Seventh Circle (Chapter 9 - Rebirth, page 1 of 11)

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Tom clambered out of bed and went to the window opening. His mind was alert but his body felt awful. He'd read volumes about the virtues of ancient mead. It was described as the nectar of the gods.

The reality couldn't be further from the truth. The stuff was undrinkable. Bees piss would be a better description. It was what you made when you were in a hurry and didn't have access to sugar.

He peered at the fortified bank which surrounded the village and felt a surge of anger. He'd been hijacked, plied with alcohol and duped into thinking he'd arrived in the company of the sophisticated people who'd invited him into his new realm.

The invitation had been issued by the Duideth, an august body of learned men. They were the custodians of ancient knowledge. They weren't a horde of primitive barbarians who lopped off heads and sent a slip of a girl to humiliate you ... all in the space of a few hours.

He pulled on his jeans. The moon was low in the western sky and the red glow of dawn had appeared in the east. He fastened his shoes and gave thought to his situation. The Duideth revered the sun as a god. He'd arrived at the most auspicious time of the year. It was midsummer's day and the priests would be preparing for the dawn ceremony. There couldn't be a better time to arrive.

The girls of the guard said the sanctuary of the Duideth was close to where he and Alison had arrived in their new realm. It was beside a grassy mound that was surmounted by a standing stone.

Things were falling into place. Admittedly, there had been setbacks. In the confusion of passing from one realm to another, unavoidable mistakes had been made. He'd failed to recognise friend from foe. It was the inevitable outcome of culture shock. Tom didn't like the term. It was the sort of crap talked by the pricks in the behavioural sciences department at his university ... but sometimes the pricks got it right.

He finished dressing. No one was about but he sensed eyes watching him from guard posts and doorways as he left. A meadow stretched before him. Dawn was approaching. He reached the stream at the end of the meadow and found a path leading to the mound. The huge standing stone on top was silhouetted against the glow of dawn. He resolved to get there before sunrise.

A drumbeat came from the other side of the mound. Tom guessed the dawn ceremony had begun. He broke into a run, pounded up the path and reached the stone as the first rays of the rising sun streaked across the sky.

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