rub my hands over my face to try to get the tears to stop. Stanrick looks amazed at the amount of people gathered for this.

“Did she gather your entire pack?” he asks as we stand there in amazement.
“No. Though I swear this has to be half.” I mumble. I swallow hard. “Leave the cart here. They will bring it in.” We start up the path. Everyone is hugging me, touching me, crying, and telling me they will miss me. I can’t help but to start to cry. We finally get to the front. There at the base of the rock stand Erin, Garik, Bridget and Keres along with the Elders. Uncles Waylen, Pryderi, Grandma’s Frayas brother Drudwyn, and his mate Lone. High Priestess Morrigan is there along with her daughters, Deidra and Breanna, probably to help oversee the rite since we have no formal witch yet. Cousin Maeve steps up with the bowl and the knife. Deidra and Breanna step up next to me and slightly behind me on either side. They whisper in my ear.

“We are here to catch you when you fall.” Deidra starts “and to make sure the baby isn’t harmed.” Breanna finishes. I nod lightly.
Meave comes forward and holds up the bowl. “Today we say goodbye to one of our own. She chooses to find Gaia’s calling outside the arms of the pack and we have agreed to let her go in good faith.” Meave calls out to the people behind us. I try very hard to stare at the rock behind everyone as tears run down my cheeks. “She knows she is loved and will be missed and knows we will no longer be there as we once were, but trusts in our strength to survive without her. As the Great Wolf had to sever his ties with his pack to join Gaia’s pack, we will now sever hers from ours so that she may make bonds with her new one.“ Meave walks over to Erin who holds out her hand. Meave cuts it and she bleeds into the bowl. She also does this for Uncles Waylen, Pryderi and Grandpa Drudwyn. She walks over to me and I hold out my hand. She slices it across the palm. I turn my hand over and bleed into the bowl. Meave then walks up to High Priestess Morrigan, who from a pouch pours a clear liquid into the bowl. She turns, tears in her eyes, her voice cracking a little as she talks. “Fire cleanses all things but it also destroys. So with clean conscience we send you forth on your own, Selena, with all the love and best wishes we can.” She takes a stone flint from her pouch and strikes it. The bowl ignites with a whoosh and I feel like my heart is about to explode. I feel my legs give out as I grab my chest. Deidra and Breanna catch me and hold me upright until the feeling passes, about the same time as the fire dies down. There is an emptiness. I know what the feeling is supposed to be, but it’s not there now. I can still feel my connection to Gaia. I look around. Some of them feel it too, like there was something there and now it’s gone. Someone lets out a mournful howl from the back and the rest join in. I bite my cheek until I taste blood to keep from crying out in pain and emptiness. Erin and Garik hug me, and so does Uncle Waylen and Pryderi. I walk up to Grandpa Drudwyn.
With a shaky voice I say, “When you go to the Homelands, tell them why I will not be there. Give my mom and dad my love. Tell Torolf I am sorry. Tell my other children that I love them and I am sorry that mommy will not get to see them. “
The old grey Ulven looks at me and nods solemnly before hugging me and whispers in my ear, “They will not be ashamed of you. They will find you in the forest.”
I look at everyone one last time as they part to take the processional out. I walk. Stanrick takes my hand and walks beside me. I do not turn around and look. I can’t…Stanrick does for me though.
“They are all crying.” He mumbles.
Tears are streaming down my cheeks.” I know.”

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