2 EXODUS 1

Posted: August 29, 2011 in SciFi

 

At the other end of the Red Valley, a full two days walk from the cave of the Red Priestess, the High Priests had built a temple from rock and red mud which had been extracted from the lake in the valley below. The temple consisted of a central arena in the middle of which a flat slab of stone was placed on four rock pillars. This stone was the Stone of Atonement and was used to offer sacrifices to the cloud gods. These sacrifices normally consisted of small animals which were ceremoniously slaughtered to allow the blood to course down a shallow furrow and away into the sand below the table.

In a circle, roughly fifty paces away from the Stone of Atonement, eleven large rocks had been erected. Fanning out from between every two rocks, pathways had been built from stones sunken into the hard ground.

Each of the rock paths led to a hut which had also been built from rocks laboriously carried from the hills in the area while the roofs were built with the sods cut from the marshes in the valley. The huts were not very large but were comfortable during the cold winters and cool during the hot dry summers. They served primarily as accommodation for the five priests and ten young boys who had been born with golden-red hair. Besides the boys, only the High Priest had such hair. None of the four priests would be able to become High Priest because their hair was a dull brown colour. They had not been chosen but had become priests mainly as a result of their allegiance to the High Priest or because they enjoyed the rites and sense of calling they felt. One of the ten young boys would be selected at the appropriate time as successor and his selection would be based on his ability to foretell the future.

In all there were ten huts. One such hut was used as the common dining area while another next to it was where the ten female serfs worked to prepare their food and clean the temple and other huts. The boys all slept in a dormitory hut on mats woven of reeds. Each priest had his own hut.  A further hut was used exclusively for prayer meetings by the High Priest. The young learner-priests had been forbidden entry into this hut. This hut, called the Place of Special Prayer, was also strikingly different from the rest. It was constructed of a bright shining material and was situated flat on the ground. It was a square instead of round as were the other huts. In front of this hut, an enormous cross had been built of the same shiny material, which simulated the wings of the birds which migrated to Red Earth every year. The door to the hut was thick and impossible to open unless you had a special key to it. Nobody except the priests had access or knew what was inside this hut. One day one of the boys had ventured close to the hut and had touched its bright sides. He screamed in shock and pain as the wall burned his hands. That was enough of a warning for everybody to stay clear of the hut.

Tomorrow would be a special day for the boy-priests. They were going to be tested to see who had the ability to foresee the future. The High Priest was the only one with this gift and a lot would depend on the ability to see the future for succession to the position of High Priest. They were quite fearful of the tests and had been preparing for this test for the last two weeks. None of them was particularly confident in his ability to foresee the future.

The five priests were conferring in the Place of Special Prayer in preparation for the next day’s ceremony. They sat around a rectangular table with the High Priest at its head. Around them was a fantastic display of strange artifacts. At the one end of the hut, metal objects had been fixed to the wall with bright ropes of wire. These objects were small and round and had a strange material protecting them from being touched by the uninitiated. Inside were strange drawings in perfect circles with arrows pointing outward. There were also great drawings on the wall painted on a material which had a yellow hue and which broke if touched. These beautiful drawings had been done in paints which you could not feel and in the most intricate patterns and lines which were beautiful to behold.

The wall was called the Wall of the Great Navigator. Only the High Priest knew who the Great Navigator was and what he could do. He had been taught this.

The opposing wall in the room was very different. It was painted by hand on the bright metal and depicted a road which led from the Red Earth to the Red Horizon. The road twisted and turned and one could distinguish some familiar landmarks such as KRAT, the mountain plateau about four days walk from the temple of the Priests. The painting also showed half a ball of fire on the Red Horizon with rays radiating outward from it. There were twenty five such rays. The strangest part of the painting was the upper two thirds which had been coloured a deep blue colour. This was clearly intended to be the sky above the road, but who had ever heard of a blue sky? The painting had been done Six Stones ago and the artist was known as Zyndile. She was reputed to have been a Queen of the Ancient ones. No-one, except the Red Priestess had ever met her. The wall was known as the Wall of Deliverance.

The two longest walls contained a variety of objects which dated back to the times of the New Beginning. Nobody actually knew what they had been used for, so they were merely objects of interest. Some of the priests spent many hours fiddling with these objects to try to figure out how they can be used. Few had been successful.

The High Priest sat in the House of Prayers around the round table with the other priests.

“We have to speed up the conversion of the villagers to our way of thinking and I believe that the only way to do so is to strike fear into them.”

It was the High Priest speaking. His voice was soft yet penetrating.

“The Jesuits are the real problem. They believe only in Jehovah whom they also call Yahweh. This god of theirs had a son called Jesus and they talk to him through his Mother Mary but she was not the wife nor was she the woman-god of Jehovah.”

“Does that mean that this son of Jehovah was a bastard?” one of the priests asked.

“I know not the answer to that question. It’s a mystery to me. But the Jesuits say that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born.”

“How was that possible? Surely they are hiding the truthful father,” the younger priest stated again.

“His father’s name was Josef, yet he was not his father,” the High Priest answered.

“Ah. So this Jesus was a miracle?”

“That’s what they say.”

“Then they have very strong gods.”

“They speak also of a Holy Spirit but quite frankly I have never been able to find out the role of this spirit. Yet they talk that their god is the one and only. How can that be if they actually pray to four different gods? They question the existence of our gods and they must be dealt with first and most severely. We cannot allow the ridiculous beliefs of the Jesuits to spread through the valley. It is therefore imperative to ensure that the test of the acolytes is as dramatic as possible and that what the future foretells comes about in the most fear inspiring manner.”

“We agree, but you know Brother Michael that the Jesuits, are not of our religion and will not relinquish their practices easily. I hear that for a Jesuit priest to become ordained he is required to take an oath which is fear inspiring.”

“Where do you hear this?” one of the other priests asked.

“My brother lives in the Jesuit village and told me that it is quite common knowledge.”

“Yes but what makes the oath scary?” the inquisitive priest asked again.

“As I was told, the Jesuits were like a military arm of the Catholic Church of the Ancient world. The oath they take, undertakes to support the Pope who is their High Priest and who has the power to depose and destroy kings, princes and states or any other church which opposes the mother church. In fact they swear to destroy all opposition to their order and the Catholic Church. They are soldiers sworn to fight a holy war in all manners to preserve their Order. They are also sworn to secrecy and encouraged to infiltrate the strongholds of heretics and undermine them where they can. The oath even states that they will not spare children, women or the aged in their fight. It describes the vilest methods of punishment and death of their enemies.”

“Yes, yes we know all that,” the High Priest said testily. “It is our task to convince them of the error of their ways. How can people believe so readily in an invisible and so-called only God who nobody can prove actually exists but then actually have many gods? And how silly is a religion which seeks to kill and destroy any opposition to it? To me this speaks of a sense of uncertainty. The oath they take is a serious one but it is clear that they are misguided. Good Grief! We all know that there are many gods and that we have to appease all of them. If you read their Bible, it is quite apparent that this Jehovah of theirs is a terrible and jealous god. They believe he is all conquering and all seeing. I wonder… ”

“What?”

The High Priest looked at them with a sardonic smile; “Why don’t we challenge them together with their gods to a duel?”

“A duel! What weapons will we use?”

“Our strongest weapon! Yes that’s it! We will challenge them to forecast the future as part of the test of the acolytes and then see who is all-seeing!”

“And what if we lose?”

“Don’t be stupid! Have you no confidence in our skills? Is it not true that we have been able to foretell the future with great accuracy? We will get the Red Priestess to help us. She is good at creating the right atmosphere. But, brothers, we must be very circumspect. We must ensure victory for once and for all! The wager shall be that the loser subscribes to the religion of the winner, and we will be the winners. I will see to that!”

The rest of the priests looked somewhat unsure. They were not about to relinquish their powerful positions on the basis of a simple test to foretell the future. This thing needed some thought. None of them except the one called Michael possessed the ability to foretell the future.

They dispersed to their huts to contemplate and meditate. After they had left, the High Priest opened a door leading to the back room. In it sat a familiar figure.

“Well, did you hear that?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “I heard and I am not convinced that your strategy will work, Mike. The Jesuits are a fanatical Order and will not relent,” she said softly. “However, if we are to succeed in finding the New World we must work together. Dissension between the villagers will destroy all of us.”

The Red Priestess got up from her chair. The High Priest marvelled again at her tallness which she carried with pride despite her age. Rumour had it that she was older than ten stones.  He knew that she was the one who initiated the Placing of Stones Ceremony.

“To create unity among the three villages will require something very special and unique. To get the Jesuits to work together with the Caesareans especially will be something to witness, that I can testify to.”

“What about the New Londoners?” the High Priest asked.

“When I last spoke to them they indicated that they were doing very well for themselves and that their water purification processes were very successful.  As you know they are not religionists and don’t have any patience with mysticism which is your forte. We will not get them to work with the other two villages on the basis of religious beliefs or rites. I find this an interesting challenge but then they are a small village and we can put pressure on them to co-operate as long as they are allowed space to practice what they call Rationalism and are able to produce goods for trading with the other villagers.”

“So what do you propose we do?” the High Priest asked.

“Well, tomorrow we have the test for the young novices. Let’s first get that out of the way then we can decide how we’re going to get support from the villagers for the exodus. I need to think more on it. I’m going to rest now and will see you tomorrow.”

The Red Priestess stood up from her seat and left the High Priest behind to contemplate and prepare for the next day’s ceremony. Much depended upon his ability to foresee the future and he would have to convince the Red Priestess as well as his fellow priests of his visions.

 

Meanwhile, in the village of the Jesuits a feeling of anticipation and excitement reigned. This month was the month in which the next Great Migration of the birds was expected. The Jesuits were preparing themselves for the great feast and religious rituals which accompanied the first landings of the birds.

The prediction as calculated by the village’s Counter was that the birds would land in another five to seven days and then would continue coming in for the next 10 days.

Being located near the base of KRAT, the Jesuits had a major advantage over the two other villages. Traditionally the birds would nest on KRAT and in its cliffs and crevices. They preferred to avoid the volcano which was only a day’s walk from KRAT. Instinctive memory warned them of its deadly history.

It would take the other villages up to two days to walk to KRAT to commence their harvesting. The rules were strict and many battles had been fought between the villagers for the rights to the bird harvests. Now only one rule applied: first come first served!  This meant that the outlying villagers were obliged to start walking to KRAT before the birds actually arrived, hence the critical need to accurately predict the first coming of the birds.

The New Londoners however had a valuable tradable commodity which they used to good advantage when it came to extracting produce or logistical benefit from the other villages. The Bracken Lake was a rich source of salt and salt was critical for the preservation of meat as well as for various other uses including the treatment of some ailments. It was often mixed with herbs to treat wounds and infections or used to cure animal skins. Only New London produced salt. To allow them early access to the bird harvests on KRAT, they loaded salt into leather bags which they carried on the backs of their tame buffalo and walked for two whole days to reach the Jesuits where they would trade and bargain for birds and other produce.

The New Londoners also produced sulphur and other chemicals through distillation and evaporation. For the most of it they did not have any use for these chemicals which had been heaped up on the shores of Lake Bracken. Some of their residents were nonetheless occupied with experimentation with these salts as they called them.

Caesarea which lay about one day’s walk from the Jesuits but two days away from New London, was located away from the River Esme and had been built on a hill which overlooked the valley and from where both the City of the Jesuits as well as New London could be seen. The location of this village was purely for military advantage. It was however able to source its water from a well on the hill but this was not enough for horticultural purposes or the growing of dry land crops. These crops were produced on the dry lands of the valley which were totally dependent on seasonal rains. The alternative was to obtain produce by bartering their furs and seasoned meats with the other valley residents.

The Jesuits did not trade with them as they were considered to be heathens and worshippers of devils. To overcome this ideological barrier, they bought their meat from the New Londoners who had salted the meats supplied by the Caesareans. For the New Londoners this created a brisk trade with both villages.

The Caesareans in turn also manufactured medicines from the ubiquitous aloes growing in abundance in the valley. This was also bartered with villagers for wine from the Jesuits and the salt from the New Londoners.

At night any traveler who was brave enough to venture out so far, could see fires burning high behind the fortifications of Caesarea which were huge walls constructed with rock on the cliffs of the hill. These walls were designed to keep intruders out rather than villagers in and were tilted slightly outward making it almost impossible to climb without the aid of ropes or ladders.

A foolhardy traveller, who sought to venture close enough to the large gates of the village, would be able to hear the chants and songs of the Caesareans. The chants were bone-chilling in their slow and determined rhythm and invariably led to a crescendo of drums and cymbals before stopping dead. Not a sound would be heard after the crescendo for some time before the process repeated itself. The long silences were enough to send any eavesdropper scampering into the night.

Legends of the Lost Tribe were told in all three the villages to the delicious horror of the children. The Lost Tribe was believed to live beyond the Great Divide. It was said that they were great monsters with red eyes that preyed on lost wanderers and especially the young. Some explorers from especially Caesarea reported hearing wailing and high pitched whistling from the mountains and valleys in the Great Divide. This was usually enough to send them scampering back to their villages. To strengthen these stories, strange things happened when the bird migrations took place on KRAT. At night when only the foolhardy and stupid ventured close to KRAT, lights could be seen and singing heard.

On occasion, villagers would forage for herbs or meat beyond the reaches of their villages, never to return. This was invariably ascribed to the curse of the Lost Tribe.

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Comments
  1. sally stewart says:

    cant wait to read this 🙂

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