Prologue of The High Priestess

Kilkenny, Ireland, November 3rd, 1324

It was a miserable grey and chilly day, and drizzling rain poured down from the sky. The executioner had to pour two jugs of extra oil on the stake before the first hesitant flames could catch the wet wood.

Alice Kyteler clutched the hand of Petronella’s daughter. Alice’s fingers were as cold as ice, and tears ran down her cheeks. She knew she couldn't cry openly, because why would two beggars weep if a horrible witch was to be burned?

Alice pulled the ragged hood over her frizzy and ginger hair and then smeared mud and pig poop a little farther over her face. On the other side of the stake was Alice's arch enemy, Richard Ledrede. The bishop had his gilt staff with him and wore his richly decorated cassock, though he had apparently left his mitre at home. The chance that he recognized her was minimal: it was unthinkable that a proud noblewoman like Alice would wear rags. Richard Ledrede had accused Alice of practically every shameful act in the world, but the charge that she was a heretic and a witch weighed the heaviest.

Alice had disappeared before the bishop was able to get her arrested. In the end, the frustrated bishop had stumbled upon Alice's maid, Petronella. She had been arrested, tortured, and sentenced to the stake. In the eyes of the bishop, he had at least caught one witch. A few steps from the bishop, Arnold le Poer stood with his arms crossed, his chin extended. Arnold was Alice's great protector: without him, she would have been on the stake next to Petronella.

The bishop stepped forward, opened his Bible, and read a phrase in Latin that Petronella could not understand.

"You can still repent, witch, and at least save your soul." Petronella spat on the branches and gave him a provocative smile.

"The devil himself will come and save me, you idiot! I will fly away in his arms! " She looked up at the sky. "Hear me, Mr Artson! Extinguish the flames! Pull their hearts out of their bodies!"

"Is he coming?" whispered Petronella's daughter. "Is the devil going to save her?"

"I'm afraid it doesn't work that way. Artson cannot just appear in this world. We can only travel to his world and only after a lengthy ritual. "

"He's going to save her!" the girl hissed. The nails of her cramped hand dug deep deep into Alice's palm, but she ignored the pain.

"I offered to take her with us, but your mother refused. She believed too strongly in her own sorcery while her magic wasn't strong enough."

Suddenly the flames jumped higher and reached Petronella's bare feet.

There was only one thing that she could still do. Alice grabbed her Sheela-na-gig, the ancient Celtic amulet of the woman's head and wide-open vulva.

"Bidh lasair a lasadh soilleir, ann an ainm Artson." She said the spell in Gaelic. "Flame burns brightly, in Artson's name!" And added in English: "Hotter, yes, than hellfire!" 

Petronella did not have the chance to let out more than a surprised cry, and then it was over.

Alice took Basil, the daughter of Petronella, with her. The journey from Kilkenny to Newgrange lasted six days. Arnold took care of the fake papers to make their trip less dangerous.

Tears ran down from Alice's eyes. It was hard to leave her own daughter Alicia behind. Arnold le Poer, who was the uncle and guardian of Alicia le Poer, had the grimoire with directions to access The Circle and the amulet, the Sheela-na-gig.

On the seventh day, they arrived at Newgrange, where they could travel to The Circle.

From the north, the element earth,

be welcome,  goddess revered.

The fertility and stability that you have symbolized

are in this Circle, personified.

Bring your protection and manifestation,

as quickly as possible to this location.

Alice feels how she is being carried by earth. Earth is present in The Circle.

Then, she walks east and places a yellow stone:

From the east, the element air,

be welcome, goddess; I welcome your strokes in my hair.

The knowledge and movement that you have symbolized

are in this Circle, personified.

Bring your protection and manifestation,

as quickly as possible to this location.

She waits and feels a breeze in her hair. Air is present. 

Then, she walks south and places a red stone on the ground:

From the south, the element fire,

be welcome, goddess, to be connected, wired.

The energy and will power that you symbolize

are in this Circle, personified.

Bring your protection and manifestation,

as quickly as possible to this location.

Despite the cold of November, she feels the warmth of the element on her skin. 

Finally, she goes west and places the blue stone:

From the west, the element water,

Be welcome, Goddess Alma Mater.

The love and emotions that you symbolize

are in this Circle, personified.

Bring your protection and manifestation,

as quickly as possible, to this location.

A tear slowly rolls down her nose and into her mouth.

After the arrival of water, Alice moves to the centre.

I'm Alice Kyteler, originally from Flanders.

I offer the blood from my veins in exchange for answers.

The Circle opened up and, in front, lay all the possible worlds, a jumble of earth globes, and in every society, history has gone a little differently. There were worlds without crusades, places where Rome had never been founded or where Cleopatra XXVI was the Pharaoh. The Egyptians still built pyramids, even though they were now more than a mile high.

 Alice wished for a safe place for her and Basil, one without crazy bishops and witch-hating priests. She searched the possible worlds. Yes, there was one where Emperor Constantine had never chosen the cross, a world where they still worshipped Mithras and Isis.

Alice pulled her athame, her sacred knife, and made a cut on her hand.

Blood—the price of powerful magic is always blood. Her own mighty Kyteler blood. She sent the blood to the world that was even more delicate than a spider, no more than a bubble.

 "I give you my blood, my power. "

She saw the drops float away and weave the new world. A brand new gate slowly appeared in the Circle. She saw twilight green, smelled the scent of fresh unknown blossoms.

She had no idea what kind of land she would find there, but it would be one without churches, without bishops and witches burning on the stake. She took Basil by the hand and entered her new world.

Artson was waiting for her. The bishop called him a demon, but Alice knew that was nonsense. He was something completely different: not a devil or an angel but a being who loved her. She didn't need to know more.

"This is your world," he said. "Every grass and sparrow is robust and alive, but it cannot exist without your blood, your blood and that of your descendants. Without it, the grass withers and the whole world ends in a lifeless desert. "

It was a warning. She had created a world and was fully responsible for every living thing.

"I told Arnold everything. He has the grimoire and knows what to do when Alicia is eighteen. "

 Artson nodded."Someday it will be her problem." He stepped back, and the new world embraced them. They were still in Newgrange, but the burial mound is now surrounded by giant columns that look vaguely Egyptian. The entrance to the burial mound has become a gate of white marble that is crowned by a snake. The ouroboros snake that bites its own tail.

Priestesses dance to meet Alice and Basil, scattering a carpet of petals in front of them.

"We have waited so long for you," said their leader. "Welcome, goddess, thousand times welcome!"

Alice blinked at the words. I am just a witch, she thought, not a goddess. But in a way she understood. As what would you call someone who had made a world? Goddess, however, felt wrong.

"Not a goddess," she said. "High Priestess of this beautiful multi-coloured world is enough."

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