In a time before written history, a young priest, SAYO, learned the fate of his people. Could he do anything to stop it? He prayed he could, but the wheels of fate were in motion.
As an orphan, NOYA became a slave to the high priestess, Dostra. The innocence of childhood was lost with only Sayo to stand in the way of the terrible punishments of her mistress.
SAYO'S attraction to NOYA is a puzzlement, for as a priest and son of the mangods, he is not to have the feelings of mortal men. When he acts on his feelings, he seals NOYA'S fate and hastens the demise of his people.
The smoke of many cooking fires filled the autumn air and lazily hung in a hazy cloud over the village. Structures of various sizes denoted the status of the villagers. A large round building stood at the center of all of the dwellings, with about two dozen smaller homes around it. Away from all of the activity, stood the home of the high priestess, Dostra. Different from all the others, her house was built in a square, as dictated by the Man Gods when they first established the village.
Sayo had lived here all his life and coming home was comforting. The houses, made from bark, were coated with a water proof substance that had been handed down through the ages from the first settlers brought here by the Man Gods.
The cooking fires browned the meat the women were preparing. Hanging above the meat on cooking frames were pouches with vegetables to add to the meal. Sayo could feel the juices of hunger begin to flow in his mouth. He would be honored to eat at any one of the many cooking fires in the village this night.
"I cannot believe your uncle allowed you to come hunting with us today, Sayo," Tarros said.
Sayo looked across the long pole with the carcass of a deer suspended from it. "He was not happy until I told him you wanted me to bless the hunt. I think he was envious. No one has ever asked him to bless a hunt, not in all the turnings of the seasons he has been high priest."
"You forget, Sayo, no one asked you to bless the hunt today. It matters not, because your presence has brought us good luck. Look how many deer we killed. The women will have enough meat for the feast and still be able to preserve much of it for the cold phases of the moon when the hunting is poor. It would please me if you shared the evening meal with my family."
Sayo smiled. His boyhood friend knew, all too well, the only way a priest survived was from the generosity of the members of the community. Since the beginning of time, the priests had been the descendants of the Man Gods. Once their time with the people was finished, the One God would give them immortality. For that reason they were not allowed to hunt or gather. At least that was how Sayo's Uncle Badro explained the reasoning behind the taboo. Badro said only the gifts of the people could be eaten.
When Sayo questioned Badro further, his uncle went on to tell him that the Gods were all powerful. Hunting was not something they needed to be bothered with, as when they became immortal, they had no need for food to survive. They were nourished by the words and generosity of the One God.
"I would be honored to share your table, my friend. It will be as when we were children together."
Sayo ached for the time of childhood. With his thirteenth turning of the seasons, he left the home of his mother to begin his study for the priesthood with his uncle, Badro. Now, within one phase of the moon, the Man Gods would return and he would take his uncle's place in the sanctuary. Badro would join the Man Gods, when they left, to be counted among their number, gaining immortality. Sayo would be left alone to act as high priest and rule the spiritual lives of the people.
For nearly one turning of the seasons he worked, perfecting the craft, which would be his life's work. At the time of the planting, as well as the time of the harvest, he watched the sacrifices. Soon he would be expected to bind the hands and feet of either enemy or slave before cutting the beating heart from their bodies and catching the blood as it poured from the wound.
Putting thoughts of the more grandiose sacrifices from his mind, he concentrated on the smaller ones he would have to perform. He immediately thought of the sacrifice of virginity. It was the one thing he dreaded. In listening to the storyteller, he knew that the practice of this sacrifice was something that had been passed down through the generations. The Man Gods deemed it necessary so the women would appreciate the gentle lovemaking of their husbands. It didn't matter. Sayo still questioned the need of it. Even more so, he questioned Badro's ability to do it so easily. It seemed as though he enjoyed it more than he should. Sayo wondered if he would ever be so detached, so unreceptive to the screams of the newly made women who withered beneath him as he pierced their barrier of virginity with the stone penis covering that had been brought with the first people by the Man Gods.
"I am pleased you will be high priest when my betrothed is sacrifice." Tarros' words broke into Sayo's thoughts.
"Why would you say such a thing?"
"Because I love Mira very deeply. The thought of an ancient, like Badro taking her virginity in front of my eyes, makes my stomach churn with distaste."
"And your stomach does not churn when you think of me doing the same thing?"
"No, because I know you too well. Others, who have entered into their marriages under Badro's watchful eyes, tell me he enjoys what he does too much. He has no compassion."
Sayo silently agreed. His uncle did enjoy taking the virginity of the frightened maidens, enjoyed inflicting the pain necessary in the process. Perhaps Badro was right, but a little sympathy would give him a better image among the people.
"Your confidence gives me great honor."
As they neared the village, a loud wailing sounded in their ears. The flash of a fire blazing to life caught their line of vision.
Sayo shook his head sadly. "The end has come for Pitro and Cistra. Badro has been spending much time in their dwelling, trying to cure the sickness, which consumed them. None of his medicines or chants has helped."
"It is said, their sickness began when they did that which is forbidden, by going to the place where the Gods brought their craft. They broke the law by not waiting for the one turning of the seasons to pass before picking the berries which grow there."
"Badro says it is true. I can understand their temptation. The field where the Man Gods land their craft contains some of the best berries in the area. No wonder they chose it for their landing place."
They moved closer to the funeral pyre. As usual, when Sayo saw the flames consuming the bodies of the people, he ached. Looking away, he saw his uncle, a tether clasped in his hand. On the other end of the rope, stood the daughter of the people whose bodies were becoming blackened by the fire.
Moving closer, Sayo could see tears in the girl's brown eyes. His uncle's hand caressed the girl's rounded buttocks and Sayo could see her cringe under his attentions.
Badro's voice boomed so that all could hear. "This child, will, from this day forward, be a slave. When the evening meal is finished, the council will meet to decide to whom she should be given."
Sayo watched Badro tie the tether attached to her wrists to a post, then place another rope around her neck to make certain she would not be tempted to work herself free. The girl, Noya by name, cried as her parent's possessions, along with her own belongings, added fuel to the fire.
Sayo understood the necessity of having one who would soon become a slave displayed for all the heads of the village households to examine. As a child she was not looked upon in any way but as a playmate to the other children. As a slave they needed to determine her worth to their families. What he didn't understand was why young and old alike took pleasure in tormenting her with probing touches, pointed sticks and evil curses. Was Noya not the same child who had been a respected member of the community only one journey of the sun earlier?
As much as Sayo disliked these practices, he knew better than to lend his voice in opposition. Badro was the high priest and no one in the village, with the exception of the high priestess had more power. Until Badro joined the Man Gods and claimed his immortality, Sayo was little more than his uncle's apprentice.
Sayo wanted to chase the children away, but the adults were now joining in the cruel game. Looking to his friend, he saw a wicked smile cross Tarros' face.
"Come, join in the fun, Sayo," he prompted. "When she is claimed as a slave, no man can touch her until she becomes a woman. It is a shame. I for one would enjoy feeling the delights hidden between her legs."
"One journey of the sun ago, she was but a playmate of Mira. Only moments ago, you spoke of your love for her. How can you possibly consider coupling with anyone else? Would you have even noticed this child if not for this thing which has happened to her?"
"You talk foolishness. As you say, she is but a child and because of her parent's sin, she was not promised. She has nothing to offer a man, no status, and no bridal gifts, not even a father to make an alliance with. She deserves her fate. There is nothing more for her than being a slave within our village. To treat her as such is acceptable. In my father's household, it is not considered a sin to visit the house of pleasures when my mother is unable to act as a wife."
"It may not be a sin, but does your father do such a thing? Has he ever coupled with any, slave or free, during your mother's confinement?"
"That is not the issue. What my father does is his business. If he wanted to, it would be accepted, as long as the woman was a slave. He could even use the slaves of our household if he wanted to. Sometimes I think his devotion to my mother is not normal."
"I do not agree with your thinking, and neither would Ustro, but I cannot get into your mind and change your thoughts. You are still young. Perhaps when you have married the joy of your heart you will see things in a different light."
Sayo turned away when the young hunters abandoned their kill to take their turns with Noya. Each ran his hands over her body, each touched the hidden crevice between her legs. He knew the process was necessary for the men to determine if she would be worth taking into their homes as a slave and not be able to use her until the time of her third bleeding. As a bride, a man would take her after her first bleeding. As a slave, the Gods deemed her unclean until her third visit to the house of women.
Although Sayo understood it, he did not approve. He hated seeing how the people treated the slaves. It was not right. When he became high priest, he would find some way to end this insanity. How could an innocent child be loved and accepted one minute and a slave the next?
He turned away in disgust, only to bump into his uncle. "Your presence is requested at the council meeting this night, Sayo."
"Why must we be there? We are not like them. What business is it of ours? It does not concern us."
"Do not be a fool. Everything in the village concerns us. Widows and orphans are condemned to be slaves. It is the law of the Gods and we are of the Gods. Your opinions mean nothing as long as the Gods command. It is our duty to see those commands are obeyed."
A few feet away Noya screamed and cried as her tormentors became more physical, crueler.
"Can you not at least stop her torture?"
Badro gave him a look of disappointment. "I will take her to the council house, but you must remember who you are when the council convenes this night."
Sayo nodded. Behind him, the women of the village worked at butchering the day's kill, oblivious to the screams of the child who would soon be a slave. They were, likewise oblivious to the crude remarks made by the men. The entire situation seemed ridiculous to Sayo.
While he was still deep in thought, Tarros came to his side. "Where are you going?"
"I need to be alone and prepare myself for this night's council meeting."
"I do not see why you feel the need to prepare. Come along, my mother will expect you at our hearth. If you must prepare for the meeting, you cannot do so on an empty stomach. Walk a while with me and we can talk about this."
Against his better judgment, Sayo followed his friend. To decline an invitation to the home of the leader would do him no good. Badro and Ustro ruled the people together. Soon it would be he, Sayo, who would be responsible for the spiritual needs of the people. When the time came, Tarros would be the leader and together they would make the laws that would rule the people. Now was not the time to argue with the one man in the village who knew him best.
"After I attend to my prayers, I will come to your mother's hearth. Once I partake of her good cooking, I will attend the meeting."
"There is more to your words than you say. You take your duties too seriously. I can tell you do not approve of what must be done by the council. You cannot change the world. Only the Gods have such powers."
"You do not understand. I am of the Gods. I do not think the laws wrong, I only want to see them changed, so a child is not treated in the manner I saw Noya treated this day. How would you feel if the child being tormented was your sister? Would you not be enraged?"
"You ask questions which are foolish. If I had a sister, she would never be put in the position of being a slave. She would be the daughter of the leader and have a status, unlike Noya."
"Fate can change our lives in the blink of an eye. If something were to have happened to your father when you were but a child, your fate would have been much different. The law would have made your mother and her children slaves. It would have mattered not who you were. The law makes no distinction, even for the family of the leader. Do not make the mistake of considering yourself better than others in the village."
Tarros did not answer. Sayo knew he had shocked his friend by his bold words. Did he mean them for Tarros, or for himself? More and more he questioned the traditions of his people. More and more he doubted his own abilities.