As Aisling Lorrah enters her first semester at the University of Montana, she wants nothing more than to fit in seamlessly. Sadly, no one seems to understand her family traditions and profound familial connection with the Crow Indian people. It is only after she is given a challenging class assignment that the mysterious forces of past and present collide and send Aisling on a journey through time that will change her forever.
Assigned to write a paper describing her family’s philosophy and beliefs, Aisling’s research leads her straight to Willow, an enigmatic ancestor who both believed in and rebelled against her family’s values. But when Aisling discovers something dark and frightening lurking in the shadows, she soon finds her spirit and personal safety in jeopardy. In a potent struggle between her family’s magic and the sinister threat to her life, she turns to two parallel sources of powerful and ancient knowledge for the answers.
In this poignant tale, what Aisling finds in her search for the truth will illuminate her path forward into an unexpected revelation and a new view of the world.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
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WILLOWThe Magpie Odyssey V
By Lorretta Lynde
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Lorretta Lynde
All right reserved.
Friday evening always turned the dormitory into a hive of activity, humming with hair styling, clothes trading, and general preparation for a weekend of partying. Aisling Lorrah knew her friends were going out that night. Three young women who had become closest to her in this, her first semester, stopped by her room. The combined scents of their perfume and shampoos floated ahead of them, alerting her to their approach.
"We're going downtown to the Underground Club! The Wild Rocky Wasps are playing! Why don't you come with us?"
Aisling looked up from her laptop and shook her head. The light from her study lamp glossed strands of her long honey-colored hair as it flowed back from her face.
"Come on, Ash ..."
The plea came from the tallest of the trio, a sparkling young woman named Lani who was usually the ringleader.
"The men from the Gamma House are all going to be there. They'd love to get to know you better!"
The other two nodded in agreement and smiled enthusiastically at her.
A familiar uneasiness crawled up into Aisling's stomach. She had no idea of how to handle herself in the parties and gatherings that drew her friends like moths to flame. It was bad enough living in a co-ed dorm, where she had no choice but to see male students on a regular basis.
"I can't, guys," she said with a little shrug. "I have this paper to work on for my Family Philosophy class. I want to get a good start on it before I go home for Christmas."
"You can do that over the weekend! Come on! It's Friday night! Give yourself a break!" This bit of persuasion came from Nikki, a livewire whose flame red hair advertised her latest excursion into the adventurous world of do-it-yourself color.
Aisling would not surrender to their pleas. Her track record of disastrous forays into the college social scene had left her both wary and weary. Every one of these experiences ended when some very nice guy made a move in her direction and she panicked. It was bewildering. These were the same men with whom she could discuss class projects and assignments in the safety of the library or class hallways. And yet, when one of them even hinted that he would like to take her out, even only for a cup of coffee, she refused with flimsy excuses. Not one of them ever tried twice. She had never dated in high school, choosing instead to go out in groups of friends she had grown up with. Trying to start now just seemed too hard. Her girlfriends asked her dozens of questions about this, and she had no answers for them.
Finally the women gave up and sailed down the hall, their excitement echoing off the walls in bursts of talk and laughter. Aisling leaned back in her chair and looked past her laptop to the poster sized photograph she had lovingly placed on the wall of her room. It was a brilliant aerial shot of the Big Horn Mountains in summer, their mosaic of high meadows and forest creating a pattern punctuated by the stunning gashes of steep cliffs and canyons.
How could she explain the double life she lived?
She could think of no way to describe her experiences in the Big Horn Mountains and in Ireland with her great aunt Colleen and her great uncle Andrew. Lessons of her Irish family history and the Irish Old Religion practices of her ancestors had been taught to her there. The things revealed to her by her family elders would make no sense to these modern young women. And that was just the beginning. There also was the profound familial connection with the Crow Indian people and friendships that ran as deep as family ties.
Life here at the University of Montana offered her a chance to live in a very different world, and she wanted nothing more than to fit in seamlessly. But it was not as easy as it had been in high school at Billings. There she had friends who had known her since she was a toddler, and they all accepted the idea that her summers were given over to family and tradition. While they knew little of what she did in those days with her great-aunt and uncle, they knew the person she was and loved and believed in her without question.
Oh, she appreciated and cared for these new friends, and valued the trust and camaraderie they shared here at the university. But there would always be a part of her life that had to remain secret from them.
They simply would not understand.
A soft sigh passed her lips as she returned to the glowing screen. She reread what she had written, and shook her head.
This assignment was giving her trouble.
She thought she had gleaned sufficient direction from her instructor, but now that she was faced with producing the paper, she was sure she was missing something.
Dr. Aiden Mallachy, one of the most highly respected philosophy professors at the University of Montana, was known for his ability to challenge his students. He cut through preconceived ideas they brought into his classes and expanded their view of the world. His approach to teaching was a product of his education at Trinity College in Ireland, along with a highly unorthodox method of instruction. His assignments provoked scholars, pushing them to research deeply and draw their own conclusions. At forty-six, he was young enough to understand what motivated his class participants, but old enough not to be taken in by their efforts to manipulate their grades. These young adults were drawn to his classes, even if some did not completely grasp the full scope of what he presented. It did not hurt that his chiseled good looks drew the attention of nearly every female student and commanded the grudging deference of the males. His way of fixing steel-grey scrutiny on each person and waiting for an answer caused the mediocre ones to squirm and stammer. Stronger achievers rose to the challenge and were not intimidated. A number of the women in his class nurtured the hope that he would set his eyes on them, but for other, more personal reasons. His academic air and athletic body only added to a mystique of implied intelligence and confidence as he perched on the edge of the desk and took possession of the classroom.
Aisling had been steered toward his course by several upper classmen, and she found it exciting and thought-provoking. His lectures opened a world of philosophy in ways she had never thought about before. At the end of one session three weeks before the holiday break, Mallachy turned to the whiteboard and wrote out his instructions for the semester's major assignment. He wrote quickly, his black marker stabbing at the surface like a jackhammer as he placed dots over the i's and inserted punctuation marks.
The notes in his broad and sprawling hand said:
"Write a research paper describing your own family philosophy and belief structure, with an analysis of how this has led to your own current way of life."
The words stood stark on the gleaming white surface, riveting the attention of all in attendance.
After reading this, everyone in the class sat silently, staring at the board. Aisling's glance at the faces of those seated closest to her revealed perplexed expressions morphing into total confusion. The time ended and all the students gathered their notes, rose from their seats almost simultaneously and walked out the door. There were murmurings about how their families did not have philosophies, and this would be an impossible assignment.
One young woman declared to no one in particular, "My family is never even in the same room, much less connected by any single philosophy."
Aisling remained in her seat a few more moments, then assembled her papers, rose to her feet and approached the front of the room.
"Doctor Mallachy," she began, "Can you give me some more detail about this assignment?"
The professor looked at her keenly. His years of experience had prepared him for any kind of question that might be directed to him. This young woman whose focus never wavered during lectures, and whose earlier papers revealed far-reaching insights had attracted his attention throughout the semester.
A knowing smile played at the corners of his mouth. He was amused by the fact that everyone else had hurried from the room without attempting to clarify his instructions. Only Aisling asked for more information.
Encouraged by Dr. Mallachy's open expression, Aisling looked directly into his face and phrased her question.
"I'm not sure I understand what you are asking for," she said. "Do you mean you want us to write a piece about some family philosophy that made us who we are today?"
Dr. Mallachy returned her gaze, silent for a moment while he formulated an answer.
Then he said, "Each family has its own values and beliefs. It is what defines that particular group of individuals. Perhaps an ancestor set the tone, perhaps tacit agreement or deep traditions among all living members plays a major part," he said. "What this project is asking for is your analysis of this philosophy, and a detailed description of how it came to be. Part of it will be your own interpretation of what you think the assignment means."
Aisling managed a wry smile.
"My family is different from others," she said, "I'm afraid our philosophies and customs would startle a lot of people."
"We all feel our own relatives are different from others," Professor Mallachy said, echoing her statement. "Just do the research. Look for one or two people who stand out in defining the way your family functions, its traditions, practices, and the way the people in the family see one another. Or, if you prefer, research someone in your family whose behaviors or beliefs are completely opposite those of everyone else."
"What if this turns out to be a larger project than I can complete in one semester?" Aisling asked doubtfully. "A lot of the information I would need won't be available to me until after the semester ends."
"Bring me an outline and walk me through it. If this proves to be the case, we'll talk about expanding it into an independent study project."
Aisling nodded. Her thoughts raced as she weighed acceptable formats she could apply here. What could she write about her family without sounding like a fabrication? Who could really believe the truth about the magic and traditions that defined the Lorrahs? Professor Mallachy would surely find the facts to be bizarre, and she knew she could not reveal the entire truth. Her greater concern was the possibility that she might violate the privacy and the secrets that were held close by her parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles.
With a sigh, she shut off the laptop and pulled on her jacket. She jogged to the gym and allowed herself a two-hour workout. Keeping fit had been surprisingly easy at college. While other young women were gaining the "freshman fifteen" pounds from snack foods and the high carb choices at the cafeteria and fast food places, she had worked hard to retain her slim body with its long legs and easy grace. Aisling gloried in the physical training options available at the university. The indoor track and weight room were well equipped, and she had opted for a karate class to keep her self-defense skills sharp.
Friday night was the perfect time to come to the gym. Aside from the work-study student who sat at a well-worn desk to make sure the lights were on, she was the only other person there. On this evening the work-study was a sophomore girl who was so engrossed in a movie on her computer screen that she barely noticed Aisling come in.
Aisling worked out with the free weights and then stepped up onto the treadmill. She walked for a few seconds to warm up, then jogged and finally shifted the incline and velocity settings as high as they would go. Since no one was watching, she easily moved into her top speed and sustained it for longer than might have seemed natural if anyone had been observing. The pace would have staggered even the most seasoned of the college's athletes, but she found it soothing. Her endurance came from summer months spent at an elevation of more than ten thousand feet and surpassed that of most men, let alone any of the women. When she finally slowed back to a walk, she felt refreshed and relaxed. She cooled down with a yoga routine that she chose for its contributions to her balance and grace, stretching and lengthening muscles for tone.
In the shower area, she stripped off her workout clothes and stood in front of the full-length three-panel mirror on the wall. Trying to look at herself as if she did not know every inch of her body, she analyzed what she saw in the central panel straight in front of her. She was a little taller than some of her friends, and she was without question in better condition. Her muscles were sculpted and her flat midriff accentuated her small but certainly adequate breasts. With her hair pulled away from her face in a ponytail, her clear blue eyes were emphasized.
Why did she feel so different from the other students? Her parents and her great aunt Colleen and great uncle Andrew all told her she was extraordinary. What she had learned about the Lorrah family history left no question that she was not like most of the people she knew at college. The physical image in the mirror did not look so different from any other young woman who worked to stay fit. On the other hand, the reflection showed a person who was not entirely comfortable in her own skin. Something about her likeness made her feel uneasy, as if she was missing an important detail.
Focusing intently on the mirror, she suddenly detected an odd motion in her peripheral vision. She turned quickly to look in the mirror panel to her right. All she saw there was the same thing she was looking at in front of her, but from a more profiled view. Frustrated, she looked straight ahead again, this time staring into the depths of the reflection. After a few moments, something moved again just outside her direct sight. This time, she did not react, but continued to stare forward. As she did, the images from each side appeared to walk into the central panel and stand one on each side of her. Suddenly there were three figures looking back. To the left was her much younger self, perhaps eight or nine years old. To the right was a woman she did not recognize. This person bore a strong resemblance to her but appeared to be about thirty years old, sexier, sophisticated and confident, very strong and calm. Could it be her future self? No. There was no way that she could ever be that woman.
The room spun around her and the reflections. A peculiar sense of displacement came over her and her legs would not hold her. She sat down hard on the shower room floor. When her vision cleared, the other two images were gone.
Was she hallucinating? What was the meaning of what she had just seen?
Sitting on the hard tile, she finally became aware of discomfort from the cold. The chilly air of the dressing area pricked her skin and made her wonder how long she had been there naked on the frigid floor. The thought that anyone could have walked in and found her like this horrified her. Shivering, she gathered her workout clothes, a towel and her small gym bag and hurried past the row of white sinks to the showers. She turned on the faucets as far as she could, opening a punishing high pressure spray to hammer her skin and clear her thoughts about this odd experience. As the hot water cascaded over her body, questions roiled in her mind.
What just happened?
Was it a hallucination or had she projected her hopes and fears into the polished surface of the mirror?
Why did she feel so uneasy around men her own age?
Was there something about her that conspired to separate her from her peers?
The women she had met here at school seemed so comfortable with their female effects ... makeup, clothes, flirting, sharing secrets with each other. And they insisted that she was pretty, offering to help her with makeup and shopping. Her mother had tried to teach her, but she had always been a tomboy with little time for "girly" things. Shopping still was not one of her preferred activities. Instead, she loved rough-housing with her brothers, and her summers hiking and exploring in the rugged mountain environment suited her perfectly.
She utilized her walk back to the dorm to analyze her need for the regimen of physical training. The irony did not escape her that it was her mastery of such skills which had contributed to her poor dating reputation.
Excerpted from WILLOW by Lorretta Lynde Copyright © 2012 by Lorretta Lynde. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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