Friday, December 30, 2016

The Coven of the Trees - Through Chapter 6

The Coven of the Trees 

Tales from the Dark Times



By Mark T. Bradbury

                Dedications and Thanks

I couldn’t have written this book without researching the ancient legends of the Celtic peoples of the United Kingdom. Their history is rich with tales of great warriors, wizards and sorcerers, things that go bump in the night, epic battles, giants, elves and most of all, dragons. There is so much subject matter and so many great names of people and places that it never took very long to find a good story to build around or a great name to use.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to the builders of the great stone monuments scattered throughout the United Kingdom. These magical places, like Stonehenge in England, and so many others elsewhere, inspired me to write a book that magically explains the construction of these Neolithic stone sites. Since so many scholars disagree on who is responsible for building these incredible places, I've developed my own theory that they were all built by magical hands thousands of years before history.

I’d like to thank the Anglo-Saxons for their early English book of stories, poems and most of all, their riddles. The book is called “The Exeter Book,” and it is the most famous example of Anglo-Saxon literature available. In Chapter Twenty-Nine, I use four of the ancient riddles taken from the Exeter Book.

I’d especially like to acknowledge the Wikipedia website as one of the true wonders of our modern world. I spent weeks going from one great folkloric legend to another, building my storylines as I went. Wikipedia is incredible! Help their cause by donating if you can; millions of people around the globe depend on its treasures every day.

Mark T. Bradbury, Author


The Story Teller
Welcome to the tale of the oldest coven of Witches and Wizards in our recorded history. The Coven of the Trees was created and nurtured by the Earth Mother when wooly mammoths still roamed the world, and is still active to this day. Its members have integrated society and have helped humankind evolve into the society we are today. They have participated in almost every aspect of our growth, helping us make the right decisions as a society. They have fought evil of every kind along the way, and have triumphed over those who would subject our world to darkness.
I will attempt to retell their stories as they have been told to me since I was a young acolyte. You see, I am a modern Wizard, a standing member of the Coven’s ruling authority, and I have accepted the important job of telling a story as old as history itself.
My name is Casey Bradbury, and my 13th generation great-grandmother was accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in the infamous trials of the summer of 1692, so you see, I have a bit of history running through my veins. I’m better known in our Coven as Hawthorn, a member of the Council of Twelve, and I hope you will enjoy my tales of the most impactful group in the history of our fair planet.
In order to understand the Coven, one must be cognizant of its beginnings. In Old Earth there existed a civilization steeped in tradition and magic. Before recorded time there had been practitioners of magic and mysticism everywhere; some of it had been quite dark, but thankfully most was not.
            To protect the common people of their regions, a society of Wizards and Witches was established to ensure that Dark Magic would not triumph and destroy the Earth and its peoples. Their responsibility was to the Earth Mother, overseer of all that was pure. She had given the special ones the powers they possessed to do her bidding, but there was always someone within their society who had different ideas about how civilization should take shape.
            Dark Magic would rear its ugly head from time to time, and when it did the Witches and Wizards of the Coven nearest the transgression would join together to overpower the evil-doer responsible. It was the only system of justice practiced in Old Earth for centuries, and it had worked very well for several thousand years.
But there were always challenges from within, so it was determined that a special council of twelve members of the society would be charged with upholding the ideals set forth by the Earth Mother. This group became known as The Council of Twelve, and each member was chosen for the duration of their life.
Even though they were practitioners of magic, the Wizards and Witches were not immortal. They were humans, just like the people they protected, and their life spans were comparable. When one of them passed away, the Earth Mother would choose a new member from their Coven to join the Council. This had been the way for longer than anyone even knew.
The Council members were known by their tree names, given them by the Earth Mother as symbols of her bounty. Although they all had common names, their tree names were the only names used within their society. Every Wizard and Witch referred to them by their tree names once they became a member of the Council, since it was the highest form of respect within their community. Their given names were only used outside the Coven when dealing with the common people of their lands.
And so we begin the story of the Coven of the Trees. I’d like to introduce you to its Council members; please be patient with this humble writer. I am merely a historian retelling a tale that has gone on since before recorded time, and continues in our everyday world of Modern Earth. More about that as we go along. Here are the members of the Council of Twelve; it should be noted here that the Earth Mother always tried to name someone to the Council who best reflected the ideals of the tree they stood for.
Oak is a mighty warrior, grounded in strength and bravery. Oak helps you find your inner strength and courage when you need it most.
Maple is the colorful symbol of magical beauty and mystery. Maple shows you how to create your own magic and walks you through your own journey.
Chestnut is about creativity and passion, and teaches you to turn over a new leaf by encouraging you to have new visions.
Pine is the mystical tree of peace and harmony. Pine helps you focus on the good things in life and helps you find your way to happiness.
Cypress is about sacrifice and sorrow. Cypress leads you through dark situations to reveal what you need to be strong.
Cherry symbolizes the fragility of life, and helps you understand that although life is short, it can be sweet.
Ash is the ancient tree of wisdom. Ash brings you faith and strength to be a person of power and imagination who can overcome any obstacle in your path.
Apple is beauty and stability, a magical source of life since the Garden of Eden. Apple is always there for you when you need her blessing.
Birch is the symbol of creation. As it sheds its bark, it teaches us to cleanse the unwanted memories of our minds by shedding our fears and misconceptions to start anew.
Willow is the epitome of grace and seduction, aiding you in finding your purest emotions and teaching you to embrace your personal well being.
Hawthorn is all about adventure and mystery, and shows you how to embrace your power and be confident in your decisions.
Cedar symbolizes strength and durability. Cedar has the power to heal or fix anything, if you trust its wisdom.
And so this Council of Twelve has ruled over the mystical and the magical for many thousands of years, protecting the ungifted inhabitants of their lands. Let’s step back to a time when life was much simpler to see where it all started.


Chapter One         

The Village of Skara Brae, Hen Ogledd (Scotland), 2658 B.C.

Over the centuries Skara Brae had become the cultural center of the Coven of the Trees in the lands of Briton and Eire. It was a village built of stone constructed below ground level and covered over by soil middens and grass. The village was on the shores of the Bay of Skaill, along the low road to Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.
The village was home to the brightest minds throughout the Coven. The Witches and Wizards of the village were invited to live and work there under the guidance and leadership of Oak, a member of the Council of Twelve. Religious sites had sprung up around the village, where the residents engaged in astronomical and mystical ceremonies.
Skara Brae was the ancestral home of Oak. He had been born in one of the stone houses, and was named to the Council after the death of Oak the Elder on the island of Eire, across the sea. He had studied under Oak the Elder for many years before the old Wizard succumbed to old age. After his passing, the Earth Mother had named the younger man to the Council to replace his mentor.
Oak had been on the Council for seventeen years, and in that time Skara Brae had become a bright light in Old Earth. Other members of the Council sent their best Witches and Wizards there to study under the leader and patriarch of the secret village. It had become a primitive type of school, featuring the arts of magic and mysticism. Many of the future Council members came from the ranks of those trained at the little seaside village.
Under the watchful eye of Oak, his students erected a large henge nearby for ceremonial activities. It was called the Ring of Brodgar, and it was a perfect circle of sixty large stones set into the ground, placed there by the magic of the Coven. It was there that the mystics celebrated the Summer and Winter Solstices, and many members of their Coven who had died were cremated and buried within its confines. It had become one of the most important sites in Old Earth.
Oak was so loved by his Coven that they erected a large tomb for him not far from the village. It was called Maeshowe by the society. Upon the completion of the large stone building, they covered it with soil and stones, and grass grew on its slopes. It was, and still is, one of the finest examples of magical construction known to man.
It was in this seaside village on a dark, rainy night that a Wizard appeared at the home of Oak. The Wizard had been sent to Skara Brae by Cypress, another member of the Council; she was asking for Oak’s assistance in putting down a rebellion of Dark Magic in her Low Country homeland.
Several powerful members of her Coven had broken off from their group, forming a Black Coven, led by a very strong Wizard named Wallach. Upset at not being named to the Council when the old woman who had served as Cypress had died the previous year, he had rebelled against the Coven, and started his own group.
He had convinced several Witches and Wizards, along with a handful of acolytes, to join him in his quest to rule the Low Country regions. They began the war by singling out specific members of the Cypress Coven that disapproved of their actions. They would wait for an opportune moment to pounce on an unsuspecting Wizard or Witch, and they would then overpower them, battling  them to the death.
One by one, Cypress’ members were disappearing. The well-planned attacks had decimated her Coven. She only had two other Witches and three Wizards left, and she was losing ground as the months wore on.
 Wallach’s coven had been destroying homes and farmlands throughout the region, bringing further trouble to Cypress. It was estimated that half of her lands had been reduced to ashes and rubble by the Dark Wizard. She was responsible for the protection of her people, but she was gradually losing the faith of both her Coven and the inhabitants of her lands.
Wallach’s most malicious spell was put on the waters of the Low Country. Many of the wells that supplied water to the villages went putrid, and the water was no longer drinkable. Neither people nor animals could drink it without getting violently ill. Scores of elderly villagers had passed away because of the bad water. Children and animals were suffering throughout the land, and the people of the Low Country were travelling many miles to obtain water pure enough to drink.
The Earth Mother was furious with the members of Wallach’s coven, and ordered Cypress to do whatever was necessary to rid the Low Country of this deceitful Wizard. It was decided to summon Oak and his Coven to assist them in this cause. Another messenger was sent to Cedar and her Coven in the Highlands, also asking for their help.
In the morning Oak told his Coven of the disaster in the Low Country. Cypress and her Coven had been almost wiped out by the deadly battles with the Black Wizard. He chose twenty of his best warriors and ordered them to the Ring of Brodgar for prayers and assistance from the Earth Mother.
When they assembled at the great stone ring, they all raised their staffs to the heavens and began to chant. Led by Oak, the Witches and Wizards beseeched the Earth Mother to come to them and carry them to battle in the Low Country.
            The sky darkened, and lightning began to hit the ground all around them. They raised their staffs higher into the air and raised their voices against the roar of the lightening. Oak, who was standing in the center of the Great Circle, watched as his staff was struck by a bolt of lightning. The power of the Earth Mother surged through him, and he was lifted away from the henge, carried off by her forceful winds.
            Each of the remaining members of the Coven was swept up and away, just as Oak had been before them. Within minutes, they were all gone, on their way to the Low Country, riding the winds of the Earth Mother. They would soon join the battle.

Chapter Two

The Village of Graenag, Hen Ogledd, Minutes Later
            One by one, the Witches and Wizards of Skara Brae appeared before Cypress and the remaining members of her Coven. Oak had been the first to arrive, with the others close behind. Cedar and her group from the Highlands began to emerge from the mist as well, and soon there was a small army assembled. They passed amongst each other, greeting friends from far away.
            When they had finished their salutations Oak stood tall amongst them and welcomed them to the coming battle. “Cedar has been directed by the Earth Mother to rid the Earth of the Dark Wizard Wallach and his followers,” Oak told them, and he went on to tell them of the injustices done by the rebellious coven.
            “They are massed at the Stones of Adgar near the ancient swamp forest. There are believed to be only twelve total; three Wizards, including Wallach, five Witches and four acolytes. The four acolytes have been personally trained in the Black Arts by Wallach himself, and are considered to be quite advanced in their knowledge and perhaps more dangerous than we might think.
            It would behoove us to not treat them as acolytes, but as dangerous adversaries. I have twenty-one here, including myself, Cypress has six of her Coven remaining, and Cedar brought six more of her best. We are well-numbered and strong, but we must be careful. Target the acolytes first if you have the chance; eliminating them early will allow us to focus on the more powerful ones.
            Do not engage with Wallach unless you’re forced to. I will hunt him down specifically while the rest of you eliminate the others. His power is very strong, and it will take a Council member, or maybe two of us, to bring him down.
            They have been employing fire as their method of destruction; we will use water and wind to overpower them. Once you have the advantage, strike them dead with the power of the Earth Mother. She will give us her strongest powers; do not hesitate for a second. Destroy this coven and send them to Hell!
            We will leave at once. Cypress, Cedar and I will go first. The rest of you divide up into groups of three or four. As soon as you face off with one of theirs, kill him or her as quickly as possible, and join with your other friends here to fight another. This shouldn’t take long; we have the blessings of the Earth Mother and her power. We will see you in Adgar, my warriors!”
            With that, the three members of the Council were whisked away by a swirling tornado. The others formed their groups and immediately were carried off to the battle site.
            They reassembled at the edge of the old swamp. There was no sign of anything out of the ordinary, but Oak knew that the Earth Mother had given Cypress the correct information. Wallach and his followers would be nearby, waiting for the advancing front, and making plans to overtake this larger force.
            “The Earth Mother has told us that he is here, inside the Stones of Adgar. There are ancient caves that go deeply into the earth. That is where they will be; it would give them the advantage by forcing us into the open while they hide in their holes. But, remember my friends, we will use the forces of wind and water to bring them out and force them into the battle.
            We must take our groups and surround the stones. I will bring the water that will drive them out of their evil nests. Signal me when you are in place.”
            The small war parties moved off in different directions, following the commands of Oak. As they took up their positions, the leader of each group sent up a small ball of fire to let Oak know they were ready.
            When Oak saw that his warriors were poised and in place, he summoned the Earth Mother. He asked her to bring the rain of a thousand days, a deluge so thick that neither man nor magician could get through it. He asked that she direct it into the caves around the old stones to drive the treacherous rats from their holes.
            The sky darkened, and lightning filled the skies. The rain began to flood the flat ground around Adgar and quickly filled the caves. The Witches and Wizards of the Coven waited for the water to have its effect. It didn’t take long.
            Wallach’s coven began emerging from the caves, unable to stay in there as the water was rising at an alarming rate. They were forced out into the open, where Oak’s army, as planned, picked them off quickly. Within minutes the Black Coven was decimated.
            One by one, as the dark magicians were killed off by the Coven's army, each one of them was sucked into oblivion by a large forceful tornado. When the wind tunnels stopped there were only Oak’s people left standing, but there had been no sign of Wallach.
            Oak had gone over the battle site several times, but neither he, nor anyone else, had seen the Black Wizard. His Witches and Wizards, along with the four acolytes, had been sent off into nothingness, as Oak had promised, but the most important target was nowhere to be found.
            As the victors gathered at the center of the stones, the sky became very dark, almost black, and a giant shadow fell on the group. Before they saw it coming, a giant fireball came hurtling at them from the center of the darkness. It exploded into them, throwing them in every direction.
            Bodies were slammed into the rocks and were left limp and lifeless. Those who could got back up on their feet and took cover. Oak screamed above the noise, trying to regain control, but as he did, the dark shadow loomed over them once more.
            The shadow was a huge black dragon, as big as anything any of them had ever seen. Dragons were said to be gone from the Earth, but this monster had shown it should be taken seriously. Oak knew that Wallach had made the Black Magic transformation to become this dragon; it had to be him. The Dragon Spell was one of the darkest and most difficult to do battle with; Oak knew he’d need help from Cypress and Cedar to defeat this evil villain.
            The monster had killed seven of Oak’s best when he first emerged. Not wanting to risk anyone else, he ordered all of his Witches and Wizards to return to Graenag while he and the other two Council members did battle with Wallach. None of them had the power to fight him, and keeping them there would only endanger them further. They gathered themselves up and returned to the village.
            Oak had an idea to battle the dragon. He told the women to invoke the Eagle Spell, which would transform each of them into very large raptors. Once airborne, they could flank the dragon, where he would call upon the Earth Mother to send a giant waterspout, big enough to knock Wallach out of the sky and minimize his damaging fireballs. He hoped that by their distracting Wallach by flying all around him, the waterspout would overpower him before he saw it approaching.
            Chanting the spell, the three became giant eagles and began circling the dragon. They stayed far enough away for his fireballs to be ineffective, and as they fell harmlessly away, he became quite enraged. He began charging towards Cypress, but was attacked from behind by a pair of powerful lightning bolts from the staffs of Oak and Cedar.
            He turned and charged back toward Cedar, and got the same reward this time from Oak and Cypress. The blasts were weakening him, but weren’t enough to stop him completely. It was then that a vicious twister of air and water sucked him into its vortex, throwing him around for several minutes before slamming him into one of the largest stones of Adgar.
            The stone crashed under his weight and strength; he gathered himself and flew back into the sky. The Council members stayed away, hoping for him to make a deadly move against them. They knew he couldn’t withstand too much more; they could see that his strength was waning.
            He circled, eyeing each of them with a cold deadly stare that could melt the hearts of mortal men, but he was not dealing with weak people who were no match for his brutal power. He was at war with three of the most powerful people on Earth, and he was soon to find out that evil had no place in their world.
            He mistakenly made the move they were waiting for. He charged at Cypress for the second time, and once again was struck by the devastating power of the thunderbolts the others threw at him. He started to fall, and the three moved in together and hit him with everything they could muster. They pelted him over and over until he fell out of the sky and landed amongst the rocks below.
            They zoomed in as close as they dared and continued the barrage of power until he finally succumbed to their combined strength. His body was limp; he appeared to be dead, but the three of them respected his abilities and didn’t trust him completely. They continued blasting his remains until the dragon, and the Black Wizard within, were gone.
            The Earth Mother did the rest. She sent the body hurling through the Black Hole of Hell, to join his evil cohorts that went there earlier. Wallach and his Black Coven would never return to Old Earth. The Lowlands were safe once more.

Chapter Three

The Henge of Trusloe, Briton, Sixth Moon, 2658 B.C.
             After the battle at Adgar, the Council of Twelve was convened at Trusloe in southern Briton. Trusloe was the site of one of the fiercest battles in magical history. Centuries before the Council was formed, a group of Wizards and Witches fought a Black Wizard, much like Wallach, who had ransacked most of the countryside before being beaten by the combined efforts of the Earth Mother's army.
            The event was partly the reason for forming the Council. Along with several earlier struggles, it had been determined that the Coven needed both strong leadership and strict guidelines to keep its members from straying from the path the Earth Mother had set them upon. Her message had been clear for thousands of years; the Witches and Wizards were empowered to help civilization reach its potential and to protect the lands and waters of her kingdom.
            But, as we had said earlier, the temptation for power had overcome many throughout history. Black Magic had crept into their souls, and they had led others down a darker path than the one they had been put upon. Seeing this as something they’d always have to deal with, the Coven formed the Council. The Council members were known to speak with the Earth Mother, and to get their direction from her. The word of the Council became the law of the Coven; straying from their mission of light would be a deadly mistake for anyone foolish enough to try.
            The battle at The Stones of Adgar with Wallach and his Black Coven had demonstrated to the three Council members involved that they would need to be more diligent moving forward in their appraisals of potentially evil members of the Coven. This meeting had been called by the three, asking the other nine members to meet with them here in Trusloe.
            Cypress, Cedar and Oak came from their lands in Hen Ogledd, to the north. Apple, Pine and Maple joined them from the Isle of Eire. From Carmartan in Walha to the west came Hawthorn; the remaining members all hailed from various regions of Briton.
Cherry was from Masham, a village surrounding the religious site of Thornbog, to the east. Willow made her way from the southern Isle of Alver Stans, while Chestnut arrived from Much Haddam, in the central eastern regions. From Stanheng in central Briton came Birch, and the Wizard of Trusloe, Ash, greeted his fellow members of the Council as they had appeared. 
When they had all arrived at Trusloe, Ash called upon his sisters and brothers of the Coven to come together. He asked Oak to retell the tale of the battle with Wallach at the Stones of Adgar. The others listened intently as Oak told his story. They were all shocked that Wallach had used the Dragon Spell; no Witch or Wizard had used the spell for perhaps a thousand years. It had been forbidden by the Earth Mother after an epic battle of dragons had almost destroyed the land they were sworn to protect.
“We need to expunge this spell from our memories; no one should ever use it against us again. The Earth Mother is furious that he was able to do this and almost destroy those of us sent to quash his rebellion. She has ordered us to rid our libraries of any reference to the Dragon Spell; we must make this our immediate priority. Let this be the end of Dragons!”
The other members of the Council cheered as Oak finished his tale. One by one they each gave him their vote of approval, which was needed to make this a law of the Coven. By doing this, they insured that no other Witch or Wizard would ever attempt to employ the Dragon Spell. Anyone who dared would risk the full power of every Witch and Wizard of the Coven, and it would result in an ugly death, as had been Wallach’s fate.
Cypress, whose Coven members had been killed off by Wallach and his followers, spoke next. She beseeched the Council members to institute something that would assist them all in finding a potential Dark Magic practitioner in their ranks.
“It has become more difficult to root out the evil ones. I never realized that Wallach and his people were plotting against us until they broke off from our Coven. I had no idea that he was so upset by not being named Cypress when our former leader died. A Witch in my Coven who had been approached by Wallach told me that he was insanely jealous of my position, and decided to take it for his own.
I’ve been thinking very hard on this, and have spoken with Cedar and Oak about it. We feel that our Council should perform routine checks on all of the members of our Coven. Perhaps if we vetted them more scrupulously we wouldn’t be so subject to their lack of loyalty and evil ambitions. Every one of us here today knows that the power we control can be intoxicating.
We are human, just like the people that we protect. Humans are subject to a wide array of temptations; there will always be those amongst us who will challenge us by giving into the power they have to do their own work, and not that of the Earth Mother’s. We must find a way to single them out before they become a threat, or we may never be able to continue our good work here.” 
Ash, the host of the meeting, was next to address the group. He was the oldest of all the Wizards, and commanded a great deal of respect. He had become the de facto leader of the Council, even though they were all equal amongst themselves.
“Cypress, I believe you impart a valuable message for all of us here. What you’re asking for deserves a great deal of attention, but I’m not sure how we can implement something like this without straining the harmony of our respective Covens. I feel that asking our Witches and Wizards to undergo an inquisition of sorts might only push them into the Dark Magic we strive to condemn.
We have policed our own people for hundreds of years, and we’ve been fortunate to not have too many Wallachs emerge, but the fact that we have that happen often enough to be a concern is troublesome. So, your idea has merit. I’m just not sure how to implement something like this. Does anyone else here have a strategy for our problem?”
Apple, the Witch of Mullen Gar from the Isle of Eire, rose up and spoke to her fellow members. “I see the need for this myself. Although I’ve not had any recent problems, there have been instances in the past where we’ve had to deal with problems in our Coven. It’s not unusual, as Cypress has said, because we all know that power corrupts. Although not as powerful as those of us here, an evil Witch or Wizard can gather enough strength to hurt our Coven or the people we are sworn to protect.
But the inherent problem lies in our inability to perform any investigations that might arise. We are all too busy with duties within our lands to take on a task so time-consuming and spread out. I suggest we name a single investigator from our ranks to take on the duties of what this will entail.
Whoever accepts this position will become the Council’s Inquisitor, travelling the lands of our twelve Covens to address any possible heresy among our groups. The Inquisitor will only answer to the Council, and may do whatever is needed to purge our ranks of potential Dark Magicians and Mystics who pose a threat to our mission.
Of course, anyone taking this job can no longer serve on this Council, so the Earth Mother will have to name a replacement for our group. That person will take over the Coven vacated by the new Inquisitor. This is my proposal; do we need to discuss it further, or are you willing to vote on it now?”
The Council members all agreed that Apple’s plan made perfect sense. She was right about it being too cumbersome a task to be handled responsibly by them, so they quickly concluded that it was a very solid idea that should be instituted at once. Once again a vote was taken and was unanimously accepted by the Council.
“Who amongst us would like to assume this position? Are there any of you who would like to step up and accept this task?” Ash asked the group.
“I think Birch would be a very strong choice for us. He has proven to be a strong leader of the Stanheng Coven. He is fair and strong, two qualities we’ll need to make this position function properly” Apple suggested.
Birch was quite surprised by Apple’s nomination, but he stood tall and announced that he would be willing to take on the new responsibility.
“If my fellow Council members think me worthy of this position, then I shall accept the assignment with all of my powers. I shall be your humble servant!”
Once again a polling of the Council was taken, and Birch was chosen to become the new Inquisitor. He was a bit sad that he would no longer serve on the Council, but he knew that his job would become a very important cog in the hierarchy of the Coven.
“I will return to my home and tell my Coven that I have accepted a special assignment from the Council. I’ll tell them to expect a new member to be named Birch by the Earth Mother. I will go by my given name; I will be Merkel from this day forward. But most importantly, I will root out any evil that lurks within our Coven. Of that you have my word. Good shall prevail!” 

Chapter Four                 

Stanheng, Briton
           Merkel had returned from the Council meeting, and had met with the members of his Coven. He had told them about his new position as the Inquisitor, and had promised them that a new member of the Council would be named soon. He asked that they all meet again the following morning after breakfast in the great Circle of Stones. He asked each of them to bring their spell books with them.
These volumes had been handed down to them from older members of the Coven as they approached death. Acolytes were trained for several years before gaining full membership in the Coven, and only the best of the candidates were chosen by the Council to become Witches and Wizards. Their spell books were the single most important item that each of them possessed, because without them they would be farmers and peasants, like most of the populace in their regions. The ability to call on the Earth Mother through the ancient spells for her overwhelming power was what made them what they were.
            The next morning the Witches and Wizards of Stanheng met inside the Great Circle. There was a large fire roaring in the fire pit as Merkel welcomed them all back. They each took their places on stones placed around the pit. Each of them carried their spell book, as Merkel had requested.
            “Good morning, my friends, and thank you all for coming! In my new post it will be my duty to assure the Council that each member of our twelve families has been informed of every decision that the Council wishes to enact. It is for this reason that I have asked each of you to bring your spell books.
            A war was recently waged against a Dark Wizard and his followers in the Low Country of Hen Ogledd. This Wizard and his followers had rebelled against Cypress and her Coven, spreading death and misery in their wake. Members of the Oak and Cedar Covens were sent to assist Cypress in the battle against the Dark Wizard.
            His coven was eliminated early on by the alliance, except for the Dark Wizard himself. He had gone unseen during the battle, but had emerged as a very powerful dragon, killing several of Oak’s Coven in a surprise attack. The Earth Mother was furious with Wallach for doing this, and damned him to the Hole of Hell, where he and his minions will suffer forever.
            She has made it clear to the Council that she does not want this to ever happen again. She has ordered them to remove the Dragon Spell from every spell book in each of our covens. I will need each of you to come forward and present your book to me, and I will personally remove the spell and burn it here in our fire pit. Please approach me one at a time, and we shall take care of this immediately.”
            One by one the Witches and Wizards of the Birch Coven brought their spell books to Merkel. Although there was some grumbling amongst them, nobody dared to challenge the newly-empowered Inquisitor. As each page was cast into the fire, a very large fireball rose up from the pit, causing anyone close by to quickly move out of the way.
The Dragon Spell, even though its practice had been outlawed for centuries, was still one of the most powerful forces in their hands, and nobody was too happy about losing any of their power. What most of them didn’t know was that the Earth Mother had stopped allowing it hundreds of years before, and therefore would not grant them the power to use it.
Wallach had found a way to channel the power of the spell through the Master of Darkness, the Dark Lord of Evil. It was he who had given Wallach the ability to summon the Dragon Spell, and it was he who was responsible for the death and destruction that ensued.
The Dark Lord had once shared everything with the Earth Mother, but he had become intoxicated by the force of evil. She cast him out, condemning him for eternity as the Master of Darkness. She was unable to take away his power, but she was stronger than him and was able to keep him at bay. Their combined strengths had ruled Old Earth, but she was the light of truth, and was always victorious.
He roamed Old Earth in the shadows of darkness, recruiting evil as he moved through the Covens. He had enticed Wallach with the promise of unlimited power and position, never telling the Dark Wizard that the power he could grant him was no match for that of the Earth Mother and her Council. Wallach and his followers had gone to their eternal suffering thinking that they could challenge the Council, but like every other dark force in history they found they were no match for the Witches and Wizards of the Twelve Trees.
Merkel had finished his task; each one of the old books had been cleansed of the Dragon Spell. He bid farewell to his Coven and summoned the winds of the Earth Mother to take him away. He was going to the Isle of Eire, to the Covens of Apple, Pine and Maple. His journey was underway.

Chapter Five

 The Isle of Eire
             Merkel had traveled the winds to the three Covens of Eire. He had gone through the same procedures with each of them, purging the Dragon Spell from their books. He had spoken in depth to Apple and Pine before leaving their lands. He questioned both of them as to whether or not they believed that one, or more, of their Coven had a potentially dark side.
            They had both assured him that they had nobody they suspected. The idea of an Inquisitor coming into their ranks was quite foreign to them, but they both knew that Merkel would be the eyes of the Coven, searching out and destroying anyone thought to possess any evil inclinations. Neither felt they needed his assistance beyond the spell burning, so he had moved on to the Maple Coven, located on the eastern shore of the island, in Bru na Boinne.
            Upon his arrival, he was greeted by Maple and her Coven, who welcomed him to their village. Bru na Boinne had been built on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful countryside that surrounded it. At its peak rose a massive stone dome, containing many passage tombs and areas set aside for defensive measures. The tomb was faced with large white boulders that lit up in the daily sun, like no other construction he had ever seen. Soil had been put over the top, and lush green grass grew on it as thick as it did in the surrounding hills. He thought that it looked like a magical mushroom top.
            Directly below the giant mound were the huts of the Coven. The homes were built primarily of stone and the roofs were covered in grass. There was no order to the homes; they were scattered about the hillside in every direction. Some were larger than others, and one of them, near the center of the village, was quite large.
            The large home was the abode of Maple and her family. It also served as a meeting place for the Coven whenever it was necessary to gather. Nearby, there was another sizeable building with a straw roof that seemed to serve as a stable for their sheep, goats and pigs. He could also hear chickens roaming about and assumed they roosted in the stable, as well.
            Below the village was a large stone henge of perhaps thirty large gleaming white stones set into the ground, each about twenty feet high. They were arranged in a half-circle, and just below the stonework there was a broad ditch, perhaps twenty feet deep and thirty feet across. A tranquil ritual pond stood off on the far side of the ditch, its waters sparkling in the midday sun.
            “Your village is beautiful, Maple! I’ve not seen anything like it anywhere in my travels. The white stonework is magnificent, and the grass is the greenest I have ever seen. You are indeed fortunate to live here.”
            “That I am, Merkel. I was born in Mullen Gar, as my parents were members of that Coven, but when the Earth Mother chose me to join the Council she sent me here to preside over the Maple Coven. I truly feel blessed to call this my home now. I have never seen anyplace so striking as my hilltop paradise here, either, and I’ve been travelling Earth for many more years than you.
            Please tell me what you will need for your stay here; I have a room set aside for you in my house, and you will certainly be welcome to anything I have. Would you have me call a gathering of the Coven in the morning?”
            “Yes, please do. I would like each of them to bring their spell books, as I will be removing the Dragon Spell. I would also like time alone with you to discuss other important things I might help you with while I’m here.”
            “We can meet after supper this evening when everyone has left. There is something we need to discuss; I do need your help with someone in my Coven.”
            “Very good! If I could take a short tour of your village and the tombs that would be wonderful! Would you mind?”
            “Of course not, take your time and feel free to go anywhere you’d like.”
            Later, as the sun set over the top of the hill, the elders of the Coven gathered at the great table in Maple’s home for a welcoming meal for Merkel. None of them really knew why Merkel had come to their village, but they knew that he was someone who could wield great power. Some of them knew that he had served on the Council with Maple, and Council members possessed the strongest spells of all, given to them by the Earth Mother herself.
They had talked among themselves after his arrival; most were curious to learn whether or not he was allowed to retain his former powers. What nobody knew, not even Maple, was the Earth Mother had given him additional strengths to fight the evil he might encounter. He was now the most powerful Wizard on Earth, stronger than any Council member.
            They dined on roasted pig, cooked over a fire pit next to Maple’s home. There was a large pot of potatoes and carrots mixed with cabbage, and freshly baked bread, while pitchers of a frothy mead completed the feast.
            Merkel regaled them all with stories of his latest travels. He told them of his trip to Mullen Gar to meet with the Apple Coven, and of his other stop in Skellig to see the members of Pine’s Coven. Some of them asked about old friends from those Covens, and whether or not he had spoken to them while visiting. Like him, many of them had never travelled to other Covens, so he spent some time describing their villages and the surroundings of each.
            He finished by telling them what he had told Maple earlier, that their hillside home was the most beautiful place he had ever visited. They enjoyed hearing that, since they spent almost every day of their lives there, and sometimes  may have taken it for granted. He rose and asked them politely to depart so that he and Maple could talk, reminding them all to come to the gathering in the morning.
            The elders shuffled out of the meeting room until Merkel was alone with Maple. “Maple, should I assume you suspect someone in your Coven as a threat to our mission? And do you have some proof as to why you think so?”
            “Yes, I do. We have a young Witch who just two years ago was accepted into the Coven, with full powers, like everyone else. It has come to my attention that she has been seen sneaking off into the forest on the far side of the lower meadow several times. When I was first told of her excursions I assumed it might be to meet a man, maybe even someone from outside of our Coven. As I said, she is young and quite attractive, so naturally my thoughts went to a potential romance.
            But last week, on the full moon, she made her way to the forest after most of us had gone to bed for the night. I had chosen another Witch to watch over her, and to let me know when she snuck off again. I was awakened by this woman, who informed me of the young Witch’s doings.
            I dismissed her and thanked her for her help. I summoned the Owl Spell and quickly flew off into the woods after the girl. My misgivings proved to be true; I found her deep into the forest at what appeared to be an ancient altar of sorts. She was chanting, and I managed to hear enough to understand that she was calling on the Master of Darkness.
            I remained nearby, but the Dark Lord didn’t appear. I don’t know that she had been successful in summoning him before, but she wasn’t that night. I wondered to myself whether the Dark Lord sensed my presence and didn’t respond to her incantations, but I really don’t know the answer to that. My power, as you know, is not as strong as his, and I didn’t want to provoke his wrath by challenging him or the girl.
            She returned to her home; I followed her the entire way, flying high enough to not be seen or heard. She has not gone off into the forest since that night; it is possible the Dark Lord knew of my presence and warned her to stay away.
            Her name is Galinda; she is the daughter of Eyen, one of my elders you met earlier. He is the most powerful Wizard in my Coven, but he has always been faithful to our cause. I have no reason to suspect him, or anyone else here, of complicity with this woman. I believe her to be acting on her own, and I have no idea why she is straying towards the Dark. We must together to drive her evil ambitions out!” 

Chapter Six

 Bru na Boinne, the next morning
            Merkel and Maple walked down the hill together to the ceremonial fire pit. Two acolytes had a fire going as Maple had requested, and a supply of wood was stacked nearby. It was a beautiful morning, and they could feel the Earth coming to life around them. The sun had broken the hills to the east and reflected in the ripples of the Ritual Pond below them.
            As the two strolled down the hillside, they attracted the attention of the village sheep flock, which had been grazing off to the east. The sheep crossed the grass and caught up with them, silently escorting them to the henge below.
            “This is my fault” Maple said. “I spoil these beautiful creatures as if they were my own children. And they may as well be, since the young boys who tend them can’t seem to control them. I’m the only one they listen to; it’s rather humorous to watch them come running to us. They do this whenever I walk the meadows, but I normally don’t even think twice about it. But with you in attendance, it does seem rather silly to see them all around us as we walk. Please forgive my furry friends if they bother you.”
            Merkel laughed and assured her the sheep were no trouble. Back in Stanheng, when he was the leader there, he had a pack of dogs that followed him around, much like the sheep here. He missed his dogs now that he was traveling regularly, and thinking about them made him feel good.
            The animals were part of their life, given to them by the Earth Mother. She had always told them that every animal was just as important as humans, and that they should always be treated with respect. She had taught them to use only what they needed for their own survival, and to never kill for anything other than sustenance. Like Maple’s sheep, and his dogs, the animals of their villages were treated as part of their families. He believed that it shouldn’t be any different.
            As they neared the fire pit, Merkel saw a large red hawk circling above. He pointed the bird out to Maple, who quietly confided to him that it was Standal, one of her trusted wizards. She had instructed him to watch over the proceedings, keeping a close watch on her young Witch Galinda. She wasn’t confidant that things would go well; having him up above made her more at ease.
            As the two stood chatting near one of the huge white stones of the henge, they could see the members of the Coven coming from their homes, making their way down to them. They arrived in small groups, all carrying their sacred spell books. Merkel and Maple bid them all a good morning as they began taking their places around the fire circle.
            Maple was the first to notice that Galinda was not at the gathering. She leaned in and whispered to Merkel, telling him of the woman’s absence. “I fear that young Galinda has made the wrong decision in not attending our meeting. Let me speak to Standal and have him seek her out. She may already be in the forest, preparing to partner with the Dark Lord. I will return in a few minutes.”
            She walked off, getting far enough away from the group as she could. Ducking behind another one of the large white stones, she summoned Standal, and the Wizard appeared before her almost instantly. She told him of Galinda’s absence and instructed him to fly into the forest to find the woman.
            “Be extremely cautious; don’t try to engage her by yourself. We suspect that she has been trying to reach the Dark Lord, but we don’t know whether she’s been successful or not. He may be lying in wait for us to come for her, and he is a very powerful being. Locate her and return to me with your results. We will make a decision then as to what to do. Go now!”
            She returned to the assembly and took her place next to Merkel. It didn’t appear that anyone in the group suspected anything more than why they were there. Galinda’s disappearance seemed to be unnoticed by the others, so Maple asked Merkel to begin the ritual.
            He began by welcoming them all, and told them the story of Wallach and his dragon, as he had done in previously visited Covens. The Witches and Wizards of the Maple Coven were as shocked by the tale as others had been before them. Each of them knew the long-standing edict of the Earth Mother concerning the dragons, and they all knew to challenge her was foolhardy. Wallach had tried, and he had failed miserably.
            As he had on his other visits, he had each of them come forward with their spell book. He located the ancient spell in each of their books and destroyed them in the fire. When he finished his task he looked out among the crowd and thanked them for their compliance.
            Maple stood up immediately and asked her members if anyone knew the whereabouts of Galinda. Most in the group hadn’t even noticed that she was missing, but they all took turns eyeballing the assembly. In the end, nobody admitted to knowing anything about the young woman.
            There was a large shadow that passed over them. Standal, as the great red hawk, had returned to the henge. He flew over the Coven and up onto the top of the hill, above the tombs. He circled there for a moment or two, and then dropped out of sight on the far side of the tombs. They all stared off in that direction, anticipating Standal’s return.
            Nobody had noticed the movement in the meadow on the far side of the Ritual Pond. There was a formidable pack of wolves that had moved into the grass; the beasts were three times the size of a normal horse, and they were waiting for a signal to attack. On cue, they burst out of the grass, racing across the open flat and hurtling the ditch.
            They pounced on anyone in their way, tearing them apart before any of them could get into a defensive posture. Bodies were thrown in every direction, their blood spattering the glistening white stones of the henge.
            Merkel and Maple took control. As Merkel battled one wolf after another, Maple ordered her Coven into the air. Each of them took on the spirit and body of a large raptor, flying high above the ravenous wolves. Maple had realized too late that Standal was a traitor to the Dark Lord. His flight over the gathering had served as an excellent distraction, leaving them all unprepared for what had followed.
            She knew that she needed to find the Wizard and destroy him for what he had done. She had called on the Eagle Spell, and was now flying to the hilltop in search of the treasonous Wizard. As she approached the summit, she saw him flying off to the left. He was trying to outflank the main group, but she was too large and powerful for him to get away.
            She flew furiously towards the hawk and sunk her giant talons deep into the Wizard’s sides. She dropped down and drove him into one of the huge boulders of the henge. The force knocked him out, but before he could get his senses back she hoisted him up once more.
            She flew to the Ritual Pond and pushed his body under the water. The water boiled all around them, but her superior strength kept him helpless. He continued to struggle, but couldn’t break the grip of the giant golden eagle. As his strength began to wane, Maple dug her claws into him as deeply as she could.
            His blood ran into the previously tranquil water, turning it an ugly bronze color. In a final push for his life, Standal tried unsuccessfully to break the grip of Maple. The effort took what strength he had remaining, and unable to fight any longer, he succumbed to the force of Maple’s raw power. As his life left him, his body settled peacefully to the bottom of the deep pond.
            While Maple was battling Standal, Merkel was fighting the wolves on the ground. When she returned from the pond, she was amazed by what she saw. Merkel was destroying the wolf pack one by one with some of the strongest fireballs and lightning bolts that she had ever witnessed. Her power paled in comparison to his, but she didn’t know how or why. She was a Council member, and nobody had more power than a Council member, except for the Earth Mother herself.
            She joined the fray, attacking one of the massive beasts from the air. Like she had done with Standal, she sank her claws into the fleshy neck of the wolf, crippling it almost instantly. The wolf tried in vain to shake her off, but she held on and pounded the beast with bolt after bolt of fiery lightning. Like the Wizard before him, the monster couldn’t match Maple’s power and he, too, fell lifeless on the ground.
            Maple took a moment to look around and appraise the situation. Merkel was cutting through the wolves with ease. Her Coven had been successful attacking several other wolves by ganging up on them and overpowering them. There were bodies strewn around the henge and up the hill; she counted nine Coven members who appeared to be dead. The carcasses of at least a dozen wolves lay dead among the stones and the grassy hillside.
            The attack was almost over. Merkel was in pursuit of one of the wolves, and her Coven was finishing up their attack on another. From the corner of her eye she saw a movement from the trees at the edge of the meadow. It was Galinda; the young Witch had been watching the attack and was now about to retreat.
            Maple could not allow her to escape. She took to the air and soared across the grassy field to where she had seen Galinda. Diving under the treetops, she continued her flight, searching in every direction for the fallen traitor. She saw nothing for a long time, but then spotted her standing near the mouth of a large cave on the side of a rocky hill.
            As she swooped in for the Witch, the woman turned and headed into the cave. She disappeared into the darkness, as Maple came to ground in front of the cave. She decided that she would be better suited in her human form, so she transformed herself and started to enter the cave.
            A blast of icy wind erupted from the cave. It was so powerful it knocked Maple down. She regained her footing and proceeded back into the opening, only to be thrown back again by an even stronger force.
            After the second attack, Maple realized that she wasn’t up against Galinda. The force of her knockdowns was much too strong to be caused by the young Witch. The reality hit her harder than anything else had today. She wasn’t fighting Galinda; she was about to go to battle with the Master of Darkness himself, the Dark Lord. He had successfully used Galinda to lure her to the cave.
            Maple knew that she was no match for him by herself. She needed to retreat and get assistance from Merkel. She thought that maybe he was strong enough to battle the Dark Lord with her help; she had seen what he had done to the wolves. She turned from the cave and headed back out into daylight. She summoned her Eagle, but it was too late.
            When the Dark Lord had seen her exiting the cave, he had followed her. As she was about to fly off, he hit her with the most powerful blast he could muster, knocking her senseless, and sending her crashing into a jagged rock. The force was more than her human body could withstand; she lay dead before him and his new acolyte Galinda.
They were both very pleased with the day’s outcome. They had eliminated quite a few Coven members, and now Maple herself was dead below them, crushed on the rocks. The Dark Lord had lost his arsenal of giant wolves, but he knew that he could create more when he needed them. He would miss the Wizard, Standal, but he was a casualty that could be replaced, also.
“It was a very good day to start my war and take my rightful place again” he told his young recruit Galinda. “No longer will I live in the darkness; I will walk the Earth once more.”