"Bridget!" I looked up from my morning meal, pleased to see that they were not one, but two letters for me that day. As Rachel handed me the envelopes I glanced at the writing on the front of them. The first was large and almost childish, Tessa's wretched hand. The second was small and elegant with neat letters and swooping curlicues. It was from my grandmother. She had taken to writing me every week, even though she still barely knew me. Seeing the two styles of writing, the ache in my heart tightened the smallest bit as another day came without word from Father.

Dearest Bridget,

Your grandfather and I hope you are doing well. The sun is setting as I write this, an endless hue of orange, red and pink. It's beautiful to see. Last night, Benjamin brought home oranges, fresh from across the ocean. They were delicious, juicy and bursting with flavour. I wish you could be here to share them.

I've spoken to your father and I've assured him that you are fine and he gave me a bit of news about your sisters to pass on to you. Little Agnes and Dora are well taken care of with your Aunt Jocelyn. She's a lovely woman whom I have had the pleasure to meet. The girls are being taught by highly referred tutors and I'm told Dora is quite bright for her age. Your father tells me that Tessa is getting over a cold, but that she is as happy as can be expected with your Uncle Samuel. Your father sends his love.

I do wish you'd write to us and tell us how you are. Please do not be angry with us. Sending you to school is what we think is best for you. I'm sure that you'll discover soon enough that it is a place to experience wonderful things.

It will be summer again soon,

We await a letter,

Grandmother

My Bridget,

I'm sorry you've not heard from me until now, I've had a terrible fever, and Aunt Louise wouldn't let me out of bed long enough to fetch paper and ink. But I am over the worst, and I relish the fact that I can now sit here and write to you, even if I cannot be with you.

It's cold here. It seems colder than it ever was at home, but I suppose that's because I don't have you climbing into my bed when it gets too much to bear. Have you heard from Father? Uncle Samuel says he met him in town the other day but that he couldn't come for a visit. I long to see him. And you my dearest sister. How are you? Is school what you expected or are you very unhappy? I wish I were there with you. Aunt and Uncle are very kind to me, but I miss you and Dora and Agnes. It seems as though we are no longer a family. Perhaps when I am better, I will make a trip to Cardiff and see you and we'll have a grand time, like we used to at home.

Please write soon,

Tessa

I hugged the letters to my chest, glad that Tessa had written and assured me that everything was going to be alright. And yet, the worry of my father remained firmly on my shoulders.

I was sitting on the steps outside the library when Ava approached me. She sat down next to me, her knees brushing against mine. I had barely spoken to her since that day in the chapel. I talked to Sophia mainly, it was almost mandatory as roommates. To me, she seemed the most approachable of the girls, but maybe it was because she sensed that I needed her friendship. Or maybe she just didn't want to live in a stone cold silenced room for the whole year.

"Bridget?" she asked as she set about unpinning her hair.

I nodded, mesmerized by the sun reflecting on her lovely fair curls. It was the kind of hair I'd always longed for, and for which I had spurned my own brown locks.

"We're going out tonight, we want you to come with us," she told me directly.

"Where?" I inquired with a slight frown. We weren't allowed in town at night unless we had special permission.

"You'll see. Sophia will take you. We meet behind the chapel at midnight."

It wasn't quite the way I'd imagined making my way into Ava's circle, but now that I had the opportunity, I wasn't going to give it up.

That night, our room was quiet as I sat in silence composing a letter to Tessa, and Sophia worked on a French essay.



Tessa,

I was relieved to get your letter and hear that your illness is not serious. Last night I dreamt that we were all home again and Mother was still alive, and to discover it wasn't real when I awoke left me with a horrible ache in my chest.

Have you heard from Dora? I worry for her and Agnes. How I wish you were all here with me. I enjoy my classes; my poise instructor tells me I've a wonderful sense of calm which I must have inherited from Father.

But still, without you, my dearest sister, the nights are long and my heart empty. Sometimes I walk into another room, unconsciously expecting to see Agnes on the floor with her doll, and I am always disappointed. Mostly I spend my time in the library, studying to forget that I've not yet had a letter from Father.

I must sound so ungrateful, what you must think of me. But I feel as though I've been thrown from the world that loved me into one in which I am nothing more than a face in a thousand.

Please write again soon,

Your Bridget

"Are you finished?" Sophia asked as I signed my name at the bottom of the paper. I nodded and reached for my shoes.

"You don't need those." I stopped short and she took my hand and led me out the door. We walked along the dark hallway where the glow of candlelight was under few doors. We followed the staircase down to the main level and out the door into the still warm night. Crossing the grass, we went onto the path that wrapped around the end of the chapel. The others were already there; Camille looking slightly nervous and Ava and Juliet relieved.

I didn't even have a chance to shyly introduce myself again before Sophia had grabbed my hand again and the five of us set off in an exhilarating dash. We ran, it seemed, forever, through the forest, along the river, across a rickety bridge that I thought might collapse. We ran until we laughed from the peculiarity of it all, and tears were streaming down our red cheeks. We ran until we came to a cave, deep in the wood. If I'd been walking by it, I would never have seen it, but when we stopped running, Ava pulled back a large branch to reveal the fairly spacious cave.

In the centre of the dark room was a large stone with a dark red painted on one side.

Again I had no chance to think before I was being pulled to the ground, into a circle. In the middle of us sat a fat, white candle, half burned. Ava pulled a box from the side of the cave and took out a match, striking it against the ground and lighting the candle.

"Red Goddess. We come to you tonight with two matters. The first is to induct Bridget Langley into the Sisterhood of the Cave. We pray to you to give her the strength. The courage. The life. The dreams. The power that you have given to us." Ava's voice was full of emotion. Then the girls around me stood up once more, and I followed them as the formed a line in front of the huge stone. One by one, they knelt by it and pressed their lips to the rough surface. When it came my turn, I examined the red paint more closely and discovered that it was the picture of a woman; a red woman. The Red Goddess. I quickly pushed my lips to the stone and felt a slight tingle run through me as I became a Sister of the Cave.

When we were sitting again, the real business of the night began. It was to become a night that would change me forever. It readied me for what was to come when it came my turn to face the past, and it brought us all closer.

"Red Goddess, protector, we live in thy name. We love and are loved in thy name. And we shall die in thy name. Give us strength. Give us courage. Give us life. Our dreams. Power." There voices swelled at the last word and echoed throughout the darkness. "Tonight, we are here for our sister, Camille," said Ava, "We ask you, Red Goddess, to strengthen our will as we walk into her past."

Again we stood and I watched as Camille approached the stone, placing her hand on the top. An odd urging came over me as the other girls placed their hands on top of Camille's. My own stretched out, following suit and resting itself on Juliet's soft skin. Instantly, that tingle I'd felt when I'd kissed the face on the rock flooded through my finger, my arms, my stomach, into my mind. I couldn't think except for this indescribable feeling, and then, in another flash, I felt nothing.