The first night I was on Anglesey, I dreamed of a woman.
I saw her in the light of a full moon, standing in the center of a circle of stones. Her face was indistinct, but I could make out a full-lipped smile and curious pale eyes, and the cloud of long hair that swayed around her head like a halo.
In typical dream fashion, I was myself and yet I wasn't. I didn't know this woman, and yet I obviously did, because when I walked toward her she opened her arms, and without hesitation I entered her embrace. Her mouth felt cool and soft against mine, but there was no tentativeness from either of us. She gasped as my teeth gently caught her lower lip and the sound of her pleasure sent a surge of delight down my abdomen. As if knowing how I felt, she brought her hand up between us and found my nipple, which was already hard under the several layers of unfamiliar dress that I wore.
And yet it was familiar, because she wore something similar, and as we dropped to our knees, I found myself deftly undressing her. My mouth sought out her breast even as her hand slid between my thighs, finding my wet clit. Her fingers stroked knowingly, stroked relentlessly, and I came with a shuddering cry.
The late spring wind was biting cold, a sharp contrast to the sun that almost blinded me as I struggled up the hill to the promontory overlooking the ocean. Here the sun glazed off the Irish Sea, bringing tears to my eyes before I dropped into a sitting position and shielded my face with my hand.
I had been in Wales only two days, but already her magic was affecting me. Not surprising, really, since a good part of my heritage could be traced back, through the bloodline of my female ancestors, to the Isle of Anglesey where I now sat. I placed my hands on the grass, testing, and felt the tendrils of energy coiling and sliding beneath the surface. I could ground and center just about anywhere, but here I could find the energy much more quickly.
I breathed in deeply and closed my eyes. In a mere two days I already felt less stressed, but I still needed to do some serious work to rid myself of the pain that had knotted itself just beneath my breastbone. I took another slow breath and tasted the earth beneath me, the water before me, the air around me, and the fire of the sun above me. I let them become a part of me and myself a part of them.
Damn Richard and his petty small-mindedness! I allowed the image of my ex-fiancÚ to surface in my mind's eye. The knot of pain intensified, but I focused myself to continue being at one with the elements. Richard was the reason for the pain, and the reason for this cleansing ceremony.
It seemed ludicrous now that I'd never thought to mention to him that I was bisexual. I suppose it was because I hadn't had a relationship with a woman in a few years. I still looked at them with appreciation, but I was a one-partner person, and had been dating only men since my junior year in college.
I'd realized I was bi in high school, and in my freshman year of college embarked upon my first affair with a woman. It hadn't lasted long--it had turned out she was just experimenting and decided she wasn't bi after all. Then I'd spent my sophomore year in love and lust with Emily, an incredibly sexy woman with a long, lanky body, spiky fair hair, and lots of little silver hoops up her ears. But as college romances often do, it ended, although even now as I thought of her I felt a tingle in my loins.
After that, it had been men--a few more college romances, and then Richard. (Well, except for that dream last night--but I forced the memory away. I had to deal with Richard first.) Despite the rigors of graduate school, we'd had a whirlwind romance and a quick engagement. Then one night I'd made a lustful comment about our waitress and all hell had broken loose.
I forced myself to remember every detail of the arguments. Then I let my mind drift backwards in time, through all the memories of him, good and bad, back until the day we met.
I stood, and stretched my arms out behind me, so that they slanted down toward the ground. I condensed every bad memory of Richard into a ball of swirling, angry light. I wrapped the light around the knot in my chest, making them one. Then I imagined the light running down my arms and out my fingertips to spark on the ground. Out, out, out! Until every bit of the pain had been emptied from my mind and body.
Suddenly exhausted, I sank back to the ground, running my hands through the grass again and sucking up some much-needed energy. Reinvigorated, I imagined the beginning of our relationship again, and moved forward in time, remembering only the good times. Richard wasn't a bad person; he just wasn't comfortable with my bisexuality. I hoped he would find someone who would make him happy, and that he would grow past whatever caused his fear.
I opened my eyes. Streaks of clouds on the horizon muffled the setting sun, so I could look westward with my eyes wide open as I said good-bye to Richard.
I gently brought myself up out of the meditation. For a while I simply sat there, tasting the sea air--and the salt of the tears of farewell that trickled down my cheeks.
Suddenly, something brushed against my jeans-clad knee and I shrieked, jumping backwards. Then I laughed out loud. The large, pale ginger cat miaowed and, without invitation, clambered onto my legs, demanding scritches. When I obliged, running my fingers through its long fur, it let out a purr that I could feel right up my arms.
"Well, hello there," I said. "What are you doing all the way out here in the middle of nowhere, little one?"
The cat stared at me with tawny eyes as if trying to answer my question telepathically. Then it reared up, placed its front paws on my chest, and licked at tears on my cheeks.
I slept better that night than I had in weeks, thanks both to the cleansing ritual and to the comfort of the narrow, overly soft guest bed in my grandmother's stone cottage. I slept deeply, with no dreams of a mysterious female lover. When I woke, I lay snuggled under the duvet for a while before reluctantly hauling myself out to start the day. The trip to Wales was well-timed for a post-breakup retreat, but I'd actually been planning it for months. Anglesey, the small island off the North Wales coast, was particularly rich in prehistoric sites, and I'd convinced my graduate advisor in cultural anthropology that I should base my research project here.
In fact, my visits here as a child had sparked my interest in the archeology and anthropology of ancient Britain. My grandmother had a standing stone in her own back pasture. It was a small one, and no one could be sure it was "authentic," but it was enough to capture a child's imagination.
I decided to start with my grandmother's own stone. It was smaller than I remembered--no doubt my childhood imagination had sent it soaring toward the sky--and leaned alarmingly. Caught up in taking pictures and recording measurements, I actually stumbled over the cat--the same one I'd met several miles away the afternoon before. It didn't seem at all disturbed by my clumsiness. Instead of running away, it wrapped itself around my ankle and purred. I found myself sitting on the damp grass, my work temporarily abandoned, petting her. It wasn't until my jeans started to soak through that I got up and resumed my work. The cat hung around for a few minutes, but I wasn't paying attention to her anymore. Sometime while I was trying to calculate where this stone lay in relation to some of the nearby passage graves, she wandered off.
That evening, I went to the village pub with my younger cousin Devi. The Rock and Puffin wasn't a place for a wild night of debauchery, but that suited me fine. Most of the customers were older men in sweaters and their female counterparts, most of whom were more or less related to me.
She walked into the pub with a gust of rain, an air of purpose, and a pair of alarmingly yellow Wellies. Damp clung to her peacoat and spangled her hat and the mass of curly strawberry-blond hair that vined out under it. As she took her hat off, the hair burst free into a bright cloud around a high-cheekboned face.
I froze with my cider halfway to my mouth. That hair--it was the woman from my dream.
I gulped cider and composed myself. I hadn't been able to see the woman in my dream clearly; the only real similarity was the hair. I looked at the woman again, trying to develop X-ray eyes to look past her bulky clothing. She was fairly short, and looked rounded, yet fit. Not a slender woman, but not one you'd want to see carrying much less weight, with her full breasts and authoritative hips. She walked as if she owned the place. I elbowed Devi. "Do you know her?"
"Which one? Oh, her?" Devi's tone suggested he didn't find her as fascinating as I did. "I don't know her name, but I've seen her around a few times lately. Maybe one of the naturalists from the bird sanctuary--she's not from here. Why?"
"Just curious. It's early for midweek tourists." I wasn't prepared to tell Devi--and thus share with all of my British relatives--any details about my sexual proclivities, so I left it at that.
At least that was my plan, until the unknown beauty (as I had already dubbed her) left the bar with her pint of bitter and came straight to our table. "Are you Mrs. Williams' American granddaughter, the one who's here to rob our tombs?" she asked with a laugh in her voice.
I was taken aback. There was always a little curiosity when one of my siblings or I came to visit--even by Anglesey standards, Gran's village is tiny and "the American relatives" offer something to talk about--but usually people weren't so direct in their nosiness. But the woman's eyes, a rare, exotic amber, distracted me enough that she could have asked me if I were from Mars and I would have just smiled and nodded. "Yes, I'm Kate Williams. I didn't realize I was that infamous."
Setting her pint down on the corner of our table, she unbuttoned her coat, giving me a glimpse of a somewhat disreputable dark green sweater. "Your gran has been telling everyone for months, how you were to be staying with her while you studied the old places for Harvard. I've an interest in the ancient sites, too, so it caught my attention. Have you ever seen the stone circle in Hugh Jones' back pasture?"
I laughed. "Let me think. It seems like every ancient site in Wales is in someone's pasture, except for the ones that are on windswept cliffs."
"You'd remember this one. It's unexcavated."
My astonishment must have been evident, because Devi cut in and added, "The Joneses didn't want university folks mucking around disturbing their sheep. Not this Jones, not his father, not his father before him and so on back to Druid days. He says it's nothing important."
"But the old tales are there. And the power." She looked to me, not to Devi, as she spoke, as if defying me to laugh at such unscientific wisdom.
I didn't. I did touch the pentacle that hidden underneath my sweater. This could be what I always dreamed of finding: an undisturbed, untheorized-to-death circle. I'd dreamed of it on two levels, both professional and personal. Of course, the odds of it being truly undisturbed were minute, but the clumsy explorations of centuries past often left enough to give a modern archeologist a good basis for research--and tell a modern pagan a rich tale as well. I tried to keep the excitement out of my voice as I said, "No, I don't think I've seen that one."
"You'll be coming with me then." It was not a question. "Tomorrow--no, tomorrow won't work. The day after. Wear your hiking boots, because we'll be walking. Jones the Sheep puts up with me rambling through his land, but might change his mind if he sees unfamiliar vehicles."
"He doesn't much like people much anyway," Devi interjected. "Eight years ago I got into a fight with his Findas at school and he still sneers at me when he sees me. And Findas broke my bloody nose, too--it's not like I beat him up."
Once we stopped laughing at that, she said, "So it's settled, then? You and I, two days from now?"
I nodded. Then Devi excused himself to go talk to some friends across the room. I glanced away as he left. When I looked back, my would-be guide had vanished.
So had her coat, so I figured she hadn't just gone to the ladies' room. The pub was small and not terribly crowded--I could see she wasn't in there. I squirmed out from behind the table and ran outside. She couldn't have gotten far!
But I hadn't reckoned with the thick fog or the degree of darkness you find on the outskirts of a rural hamlet without a streetlight to its name. I could see dim outlines of the windows of nearby houses, but a dark-clad figure could easily slip away. I was reminded of my dream: There had been no house lights in it, either. "Hey," I called, realizing too late I'd never learned her name. "It's Kate Williams. Are you there?"
My American voice sounded hollow and foolish, as if the fog were eating it. I got no human response.
But something bumped up against my leg and miaowed. I looked down. If I wasn't mistaken, it was that ginger cat again. "You're a long way from home," I said, but as I scratched her head, I realized I was wrong. She'd been a long way from home out at the cottage and on the cliffs. Her fur was dry--she must belong in one of the nearby houses. The cat chirruped her pleasure and I hunkered down to make myself more comfortable as I petted her. It was raining mistily, but I'm a sucker for a good cat. Goodness knows how long I might have stayed if Devi hadn't come looking for me. At his galumphing approach, my little friend melted into the darkness, leaving me abandoned by a cute female for the second time that night.
Two days later, I realized I had no idea how to find my lovely self-appointed guide.
But suddenly she was there at the door of my grandmother's cottage, still in her alarming yellow Wellies even though for once it showed no sign of raining. Despite them and the green sweater, which was even less promising by daylight, she looked utterly delicious.
"Sorry it's so late," she said. "There should still be light for a few hours yet, though. The full moon's the best time, of course, but that's not for a week and I didn't know how long you'd be here." She sounded almost wistful.
"A few months, probably, on and off. There's a lot to keep me here."
"That's a new one. Most visitors stay for a day, maybe two."
"Most visitors aren't researching the prehistoric monuments of Wales. That, and I'm related to half of Anglesey. I--" My grandmother saved me from my hormone-induced vagueness by appearing behind me in the doorway. For a plump woman with arthritic knees, Gran could sneak pretty effectively.
"Katie, who's your--Angharad?" Gran put one hand on my friend's shoulder, one on the doorframe, as if to keep her balance. Her usually ruddy face was pale. I put my arm around her and asked if I should call the doctor.
Gran drew a deep breath. "Just being a silly old woman. You, my dear--" she squeezed my friend's shoulder, then let it go "--are the image of a dear friend of mine from when I was a girl. I haven't seen Angharad Davies for more than fifty years, but for a second I thought you were she. But you'd have to be her granddaughter."
My visitor smiled and patted Gran's arm. "I was adopted, I'm afraid. Odd thing, though--Angharad's my real name, though most people call me Annie. It must be a coincidence."
"You even sound like her," Gran said, and there was old loss in her voice. "I wonder what ever happened to her. We were so close for a while. Then I married and she said she had to go away, and we just lost touch... Left me her cat when she went away and she never even came back for her." Gran blinked and I thought she might have been clearing tears. "Don't let that happen to you, Katie. Don't lose the past."
I flinched, remembering my dream set so obviously in the past. Gran, lost in her memories, didn't notice, but Annie touched my arm gently in a way that suggested she'd not only noticed, but understood, though of course she couldn't have guessed. I hugged Gran because it looked like she needed it, but I really didn't want to linger. "We've got to get going. Annie and I are off in search of a stone circle."
"You and your old rocks." Gran smiled indulgently. "Go have fun."
It was a fine day for Anglesey in early May, or any other time of year for that matter. It wasn't raining, the greens of the earth and the blues of the sky and the sea where brilliant, and the wind was slightly less than gale force.
When we arrived at the Joneses, I started to head toward the house to check in. Annie took my arm and steered me away. "I told them we were coming." There seemed to be a tightness in her voice, but her eyes told me nothing, and I shrugged the feeling off. We tromped through the muddy yard toward the fence that marked off the sheep pasture.
A pasture entered only by means of a kissing gate.
The kissing gate is a quaint British custom. Many fences have dual gates that swing one way, then the other, and in between the two swings you have to scoot through. The gates are to allow human access but not allow sheep or cow egress. Somewhere along the line, some industrious person figured out that if one person goes through, the next person is trapped until the first person allows the final swing of the gate. This cheeky person figured out that a toll might be in order--and the traditional toll is a kiss.
Normally, I face kissing gates without trepidation. Then again, I'd never run across one when I was with someone so attractive. To kiss or not to kiss? I decided I wouldn't--not unless she made the first move.
I think she decided the same thing, because we stood on opposite sides of the gate staring at each other and her face was as pink and open as mine felt. Waiting. Finally I leaned forward and kissed her cheek--innocuous enough if I were reading the situation all wrong. She laughed liquidly and let me through the gate.
We picked our way through the sheep and the sheep dip, smiling at gamboling black-faced lambs. We tromped and tromped and soon we were hiking up a small rise, which I realized was circular, like the motte of a motte-and-bailey castle.
Then we reached the top of the rise, and my breath caught.
The circle was down in the middle of this man-made bowl, twelve stones almost evenly spaced in a perfect circle, except for two that were slightly farther apart, as if marking an entrance. My mind automatically figured out the directions and I saw the entrance was at the east; possibly the circle had been used for midwinter or midsummer festivals.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Annie standing unmoving as I was, her eyes lowered, almost reverently. I wondered how many times she'd seen this, and yet she still was struck as I was.
"Incredible," I murmured. "And I'm so thankful it's untouched. Too often when they're on private land, the farmer decides the stones are in the way, or needed for building his house."
"Jones wouldn't touch this," Annie said. Her voice sounded odd, almost tight. She didn't look at me, just continued staring down at the stones.
"I don't think he'd harm it even if he could," she went on. "Too many legends." She grinned suddenly and looked at me. "One legend says that whoever sleeps in the circle on the night of the full moon will wake up a poet--or raving mad."
"I'm not convinced it's not the same thing," I said dryly.
She laughed. "Nor I. There's a variation on that legend as well, which says if you sleep here under the full moon you'll attain your heart's desire."
"I like that one better," I said. "The problem is, most people don't truly know what their heart's desire is."
Annie cocked her head and looked at me, her curious tawny eyes searching my face. "But some do," she said simply.
By some unspoken signal, we started down into the grassy bowl. I could feel the power beneath my feet, like a hum that rose through my body and made my teeth tingle.
Then we walked through the two stones that seemed to mark the entrance and was practically jerked off my feet with the sense of power.
I grabbed at one of the stones for support, which was a mistake because that made the power seem even stronger. I automatically tried to ground. My instincts proved impeccable. The stone reacted like a sponge, allowing me to give back the energy that the whole circle was sending into me. While it didn't allow me to completely ground, it let me release energy so I wasn't vibrating out of my shoes.
I let go of the stones, imagined the energy bursting out of my head like a fountain, and started exploring the circle. I walked it deosil, or clockwise, as appropriate, and Annie paced by my side, both of us unspeaking. At some point, without me even realizing it, she took my hand, or I took hers. All I knew was the companionable feeling of our entwined fingers as we walked.
I forgot to take pictures, pretty much forgot to do any research, but I knew I'd be able to come back. For now I estimated the size of the circle, the height of the stones and the distance between them, and simply allowed myself to soak in the atmosphere of the place.
Back at the gate, I went through first. I turned and stood there, my heart pounding, waiting to see what she'd do. "You're a sensitive," she said. "You have to remember to ground when you leave these old sites." And she leaned forward and kissed me full until my lips parted and our tongues did the snake-dance thing.
Talk about grounding. Let's just say I released a lot of pent-up energy during that kiss, more than I ever had with just kissing.
But she wouldn't come back for tea, wouldn't come any further than the fork of the road leading to the village. "I must go," she insisted. "I can't say I'll call because I don't have a phone. But I will be in touch. Promise. And I'll take you back up to the circle at the full moon. But I wouldn't advise going back till I can join you. Jones the Sheep can be a right nasty old man." Then she gave me another one of those devastating kisses and bounded off down the lane. I watched her until she disappeared out of sight between the hedgerows and wondered what her story was. She certainly seemed interested, but so elusive and mysterious. It crossed my mind that she might be married and supposed to be monogamous.
I hoped not.
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