Moses was a Liar: 3 EXODUS 1: The Gathering of the Tribes

Posted: October 9, 2011 in SciFi

 The new day dawned with its customary red glow in the east. The clouds were swirling around them and a fog had enveloped the top of KRAT. In the camps, movement could be heard rather than be seen. Villagers were yawning and stretching their stiff limbs from the unaccustomed beds they had slept on.   Camp fires started like small pinpricks of light through the mist. Women carried water to the fires to prepare their morning meals and to have some water to wash with.

The Red Priestess was nowhere to be seen. She had left the camp in the dark hours of the early morning together with her acolytes. They disappeared into the forest without anybody seeing them.

The High Priest and his followers climbed up on the hillock overlooking the Source. They were seated in a semicircle facing the High Priest who was briefing them about the day’s expected doings.

“It’s important that we’re seen to be a unit with the Red Priestess. She will lead the proceedings today. We expect to have a lot of trouble from the Jesuits, but hope that the Caesareans and New Londoners will be easier to handle.”

“What’s she going to do?” one of the priests asked.

“The first part of the ceremony will have to do with the bird migration which you know is late according to the Counters. The Red Priestess will ask the leaders of the villagers to attend a ceremony at which they will all have an opportunity to call upon the birds to descend from the clouds. She does not expect the birds to respond to any of their calls. This will take up the whole day and the followers of each village will be expected to wait and watch.”

“What if the birds do come, say today or tomorrow? Who will then be seen to have the strongest medicine or magic?” one of the priests asked.

“Each village will be given time to invoke its powers and to forecast the coming. So if the Jesuits say it will be tomorrow and the Caesareans the day after, so be it.”

“That seems like a gamble to me,” the priest replied. The other priests nodded in agreement.

“The Red Priestess has powers we can only begin to understand. She is an Ancient and has an understanding of these things beyond our ken. We must have faith in her; allow her to lead the villagers. She knows that the pilgrimage out of this valley is close and so do I. Let us not be of poor faith,” the High Priest replied. He also had doubts in his mother’s ability but he had seen the Blue and knew that whatever happened she would deal with it in her own way.

In the forest, the Red Priestess and the young girls were gathered in a clearing under the trees. The children were very wary of the surrounds as they were plains people who were not familiar with dense forests like this. They were used to seeing far around them. Here they could only see a few paces and the sounds of the forest were strange and threatening.

“You must listen carefully. Today we’ll begin the ceremony to call the birds. Each village will get a chance to show us how powerful their gods are. When the birds don’t arrive, I’ll call the birds and invoke my powers. It will be your task to ensure that all the delegates get refreshments. I’ve prepared water for you to use and the earthenware jugs have been placed in the Source to keep them cool. When I ask you to bring water, you are to go to the Source at the top of the hill and take the flasks out one by one and bring them down to the people to drink. I’ve prepared the flasks and filled them with water. Don’t drop the flasks. Anybody who asks for water must be given water. Is that clear?”

The girls nodded. Why couldn’t the people just drink from the river, they wondered?

“While I meet with the villagers, you are to stay behind me. Follow my lead and watch what I do. If I prostrate myself on the ground you do the same. If I raise my arms to the sky, you do the same. When I am quiet, you are quiet but when I chant or sing you are quiet too. Is that clear?”

The girls nodded.

“Sing with me,” The Priestess instructed. She knew that the children loved to sing with her. It would calm their nerves. She had taught them a few songs and if they didn’t know the words yet, they were encouraged to hum the tune with her. The Priestess sang the songs with so much feeling and sadness. It seemed to remind her of a time long ago when she had had a lover; when she’d been happy. They also knew that the songs held messages to them as they prepared for the days ahead.

As the song faded in the early morning, a slight movement behind them in the forest made them all start.

“Come closer, Karl,” the priestess said calmly, without looking behind her.

“How did you hear me? Not even the hare can hear my step nor the birds see me from the sky,” Karl the Hunter said warily as he stepped from the trees into the clearing. The young girls shrank away from him. They had heard the stories about him, his bloodlust, his sexual exploits and his fearlessness.

“I do not see like the bird or hear like the hare. I knew when you woke up and I knew what you were thinking. You must know that I was present the day you were born. Your mother was my friend. I knew your grandfather and he asked me to help you.”

“Help me? How? I’ve never had help from you. You’re a witch and I’ll never need your help, woman,” he replied, embarrassed that she had upstaged him but also shocked at the thought that his grandfather after whom he was named but has never seen, could have spoken to the same woman sitting here in front of him.

“Why do you think the hare runs to you? How do you think a buck that’s faster than the wind, would allow you to get close enough to shoot it with your arrows? Why do you think the wind always turns to suit your position when stalking? Yes Karl, you seem surprised. Can you remember the day when a rhino attacked you on the other side of the Great Divide?”

Karl gasped and went white as a sheet. As big as he was and as fearless of the night, this was trickery. He felt a cold sweat run down his broad back. He couldn’t believe that the witch knew about this. The rhino had almost killed him as he stood rooted to the ground when the massive animal lowered its head to impale him on its massive horn. He had been caught by surprise while stalking an eland and had not noticed the rhino standing quietly behind a bush watching him pass with its little eyes. As the animal got close to him in its thundering charge, crashing through thick thorn bushes as if they did not exist, he had closed his eyes in preparation of his imminent death. There was no time to run; nowhere to run to in any case. He could smell the animal’s filthy breath on him but then suddenly felt a hot wind embrace him. When he opened his eyes he was standing alone in the dust of the charge, unharmed. In the distance he could hear the rhino snorting, stamping in frustration, confused.

“How did you know? I was alone and far away from the Red Valley. Was it you who caused the rhino to turn?” he asked disbelievingly.

“There are ways that I have helped you that you do not know and there are things I know beyond your understanding. Remember this Karl, I was there and the rhino obeyed me. That is all you have to understand.”

Karl sat down with legs that did not want to support him. He had never had the opportunity to get so close to this woman or to speak to her about these things. Was it was destined to happen this morning that he’d walked down to the forest to find her and the young girls there waiting for him?

He looked at the woman with eyes full of wonder and even some fear. She certainly was of the Ancients, that he knew but this, this put her on a different level. Surely she was of the gods themselves. That would explain how she knew the birds were not coming as predicted; that is how she knew about him and the rhino; that is how she could move around the valley as quickly as she did; that would also explain how she survived all these years, he thought. Indeed she was to be feared.

“Why would you look after me, help me as you say?” he asked disdain crossed his face, yet there was something else, respect maybe, fear of the unknown certainly. “I have never done anything to help you. Indeed, I’ve never believed in you and your powers.”

“I know that Karl. You need not believe in my so-called powers. Your father hated me and kept you away from me. But it was my promise to your grandfather that I was honouring. Grandfather Karl was a good friend when I needed a friend; he was always there for me. He was the one that saved St Alistair from dying, who as you probably know, became the patron saint of the Jesuits. Your grandfather was a rough person but he had the guts to survive the early days and start a hunting culture of which you, young Karl are the finest product. Your grandfather would have been very proud of you.”

This was all news to Karl. Nobody had ever spoken to him in this manner. It had always been a case of survival for as long as he could remember. Even as a toddler, he was forced to fight for his place in the small village community. But he grew quickly. His sheer courage and size soon made him the village wrestling champion. He never knew his grandfather but his mother had always told him about him in their private moments together. She told him of her mother too but there was always something hidden about her; something the elders never spoke about; the shame of her or of what she had done was too much to bear. He never could find out.

“My grandmother. Did you know her?”

“Ah, young Karl,” the witch said with a far-away look in her eyes. “One day you’ll have to learn about her, but not today. She is not spoken of lightly and no-one knew her like I knew her. She was my teacher and taught me everything I know. One day I’ll tell you all. Now it’s time to go, the others will start wondering where we are.”

The villagers watched them emerging from the forest. They made a dramatic sight. The tall Red Priestess with her incredibly long hair, walking shoulder to shoulder with the even taller champion hunter. Their strides covered the ground rapidly. Fanned out behind them, the seven young girls half walked, half trotted to keep up with the adults. They looked like they were in a trance and looked straight ahead. Their hair shone; lit up by its own light.

The High Priest watched warily as they approached. Karl’s presence with his mother was a surprise. Karl was not to be taken lightly and his reputation as a Caesarean and womaniser put him in a category to be watched. What was his mother up to?

Benedict and the other Caesareans were also taken aback at the sight of their champion with the witch, especially in view of their discussion the previous evening around the campfire. Was this a portent of what was to come?

The Jesuits and New Londoners watched with some interest but had no opinion. As far as the Jesuits were concerned the witch was a witch and bore watching in any event. Karl’s presence was meaningless as Karl was a nonentity to them and above all, a sinner and fornicator. He was as damned as was the witch and would face judgement one day.

The New Londoners did not judge the Red Priestess or Karl for that matter. They went about their business of cleaning camp and preparing for the days’ events.

As the day wore on, nothing happened. The Red Priestess was playing for time. Karl had joined his camp and was sitting staring at the fire on which a pot was boiling water for their char, a brew of herbs they had developed and which was very popular among the villagers. He was thinking about what the woman had said. Why would she have protected him for so long? What was the bond between them? He could sense that bond now but had never been aware of it before. What did she have in mind for him?

In the Jesuit camp, a distinct unease could be detected. They had committed themselves by coming to this cursed plateau; they could not back off now. The witch had manipulated them and they realised it. Her power had to be destroyed, but how?

The Vicar General was seated at one of their fires and was contemplating his strategy. So much depended upon the migration of the birds, he mused. He called all his followers together and took out an old dog-eared book. This Bible was a source of wonder and devotion for all Jesuits. It is a relic of the Ancients and only the Vicar General was allowed to read from it. From it, they had copied the text for their own Bibles in long hand as they had been taught to do by a succession of priests.

“I will now read from the Holy Bible,” he said as he opened the Bible.

“This is a Psalm and a prayer for our protection from the wicked. It is Psalm 5, a psalm written by King David of Israel.

The Jesuits gathered around. They loved to listen to the stories from the Bible.

 

“Give ear to our words, O Jehovah,

Consider our meditation.

Hearken unto the voice of our cry, my King, and my God;

For unto thee do we pray.

O Jehovah, in the morning shalt thou hear our voices;

In the morning will I order our prayers to thee, and will keep watch.

For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness:

Evil shall not sojourn with thee.

The arrogant shall not stand in thy sight

Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

Thou wilt destroy them that speak lies:

Jehovah abhorreth the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

But as for me, in the abundance of thy loving kindness will I come into thy house:

In thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.

Lead us, O Jehovah, in thy righteousness because of our enemies:

Make thy way straight before our faces.

For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;

Their inward part is very wicked;

Their throat is an open sepulchre;

They flatter with their tongue

Hold them guilty, O God;

Let them fall by their own counsels;

Thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions;

For they have rebelled against thee.

But let all those that take refuge in thee rejoice,

Let them forever shout for joy, because thou defendest them;

Let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.

For thou wilt bless the righteous;

O Jehovah, thou wilt compass him with favour as with a shield.

Amen’

“Now let us be silent and pray”

“Almighty Jesus our Lord, through the Holy Mother Mary, we, your loyal and trusting subjects beseech thee to have mercy on our souls.

We pray Oh Lord for your deliverance

We pray for your guidance and the destruction of all that is evil

We call on you through the Holy Mother to strengthen our resolve and to arm us for what lies ahead. We are but weak and puny in your presence but armed with our faith and your power we are the most powerful force on this earth.

It is with our undying love, Oh Lord that we come to you and ask that you guide the birds to us this day so that we may partake of them and of your bounty, as it is written.

We ask that you forgive us our sins and that you forgive the sins of all who deserve it and are repentant.

In Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

All the Jesuits murmured an amen.

Shortly after, a commotion started in the camp like a rising wave on the sea shore. It seemed to originate with the New Londoners and moved rapidly, as commotions are wont to do, towards all the small camps along the river. Nobody could identify the origin of this but the message that floated through was for everybody to congregate in the auditorium under the rock overhang.

The auditorium filled rapidly. The Caesareans were virtually led by Karl who was excited by the prospect of what was about to happen. They were the first to take their places and sat toward the rear of the auditorium fanning out along the last two rows. They kept their hunting weapons with them.

The New Londoners were quick to follow and as the smallest group, congregated towards the left of the centre in a tight knot. They found the mysticism surrounding these occasions distracting and destructive. Reason and rationality was normally overruled by emotions, fear and false promises. Tolerance was forever the victim of violence and destroyed by brutism.[1] Nonetheless they were not going to miss the drama that promised to unfold.

The Jesuits were the last to arrive and as the largest contingent, filled up the rest of the spaces in the auditorium. They were taken aback by the occupation of the rear rows by the Caesareans and as a result were obliged to move closer to the front and that evil staring eye behind the main seat at the front of the amphitheatre. They were very uncomfortable and restless. They were also obliged to look upward towards the raised seat and look at the eye. Due to their numbers, some of the Jesuits had to sit on the ground or in the pathways.

They had barely taken their seats when a retinue of humming girls, followed by the priests entered and sat down facing the low table in a semicircle with their backs to the congregation. Behind them the Red Priestess and the High Priest entered and took up positions in front of the throne-like seat. Only mother and son remained standing, creating an incredible focus and impression of domination and power over the group facing them. The Vicar General stared down at his feet in an attempt to avoid looking up at them.

With the backdrop of the rock overhang and the layout of the small amphitheatre, the acoustics promised to be good enough for even those who were sitting in the back rows to hear what is being said at the front. Knowing this very well, the Red Priestess straightened her back, raising her tall body to its full height. She spoke in a clear voice which carried beyond the last member of the audience.

“I come to you in peace. You have all had a long day and are tired from your long march up the mountain to this sacred place. I know also that many of you are uncomfortable being here. I wish to put your minds to rest. I wish you to relax and participate freely in what will be going on here in the next few days. You are all welcome.” Her accent, although well known to most, was different to the tongues as they had developed in the three different villages ranging from the almost guttural, rough language of the Caesareans, to the more intellectual, cynical or questioning style of the New Londoners and the stylised monotones of the Jesuits.

To hear her speak still surprised those who did not have much contact with her. She did not sound like Satan’s disciple or one who commanded the hyenas at night. Her voice seemed to have a calming effect on people.

“I have arranged that water be brought to you by the young girls. You have merely to indicate by raising your hand and you will be served. This afternoon’s meeting was called by me for one purpose and one purpose only.”

Everybody listened very attentively. The Jesuit Vicar General was watching her every move. She was not to be trusted for one moment.

“But before I explain that to you, there are a few issues we need to clear up first. These are mainly administrative and deal with our stay here on KRAT. Firstly, as I have already said, you are all very welcome but in order that we are able to live together while at the Holy Place, we need to observe some rules. We come from different villages and different backgrounds. It is very easy to realise that differences will be felt and these may lead to intolerance and even serious confrontation between villagers or individuals. In the history of Red Valley, it has mainly been intolerance that has led to disunity, crime and even murder.”

A rustle swept through her audience like a light wind in the grass. What she was saying cut to the bone and many felt her eyes upon them.

“We need to maintain a respect for each other and to allow each and every individual here an opportunity to raise a question or to voice his or her opinion. That is the first and most important rule. The second rule is to respect each other’s space and camps. We must share water and wash from the Source. Ablutions may not take place in the river but only in the communal baths which have been marked for this purpose in the forest.”

She continued with these basic rules taking her own life experience after the Airbus disaster into account. She was just repeating what took the survivors of the disaster many years to develop to ensure that they could survive. Live and let live.

The audience listened quietly as she spoke. What she was saying made a lot of sense but the Vicar General was getting more and more uncomfortable. He perceived her talking as just another sly manner to control everything and to establish her power base. When question-time came, he jumped up: “The Jesuits feel that these are your rules. You have not discussed them with us. You have no mandate to prescribe to any of the villagers here,” he said turning to see if the others were in agreement. Many of them were, but not all. Somewhat encouraged he continued: “You have called us here; you have dictated the timing to suit yourself and now you further dictate to us your so-called tolerance and clean living. Yet you are the one that we cannot tolerate in the presence of the Holy Trinity. Neither can we tolerate witchcraft and blasphemy.” He almost shouted the last sentence as he fixed his glare on the Caesareans as well.

“What is your question, Father?” The priestess asked softly but with a steely undertone. She stared straight at him. Her blue eyes seemed to see through him. “Do you have a problem with any of my suggestions? You responded to my invitation to meet here on KRAT. You were not forced to do so. Is anything I have asked of you, against your principles or wishes? Would you like to add something?”

“Well, Ah um,” the priest stuttered trying to regain the ground he had lost so quickly. How did she do that? It was witchery!

“I propose we all take a vote to agree or to disagree with what the Red Priestess said.”

The proposal came from an unexpected quarter. It was Karl. He was standing in the back row and speaking loudly. “If we have anything to add or change let us hear it,” he continued. “I for one would like to propose that we accept her rules and respect each other but that a small council with representatives from all three villages be established to oversee the process and ensure that we all stick to these rules. Two members from each village should be enough to do this.”

“Aye,” the general assembly agreed. It made sense and it gave them a say in things as well, on an equal basis.

The Red Priestess was delighted. This was exactly as she had hoped things would pan out. She and the High Priest would be absolved from judging others or be accused of controlling them. But the real bonus was that the Vicar General had been upstaged. He now sat down and started whispering to his priests.

The matter was put to the vote and the majority accepted Karl’s general proposal as well as the amendment. When this was done, she called for nominations to the Oversight Council as it was now called.

The members of the Council were Karl and Benedict from the Caesareans, the Vicar General and the priest Timothy and from the New Londoners it was Ahmed and John. It was also agreed that the Council will meet once to establish its protocol and thereafter only when the need arose. Their first meeting was scheduled for the following day but as it turned out the need for such a meeting would be overtaken by events.

It was time for the gathering to hear what the Red Priestess, who had been quietly observing the discussions, had to say.

She stood up from her seat again and addressing the meeting, said: “We have progressed from being three deputations to a common gathering with a special purpose. As I said to you earlier today, we have but one purpose here on KRAT. I have invited you as representatives of the valley’s villages to discuss our joint futures in the long term. I know that I will not share that with most of you but it is something that has been my life’s dream since arriving from the clouds on this mountain top.”

Again that uneasy rustling and shifting on hard stone seats, among the crowd. She was from the clouds!

“Blasphemy and lies!” the Father muttered but kept his thoughts to himself. His opportunity would come. Damn the witch to hell!

“I have seen the Ancient world and I have flown over the seas. I know that when the time is ripe we will return to this world. Our gathering here is to start the process of returning. It will not be easy and we will have to discuss and plan for all possible dangers and threats. There will be times when you will curse me for encouraging you to leave the Red Valley. Many of you will never reach the final destination. Maybe there is no final destination but to remain a wandering tribe like lost souls such as the Israelites who wandered in the desert for forty years. It is for this reason that I believe we need to plan and find a way to go forth into the unknown. But first we must concentrate on the immediate future before any discussions can start on the exodus. We must call on the birds to bless us all with their visitation. The three Counters have all failed to correctly predict the coming of the birds. The best prediction has been for the birds to arrive two days ago and even today we still see no birds. Have we been cursed? Will hunger and deprivation descend upon us? No, I will give every village leader or Counter the opportunity to address you and to explain why the migration has not happened. If he is prepared to wager his reputation upon a prediction when the birds will arrive, so be it.”

Pausing she looked at the gathering and seeing no objection called upon the New Londoner’s Counter to make the first presentation.

Their Counter Ari, had brought with him a papyrus document with figures and tables on it. Standing in his group, he looked at the Red Priestess and then turning to the crowd, addressed them: “The New Londoners have no absolutely accurate method to predict the coming of the birds. We do not believe they are a blessing from the gods of the clouds or from any other gods for that matter. In fact we do not support the notion that gods actually exist.”

This created a massive stir among the Jesuits especially. This was infamous blasphemy and would not go unpunished; tolerance indeed!

“We believe that birds need to move from climates where food becomes scarce, to other areas where food is plentiful. We also believe that the Red Floods and the New Age forced the birds to congregate on high mountain tops such as this one, KRAT. We have all seen and heard that the history of the Red Valley states that the flood waters remained here for two migrations before the great schism developed in the Great Divide thus draining the valley and allowing our forefathers to descend from KRAT and populate the valley. The birds were very much in a similar position and for two years roosted on this mountain. This created a new pattern of migration and they settled into this routine which at the end of the day was to the advantage of our forefathers and to us. We have been recording the migration patterns now for the last two stones or 20 migrations.”

“We have noticed changes to these patterns. It is all recorded on this papyrus book of ours. The changes have been happening slowly, almost unnoticed unless you actually study the birds, their numbers, the types of birds and how long they remain. We have consequently realised that overall, the bird migrations have been getting steadily smaller. Twenty migrations ago we could not see the cliffs for the swarms that covered them. We could smell their guano down the valley. The variety of birds was very large. Now what we see is but a small fraction of this. We have noticed that certain species have stopped migrating completely, such as the large herons. When did you last see any sea-gull here on KRAT? In our calculations we have concluded that only about one third of the birds which migrated here twenty migrations ago came here during the last migration.”

There were several gasps from the gathering as they looked at darkening skies above them. The birds must come. Most of them had not realised the reality of a diminished bird migration. After all, it was with the blessing of the gods that they came in any event. So who counted them? Apparently only the New Londoners. They dealt with reality and with facts, not with supposition, superstition and conjecture.

Continuing in a clear and confident voice, Ari stated while looking straight at the Red Priestess: “We’re not able to tell you when the birds will arrive on KRAT as much as you cannot tell when a seed will sprout except by approximation. We do know that they are overdue according to their patterns of migration in the past, but many things could influence this such as weather systems far from Red Valley, winds which may blow them off course and dangers such as volcanoes and fires. It is our expectation that the birds must arrive that creates the pressure and which causes people to start looking at the gods and mystics and to burn sacrifices. The bigger the perceived threat, the stronger these forces come into play. We therefore decline with respect, your challenge that we predict the coming of the birds and say only that we will know when they arrive.”

He sat down. It was the longest speech and lecture he had ever given and he was quite breathless. John who was sitting behind him slapped him on the back in congratulations.

The Red Priestess had listened very carefully. She knew from what her teacher had told her that much of what the New Londoners’ Counter said to be true. She would however not take sides but rather allow the Counters to give their views without prejudice. In this way they would paint themselves into their own little corners.

The Red Priestess called upon the Counter from Caesarea.

He was a very different kettle of fish to the previous speaker. He was a rather dishevelled individual, quite rough looking and clearly not as well equipped intellectually as the New Londoner. He carried with him only a board made of slate rock found in the valley to write on. He also was worried about what Benedict had said the previous night. It was clear that he had lost ground with the leader.

“Caesarea did not waste its time counting birds over the last twenty migrations,” he began rather grandly. “We had things to do, a village to build, hunt and create a working relationship with our spirits. We have succeeded in doing that as can be seen by the wealth we have created, the food we eat and our fortified village.” As he said this, he watched from the side of his eyes whether Benedict was approving his praise of the Caesareans. “We know that our guardian spirits have their reasons for delaying the coming of the birds. We have heard the rumblings in the red skies above us and we have seen that the gods are busy. We are but puny beings and cannot prescribe to the gods what to do or to please us. We did indeed predict that the birds would arrive either yesterday or the day before, yet they chose not to. What we must now ask is why? Why are we being denied access to our rightful crop of eggs, feathers and meat? Why are the creatures in the bush, the snakes, the mongoose, the foxes and jackal looking out for the birds? We as Caesareans have concluded that evil forces are at work. We’re sure that something has happened to slow the birds. It may be an evil wind or the breath of an outcast of the clouds, or,” here he paused dramatically turning to the Red Priestess, “the cause may be closer than we realise.”

He paused for effect again. The crowd was spellbound. The fireworks were about to start.

“Why is it that we were invited here, at this time? Why are we all gathered here instead of merely awaiting the coming of the birds at our homes as is the normal way? Who’s to gain the most from this gathering? I say to you, we all know the answer to that question?” His voice had dropped to a level so low that people had to cup their ears to hear him.

The Priestess sat quite still. She had expected the attack but not from this source. The Caesarean was a more dangerous rival than she had realised. It was best not to respond just yet.

Talking with his eyes downcast, yet staring at the gathering, and suddenly shouting, causing all to jerk straight up in fright and pointing to her, said:  “We know it’s the witch and her doings. Now she wants us to be exposed before all of you. But we’re not intimidated. We’re protected from evil by our guardian spirit, Zyndileka and she will lead us in this as well.”

At the mention of the spirit’s name, the priestess smiled to herself. Zyndile had been her friend and mentor and had taught her all she knew about the bush, herbal medicines and even folklore of the Zulu people. Her abilities with animals came from Zyndile’s understanding and oneness with nature. Zyndile had also inducted her to the darker crafts of umThakathi which often preyed on the gullibility of people but was at the same time steeped in rites, ritual, magic, mass hypnosis by dance, chanting and the beating of drums which, when combined with soporific and hallucinatory drugs such as cannabis, had a powerful effect on participants.

She and Zyndile had been friends for all of two stones during which time Zyndile, who had settled with the Caesareans, had married a man named Tom who had been a famous athlete. They had had three children before Zyndile died during the birth of their youngest son. He grew up to become the father of Benedict, the leader of the Caesareans. Zyndile’s spirit was later sanctified by the village 2 stones after her death. It was also Zyndile who together with Tom and Karl had built this amphitheatre. She had plastered the seat with mud and was personally responsible for its decorations and especially the eye in its centre. For this purpose, she had mixed clay with dyes extracted from the roots of plants in the forest. The priestess felt comfortable under the watchful eye of Zyndile. The Caesareans were not aware of her relationship with their deity.

“The Caesareans therefore state,” the Counter continued with his monologue, “that if the cloud gods smile upon us and our guardian spirits protect us, the birds will arrive on the morrow. If they are however angry, they will withhold them until it suits them. We also say that if the gods are angry with us, we the villagers of Red Valley will hold the witch responsible. We will await a signal from our spirits and we say to you all, take heed let us not be caught unawares.” With this he sat down, looking all the while at Benedict for support.

“A typical mystic,” the priestess thought to herself. They cover them selves with bluster, allocating guilt where no guilt exists and point away from themselves.

Benedict did not show either support or rejection of the Counter’s prediction. It was a safe prediction as he had covered himself and the village, both ways. His attack on the Red Priestess also put the village in a safe place. He knew the priestess well and knew also that she would deal with the attack in her own way. The Counter was but a pawn in the game which was being played out before all of them.

“I now call on the Counter of the Jesuits.”

The priest named Mark, stood up and remained standing behind his seat. He ignored the priestess and addressed the audience.

“We, the Jesuits have decided to attend this pagan gathering at sufferance, as our Lord, Jesus Christ would have done. According to the Gospel of Luke it is thus written,” he opened his Bible at a pre-prepared mark, “and when the multitudes were gathering together unto him, he began to say, this generation is an evil generation: it seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For even as Jonah became a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.[2]

He put down the Bible and continued: “We are not here because of the witch and her evil doings. We are here to say to the gathering that the coming of the birds is not a sign of the cloud gods as there can only be one God, our God Jehovah. We are shocked at the total lack of faith displayed by both the New Londoners with their so-called scientific approach as well as the paganistic approach of the devil worshipers, the Caesareans. We are of the one and only true faith and it is only through faith in Jehovah the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit that you will be saved. We are not here to prescribe to God when the birds should arrive but we have prayed and we believe that God will answer our prayers that the birds will arrive. The evil powers of the witch and her followers will be answered by fire and damnation.” At this he turned and looked straight at the priestess with undisguised loathing.

“As the Counter of the Jesuits, I have calculated that the birds should have been here two days ago. It is God’s will that they have not arrived and we await God’s pleasure as we are but sinners all, in His eyes.”

After that the Counter sat down and the gathering sat quietly to await the next move of the priestess.

They were tired and hungry.

Many hands had been raised for water during the meeting and the young girls scurried around giving them water from large earthen-ware jugs. They poured this into containers made from the bark of a special tree found only on the plateau. The waters had a calming effect on those who drank of it. The effect was very subtle and almost unnoticeable. Most ascribed their sleepiness to the long day. In the water was a potion which emanated from the bark which was virtually tasteless. The dark was now gathering quickly and the young girls had lit candles and torches along the side of the small amphitheatre.

The Red Priestess stood up and said: “We have listened to the Counters and we have heard their views. It is getting dark and fires need to be lit and food prepared. Tomorrow we will gather here at the same time. I will provide you with answers to the many doubts you may now have and questions you may wish to ask. Let us return to our camps and spend the rest of the day in peace.”

She turned and walked out of the amphitheatre without a backward glance. The High Priest and his retinue as well as the girls did the same. They disappeared into the gloom.

The deputations got up and started arguing heatedly among themselves. They remained in three groups without talking to each other.

The closing speech of the priestess was something of an anti-climax for them as they had expected her to launch a counter-attack on the Jesuits and Caesareans. Her response was a bit of a puzzle. Their differences were vast, that much was clear. As they filtered out of the auditorium, comments were heard, some accompanied by laughter, some quite serious.

“So when are the bloody birds coming?”

“Can you believe that they’ve actually been counting them?”

“She’s a cool one that.”

“Did you see the sweat on the brow of the Caesarean Counter? He looked very worried despite his bravado.”

“I think he was expecting her to cast a spell on him,” followed by laughter.

“What’s for supper?”

Fires started to appear; magic lights on the plateau. Some banter and laughter could be heard but the calming effects of the water they had been drinking caused drowsiness which combined with food would soon see the bulk of the villagers off to bed. The smell of food cooking or meat grilling on the fires spread on the wings of smoke tendrils which curled and crept through the camps and into the dark was followed by subdued eating and some laughter. Slowly the camp came to rest.

In the dark, it was silent.


[1] The practice of achieving one’s aims through the use of brute force, violence or insensitive behaviour. Author.

[2] The Bible: Luke: 11:29-30

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