Elaine greeted Patton at the door of the Coven House. Patton didn’t wait for any small talk. “What can be done about me setting things on fire?” he asked.
“You’re simply going to have to learn to control your magic. Can I see your pendent?” Patton dug it out of his shirt and showed it to her. It was a pale pink. “Your power is growing faster than we’d anticipated, so we’re going to have to push you along faster than planned. Margaret is in her room waiting for you.”
“Your response to me setting my pants on fire is to have me merge auras with Margaret? That’s it?”
“Should I tell you to stop telling lies?” She smiled faintly at the feeble humor, but Patton was not amused. “That’s all we can do at this time. If I were to try anything right now it would be me alone helping you. Once you’ve merged with all three of our auras the Coven can help you. There is a difference between what a single witch, or even a group of witches, can do and what a Coven can do.” She put her hand on his arm and looked intently into his eyes. “Trust me. Go merge with Margaret.”
Patton found Margaret sitting on her bed, fully clothed, just waiting for him.
“What, no candle?” he asked.
“Do you need one?”
“Not really. I just close my eyes. I suppose I need to get undressed, however.” He started taking off his shirt, then noticed she wasn’t moving. “Is everything all right?”
“I am so not looking forward to this,” she said. “I know it’s something I have to do, but I really don’t want to.”
He went over and sat on the bed next to her, not touching her. “I feel the same way. It feels so … rushed, I guess.”
She looked at him. “No, that’s not it. It’s not the timing, it’s the merging. It’s just … so … intimate.”
He thought he understood. “I understand. Rich is a really nice guy, and I hate going into his territory …”
“No, you don’t understand!” Her eyes flashed as she interrupted him. “I don’t belong to Rich! I don’t belong to anybody but myself, so don’t think of me as Rich’s ‘territory’! Sure, Rich is lots of fun, and I might love him, now, but witches live too long to belong to anyone. The sisterhood of a coven is the longest commitment a witch ever makes — even twenty years with a man is just a fling!” She stopped suddenly, breathing heavily as if she’d been running.
Patton just sat and watched her as she calmed herself. When her breathing was back to normal she began again. “Witches don’t have monogamous relationships, and a wizard is a fool if he thinks he can force one on her. That’s not the issue. The issue is the intimacy — I’m afraid of what you’ll see in my aura. There are dark places in my soul that I don’t want anyone to see. I don’t even want to see them myself.”
Patton reached out and touched her hand. “I may be young …” he almost added “to magic”, but then realized that compared to her he really was young, “but I have learned a thing or two about people. Mostly I’ve learned that no one’s perfect — not you, and certainly not me. Sure you have darkness in you. I expect it. But I’ve been around you enough already to know that you don’t let that darkness rule your life.”
She looked up into his eyes, hers brimming with tears, then reached her hand to caress his cheek. And just like that it began.
Margaret’s aura slowly revealed itself to Patton. His first sensation was heat — the cloying, humid heat of the tropics, unavoidable, all permeating, muggy heat — that sucked the will to do anything out of him. There was darkness all around him, too, yet all was not completely black. As his senses adjusted he detected a source of illumination like moonlight struggling to descend through multiple layers of forest canopy to reach the floor below. He was able to sense the towering trunks all around him, reaching up to that light and supporting the tons of life overhead.
This jungle was not quiet, either. Apparently his arrival had stunned the local fauna into silence, but as he remained still the voices returned. It was the night voice of the rainforest, full of strange frogs and insects and other animals outside of his previous experience, and he was surprised to find it both comforting and frightening at the same time. There must be some instinctual recognition, as if these were the sounds of humanity’s original home.
His attention was drawn to movement along a branch, a luminous frog singing for a moment, then disappearing among some leaves. As he stepped to look closer he saw his own footprints glowed, as the mosses and leaves underfoot were crushed or released. He became aware of other small sources of light here at ground level, glowing mushrooms and fungi helping to illuminate his way. The ferns and vegetation he brushed emitted spicy, pungent aromas that blended with the melange of life and decay that flooded his lungs with every breath.
Then came a roar that sent a chill through him, completely counteracting the tropic heat. Run! it screamed, yet he stayed still, trying to understand. A large jungle cat emerged, a panther as black as the surrounding forest. It growled, a deep bass growl that shook the very air in his lungs, and then approached, a stalking shadow with glowing eyes. It sniffed his scent, puffs of breath even warmer and wetter than the tropic night, and Patton held out his hand so it could lick his palm. Then he reached out and slowly, gently stroked its head and scratched behind its ears. The luminous eyes closed and a purr emerged. Margaret had a predator in her soul that stalked her darkness and could be unleashed against her enemies, yet it had accepted him as a friend.
When Patton regained his senses he was surprised he could still hear that panther purring. No, wait! That wasn’t purring, it was snoring! He discovered that he was lying on his back, naked (How did that happen!) with his feet hanging off the edge of the bed. Margaret was asleep with her head on his shoulder, an arm and a leg draped over him. He started to move and she responded by clinging more tightly. She was strong!
“Margaret? Uh, Margaret?” He took his free hand and tried gently shaking her shoulder, then said the heck with it and kissed her hair and forehead. That she responded to, by climbing on top of him, her eyes still closed. It was only when she was on top of him that she came to her senses.
“Oh! I, uh, …” She seemed as surprised as he had been moments ago. “What happened?” she asked.
“You tell me! When I came to you were asleep on my shoulder. I tried waking you, and you moved to where you are now.” He looked into her confused eyes and a grin crept across his face. “You snore pretty,” he said.
“I what?” She was off him in a flash, standing next to the bed with her hands on her hips. “I snore? I don’t snore!”
“Yes you do,” he said as he slowly got up from the bed. “You do it pretty, too!” He was smiling openly while she, flustered, started picking up her clothes from the floor and putting them on. He followed more slowly.
“Not one word! Don’t you say one word to Rich, or I’ll have your hide! I ‘snore pretty.’ Humpf!”
She was still fuming as the walked into the kitchen where Elaine and Yvonne were nursing cups of coffee waiting for them. “Things went well?” asked Elaine.
“Yes, until the very end,” said Patton. “Her snoring woke me up.” Margaret glared at him while Elaine and Yvonne laughed. “Hey! You said not to tell Rich, and I didn’t!” She muttered under her breath as she poured herself some coffee.
Patton dug into the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. “OK, I’ve merged auras with all of you. What’s next?”
“First let’s hear what you experienced,” said Yvonne. Elaine nodded her head in agreement, while Margaret tensed up.
“Let’s see. To me you all felt like landscapes, teeming with life. You, Yvonne, were a large expanse of prairie, Elaine was an orderly garden, and Margaret,” he looked at her and decided to keep it light, “was a rainforest.” He stopped and she relaxed.
“That fits well with our roles in the coven,” said Elaine. “Yvonne is the expansive one, Margaret is our source of power, and I provide the moderation or control to our spells. You’ve read us very well!” Patton could feel the approval of all of them, especially Margaret for not revealing anything about her darkness. The atmosphere was getting more relaxed and family-like by the minute.
“So where do I fit in, and how does this help keep me from torching someone by accident?”
“There’s a Ritual we’d like to perform. We’d like to make you the Staff of our Coven.”
“What does that mean?”
“The Staff is a wizard that is joined in a magical relationship with a coven. In most cases the Staff acts as a source of Masculine Energy for the coven, and in return is able to access their Feminine Energy. There are a few Rituals that a coven can’t perform without Masculine Energy, which is the usual reason a wizard is asked to become a Staff.
“In this case, however, being our Staff would allow us to moderate your impulses toward magic, and thus your ability to set things on fire. Oh, with just a little bit of training you could override this, of course, but the important thing is that this would give you the time to acquire that training.”
“Don’t worry,” added Margaret, “this would be just a temporary arrangement.” Something about the way she said that reminded Patton of something she’d said earlier, but exactly what it was eluded him.