2 EXODUS 3: THE RETURN TO KRAT

Posted: September 27, 2011 in SciFi

The Red Priestess had gathered the young girls from her cave and after a day’s briefing and rest, they collected and packed the inventory as instructed by her and set off for the Caesareans where she invited them to the ceremony. They accepted without any objections except that they wanted her assurance that the evil spirits on KRAT would not harm them.

The small female entourage was now nearing the gates of the City of Jesuits. As they drew closer, a blast from a horn could be heard from within. With a loud creak, the doors opened and the Red Priestess swept into the inner courtyard surrounded by the squad of young girls.

Villagers poured out from the very basic but sound homes which had been built from rough rocks with mud-plastered walls, to witness the rare occasion of the Red Priestess arriving, this time accompanied by seven girls all with flame red hair. Each of the young girls was carrying a large bundle on her back with straps tied under the bundles and around the head to compensate for the weight. Bent forward, they walked in single file and were humming a tune. It was a sight to be seen. Villagers crossed themselves against the presence of evil.

When they reached the village centre, the Priestess sat herself in the centre of the courtyard and waited. She said nothing. There was no need.

After a suitable time, three village elders shuffled toward her from the surrounding homes.

“We see you. What is it you want, woman?” one of them said from a safe distance.

They knew she would not come here without something very significant on her mind. Despite their religious beliefs or maybe because of these beliefs, they had sufficient respect and fear of her powers; tolerated her presence even if the Inner Circle of Jesuits had made it clear that she was a witch.

“We come in peace, brothers,” she said with a degree of irritation; she was fully aware of their views about her. They, even the oldest among them were the children and grandchildren of those she had despised most, lived in this village.

“I have a message and an invitation for the Inner Circle that you cannot ignore. Take me to the Vicar General.” This came as an instruction, not as a request.

With a beckoning nod of their heads they shuffled off as she followed them into one of the narrow streets of the village. It was a drab village where decoration and colour was not only absent but was actively discouraged by the leaders. It was frivolous to paint and decorate, they said. Raw sewage flowed in narrow channels down the side of the street. Some of the water which they had channelled from the neighbouring mountain was used to flush away the waste; the rest was stored in a large reservoir which they had to wash once a week to get rid of the green slime and algae growth. This reservoir was built from rocks and mud which had been smoothed and waterproofed with lime they had found near the Bracken Lake. The raw sewage eventually landed up in the valley below, where ponds had been constructed. They did not treat the effluent but left it to nature to do. The stench in the village was invasive and permeated the very pores of the delegation of females.

From the dark doorways which were recessed into the walls, inquisitive heads peered at her and the young girls. The families of three of the girls lived here but they were not permitted to acknowledge their own daughters as they were now contaminated by the Red Priestess and her powers.

The villagers all belonged to the same religious grouping and indeed any inhabitants who showed any inclination otherwise, were banished by the Inner Circle. In these instances the Inner Circle would constitute an Inquisition. Perpetrators, according to the Jesuit Law were considered to be guilty as charged and were required to prove their own innocence before sentences of banishment or in extreme cases, death by stoning, were passed. To date not one villager had managed to prove his innocence. Women had no recourse and were considered the property of the husbands or fathers, depending on their marital status. The three young acolytes had effectively been banished from the village by the Inner Circle due to the red colour of their hair and their involuntary association with the Red Priestess.

They were led into the main building in the village which was a small church which had been built according to plans that one of the Ancients had drawn up. It was built in a rectangular shape with two small towers flanking the large oval shaped entrance. The entrance had no door as doors were not considered necessary. The whole structure had been constructed from stone with a high roof of tamboti wooden beams and slats cut from the local forest. Light and air came in through the unglazed oval holes in the walls on both sides of the building. The inside of the building was nevertheless dark and forbidding to shield its contents from inquisitive eyes.

As the Red Priestess strode through the entrance, she could smell the burning of myrrh harvested from local thorn trees. With her eyes not accustomed to the dark interior, she walked slower and bade the girls to remain behind in the entrance and sit on the ground to rest their weary bodies.

She could just make out three figures standing in the front of the altar. Behind them a large cross had been erected with the crude figure of a human being representing the Christ, hewn from the wood of the thorn trees, nailed to it. She wondered anew that a religion could deify such a horrifying symbol and then say that it represented love, mercy and forgiveness for the sins of mankind? It was something she had seen in the Churches of a distant childhood. Even then it had terrified her as it had been designed to do to millions in Ancient times.

Just below the Christ figure and to its right, another smaller wood carving hung on the wall. It represented a man dressed in a priest’s cloth with arms raised in supplication to the Lord Jesus above him. Through the throat of this carving, a small arrow such as those used by the legendary hunters of Africa, the San, could be seen to be protruding. The red-haired woman shuddered to her very core as the memories flooded back after so many years. The pain was not diminished.

As she approached the three persons, the leader known as the Vicar General, cast so-called ‘holy’ water on the ground in front of them to ward off evil spirits and to neutralise the perceived threat of the Red Priestess. She just laughed and walked right across the splash marks in the dust. The priests shrank back as she neared them.

“I come in peace brothers and if you remember who your fathers were you may also remember that indeed, I am an Ancient One and knew your fathers as well as some of your grandparents. If I had had any evil intentions, you would have felt these long, long ago. Indeed I was present when some of you were born, so please don’t insult me with your puny religious rites or spells.”

“What is it you want?” asked the Vicar General. He was quite old and was a second generation Red Valley citizen. He was balding with wisps of long grey hair. He was quite gaunt as were most of the Jesuits. The Red Priestess who had known him as Joshua since childhood. She had no time for the conservative and myopic man. The feelings were mutual as his mother especially had warned him not to associate with her as she was possessed of the devil. They had also told him when he was a child that she ate young children and at night rode on the backs of hyenas which fed off the left-over bones of her meals.

“I have travelled far as did my acolytes. We are thirsty and hungry and I believe that even in your tradition, it is the manner to invite us to partake of water and food.”

The Vicar General impatiently motioned to one of the younger priests who scampered off into the dark recesses of the church. A couple of minutes later some women who had been eavesdropping the conversation, scurried out with earthen pots containing water and some rough bread stacked on wooden plates. The children were first fed before the Red Priestess slaked her own thirst and satisfied her hunger.

The priests watched her eat in impatient silence.

Finishing her meagre meal she stood up and approaching the Vicar General, said: “I come with an important message for all the villagers. I have already informed the Caesareans on my way here.”

The Vicar General, who had sat himself down on rocks which served as stools in the church, waited for her to continue.

“I’ve received an important message from the gods of the clouds. They are indeed angry with the villagers including you and your followers. They believe that the time has come to determine for all time, whose god is the most powerful.”

“We have no interest in your gods of the clouds,” the Vicar General replied with disdain. “Jehovah is the only God and through our Saviour Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we will not be tempted by the challenges of the false gods you make offerings of blood to.”

“Offerings of blood are your speciality father, especially if the offerings are young virgins, is that not so? Of that I have enough evidence. Look at the symbol which you hold up as the symbol of love behind you on that cross. Preach not to me of your god, Father. If your god exists and is as almighty as you believe, isn’t it then true that it was your god who destroyed the world I come from? Was it not your god who cast us into this red hell? Is it not written in your Bible that your god is a god of love, of compassion and understanding and is a just god? Is it not also written in the same Bible that your god is a jealous god who tolerates no other gods and will destroy those who oppose him? Is it not this same loving god who instructed Abraham to kill his beloved son Isaac to please him? How cruel and jealous is his love? Is it not he who smote whole nations, women and innocent children and sanctioned the oppression of women in religion and burned witches, such as you believe me to be, in the Ancient world; who advised Lot to caste his daughters to men in the streets to be raped until dead? Is it not in the name of your Catholic Church of the Ancients that the Jesuits murdered thousands upon thousands of innocent people on the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre? Was it not a Jesuit priest who stabbed to death King Henry IV of France? Is it not Yahweh who instructed the Israelites to have no mercy on foreigners that led to Joshua’s massacre of the inhabitants, man woman and children, of the city of Ai, which according to your Bible numbered twelve thousand people?”

“No Father, do not presume to have a special relationship with this god of yours, or that such mystical relationship will give you privileges. Your village is in decline and your people suffer from your ministrations, yet you say this is God’s will and that suffering is good for the soul. What utter nonsense and what a liar you are!”

The spiritual leader of the Jesuits was purple with rage. “How dare you preach your blasphemy in the house of God?” he screamed. “We will not listen to your sacrilegious utterings or insults, witch! Jehovah is the only God and will through His Son and the Holy Mother Mary, deliver us from evil when He deems it appropriate. You are evil and the Devil Incarnate. We do not fear your powers or those of the so-called high priests. You are all worshippers of the Devil and will be destroyed by those very same powers. We will triumph in the Lord our God and in our Holy Trinity; we will destroy those who oppose us.”

“Father, you sound very confident.”

The Red Priestess was elated. This was exactly what she had planned. The Jesuit priest had fallen into the trap she had carefully laid for him.

“If you do not fear my powers or those of the very Devil you believe in and fear, it would not be too much to ask that you bear witness to what will become the greatest event in our history?”

“What is that? What are you talking about?” the Vicar General asked suspiciously. The witch was not to be trusted. He had lived long enough in Red Valley to know almost as much as the witch about what was going on in the valley. She was up to no good, that much was clear.

“It is written in the clouds, Father. We await the next bird migration.”

“Hah,” he snorted derisively. “What is so special about that? Another bird migration is due in the next two days, maybe four.”

“…and what if you are wrong father?” she asked softly.

“We are never wrong! Our Counter has done the calculations many times,” he responded less certain of himself now. He knew that they had been less than accurate in the past.

“Father, what if I tell you that the birds will not come until I ask the gods of clouds to release them from their celestial cages?” She was using the imagery of the mystics in the villages to strengthen her case.

“You would not dare! You would not do that to the villagers of Red Valley.” He was screaming again. He knew that if the birds didn’t come they will be unable to gather their food for the cold season. The witch was trying to hold them to ransom. It would place the Jesuits in a very tenuous position as they always prayed and believed that God will provide as he did in the Bible by giving the Israelites manna from heaven. What if she actually had the power to keep the birds away? The birds constituted this bounty and their stores for winter would be virtually empty if the migration did not take place. It was part of the valley’s heritage and indeed its culture. The birds must come and they must come at the right time, if they arrive too late the winter will catch them!

He missed the irony of his fear.

“Witch, we will burn you at the stake! You are evil and if the birds do not arrive it will be through your doing.”

“So Father, the ultimate threat again is it? Believe in my god or we will destroy you. Have you not seen the irony in that? Where is your confidence in your god now? If your god is so powerful and all-seeing, why should you fear my powers? Why has Satan of ancient times so often had the upper hand if Yahweh was so all-powerful? Why is it that according to you, your god controls every living being, yet you are unable to save the lives of Jesuits who have simple injuries and why do you call on me to help when this happens? No father, you and those of your ilk, prey on the ignorance of people; you thrive on death, fear and unhappiness; you are the evil one father and you are the one who should be burned at the stake in repentance for the thousands, no the millions killed in all cruel and sadistic manners in the name of Yahweh, God, Jehovah, Al-Llah, Muhammad, Jesus Christ and the saints of the churches of the Ancients! Beware, lest the sins of your father be visited upon you, Father. But there will be no burning. I will depart now and ascend to the Holy Place on KRAT near the Sacred Source. There I will await the migration of the birds. If it does not happen within two days as you say, I will invoke the power of the gods of the clouds.”

“You are invited to witness the great coming, but you will witness the real power of the gods after the coming of the birds. Within the next five days after the coming of the birds upon my call I, together with the High Priest will call on the gods to clarify the future and save the Red Earth and its entire population from suffering and evil. We will invoke the power of the Ancients and see the future as it is embedded in the past; that I promise you. If Yahweh is brave enough to bear witness to this, let him join in our call.”

The apoplectic Vicar General could barely speak: “We’ll not be led into temptation, witch. We are guided and follow the mosaic laws and hold the Holy Trinity dear to our hearts. Your pagan methods and rites are of no interest to us. Be off with you and you pagan consorts.”

The Red Priestess stood up and said: “You have been invited and you will be there if you wish to share in the future; should you and your followers fail to attend, it will be your past that will return to haunt you!”

She turned and walked out of the church and through the crowd of inquisitive onlookers standing just outside the entrance. As she emerged they fell back to avoid being contaminated by the witch. Her entourage followed silently. As they wound their way to the gates, the Jesuits could hear their soft humming of a tune. They crowded into the church to hear what the Vicar General had to say.

He refused to speak to them. He was too angry. She spoke in riddles and he would need time to think upon her words. He disappeared into the inner sanctum together with his fellow priests.

The meeting with the Jesuit leader had gone off better than she had anticipated. The web she had so finely spun would almost certainly ensure the Jesuit presence on KRAT.

She smiled as she walked, reminiscing about the origin of its name. KRAT was an abbreviation of King Ararat which had been a tongue in cheek reference to the massive volcanic mountain, also called Urarty, located in ancient Armenia upon which Judaic legend claims that the Ark of Noah may have landed after the mythical Biblical Flood; while the ‘King’ component of the name came from a book ‘King Rat’ written by James Clavell during the twentieth century, about the survival of Prisoners of War in World War 2 concentration camps. It was an apt derivative which the original survivors had chosen, she thought.

She could feel that the end of her era was nearing. The final culmination of her life would be the transfer of as much of the history of their experiences as survivors of the destruction of the world as they had known it, to the young girls. They were never destined to be priestesses. They were the historians and as such they would play a critical role in the preservation of history for future generations.

The meeting at the Holy Place on KRAT was a mere tactic to gather as much support as possible for the eventual exodus which she knew had to come. If what her son had seen was accurate, the lifting of the red clouds and the opening of the skies would be of the same significance as the legendary stopping of the sun in Joshua’s time had been.

It was the stuff future legends would be based upon. It would equate and even surpass the myths and legends upon which the Bible of the Ancients was based on in any case. She was determined to ensure that a more accurate version of the creation of the New World is passed down to the future generations than the garbled legends and folk tales of Moses and Joshua. She was also fully aware how destructive fundamentalism and fanaticism could be as she had seen its emergence among the Jesuits as well as with the Caesareans, albeit that the fundamentalists and indeed fanatics in each village had taken entirely different paths. Most of the conflict in the Valley had centred on religion and a fundamental lack of tolerance of individual and traditional differences.

Her energy and agility at her age continued to surprise and intimidate the villagers. Her very longevity gave rise to numerous myths and legends as to how she was able to maintain such a healthy life; hence the stories of drinking the blood of young people, consorting with devils and digging up the graves of their ancestors. Her secret was quite simple however; she ate frugally and healthily and kept physically active. Her diet consisted mostly of dried meats, fruits such as they could gather in the forests and vegetables from local gardens. Much of the latter were legumes and wild herbs which are indigenous to the area.  In addition she kept active and through yogic discipline, meditation and exercises was fitter than people half her age.

The colder climate which resulted from the cloud cover over the earth for the last 80 years, changed the vegetation of the area, but the soils were fertile and through the prudent use of bird guano and salts from the lake below Mt Brutus, they were able to produce substantial quantities of pumpkin, maize, cassava, sorghum, wild onions, mushrooms and naturally occurring fruits such as wild gooseberries, tomatoes, papaya, and various varieties of wild melons. Much of these were sensitive to the bitterly cold winters and as a result, the survivors of the Airbus disaster had built hothouses in the valley using the warm waters of the Bracken Lake to heat the interiors. In addition, their plantations of cannabis yielded substantial seed crops used for a variety of medicines as well as food and hemp used to make ropes, materials and even to strengthen the mixtures of mud and lime to build sustainable structures.

After the Great Flood and the drying up of the seas, the land had been virtually sterile for close to 2 stones until the incessant rains and winter snows had cleansed the land of the salt left behind. Pioneer shrubs and bush had started a new cycle of growth and vegetation, while the rivers from the mountains carried with them seeds from the forests. Within another stone, the river banks had established small forests and bush which in turn attracted wild animals and buck. The annual bird migrations brought exotic seeds in their guano from unknown lands from whence they had migrated, as well as fish eggs which clung to the legs of the waders and repopulated the rivers and lakes in the area.

It was the third day since the Red Priestess had spoken with the Jesuit priests. She was alone on the top of KRAT near the Source. Her seven acolytes had prepared the area for the drama that was about to unfold. They were now ensconced in the forest washing themselves as instructed by the Priestess in a pool close to the edge of a cliff. The Priestess told them that this was holy water and that they would be blessed if they washed here. As children they splashed around exuberantly and enjoyed the holy but cold waters. Afterward they felt refreshed but more importantly, also very special.

By pre-arrangement with her son, the High Priest would arrive towards sunset today with his entourage. The bird migration had not yet taken place. The Jesuits will start becoming restless today and possible even panic. This will drive them to her, something they had told her they would not do.

She was ready for the New Londoners and the Caesareans whom she had also invited to arrive today. The arrival of so many guests at the same time would heighten tensions and the drama.

In the Red Valley below her she could already make out the movement of a long, slowly winding single file of people climbing up the slopes of KRAT, looking so much like the fire ants they loved to eat. From beyond the City of the Jesuits, she could make out a group which probably hailed from Caesarea. The New Londoners would have arrived at the City of the Jesuits the previous day to barter their salts. Their Counter had predicted the next migration for tomorrow. No doubt they would have heard of the encounter with her from the Jesuit priests. It would not concern them at all as they held no truck with the mystics. However, they were just human and as inquisitive as the rest. They would be here today even if just to witness what she had to say. The promise of a New World was too big an issue to miss.

Within three hours, the tired pilgrims started to arrive at the Source. One by one they pitched small shelters with skins, grass and leafy branches from the nearby forest. By mid-afternoon, the area was almost unrecognisable. Shelters and bivouacs were spread out over the whole area.

The only area which had been excluded as a camping area was located below a rock overhang which was blackened by the smoke of many fires over years long gone. Under the overhang, large concentric semicircles of rocks had been placed as seats, while stone pillars had been built fanning out from the stage which was raised a little above the main floor. The latter was ‘furnished’ with square stones placed in neat rows all facing inward toward the stage. At the centre of the stage, a large flat stone had been placed on four small pillars to give it the effect of a waist high table. Behind this table, a large seat of honour had been built from stone, also in a semicircular fashion. It could seat at least three persons. This seat was decorated with mud which had curious whorls and lines floating and converging up towards the centre of the high back of the seat. At the centre of the seat, high above the head of even the tallest person, a large line drawing which seemed to have some red and blue colours in them, reflected on the auditorium like a large eye. The pupil of the eye was large and red. Traditionally, this area was avoided like the devil by especially the Jesuits who called it the work of Satan. The Caesareans believed the area to be haunted by the Ancients’ spirits.

Around the stone table, a smooth floor had been laid. The seats in the meeting place were situated in such a manner that all those present would be able to follow the proceedings. The meeting place, obviously very old and somewhat neglected over the last six stones, could accommodate roughly 150 persons.

As the sun set, small fires in the camps started creating a festive atmosphere and one could hear laughter and bantering. The New Londoners as well as the Caesareans had built their separate camps along the small river which flowed from the Sacred Source in an uninterrupted stream. It had been a source of wonder for the villagers for decades that this spring, which was the source of the River Esme in the valley, never dried up, regardless of rainy and dry seasons.

There was no sign of the Jesuits or of the High Priests as yet and the Red Priestess was getting slightly worried concerning the latter group as they were critical to her carefully constructed plans. She knew the Jesuits would arrive but would do so under protest and come only when the pressure in the village had mounted to unbearable levels.

A commotion interrupted her thoughts and looking over her shoulder from where she sat at the large table, she could just make out her son and his group of blue robed priests coming around the rocks. As they approached her, she could see that something was wrong. The High Priest’s eyes cautioned her from saying anything.

After pointing out where the group could lay down their packs and make camp inside the semicircle of stones, he walked to his mother and softly said:

“We have a problem.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“It’s the Jesuits. They’re massing at the entrance to their village. They’re up to something and I don’t like it. When we passed them they waved sticks and shouted at us but I could not hear what they were shouting.”

“I can imagine what. How many do you think are coming up here?”

“I’m not sure but at least 200, mostly men.”

“H’m more than I thought would have had the guts.”

“What I am worried about is what they will do to our plans. If they become aggressive and disrupt everything, we’ll not be able to influence them to our way of thinking.”

“Quite frankly my son, I think it’s wishful thinking on our part to even believe that they will swing our way. The New Londoners have the correct approach. They live and let live and are not concerned about the religions or mysticisms of others. The best we can try to achieve here is to get the ball rolling for the new exodus which I believe will bind us all together to a common goal; that is to get out of this accursed valley and move on. It will be more difficult than you can imagine. For many this has become home and they’re happy to stay here. They know nothing else. Remember I’m the only one who has seen the so-called Promised Land. I’m too old to make the journey so we’ll need a new leader, a new Moses if you like. This will start a destructive power struggle between all the villagers. Unfortunately the Jesuits have the upper hand in numbers. If it comes to a vote they will swing it their way. Maybe that’s why they want to be seen here in force. The significance of a march to freedom for the religious fanatics should not be under-estimated.”

“So what do you propose?”

“Well we need to balance the distribution of power between the villages and possibly create a small committee of five representatives from each village who can nominate a leader from their midst. It would be ideal if they could agree on somebody but I don’t think that will happen. Once we have three nominees that the committee is happy with, we should put them to a test in front of everybody.”

“What! They will never agree to that!” the High Priest rejoined.

“Maybe not. We will have to play it by ear. Maybe we need a more direct approach and establish a power base using the knowledge we have to manipulate them without them realising it. The Jesuits are very suspicious and will probably resist any attempts to do so. If we must make the nominations for a committee it should be subject to acceptance of the trial by the nominees. This will create a natural selection process for leadership which should include the qualities of a leader, physical prowess as well as spiritual and intellectual strength.”

The High Priest was very unsure of his mother’s ideas. He knew that the competition and rivalry among the villages was fierce to the point of destruction. This could trigger a war between them. Secretly he had hoped that he would be the natural leader as the direct descendant of the Red Priestess who had served as an ‘honest’ broker between the villagers for so many decades. He knew however that he did not enjoy the same respect or even fear as she did. In any case, the Jesuits were so blinded by their own dogma and righteousness they would reject any attempts from outside their Inner Circle to lead them. In like fashion the Caesareans were quite war-like and had a particular dislike of the Jesuits. While they did not hate the New Londoners in the same way, they were jealous of their achievements and tended to pooh-pooh their intellectual approach to everything.

The New Londoners would not pose a problem in or of themselves or to others, but they fiercely protected the rights of the individual, whereas the other two villages operated on a collective basis. Attempts to coerce the New Londoners into a collective way of decision making and functioning, would see them splitting away very quickly and going their own way. Whoever became the universally accepted leader would have a devil of a task on his hands, he mused.

Life was simple here in the valley; it was a case of eat or be eaten.

“Good,” the Red Priestess, who had been watching his body language, said. “I can see that you’re thinking about all the issues and challenges. We have to remain outside of the whole leadership debate and struggle. We must maintain our power base and independence. In that way, we’ll remain a force to be reckoned with. And this is where the ceremony in the next week or so becomes absolutely crucial. At the end of the gathering, there should be no doubt in any person’s mind as to our relevance and importance to the whole valley. If we fail, everything will be lost, including our lives! Of that I have little doubt.”

As night fell on the gathering, the young acolytes, male and female gathered to hear from their elders what was expected of them during the forthcoming event. They could feel the tension and realised that a lot would depend on them following instructions to the smallest detail.

Below, on the slopes of KRAT a long single file of torch-bearing Jesuits was slowly ascending the feared mountain. It had been instilled in them from childhood that this was an evil place and only to be visited when the bird migrations occurred. Most of them had never been to the Source at all as that had been forbidden outright by the Vicar General with the threat of dire consequences if they should break this rule. Nobody ever told them what these dire consequences would be. A young lovers’ couple who had ventured to the mountain a number of years ago never returned. It was said that their spirits were still roaming the area. On moonlit nights they could be heard to laugh out loud in a fashion to chill the bones of the bravest of them.

As they crested the plateau, the Jesuits stopped and camped where they were. They would only approach the Source in daylight. They made no attempt to acknowledge the Red Priestess or the High Priest.

Next to the stream at the Source, the camp of the New Londoners was the only one from which music and singing could be heard. Some young artists had fashioned instruments from reeds and wood and taught themselves music with drums, wind pipes and strings. The tunes they played had a strange and happy sound to them. A few of them were swaying to and fro with the soft rhythmic beat.

Their elders were sitting around a large fire and debating the events which they expected to witness the next day.

“I always thought of the Red Priestess as a fraud.” A man called Alan was speaking. He was an elder but was still quite young. He had developed a process for the production of energy from a series of levers and fulcrums which enabled them to move rocks and equipment over some distance without having to use muscle power. It was driven by a system of weights which were attached to springs fashioned from processed leather which could be wound and then by releasing it, drove levers which moved the rocks.

“It’s not that she’s a fraud, Alan. She is the only Ancient left and can teach us all a lot. I believe that we should have used her knowledge a lot more,” replied a young woman called Susan. She was known for the development of a process which enabled them to separate metals found in the ground. She had been the first to combine a very common shiny metal they called metal four (they had numbered the metals in the order of their  discovery) with a orange coloured metal (metal two) extracted from green stone which they could melt into a pliable and very strong alloy. This was used to make tools such as hammers, cultivating hoes and forks as well as larger implements such as ploughs. The New Londoners forbade the making of any weapons. Susan was now experimenting with a smelly yellow powder which they had crystallised from the water in the Bracken Lake. She discovered that when lit, it burned with an acrid smoke. Fresh fruit which was exposed to the smoke for a few days lasted for long periods without going rotten. She was also experimenting with a mixture of this powder with the charcoal left over from their fires which she ground fine. It burned with an intense white flame.

“I agree with Susan,” said Peter. He was sitting a little distance away from the fire and was carving a figure of a man and a woman embraced in love, from a local hard wood. The burnished figures shone in the bright light of the fire and seemed to dance and live in their love for each other. “The Red Priestess is our soul mother. That she is a bit strange I agree, but then so would we all be if we had lived as long and endured all she has gone through. I wonder what her secret of longevity is though. While I was walking in the bush the other day I thought I saw her riding a strange-looking animal but the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t make out what it was. Could’ve been my imagination, I guess.”

“No, it would explain her uncanny ability to appear in places long distances away from each other overnight. There have been all types of rumours concerning this over the ages, even the idea that she has a personal hyena which she rides,” said Alan.

“I believe she has tamed some type of animal and when she needs to travel long distances quickly she brings it out of hiding and rides it at night so that we cannot see her. The legend of the hyenas keeps us hidden in our homes. It works for her,” Peter replied laughing.

A tall silent man was sitting on the opposite side of the fire to Alan. He was quite swarthy but had bright blue eyes. He was not known to be talkative but when he spoke, the villagers listened to him. He spent a lot of his time alone, writing on the papyrus sheets. Nobody ever got to see his work except on one occasion when he had presented the elders with a document which explained a theory why he thought the earth was round. The theory had been debated at length but no conclusion had been reached yet. His name was Ahmed.

“The Red Priestess said to us that the ceremony would be the beginning of our exodus out of the valley,” he now said, “We need to think about this. Do we want to leave the valley at all and if so where do we go? The Great Divide has been the limit of our understanding of our world and no doubt what lies beyond it will be of great interest to our futures. I believe we should go and explore but maybe it should be done on the basis of sending out small scouting parties who can come back to inform us of their experiences. If we all go at once it is a high risk approach with no return.”

“Are you saying we are destined to stay in this valley for ever, Ahmed?” asked Susan.

“No, on the contrary. I am saying we haven’t actually debated the issue. Our presence on KRAT may hasten the process. We need to have a sense of what our response will be when it’s discussed in the next couple of days,” he replied.

“Well we’ll have to wait and see what the morrow brings,” Alan said. “It’s getting late now and I’m going to sleep. See you tomorrow.”

In the Jesuit camp all was quiet except for the Vicar General and his immediate priests. They lay in the dark under the awning they had erected, quietly discussing their plans for the morning.

“I do not want any dissent from any of you tomorrow. You must follow my lead in everything. If we do not stand together the witch will try to destroy us,” the Vicar General was saying.

“I agree,” a young and very serious priest named Timothy, replied. “There can be no doubt that she has planned something to strengthen her position and the power base of the priests. We have to destroy that once and for all in the next couple of days. I am just not sure how we do that. In my view we have the numbers and with Jesus Christ on our side we can overcome them without too much trouble.”

“It will not be that easy, Brother Tim,” another somewhat older priest responded. “I have witnessed the Red Priestess doing things which no-one could explain. She would not allow herself to be caught in the trap she had created for us. She is far too sly. We should not forget that. I would support the Father and follow his lead, but violence or a direct confrontation could be to our disadvantage.”

“Well, we need to see what she has in mind and what her plans are,” the Vicar General replied. “Remember that for years she has preached an exodus to the so-called New World. She seems to believe that this is nigh. I think that the gathering here is designed to manipulate all the villagers to support such an exodus. She will use her witchcraft to convince us. That is what we need to beware of. We must maintain our faith in Jehovah through the Lord Jesus Christ and get our inspiration from Him. If an exodus is indicated, we will need a new Moses, a leader who is tough and clever enough to lead us into the unknown but who at the same time is guided by Jehovah. Let us not forget that. Mark, when will the birds arrive? They are late and we cannot afford to be wrong,” he asked with some irritation as he turned sideways towards an old priest who was the official Counter.

“All my calculations indicated that the birds should have arrived either yesterday or today. One could sometimes be out by one or two days and I have never been out by more than two days,” he replied. He was worried as so much depended upon the birds arriving and that they were ready for the migration. The Vicar General was very sensitive about the reputation of the Jesuits and would not tolerate being embarrassed or having to defend their position.

“Well we cannot allow the witch to upstage us before the delegates who have congregated here on KRAT. It will make us look stupid. If they don’t arrive tomorrow we’ll really have a problem.”

“Father, you said something about an exodus being possibly indicated. How will we know that and what happens if the witch convinces the other villagers that they should move out of the valley? What is our position then?” asked Timothy.

“The witch will try that but we will have to convince them that they should follow our lead, not hers,” the priest replied.

“But what is our lead? If she says we should go and the other two villages support that, what are our options?” Brother Timothy insisted.

“The Lord our God will guide us Timothy, but I believe if the Lord gives us a sign to leave, then we leave, regardless what the witch says. Her days are numbered. If we leave the valley we will become the New Israelites and bring the glory of God Almighty to the New World. That is our calling and no-one, neither the witch nor the so-called High Priests, Satanists as they are, will deter us.”

“So be it, Father,” Timothy responded.

“Let us pray,” Father replied.

Their subdued prayers could be heard across the camp.

The Caesareans had set up a rough camp quite removed from the other camps. They built quite a large fire and all of their deputation was gathered around this. They stacked their weapons just beyond the reach of the firelight but within easy grabbing distance, should it be required. They were the only villagers who had brought weapons as these were the tools of their trade as hunters. They had fashioned bows and arrows with poisonous tips of fire-hardened hard wood; knives of the bronze metal they traded for meat with the New Londoners; as well as throwing spears with which it was rumoured they could hit a melon at fifty paces. Some had also brought with them their drums and some hollow wood instruments which they played especially when celebrating a successful hunt, birth or wedding.

“When will the birds arrive?” Benedict asked his Counter who was sitting next to him.

“My calculations indicated that they should have been here at least five days ago. Something is keeping them away, I think. It must be the red witch. Her powers are great.”

“Do you think they are greater than the powers of our gods? Isn’t it true that we have invoked their powers during the last three weeks? Are we being punished or what’s going on?” It was a hardened and grizzly bear of a man who was speaking.

He was their greatest hunter and had legendary tracking skills. It has been said that he could track prey over rock and through rivers and marshes. His name was Karl. He was a giant with a mane of blond hair that hung around his bearded face giving him an aura of untapped, raw power. Despite his size, he could stalk like a lion; he was fearless and had killed buffalo with a spear running beside his prey for miles until the animal dropped from sheer exhaustion and blood loss.  He was rumoured to drink the warm blood of his kill to ensure that the spirit of the buck or hare would enter his body and strengthen him. Karl usually hunted alone and at times would leave Caesarea for months on end, returning with furs which he had cured as well as meat, both salted and fresh which he bartered for whatever his requirements were. Often this would include the services of a whore.

It was also rumoured that he consorted with the Lost Tribe who were believed to be living beyond the mountains of the Great Divide.

The Counter had an intense fear of Karl. The man seemed to have an aura of a raw and terrible power around him. He had never had call to fear him, but the legends which surrounded the hunter were enough to send shivers up the spines of many people.

“Karl, we all believe that our gods have looked kindly upon us and especially upon you. Your hunting feats are enough proof of this,” the Counter responded, carefully measuring his words. It would not be good to irritate this man. It was well-known that when he had had too much fire-water, he would rage and smash things around him. Then everybody would get out of his way lest they felt the hammer-like blows of his fists.

As the leader of the Caesareans, Benedict instinctively understood the importance of gathering everybody’s support. Karl was an important figure in the village despite his reputation. He was normally quiet and withdrawn, not a man of many words but who had an uncanny ability to get to the nub of things quickly by cutting through the clutter of opinion and fanciful ideas. He did so now.

“If the birds don’t come, all the villagers will go hungry this winter; if the red witch is the cause of this she must be eliminated or her powers neutralised,” Karl replied.

The small group looked around them fearfully as if the priestess could hear them. This was strong stuff. Who would have the power to eliminate the witch?

“I think the birds will come when they will come. The gods of the clouds will take their own decisions and we need to be patient. The witch said she will demonstrate her powers and lead us to a new beginning,” said Benedict.

He also had a healthy respect for Karl although he did not fear him. Karl and he grew up together and were good friends. They used to play at hunting games as children and collected birds’ eggs on the cliffs of the hills of Caesarea. One of their favourite games was to hide from each other in the bush with the seeker allowing the hider at least 200 counts. Karl always used to win these games.

With these thoughts in their minds, the Caesareans turned to their beds but not before they had collected their weapons and placed them next to their beds with their hands clutching them in their sleep.

The Red Priestess lay on her blanket made from animal skins below the rock overhang in the auditorium. It was a place of many memories. This was where the small infirmary had been constructed after the crash of the Airbus. She had been but a child then. Such a long time ago, so much has happened. A new world; so much sadness; so much lost. Her memory of her father and mother was now a haze of red with ghosts from the past; ghosts from a very different world. She thought with a shudder of Amanda and the horrors brought upon them by the Lost Tribe. She thought about Alistair who together with Father Ridgeway had started the whole mystical rot in the valley. It all started with his so-called miraculous recovery from the injuries of the crash of the Airbus. She thought of Christine who fought the mystics tooth and nail and her tragic end at the hand of the very mystics now so revered by the Jesuits. She who together with Esme, Gary, John Duguid, Oscar and her husband Karl had established their village after the seas had receded. Christine had been her teacher. From her, she had learnt so many things because Christine was widely read and had an open mind. She thought also of Esme, sweet helpful Esme who faded like a beautiful rose after Beowulf left her home to seek his own fortune. She thought of the legends of Beowulf’s feats and ultimately his own disappearance from Red Valley only to reappear at times to leave behind offerings to his departed mother and the Red Priestess for whom he had a special regard. He was in fact their first great explorer. If only she could see him one more time.

The next few days will be critical for all of them and she was the only one who understood this, but the hardships which lay ahead of whosoever would have the task to lead them out of this red hell would require great strength and the support of everybody. Who could that be? The Jesuits could wreck everything with their ridiculous belief in a deity which was supposed to lead them out of here as he was supposed to have done with Moses and the people of Israel. To revive all these old legends and thereby strengthen a belief system which she thought of as not only being silly, but also destructive.

No, they needed a real leader who could weld them into a strong tribe which would survive all nature could throw at them. Their stay on Red Earth would be simple compared to what she knew lay ahead. She also knew that her son could not be that person. As much as she loved him she knew his weaknesses better than anybody else.

The time had come to bring Christine back. The time had come for the villagers of Red Valley to confront their history, the good and bad.

After a while, a quiet stole over the camp with occasional snorts and snoring emanating from the flimsy bivouacs that sheltered them.

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