Flidais had to use all of her strength to push through the gathered. She may have just reached the age of maturity during the last Beltane Festival, but nothing was going to keep her from witnessing this Druid Apprentice Ceremony. The tribe only had a handful of real Druids — the last one received his Trials of Initiation before Flidais was even born. And even though the Druid Apprentice Ceremony came to pass more commonly than the Trials of Initiation, this ceremony was for Allaster.
Allaster was anything but weak; Flidais had known this while growing up with him and the other children of Meilseoir Forest. Even Nechtan, who was the eldest, didn’t show the kind of potential and passion that burned in Allaster’s eyes and heart. Many a time, Flidais caught herself daydreaming about Allaster bearing the brand of Beira and bringing the Meilseoir Tribe Kinsmen to a status of greatness and formidableness.
Flidais eventually succeeded in her struggles to make it to the front of the crowd. She might have been a head shorter than most, but she made up for it with persistence and determination. The Elders had called her stubborn because of it, but one of the Guardians took to calling her “Steadfast Lasse,” which made her even more resolute.
Once the grove came into clear view, she breathed relief and became delighted as she watched the Circle of Seven performing their ritual. Six men of fair skin and hair, clad in green-dyed robes walked and chanted in a circle around the sacred altar; atop which Allaster laid motionless. In front of their bellies, the Six held their hands pressed together at the palms, fingers pointed outwards — such was the means to worship the Goddess of the Forest. Behind the altar stood a seventh, much older man. His face was covered in mud and leaves but his beard, white as snow, remained untouched.
As the wind picked up, Flidais could see the broad branches of the surrounding ancient trees shake. Cerridwen, the Forest Goddess, was listening and watching. At that very moment, the white-bearded Seventh unsheathed an iron dagger inscribed with glowing runes. Flidais set her eyes upon what she could only assume to be the Ogma Dagger — a mysterious relic that carried a different legend every time you asked someone about it. Flidais had long ago decided to distrust the tribe’s adults when they decided to tell the tale of the Ogma Dagger. About the only two things that stayed the same through the story-tellings were: it was forged by the God Ogma, and it had great magic abilities. Everything else consistently changed.
Flidais felt a strange amount of awe looking upon the mythical blade. Awe quickly gave way to horror, when she saw the Seventh plunge the blade’s point into Allaster’s chest. She felt the urge to scream out and stop the Circle of Seven. Her mouth would not listen, however, nor would the rest of her body. In fact, she realized that the entire crowd was utterly still and silent. Flidais was granted only the ability to gaze upon the sacred altar, as Allaster’s life-force was sacrificed to Cerridwen.
What azure blue that was not masked by the treetops had turned to gray, as the sky became overcast. A clap of thunder roared in the distance. A skin-tingling power filled the air and Flidais became all too aware that a not-so-benign force had joined the ceremony.
A bolt of blue lightning pierced the woods and struck an oak just beyond the grove, splitting the ancient timber in twain. Thunder crashed again — much closer, this time. The wind picked up and began to howl. The encircling Six — no longer walking — raised their chants and shouted them to the heavens. And, in that moment of feeling so powerless and mortal, Flidais managed to gain control of her voice. She yelled out Allaster’s name. But before she could run towards the sacred altar, the Seventh withdrew the glowing dagger, unleashing a blinding flash of white.
The crowd around her gasped and after a moment, was set to cheering. Flidais found herself sitting on the ground shielding her eyes from the flash. Once she uncovered her face and peered once more upon the altar, she found Allaster standing proudly atop the altar. Flidais stared wide-eyed upon Allaster’s chest, which bore the brand of Beira.
As Flidais gawked at the markings, she glimpsed the times to come. She saw the struggles of her kinsmen. She saw the destruction of tribes far and wide. She saw Allaster leading survivors and uniting them. She even saw herself making the biggest sacrifice for the love of her Allaster. And then, she saw the brand of the Great Seer Naohm burning into her arms.