She dug the lines into the dirt using a large stick, scoring the earth to her intentions. The evening was deep into twilight, and the small clearing was surrounded by a dense copse creating a dark cocoon. She did not light a torch, worried that someone would see her light and investigate, ruining decades of research and work that led to this perfect night. She was well past middle age, and she would be long dead before another opportunity came to perform the ritual.
In the near dark, she could hardly see if the five lines were straight and even, so she frequently stopped to inspect them. Each line needed to be exactly ten feet long. Several times, she checked their length using a pre-measured piece of rope she had brought for that purpose. With the five lines finished, she took the stick and pulled it through the dirt as she walked in a large circle outside of the lines. Finished, she stood, careful of her aching back and squinted at her accomplishment on the ground. Five lines intersecting at five points enclosed by a circle: the pentacle.
All was almost ready. It was almost done.
She smiled. He was almost here.
She took a large satchel from the nearby wagon and carried it over one arm as she walked the perimeter of the circle. She paused at each tip of the pentagram, pulled out two items from her bag, and placed them on either side of the point inside the circle. When she was finished, she returned the satchel to the wagon. She then removed a salt jar from her robe’s inner pocket and walked back to the pentacle. Holding up the edges of her dress, she stepped between the lines in the ground and sprinkled the interior of the pentagram with the salt.
The last step in the ceremony was to light the fires, but she would wait until the last hour, still nervous that a nearby villager would stumble onto her rites. She mentally reviewed the next steps that she would have to take, for she only had one chance at this. From a small wooden trunk in the wagon, she took a palm-sized, dark leather missal with runic carvings on the front and side binding, and set it on the wagon seat. She looked into the trunk and rearranged the potions and jars into their exact order of need. Lastly, she took her flint for the fires and set it on the wagon seat next to the book.
All was ready. It was almost done. He was almost here.
She felt nervous and happy beyond her own belief, and the fluttering in her stomach reflected her anxiety. Her heart raced and her breathing was quick and shallow. She leaned back against the wagon to wait, took a long, deep breath to steady her nerves and tilted her head up to the sky. The twilight had sunk into night, and everything was in a quiet doze. Not even the wind rustled the dried autumn leaves left on the bushes. The moon shone strongly out of sight somewhere near the eastern horizon, peaking out now and then at the whim of the wind, its light making the thin web of clouds seem like a glowing ceiling. Against this backdrop, the woman could see the last of the season’s bats wind their way between the pointed fingers of the leafless trees. She watched their dance through the sky for a few moments before shivering and pulling her long hooded robe close around her neck and body. With the onset of night, the cold was settling down on her like an icy blanket.
The quiet was finally broke by the tolling of the Catholic Church bell in the village. It was now eleven o’clock. Today was All Soul’s Day, and prayers said at the cemetery on this feast day were granted extra indulgences by Catholic rite. Those parishioners who wanted to say any last prayers at the grave site of a loved one or for the salvation of the dead-in-need were being signaled that they only had one hour left to take advantage of this holy day. The village of Gates-Burrow was a good size, with its own market, but the Catholic population was small, and the woman doubted any more Catholics would be out tonight.
It was time to light the fires.
She had one hour before her own window closed. Though the salvation of a soul was not her aim, an equally important wrong was being reversed tonight. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered in a storm as she realized that now, after a lifetime, she would be with him again.
Moving quickly, she lit a tall torch that leaned against the wagon and carried it to the other four torches spaced around the outside of the circle. When the last was lit, she jammed the torch she carried into the ground, placed around the pentacle like the other four. She walked to the trunk of potions, feeling more young and alive than she had in years. Taking the box and book from the seat, she went to the base of the pentacle, keeping the star pointing away from her.
She took out the first potion, removed the stopper from the vial and flung the liquid over the pentacle etched on the ground, then took the book, opened it and slowly began to read aloud. The words were in Latin, and the sounds and phrases had an ancient and timeless quality. The graceful syllables invited you to listen, yet the pristine notes reminded the listener that the words existed before the very birth of the world. They were words of praise, a verbal homage and thanksgiving for all the blessings that had ever been bestowed on this earth and its lowly subjects. On and on she read, litanies to gods and saints, to the blessed and the damned, for on this night, all these beings were equal.