And on the first day,

there was light as it is written

and spoken from heathen mouth;

 and in the night we were blinded but

 by the grace of the Red Angel we were redeemed.

Through sorcery and magic

the past became the present and

 the future became the past

the stench of guilt

lay its heavy cloak upon us

and we were struck by hammer blows

of belief most foul.

We knew not whence to flee

when out of the mists rode a giant who

 bade us follow or be lost forever

And thus it came about

 

During the whole of their first day of sunlight, the villagers of Red Valley, watched in wonder as the sun rose to its zenith; then slowly sank to the west as the Red Priestess had predicted. The fiery sunset over the mountains to the west of KRAT silenced the watchers once again. As the sun touched the horizon it seemed to melt into the earth in a molten mound to shrink into mere drops before being swallowed up by the dusk of nightfall.

Silently they returned to their lean-tos to prepare their first meal of the day. Everything lay as it had been left in their panic during the night when the drum had bundled them out of their warm beds. One by one the stars started to flicker again, lighting the skies with their magic. It looked like a giant hand setting flame to tiny candles until the darkened sky seemed to pulse and quiver.

Soon a villager from Caesarea called out to all to look to the east as a white light seemed to appear over the horizon, majestically different; cold to their eyes, yet startlingly bright. Again they all shouted as they rushed to hear what the Red Priestess had to say about this, a new body in the sky.

Gathered in the amphitheatre, she explained the wonders of the night sky again but with more emphasis this time on the earth’s lunar satellite as it rose in the full glory of a full moon.

However as she spoke, a dark cloud seemed to impinge upon the light from the moon. As the cloud covered the moon, it became a pitch dark night again.

“Have we been blinded?” someone asked in a hushed voice, voicing the question on everyone’s mind as their eyes tried to adapt to the dark after the bright light of the full moon.

“No it is but a cloud and will pass soon…watch,” Rachel instructed.

“Tomorrow will be the second day of the prophecy. Tonight you must rest for you will need strength.”

Many of the villagers remained on the hillock to watch the stars and the passage of the moon across the new skies. To them this was a miracle. What had become of the gods of the clouds? Where will their rain and indeed the birds now come from? How will they know when the gods are angry or playful?

The next morning dawned as spectacularly as the previous day. It was the second day of the predictions of the High Priest. He had been watching the unfolding of his premonitions with as much wonder as the rest of them. He did not understand how it came about that he could predict some things and others not; or how it came about at all that he had this so-called gift. When his mother realised that he had ‘vision’ as she called it, she helped him to develop it by giving him games to play as a child. Some of these games entailed trying to guess what she held in her hands behind her back; she taught him to meditate and by centering himself, she got him to sense rather than ‘see’. This indeed became one of his favourite past-times and he became very adept at meditation, being able to reduce his body rhythms and enter into a trance whenever he wished to do so. This gave him clarity of mind and an incredible ability to focus.

Towards midday a dark cloud started gathering to the north of KRAT. It was shaped like a giant hand with its fingers outstretched toward KRAT. None of the villagers really took note of it until it started to grow swiftly and seemed to twist and turn in upon itself. Alive and evil it grew to enormous proportions within the space of a very short time and sped towards Red Valley. As it approached, the audience on KRAT, now watching spellbound, noticed a large funnel descending to the ground. It twisted and spun with a roar they could hear from a long distance away. Never having seen a tornado before, the villagers on KRAT watched in horror as it directed itself to the Bracken Lake and seemed to suck the salty water directly into the clouds only to dump thousands of tons of brine and mud on their plantations two hundred metres away. The tornado continued on its destructive path and after just by-passing New London on its left, seemed to follow the River Esme towards KRAT.

Panic started to grow among the villagers as they saw and heard what the terrible wind was doing. This was surely a sign that the cloud gods were angry and demonstrated their terrible power by destroying their fields. As it approached the slopes of KRAT, the plateau seemed to deflect its path causing the tornado to veer to the left towards the City of the Jesuits. It struck the village with its full force. Pandemonium erupted on KRAT as horrified Jesuit spectators watched their homes being destroyed like houses of straw; in the village itself the villagers were running helter-skelter to avoid flying debris and to protect their families. Overhead the tornado seemed to hesitate, satiated by its spoils in the village. The clouds curled upon themselves; the green tinge in the inner core darkened, lightened. Clearly the gods of the clouds had come back with a vengeance and had wreaked their revenge on the Jesuits. Revenge for what? Many of the Jesuits fell to their knees and implored their God Jehovah, through His Son, Jesus Christ to have mercy on them and their families.

The tornado then as if in answer, relenting, seemed to shrink as it moved away from the now wrecked village, out towards the red plains and the Temple of the High Priests in the distance, where it disappeared leaving only torrential rains behind as the clouds spread over the whole of the valley.

The villagers on KRAT were screaming and shouting at each other to get down to their families. New Londoners and Caesareans alike sped down the precipitous goat’s path together with the Jesuits towards the village to help. The Vicar General and his fellow priests followed in haste down the slopes.

Everyone stopped in horror as they entered the village and saw the destruction the tornado had wreaked. Many homes were flattened; the streets were littered with rocks, solid wooden beams and uprooted trees had been snapped like thin sticks; bodies could be seen lying around and a wailing could be heard as lost children, who had escaped the storm, looked for parents and parents looked for children and family members.

Survivors rushed up to the Vicar General shouting and screaming: “What have you done to us?”

“Where have you been?”

“What’s going on?”

“Our village has been destroyed!”

As they shouted at the priest, they suddenly noticed that the Red Priestess had followed the Vicar General. She was accompanied by the High Priest and all the acolytes. The crowd shrank back in horror and amazement. This was their doing; everything had gone wrong since she had called for the gathering on KRAT. She was the witch and she must now bear the consequences of the tragedy which had befallen them.

The Vicar General was quick to see the opportunity given him as if in answer to his prayers. Shouting to his villagers and pointing at the priestess: “It was of her doing! She called the gods of the clouds! She’s the one who sent them away, banished the clouds and called on the heavenly bodies. She is Satan incarnate. Arrest her! Arrest all of them, the tainted children as well!”

The Jesuit crowd hesitated while the New Londoners and Caesareans who were standing near the priestess gathered around her. Karl was carrying his weapons; he moved closer to Rachel.

The Vicar General was screaming in fury; it seemed that his face would explode with anger. His followers and especially those who had witnessed the drama on KRAT were confused. Their fear of her powers as well as their new respect for her somehow seemed to hold them back despite the Vicar General’s orders. Then there were the predictions; was this her doing or was she warning them? The uncertainty made them all hesitate.

Father Timothy stepped forward and holding up his hands in the air, tried to placate the crowds. A sullen silence settled over the angry, frightened Jesuits. Someone was going to pay for this wanton destruction. The Vicar General turned in amazement as he watched Br Timothy address the crowd. This was unbelievable! He would pay dearly for his insubordination. Clearly the witch had turned him against his superior.

“Brothers and sisters, our hearts cry for our loved ones and for our village. God has seen fit to visit us with His wrath. We understand your anger and desire for vengeance, but it is written that vengeance is not ours but of the Lord our God, Jehovah. It is our calling to behave in a Christ-like manner and not to wish harm upon others. We have learned and we are still learning, so I beseech you to consider your actions and whatever you decide, let it be God’s will and not of man’s vengeance.”

The Jesuits were confused. Br Timothy had never addressed them in this manner. What had taken place on KRAT? It was the role of the Vicar General to take the lead, but this leadership seemed to have shifted to the shoulders of the younger man. The Vicar General leaped forward, pushing the younger priest out of the way: “Brothers and sisters. Listen not to Br Timothy. He has been bewitched by the witch and her consorts. He speaks without knowing what it is he is saying. He speaketh not in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am the sole representative of God. You the citizens of our City, have chosen me at the general convocation and you have mandated me.”

Somebody from the crowd yelled: “We want revenge for what has happened to our loved ones and to our village. We do not want political speeches from you or Br Timothy. Give us the witch!” The crowd started to surge forward.

“Yes, brothers and sisters I support your need for revenge…”

At this moment Karl leaped forward, shouting in his deep voice: “Fools and laggards. You are the cowards and speakers of treason as has been predicted by the High Priest. You wish to destroy that which is good and uphold all that is evil. It was said that you shall be struck down by the wrath of light; that you shall be banished into the night. Upon you rests the weight of your passions; passions which have no mind; you have the choice to grow or to wither like a beanstalk in the drought; you can brandish your weapons to seek revenge but the blood you spill shall cost you dear.”

He emphasised his words by slapping his massive club into his large hand. The Caesareans gathered round him in support.

The Vicar General was about to shout to his followers when the Red Priestess walked forward, causing the crowd to shrink back again to avoid contact with her. She stepped to the Vicar General and slapped him so hard that the sound of it reverberated through the ruins of the village.

A low moan seemed to shudder through the crowd. Nothing like this had ever happened. She had struck the Holy Lord’s Apostle! Surely Jehovah’s wrath will now be visited upon her.

The Red Priestess turned to the crowd and in her penetrating but calm voice said to them: “I am deeply saddened that your village has been selected by the destructive and terrible wind. What has happened to your village and to your loved ones is not of our doing. You have all seen the opening of the skies which we have been expecting for many years, yes even before you were born. These winds and destructive storms have nothing to do with the wrath of a god of Satan or of any spirit. It is a weather system which you need to understand. Mystics such as Father Joshua here use these incidents to frighten you in order that you comply with his wishes and the wishes of his god which he conveniently interprets for you.”

‘Witch, sorcerer! Speak not to us to so deafen our ears,” a man in the crowd shouted again.

The Red Priestess beckoned to all to be calm, and raising her voice said: “Let me also open up to you the darkest history that this valley and indeed this village, has hidden from all of you. If you seek revenge then that revenge shall be visited upon you tenfold.”

She dug into her red robes and pulled out a shiny object, the like of which they had never seen. The angry mob shrank back at the sight of the unfamiliar object.

“What I have here in my hand is called a camera. It is able to record pictures of anything you wish to record. It is of the Ancient world and I brought it with me when my metal bird that flies high in the sky, crashed eighty years ago on the plateau of KRAT.”

The audience gaped at her and at the strange object. The camera which was ‘state of the art’ 8 decades ago, was still fully functional, with its M-13 and very thin lithium-ion polymer batteries which had been developed by materials-scientists specialising in nano-fabrication in 2009. These high-tech marvels of engineering functioned organically through the use of viruses which aligned themselves into electrodes and cathodes and although the world had not been there to applaud its brilliant success, Rachel had put the camera to good use since their arrival on KRAT. With the ten 120 gigabyte memory discs her father had bought for her, she had been able to record a great amount of what was going on. She had even used it to interview survivors in the early days after the disaster.

The history of the Airbus disaster had been passed from generation to generation orally and except for the New Jesuit Testament, which reflected the Jesuit perspective of their history in the valley, no written account of the disaster had been recorded. This version of their collective history did not reflect the technology of the Ancient World but rendered their coming to the Red Valley as an act of God. The camera was as much magic to them as the incantations of Merlin were to the legendary knights of King Arthur’s Round Table.

Rachel continued: “This camera is powered by the light of the sun which you for the first time witnessed rising yesterday and this morning. Yes, even the clouds could not hold back the magic rays of the sun. With it I recorded, as a child in Red Valley, things which I found to be of interest, to record our history in pictures that move.”

Again the crowd gasped and whispered to each other. They moved even further back from the witch.

“With this camera, I will show you what your grandmother looked like, Benedict,” she said turning to where the leader of the Caesareans was standing.

“..and yours, Karl,” she added looking at his perplexed and shocked face.

“I will also show you what the father of this man you call the Vicar General, perpetrated on the kindest and most wonderful woman who was my teacher; this man, whom you worship as saint and saviour of the Jesuits in this valley,” she said pointing to the Vicar General.

The Red Priestess called on all to follow her to the Jesuit Church which had survived the tornado. The crowd, forgetting their howls for revenge, jostled to get inside and swept before them the Vicar General and the Inner Circle. New Londoners and Caesareans alike were fascinated with the prospect of being shown something of the Ancients.

Inside the dark church, Rachel paused to set up her small camera which acted as a projector when the viewer was set to project, aiming it at the wall behind the pulpit and below the crucifix.

The wall started to glow for a minute and much to everyone’s amazement, pictures started to emerge with faces of persons unknown to them which laughed into the audience. This was magic of the most powerful kind as the crowd shrank back; some of the weaker souls ran from the building only to stop and crawl back as their curiosity got the better of them.

Rachel pointed to an image on the wall: “Benedict, this was your grandmother, her name was Zyndile. She was a Zulu princess. She was my best friend and taught me about medicines. She married this man, called Tom. They had had three children before she died during the birth of their youngest son who was your father. She was also the one you Caesareans call Zyndileka, Spirit of Kindness and Protector against evil.”

There was a shocked silence as they looked at the black woman with the fine features on the wall in front of them. It was the first time for them to see a black face. The Caesareans were dumbstruck. Their spirit had a face and above all she seemed very human.

Benedict could not believe what he was seeing. The tears coursed down his face as he watched the spirits and ghosts from the past. He knew from the stories from his parents, that what the woman was saying was indeed true.

The Red Priestess flipped through the pictures on her camera, pictures which had kept her sane in her self-imposed exile in her cave over the years; pictures which had also helped her maintain her resolve to exact justice when the occasion presented itself. This occasion had now arrived.

“Ahmed, this was your grandmother, her name was Shenaaz and here is your grandfather, Gary on the day they wed. This was my own father who predicted the disaster which hit the world on that fateful day when we flew from the City of London. Here he is standing with my mother, June and my sister, Elizabeth. I was but 12 years old when we left London.” The spellbound audience could hear the break in her throat. She was human after all, many of them thought.

“Karl, this was your grandmother and my greatest teacher and mentor. Her name was Christine and she was married to your grandfather after whom you are named. He was a great hunter just as you are.”

Karl watched the pictures of his grandmother in amazement. She was a pretty woman who seemed to be smiling all the time. She waved at the camera and Karl unwittingly waved back at her much to everyone’s amusement. Laughter rippled through the church.

Rachel stopped the camera and fiddled with it for a while.

Behind her the Vicar General rushed to grab the demon’s camera from her, but Karl stopped him with a swipe of his massive arm bowling him over flat on his back. He glowered at the fallen man who crawled away into the crowd.

The picture on the wall lit up again. This time the audience was able to recognise the area where the video had been taken. It was in Red Valley, but a very different and barren valley. The Great Divide could be seen in the far distance but it was the activities in the forefront on which they now focused.

It was a scene close to a much smaller and newer New London but New London nonetheless. They could see a crowd gathered around a large stake which was planted in the ground. Tied to the stake shaped in the form of a cross, they could make out the figure of a woman. The stake was planted in the ground and the woman’s figure was suspended above the ground in a grotesque imitation of the crucifixion the Jesuits worshipped.

She was naked.

The audience in the church shrieked in horror as a man clothed in the garb of a priest came into view. He was accompanied by a large group of men who formed a ring around the priest to protect him. He walked up to the stake and now for the first time they could see that firewood had been packed around the stake. The priest was shouting something at the woman while she just looked at him with a look of pity. As the camera zoomed in to her face they could see that it was the face of Karl’s grandmother, the once smiling and happy face of Christine. She said something to the priest whereupon he threw his hands up in the air and sinking to his knees, grabbed a flaming torch with which he lit the firewood. The flames quickly spread and as they grew they could see the woman screaming in pain as her skin started to blacken and peel off from her raw flesh. While this happened, the priest could be seen to dance around the fire waving his arms in the air and screaming something to all around. At this point the picture started shaking, loosing focus and blurring as the scene shifted to a small group of people who were surrounded by more men wielding sticks and clubs. They seemed to be captives who were forced to watch the burning of the woman. Some of them were but mere children. In the group, an older man was kneeling; his face was contorted in anguish; his hands were raised to the heavens. Behind him stood a young girl. Her head was held by a man behind her, forcing her face towards the flames. Her eyes were tightly shut but her mouth was wide open as silent screams seemed to rent the very church in which the audience watched in horror.

A roar escaped Karl’s throat as he witnessed his grandmother’s brutalisation and recognising his mother as the young girl screaming, he leaped forward to stop the tormentor; scrabbling at the stone wall of the church as the camera turned and zoomed in toward the mysterious priest who had lit the fire. The face of a clearly demented man came into focus: “This was Father Ridgeway. He was a priest of the Catholic Church and founder of the Order of Jesus of Red Valley. You Jesuits pray through him as Saint John.” Turning to the Vicar General, the Red Priestess said: “That was your father, Vicar General. He was the murderer of one of the greatest persons I ever knew.” Pointing behind and above her to the wooden figure with the arrow through the throat, which was suspended from the wall of the church she added:  “There he is! Your icon, St John 1”.

Everyone in the church turned to the priest. The scenes they had just witnessed seemed to be totally unreal to them. The priest was deathly white. There were faces he had recognised, ghosts from the past, demons of the soul.

“No, No, No, it is impossible. Priests swear an oath of celibacy, how could he be my father? Donald James was my father,” he cried in terror, conveniently ignoring the infinitely more serious accusation of murder.

The priestess switched the camera to another visual.

It showed a peaceful scene. In the distance two figures were walking hand in hand. The female figure turned and waved at the camera. She was clearly pregnant. The male figure was wearing the garb of a priest. His face could be seen clearly; it was the same man although he was smiling and considerably younger than the face they had seen earlier. The camera then showed the two walking to a hut and crawling inside closing the skin which covered the entrance; closed the world outside.

“It would seem that not only was your father a murderer, but he broke his oath of celibacy as well, Vicar General. The pregnant woman was your mother. She was indeed Suzette as you pointed out to all on KRAT. The child she was carrying as you see here was indeed you. She was a professor at a university, a learned person, but your father was the priest, Father Ridgeway. He sinned in the eyes of his church and asked Donald James to become your foster father even before you were born so that he may escape the wrath of the church and of God. Little did he know that his church did not exist any longer; I think he was terrified that his god had also deserted him.”

Karl turned from the wall where he was watching the scenes and stalked to the Vicar General who shrank back from the hunter.

“Priest, you of the Holy Order of the Jesuits; you who dare preach to all who would listen, and to those who won’t of your holy office and your communication with your god; you who dared to call to account the Red Priestess for her evils and her sorcery; you will now be held to account for the deeds of your father against my grandmother, my mother and my grandfather.” As he was about to strike the priest with his massive club, Rachel stopped him.

“No Karl. I have carried this anger and pain in me for many years; I have watched this man being accepted into the priesthood as a young boy by the very man who was also his father and who had murdered my mentor; I witnessed the burning of your grandmother but I was spared the horror of doing so under captivity as I had left the village very early to swim in Lake Bracken as was my habit. When I returned I realised that something was wrong so I hid myself after fetching my camera. Thus I witnessed the hideous sacrifice of the woman I loved as much as my own mother. Karl, your grandfather was forced to watch; he was unable to scream except in his heart which died that very day. He loved Christine most dearly. Her terrible death at the hands of this priest’s murdering father caused him to have a massive stroke and to die two days later. No Karl, I have listened to his preaching and to his threats of dire consequences to his followers; I have witnessed his so-called justice as meted out to those who dared cross him or his order. Indeed, he inherited his father’s intolerance of those who oppose him. Should you strike him now in anger and revenge, you will diminish your standing and descend to his level; you will allow him to escape the true wrath of his own kind; it is too merciful. You are a leader, you must now lead.”

Karl looked at the woman in amazement. He only understood instant and swift revenge. That was the way of the Caesareans. To lead was to exact justice. To exact justice was to restore that which was wrong. The priest must pay for the injustice, an injustice too terrible to contemplate, and injustice to him and to his ancestors. They must be avenged.

“Why did he do it? How did it come about?” he asked softly to hide his anger and his hurt.

“The Jesuits of the time under leadership of Father John Ridgeway armed themselves and attacked the small village of New London. They herded all the people like so many domestic buffalo into a corner and then built the cross as a stake in the centre of the village of New London. They then grabbed Christine and tied her to the cross and stripped all her clothes from her poor body. Her daughter Isabel, who was your mother, was thirteen years old when this happened. She was forced to witness her mother’s cruel death. The priest then called on Christine to repent before God or suffer his holy wrath. She refused and her final words which I’ll never ever forget were: “I forgive you John, in the name of your God”. This drove the man crazy and that is when he lit the fire and burned her to death while we watched. As she burned he screamed that he was ridding the valley of Satan’s followers; that we’ll all be saved because of his actions. He blamed the destruction of the Ancient world as it was and all the suffering the survivors of the metal bird had endured, on her.  He had lost his mind and could see no good in Christine. He also carried in him a heavy burden of guilt; guilt in betraying his oath to his god; guilt for what had befallen one of our youngest, a girl called Amanda whose destruction he had also caused; guilt for what had happened to the world. He thought that he would be forgiven for what he had done to her and to all others. He was sick and did not know the difference between right and wrong any longer. Like all mystics he blamed everything on others and in this instance on Christine. Like all mystics he believed that the end justified the means.”

“But how did he escape the justice of the village; what about my grandfather, where was he?”

“Your grandfather witnessed it all as I said. We were helpless and the actions of the Jesuits when they attacked us would have been the beginning of a bloody warfare which would have destroyed all of us had it not been for the intervention and actions of Beowulf.”

The audience was spellbound. The legends, secrets and history of the valley and its villages was not unknown to them but they had no positive evidence of what had happened so many years ago. In the Jesuit village, the actions of St John were considered to be inspired by Jehovah. His ultimate death merely served to make him a martyr in their eyes. The legend of Beowulf was almost mystical insofar as nobody alive with the exception of the Red Priestess and possibly a couple of the second generation inhabitants had actually seen him.

“What did Beowulf do? Where was he when this happened?” someone asked.

The Red Priestess turned again to her camera, and after some minutes the picture on the wall focused on a handsome young man. He was built like a giant; his hair was blond and his body rippled with muscles. He was clearly a man of legend. Beowulf.

“Beowulf had left on a hunting expedition with Gary, your grandfather Ahmed,” the priestess said looking at Ahmed. “They were expected to be away for thirty days so didn’t witness the horrible scenes you have just seen. The Jesuits departed after Christine’s death and we buried her in the village. Two days later Karl died and he was buried alongside Christine. Fifteen days later Beowulf and Gary returned to find Karl dead and Christine murdered. Isabel had been adopted by Zyndile and Tom in Caesarea where she stayed and eventually married. That is where she met your father, Karl and where you were born much later. She never really recovered from the trauma and married a man who was very narrow minded and kept her away from me as he believed that I was a witch. He may have feared that she may suffer a similar fate to that of her mother so he thought it wise to keep you away from me.”

“Beowulf and Gary were terribly shocked and saddened and sought instant vengeance much like you just did as well. Our village elders tried to talk them out of it but they disappeared one night. Five days later we heard what had happened. The two of them stalked the Jesuit village and entered without anyone seeing them. They entered the church where they found the priest praying in front of the altar. They captured him and tied him to the image of Christ above the altar and Beowulf then executed him with an arrow in his throat. There they left his body hanging. They then took Suzette, Joshua’s mother and Donald James from their home and tied them back to back naked. Gary wrote a sign which said: “God’s whore” and fixed this to her naked breasts. They then drove the two poor people through the streets of the Jesuit’s village shouting that if any of them ever set foot again near Caesarea or New London they would suffer the same fate as the priest. They then left and returned home. We were never ever bothered again.”

“I was a widow at that time and could not cope with the stresses of Christine’s or for that matter Karl’s deaths. I left New London and made my home in a cave where I still live.” She told them nothing of her child who was reared by Esme and Oscar at her request. She often visited Michael but had realised that he was best left to the kind and generous attentions of her friends.

This was history which had come alive in the most dramatic and horrible fashion. The guilt of the valley lay upon them all. The Vicar General was quiet as were all the Jesuits. The sins of their collective fathers weighed on them. They did not know how to deal with this.

Karl was the first to respond. He looked at the crowd and said totally naturally as if it was his place to do so, an unfamiliar place: “We have heard and we have seen sights such as our eyes were never intended for. I do not understand what it is I need to say or to do. But I know this; we will deal with these issues at a time suitable for all. Right now we have the villagers who have been hit by the storm to consider. I ask of all of you, New Londoners and Caesareans alike, are you willing to help the Jesuits?”

He looked at all congregated inside and outside the small church. Inside him a tumult of feelings raged. It was not his nature to forgive but he now knew that it was his calling to lead. The rage in him gave him the energy, drive and will to do so but he knew that the rage would burn in him for a long time.

The New Londoners turned and walked away. The hurt now rekindled, flamed up once again. Christine was a New Londoner. She was their founding mother and now the hurt was too much to bear. The Caesareans milled around. They were not fond of the Jesuits’ arrogance and what they had just witnessed stressed the differences between them.

Just then a child entered the church. She had been injured by the tornado and was bleeding profusely from a gash in her head. She seemed to be dazed and confused and was looking for her parents. Somebody stooped to comfort her as her parents rushed up to her, relieved that she was safe.

Karl called out to the receding backs of the New Londoners.

“I have seen a terrible injustice and injury done to my ancestors. We have heard what the Red Priestess had said. As villagers of Red Valley, we all have a collective responsibility to right the wrongs of the past. I ask all of you here, let not history repeat itself; look around you, look at the bleeding child and consider that it may have been your child. Let’s all work together this night to help those affected by the ill wind. Walk away and know this; the Promised Land will not be ours to see.”

The Red Priestess looked at Karl in wonder. His strength of character seemed to have created an aura of power that now enveloped him. Even her son, the High Priest was surprised. He had been watching his mother’s performance with great admiration and even love. Now Karl had emerged as a true leader; nobody in the building missed the significance of this. He seemed to be in total control and no-one, not even the Vicar General thought to challenge him.

It was still only day two of the prophecy of the High Priest.

Villagers who had been injured by the tornado were taken to the church where Rachel and a few helpers tended to their injuries, while a team of men picked up those who had been killed and transported their bodies to a villager’s home where the priests had an opportunity to perform the necessary last rites. The fatalities were thirteen of whom ten were women and three children. Most of the adult men had watched the disaster from KRAT.

Night caught up with the rescuers and aid workers and before they knew it, it was dark. Many of the villagers returned to KRAT where they had left their possessions and much of their food in their hurry to get down to the ruined village after the tornado had struck. They would return the next day to help the Jesuits to rebuild their homes.

As it was now late and already dark, the majority decided to stay on the plateau. The mysticism and their fear of the mountain top had disappeared as often happens when familiarity with something or someone increases.

Sitting next to their fires, the remaining villagers reflected on the days’ happenings. So much had happened during this, their second day of the prophecy. A new leader had emerged as the Red Priestess had foretold; the City of the Jesuits had been all but destroyed by a tornado and the Red Priestess had unveiled a magical instrument which not only showed the past in pictures but it gave them pictures of their ancestors; it had also shown them evil most foul caused by fanaticism and religious zealousness. There were many questions in everyone’s minds and few answers.

This day would be remembered for a long time by the villagers who for the first time started to come to terms with the possibility that they would be the new pilgrims seeking a new land, a promised land away from this accursed valley. Their world had changed very rapidly. They had much to consider.

 

Rachel was deadly tired. She lay on her bed of reeds; almost too tired to think of the day’s happenings. She had always wondered how it would all end; the uncertainty of it and the weight and even the conscience of the valley had rested on her for so many decades; now it was expected of her to lead and advise the villagers. She couldn’t even confide fully in her son as he was not equipped for this type of role. He was a mystic and had the gift to foresee the future; she didn’t want to contaminate that with political issues and intrigue. He would play an important role during the exodus of the villagers and assist Karl and the council which she would help to set up before their departure. The young girls still had a lot to learn and memorise. This would now be her main task till the end. She was tired to her very core; the moment of revenge, whilst long awaited did not hold the sweetness she had expected.

The third day dawned without a cloud in the sky. Again many of the villagers watched the sunrise. It would continue to fascinate them for many years.

By this time everybody had become aware of the prophecies and in the villages as well as on KRAT, the heightened expectations for the next disaster had created a mood of determination, as well as considerable trepidation, to get things which needed doing, done without delay. There was little doubt that the prophecy would be fulfilled; nobody however knew how this would manifest itself.

They didn’t have long to wait.

As the sun rose to reach its zenith in the now clear sky, a pale light started to cover the valley. Everyone stopped what they were doing, including the priests who had remained behind in the village. They all looked skyward, shielding their eyes with their hands. Slowly but surely, the sun was being swallowed up by a large dark object.

The light of the sun diminished rapidly until it became almost dark.

A wailing erupted from the villagers as they watched their new light source being devoured. Many of them cast themselves down on the hard ground again beseeching the gods to have mercy upon them.

At this juncture the Red Priestess who had been standing on the hillock watching the eclipse of the sun by the moon passing in front of it, started to call in a loud voice to the sun to bless them with its light. She knew very well that the eclipse was only temporary but nobody else knew this.

In the minds of the onlookers, she created the perception that she could control the elements in the sky as well.

She was indeed a god to the villagers who witnessed this including the New Londoners who were struck silent by the spectacle. The Jesuits crossed themselves to ward off all evil.

 

Soon the shadow passed over the sun and the light quickly increased to its normal level. The villagers looked at the phenomenon with amazement and incredulity on their upheld faces. As one body they all turned to the Red Priestess who was standing on the hilltop, resplendent in her red robes with arms outstretched to the skies, and they sang her praises. The young girls with their red hair like halos around their heads had surrounded her and they all sang with the villagers. It was her moment of triumph.

The legend of the Red Angel and her Angels of Light had been created.

Karl, who was watching the eclipse and how the Red Priestess had stage-managed the whole incident, had learned that nothing where the priestess was concerned, was as it seemed. He wondered how she had managed to control the sun. The bulk of the moon which had caused the eclipse was virtually invisible in the direct rays of the sun.

He now walked to where she had disappeared below the crest of the hillock and came upon them all sitting in a small circle with Rachel in their midst.

They were all holding hands. Rachel watched Karl approach and held out her hand for him to join them. He entered the circle and sat down on the ground.

“What just happened?” he asked.

Laughing at his puzzled look, she explained what an eclipse was and how many different types of eclipses one gets. She used rocks to illustrate the effect of the earth’s shadow, the relative size of the moon and sun and how this event would occur many times in the future again.

“Karl, girls did you notice how I used the eclipse to create the impression that I was controlling the moon’s attack on the sun?” she asked them.

“We couldn’t have missed that performance,” Karl responded somewhat sarcastically.

“The real message to you is that, that is how mystics use everyday occurrences and incidents to create false realities. Through these false realities they are able to manipulate and influence people to listen to them and follow them. The ancient world was full of mystics who did this very successfully. In this way, they could control the minds of people and also their very actions. Many religions and religious leaders as well as the political leaders of their countries used these methods. Political leaders, kings and presidents were mostly guilty of these activities; they were often dishonest and lied to their followers.”

“But were they not caught out by their lies?” one of the older girls asked.

“Sometimes they were, but more often they used force or false information to keep their lies hidden. During a terrible and vicious war in the mid 20th century, the leader of the German people, a man called Adolph Hitler, convinced his followers that the Jewish people were a curse on the earth and had to be eradicated. He created falsities to scare his people that an evil existed and that the state should take every step possible to protect their homeland. This gave him the power to invade other countries and eventually to kill over 6 million Jewish people. The same tactics were used some 60 years later by the American government to pass laws which limited individual freedoms in the name of the so-called war against people they thought were a threat to their nation. They thus created an illusion that the country was in danger of imminent attack. Using this they mobilised their armed forces and attacked countries which had nothing to do with the supposed threat. There was also another man called Artuković who in a country called Croatia was found guilty by the authorities of the mass murder of Serbs, Jews, gypsies and other minorities. He had studied at a Franciscan Monastry which was part of the Catholic Church much like the Jesuits here. This all happened during the Second World War. When he fled after the war, he was assisted by Franscican monks to flee. Many other war criminals were helped by the so-called Vatican Ratlines to escape justice and they fled to other countries. It was well established that the Vatican actively sheltered and assisted war criminals.”

“Why would a church do this?” one girl asked. “I thought they were against such things.”

“The ends justified the means in their minds. The destruction of the Jews, Muslims and other ‘enemy’ religions was seen to be justified by people such as a Fransiscan priest called Draganović. Of course the Catholic Church denied that these priests had official approval to do these things, but the evidence seemed to show otherwise.”

“Yes, but how was it possible that one man such as this Hitler you speak of could wield such power and get away with murder?” Karl asked.

“If you have sufficient power such as a large and terrible weapon or a massive army you can get away with much, Karl. The Jesuit priest, who killed your grandmother, did it in the name of his god and while the power he used was purely physical, he justified his actions insofar as he was ridding the valley of a devil. He was able to justify his actions to his followers so much so that they revered and beatified him. They were convinced that he had acted in Jehovah’s name and in the name of Jesus Christ and while his death followed rapidly, this merely served to strengthen the legend and led to his becoming a martyr. Many such sins have been committed in the name of some god or deity. Politicians and leaders use lies and back up these lies with force. One of the biggest lies the churches of the ancient world got away with was to say that if you truly repent or say that you are sorry, you will be forgiven your sins. Even now the Vicar General hears people’s confessions and then forgives them their sins. That gives anyone an excuse to commit a crime or any heinous deeds and then ask for forgiveness. It also places the religious leaders in a particularly powerful position insofar that they and only they, have the power to forgive you your sins. According to them no sin was too great in the eyes of Jesus Christ who died for all humanities’ sins. Of course, according to these churches, sinners must truly repent but nobody has been able to determine whether they mean it or not, so it ultimately becomes nonsense. You can imagine the extent to which this placed local priests in positions of ultimate trust and therefore power in the eyes of their communities.”

Looking at the girls very seriously, she added: “You must remember that the ends never ever justify the means.”

“I don’t understand,” one of the girls said looking quite puzzled.

“Let me give you an example. A leader decides that it would be a good thing if all his followers believe that he is God. He dresses himself in beautiful clothes and builds himself a beautiful castle to live in but the people still don’t think he’s a god. So now he calls them all together and from each family takes the youngest child and has his soldiers kill them with their swords. When he now asks whether they believe he’s a god; out of fear, they all shout his praises; they will even kneel before him and seek his blessings. He has achieved his end. A man called Joseph Stalin, who was the leader of the Russian people, killed many millions of his own people; he murdered his opponents such as the generals of his own army; he did all this because he believed it was in the interest of his country and wanted to build a strong Russia. Did the end justify the means or to ask it in a different manner, did the purposes these leaders sought to achieve, justify the killing of the children, the generals and citizens?”

“No, it didn’t. They were just murderers,” the girl replied.

“Yes, and if the end is used to justify the means, it will always be abused by the mystics. This is how Hitler justified his eradication of what he called the ‘Jewish problem’. That is also how the so-called St John of the Jesuits justified his actions to serve an end he believed was his god’s calling. Many world leaders use this argument to convince their followers that what they are doing will benefit them in the long term. It will always be immoral and unjust, regardless of the so-called ‘good’ they wish to create for the ‘people’.”

“But Rachel, aren’t you yourself justifying the means to suit your own ends to initiate the exodus from Red valley?” Karl asked.

“Ha! The hunter has been reborn. What you ask Karl is whether there is a contradiction in what I’m preaching and what I practice.”

“Yes, if you wish to put it that way.”

“Good. Whenever an apparent contradiction seems to exist, you must examine the facts and indeed the premises of the argument.”

“What does that mean?” one of the girls asked.

“I explained to you that the ends never, ever justify the means. What that means is that a situation where some stated goal can be used to justify immoral methods to achieve that goal may never be allowed to occur. However when the methods or means are sensible, logical and totally moral, the objection falls away. The morality of such actions cannot be based on whether the goal itself is desirable; each and every action or method must be moral in its own right and be judged independently of the end result. So to answer your question Karl, I’ve never used immoral means such as dishonesty, force, violence or corruption to promote the exodus. I accept that I’ve manipulated the villagers but the final decision to join or not to join the exodus rests in the hands of each person. Similarly the decision to be the leader of the exodus is yours alone. I merely convinced you that you are a leader and helped to equip you for the task.”

“So, if I understand what you’re saying,” Karl responded, “if those murderers you spoke of earlier wanted to unite their countries this was good?”

“Yes, but?”

“…but the methods they used were in themselves evil, and can never be justified because the country’s ‘good’ required it.”

“Exactly! You have learned a great deal, Karl.”

“Does the Jesuit god exist?” another young girl from the Jesuit village asked.

“All gods are created by man. They only exist in the minds and thoughts of man. Throughout the history of man there have been thousands of god-variations. The god-concept is used to deceive people for example into sacrificing their hard earned produce; it is also used to produce guilt in people and to convince them that they are unworthy. When a person believes he or she is worthless, he is normally willing to hand over or to sacrifice what he has produced to the god or his representative, who is normally some type of priest, for use by the church in any manner it chooses. This gives people a sense of belonging and acceptance; of course this also strengthens the position the churches have in their communities. The proceeds of these tithes, as they were sometimes called, were also sometimes used to wage war against others, especially if such others didn’t believe in the same god. What I’m saying to you, is that gods are man’s creation and only exist in the minds of people. This has been done over and over in the mists of times gone by. A prophet called Muhammad instructed the people of his land that only one god named Al-Llah who was their high god, should be worshipped from among many including even female gods. According to legend, Al-Llah had revealed himself to Muhammad in much the same manner that Yahweh revealed himself to Abraham and Moses in the Jewish history. Of course, it was according to the all these prophets’ telling of the revelations that these religions developed.”

“But then what is the alternative? Isn’t it true that if you do not believe in a god you are doomed to burn in hell or that your soul will be cast out into the wilderness for ever?” the same young girl wanted to know.

“My dear, you ask very good questions and I am very happy that you, a Jesuit by birth, have been reborn to ask questions instead of merely swallowing everything your elders including myself have told you,” Rachel said with a wry smile. “The alternative to a god? The only alternative is you and only you. You are the sole architect of your destiny; what you do today will determine your reward or punishment tomorrow. Sleep today and tomorrow you will go hungry; work today and tomorrow you will be able to feed yourself; think today and tomorrow you will create value. Do not wait for outside help or blame anyone except yourself. Believe in yourself; equip yourself to meet the challenges to survive but also to grow. Man was not created by some mystical being; man became powerful because he was resourceful and was able to change things to suit his own needs. He is the only being with the capacity to think and is aware that he thinks. That is why he is able to dam up water to have water when the rivers are low; no mere animal is able to do that; that is why he plants vegetables and keeps animals for his food; that is why he is able to cloth himself with skins he took from the backs of the animals he has hunted and killed. That is why he is able to produce beautiful music, paintings and write poems. That is why man who has a mind which developed over millions of years and who is ultimately conscious of his being, is able to be unbelievably good and unbelievably evil.  Man can also become too greedy and take more than he needs.  He may then disturb the balance between nature and himself and so should always look at nature’s needs as well; if he were to take all the eggs from the nests of the birds when they migrate and leave nothing to hatch, will there be birds tomorrow?” she asked them.

Everyone including Karl shook their heads. As a hunter he knew this to be true. When he hunted he never purposely killed a mother buck or a young animal. When he gathered eggs, he always took only a few eggs from each nest, leaving behind sufficient for the parents to hatch and maintain the breeding cycle. Nobody had taught him this; it was just the way it is done. He also always left a piece of the bees nest for the honey bird as it is said that the bird shall lead you into the lair of a lion if you don’t.

“The moral justification for man to look at nature’s needs has nothing to do however with being altruistic about it, in other words to do good to others; it is his way of protecting and increasing the value of nature’s bounty for his own good and the good of his family; that’s his first and most important priority. If he makes mistakes and destroys such natural value, it will eventually lead to his own destruction as well.”

“But what about Satan? The Vicar General always says Satan will devour our souls and cast us into the flames of Hell if we did not do his bidding,” the young acolyte asked again, emboldened by Rachel’s encouragement.

“If you believe in the god of the Jesuit Bible, you are expected to believe in Satan as well. This also applies to Al-Llah’s religion where Shaitan is seen to be the devil. It is supposed to be good versus evil; dark against light. This is as ancient as man’s ability to think. Have you never wondered why the Vicar General always says “God or Jehovah Almighty” and then warns you against the powers of Satan? If Jehovah is so almighty, why does Satan exist? Some believe that Satan was a perfect angel who fell from God’s grace and then became the personification of all that’s evil. If this is so, how come God allowed him to fall from grace and why is Satan allowed to perpetuate his evil work? Why does Jehovah not merely destroy him with a blink of his almighty eyelash? It is often told in the Bible of the Jesuits, how God spoke with Satan and even played games with him when he accepted a wager with Satan that he, Satan could get the mythical Job who was his servant, to curse Yahweh. So God kills Job’s family, torments him with diseases, poverty and ridicule. Job curses the day he was born and argues with God and even says some nasty things about him, but he doesn’t curse God. Like a child is rewarded for good behaviour Job is rewarded with a new, even better, family. The fact that the family who was killed suffered because of God’s games with Satan, doesn’t seem to bother people. To me this is an indication of a cruel and sadistic God who finds pleasure in torturing his faithful instead of standing by them and protecting them from evil. Of course, the blindly faithful will argue that that is God’s way of testing his subjects; it is his way to create undying faith and loyalty. I say to you, that the very notion that a god needs to be cruel and vindictive to create support is immoral and false. In any case, why should a god want to test his subjects? If he is so almighty, surely he would know whether his subjects are faithful or not. It is no different from a dictator who abuses his power and tortures and kills his subjects to keep them loyal. I fear that these issues are but the machinations of man as underlying all man’s jealousies, man’s fears, man’s ambitions, man’s cruelty and yes man’s kindnesses, which find expression in his religions. Using a deity is merely the front that is used.”

“No child, Satan, Shaitan, Beezlebub and other evil beings are as much the creation of man as the gods are. So too is the notion that heaven as well as hell exist. These are mere promises and threats made to manipulate people. Those are the ways of the mystics. The New Londoners talk about a rationalist approach to life and don’t believe in gods and spirits and things like that.”

“Think about it in this way. Man is the only being on earth that is able to make choices. To survive is not a question of praying to some deity and all will be well. Man has the choice and he makes his choices based on his knowledge and ability to distinguish bad choices from good. Experience will teach him quite quickly when he makes bad choices and hopefully this will help him to survive. You must remember that to think is in itself a matter of choice; people who choose not to think and react on base instinct, function at the sub-human level. Man’s ability to survive is a function of his capacity to think. He is not fleet like an antelope to run away from danger, nor is he strong like a lion to overpower his prey. It is only by using his ability to think that has made man the most powerful being ever on the earth. Any strategy which seeks to destroy man’s capacity to think is immoral and evil just as anybody who preaches that the pursuit of happiness is wasteful; that death will be the only release from man’s sins, is denying man’s right to think and to make conscious choices in his own interest. The truly evil person is one who promotes the notion that man should not think, only believe; shouldn’t ask questions, only have faith.”

“The New Londoners’ approach to rationality is that you can think and therefore are able to choose; the Jesuits’ approach is that your choices are pre-destined and decided by Jehovah, while the Caesareans believe that all beings and things have a life of their own and are able to make decisions but that their destinies are also pre-ordained. Naturally a rolling stone is unable to stop its flight down a mountain and a tree is not able to decide not to eat and drink. It is therefore now your choice to either believe in your own ability and indeed your right to think and to survive by the value you are able to create, or leave it to some external force or deity to decide that for you.”

Rachel rose from her rock seat: “It’s getting late. We need to pack up and leave for our homes.”

The sun was setting to the west and when the small group descended from the hillock and the lecture by Rachel, the plateau was deserted as all the villagers had returned to their homes. They had much to do; the Jesuits to rebuild their village; the New Londoners to ponder the miracles and technology they had witnessed; and the Caesareans to prepare for a large sacrificial ceremony to the cloud gods and the god of light.

The preparations for the exodus from the valley had begun.


 The scene on KRAT’s cliffs was something which would remain in Rachel’s memory for many years. She sat on the hillock overlooking what had been Bennie’s Camp where a scene of industrious activity reigned. She was recording the happenings with her camcorder. It was their record of history.

Since the failure of Jim Armstrong’s mini-coup, Oscar’s followers were clearly confronted with a massive dilemma. There was no doubt in Oscar’s mind that Jim’s group would remain a constant problem. Given the limited footprint of KRAT which they were expected to share, it was evident that to release them would be counter-productive. Some type of corporal punishment such as lashings or even worse was not appropriate either and neither was a kangaroo court. Too barbaric, the more conservative elements in the camp had said, although Gary had come up with some creative ideas which usually bordered on the ridiculous but at least created some lighter moments while the leaders debated the dilemma.

It was only after Karl pointed out that he had originally suspected that Jim’s group were planning an exodus from KRAT with the remaining four life rafts, that the solution became self-evident: “Why not banish them from KRAT and send them on their way with a couple of life rafts?” he asked.

Father Ridgeway, Ahmedi, Suzette as well as Donald James were violently opposed to his proposal but after considerable debate and argumentation, the conservative lobby could not come up with any better alternative. Neither were they prepared to guarantee the behaviour of the miscreants. Finally a decision was taken. It was decided to deploy the life rafts and place Jim’s team on the rafts with sufficient rations to get them to safe ground, possibly on the mountains of the Great Divide which they could see jutting out of the seas about 20 kilometres away.

The risks were high, as a sudden earth tremor or an eruption from Brutus would set off tidal waves which could wreck the small craft. On the other hand Oscar argued, the craft were constructed for exactly these conditions and with luck they should be able to reach the slopes of the mountains.

Once the decision had been finalised, they acted swiftly much to the consternation of Father Ridgeway who continued to plead for clemency and forgiveness. Every time he did this Christine, Esme and Gary walked away in disgust. The priest’s approach in trying to protect the criminals irritated them.

The men from Base Camp took two of the life raft canisters from Bennie’s Camp and after opening them, removed the Very Pistols and returned the rations to the rafts. Each craft had the capacity to hold twenty passengers, so only two had been deployed and fitted. This would give them the substantial safety margin which had been insisted upon by Father Ridgeway after being outvoted in the planning debates.

Each life raft was equipped by the survivors with a small mast and boom made from saplings and woven hemp sail of roughly four square metres which had been cut into sails reminiscent of the lateen sails of the ancient Arab and East African dhows. The masts were fitted into a slot provided for this purpose and with ropes lashed to the crafts’ rubber fittings. The masts could be raised and lowered with minimum effort while the shape of the sails gave them some directional ability.

In addition, they fashioned small rudders shaped like oars with which to steer the ungainly craft. The modified craft were dragged to the edge of the cliffs where the narrow goats’ herd path twisted and turned down the edge of the cliff to the waters below.

They waited for a calm day on the seas before agreeing that the timing was right. After carefully lowering the rafts to the sea and tethering them to some rocks, further supplies and drinking water were stowed in the pockets. The personal belongings of the gang, which had been recovered from their deserted huts, were lowered and stowed as well. With everything in readiness they then herded the cowed and unsuspecting prisoners from the stockade where they had been kept for the last week.

They had not been consulted during the whole process. Oscar was quite adamant that to do so would merely slow down the evil day and complicate their decision. He also knew that this would give the religionists an opportunity to appeal for clemency in front of their supporters.

When Jim and his team were gathered around the crafts, Oscar divulged the decision to banish them from KRAT. They could not believe their ears.

“This is cold blooded murder! You bastards better appreciate the implications of what you are contemplating,” Jim shouted at Oscar.

“Jim you know that you have brought this on yourselves,” Oscar replied calmly. “We have been through this with you and I’ve discussed all possible options at length with all the members of my camp. We have absolutely no option but to get you off the plateau.”

“But ’ow can you, a Flight Officer of ’is Majesty King Charles’ III, National Airline, even contemplate such a brutal act on survivors such as we are? Isn’t it your sworn duty to protect your passengers from ’arm at all times?” Bennie shouted. Besides his normal belligerence, it was clear that he was very frightened, not least because he hated sailing and got violently sea-sick.

“Bennie, you have long ceased to be my responsibility. It was by choice that you and your cronies decided to separate yourselves from the main group. That decision effectively absolved me and my original crew from any liability towards you. It was also by choice that you opted to kidnap Christine, a crime punishable by death in many countries or with very long prison sentences,” Oscar replied. He was quite surprised that Bennie had chosen the loyalty issue but he had no qualms that he and members of his crew could not be held responsible in any way for their safety should such unlikely occasion ever arise.

Christine who had been watching the discussion with her arms folded, walked straight to Bennie and said: “Bennie, where do you think His Majesty is right now?” Without waiting for an answer she turned to Graham and asked: “Wasn’t it you Graham, who made it clear that only the law of the jungle applied here? It is only brutes like you who function at the level of animals who use that term. No, I apologise to all animals. You are sub-human, and that is your choice.”

“Where humans are concerned, the law of the jungle never applies because humans have choices they can make about situations confronting them. The human being evolved with a mind which gave him power over the natural world. Unfortunately the mystics of the world tried their best to subvert this power. You made the choice to kidnap me in order to extort concessions from Base Camp or more likely to violate our rights and persons. That was the law of the jungle as formulated by you. You chose to ignore common decency and the logic of reasonableness. You have consistently operated at the sub-human level; you have denied your ability to think and functioned at the base level of an unthinking animal; you are now of the animal world and that has been your undoing.”

“Now we are responding to your wishes. We are giving you the freedom you sought. The manner is which this freedom is being handed to you may not be to your liking but brother it’s a tough world out there. Now you will learn what the law of the jungle really means.” Casting a glance at Father Ridgeway who was clearly unhappy with the chain of events, she turned round and started to clamber up the narrow pathway without a further glance backward.

Graham and Bennie watched her walk away with undisguised hatred contorting their faces.

“We should’ve killed you, you bitch!” Graham yelled after Christine’s retreating figure. She didn’t pause as she rounded an out jutting rock and disappeared from their view.

The seas seemed to be holding its breath; the surface was as flat as a mirror and no wind stirred the waves. Once the rafts had been placed on the water, the protesting and clearly frightened members of Jim’s team were herded to the craft by armed escorts and guided into the leading raft which had been tied to the other craft.

Oscar addressed them for the last time: “None of us wished for this outcome. You have brought it upon yourselves. The mountains which seem to divide this valley are about 20 kilometres away. With a fair wind you should reach it within two days. We have given you enough water and food to last you for two weeks; fairer than that we cannot be.”

“We do not wish you ill fortune and trust that you will be able to establish your own village and build your own future. Do not return to this mountain. We have posted a permanent watch on this pathway which as you know is the only access to the plateau. Any attempts to do so will be met by force. May you have fair winds.” He turned and climbed back up the pathway.

Earlier Father Ridgeway had requested Oscar whether he could bless their craft and journey. Holding aloft his arms, he now intoned:

“Let us pray. Lord Jesus, Son of the Holy Father;

have mercy on these souls and guide them on their perilous journey into the unknown.

 Show them the Way and lighten their burdens.

Lord, open their hearts and expunge the evil which resides there.

Lead them and guide them;

 we know Oh Lord that you died for all our sins and that it is only through your mercy that we survive.

We pray to you Lord Jesus to forgive them their sins and to give us who remain behind the strength to forgive them as well.

We ask this only in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord through the Holy Mother, Mary. May God be with you on your journey over the Devil’s seas.

 Amen.”

Graham jeered as the priest closed his prayer:

“Thanks Father. I’m sure that your god will look after us; but you better pray that he look after you. We will be back!”

Jim stood up in his craft and with a fist held high, cursed the remaining survivors and KRAT:

“You will feel the wrath of Red Earth.

You will be spurned by the gods while hunger and disease will be your constant companions.

The day will come when justice will prevail.

Beware the opening of the skies and the rising of the dead.

Count your days for they are numbered

Not even eyes in your backs will protect you from what you are unable to see

Not even your ears will hear the whistle of the winds of ill fortune which will accompany you

Neither will your mouths utter the fear in your belly when your livers are ripped out.

 We will return and we will avenge ourselves on you and your generations to come

Seek us not for we shall not be sought

He contemptuously cast off the last link with the mountain side which had been their home for the last six months. Slowly the craft moved away as the crew tried to familiarise themselves with the oars and the uncomfortable seating. As they cleared the lee of the mountain, their small lateen sails filled with the light wind and they quickly picked up speed until they were out of earshot.

From their vantage point on KRAT, Oscar and his people watched them until they disappeared as small specks on the vast seas.

There was no celebration at Base Camp that night. Getting rid of troublemakers like Bennie and Graham was a relief to especially the women and children but for many they were also survivors who had merely made stupid decisions. A more reflective and even sober atmosphere seemed to invade the camp as fires were made for evening supper. Even the children were quieter than usual.

Most people’s thoughts were on the two small craft on the wild and dark waters of the New World.


Two days had passed since the predictions of the High Priest and the Red Priestess. During this time, the Jesuits consolidated their position and formulated their strategies to accommodate the predicted coming of the birds which was now fully ten days late. They also developed contingency plans concerning their response when the Red Priestess called for an exodus from the valley.

The Oversight Committee met once but it soon transpired that the rules the priestess had submitted to them during their first meeting were logical and practical. As no further matters of common interest arose they dispersed without having taken any constructive decisions.

The Caesareans were relaxed. They had a more pragmatic approach to things and in any event, Karl had been talking to them concerning the priestess and some of the discussions he had had with her. He made no mention however of her view that he was to be their leader out of the valley.

In the New Londoner’s camp, the spirit was one of let’s wait and see. They knew that the birds would come. Most of their campfire discussions were exploratory, regarding issues such as the High Priest’s ability to create thunder-flashes with his sceptre and the implications for all of them if they were to vacate the valley.

The Red Priestess continued with her daily lectures to the girls. The subjects ranged from their sexual maturing, human behaviour as well as religions, healing and health. The girls were a wonderful audience and on occasion Karl would attend these talks.

Alan, the New Londoner approached her one day together with Susan and Ahmed.

“We would like to speak with you, Red Priestess,” Alan started.

“You are welcome, Alan. I trust you’ve had some char or must I make you some of my special brew?” she said laughing at their obvious reluctance. Rationalists they may be she thought to herself, but they still have their little superstitions.

“It’s about the High Priest,” Alan continued.

“Yes,” she replied, eyes narrowing.

“Well, you always tell us we must beware of the mystics of the world and never believe the lies these people tell us, yet you seem to support the prophecies of the High Priest which seems like mysticism to us.”

“I said to them that the way I see it is that we were taught that the talent to think is special and unique to man,” Ahmed added. “We were told that by using our minds to their fullest capacity we would indeed be able to create wonderful things. Is this not so?”

“Indeed Ahmed, indeed. Even in the world of the Ancients we had not reached the full capacity and power of the mind. If we had spent as much time, money and effort at developing the minds of people instead of on technology and building expensive churches and temples, we may have developed into very different beings. We didn’t really understand yet how the human mind works and although many scientists from different fields of study analysed the brain from all types of perspectives, the answers were not that forthcoming. I personally believe we were totally on the wrong track. The Buddhists who were a relatively small yet very popular religious-cum-philosophical group believed that training of the human mind was possible through disciplined meditation and life-long learning. They achieved a spiritual grace far greater than that displayed by the majority of religious zealots, priests, shamans and the like.”

“But weren’t they just as mystical as the rest of them?” Susan asked.

“Yes they were, but they did not believe in an external deity or god. Self discipline, sacrifice, detachment and the reduction of suffering was their way. I did not think much of the metaphysical side of their philosophy which spoke of reincarnation and many other issues, but I liked their total acceptance of responsibility and their karmic philosophy. This basically meant that you are the result of your own actions and lack of action, if you like.”

“But the High Priest, how does he see the future?” Alan persisted.

“Prophets of old are known to have been wrong more times than right, Alan. History only records and worships their accurate prophecies. The rest are hidden from the fierce scrutiny of critics. In any case many of these prophecies became self-fulfilling, in other words because people believed that the prophets had the ‘gift’ to see the future, they in reality made the prophecies where it suited them, come true. The High Priest has a gift, I give you that. I have known him since his birth. His mother trained him to develop his mind to levels beyond that of his peers. That is the lesson for you; learn to think beyond what is deemed normal; do not fear to explore where others fear to tread. The human mind is still very much an unknown quantity but as certainly as a muscle can be strengthened through exercise, so too can the mind be developed by creative arts, music, reading, and writing but especially by meditation, introspection, reflection, research and debate with your peers. You must encourage this among your children; practice it yourselves as an art form in itself. The High Priest goes into a trance and virtually dreams the things he sees. Sometimes he’s right but many times he’s very wrong.”

Susan looked dubious. “But the future is uncertain, is it not? If that is so, how is it possible that even a highly developed mind can ‘see’ the future when the events have not occurred yet?”

The priestess laughed at the look on Susan’s face.

“Susan, I’m not sure whether I see consternation, fear or suspicion in your eyes; maybe I’m a poor ‘seer’ after all. Let me try to explain in a different manner. When a mystic is known for things such as being able to ‘see’ the future, people who wish to believe in his or her abilities, invariably tend to see what they wish to see. For example, a mystic may say that he sees great suffering and hardship for all in the coming years. Suffering and hardship may after all be the logical result of a drought for instance which is affecting all. However, those who latch on to what the mystic said would respond and say: “It was foretold!” and sadly accept their lot instead of trying to change it. Those who prepared themselves for the drought may actually not suffer hardship at all, but the mystics would counter that with specious comments such as “they’re in partnership with the devil, therefore rain only falls on their land” or “they steal our crops” or “they have bewitched our goats. The High Priest is a prophet much like the prophets of old. However, he does not profess that a god has spoken to him or that spirits have used him. He accepts that he is able to see the future, such as it is and then tells us. Sometimes not even he understands what it is he has seen; neither does he understand why he is able to ‘see’ and as I said, many times he is wrong.”

Susan was still not satisfied. Her upbringing and learning had excluded the para-normal; as a consequence the High Priest’s predictions must either be nonsense or there was something more to it.

“I still see many questions in your mind?” the priestess commented.

“We probably need to assess this among ourselves some more,” Alan interrupted. Ahmed agreed and added: “I would like to see whether the High Priest is able to predict things, almost as a test.”

“Spoken like a true scientist Ahmed. I know that it is impossible for the High Priest to ‘turn on’ predictions at will. He merely submits to the trances when he feels them coming on. It will be difficult to subject him to a test. But maybe you should discuss it with him; he’d welcome some intelligent enquiry.”

“OK, that’s interesting. We thought he would be quite negative and defensive,” Ahmed responded.

“I’ll broach it with him when the time is right and let you know,” the priestess said.

Satisfied for the time being, the New Londoners returned to their camp.

Meanwhile the Red Priestess had been doing her own ‘research’. She had been observing the cloud formations very carefully and watched for wind shifts and thunder-storms. It was evident that the weather was changing. It was also evident that temperatures were dropping, especially in the early hours of morning. She knew from the seasonal winter and summer cycles that they were located in the northern hemisphere. She did not however know how far north they were. Neither was she aware that a massive ice-age had gripped the larger part of the northern hemisphere after the earth crust displacement disaster had literally turned the planet upside down; nor did she suspect that this ice age was slowly receding.

Her observations had been correct. The migration was imminent. The signs were there. As the New Londoners had correctly analysed the bird migration patterns, the nature of the migrations seemed to be different; the birds’ stay on KRAT was becoming shorter every year.  The birds were only staying temporarily, and while some still nested and produced young, others took off after recovering their strength and flew further south where it was evidently warmer.

The dim sun was high in the cloudy sky when the drum started beating again. Acting like a dinner gong, all the campers who were quite bored after two days of lounging around, congregated again in the amphitheatre. The drum-beat heralded the dramatic entrance of all the male and female priests and acolytes to the front of the amphitheatre. They were followed by the High Priest and behind him walked the tall figure of the Red Priestess dressed again in her ceremonial dress.

With a nod of her head, the drumming ceased. She raised herself to her full height and raising her arms over her head to create the impression from her raised dais of enormous power, she intoned:

“People of the Red Earth, I call on you to call the birds to KRAT. They are here but await your call. Please raise your hands to the sky and hum with me.”

She started to hum and all the girls and priests hummed with her. Soon the whole gathering including the majority of Jesuits were humming. Close to 300 voices humming together made a loud buzzing noise which rose high above them and reverberated against the overhanging cliff of the amphitheatre which seemed to amplify it to a significant rumble. The Inner Circle of the Jesuits kept quiet. They were dumbfounded that their followers actually followed the instructions of the priestess.

They all raised their eyes to the clouds as they hummed. For a few minutes nothing happened; then high above them a single bird seemed to drop from the sky as if by magic. One moment there was nothing, the next, back-dropped against the swirling clouds, was the bird. It was a miracle! Within seconds, two long streams of birds, which grew into a large dark cloud followed. The gathering fell silent as the birds swooped and circled KRAT swinging around the amphitheatre, circling it twice before settling on their traditional and accustomed perches, screeching and hopping about as if nothing untoward had taken place.

A new sound rose above the noise of the birds; it was the villagers who were now shouting and singing at the sight of the birds. The gathering erupted into a gay celebration of joy and thanksgiving. They danced and jumped around in circles with the villagers intermingling without a thought about their differences.

A chant arose from the throats of 300-odd persons:

“Priestess, Priestess, Priestess, Priestess…”

The Vicar General whirled around, facing the Jesuits to stop this adulation of the hated witch, but they seemed to be as enthusiastic as the rest and ignored his shouts to stop. His shouts were in any event drowned out by the singing and dancing. Even the drummer joined in and for at least ten minutes, the villagers were one in their happiness. Only Mark and Timothy were quiet.

The Red Priestess held up her arms once again and after a couple of minutes, the chanting quietened down. The Vicar General jumped up and shouted at her, interrupting the joyous mood: “Witch, you will burn in hell; your dark secrets will cost you dear.” He turned to storm out of the gathering, when the priestess’ soft but penetrating voice rang out across the now quiet amphitheatre:

“Stop!”

The Vicar General seemed to pause in mid-air as he stopped in his tracks.

“I am not done with you, Br Joshua,” she cried using the name he had been christened. “I have been patient with you as well as with your ancestors for many stones. I have watched you manipulate and terrorise your people with threats and false promises. Now I bid you listen.” She stepped down from the dais and walked up to the Vicar General who stood in a passageway with Mark and Timothy on his flanks, facing her. As she approached, they seemed to retreat ever so slightly.

“I have been witness to the valley’s greatest tragedy and the secret it hides from all, preacher. I am your conscience and the conscience of your church,” she hissed at him.

“What are you talking about witch?” he replied with disdain but uncertainty had crept into his voice. He knew the history of the valley and especially that of the Jesuits. But what was the secret the witch was referring to?

“Who were your parents, preacher?”

“My mother was Suzette and my father Donald James of the Ancients,” he replied defensively. What was the woman getting at?

“I will show you who your real parents were, preacher. I knew them both. Your mother was indeed Suzette but your father was not Donald James,” she said loud enough for all to hear.

“How would you know witch? I do not know what you are talking about,” His voice assumed a panicky tone.

Donald James was not seen as an important person in the Jesuit community as he was not very faithful to their religion. A legend existed that some terrible thing had occurred in which his father had been implicated but nobody in the City of the Jesuits dared speak of it. His father had died shortly after he, Joshua was accepted as a novice into the Order of St Ignatius by the then Vicar General. His death had been shrouded in mystery as he had taken ill quite rapidly and passed away within two weeks. Nobody knew what he had died from but rumours of poisoning and witchcraft did the rounds in the small emerging town of the Jesuits. Was this what the witch was referring to? Alistair who would be beatified and ultimately canonised by the then Vicar General some time later, was about 35 years old at this stage but he had become a hermit who lived only to write the latest testament and historic document which he illustrated in a beautiful handwriting. Joshua as he was then known used to consult with Alistair until the latter’s death some ten years later. He died from a consumptive disease which caused him to drown in his own fluids.

Why was she referring to his father? Donald James was one of the Ancients and Joshua’s memory of him although vague was not negative at all. He had lived a quiet life and gave Joshua everything he could in the form of support in his learning in the church. His mother again had been much more involved with the church, bless her soul. She spent most of her time cleaning the church and helping St John.

The Red Priestess turned around and walked back to the dais without answering him.

Standing to face the gathering, she announced loudly: “I declare to you gathered here today as my witnesses, that the sins of the father shall be visited upon his son. I shall at a time appropriate divulge all. It is not such a time now. Now is a time to celebrate the coming of the birds. Tomorrow we shall gather here at the same time to witness the greatest happening of your lives. I bid you a good and fruitful evening.”

The gathering was astounded at the turn of events. Few missed the metaphor of the father and the son the priestess spoke about. In one fell swoop, the Red Priestess had not only neutralised the Vicar General’s control over the Jesuits, she had effectively created sufficient doubt and questions in their minds to destroy it.

Besides that, the dramatic coming of the birds, seemingly at her bidding but with their assistance in calling them down, had for the moment at least, made her the champion of the people. Even the High Priest could not but admire his mother’s deft handling of the threatening situation which had been simmering since their arrival on KRAT. He was delighted how she had slapped down the Vicar General but had no idea what she had up her sleeve. He had no knowledge of the secret she referred to. The humming by all to call down the birds was a stroke of genius, he thought. But how could she have known that the birds are close?

The Jesuits, upon returning to their camp, congregated and asked the Vicar General to clarify the Red Priestess’ accusation. They were angry. Their leader had been confronted, humiliated by the red witch. Although the bulk of them admired her for calling the birds and for her showmanship, they were, after all was said and done, still Jesuits who believed in the Holy Trinity and were sworn to be faithful to their church. Throwing down the gauntlet like she had done, could not go unanswered.

“I have no idea what she’s talking about. She seems to know something concerning my parents and especially my father, who as you know was a devout Christian much like me. The witch will try to discredit me if she can. I’m her biggest threat but have no doubt we will find out what it is. With faith on our side, we will overcome the witch and her powers.”

The Jesuits broke up in groups whispering among each other. The scandal threatened to tear them apart. The old wounds and stories were being re-opened again. The older members of the village were called upon to revive the old wives tales and gossip which they did with great glee around the fires that night. Stories of a burning witch, witchcraft and murder floated around the campsites. These were embellished and the younger villagers in all three camps listened in wonder as the stories grew to gargantuan proportions.

In the camp of the New Londoners, the doings of the day were also being debated. Ahmed and Alan as well as their Counter, Ari, were seated around the embers of the morning fire.

“Well that was pretty dramatic, Ari, don’t you think? How did she do it?” Alan asked.

“She’s pretty shrewd. The more I see her in action the more I like her. I think that she’s been counting the coming pretty much as we have but she knew something that we do not. You will remember that we were quite far out with our predictions last year and the year before that as well. It’s as if the birds are coming later and later every year. Our counting is not accurate any longer, we need a new system to count the days I think,” Ari replied.

He could not have been closer to the truth. The system of counting the migrations of the birds as the basis of their calendar was at best a loose one. The citizens of the valley did not have sight of the heavens and as a consequence they could not develop an accurate calendar even if they wanted to.

Since the displacement of the earth’s crust eighty-two years ago, twenty-two years were effectively leap years, thereby shifting the date of each leap year one day further. The birds arrived roughly at the same time of the year but after eighty years, this was twenty-one days later. The Red Priestess knew this. In her cave she had been keeping a record secretly and hidden from all the valley dwellers, which reflected the exact day, 5th May 2010 on which the Airbus had crashed on KRAT and every day since then. She was the historian and on her calendar she had marked every important happening including the bird migrations and even the births of the first generation of valley citizens. She also kept an accurate record of her own birthdays as well as those of her mother June and sister, Liz, on her calendar. This had been decided upon by them collectively eight decades ago. Today’s date she knew full well, was 1st August 2092. She was ninety four years old and her next birthday was only two months away on the 18th October 2092. She even knew that it would be on a Saturday. The citizens of Red Valley did not possess the technology to match this. She also knew that the villagers did not count their days by the same calendar and neither did they distinguish between the months. They were only able to differentiate between the cold season and the rainy or wet season. The cold season was about to set in.

With the expected lifting of the cloud cover as predicted by the High Priest, the insulation the clouds had provided would disappear and through ground radiation, the earth would lose a substantial amount of heat and a bitterly cold winter could be the result, as she had predicted.

Meanwhile, the Caesareans were happy with the day’s proceedings. They had not lost face. Their prediction had been suitably vague, so the arrival of the birds while welcomed for the bounty they brought, did not create tensions or recriminations against any one, including the Counter.

They were also comfortable with the Red Priestess’s performance against the Vicar General. They had never liked the Jesuits’ intolerance of their spiritualism and animistic rituals. Knocking him down a peg or two was fine by them. The priestess had merely invoked her own powers to call on the birds. This they understood and were comfortable with. Most of them had a great respect for her and would in years to come even deify her existence.

Karl and Benedict, together with some other villagers were discussing the position as they saw it.

“I wonder what she has on the Jesuit priest?” Benedict was saying.

“I’ve come to understand the woman a lot better since we came up here to KRAT. She’s no witch as I told you a couple of days ago, but has experience of things of which we can never have any understanding. I’m now looking forward to the next great happening as she called it. It promises to be something quite startling,” Karl replied.

“But Karl, how does she seem to be able to predict things?” Benedict asked, puzzled by the apparent contradiction of her philosophy and her actions.

“I don’t know Bennie but I tell you this, at her age even I will be able to predict things,” he replied laughing at his own joke.

Everybody guffawed. Karl was not known to be the most intelligent person but he was respected for his knowledge of the valley and beyond as well as his exploits as a hunter.

“But seriously, how does she do it?” Benedict insisted.

“She does not believe in magic and spirits or gods. She told me a couple of times that she knows things we would never be able to understand. To me that sounds a lot like magic and dark secrets. But I guess that we must remember that the world she came from was very different from ours, so maybe she is able to do things which we’re unable to do.”

“The Jesuit priest was terrified of her, that much is clear,” Bennie continued.

“Yes, you can see that there is no love lost between them. I would like to know what she has in mind; what the so-called sins of the father were. Our visit here on KRAT is becoming very interesting,” Karl responded.

Soon all the camps had settled into the preparation of the evening meals while Karl, together with some other Caesareans slipped out of the camp to net some birds for the pot.

The Red Priestess also quietly slipped out of the enclosure she normally slept in below the cliff overhang. She walked in a different direction, into the forest and following the stream of water, reached the cliff-side over which the thin spray of water fell to the valley below.

Down below her she could see the familiar curve of River Esme through Red Valley as it made its way around the City of the Jesuits and brushed against New London, close to Bracken Lake to twist and curl through the valley, widening as it progressed towards the mountains of the Great Divide. Mt Brutus lay to the north-west. A thin wisp of smoke rose from its summit to disappear into the clouds above them.

On the horizon she could make out something which she had not seen since her departure from London. She could see a thin blue line hovering over the horizon. The skies were clearing, the clouds were thinning!

A strange feeling of melancholy and deep sadness filled her heart at the sight. The journey had been so arduous and difficult. The world of her parents and friends had changed into a cruel and lonely place. When she was a child playing in the streets of London with her friends, no-one could have foreseen her destiny or for that matter their own. Quietly she cried for the world; for her mother, father and sister; for her husband, Hassan and for her son who would now face the New World without her. Tears rolled from her eyes over her old wizened cheeks as she recalled Christine’s horrible death; the passing of her wonderful friends such as Zyndile and Esme; she shuddered thinking about young Amanda’s fate. Things could have been so different if only people were able to live in harmony together and tolerate each other she thought.

She knew that she would remain behind and that the exodus would take place without her. She also knew there was still much work to be done.

Buoyed by the prospect of this, she suddenly stood up, turned her back on the blue horizon in the distance, squared her now bowed and stooped shoulders and walked as briskly as the terrain would permit, back to her camp.

Later that night the Red Priestess woke up. Something was different! As she lay on her back contemplating the following morning’s programme, she suddenly realised she could see millions of stars!

It was a moonless night and very dark, but the stars were shining; it looked like something from her fairy-tale books as a child. The sky was particularly clear and it seemed that she could reach out and pluck a star from the heavens. Wonder upon wonder she could also see a comet! Petrovic’s harbinger of evil from the past had come full circle again. A cold sense of impending doom seemed to crawl down her spine. She shuddered, then shook herself and in a daze of happiness quietly got up and walked to where her son was lying. He started when she gently shook him and with her finger over his mouth, silenced him and indicated that he follow her. Confused and sleepy, he crawled out of his lean-to and followed her to a spot out of earshot of the others at the top of the hillock, overlooking the Source.

“Look,” she said pointing to the skies above. No further words were necessary.

The High Priest gasped. He had never seen anything like it in his life; not even his vision of this happening was as beautiful. It was a stunning sight. The clear mountain air seemed to touch the stars. The Milky Way lay like a white cloud, winding its magnificent way around the sky, while the morning star was already rising above the eastern horizon. To him it seemed like they were in an up-ended cup with the star-studded sky their new ceiling. The flat clouded sky he was accustomed to had been replaced by a magnificent panorama of stars which had brightened the lives of thousands of generations before him. His generation was the first in human history to have been denied this privilege for such a length of time.

For the rest of his life he would never forget this moment which he now shared with his mother. It had a spiritual quality to it and he suddenly understood why so many religions of the Ancients had been based on the heavenly bodies. Worshipping the stars made a lot of sense to him now. He also now understood why his mother had always placed so much emphasis on this occasion. Her presence next to him seemed to reach out to him, fill his heart. It was beautiful beyond words.

A slight noise suddenly startled the two silent spectators. It was Karl. He was a hunter and slept like a cat. He was unable to fathom the skies. He had noticed the outline of the two on the hillock and joined them.  To him this seemed like a show of magic and sorcery.

“What has happened?” he asked unnecessarily and somewhat uncertainly.

“It is as we predicted, Karl. The clouds have disappeared and the skies I knew as a child are open again,” she replied.

“Shall we wake everybody up? We can use the drums,” her son asked.

“Not yet. Let’s just enjoy the quiet and magnificent view together.”

“I could never have imagined this,” Karl said looking up at the sky. His voice was quiet and one could hear his awe of the heavens above “This is something that we will remember forever. To think that the clouds had hidden this from us our whole lives. What are the lights and that white path in the skies?”

“Karl, they are the stars you have heard of in the legends and stories around the fires as a child. Every star is a fiery sun like our sun which will rise in the east in a couple of hours, but they are very, very far away and look tiny just as the buffalo looks tiny when it is far away on the open hunting plains. The white path as you call it was called the Milky Way. It is not really milk but millions of stars very far away. That small white path is called a comet. It is in fact moving though the heavens at a very high speed and will disappear from the skies in a few days or weeks only to return again many years hence.”

“But so many? Can you count them?”

“What you see is but a tiny part of the universe, Karl. If you could stand on a star, the earth where we are would look like a small pin prick of light as well. The universe is larger than your mind will allow you to believe. We are not even at its centre.”

The three remained silent for another half hour and then decided that they needed to share the magnificence of the skies and the coming sunrise with all.

They summoned the drummer and as the drum rolls thundered out into the silent night, villagers tumbled out of their beds shouting at each other, terrified at the sudden noise and commotion. The pitch dark night with its strange shadows around them merely added to the confusion.

Suddenly a voice boomed from the hillock above them: “Citizens of Red Valley! Be still and look at the skies. It is as was prophesied.” It was Karl’s loud bass voice.

The new, almost unfamiliar voice and unexpected command stilled the sleepy villagers and they all looked to the skies.

A stunned silence of about ten seconds was immediately followed by screams of abject terror. Virtually all the villagers fell flat on their faces and refused to look up. The stars seemed to be touchable fires of ice; to them the skies were falling. The lights were the fires in the sky the High Priest had spoken of; now they were terrified of being blinded in the night. Their crying and moans pierced the still air. The Jesuits and Caesareans especially were terrified of sorcery, witchcraft; of divine intervention.

“Be calm citizens of Red Valley,” the Priestess’ voice rang out. This seemed to have a calming effect and the moans and screams quietened down.

“As we predicted, the skies have cleared and now for the first time in your lives you witness the stars of the skies above us. In a short while, you will see an orange and very red light which will get stronger and stronger in the east,” she said indicating where east lay. “Fear not. This is another star which we as Ancients called the sun. It will bring us the daylight which you know well but which has been hidden and blanketed by the clouds for all your lives. It is not to be feared but it will blind you if you look straight into it. The sun brings warmth and life.”

Most of the villagers were not to be so easily placated and continued to keep their faces to the ground. A few, especially the New Londoners slowly turned their faces skywards and looked at the stars. The dark of the night was now slowly lightening and as she had predicted, a clear sky to the east started appearing.

Wonder above wonder, the stars winked out one by one in their thousands as the sun’s light started to dominate the night sky. Presently they were able to distinguish a blue and clear sky together with the red of the new day’s dawn. Everybody was now standing up and facing the east. They were familiar with the dawning of a new day, but this dawn was dramatic. The colours were such as they had never before witnessed. The indigo blue skies replaced the dull red and grey clouds which had covered the earth for so long. Red and orange streaks seemed to rise from the horizon. The sun was being painted by a giant majestic hand. The colours had a physical quality and seemed to touch their hair and skins as it washed over them in total silence. For the first time they actually noticed sharp and defined shadows which followed them as they moved.

They had grandstand seats on KRAT to witness the birth of a new world. None understood what was happening except Rachel, the Red Priestess.

For the Jesuits, it was simply another wondrous sign sent to them by God. They fell to their knees and gave thanks for the blessings so richly bestowed upon them this day. The Vicar General however was seriously concerned by the witch’s sorcery. How did she know this will happen and how did the High Priest foretell this? It was the work of the Devil! No human could be so powerful as to foretell these miracles unless they had access to Satan; they most certainly didn’t recognise Jesus Christ and could not have been blessed with divine powers such as Elijah or Eli of the Israelites.

The New Londoners were also fascinated. The stars and access to the heavens opened up a whole new avenue for research, debate and conjecture. It would keep them busy for thousands of years. Ahmed was especially fascinated as it was he who had developed a new theory about earth’s curvature. A new field of research into astronomy would develop while mystics would create new legends around the influence the constellations would have on their lives.

For the Caesareans it had a somewhat more sinister connotation as the gods of the clouds had now seemingly abandoned them. They would have to sacrifice, probably a blood sacrifice, to appease the gods. Yet they instinctively knew that the clearing of the skies was something their ancestors wanted for them and for the generations to come. The sacrifices called for, would be great indeed.

As the day lightened further, the birds set off to commence their daily chores of finding food. To them the stars and sun were nothing strange. They knew how to use the stars above the clouds to navigate; another day meant they had nests to build.

The breakfast fires were cold. No villager was interested in eating.

They all sat on the highest knolls and hillocks to witness their first ever sunrise; for the first time the villagers were united in something every one could participate in and enjoy without thoughts of their differences and beliefs.

Around the Red Priestess and the High Priest, a large number of villagers from all three villages, were sitting on the hillside listening to her explanations of the sun, moon and stars. It was not magic or legend any more. It was real.

The sun continued to rise, its warm light eventually bathing the villagers on KRAT as well as those left behind in the three villages of Red Valley. The latter citizens had had no warning or explanation of the clearing of the clouds; neither had they heard the prophecies and predictions. Terror reigned in some of the villages and most remained indoors to avoid being struck down by the gods. All the villagers however were able to link the happenings with the fact that their elders and leaders had congregated on KRAT.

On KRAT, the drama which unfolded over the valley was stunning; visibility was great in the crystal clear sky. In the distance they could make out thousands of wild animals which seemed to be stampeding at the unfamiliar sight of the sun and the feeling of its rays on their skins as they tried in vain to outrun the shadows following them.

As the dust rose in the air, sun rays could be seen creating a surreal scene which looked like a crown of light which reached into the blue skies. Behind them Rachel was explaining what they were witnessing but in villages below these rays became part of new legends; new myths as the gods sent out rays of light to seek and weed out the wicked from the good.

“The planet Earth is but a very tiny part of the Universe which stretches into infinity. Our own earth and the bright star you saw just before the sun rose above the horizon are called planets which mean that they do not have fires on them such as the stars and the sun, which is a small star.”

“Why then is it so big and warm on our skins?” a villager asked.

“It is very much closer to us than the stars so it looks bigger. In fact it is not a very big star at all. When you draw closer to a fire in the cold winter nights even the small flame of your tallow lamps, is it not true that you feel its rays on your skin? The sun is a very large fire that has burned for a very long time and is destined to burn forever.”

“How does it rise?” another asked.

“It doesn’t. What you are seeing is the earth which is turning towards the east which makes the sun look like it’s rising. In the afternoon it will disappear to the west over the horizon. The earth rotates around the sun and in one year it will go one circle. This takes 365 days or as we counted here in Red valley roughly one migration of the birds. We will now be able to construct our own calendar according to the sun and the moon and we’ll learn how to find our way in the dark by following the stars.”

“What’s the moon?” a woman from New London asked. Most of her audience listened to the priestess’ explanations but didn’t really grasp what she was saying. Surely the sun rose as they watched; the earth’s rotation was surely stuff and nonsense. Listening to her was nonetheless fascinating and gave them an opportunity to get close to this mythical witch their parents had warned them against.

“The moon is a small body which rotates around the earth. You may see it tonight when it’s dark again. I’m not sure in what phase it is now but I think it had already set when we saw the stars during the night.” As she explained she used round stones to illustrate how the earth, sun and moon revolved in the solar system.

The Jesuit Inner Circle was sitting a hundred metres from the Red Priestess, further down the hill. A heated discussion was going on as the Vicar General tried to re-establish his authority in the face of the dramatic events they were witnessing.

“… but you did say that she would try to influence us through witchery. This is not witchery; it is a natural phenomenon which she and the High Priest forecast. Even the Bible speaks of the sun, the moon and the stars. It is clear to me that she had seen these things in her Ancient world and can speak of them. Isn’t she but a prophet such as is written of in the Bible?” Timothy was saying defensively.

“How do you think she or the High Priest knew of this? How fortunate for her that the birds came when they did. How carefully did she plan all this more than three weeks ago? Are you telling me that Satan is not sitting at her right hand? He is laughing at the confusion and empty victory she has created for him. No she’s no prophet, except a prophet of Satan,” the Vicar General replied with a degree of venom which surprised even his closest confidantes.

“Why Satan? Why was it not through the divine intervention of our Lord, Jesus Christ?” Timothy continued doggedly. The Vicar General did not intimidate him any longer. He had seen his weaknesses and so had the Red Priestess; the Jesuit cause would be better served if he, Timothy became their new leader and Vicar General.

“How dare you question my opinion, Brother Timothy? Am I not the Vicar General; the one through whom the Lord Jesus Christ communicates?” The Vicar General knew that he was being challenged. Timothy was a distinct threat and since the witch had destroyed his credibility, the knives would be out for him. Even within the City of Jesuits, he had enemies. His iron-fisted and bigoted rule had not enamoured him to the Jesuits.

“I will call a General Convocation when we return home and your loyalty shall be put to the test,” the Vicar General threatened.

“Father, you are in no position to threaten me. I would advise you to seek help from the Lord Jesus Christ through the intervention of the Holy Mother. Your bitterness and hatred for the witch has tainted your judgement. It is not the way the Lord Jesus Christ would have dealt with the matter. Maybe it is time you stand aside and let those of us who can find it in our hearts to forgive, to take the lead.” Timothy rose from his seat and clambered down the slope of the hill. Mark followed him without saying a word.

The Vicar General could not understand how the witch had managed to turn the tables on him so completely and utterly. Even his brethren had now turned their backs on him. She must die and she must die in the name of God Almighty. That was the only way. She must be the ultimate sacrifice to Jehovah. The valley needed another cleansing; another witch must die or confess her sins.

He turned to look at her where she was sitting and cringed when he saw that she was watching him with those piercing blue eyes. They seemed to be smiling at him. As he turned to leave the hill, it suddenly struck him. The similarity could not have been greater; neither could it have been by accident! The Sermon on the Mount! She had the temerity to imitate the Lord Jesus! There she was sitting, while his followers and those of the other villages were listening to her seductive preaching. Even her acolytes were there distributing water to the thirsty! She was Satan and as Satan she shall die; her death shall be slow and excruciating as behoves Satan!


The scene in Bennie’s Camp was one of decay and desolation.

The decay was evident from the dirty and neglected appearance of the camp. No movement could be discerned.

From where Karl lay, invisible to the eye, he scanned the entire area but could not make out the whereabouts of the Crew. Their absence from the camp was worrying. He wondered what they were up to.

Sliding back up the hillock so as not be detected, he turned and walked towards the distant wreck of the Airbus. After about half an hour, he concealed himself once again among the rocks.

If Bennie’s Crew were anywhere they would be inside the wrecked and stripped fuselage. Wonder what they are doing? In a circuitous approach to the wreck, Karl crept up to the far side of the fuselage about twenty metres from the edge of the cliff. He could hear people talking inside. There were scraping, hammering and breaking noises. Concealing himself as best he could to observe their exit from the aircraft, Karl waited patiently. Stalking humans was very much the same as stalking prey for the pot, he thought.

After a couple of hours Jim and Bennie emerged with the rest of his crew now down to a total of thirteen. They were carrying objects which Karl could not identify. They looked like square metal trunks about the size of large suitcases. They seemed quite heavy as each trunk required two men to carry it out of the fuselage. There were five trunks in all. After placing them on the ground, Bennie and his crew gathered around and with some laughter pulled a cord sticking out from one of the cases and with a small crack it exploded, causing a bright orange life raft to inflate automatically. Karl jerked in fright almost as if he’d been caught red-handed.

Peering inside the incongruous craft, Bennie emerged with a small survival kit. These were normally equipped with emergency equipment such as GPS, flares, emergency water- and food rations. The whole crew then clambered inside the craft which was designed for twenty persons.

It suddenly dawned on Karl. They were planning an evacuation from the mountain top! There were certainly enough of the life rafts available. It was a crazy idea. Where would they go? The seas were extremely rough and tidal waves were bound to smash the puny craft against the rocks of the mountain.

He heard Jim say to the crew as they re-emerged: “OK let’s get the rest of the canisters to camp. We can store them there. This one we can pull over the ground and use for storage till we need it.”

The four remaining canisters were lifted by two men each and they departed for the camp. The inflated raft was manhandled by the remaining five members of the group and with the assistance of wire ropes attached to the life lines of the raft, started dragging it to their camp.

After they had disappeared Karl emerged from his hiding place and clambered into the giant fuselage. There was not much left, except the seats for which they had little use. Bennie’s Crew had ripped open the cradles in which the canisters had been fastened. Some canisters had been destroyed by the crash and were useless. They had removed the only serviceable ones.

As he scratched through the rubbish, he noticed a small object which had wedged itself under a seat. It had obviously escaped the attention of the survivors. Tugging at it, it suddenly dislodged causing Karl to sit back heavily on his haunches.

It was a small black metal box. The box was locked with a latch and a small lock which Karl easily broke off. Obviously something that is not too valuable he thought to himself. Opening the lid he peered inside to find a beautiful naval brass sextant, clearly an antique: a collectors’ item. It was carefully packed in bubble wrap. He placed it back in the metal container. Oscar may be able to use this, he thought. Clambering out of the wreck, Karl made his way back to Base Camp with the instrument.

When he reached the camp he called out to Oscar who was helping a small group of children to weave baskets from the fronds of the swamp reeds in the wetlands. Seemed like he needed some help as well, Karl thought amused by the sight of Oscar who was considered the informal camp leader, trying his hand at something so alien.

“Look what I found,” Karl said, holding up the black box.

“What’s that?” Oscar asked as he thankfully stood up from his unfamiliar task.

“Have a look, think you’ll love this,” Karl replied.

Oscar took the box and as he opened it, he gasped in delight.

“What a wonderful find, Karl. Where did you get it?”

“It was lying under one of the seats in the Airbus. We must’ve missed it on previous missions. But listen to this. I followed Bennie’s Crew and found them salvaging stuff from the wreck. I hid away to see what they were up to. You know what they found and took back to their camp with them?” Karl asked.

“No.”

“Well, I wasn’t sure at first what the canisters held, but then they fired one.”

“Fired one, a flare or what?”

“No, they hauled out five life rafts and then popped one.”

“Oh shit! I completely forgot those things. What are they doing with them?”

“Well, I heard Jim say that they should take them back to camp until they needed them. The popped one they’re going to use as a storage place. The thought then crossed my mind that they may be planning to leave the mountain and try their luck on the sea.”

“Wow. They’ll come short, that’s for sure. Oh shit, you know what?” Oscar asked without expecting an answer. “Those rafts all contain survival kits.”

“So what?”

“So each kit has a Very Pistol as well as flares.”

“What’s a Very Pistol?” Karl asked.

“Old technology, but a very effective flare launcher, Karl. Also a very dangerous weapon in the wrong hands, it’ll kill if it were to hit you in the guts. For some reason, British Airways decided to include these pistols in the survival kits. I think it had something to do with the normal flares being dangerous in the wrong hands. Maybe these guys are out to get us back and use those weapons to intimidate us or worse.”

“Shit, that’s five possible guns they have then if I understand you correctly,” Karl said.

“Levels the odds somewhat don’t you think?” Oscar replied as he fiddled with the sextant.

“H’m, it does unless we can neutralise them somehow. We must chat to Gary, John and the others.”

“Yes, but don’t let word get out. Some of the women may start stirring up things again.” Oscar was referring to Suzette who had a habit of creating problems where they didn’t exist.

“Is the sextant any good?” Karl asked, changing the subject.

“It’s in perfect shape. The mirrors and lenses seem to be perfectly aligned while the arc seems to have been unaffected by the crash. Pity though that we can’t see the sun or moon. In any case, I would need an almanac to determine the correct time and position of the stellar bodies before I would be able to use it to get a fix on where we actually are on this crazy world. Although, if June’s explanations are right, it makes no difference anyhow. We will not be where we think we should have been.”

 

In Bennie’s camp they were packing out the stuff from the life raft they had opened. It contained a number of things they realised would stand them in good stead. This included a sewing kit, rations including chocolates and energy bars which disappeared very quickly among the delighted crew, a fishing kit and a substantial amount of distilled drinking water.

But as Oscar had predicted, it was the Very pistol and a set of six spare flares which aroused their interest the most. Jim who had served his two years compulsory military training in the South African Navy knew exactly how to use it and what it could do.

He explained how it worked to the rest of the group and then pocketed the pistol and flares. Bennie and Graham looked at him with ill-disguised hatred. The pistol just deepened the schism between them. Jim was aware of this but he had the support of the rest of the group, so wasn’t too concerned with their feelings. He nonetheless knew that he would have to watch his back.

The other life raft canisters were stashed in the open life raft. They would be safe because they could not be opened without the knowledge of the rest of the crew.

As night fell, Peter and Danny lit a fire and soon they were all warming themselves as the bitter cold closed in around them.

Jim looked at the motley group. He wasn’t too happy with what he saw. They looked beat. They were clearly under-nourished; some looked decidedly ill. Time for some team-building he thought.

“OK, listen up. Tomorrow we’re going to stir things up somewhat,” Jim stated in matter of fact kind of way like he was planning a shopping trip to the local mall.

“Stir what up, Jim?” Danny asked.

“Here’s what I have in mind but we have to all work together or we’ll come off second best. OK?” Jim looked around him for affirmation.

They nodded listlessly, without knowing what it was they were agreeing to.

“Tomorrow, before anyone in Base Camp stirs, we must be up and in our positions in the forest,” he started.

Now everyone was listening. This sounded like what they had wanted to do a couple of days ago. But the way Jim was explaining the strategy seemed to be more rational.

They all listened as Jim explained. As he continued, even Graham and Bennie started taking an active interest in the discussions and plans which carried on for an hour or two until everyone was satisfied with their allocated tasks.

After a supper of emergency rations from the life raft which included energy bars and some more chocolate, the crew was in high spirits as they crawled into their huts for the night.

Outside the wind was howling and a driving sleet-rain ensured that even the hyrax and hyenas, not used to the cold weather took shelter in the deepest recesses of the barren rocks.

 

The next morning dawned bitterly cold and wet. Very little movement could be discerned in Base Camp as the survivors tried to get as much warmth from the meagre skins and furs that they could.

In Suzette’s hut, the young Alistair cuddled up into the older woman’s curved body for warmth. She had taken over the role his dead mother used to have during the cold London nights. Hearing a small scuffle outside their skin screen door, Suzette called out softly to allow John Ridgeway into their hut. Alistair was virtually invisible under the blankets.

“Cold isn’t it?” she stated sleepily, as she raised herself from the blankets. He sat down next to her.

“Yes. I couldn’t sleep in my place. Your hut is a lot warmer. Must be the fact that there are two of you here,” he replied, rubbing his hands briskly.

She took his hands and held them under the blankets against her body. Laughing at his discomfort, she said: “Don’t stress John; I am just sharing some warmth with a cold friend.”

“I know, but I am human too, you know,” he complained to the older woman.

“All too well, Father, all too well,” she replied coyly. She had reverted to the more formal address to tease the man in him.

The two of them sat like that for a while; he without removing his hands; she rubbing them slowly against her body, up to her soft breasts. He could feel the heat rising in him, a slow hardening started in his loins; the ache made him moan softly. He jerked his hands from the blankets; blew into them in an attempt to hide the big lump which was quite discernible under his tattered cassock. Suzette looked at him with eyes which also reflected the desire in her. She felt moist and warm; her breath was shallow and rapid. Reaching under his garment, she gripped his rock-hard member and rolling over so that her head was under the fur blankets, placed his cock into her mouth. With her other hand she placed his hands between her legs easily slipping two of his fingers deep inside her wet cunt. The priest’s eyes closed as she softly caressed the veins with her tongue, all the while sucking, licking, sucking until with a rush he felt himself coming into her mouth. His body jerked and his back bent over backwards at the sheer release of years of pent up pressure. His fingers frantically rubbed her clitoris and within a few seconds she moaned in delight as her body pulsated orgasmically.

When Suzette poked her head from the blankets she looked at him with eyes heavy with lust. The two started to bend toward each other when Alistair stirred next to her and they both guiltily pulled away from each other.

A feeling of abject guilt rushed through the priest. Still panting softly, despair swept through him; despair for their situation in a world that had forgotten them; despair of human frailty and especially his own; despair that he had sinned in the eyes of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

As Alistair lifted himself from the blankets, rubbing his sleepy eyes, he looked at the priest with a smile and said: “Morning Father, did you sleep well?”

“No actually I didn’t Alistair. It was too cold so I thought I’d join you two as your place is a lot warmer,” the priest replied averting his eyes from the questioning eyes of the young boy.

Alistair looked up at Suzette. She looked a bit flushed he thought. Coming down with a fever, no doubt.

Suzette rose from the bed and scrounging around the hut, found remnants of the previous night’s meal, which she shared between the three of them. They chewed through the tough bird’s meat in silence each with his or her own thoughts.

Outside they could now hear scuffling as the survivors started to prepare their morning meals in the cold air.

 

Esme, Christine, June and some of the younger girls were getting ready to go down to the bathing spot near the cliff face in the forest. Despite the bitterly cold weather, it had become a ritual of perseverance and survival to bathe. They had something to prove to themselves. They had also built a small fireplace next to the bathing area to warm themselves after their ablutions were done. The fire was normally lit before they went to the toilets in order that a good fire was burning before they immersed themselves in the freezing river water. They would place their clothes on branches specifically cut to spread and warm the clothes from the heat of the fire in preparation for a hasty dressing.

Around the bathing area, Gary and John Duguid had built a screen of tamboti poles that they had cut from the forest. While this afforded bathers a measure of privacy from peering eyes, it did not provide any security from anyone wishing to attack them or steal their possessions. This had however not been a consideration when the screen was constructed.

The women scampered down to the forest with their towels made from the absorbent sisal and hemp fibres which had been woven into sheets and cut into appropriate sizes for each person. Gary had been the manufacturer of the towels and had set up a small wooden table top fashioned by axes and home-made adzes to lay out and dry the pre-soaked and softened sisal and hemp fibres. A couple of women had been taught by Zyndile how to weave the fibres into soft absorbent towels. A smaller version of these towels was also used by the women as sanitary towels.

It was Christine’s turn to make the fire while the other women darted off to the toilets with bursting bladders. The fire was soon burning from brush wood which had been packed the previous day under a small lean-to to protect it from the rain.

As the women returned from the toilets, Christine left for the toilets as well.

Esme and June were the first to plunge into the river with little screams of shock as their breaths were knocked out of their bodies by the icy waters. The younger girls hesitated before gingerly letting their naked young bodies sink into the water. Nobody stayed in the water for more than a minute. Clambering back on the banks, they hurriedly soaped themselves down with home-made soap and then rinsed themselves before grabbing their towels to rub down their blue and pink hued bodies and then jumped into their now-warmed clothes from the branches, to dress hastily. There was so much talking and giggling, that nobody noticed that Christine had not returned from the toilets.

As they left the enclosure, they heard a scream from the direction of the toilets and suddenly realised that Christine was missing.

Led by June, they all ran in the direction of the scream. Bursting into the small clearing around the toilets, they saw some figures running away from them through the trees with Christine slung over the back of one of the group. It was Bennie’s Crew. That much was clear to both Esme and June.

They immediately returned to Base Camp, June at the forefront with the younger girls in close attendance and a pregnant Esme struggling to keep up, shouting for help as they ran into the camp. Gary was the first to reach them with Oscar, John and Donald in close attendance.

An out of breath June shouted: “Christine has been abducted by Bennie’s Crew.”

“What? How did this happen?” Gary shouted eyes wide at the mere thought of it.

“It doesn’t matter how, dammit,” June said. “We just heard her scream when she went to the toilets alone and when we ran to see what had happened, we could see them running away with her slung over somebody’s shoulders.”

“Jesus Christ! I knew that these guys were up to something yesterday,” Karl, who had just joined them, said.

“We must get to their camp immediately and get her back,” June cried in great distress.

“Wait!” Oscar cautioned holding up his hands. “Why would they abduct Christine if they knew that we would immediately respond and attack them? Karl and I know that they are now armed so we need to be very careful how we respond. I smell a trap.”

“What do you mean, they’re armed?” Esme cried in alarm. Christine and she were very close, especially in the light of her pregnancy.

“We discovered yesterday that they had salvaged the life rafts in the plane and had recovered the Very pistols in the survival kits,” Oscar replied, looking at her with a knowing look.

Esme knew very well what this meant. She was trained in their use and knew what they were capable of.

“How many?” she asked.

“Apparently five,” Oscar said. “However when we last heard they had only opened one canister.”

“They were planning this, a couple of days ago,” a voice said behind them.

They all spun around. Tom was standing behind them. They had not heard him approach. Gary still did not fully trust the man and walked up to him: “And you knew this?” he enquired in a belligerent voice.

“Yes, that’s why I left them. They were plotting to attack you and if necessary get rid of some of you. The women were to be a particularly soft target. I didn’t know of the fact that they’d discovered arms though or that they were planning to abduct Christine. They must’ve planned this after I left.”

“So why should we believe you? You didn’t bother to tell us?” Gary asked without moving. Tom had heard everything they had been discussing, he thought to himself.

“I’m not a snitch, Gary,” Tom responded quietly.

“I believe him, Gary.” This time it was Zyndile speaking. She had followed Tom.

“He confided in me after Christine and I looked after his wounds. He told us that they’re after revenge and would’ve killed him had he not given as good as he got,” she continued.

“Sounds a bit too convenient to me,” Gary replied, still unconvinced of Tom’s bona fides.

“Well whatever, all I can say is that you need to be aware that Bennie is no longer the leader. Jim Armstrong has taken over. He is ten times as dangerous because he is a clever and natural leader,” Tom continued.

“Listen guys! While we talk, Christine is being held captive or worse. What are we going to do?” Esme interrupted again in desperation.

Gary was as impatient as Esme and jumped from where he was sitting to emphasise the need for urgent action.

“C’mon guys let’s go get her back!” he yelled.

By this time quite a large group of survivors had assembled and the mood was clearly in support of Gary and Esme’s sentiments.

“OK let’s collect all the weapons you can get hold of. Men only. No women or children. We’ll congregate on the hilltop. I’ll wait for you there. All the women and children are to remain behind,” Oscar ordered. Looking at Esme, he said: “See to it that the kids are OK. Tom you remain with the women. You’re in no position or condition for that matter, to take part and may just complicate things.”

No strategy had been decided upon and it was clear that the head to head confrontation that had been threatening to break for months was about to endanger the lives of at least some of the survivors. Nobody gave this any thought. Their only concern was for Christine’s safety.

The men in the group darted off to fetch their bows and arrows, clubs and slingshots. Most of their owners, with the exception of Karl, Gary and a couple of others, were not very skilled in their use.

Meanwhile Esme gathered the women and children. They went to the small amphitheatre where they were relatively well protected by the surrounding rock walls.

The men met at the hill-top. Some had found time to paint their faces with red mud and the scarlet cochineal dye that they used to decorate the outside of some of their small dwellings to brighten things up on the dreary mountain plateau. The group resembled the Picts of the ancient Scottish Highlands and looked every bit as fierce with their beards, ragged clothing and weaponry. Father Ridgeway and Ahmedi were the only ones without weapons or war-paint.

Oscar was reflecting on their strategy when they arrive at the enemy camp. A frontal attack would be dangerous and could endanger Christine as well. She was no doubt a hostage and they would use her to negotiate something, but what?

“Right, listen up,” he said, doing a quick assessment of the group and their weapons. They easily had the upper hand but one well aimed flare from the Very pistol could wreak substantial damage and possible even kill one of them.

“Gary, you and John take ten men and approach the camp from the south. Karl, you and Donald also take ten guys and circle down to the north side cutting them off from the Airbus, in case they retreat that way. I’ll approach them straight down the hill together with Father Ridgeway, Ahmedi and the rest of you. We’ll be the negotiators and try to keep the lid on things. Gary, you and Karl must try to keep yourselves out of sight, if you can. I think they’ll be using Christine as a hostage to extract some advantage from us, but I don’t know what to expect. Watch the situation carefully. Attack if you think any of us or Christine is in any danger.”

The three groups split up and Oscar’s group moved down the hill toward the encampment. From where Oscar stood he could see the whole of Bennie’s camp. There was no sign of anybody. He immediately smelled a trap; the women and children; Christine had been used as a decoy! He immediately sent two men to call Karl and Gary back to the camp and ran back up the hill.

As he crested the hill and the camp came into full view, his worst fears were realised.

The women and children had been herded into the centre of the camp while five men armed with clubs of some description were guarding them. The other eight members of Bennie’s Crew and Christine were nowhere to be seen.

As he entered the camp with his men around him, Jim Armstrong emerged from the amphitheatre with a hairy arm clutched around Christine’s neck. He was holding the Very pistol to her head. Flanking him Bennie, Graham and the rest of his crew approached.

“So Oscar, who ’as the advantage now, ’ey?” a smirking Bennie cried out. Jim motioned to him to pipe down. Tom was right; Jim was clearly in control.

Stopping near the group of women hostages, Oscar replied: “What do you think you’re going to achieve, Jim?”

“Everything, Mr. Navigator,” came the sarcastic reply.

“What do you want?” Oscar asked.

“Tell your lieutenants to drop their weapons and to come into the arena, Oscar,” Jim instructed. He had noticed that Gary and Karl and the rest of the group were not present.

Karl’s group was the first to arrive and as they rounded the corner which hid them from Base Camp, came up short when they saw the scene that confronted them. Karl was about to duck away when Jim called out to him to throw down his weapons and approach Oscar’s group. Karl had no option but to obey.

“Where’s Gary and his group?” Jim asked.

“On their way,” Oscar answered sullenly. His mind was working at double speed. Jim and his thugs clearly had the drop on them. Better to play along for now. Hope Gary can think on his feet.

“So what do you want from us, Jim?” Oscar asked, quietly. He must play for time and distract their attention to allow Gary time to think what he must do.

“We want it all. We want you to leave this camp and to leave it as is for us. We will keep the women and children as our hostages to ensure that you don’t try any tricks,” Jim said. He had not relaxed his grip on Christine and had moved himself around with his back to the rock overhang to protect him from any attack from behind.

“So now we have come full circle, Jim, haven’t we? When you realised the stupidity of your poor decision not to join us, violence and direct confrontation was the only way out for you. Sounds like Bennie and Graham have affected your sense of judgement,” Oscar replied sarcastically.

“Shut up Oscar. I’m not interested in your opinion. You’ve lost the advantage and now it is you who must feel the effects of living on the edge as we have been since the crash.” Motioning to Oscar, he added: “Move over where I can keep my eye on you. Graham go fetch the pregnant bitch here. You fancy her don’t you?”

“You bastard! Leave her alone. You can see she’s pregnant!” Oscar shouted and tried to leap forward. Jim immediately fired a flare off into the ground in front of him and where the projectile hit, it hissed and burned with an acrid smoke, half blinding everybody standing close.

At that moment Gary came around the hill running from the side of the spring and seeing the danger, hesitated for a second and then just continued to rush in waving his club and shouting at the top of his voice.

Things happened quickly: Jim whirled to face the new threat and as he did so, Christine dropped to the ground to get out of his grip and to clear the way for Gary’s attack. Bennie immediately hurled himself into Gary’s path but years of rugby at the highest level helped Gary hand him off with a rough shove in the face. He winced from the injuries Tom had inflicted a few days earlier as he fell heavily to the ground. Jim levelled his pistol at the charging figure forgetting that it had just been fired and was now useless as it had contained only one cartridge. Meanwhile Karl flung himself at Graham while Oscar, scooping up his fallen club as he ran up to Jim, felled him with one blow to the side of the body.

Within half a minute the situation had been reversed. Graham was squirming beneath the considerable weight of Karl, while Jim, nursing a heavily bruised ribcage, just sat on the ground glaring at Oscar. Bennie had raised himself from the ground with Gary standing over him; the rest of the crew bewildered by the rapid shift of power just stood around sheepishly.

The five men who had been guarding the women and children stood still, not sure what was expected of them. The now useless Very pistol hung like a limp banana in Jim’s uninjured hand. Oscar walked up to him and pulled it out of his unresisting hand.

“You filthy bastard,” he said again hitting him behind the head with the captured weapon. Jim fell forward to the ground with blood streaming from the cut on his head from the blow.

Meanwhile Christine stood up from the ground and ran to Esme and the children, shouldering one of the men out of her way. She hugged Esme in relief with tears coursing down her face.

“They were going to take over the camp and keep the women and children and ban the men to their old camp. They said that they were going to have fun with me,” she shouted through her tears to Oscar.

“So Jim, did you really think you would succeed in your little plan?” Oscar asked. “Christ I can’t believe that you guys thought fit to attack your fellow survivors. Let me tell you right here and now, if any harm had come to Christine you would have paid for it most dearly, you fucking bunch of morons.”

Jim didn’t reply. He was sitting up again nursing his head.

“Well, what are we going to do with you guys now? It seems like you’re hell-bent at trying to destroy what little semblance of life and civilisation we have on this bloody mountain. Clearly we must remove you from the mountain,” Oscar continued.

A startled Jim looked at him uncomprehendingly. He was still dazed by the blow to the head.

“What do you mean?” he asked thickly, tongue sticking to his palate.

“You obviously don’t want to live here in peace with us, so you will have to find somewhere else to live, won’t you? We’ll have to decide how to get you off this mountain top forever, Jim. You’ve tried our patience once too often; maybe we should just shove you all off the side of the plateau,” Oscar said emotionlessly.

“Jesus Christ man, are you crazy! You can’t do that!” Jim shouted. The rest of the group was now showing distinct signs of panic. Bennie and Graham who had joined him plucked at Jim’s sleeve whispering in his ear.

“Look where your brilliant plans have got us now, Jim,” Graham hissed at him.

“We ’ave to do something and do it quickly,” Bennie said quietly to Graham. He knew that their opportunities had disappeared. James’s leadership was no better than his.

Jim just motioned at them to leave him alone to think. He was shocked at the speed the tables were turned on them. Now he faced a similar leadership challenge. Like one, Bennie and Graham leapt up to escape the ring of captors, but Gary was too quick for them and almost in anticipation of their move, he charged Bennie and with outstretched arms drove him backward into Graham’s much slighter frame, causing the three of them to sprawl onto the hard rock surface with Bennie screaming in pain as his broken ribs slammed into Graham’s shoulder. Oscar and Karl quickly turned on the rest of the group and suitably cowed, they sat down on the ground, with Oscar’s men hovering over them.

Motioning to the other men who were standing by with their arms, Oscar instructed them to lock the perpetrators of the failed mini-coup in their small stockade. It was just large enough to accommodate the thirteen men. They sat down in the stockade quietly. Their defeat had been swift.

While they were being locked away, Tom and Zyndile appeared. Before Bennie’s Crew had arrived to capture the women and children, they had walked down to the forest to reconnoiter the area where Christine had been abducted. When they heard the commotion in the camp, they had hidden themselves in the bush and watched the whole drama unfold.

Gary looked at them suspiciously as they approached and asked: “What were you two up to?”

Zyndile explained while Tom stood by her side.

“And did you find anything in the forest?” Gary asked sarcastically as he continued his interrogation.

“Yes actually we did,” she replied. Holding out her hand to Gary she showed him five shotgun type cartridges for the Very pistol.

Oscar walked up to her and took them from her.

“Good work Zyndi. I wondered where the rest of the flares were. Jim did not have them on him. He must’ve dropped them when they captured Christine. Just as well because it could have been a very different outcome for us if he’d had them on him.”

At this Gary and the rest relaxed and started discussing the happenings of the morning while Tom and Zyndile walked to her hut. Christine chuckled and looked at them with a knowing glance. She seemed to have recovered her composure totally.

The whole drama had taken only two hours from the time of Christine’s abduction but it would have an effect on the survivors of the Airbus accident for decades to come.


It was still pitch dark when the Red Priestess and her acolytes crept quietly out of their shelters and stealthily tiptoed to the forest.

Behind them the camps were quiet except for some loud snoring which emanated from a number of lean-to’s. One villager however, watched the women depart through half-closed eyes. As soon as they had entered the forest, Karl quietly got up and taking his weapons with him, followed them without a sound.

Inside the forest it was even blacker and with no natural light, progress through the bush and trees was slow. Ahead of him he could hear the priestess speaking in a low voice. He crept nearer to hear what she was saying. He made absolutely no sound. He stalked like a python.

The small group was sitting in a semicircle with a small fire burning in the centre. The Red Priestess was standing and talking to the girls who were watching her every move.

“Are you all awake, girls?” she was asking the bleary eyed youngsters. They nodded in unison.

“Now before we get down to our morning talk, I want you all to stand up and stretch your arms as high as you can above your heads. Now breathe in deeply and on my count breathe out very slowly. One, two, three, four, five and six. Let’s do that again.”

Karl was astounded. He didn’t know what he’d expected but not this. She was giving them exercises. By the spirits of the Ancients, this was not witchcraft!

As he watched, the girls were thoroughly woken up with quiet breathing and stretching exercises. After that she instructed them to sit with their legs crossed and for a while they all went silent as he watched. When they had done the priestess told them all to sit down.

She started speaking in a low melodious, almost sing-song voice:

“The New World was borne from the world of the Ancients. The world we all lived in and in which you now live is not flat as you were taught by your parents in Caesarea or the City of Jesuits. The earth is almost round and we cannot fall off because we are held back by something called gravity, which is like power the earth has, to hold us down. Indeed the Jesuit Bible has a great story in it concerning the creation of earth. When you read it carefully it transpires that according to the writers who were said to have been inspired by their god, Jehovah, the earth was indeed flat. Of course this is nonsense as was proved many years later by discoverers who sailed round the world in their ships. The lesson in this is that one should beware of the stories mystics hold forth as the truth lest they be proved incorrect by the facts. When you leave the Red Valley you will find that the horizon continues to stay far away and that mountains and trees will seem to rise from the very earth as you approach them. This is because you are walking around the earth and not on a flat world from which you will fall such as a cockroach from the edge of a table in your house. This is a legend the elders have created to scare you away from wandering too far.”

Karl was softly chuckling to himself. This is as he had experienced it in his distant travels beyond the Great Divide, but he had not been able to explain it. The Red Priestess had solved a problem that had been bothering him for some years.

“The reason I tell you girls these things is so that you will be able to speed up the discovery of the New World without being held back by fears based on lies and folk tales. You will be the new Navigators.”

“What is a Navigator?” one of the girls asked.

“It is someone who is able to plot a path through unknown regions or can find the way forward especially when no-one knows where to go. In my metal bird which crashed here on KRAT we had a Navigator who could read the stars, the setting of the sun and the beautiful moon which you will see sooner than you can imagine.”

Now Karl was really fascinated. Navigation sounded like the stuff he does when he hunts, except he used trees and mountains and even small signs on the ground to guide him. What were the sun, stars and moon? His father would merely chase him away when he asked after these things with the instruction not to meddle with the ‘stuff and nonsense’ of the Ancients. And why did the woman talk of seeing these things again; what is it she knew that no-one else did? He had heard about the metal bird and knew that some of the older villagers in Caesarea even burnt incense to the Metal Bird Spirit in the sky. How could metal fly? He needed to spend much time with this woman; much time has been wasted by the tales and warnings of witchery from the elders; the demonization of the Red Priestess.

“But how will we know to navigate?” the same girl asked.

“I am not a navigator my child, but I will teach you when the stars come out, where east, west, north and south are. From that you will have to learn through experience and trial and error. The important thing is to understand that these things are natural and not divine or magical. The priests and diviners will tell you it is the will of a god or spirit to go one way while you will want to go the other, knowing that the stars will show you the path. They’ll also warn you not to search for the unknown or to reach beyond yourselves. They may also accuse you as they have me, of witchery and evil. They do this when they themselves are unable to understand things. This may be difficult to understand now but know this: there is no god or spirit to tell you what to do. What you decide to do is your decision and your decision alone. If you make a mistake, you will face the consequences of your own mistakes.”

“Why did the metal bird crash?” another young girl asked. The questioners were all from the New London village. This was their way. It was something Karl was not familiar with. In Caesarea, children were told to be quiet and not to ask questions.

“You will remember that I told you before in the cave, that the whole world was destroyed by big earthquakes such as you have never experienced in Red Valley. We were flying very high in the sky far above the clouds when this happened. The red dust and the gases from the volcanoes such as Brutus caused our bird to crash.”

“Like the birds die when Brutus farts?” the girl cried out. The other girls all giggled.

“Yes exactly like that,” the priestess replied with a laugh.

“When this happened, many people in the bird died as well, but we who lived to tell the tale, started living here on KRAT and eventually we created the three villages.”

“Why?” the same girl asked. “Why did you not stay together?”

The Red Priestess’ sigh contained so much pain and sadness. “That is a long story, maybe for another time, but understand this, people are strange animals who like to believe they have all the answers to everything; if they don’t agree about things they fight and then start hating each other. That is what happened to us. The ability to allow other people the space to have their own opinions and beliefs seems only to develop as one becomes wise in the ways of the world. I have seen how one villager killed another merely because the other refused to believe in him and his gods. I have also seen how members of the Lost Tribe who were banished from KRAT for attacking us, tried and succeeded in terrorising us; how they kidnapped a good friend of mine. I never saw her again.”

The girls cried out in shock.

“Kill! Do you mean you actually saw a person kill another here in the Valley?” one of the girls cried.

“Yes, one day I will divulge this to all. Now is not the time.”

Karl started understanding. He also started to realise that the differences between the villages had nothing to do with the Red Priestess; that it was the culmination of decades of intolerance and fighting, first among the survivors of the metal bird which then continued among their descendants to this very day. He also realised that they all came from the same history and background; the differences between them were often imagined or engineered to create division. Their similarities were thus buried under misconceptions, rumour mongering and a basic refusal to acknowledge these similarities.

He was suddenly shocked out of his thoughts, when the priestess said, somewhat louder: “You can join us now, Karl.” It was not sorcery; she had noticed him following them as they had entered the forest and had known all along that he had been eavesdropping. She welcomed it. What she had been telling the girls was intended for his ears as well; hence the lecture on navigation which she knew would interest him.

Sheepishly he emerged from his hiding place. The woman was more than he had bargained for.

“You knew I was there?” he asked.

“Yes, Karl. I told you before that I know your every move. If I had not wanted you here, I would have asked you to leave. You are welcome, although the gathering was for the daily talk I give the girls to educate them and open their minds.”

She then dismissed the girls who ran back in the slowly dawning morning light to the camp. They knew what they were expected to do before the priestess arrived back at the camp.

Meanwhile, Karl and the priestess remained sitting.

“I was listening to what you were telling the girls. It was very interesting. Clearly very few people know what you know and have seen what you have seen. Indeed as you say, you are an Ancient and have seen the Ancient world of which we have no understanding,” Karl said.

“Yes Karl, that is true. What was it that interested you most?” she asked, watching him carefully. His answer was very important to her.

“What you were saying about navigation was especially interesting but also about the reasons for the three separate villages. The killing is something we will have to discuss as well.” His answer was as she had hoped.

He continued: “I have never seen the stars and the moon you speak of but I have been able to find my way back to Red Valley even when animals have led me into places I have never been before. I used marks such as mountains and rivers that tell me the direction to take.”

“Then you are a navigator Karl. You must learn to lead the way. I believe that you will be our new Moses. About the killing I will keep that for the right time, but know this Karl; the story of this murder will shock especially you,” she said with some conviction.

“Why?” he asked puzzled.

“Let it be for now. The time is not right. Let’s talk about the exodus and Moses,” she countered.

“Who was Moses? What did he do?”

“Moses was the leader of a small tribe of people called the Israelites which the Bible of the Jesuits speaks about. At one time in their history many thousands of years ago, they lived in a country called Egypt where they were slaves to the Egyptian kings. They hated the Egyptians but like the Egyptians, the Israelites worshipped many gods. The most important of these gods were Baal, El and Yahweh. The history of the Israelites was based on oral legends. The different tribes of the Israelites embroidered their legends to suit their particular followers as was the case with all tribes who lived during those times. There was much fighting between these tribes just as we have here in Red Valley. It is said that Yahweh who was later combined with El, was a god of the southern mountains in the country they called Canaan while Baal was the storm god of the northern regions. He was a warrior god who rode the clouds and fought great battles.”

“Like our gods of the clouds?” Karl interjected.

“Yes, but a lot more violent according to the legends on the Israelites. Moses told his followers that Yahweh had given him commands that they were to follow on the pain of death itself. One of these was that only Yahweh should be worshipped. Originally Yahweh was seen to be but one of a group of gods called the ‘holy ones’ who sat in the divine assembly. Following Moses’ instructions, the people of Israel burned the effigies of Baal and other gods. Often times they would revert back to the other gods much to Moses’ disgust. He realised that to lead and unite his people he would have to get them to believe in only one god. He consequently used parables, legends and quite frankly threats of death and destruction. According to legend as was orally transmitted through the generations, Moses regularly spoke with Yahweh who instructed him to ensure that the Israelites do not worship any other gods. In the instances where they faltered he would threaten that Yahweh would rise up in anger and destroy them. Legend has it that Moses would then on their behalf beg Yahweh to have mercy on them and he would relent. This made Moses a very powerful and revered leader among his people but you must realise that when he told them Yahweh had spoken to him, he was merely using mysticism to manipulate the people. Through the centuries which followed, these myths were embellished and strengthened to the extent that they are taken for the absolute truth. Indeed for them to question the ‘truth’ as depicted by their scriptures was considered to be heresy and therefore punishable by death.”

“So what you say is that the Jesuit Bible contains stories which do not agree with each other and that these were not always truthful but merely legends? Why then was this Bible important to the Ancients?”

“It was the book upon which many religions of our world were based. It started with the Israelites but then over thousands of years spread around the world in different forms of which Christianity became the biggest religion. Most religions ensured that their followers adhered to their rites, laws and practices through the use of coercion and even force. If you wandered from the straight and narrow you were banned, stoned, flayed or beheaded, depending on the traditions at the time. Christianity was quite different from the original Jewish religion. It however still used the so-called Old Testament as a historic base. The Christian religion developed from the Jewish tradition and was named after Jesus who was believed to have been the Christ or Messiah whose coming the Jewish tradition had predicted many centuries before and who was destined to save them from their oppressors.”

“Why did Christianity then become so popular? Why not just believe in this god you call Yahweh?” Karl asked. The beliefs of the Caesareans seemed quite simple in comparison with the complicated history the Red Priestess was telling him about.

“You would not understand Karl, but it was basically good marketing. Yahweh was ultimately the god of the Israelites. People from other nations had their own gods. They could only worship Yahweh if they converted and practiced according to Jewish traditions. Christianity however offered other people including pagans, the possibility of everlasting life as well. Churches and religions became big business and many were very wealthy. This was based on the false realities the priests created. Promises were made of everlasting life after death coupled with threats of being caste into the fires of hell if they did not listen, and make no mistake, the churches backed their threats up with dire consequences such as excommunication which meant you were effectively banished. They also used torture, death by burning and so on. Christians say that belief in Jesus Christ is the ultimate truth and salvation of man; that he died for the sins of man. This is the fundamental reason why Christianity grew to become the largest religion. Nobody outside of the Christian religion would, in their view, be blessed with the everlasting life.”

“But this Moses, did he lie and why?”

“Yes. The person or persons who wrote these things in the Jesuit Bible about Moses, wrote them for the truth but there is no evidence that they actually happened. They were part of the oral heritage of the tribes of Israel. In their view these stories were justified. The legends around Moses were the combined legends of thousands of years compiled by different unknown writers and story tellers; there were many discrepancies as one would expect; some learned people even doubted that he actually existed. There is also no record of him actually living in Egypt. The Egyptian records which were written on stone show no evidence of him. Neither is there any record that he had caused the death of a whole Egyptian Army and its Pharaoh or king except as is told in the Bible. The plagues he was said to have visited on the Egyptians were also never mentioned in Egyptian records.  If indeed he existed, I believe that to protect his leadership and his belief in Yahweh, he manufactured instructions and even laws which he believed would be in the interest of his people. Remember that to strengthen his power base, he told them Yahweh had spoken to him. This made him the go-between between their god and the people of Israel which you will understand made him a very powerful person, even a person to fear. When people are ignorant and uneducated they are inclined to believe in ghosts, spirits, gods, demons, magic and witchcraft. You can see a similar thing here in Red Valley. Educate the people, teach them to think and ask questions then they start to investigate and become less inclined to be so naïve. Churches resist this.”

“If you’re saying Moses was a dishonest man, how can you now expect me to be a new Moses? I’m not dishonest.”

“Your concern tells me that I have chosen the right person to lead. Assuming that the legends about him are true, I don’t think Moses considered what he did as being dishonest. He believed that the means justified the ends, which to him was to unite the Israelites and to lead them to freedom. His people were weak, the slaves of others. They needed a strong leader. Moses was a master mystic and as such probably also the first real politician or even freedom fighter. It was he who according to legend led his people to freedom after some hectic negotiations with the Egyptian overlords. The Israelites who actually consisted of different tribes were fighting among each other and worshipped different gods. It was Moses who forced them to worship only one god; this was the factor which together with their struggle for freedom from the oppression of the Egyptians, unified them and so doing, created a small nation. This god was still being worshipped by most people who were living when our metal bird crashed five thousand years later. He also invented stories to tell his people why they existed; that they were the chosen ones and even how the earth and the universe including man, was created. These stories were mostly fabrications to satisfy the questions of the tribes who followed him. It was nonetheless very important as it made the Israelites feel special; they felt that they were indeed the ‘chosen ones’. This had a very powerful uniting effect, an effect which has lasted for many centuries.”

“You lived in strange world it would seem. Did you also worship this god you called Yahweh?” Karl asked.

“I was but a little girl and ‘worshipped’ if you can call it that, who my father and mother worshipped. As child you have no choice in the matter. The church, much like the Jesuits here in Red Valley, did not tolerate dissent or argument. It was not far back in the history of the Ancients that the church would burn and torture people to death, if they did not believe in this Yahweh, Jehovah or Jesus Christ, as their gods were being called. Many hundreds of thousands died in this manner, all in the name of the same god who according to legend for example destroyed and virtually eradicated their enemies such as the Midianites[1], the people of cities called Ai[2] and Jericho[3] including women and children, all in Yahweh’s name.”

“A cruel god he must have been,” Karl commented pensively.

“When you read the Torah of the Jews, the Bible of the Christians as well as the Qu’ran of the Muslims, they often speak of doom, violence and dire punishments if you wander from the faith. It is important to remember Karl, that the gods were only the result of the imaginations of people such as the Israelites and later the Arabs. Larger than life leaders like Moses used this to manipulate and influence the people. The same pattern was followed by many leaders throughout the world. Mysticism is an enormously powerful tool which people use to achieve their own twisted ends. There were many instances where religious fanatics convinced their followers that the end of the earth was nigh and convinced them to drink poisons or commit suicide in some manner so that they would be blessed and enter the heavens of the gods. When I was a little girl, the fanatics of another very large religious group called the Muslims, believed that you would live forever in their god Al-Llah’s presence if you killed Christians and Jews. This led many fanatics to blow themselves up with explosives and kill thousands of innocent people in the process.”

“What’s an explosive?” Karl asked.

“It is a chemical substance developed in my world to create deep holes or mines and which by exploding broke the hardest rock into dust. We used it to build tunnels through mountains and so on; it was also used to destroy enemies. Some of our explosives were powerful enough to destroy entire cities. You as Caesareans have also created your own gods such as Zyndileka and Mo, she continued: “I knew Zyndileka personally, her real name was Zyndile and she was a good friend of mine.”

“What! How could that be? According to our spiritual leaders, Zyndileka is thousands of stones old and is very powerful,” Karl objected.

“Exactly! That is how legends are made stronger and the stronger they are, the easier they are to believe. The more miracles they have performed the more popular they become. And sadly, the more powerful they become, the less tolerant their followers are of others who disregard them. They also used fear to scare you into believing the legends, especially when you were a child. Many gods have been created during times of great wars, terrible droughts and the suffering of people. That is when people start to think that they are being punished by the gods. That is when the priests, prophets and leaders threaten their followers that they will die terrible deaths or go to hell to burn forever. That is also how Satan was created, much like the stories you were told as child about evil spirits which would carry you away in the night. I am sure you have seen how leaders use fear to ensure that you follow their instructions. Think how they used to frighten you with stories of the Lost Tribe and I suspect also about me eating children and throwing their bones to hyenas.”

“Yes, I can remember how a man and his wife were flogged in Caesarea, because they refused to put a blood sacrifice on the Altar at the Feast of the Harvest. I was the one who had to flog them too. Isn’t the late coming of the birds being used by you yourself to manipulate people of the valley, hey?” Karl was starting to enjoy this. It was the first time he had had the opportunity to think about things which had been drilled into him from childhood. They had been warned not to ask too many questions as this would anger the gods.

“Your observations are apt, Karl and your mind is starting to be used in the manner it was supposed to, free from the fetters of fear and threats of others. To answer your question, yes I am and I do it for exactly the same reasons mystics over the ages have done it, but with one difference; I know the difference between mysticism and realism. While some would think that that makes me a master mystic, I would counter that by saying that I’ve never abused the power mysticism gives a person and neither have I used it to serve my own needs.”

“But this exodus you speak of, aren’t you also manipulating the people of Red Valley to leave the valley much like Moses did for the Israelites?” Karl asked.

“That is very observant of you, Karl. Of course you are right. I will however not force anybody to leave the valley. They must do so of their own free will. What I am trying to achieve is to encourage them to seek a better life and if at all possible to return to the world I came from. Red Valley will not be able to sustain them for much longer. Already we can see that the smaller bird migrations and droughts have caused hunger. Add to that the fact that the villages are all growing. It is time to leave. Like Moses, I realised that if the three tribes of the valley leave separately, very few will survive…the Jesuits are not equipped for a long trek and I have no doubt that war will break out among them if they are not united. You must help me to unite them.”

Standing up from where she sat, the Red Priestess said: “Come it is getting late. We can continue this discussion again at some later stage.”

“OK. I have really learned a lot from you. We will speak again.”

The two walked out of the forest in the early morning light, like long lost friends. It did not go unnoticed.

 

In the Jesuit camp, the Inner Circle had congregated to plan its strategy and stand on the day’s agenda. The Vicar General was haranguing the priests.

“How can you say she hasn’t actually done anything wrong? The witch is the cause of all that’s wrong in the valley; she is also the one who has caused the delays in the migration. You heard what the Caesareans said. They will side with us in this. We must take control and we must do it today.” He was responding angrily to Mark’s view that the Red Priestess had presided at the previous afternoon’s gathering with some dignity and had not done anything wrong.

“Father, what is the reason for your hatred of the woman? We do not have as much experience as you have of her,” Timothy asked.

“Is it not written that Satan shall be caste out and destroyed by our Lord Jesus, the Son of God. She is Satan incarnate, I tell you,” he fumed. The priests were showing an alarming softness toward the witch. This was her ultimate strength; she manipulated people of weaker wills to her way of thinking. That was clear.

He was extremely agitated and was ready to call for an all-out attack on the priestess. Her final destruction was all he cared about. With her out of the way, the other villagers would follow their lead and eventually they would become united in God Almighty. Dissenters would be dealt with swiftly. Isn’t it written in Exodus that Jehovah is a God of war who could give victory in any situation?

“Father, what do you propose we do?” Timothy asked again.

“She will address us today. We must not allow that to happen. As soon as she starts speaking, we will all stand up and turn our backs to her. I expect that the Caesareans will follow our lead as they are not supporting her either. This will force her to stop whatever it is she is trying to say. Then we will all walk out of the amphitheatre and leave her and her followers alone. Once we are all gathered away from the witch’s influence, I suggest we gather near the Source on the top of the hill, I will ask the Lord for guidance and the blessings of Our Saviour Jesus Christ for all those who have congregated with us. I will also call the Lord our God for His divine intervention and that He gives us a sign.”

“…and if no sign comes forth, father?” Timothy asked.

“All you are called upon to do brother Timothy is to believe,” came the sarcastic reply.

“How sure are you that the Caesareans will support our walk-out?” Mark asked.

“I will speak to them and warn them what we’re planning,” the Vicar General replied confidently. He had no real hatred of the Caesareans and believed that they had merely wandered from the Way. With guidance and prayer they would convert to Christianity. It was his mission to see that that happened.

Suddenly the discussion was interrupted by a loud and strange noise. “Boom, boom da boom — Boom, boom da Boom” a rhythmic double beat of a large drum could be heard coming around the hillock approaching the amphitheatre.

A slow procession of blue-robed priests could be seen walking in time with the rhythm of the drum which was being played by a young acolyte of the High Priest. The Red Priestess was nowhere to be seen and neither were her red-headed girls.

The small procession entered the arena and slowly approached the altar at the front with the eye watching them. The villagers ran up to watch the proceedings. They had not been summoned but within minutes everyone had taken up their seats in much the same fashion as the previous afternoon. Even the Vicar General arrived as if called upon.

As the High Priest, who was at the rear of the line of priests approached the altar, he turned around and with a slight gesture the drum was silenced. The High Priest wore his customary long robe which shimmered blue in the daylight and on his head he carried a shiny crown made of the shiny material which most of the audience had never seen before. In his arms he carried his sceptre of polished wood upon which the beautiful carvings of animals and spirits had been made. In the audience, the New Londoner called Peter looked proudly at his handiwork on the sceptre. He had made it at the request of the Red Priestess at least one stone ago and this was the first time he saw it again.

Without a word, the High Priest turned to the low stone tablet in front of him and spread out his arms as if in benediction. The Vicar General shuddered at the symbolism and its sheer blasphemy.  No-one could see what lay on the stone table.

Slowly, at half the rhythm of a few moments ago, the drum beat started again, this time softly but somehow conveying a more insistent message to the audience. Everybody was quiet. The slow double beat had a calming effect on everybody or maybe because it sounded more sinister.

They did not know what to expect as this performance was totally unexpected, totally alien to them.

In his right arm, the High Priest raised his sceptre and struck the stone tablet in front of him a mighty blow. A loud explosion echoed through the amphitheatre scaring the wits out of the audience to the extent that some of them fell over backwards from their seats while others ran from the amphitheatre in fright. In time with the explosion, the drum stopped beating. The acolytes expected the explosion so sat unmoved, mostly. Red smoke filled the amphitheatre with an acrid smell.

The atmosphere was tense. Everybody including the Jesuits, cowered to avoid being struck by a lightning bolt of the gods of the clouds. They had heard the rumours that the sceptre of the High Priest was used to call on the gods in the clouds who answered with lightning and thunder. This was their first experience of its terrible power. The Red Priestess was still nowhere to be seen. Her absence added to the drama.

Arms outstretched, the High Priest turned around to face the gathering. In a loud and clear voice, the High Priest started a sing-song intonation which was to become a historic prophecy of significant import to the citizens of Red Valley: a prophecy which would survive many.

“Be not dismayed, people of Red Valley

Our triumph is near as our skies clear

Our destinies are nigh

as are the fires in the sky.

We shall answer the call and rise to face the challenges ahead.

Those remaining behind shall only be the weak and the dead;

they shall be accompanied by the Angel so Red;

And in the first day of the light

We shall be blinded in the night

Only to witness miracles of creation

And in the second day of the light

The valley shall stir and shake to the rhythms of the sky;

And we shall fail as a nation, but

Fear not as I say unto you

During this the third day of the light

The sky shall darken and the light be swallowed forever more until

with the blessing of the light, twice shall cometh the dawn”

The priest paused momentarily and then continued:

 

“Listen, you who destroy what is good and uphold all that is evil.

Listen, you who speak of treason

You shall be struck down by the wrath of light

You shall be banished into the night.

Let those of good heart and mind be strengthened to be wise and kind.

Let those of gentle nature and of courage know that warriors they be

To lead the way without fear and doubt

that worms the soul

Know too that o’er the seas and mountains and in deserts

Which burn like fire a toll shall take

Many shall live to tell the tale but liars and lies shall be put to the stake.

Know too that those who tread the path

Shall find enlightenment

While ye who resist, shall feel the lost souls’ wrath.

 

As he finished, he sank to the ground in a dead faint. Slowly the drum started its beat again.

Behind the audience a low murmur and song started; they turned their heads to see whence the new sound came; the young red headed girls appeared, marching in single file to the altar whilst humming a song. Behind them, the Red Priestess strode. She was resplendent in her red robe which covered her body. Over her back she wore the hyena’s head wrap with its death grin whilst its eyes stared out behind her. The Vicar General imagined the eyes to be watching him in particular. Just as he had used fear to manipulate people, he realised the Red Priestess was doing exactly the same. The bile rose in his throat.

When the females reached the altar, the priests stood up leaving the High Priest where he still lay on the ground and the drummer behind, and left the arena.

The Red Priestess walked up to her son, tapped him on the shoulder. He raised himself from the ground to stand alongside his mother. Nobody in the audience was aware of their relationship.

The Red Priestess and the High Priest slowly ascended the throne and turning around, sat down to face the audience, Jesuits, Rationalists and Caesareans alike, who by now were spellbound by the drama and the expectation of more to come.

After a few minutes the Red Priestess stood up.

“I have heard your call. Yes, I have heard you too Joshua, Vicar General of the Jesuits.” She paused and cast her eyes straight at the priest who squirmed in discomfort as he recalled what he had told his priests half an hour ago. Had she overheard them? That is not possible!

“…and you Benedict; I have heard the Counters from each village. Some of you dared challenge me and even blamed me for the late migration of the birds. It is the way of the coward and the mystic to blame others. It is written in the history of mankind in the Ancient world that it is only the brave who are prepared to accept the consequences of their own actions and it is only the way of the wise to understand why this is fundamental to life and to justice.” With her voice rising to a pitch, she further exclaimed: “and it is only the fools who would tell those who would listen, that it is not they who have erred but that the fault lay elsewhere, they are not to blame.”

“Listen ye to the calls of the victims who listened to these fools and who cried that the world was unfair and asked for protection. Protection from the gods, protection from the rulers and kings, protection from evil and protection from death, nay they did not ask, they demanded it as a right. This is the ultimate call of the weak. Let ye not be found wanting; let ye not ask for manna from heaven; let ye not beg for deliverance from the unknown for that will lead you into poverty, hunger and disease. Such prayers are the sign of the ignorant and of the weak.”

Her voice calmed again as she looked at her spellbound audience: “Know ye who sit here today. You are the future of the world. You are the New World. By your actions today and forever more, shall ye be judged. You shall not be judged by what you call the gods. You shall not be judged by your ancestors or by angels or demons. You shall be judged by those who follow you and come after you. Nay, your children shall be punished and cry for your mistakes and be rewarded and justly rejoice when you do right. You shall err on your paths of discovery; that is the way of learning the true lessons of life, but you shall also succeed. You are the future and I say to you, believe in yourselves; believe in the power of your minds which have the capacity to create and add value to things deemed non-valuable to fools and looters. But know this; your minds also have the power to destroy. Fear not that power; harness it to ensure you create a world that is better than the world of the Ancients; a world that is better than Red Valley.”

“If the morality of the future is to be based on using the strong to protect or help the weak because that is the only moral thing to do, you will create a society of parasites and dependent people because the weak shall suck the strong dry while the weak shall nonetheless remain weak. Strengthen the weak through learning; open their minds, let them see the error of their ways. Let them too learn that the pursuit of happiness is the only way to find enlightenment. Let them learn to face reality and appreciate and value the present instead of relying on the past or be terrified by a secret and unknown future. Teach them to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions, not because some mystic or deity demands it but because it is their just reward.”

“The ultimate morality of life must be based on your pursuit of happiness through the fulfillment of your ambitions to create a better world for your children and their children. This will not come about through mysticism and false promises; only through the belief that you are ultimately responsible for your own actions and that the consequences of these actions should be what you will be judged against.”

“As the Makers of the New World, it will be your task to define the moral code by which your descendants must live. I say to you that this code is not found in mystic rites and magic. It is not found in the denial of your own right to be happy and to seek happiness. It is not found in the sacrificing of your mind or of the right you were born with to think. No, the code of a moral life is to define and to recognise that that which exists, exists; that reality is real. It is contained in the recognition that self-esteem is developed by creating value and happiness by creating virtue.”

“A moral code is able to distinguish between the actions of man that are evil and those that are good. Such distinctions will test your thoughts and your value systems. I say to ye now, nature cannot be evil; earthquakes and volcanoes are not evil; a wind that destroys your crops or your homes is not evil; a lion which kills a lamb is not evil. A disease which strikes you or your loved ones down is not the work of a devil or evil spirit. It is only man that has the capacity to be evil. So too can man be good and his goodness must be judged by the value he or she has added to the world we live in; such value will be created by his thinking and by his productive efforts, by the knowledge that what he creates, he is free to create as he chooses and free to risk as much as he is prepared to risk. It is this freedom that is your task to create, indeed to protect with your very lives in the New World that you will be creating. The real evil can be found in the lies and mysticism of those who wish to control the minds of others. Beware those who use fear and threats to achieve their ends; beware those who promise things that they are unable to produce. Beware those who are unable to create value and seek to usurp the value created by others; above all beware those who create guilt where no guilt exists and who through lies and the generation of fear, create dependence upon them.”

By this time the Inner Circle had completely forgotten their instructions from the Vicar General. The drama and spectacle which was taking place before their very eyes had mesmerised them. Now they suddenly remembered. The Vicar General suddenly stood up and turned his back on the priestess. His timing was all wrong but the rest of the Inner Circle did the same. None of the other Jesuits followed suit. They had not been briefed and quite frankly felt that the Vicar General was obstructing their view of the Red Priestess.

“Sit down,” someone shouted from the rear.

Craning their necks to see the front, the audience heckled and jeered the small standing group until the Vicar General sat down abruptly, followed by the other priests. The support he had hoped to get from other Jesuits and Caesareans had not materialised.

The Red Priestess had observed the actions carefully and made no comment. She carried on with her address:

“You have heard the predictions of the Counters. You have also heard the prophecies of the High Priest. Now hear this. I say unto you: the birds shall arrive in the next two days. But I warn you also that they shall be few and not sufficient to stock your larders for the winter. I also say to you, that this shall be a winter such as you have never experienced. The ice shall cover the world, the snow shall be white and nevermore red and the rivers shall stop flowing; yes even the Source shall cease giving its wonderful bounty and River Esme shall be but a mere memory.”

A gasp rose from the gathering. This was impossible. It had never happened before.

“Yes, I am foretelling these things not because of witchery and magic but because I know that it will be. I also say to you that the winter shall pass and with its passing, the dead shall remain behind. The valley shall be left desolate and the light shall show the way. You must prepare for this. You must produce and gather what you can and live from the unknown lands you will pass through.”

“The winter shall come and go before you depart and in the new spring you shall start. A leader shall arise from among you. He shall have the strength and wisdom to unite all the villages who shall become one; he shall be your new Moses. I also say to you that your journey shall be difficult and many shall perish along the way. Those who start the journey young shall end it old; those who start it old shall not see the final land. Your way shall be shown by your leader who will be a navigator.”

“Now I bid thee to return to your fires and await the coming of the birds.”

She beckoned to the drummer and left the amphitheatre to the throb of the double beat, together with the High Priest and the girls.

Nobody moved until the procession and the drummer was out of sight. Then the gathering slowly filtered out from the arena and talking in subdued voices split up in small groups as they walked to the camp.

Only Karl had remained behind on his stone seat. The prophecies of the High Priest and the Red Priestess’ reference to the new leader suddenly had enormous significance for him. How did she expect him to react to all this? How could she expect him to unite the three villages if history in the valley has shown them to be irreconcilable? What did the prophecies mean? His head was buzzing. The leadership which was expected from him troubled him greatly. He was not ready and doubted his own strengths. He instinctively knew that he did not possess the wisdom the Red Priestess seemed to believe that he had.

He stood up from his seat and greatly weighed down by his thoughts, trudged away from the camps towards the south west edge of KRAT’s plateau. He did not notice his unfamiliar surroundings until he stumbled over something he had never seen before. KRAT was forbidden territory so Karl had never hunted the area.

In front of him a shiny object stuck out of the ground. It had been buried by close to a century’s volcanic ash and hardened mud but he was able to dislodge it quite easily. It was made from an unknown shiny metal but was soft like the ropes of hemp which he used to capture small animals. As he pulled the cable, it ran on under the soil for about fifty paces and then lodged solidly below the ground. Try as he might he was unable to dislodge it further.

Taking his buffalo horn hunting knife, Karl dug around the buried object and after some time unearthed a solid piece of metal. On the one end it had a hole through which the wire rope was attached while the other end was free. The solid piece was quite large, flat and thicker than his knife. He was surprised when he picked it up. It was so light that he could easily lift it over his head. Such metal he had never seen. Surely this must be from the metal bird the Red Priestess had spoken to him about. This was where it had landed many years ago!

Karl stood up and looked carefully around him. His keen eyes quickly noticed that the area was littered with the same metal as well as other things which he could not recognise. Stretching away before him to the edge of the plateau he also noticed a straight indentation in the ground which looked like some giant hand had dug a deep furrow into the rock.

“I am glad you found the place, Karl.”

He spun around in shocked surprise. The Red Priestess was sitting on a large rock not twenty paces from him. How did she get here without him noticing?

“You have unearthed a small piece of the wings of the metal bird, Karl,” pointing at the flat piece of metal in his hands. “This is the place where we crashed many stones ago, even before we started counting the years with the Placing of the Stones.”

“How big was this metal bird of yours?” Karl asked with wonder in his voice. There was no doubt in his mind now. An old civilisation had indeed existed. He and all those living in Red Valley were the descendants of these mysterious but wonderful beings.

“It was very big. It could carry the whole village of the Jesuits plus the New Londoners at one time. Its wings stretched from that rock you see over there to the one you can see there.”

He gasped as she indicated two rocks quite distant from each other. “Its tail stretched up into the sky higher than the highest tree in Red Valley and it flew faster than the strongest wind you have ever felt on your face and it roared with flames streaming from its wings”

Karl was unable to grasp the description and its implications. What she was telling him was beyond his comprehension; he had no framework of reference to measure and evaluate what she was explaining.

She laughed with her single tooth showing: “I know, I know. How did it fly and stay in the air, you will wonder? They were miracles made by man; man who used his brains to design and construct amazing machines which could swim under and on the seas; machines which flew so high in the skies that you could not see them; machines which looked like humans and walked and talked; machines which could travel over land on roads built of black stone at speeds faster than the winds. Man’s genius created these wonders, these included replacing a sick man’s heart with that of another man’s healthy heart; it included generating power which could be transported by wire such as the one you are holding in your hand over very long distances. They also built terrible weapons and poisoned the earth; made wars in which millions of people were killed, often because of intolerance based on religious differences and cultures or purely for reasons of greed and unbridled ambition to rule and dictate others. Man’s creative genius often led to his downfall and you, the seedlings of the New World must ensure that this does not happen again. You will be called upon many times to answer difficult questions but if you are prepared for this, you together with the young girls I am training as historians, will know what the right answers will be. In the next six months and during the winter, I will ensure that you are ready for the challenge. What say you now?”

“To be a leader, one needs followers. I have no followers,” came his simple yet accurate response.

“You will have,” was her equally simple answer.

Karl and the priestess returned together to the camps, talking all the way with her answering the barrage of questions which kept bubbling from his heart. He felt like someone newly born; someone who only now started to see the world around him. The realisation that he was descended from these wonderful miracle creators gave him a feeling such as he had never before experienced. The blood in his veins seemed to flow with a force never before felt. The hunter had new eyes and new ears.

 

The Vicar General was fuming. The Red Priestess had upstaged him again. Had she overheard their strategy or was there a traitor in their midst? Impossible! They had not even finished their discussions when the drum had started beating. There had been no time for her to be informed or to plan a defensive strategy. No, it was most surely witchcraft. And what was the prophecy by the so-called high priest all about? The Vicar General pondered the meaning but could not fathom what the High Priest had meant. He turned to the other members of the Inner Circle.

“What did you understand in the prophecy of the pagan shaman?” he asked irritably.

Mark, the Counter who was more intellectually inclined than Timothy, replied: “He forecast things which I had some difficulty with. He started out with a so-called clearing of the skies which will lead to the fulfillment of all our destinies. What I interpret from this is that the clouds above us will disappear. This will be the signal that we embark on the foretold exodus from the valley. He followed this with a three day prediction saying we shall be blinded at night on the first day while in the second day the valley would tremble and shake. That sounds like an earthquake to me. But it’s the third day which I don’t grasp. The light which he talks about must be the sun of ancient and biblical legend. He said the sky shall darken forever until a second dawn shall come. This seems to be a contradiction. First the light of the sun will disappear maybe forever, and then by some intervention I don’t know from where this will come, it will return. And then he seemed to warn all of us; those who destroy what is good and uphold evil shall be struck down and banished into eternal darkness, while those of good heart and mind are expected to be the leaders. He warned of the perils ahead, of the exodus the witch spoke about. He also spoke of lost souls which I think is a reference to the legend of the Lost Tribe which as you know, is but a child’s legend. I don’t know what it means though.”

“And how do you read the witch’s address?”

“Well it’s along the same vein I guess…”

Timothy not wanting to be upstaged by the older man, interrupted: “She is the dangerous one as we all know. Did you hear her direct accusation? She started off saying she had heard you, Vicar General. What did she mean by that?”

“I read that to mean she had heard us plotting to embarrass her in front of the gathering today, but she couldn’t have. She was not even close to us and the drum started its infernal beating when we were still talking about it,” the Vicar General replied. It was clear that he was concerned. They were all puzzled.

“Could she have been referring to the Inner Circle when she said only fools lay the blame on others or was that a hidden message to the others that they shouldn’t listen to us? And what do you think about her prediction of a new leader… who will that be?” Timothy asked.

“Fools you are for being drawn in to a debate concerning her predictions,” the Vicar General replied crossly. “That is how she hopes to divide us and sow dissent. She is a sly one that and you need to be constantly on your guard. 1 Corinthians 10 says “that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgement.” We shall see what so-called leader she produces. I suspect she is grooming that sinner and Satan’s fornicator, Karl the Hunter. I saw them walking together twice now and I trust them not. Anyway we must spread the word immediately. Go out among the Jesuits and warn them not to be misled by the prophecies and predictions. We must stand together.”

The four members of the Inner Circle dispersed and in quiet discussions with the delegates in the Jesuit camps, spread the word as instructed.

 

The New Londoners were also debating the High Priest’s prophecy.

“We know that what the High Priest was chanting had to do with visions he has had about the very near future. I’m not sure what they meant. The more important issue in my mind is how can it be possible that a person can see anything in the future?” It was Alan who was speaking to Susan and some of the other villagers.

“The Jesuit Bible is replete with these prophecies and predictions. Many of its books are based on the sayings, visions and what have you. Clearly the early Jews were quite adamant that these were important enough to listen to and where relevant, to obey,” Susan replied. She had actually read parts of an old Bible she had found in her house which had belonged to one of the original survivors, a woman named June.

“But it flies in the face of reason. It suggests that there is something after all to consider; something we don’t really understand,” Alan continued.

“Maybe it’s merely because nobody has thought to explain these powers that some seem to have and others don’t, Alan. I think we’re all born with different talents. Some of us can create beautiful figures with wood and if I try that the result is only good enough to make a fire while others can sing. I think the High Priest was born with a peculiar but nonetheless special gift; he seems to go into some type of trance and then has these visions,” Susan replied.

“We were taught that the talent to think is special and unique to man. Added to this, we were told that by using our minds to their fullest capacity we would indeed be able to create wonderful things,” Ahmed, who was sitting listening quietly to the debate, commented. “We can see it in New London where we have a better quality of life than in any other village. Maybe the real issue here is how do we learn to use our minds to their fullest capacity? And who will teach us this?”

Alan looked at his friends and wondered at how different they were to the Jesuits and even the Caesareans: “As much as I detest mysticism, maybe we should speak to the priestess or even the High Priest and ask them these questions. She certainly has more life experience than all of us put together.”

The debate fizzled out after that but in the back of Susan’s mind she made a mental note to pick this issue up with the Red Priestess. It was in her nature to look for answers to vexing questions.


[1] The Bible: Numbers 31:18

[2] The Bible: Joshua 8:25

[3] The Bible: Joshua 6:21


Six months had passed since the apocalypse. During this time, the seas around KRAT continued to batter the cliffs. Ever so often, further tremors rocked the mountain. This would set off more tidal waves; at times moving away from the plateau while at other times toward the mountain refuge.

Mt Brutus was quiet for the moment.

Clouds created from the ash produced by the eruptions of hundreds of volcanoes and super-volcanoes across the planet, still covered the earth. For the first time the survivors started to experience the effects of the New Ice Age which was setting in over the Northern Hemisphere. Despite their proximity to the equator, it became bitterly cold and snow swept down in blizzards from the north. The waters below them seemed to be more vicious than ever, protesting the cold. Atop the hillock on the plateau, snow dusted the rocks while crevasses and areas lying in shadow, froze over for the duration of the winter. The birds had long since departed with their young, disappearing through the clouds to warmer climes. The hills on KRAT were now strangely quiet. Food had become scarce.

The survivors’ main activities were centred on keeping themselves fed and warm. The clothes they had started making from animal skins, hemp and feathers were not sufficient to keep them protected. In any event, the severity of the cold was unexpected. Very few survivors wore any shoes. The best they could do was to fashion primitive sandals from cured animal skins to protect them from the sharp stones and thorns which littered the veldt. Several of the older and frailer survivors succumbed to the continuous travails and hardships they’d been put through since the Airbus crash-landed on the plateau. A small cemetery had consequently been established on the verges of the forest. It was growing steadily and now contained eight fresh graves.

Whilst the water supply diminished, the spring had fortunately not ceased flowing. The water was nevertheless close to freezing point, making bathing an ordeal. The wetlands were virtually frozen over and white with frost every morning. So-called black frost, which killed off virtually all deciduous plants, became a regular occurrence. Fires, especially inside the huts, were kept burning to dispel the cold while the search for firewood forced the survivors to caste out in ever widening circles; deadwood and brush in the forest became very scarce. It was not long before normally healthy trees started dying mysteriously despite the strict rule that the forest be protected. Clearly, bark was being stripped to kill off the trees but no-one was prepared to admit to this. Those who opposed the killing of trees were as cold as the rest of them.

The cold had also decimated their hemp plantation which had been so lovingly nurtured by Mike. He together with some enthusiastic supporters constructed a small hot house to continue the propagation of the essential plant for the survivors. The small structure was heated by a makeshift geyser John Duguid had fashioned from mud and stone with a brass water container he had pirated from one of the Airbus’ geysers. The geyser was fuelled by wood and the heated water fed into the hot house via open gutters. They had also built a small water reservoir near the stream from where water was gravity fed to the geyser by a system of gutters John made with aluminium sheets which were pounded with smooth rounded stones into the required shapes. Inside the hot house it was quite warm and after some initial problems they were able to propagate the hemp plants although they were somewhat smaller than the original seed donors. The cosy hut became a favourite spot for the survivors, some for the warmth, and others for its produce.

Hunger had become a normal part of their daily lives and scrounging for edible roots and berries became a full-time and essential pastime It was not uncommon to see women, half-clothed fighting for the smallest root or rat.

By this time the survivors in both camps looked very different than when they had boarded Flight BA 765. None of their now-dead families or lovers would have recognised them. All the men had sprouted thick beards and while their hair was long, it was normally tied behind their heads with strands of home-made hemp or sisal braids. The women generally wore hand-sewn buck-skin skirts while their tops were fashioned from feathers and hemp woven into long strands. None of the women had access to any form-wear and the sight of naked breasts was common place.

Needles were fashioned from thin bird bones which had been cut and filed sharp, while thread was made from sisal and hemp. Stronger ropes were made from cured leather although a substantial amount of stainless steel cabling had been salvaged and was used to strengthen their huts and other structures. Additional tools were made to cultivate the land and although some of these tools broke quite quickly, their skills and designs improved sufficiently for the ploughing of their lands. To till the hard rocky soil they used leather ropes strung across the backs of the strongest of the men who pulled while the women pushed, their primitive ploughs from behind; draught animals all.

They had also managed to make soap from the tallow of animals and lime they had dug up on the far side of the plateau. They cooked up this mixture with ash, water and oil extracted from hemp seeds to soften the soap and to give it a more pleasant aroma. When cooled down the hardened soap was cut into bars. For their daily brushing of teeth, they used small sticks cut from a curiously addictive plant with which Zyndile was not familiar. They also chewed this plant’s leaves which gave them a mild high. Mike later identified the plant as Qat, the addictive plant so popular in what was once Ethiopia and Somalia.

The axes they had recovered from the plane were rapidly wearing down, so Gary and John looked for flint stone and so-called ironstone which split easily when struck at an angle to start shaping new axes and knives. It was a tedious job and some of the women were trained to carefully split off thin slivers of the hard rocks.

Esme’s pregnancy became very obvious to all and as a result she was treated with special deference by all the survivors of Base Camp. A birth in the new world was a signal occasion. Christine’s midwifery skills became ever more important. Esme often found herself isolated from any hard work. Rachel and June hovered around her like two nursing cows in an elephant herd. Oscar seemed to have taken on the role as surrogate father of the growing child in her womb, although it was clear to everyone that he was not the biological father of the child. The pregnancy became symbolic to their very survival.

Father Ridgeway tried a number of times to counsel Esme but Christine, at Esme’s request saw to it that she was not bothered by the priest. In the meantime, Alistair had waxed stronger and was back to his boisterous self. He often accompanied Karl on hunting trips although he was more of a nuisance than a hunter, as he would scare off prey to protect them rather than see them killed by Karl.

Ahmedi meanwhile reached an understanding with his son insofar that he not preach to Hassan.  Hassan in turn was allowed to explore and seek his own destiny. It was not a satisfactory arrangement as Islam does not brook disobedience and indeed Ahmedi, while not a fundamentalist, had read to him from the Qu’ran:

Lo! those who believe, then disbelieve and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never pardon them, nor will He guide them unto a way.[1]

However, Ahmedi was the lone Moslem. It was almost impossible for him to enforce his beliefs on his children amongst all the unbelievers and idolators. Shenaaz, almost imperceptibly, drifted away from her father’s sadness, frustration and anger. During the cold winter months, he became more and more isolated and closeted himself in his hut with the Qu’ran. Whenever he got an opportunity to do so, he would try to convince if not convert some of the survivors to Islam as the only way but he fought a hopeless battle. The division between the religionists and the rest was becoming more evident than ever. This was apparent especially on Sundays when the Catholic Priest together with Ahmedi gathered to pray and preach God’s word to the believers. A small contingent who had no interest in religion whatsoever, such as Gary and those opposed to it, carried on with their daily chores and lives.

The divisions manifested themselves especially when matters of common concern were being discussed. A schism developed around the issue of the teaching of the younger members of the survivor’s camp. Suzette and Father Ridgeway were quite adamant that they should be educated in the Christian value system while Christine, June and Gary proposed a more liberal and broad based approach. Pragmatists such as Karl and John Duguid saw no value in an outdated and inappropriate form of education. ‘Educate to survive’ was their motto. Zyndile was inclined toward the Christian grouping but felt that the Christian religion did not address her real ancestral needs. She, together with some men and a couple of women, started to practice a more basic form of ancestral worship and created a small circle of rocks on the outskirts of the forest for this purpose. Often when they arrived at their spot, they found that the rocks had been scattered by someone. This did not deter them as they knew that some would interpret their practices as witchcraft. During these ceremonies, they would implore the ancestral spirits to protect them and when an important occasion such as a day to remember an ancestor was feted, they would slaughter a small animal which they then consumed after cooking it over a fire. Zyndile used to call this umsebenz.

None of the groups had any materials to use for teaching purposes, so it was left to those who wanted to teach to do so and those who wished to learn to do so. Much of the teaching focused on the personal values of those involved. Christine became a popular teacher to especially some of the younger survivors as she had an open mind and encouraged them to experiment, ask questions and to substantiate their arguments when these arose. Some of the younger children who were still controlled by their parents were nevertheless obliged to go to the classes organised by Father Ridgeway, Suzette and Ahmedi. Their education reverted back to the fundamentals of Christianity and lessons were mostly derived from passages from the Bible although passages from the Qu’ran were also used. For the very young this also included reading and writing skills. Suzette was asked to reproduce verses on their papyrus sheets. For ink she used soot from the fires mixed with water and also some oil derived from hemp seeds. Each child was given a small pen which they made themselves from the feathers of large birds such as wild geese and even guinea fowl. The writing was quite primitive but it occupied their time. After further experimentation, the inks would be perfected and even some dyes discovered.

It was a particularly cold day and Christine had decided to venture out of her warm hut. She left the camp to walk toward the remains of the Airbus. She was quite deep in thought and was quite startled when she sensed someone close behind her. Spinning around she was surprised to see that it was Suzette. The two of them hadn’t had much in common since the disaster except when Christine had administered her broken leg; even then their communication had been somewhat superficial and tentative almost like two pugilists sizing each other up.

“You startled me, Suzette!” Christine said in mock relief.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to Christine. When I saw you leaving the camp I thought I would follow you as I’ve never really had an opportunity to thank you for everything you’ve done for me or for the other passengers who were injured or traumatised.”

“Thank you, Suzette,” Christine replied in some surprise. “I never think about thanks; it’s just the way I’ve been brought up and trained as a nurse I guess. You do what you have to do, and that’s it.”

“Well you certainly lived up to the profession’s ethical standards. Thank you again. Without your care we would’ve had a lot more to worry about.”

“You’re welcome,” Christine replied again somewhat embarrassed by the woman’s insistence to thank her. It seemed somehow contrived. Was there something else she was after, she thought to herself. Suzette had fallen into step alongside Christine. The two of them walked along, as if old comrades in arms.

“Christine, I was wondering…”

Aha here it comes, Christine cynically thought to herself.

“Yes?”

“Well you know, we’re all aware of your stance against John and religion per se, yet you seem to be very knowledgeable about these things but also very cynical and even bitter. What has brought this about?” the economics professor asked.

“I don’t know that it’s any of your business, Suzette. People must do as they see fit, but if you have to know, I believe in honesty in everything in life and religions are fundamentally dishonest as are the utterances of all mystics. I’ve nothing against John as an individual; he’s done me no harm. I just find the supercilious and hand-wringing manner of priests in general, offensive. Must be a hangover from the Dark Ages when they knew they controlled people’s destinies and could destroy people at will.”

“Sjoe, you are cynical. I’m an economist and as an academic I’m inclined to research and investigate everything myself before expressing an opinion, so I can appreciate your liberal line of thought, but even as cynical as I can be, I cannot see how you can totally discard the notion that God exists or that religions are essential value systems for human existence.”

The two women reached the shattered shell of the Airbus and sat down facing each other.

“Suzette, you’re an economist. What type of economist are you?” Christine asked, throwing Suzette somewhat off-guard.

“I’m what they call a development economist.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know where you’re taking this, but a development economist specialises in issues confronting the developing world, especially in the socio-economic dimensions.”

“OK. So that means you concentrate on issues such as poverty, unemployment and even inequality between the have’s and the have-nots, am I right?”

Now Suzette was really surprised. Christine was much wider read than she’d expected.

“You’re a surprising woman, Christine. I really wish we could have met under different circumstances. Yes, in essence you are right although from an academic perspective, I’m trained in macro-economics. I started leaning toward the development angle when I was continuously bombarded with queries from students and even the government in South Africa concerning the contribution economists have to make in a dualistic economy such as ours. To be quite frank, economists do not have a wonderful reputation. But what does this have to do with our original discussion?” She wasn’t going to be thrown off the track so easily.

“Well, you ended your statement just now by saying that religions are essential value systems for human existence. I’m trying to draw a parallel between economics and religion. I’d like to unpack what you meant when you said that to try to understand your take on it,” Christine replied.

“The way I see it,” Suzette said, “people have a need to believe in a deity and to try to live for something more than what their lives on this earth are all about. The values encapsulated in religions have been developed over thousands of years. They serve to direct and guide people to walk the narrow path and do good to others. When you look at what religion offers people who have a need for guidance, moral- and sometimes material support, I believe it plays an essential role.”

“Why is this important to you?”

“I think it gives people comfort and especially hope to believe that one day they may rise to a heaven and a better life. More importantly to do good to others during their stay on this earth.”

“And why do you believe that to be important, Suzette?” Christine asked again, looking at the woman in front of her.

“Helping others is the crux of being human in my view. It differentiates us from animals; it’s the ultimate value which separates good from evil…”

“Is helping others as you put it, not paternalism?”

“No it isn’t, although some paternalism is often called for in especially paternalistic societies which tend to dominate the developing communities in the world.”

“Suzette, you said that helping others is what differentiates man from beast. This is actually not true; the argument is based on a false premise. Animals do help each other not only man; there are even instances of animals helping man in distress. But you also said this is what separates good from evil, so by implication those who do not help others or do ‘good’ as you put it, are evil, inhuman. This is the most monstrous notion I’ve ever heard. What really differentiates man from beast is his capacity to think, to be aware or conscious that he thinks and to able to use this to choose to act for better or for worse. Religion doesn’t encourage enquiry or thinking man; in fact it demands a sheep-like obedience, sacrifice and loyalty. Have you ever visited a really poor country which has been destroyed by wars initiated by politicians, tyrants or religionists? Have you ever seen thousands of displaced persons, child amputees or women raped to death by their very sons?” Christine asked, knowing instinctively that Suzette as an academic had probably never reached out to actual disaster areas.

“No, I haven’t except in disgusting photographs, but what has this got to do with religion?”

“Everything Suzette, absolutely everything. Religion is but one form that mysticism takes. Millions of people have died because of their religious- and political fervour and the false hope that their so-called souls will go straight to heaven if they die in some god’s name or for some dictator who has lied to his subjects and created fear among them about real or imagined threats. Millions have died because of mystics who lie and manipulate people to follow their wishes. These include world- and religious leaders such as Genghis Khan, the Christian Crusaders, Mao Zedong, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden as well as modern-day western politicians who fabricated ‘smoking guns’ and fake terror attacks. I have seen the so-called ‘hope’ religion brings to the mother holding a starving child in Ethiopia; I have also seen the ‘hope’ drugs brought to child soldiers in Sierra Leone who then rape and kill their mothers and sisters; I have seen ‘hope’ in the eyes of a beautiful female soldier who knows she will die from the stomach wounds she has received in Eritrea when her president tells her she will become a martyr and ascend to heaven. This is what he used to justify sending thousands of innocent youth to the warfront. No Suzette, don’t sell me hope. The ‘hope’ religion brings is false and is a travesty; it is the currency of the morally bankrupt masses; it is the product sold by moral cheats. To hold out hope as an ecclesiastic virtue as the Catholic Church propagates, leads to a fatal dependency on outside intervention. Changing one’s own destiny calls for personal action and not hope”.

“Christine, what can you and your types offer the poor of the world? The enormous levels of inequality are something we must take responsibility for and ensure that they can hope and strive for a better future.”

“I have no feelings of guilt for the poor, what I have achieved in life was due to my own efforts. I’ve played no part in their being poor…Oh but the disadvantaged did not have your opportunities I hear you say! People, rich and poor must strive to create their own opportunities. Look at Gary; he was born in the slums of South Africa but by using his natural attributes he excelled in sport and created wealth for himself and his family. I did not take away from the poor to be better off; that is the morally corrupt argument that communists, totalitarians, statists, churches and priests use to make the ignorant or even the wealthy, feel guilty. You can go to any country in the world and you will find the successful and the poor…and the latter will often outnumber the successful because they are the parasites or looters who use and indeed need the genius or efforts of others to live off. All the collectivist does is to re-distribute poverty. Of course this is also the currency exploited by politicians to gain and maintain power. The vote of the poor is often more powerful in many countries than the vote of the wealthy. But what I’ve noticed is that those in power exploit the vote of the poor and then they fail to deliver on their promises.”

“Despite what the communists, socialists and other mystics of the world would like us to believe, people are not born equal; they are born to hugely different circumstances, are endowed with massively different talents and intellectual capacities and while I defend their absolute right to equal opportunity and equal access to justice, it is their responsibility, indeed their duty to exploit every opportunity and through honest effort and the application of their intellectual capacity, to rise above the masses and achieve their goals. Of course it is exactly this that is fought tooth and nail by the mystics.”

Changing tack somewhat, Christine asked: “Tell me Suzette, have you ever succeeded in helping a person who did not want to help him-or herself?”

Avoiding the question, Suzette countered: “But Christine can’t you see that hope, love and faith are God-given spiritual graces?”

“I do not support the notion that man is dependent on so-called ‘gifts’ from any deity. I also reject the idea that a human emotion can be a spiritual grace which implies that it is ‘given’ to man by a deity and therefore can also be taken away.   Love, faith and hope are human emotions and as with any human emotion they need to be tempered by reality and logic. By all means, man must love and be loved but above all he must love himself first; he must have hope and ambition to learn and improve himself; which must be tempered with reality and effort. Hope for something to fall out of the sky is not only wishful thinking, it is wasteful and a negation of our capacity to think. Irrational hope based on false promises and lies of a better tomorrow sounds like the credo of those who are unable to deal with the realities of their immediate lives. He must have faith in his own abilities but know that ability without application leads nowhere; he must believe that to think and to apply his mind to circumstances which constantly change in his quest for happiness, is not only his undeniable right but also his inescapable responsibility. Belief in the mystical; faith in magic and the predictions and promises of astrologers, shamans and priests is a denial of personal responsibility and the false assumption that belief in itself will bring about sustainable happiness and fulfillment. Love without self-discipline degrades the object of such love and faith in false dreams and legends uproots the basis of logic and reason.”

“I find your argument very self-centred and egoistic, Christine. We as humans must of necessity revert to a higher power. We are not almighty and all-knowing. I believe that what we’re experiencing here on earth is but a prelude to something infinitely better. We’re called upon to help others and to improve their lot. Only by the grace of God will we be allowed into heaven. You’ll be judged as being selfish and self-centred. How is it possible that you believe yourself to be right and that millions of religious people throughout the world are wrong?”

“I’m not here to defend my stance in life, Suzette and neither am I concerned by your notion that I will be ‘judged’. I reject altruism as the requirement to enter what you call ‘heaven’. I fail to see any merit in ‘having to revert to a higher power’ as you put it. Charity begins at home. It is your moral responsibility to seek happiness and the only justification to help others is that it makes you happy to do so. You say we are ‘called upon’ to help others. By whom are we ‘called’? By whose authority are we obliged to improve their lot as you put it?  And ultimately at whose costs are these altruistic goals to be achieved? I consider this a monstrous and immoral philosophy, because if we were indeed ‘placed’ on earth to help others, it implies that the interests of others and their priorities will always be your primary consideration while your own interests will be subordinate to theirs. If you believe sacrifice is called for, then I’m afraid we’re not on the same page because the type of sacrifice you seem to be implying does not correspond with the way I see it. You say I am self-centred and egoistic. You are right, I am but I suspect you intended that as an insult; I consider it a compliment.”

“How can you say that? To be egoistic is not a virtue.”

“To me it is. The ethical difference between egoism and altruism suggests that an egoist is someone who believes in himself, in his own abilities and intellectual capacity and is not ashamed of it. Altruism suggests that you are on this earth for the sake of others. I believe that it was Friedrich Nietzsche who said egoism is the very essence of a noble soul. When for example you apply for a job or stand in a queue should you stand back and allow a needier person to take the job you yourself need or aspire to? When you enter an athletic competition, should you allow the opposition to win a coveted trophy? Or when you are called upon to save your neighbours’ life when a disaster strikes, do you turn your back on your own family who is also at risk? It is similarly a moral abomination, in my view to take food intended for your own child and give it to a starving stranger when your child needs this food. When you give food which you don’t need to a beggar, it is a different matter altogether but this does not constitute sacrifice at all. Donating old clothes and even money to the poor is not a sacrifice either. To me a sacrifice constitutes a voluntary act which requires you to give up something that is precious to you and handing this over to someone who either needs it or can make use of it or put differently, surrendering something of value to you for the sake of someone else without the potential or prospect for any reward or compensation. Having said this I don’t deny you your right to help others if it gives you pleasure to do so, but then do it as an act of good will and not as a duty imposed either by yourself or by others such as a church or more importantly because a ‘need’ exists. To do it from the basis of guilt is again the immoral currency of the mystics of the world.”

“I can see how absolutely different our value systems are,” Suzette countered. “There are or were millions of poor people in the world who according to you are to be denied aid and support from the wealthy countries, if your philosophy were to be applied universally. I find this horrendous. As an economist, I have always battled to come to terms with the self-interest and exploitation of under-developed countries and their people and the enrichment of the few at the cost of the cheap labour of the many. The schism between the haves and the have-nots has become an international dilemma and whilst many attempts have been made to address this, it seems that we’re fighting a losing battle.”

“Suzette, I’m not an economist but the statements you have just made highlight the ethical chasm I have just described and also how you either willfully twist what I said or misunderstand what I said. I have not denied any country aid to assist it to grow and develop. As you yourself have stated, aid and support has not worked for the poor. Ask yourself what is the moral dilemma underpinning aid programmes; ask the beneficiaries if international aid has really helped them to direct their own lives and better themselves; ask to what degree the very beneficiaries of the aid monies contributed to the planning of aid programmes or were involved in their implementation and whether they had actual control over the way the monies were spent? Ask how institutional and human capacities were enhanced on a sustainable basis? Above all ask yourself how many of the so-called aid programmes were honest in their objectives instead of mere smoke-screens for the hidden agendas of the donor countries and their vested interests? The recent forays of Chinese technical assistance programmes for example, such as building roads in Africa were mere invasions by that country’s government to gain access to raw materials or to put it differently, Neo-Sino-colonialism. The corrupt African governments are just too happy to accept Chinese aid in the short-term without any thought of the high price they will pay for this in the long term.”

“I travelled through and extensively worked in under-developed countries. The skeletons of aid programmes lie scattered throughout these countries. Western churches have operated for centuries in areas where developmental needs created opportunities for them to establish massive support bases.  I don’t deny that hospitals and schools built by the churches have filled gaps governments have failed to address, but most of these are totally dependent on foreign aid and are not sustainable. In any event, aid programmes should never usurp the role of government as this creates a beggar mentality and dependence. Development as I understand it should empower the local people to fend for themselves and make their own choices, even if these choices are inconvenient to the donor. As with religion, people have been denied the choice and more often than not they are kept in a position of relative ignorance in order that they can be manipulated and controlled to conform to value systems the foreign churches subscribe to; or even worse, they are bribed, threatened and coerced to accept the value systems of the donors. None of these donors actually thought to work within local values; their mandates from the Pope, Archbishop, Grand Ayatollah, Guru, Holy See or whatever did not cater for that eventuality. Bilateral agreements between donor mystics and recipient political mystics are sure to fail every time.”

“To solve the problem, go and live with the people, understand their real needs as opposed to the needs expressed by their political masters; identify and cater for their weaknesses and strengths, allow them to design their own development projects and formulate their own priorities. Use this, without prescription, as the foundation for aid programmes. When people say ‘we need a school’, understand that their real need is to be educated and as a result to be placed in a position where they are able to make rational decisions concerning their own futures; when they say ‘build a hospital’, their real need is to be healthy and fit enough to exploit the opportunities confronting them; when they say ‘we need money’, their real need is firstly to satisfy their short term need for food and shelter but understand that in the long term the capacity of being able to generate their own money will be key to self-respect, sustainability and justice. In the final analysis, development must be self-development, not development imposed by donors, governments or altruism. At best, governments and donors should only be seen to create an environment conducive to development; they can never ‘develop’ a country or its people.”

Suzette looked at Christine with a puzzled look. She had a way of arguing complex issues in a simple manner, and this seemed to be wrong somehow. What was it?

“I want to return to the role religion plays in a community. Can you prove that religion is unnecessary or that God doesn’t exist?” Suzette asked.

“It is interesting that when religionists defend themselves they often revert to the weight of or need for scientific proof; the very process they reject when science is at odds with religious beliefs,” Christine replied sarcastically. “I accept your point about the psychological need people may have for comfort and hope. This argument is however weak when we consider that people die for their beliefs; they kill for them and they injure others or starve themselves for them. The notion of believing in a deity is much more basic than the benefits it supposedly provides. As such, each religion has its own set of punishments and rewards. In my view, believing in a supernatural and personal god is, as Einstein said, naïve. It is part of our ancient tribal need for belonging and conforming to traditions and practices. Those who didn’t conform were cast out or even punished by death. I recall a case two years ago where a student in an Islamic state was jailed for researching the role of women in Islam.”

“You’re avoiding the issue. None of what you said provides the proof that God doesn’t exist or that religions are false,” Suzette insisted.

“Let’s define the god you worship: according to Judeo-Christian beliefs, God or Jehovah is a super-being with supernatural intelligence; is invisible yet ever-present throughout the universe which he created including everything in it and all living beings; is also omnipotent but created Satan who is allowed to oppose him. He is also described as being just and loving while the Bible has numerous horrendous incidents which highlight his cruelty, his lack of justice except as he prescribes it and above all his jealousy. There is no evidence that he exists except in the minds of people who worship him. To prove that he exists is tantamount proving that something which doesn’t exist, exists. This is clearly a contradiction and therefore impossible.   It becomes a ridiculous circular argument when you ask me to prove that he doesn’t exist. Creationists will tell you that his existence is in evidence all around us. All we need to do is to believe; have faith and then we will see him in the smallest insect and the largest planet. I’m afraid that is the kind of nonsense you tell children. Thinking people who are able to distinguish between reality and myth will reject this out of hand. What you search for you’re sure to find. Are you able to prove that God exists?”

“Christine, the Bible is all the proof you need! All you need is you need to love and cherish the Lord Jesus Christ who died as much for you on the cross as He did for those who worship Him. I believe and have the utmost faith that He exists. To prove it, is impossible. That is why science is weak and has many times misled the fainthearted and proved nothing. That is why I must believe because it is this faith in His existence which distinguishes those of true faith from people like you.”

“Believe in what Suzette? Have faith in whom? I have no doubt that Jesus walked the earth, but I don’t buy the notion that he was Jehovah’s son should Jehovah even exist. Tell me; do you know who wrote the Bible that you hold up as a record of the one and only truth?” Christine asked with some irritation. She had heard these emotional arguments before.

“The Bible was written by God Almighty through the hands of Moses and many others and the New Testament by Jesus’ disciples.”

“Now this may come as a bit of a shock to you. The Bible is so inconsistent and full of gaps and historically inaccurate that faith is really needed to believe it! If indeed it was inspired by God, he made quite a hash of it,” Christine responded angrily; angry because so few Christians actually study the Bible, let alone read it critically. “Are you aware that the Bible was only written on scrolls or paper after centuries of an oral tradition by the end of the second millennium BC and completed some 500 years later? Are you also aware that the Pentateuch, in other words the books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus were not written by Moses? The Bible is a compendium of works, some of historic significance such as Kings; other supposedly prophetic while some are mere poems. In many cases the actual authors are unknown and their names have been lost in antiquity. While the first five books are traditionally ascribed to Moses, they were the product of the oral traditions of the Israelites. It is generally accepted by scholars that these books were written by a variety of authors and not by Moses. They are quite different in style and context. As for the New Testament, are you aware that the so-called Gospels were never written by the disciples[2] of Jesus but by Greek-speaking Jews 70 AD and much later? Did you also know that Jesus’ original disciples with the exception of Simon Peter lived their lives out as devout orthodox Jews?”

“How can you make these blasphemous statements, Christine?”

“I’ll go further and say to you that Jesus himself was a Jewish lay-Rabbi who was totally committed to the Torah. He never promoted himself as an alternative god and neither did his original disciples; indeed he would’ve been stoned to death for uttering such statements. It was a Greek-speaking Jew named Saul who started many of these myths after his own conversion and who as Paul, promoted Christianity. He never met Jesus but was totally convinced that his version of the emerging religion was the only truth. He however never called Jesus a god, but the ‘son of God’ which in the Jewish tradition meant that he had a special relationship with Jehovah and was a pious man. While I personally have no problem with Jews, I’m continuously amazed that the western world so easily prescribes to a Jewish God and a Jewish Rabbi. Even Hitler who was a Christian,[3] ironically enough believed in Jesus, a Jew. Jewish hatred did not spring from Hitler though; it came from the preaching of Catholic priests and Protestant ministers throughout Germany for hundreds of years. Martin Luther himself hated the Jews and their Jewish religion. In his book, “On the Jews and their Lies,” Luther set the scene for Jewish hatred in Protestant Germany up until World War II. Your faith has denied you the opportunity to ask questions of the Bible, Suzette. In fact faith is expected to be blind and unquestioning, isn’t it? In any case, if you were God what would you prefer? An unquestioning, faithful, even moronic being, or one who is able to think, to challenge you, who explores new concepts and is courageous? Why for heavens sake this emphasis on believing that ‘believing’ is all that God expects of his faithful?”

“I am not God, so I can’t answer your rhetorical question. I find it more amazing that an obviously intelligent person such as you Christine fails to see through the clutter of so-called objectivism and logic; that you cannot grasp the underlying message of the Bible which is a belief in Christ and his undying love for humanity. The cynic in you has made you bitter. You actually cannot see the love of God functioning through His Son, Jesus; yes even here on KRAT. I feel sorry for you and wish you would relent and allow God into your heart. We will pray for you.”

“Suzette, I never thought I would convince you of anything. Neither was it my intention to do that. You may recall that it was you who broached the matter and wanted to discuss my principles and beliefs with me. Your response was totally predictable. If your god is functioning here on KRAT I want no part of him. He destroyed the very world he created; he is an unjust god, bloodthirsty and a malicious bully. I don’t need your pity; that’s what Christianity does to people doesn’t it, pity people who are not like them? If you wish to pray for me go ahead but know that the only moral justification for you to pray for me is that it makes you happy; don’t for one minute believe that I am in your debt for it.”

As one, the two women stood up and parted their ways; Christine carried on with her walk around the perimeter of KRAT while Suzette walked back quite rapidly to the base camp. They would never discuss religion again; the lines were drawn.

 

In Bennie’s Camp the small spring had virtually dried up due to the cold weather and they were forced to ration water. Their huts were well constructed from rocks and mud but the facilities were rather primitive. Finding food and cooking it, was notably their biggest problem. None of the crew except Jim knew how to cook but the choice of food was very limited; more so than at Base Camp where people like Zyndile and Christine were able to identify herbs and knew how to prepare them as best they could.

Bennie was hard put every day to keep his crew together and several fist fights and scuffles took place although nothing serious emerged from this except a couple of bruised egos. The absence of women also made things worse and the constant male companionship strained relationships and limited the level and quality of discussions around the camp fires. These invariably turned to sex and what they would do if a woman could be found.  Bennie’s crew was becoming more and more belligerent and had been harassing not only the women from Base Camp when they encountered them, but also the men. Things became especially difficult when snares that had been set by Karl or Gary were found to be empty and had either been sprung on purpose or the catch had been poached.

In exasperation, Oscar and his lieutenants decided to set a trap, not for the birds or small buck but for the two-legged poachers. Karl was instructed to set up several small snares at obvious spots and destroy any which he found from Bennie’s camp.

They kept a vigil twenty four hours a day and within two days were rewarded when they caught Graham, Jim and Peter red-handed. Armed with axes and clubs, Karl and Gary marched the poachers to Base Camp.

As they entered their now fortified camp, all the survivors gathered to watch the proceedings. A small tribunal had been established some time before to hear any accusations and settle arguments in Base Camp. The tribunal consisted of Oscar who acted as the Chairman, Donald James and June Hailey. They were now called to preside at the hearing.

Karl and Gary marched the miscreants up to the small amphitheatre which they were in the process of constructing under the overhang where the infirmary had been originally established. The Tribunal sat at the head of the theatre on rocks which were placed there for the purpose. Next to the seats the skull and horns of two small buck which Karl had trapped, were mounted as symbols of fertility and as Zyndile told them, to ward off evil spirits. These also created a somewhat more sinister atmosphere in the amphitheatre.

The three captives from Bennie’s Camp were objecting loudly at their somewhat unsympathetic treatment, but nobody took any notice. The scenario promised to be entertaining and everybody gathered to witness the spectacle. After seating them on rocks facing the Tribunal, Karl conducted the prosecution and explained how they had been caught stealing the prey caught in their traps.

Jim Armstrong jumped up and shouted at the Tribunal: “You’ve no right to put us on trial. Who the fuck do you think you are? There’s no law on this island and if you think you can impose your rules on us you are fucking mistaken, my friend.”

“I ask you to control your language, James,” Oscar cautioned. “There are children and women around so while it may be the way you talk in your camp it will not be tolerated here. Is that clear?”

“Fuck you too Oscar and fuck all of you to hell,” came the defiant reply, as he looked around at the staring and hostile faces around them. To emphasise his disgust and rejection of the process, he tuned his back to the Tribunal, bent over forward and whipping his tattered pants down gave them the “brown eye” salute[4].

The crowd howled with laughter but quickly stopped when Oscar, red with rage shouted at the three hapless poachers: “In the light of your disgusting performance, your attitude and your language, you and your comrades are sentenced to confinement in isolation in our stockade for a total of 5 days without rations. You’ll receive water once a day. We’ll send a messenger to inform Bennie of your whereabouts and the reasons for this. Maybe you will be more civil after your incarceration. Take them away.” The tribunal stood up and walked out of the small amphitheatre.

The three captives, protesting loudly were bundled unceremoniously toward the stockade, which they now noticed for the first time. It had been built from sharpened wooden stakes planted into the hard ground against the rock face of the overhanging cliff-side. The stakes touched the rock ceiling where they were strengthened by lateral poles. The structure looked sturdy. The gate seemed to have a primitive but effective lock on it which had been made from fire-hardened hard wood made from the tamboti trees in the forest.

Protesting loudly, the three new inmates were thrown into the newly built prison much to the delight and taunts from the children.

“You’ll live to be sorry for this, you bastards. Fuck you all! When Bennie hears of this he’ll come storming out and you’d better be prepared for him,” Graham screamed for all to hear.

Oscar had heard him and knew he was right. After discussion with Karl and Gary, the two departed to Bennie’s Camp to inform them of the situation. They were armed with axes and spears fashioned from wood and steel points shaped from the wreckage of the Airbus.

As they arrived, Bennie stood up from his accustomed seat on a stone he had selected as leader and which gave him somewhat of a height advantage over any one wishing to speak to him.

“Morning, Karl, Gary. To what do we owe this privilege?” he asked facetiously.

“I am afraid it’s no friendly visit Bennie,” Karl replied. “We’ve apprehended three of your guys for stealing our catches from our snares and traps. It is something which has been going on for quite a while and we’ll not tolerate this any longer.”

Bennie looked at them with half-closed eyes. He was aware that Jim, Graham and Peter had gone out to see what they could poach but would not let on that they had done so with his blessing.

“What! They told me they’re catching stuff with their own snares. Are you sure?” he lied glibly.

“Totally sure, Bennie. We have been watching them for some time now and caught them red-handed,” Gary replied.

“Well they will ’ave to give your catch back to you then, I guess.”

“No, it gets more complicated Bennie. We took them back to Base Camp and they were tried before our Tribunal. Because they refused to listen or to be tried and insulted our Tribunal, they were sentenced to five days in our stockade without food,” Karl explained.

“What!” Bennie exclaimed angrily. “You guys can’t just impose your will on us. You’ll ’ave to release them, that’s what.”

“No, we’re not going to do that Bennie. Your guys were bad mouthing us in front of the women and children. We won’t stand for that or for their stealing. They must now take their punishment.”

“We’ll see about that, Gary. I’ll not allow my guys to be treated like criminals. I’m coming to see Oscar and your so-called Tribunal immediately.”

He jumped up and grabbing his hunting spear called the rest of the small camp to follow, and stormed out to follow Karl and Gary up the slopes of the hillock which separated the two camps.

Oscar and his co-tribunal members were expecting them. While Karl and Gary had been away they had summoned every adult to the partly-completed amphitheatre while the children were hidden in the forest.

When Bennie arrived with his small entourage of ten, they were met by a silent group of some ninety people. To the front of the amphitheatre they could hear the shouts from Graham and Jim from their palisade jail.

Bennie strode up to where Oscar was sitting and demanded their immediate release.

“Why should we do that, Bennie?” Oscar asked.

“You ’ave no right to lock them up like common criminals,” Bennie shouted.

“But that’s exactly what they are Bennie, common criminals.”

“Wildlife’s for all of us survivors here on KRAT,” Bennie spluttered.

“That’s true Bennie, but only if you are able to catch it with your own snares and traps and not poach it from ours,” June said.

“Shut up woman,” Bennie shouted. “I’m not talking to you. I’m…”

“Oh but you are, Bennie,” Donald James interrupted. “Here you will respect every single person, man, woman or child.”

“Your rules and regulations don’t ’ave no bearing on us,” Bennie shouted again.

“You’re right Bennie. They don’t, but when you or your crew start affecting our lives as they did by stealing and raiding our traps and then swearing at our Tribunal and women, our rules will apply to you and to everybody on KRAT,” Oscar said.

“What’re you going to do now?” Bennie asked.

“The question Bennie is what are you going to do now?” Oscar asked.

“Well I don’t know. You’ve got my guys locked up like animals; you don’t want to feed them is what I ’ear; and now you want me to do something about it,” Bennie replied defensively.

“Well here’s what we propose, Bennie. We’ll release Graham, Jim and Peter under your responsibility. You will in return promise that none of your crew ever raids our traps again. If you do, we’ll come and fetch you personally and try you according to our rules and lock you up. Then we will throw away the key, if we had one,” he added.

Bennie fumed at the prospect of taking responsibility for the doings of the guys in his camp. He couldn’t be expected to do that, could he now? This has not panned out the way he wanted it. Better to play second fiddle now and then withdraw to plan a new strategy with these guys. We must neutralise their majority in some way. This was getting beyond him now.

“I don’t seem to ’ave much of a choice now do I? I don’t like this one bit. You’re going to be sorry you did this,” he blustered knowing that he would for now have to let them have their way. “I’ll agree to that for now. But I don’t know ’ow we are going to stick with it, Oscar,” he replied.

“Bennie let me put it to you in the strongest terms possible. Our survival on KRAT is our most important objective and I assume that applies to you as well. We will not allow anything or anybody to upset that. If we find any of your group stealing from us or in any way endangering any of us, we will take swift and appropriate action. Is that clear?” the question was asked in a manner which had only one answer.

“Yes, I understand that. Be careful that it doesn’t boomerang on you. I can only control my guys up to a point,” he warned, pointing to them with his spear.

“That applies to us as well, Bennie. Tell your guys.”

The lines were being drawn clearer and clearer. Someone was bound to step over them.

Karl and Gary walked to the stockade and amidst the jeering of the captives, opened the palisade door. As Graham stepped out he spat in Gary’s face. Gary turned and slapped him behind the head causing him to stumble and fall forward on all fours. Everybody had seen what Graham had done and cheered Gary as he stepped over the inert figure on the ground to walk away through the small crowd. Dusting himself off, Graham slunk off after the rest of the crew as they walked out of the arena amidst jeers and taunts from Oscar’s group to disappear over the hillock towards their camp.

“The battle lines have been drawn,” Donald said to no-one in particular.

“Yep, I’m afraid not only the battle lines Don, it is a call to do battle,” Oscar replied as he stood up to return to his hut.

In Bennie’s camp a serious confrontation was looming between him and Jim Armstrong.

“How could you just let them get away with it, Bennie?” Jim shouted. “Shit, they embarrassed us in front of everyone, locked us up like bloody animals in a cage and then you go and tell them you agree that you will see to it that we’re good boys. Fuck, I cannot believe it!”

“That’s not what ’appened. I ’ad no choice; they ’ad you locked up and your release was conditional on my accepting their proposal. What the fuck did you expect me to do?” Bennie shouted back. He knew that it was crunch time for him as the leader of the group, not that anyone had elected him; it had just been a natural thing. Now Jim was challenging it. So let him, let’s see how he fares.

“Christ, man I’m going to kill that bastard Gary, I tell you I’ve had enough of his shit,” Graham shouted.

“Oh fuck off, Graham. It was your idea that we raid their traps this morning, so stop your shit. We must be clever. Screaming and shouting at them will get us fuckall.” Jim shouted at Graham. He was ready to slap him when Bennie interrupted them: “I’ve been thinking guys so just fucking stop shouting so much. They’ve organised themselves pretty well, right? Now, we need to organise ourselves.”

“To do what?” Jim asked belligerently. He had very little faith in Bennie’s ideas and leadership. Since setting up their own camp, Bennie had done very little to organise them into a cohesive unit. It was also due to his hard-headedness that they had split away from Oscar’s group in the first place.

“We must neutralise their strengths and what are they, ’ey?” he asked them with his face poked forward at Jim. “’ave you thought about it, ’ey? You shout and scream at me but I bet you ’aven’t given it much thought yourself, OK?”

“Poke your face at me again like that and I’ll klap you, boet, hey yourself man,” Jim, slipping into the South African slang, retaliated like a bull being taunted by a red flag. He did not flinch at Bennie’s aggression. He could hold his own in a bar-fight and Bennie, despite his bulk would be no match against him.

Danny stepped in between the two. He was a lot smaller than either of them but his presence immediately seemed to bring them back to their senses.

“OK, Bennie, you’re saying you knew what their strengths are. So let’s hear what you have in mind,” he now asked Bennie.

Somewhat quietened down, Bennie sat down on his rock. The stress had got to him and he was red in the face. Jim also sat down with everybody else taking up their customary seats.

“This is what I’ve thought of. Base Camp ’as water aplenty and they ’ave the forest. Then they ’ave more people than us. We ’ave nothing to offer them so we cannot negotiate with them. We must neutralise their strengths,” he repeated.

“How? How are you going to take their water away from them? How are you going to take the forest away from them? How are you going to even out the numbers between us?” Jim asked impatiently.

“OK, it’s winter now, right? The water can freeze up if it gets to flow less, which is what we must try to do. The forest can suffer a disastrous fire and we can abduct some of their children, especially the females.”

“Jesus Christ man, are you off your rocker?” Jim shouted. “What you’re suggesting is war, straight and simple. They will destroy us like cockroaches as Oscar warned.”

“Not if we’re clever, Jim. It’ll be easy to start a fire in the forest; they’ll never guess or find out. As they rush to put it out, we’ll nab two or three girls who’ll be ’elping to put out the flames and ’ide them away. They could have fallen over the cliffs to the water below while they were fetching water, poor souls. While all this is ’appening, two of us’ll destroy their fountain with rocks. That’ll slow down the flow enough to freeze up.”

“Maybe something tragic could happen during the fire to a few of their men as well,” Graham said contemplatively. He was warming to Bennie’s suggestions. He had always wanted to get at the uppity group across the hill. Why should they have all females anyway?

“And what are you going to do with the hostages, Bennie?” Danny asked. He didn’t like the thought of violence and the consequential retaliation from Oscar’s group, which was a certainty.

“We’ll ’ide ’em away.”

“Where?”

“Where else, in the fucking Airbus, that’s where. It’s the one spot they’ll never expect, and remember they’ll be thinking the girls ’ad fallen over the cliffs so there’ll be no search.” Bennie seemed to have thought about it all. Some of his group seemed to be in support. Jim was totally opposed to it, as was Danny.

“Bullshit, Bennie,” Jim replied. “They’ll find out quick enough even if they don’t search for the girls and then they will push all of us over the fucking cliffs. In any case we couldn’t keep the girls hidden for long.”

“Rubbish, Jim.” Graham said. “We must strike first and we must strike hard. There must be no comeback on us, so I say that when we fire the forest, we must ensure that their leaders such as Gary, Oscar, Donald and John all fucking perish in the flames or really walk over the cliffs with a little help from us. As for the girls, who said anything about keeping them hidden? We do what we need to do and then we get rid of them. We can also bargain with them using the girls as hostages.”

Tom who had been quiet all along just shook his head in amazement.

“I can’t fucking believe what I’m hearing. Here we are sitting, all survivors from one of the planet’s greatest disasters, planning to rape and murder the young girls and destroy our fellow survivors. For what? They were fucking protecting their assets which we would’ve done in their shoes. Now we’ve become fucking barbarians willing to pillage and kill. Count me out, pal.” He got up and stalked out of the camp.

Graham watched him leave and when he was out of earshot said quietly: “There goes our Quisling.”

“Our what?” Peter queried.

“Traitor man, traitor. We’ll have to watch what we say when he’s around, I tell you. I know the type.”

Tom’s disgust at the discussion had put a damper on everything. The discussion petered out and nothing was resolved.

It was getting late and after supper they turned in. Only Bennie and Graham were left beside the fire talking quietly. When Tom returned, he ignored them and crept into his hut.

The next morning Bennie and Graham were nowhere to be seen. Jim and Dannie looked at each other with concern when it became evident that they had left the camp before daybreak. They knew something was afoot. Tom was still in his hut and when he emerged, he was carrying all his worldly possessions. It was clear that he was moving out.

Jim confronted him as he approached the fire place and asked: “Where are you going, Tom?”

“It’s none of your business, Jim but if you must know, I’m not prepared to be part of this camp when you guys start plotting to kill and murder others.”

“Well neither are we, Tom but we’re not running away.”

“I’m not running away either, Jim. There’s nowhere to run to in any event. All I want is to exercise my right to live where I wish and with whom I wish.”

“Well Tom I respect your rights, but we also have rights and we can’t allow you to join Oscar’s group. You’ll tell them what was discussed here last night and we can’t have that now, can we?”

“So what’re you saying, Jim? Are you going to force me to stay here against my will?” Tom was looking at Jim with a sardonic smile on his face. Jim did not support Graham and Bennie’s proposal and now he was the one expected to defend it. He was clearly quite uncomfortable with this and it showed.

Tom turned away and walked up the hillock without looking back where Jim was standing with Danny and Peter. After he crested the hill and disappeared from sight they turned and sat down to contemplate their next move. The camp was clearly in disarray and divided. Bennie’s proposal was a do-or-die approach and they knew it.

As Tom approached the Base Camp, he was suddenly confronted by Bennie and Graham who had been watching Base Camp’s activities from a hidden vantage point behind a clump of large rocks. They had noticed Tom walking up the hill with his possessions and put two and two together.

“So, the Quisling is jumping ship like a drowning rat, is he?” Graham said as he confronted Tom. He was tapping a piece of stainless steel pipe with a large nut on the one end which he used to kill birds. Tom stopped short. Graham’s stance and the way he was holding the pipe didn’t need explanation.

“So are you going to stop me?” He knew it was a futile question. Their intentions were clear. They would not allow him to spill everything to Oscar. He had no choice; with a flourish he dropped what he was carrying feigning surrender when Graham leapt forward and struck a vicious blow to his head. Tom was expecting it and leaned sideways causing the blow to strike him on the shoulder. It still hurt like hell as it crunched into his collar-bone, snapping it like a straw. Spinning around and away from Graham who was now off-balance, he struck back at him with his good arm with a rock he had picked up as he had dropped his bedding. He hit Graham squarely on the back of his head, dropping him like an ox. Spinning around to meet Bennie’s attack, he felt the full weight of his rugby tackle as he was hurled back onto the rock strewn surface. He grunted as the pain pierced his shoulder and rolled with the force of the tackle to minimise its impact. Bennie rolled with him and as they broke apart, both leaped up, panting and glaring at each other like two raging bulls.

“So, it’s come to this, has it Bennie? You’ve fucked up as a leader and force is now the only way out, is it?” Tom said breathlessly. He was not as fit as he would have liked to be but as a professional tennis player he was in better shape than Bennie.

“You fucking traitor, I’m going to kill you,” Bennie roared as he rushed in with head low, striking Tom in the midriff. Again the two rolled in the dust and with Bennie’s superior weight advantage, he quickly had a kicking and bucking Tom pinned under him. As Bennie reached for a nearby rock with his right hand, Tom struck him with a resounding slap on the right ear with his freed left palm, causing Bennie to yell in pain and rage as his eardrum popped. Tom kicked himself out from under Bennie’s suddenly relaxed grip and rolling away from him kicked him with both legs in the ribs with all the force he could muster. Bennie grunted as his ribs cracked, rolling away in the dust. He lay on his side holding his rib-cage in agony.

Tom lifted himself up on his good arm and watched as Bennie crawled forward. They were both too tired to do anything further. Graham was still lying where Tom had felled him. Struggling to his feet, Bennie limped to where Graham lay.

“You’ve killed him, you bastard,” he said with blood-flecked spittle running from his mouth.

“He tried to kill me with that pipe; I just defended myself,” Tom said.

He walked to Graham and turned him over with his foot. Groaning, Graham slowly opened his eyes to see Tom and Bennie standing over him. Satisfied that he would be OK, Tom turned his back on the two assailants and after picking up his stuff with his good arm, walked down the hill towards Base Camp. Bennie did not have the energy to stop him. Helping a groggy Graham, who was bleeding profusely from a gash in the head to get up, they limped back to their camp where Jim and Peter watched as they approached.

“What happened?” Danny asked.

“Fuck off, Danny. Get us some water,” Bennie said as he tried to sit down, wincing from the pain of his broken ribs.

Graham had blood running down the back of his head and taking water from Danny, poured this over his head. Jim waited to hear what had happened.

“Fucking traitor. I’m going to kill him if I run into him again.” Graham said flatly to Jim.

“So you ran into Tom did you? I tried to stop him but he wouldn’t hear of it.”

“We almost ’ad him, but he was too fucking slippery. Why the fuck didn’t you keep him here?” Bennie was holding his head to one side. His hearing had been affected by the slap from Tom.

“Why should I Bennie? It’s your party and I wasn’t going to take up the cudgels for you pal. Now what? We’re down to thirteen and you can be sure that Oscar and his guys are going to be furious when they hear what you guys had in mind.” Jim knew that they were in for the big jump. Tom would spill the beans and Oscar was sure to retaliate in order to neutralise the threat before it happened.  He’d told them it was the wrong move. Now he would be expected to back them up.

“Now nothing, Jim,” Bennie replied. “We’ve done nothing except talk, so there’s nothing they can do to us. If we’d all stuck together it would ’ave worked out OK.”

“I warned you that it was a stupid move, Bennie, but you and Graham thought you knew better. You’ve split up the crew and lost a member. That’s not good, Bennie, not good at all.”

Graham walked up to where Jim was sitting on the ground and without further ado kicked some dust in his face

“Why don’t you run after the traitor too, Jim? Now that things are hotting up, you turn tail.”

Wiping the dust off his face, Jim stood up slowly. He was a farmer and built like a tank, a Sherman tank. He pushed his chest and face right into Graham’s face, causing the smaller man to retreat. Jim kept advancing and in a soft and threatening voice said: “I’ve fucking well have had enough of your griping and shit, Graham. You’ve been a pain in the arse since the fucking plane crashed. I’ve a good mind to beat your head in further, you little twerp. You think you have all the answers but you know nothing, man. All you can speak about is women and what you’ll do to them; your type is probably too fucking useless to do anything.”

Graham backed down as Jim advanced on him and sat down on the ground when he felt a large rock pressing into his back.

Turning to Bennie, Jim said: “… and you, Bennie, you’ve had your chance to lead this group and you’ve blown it, man. I’m not prepared to listen to you any longer. I’ve no respect for you and it seems that your only supporter is this excuse of a man, this weed here,” pointing to Graham sitting on the ground. “If you have a problem with me taking over the leadership here you are welcome to challenge me.” Jim walked away from the group and made a point of taking up Bennie’s position on the rock. Neither Bennie nor anyone in the remainder of the group said anything.

Meanwhile, Tom had arrived at Base Camp much to everyone’s surprise. He walked to where Oscar was sitting with June and Esme.

“Morning,” he said as he put down his bedding, wincing in the process. His face was scratched and it was clear that he had been roughed up some.

He looked at the three in front of him sheepishly.

“I’ve left Bennie’s Crew. Couldn’t agree with them over some stuff. Hoped I could join you guys if you have no objection,” he said diffidently.

“Did the discussions we had yesterday with you guys have anything to do with it, Tom?” Oscar asked.

“Yes and no,” Tom replied cautiously. “I’m not going to rat on them although that’s what they expect me to do. Let’s just say, that we had our differences and it came to a head after yesterday’s meeting with you guys.”

Oscar looked at Esme and June. They just shrugged their shoulders. They had no objection to Tom per se. The principle remained however that Bennie’s Crew would not be welcome, especially after the previous day’s meeting.

Looking at Tom’s discomfort with a more critical eye, Esme asked: “Hurt are you, Tom?”

“I guess so. I think my collar bone is broken.”

Esme jumped up and after gingerly stripping his buckskin shirt of sorts off his shoulders, gasped when she saw the massive bruise and break in the collar bone. A jagged piece of bone jutted out from his skin where Graham’s weapon had smashed into the bone.

Esme shouted to Christine who was about a hundred metres away in the infirmary with Zyndile. The two of them came running up to them. Christine looked at the wound with an expert eye and without any further questions herded the young man to the infirmary. There she and Zyndile cleansed the open wound and with some pressure on the shoulder with Tom white-faced but silent, splinted the collarbone with leather thongs behind his back. They tightened the loop with levers made from tree branches, twisting the thongs to pull back the shoulders in order to set the bone in place. Zyndile placed a herbal poultice on the wound and it was quickly and expertly bandaged with some old, but clean bandages.

After she administered some sweet tasting water to her new patient, Tom lay down on the bed and rested while they cleaned out the small hospital for him.

They had a decision to make. Do they accept Tom’s request to stay here or not? It was clear that they could not send him back as the injury was probably the result of a serious altercation between him and Bennie’s group. After some discussion between the group leaders, it was agreed that he stay, but on condition that he be on ‘probation’ until he had been suitably assessed and socialised into the group. For the interim he would stay with Gary who undertook to watch him.

When Christine returned to the infirmary, Tom was sleeping with Zyndile sitting next to him. She was reading a book she had brought with her and that had been recovered from the wreckage. It was called ‘Angels and Demons’ and was written by Dan Brown. She had read it a couple of times already.

Waving the book at Christine, she asked: “Why is it that the Vatican City sounds like a very mysterious place which hides a million secrets?”

Christine, who had also read the book smiled.

“I wasn’t very impressed with Dan Brown’s book, Zyndi. He tells a good story but in my opinion his writing style leaves much to be desired. Anyway, the Vatican does in fact hide many secrets. It is or was a massive repository of Christian guilt, intolerance and the persecution of innocent non-Christians, theft of the legal property of movements such as the Knights Templar, and individuals who the church did not like, as well as murder and insurrection. In my opinion, the whole Catholic Church has, over the centuries, been responsible for and involved in many evil activities. As an institution it has much to account for. It has tried to strengthen its stranglehold on the world through its manipulation of the masses and especially the poor. It is therefore no wonder that they have had to create an enormous security system to ensure that the world does not gain access to its secrets.”

“But, how is it that the Catholics have become so powerful?” Zyndile asked again. “They built so many schools and hospitals in my country and fought the apartheid oppressors.”

“Yes they’ve been very good at that. That is how they are able to influence what the poor learn and no doubt to gain the moral high ground. I’m not sure that I will do your question regarding the reason for their growth justice as the history of the Roman Catholic Church spans over 2000 years, but here goes: during the early years of the Christian religion, the church used political power to gain a foothold after centuries of persecution by the Roman rulers. Constantine the Great was their first great convert and political ally. It was he who paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of the Roman State which was later confirmed by Theodosius II. One also needs to remember that Jesus was a Jew and not a Christian and indeed he was not the founder of the Christian church.”

“What! How can you say that?” Zyndile exclaimed. Nobody had told her this before. It seemed ludicrous to her to think that Jesus was not a Christian.

“It’s true Zyndi. He was in fact a Jewish lay-Rabbi. If one understands the Jewish religion, it is very strict and adherence to the Judaic Law or Halakha as it’s called in Hebrew, at the different levels it functions on, is paramount. Having said that, it would have been highly inflammatory, sacrilegious and indeed blasphemous for a Jewish Rabbi or any Jew for that matter, to call for the creation of a religion which promotes a break-away from the Jewish religion. Jesus never did this. This was done by Paul who had never met Jesus. Paul who became St Paul, had a serious run in with Jesus’ brother, James and if you read  Acts 9:29 it reflects that Paul was threatened by certain members of the Jerusalem community and he was subsequently virtually exiled to Tarsus in Cilicia[5] to spread the word as depicted by James on behalf of Jesus. Acts 15 explains that certain representatives of the leadership in Jerusalem accused Paul of laxity and admonished him to stick to the Law. It is at this point where a schism is created between the followers of James and Paul who started preaching his own version of Christianism as I prefer to call it, which ultimately became the basis of the Catholic Church and from which the Protestant movement many centuries later evolved and broke away. Paul was thus in effect the first Christian heretic[6] as his teachings were a flagrant deviation from the original or pure form of Christianity of those who followed the teachings of James. These teachings reflected Jesus’ philosophies as an adjunct of the Jewish religion and I think it was Matthew who tried his best to show that James’ teachings were not only in harmony with Jewish tradition but indeed its culmination[7]. Paul distorted Jesus’ teachings beyond all recognition and in fact formulated his own individual and idiosyncratic theology and then ascribed it to Jesus! For Jesus it would have been the most extreme blasphemy to advocate the worship of any mortal figure and especially of himself! Paul in effect shunts aside Jehovah and establishes for the first time, the worship of Jesus — Jesus as a kind of equivalent of Horus, Adonis, Tammuz, Attis or of any of the dying and reviving gods who populated the Middle East at the time and even thousands of years earlier. It is at this stage that miraculous elements become associated with Jesus’ biography, including his birth of a virgin mother and his resurrection from the dead. Paul deviates from the Law as taught by James and Jesus by the way. In Gal 2:16 he states “faith in Christ rather than fidelity to the Law is what justifies us, and …no-one can be justified by keeping the Law.”   Acts 22:22 reflects the utter rejection of Paul by the people adhering to the Judaic Law “Rid the earth of this man!” they cry. “He is not fit to live!” He escapes them as a Roman citizen until eventually Nero orders his execution many years later.”

“Wow, Christine you sound like a preacher yourself. Did you study theology?” Zyndile asked in surprise. She had heard her angry rejections of Father Ridgeway’s ministrations in the past but had not realised the extent of Christine’s knowledge of the Bible.

“No, my father was a preacher and I had the Bible drilled into me at a very young age. I hated it, but later in life I actually studied the Bible as well as other religious works from a more critical and cynical perspective. What I found was quite frankly horrifying. That’s what drove me to become an atheist.”

“Why?”

“One should not embellish Christianity[8]; it has consistently opposed any attempts to question its origins, its logic or lack of it and indeed has resisted investigation and rational research. The churches have collectively also attempted to seize control of schools and universities and infiltrated the halls of power in the political arena through the ages. Man who is able to think and be critical of religious philosophies was deemed to be the enemy and over the ages he was persecuted, vilified and isolated to minimise his impact and the possible damage he may cause to the churches. Their basic approach is one of ‘convert or die.’  Think what the Spanish Conquistadors did to the Incas in South America as an example. In 1600AD, the Catholic Church burnt Bruno alive at the stake for refusing to believe that the Earth was the centre of the Universe, a dogma it had been teaching for over 1400 years. Islam is just as bad when you consider their resistance to any questioning of their beliefs. In more recent times the Catholic Church has tried to force its adherents to practice birth control through menstrual cycle methods in the face of poverty, growing populations, pollution etc. It tells its followers that it is wrong to fight AIDS through the use of condoms and that the disease is a manifestation of God’s wrath for the sins of man. Also their stance in the pro-life debate and abortions created dissent based on religious principles. Individual rights and the rights of the woman where it concerns her life and body were totally ignored and discounted.”

“Any individual, who was able to think in an unfettered fashion and dared to question the tenets of religion, was labelled by Christianity as being evil or a heretic. The original sin according to Judaic and Christian dogma is man’s capacity to think! Good grief, Zyndile think about it; Christianity has always taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted; it has depraved reason by teaching men to believe that the supreme values of intellectuality are sinful, as being misleading and as temptations. It is clear that the Bible as a historical document is full of holes and gaps. It is even more evident that the Gospels have been tampered with by the Early Church to suit their own agendas. In fact it is evident that the very first Jewish Christians led by Jesus’ brother, James had no intention of breaking away from Judaism.”

“Do you have proof of all these things you are telling me, Christine?” Zyndile asked in amazement. She considered herself a good Christian as were her parents. They taught her as did the local clergy, to believe and have faith in God and the love of Jesus Christ. It was unthinkable that they would have supported or condoned what Christine was saying.

“I think there were over 50 so-called Gospels but only those currently included in the New Testament were selected by the Early Roman Catholic Church. There has been substantial argument regarding the authors of the Gospels including Acts, Paul’s Epistles, Peter’s Epistles and so on. What is clear is that the gospels were written by Jewish Christians in Greek and who lived in the Hellenistic cities of the Roman Empire. They do not date from the Jesus’ lifetime. Luke in fact is thought to have been a Greek doctor. Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Greek as well. He should not be confused with Matthew the Disciple who could only speak Aramaic.”

“In other words those that have been incorporated are not by the original Twelve Apostles who were Jesus’ followers?” Zyndile exclaimed with some consternation.

“Yes. It is actually not known who wrote the Gospels. In addition,” Christine continued, “there are several disparities between the synoptic Gospels in matters which any clear-thinking person would think are important…”

“Such as…?”

“For one, the birth of Jesus. According to Matthew, Jesus was borne of a high family, an aristocrat if you like and indeed descended from the throne of David; according to Luke he was of a poor family while Mark is the one who started the legend of a carpenter’s son. Lazarus’ awakening from the dead is another example mentioned in only one of the Gospels, namely John. Why did not Mark or any of the other apostles mention this singularly spectacular happening? There is however a secret Gospel of Mark’s which gives a somewhat different slant on the raising of Lazarus, one which the Church suppressed[9]. The Gospels also give quite different accounts of the words supposedly uttered by Jesus as he dies on the cross. Zyndile, the Gospels cannot all be correct or be the Truth as inspired by God. You must remember that the Bible is only a collection of writings by hundreds of authors, many of whom are unknown to modern scholars. In Mark’s original gospel for example, it ended with the Crucifixion, the burial and the empty tomb. It made no mention of the Resurrection or of a reunion of the apostles. These elements were added later. Priests conveniently hide these facts. To come back to your original question about the growth and power of the Catholic Church, much like other religions the Catholic Church involved itself in political intrigue, murder and assassinations. The Inquisition was set up to root out any opposition to its dogma. This included opposition at the secular level. Fear was the currency of the church.”

“But Christine, the Church says you must not question these things, only believe, only have faith,” Zyndile visibly puzzled, said. She was having great difficulty with what Christine was telling her. White missionaries from all denominations had come into her country hundreds of years ago and had preached the gospels working tirelessly at christianising the indigenous peoples, teaching them the dogma and rites of the various churches they represented. The so-called heathens and savages of Africa, believing the whites to know the Truth and to be their superiors, had accepted their preaching and thus became devout if somewhat misled Christians, some with African spirituality built in as a safety valve. Now this white woman was telling her otherwise; that all this had been lies, half-truths and a manipulation of history!

“Convenient isn’t it? So what is it that the religionists wish you to believe? Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth or Luke’s? Of course religionists will quickly tell you that much of the Bible is written in parables and metaphors and that you should not interpret it too literally. My problem with this is when do you decide to ‘interpret it literally’ and when not? How do you believe in the divinity of Jesus if this exalted status was allocated by a vote of bishops in Nicea in 325 AD and when in fact the writers of at least three of the Gospels actually state that he is not God? The way of it, Zyndile is to tell the world that you and only you know the truth or that God has spoken directly with you; just believe and you will be saved. Do not question what I say, just believe! This is how we often speak to our children, isn’t it?”

“But the Bible says so, Jesus said so as well,” Zyndile objected.

“Of course it does. If you wrote a Gospel would you say anything to put doubt in a person’s mind? Would you not try to convince people that your god is the only one to believe in? Would you not also threaten people with dire consequences if they didn’t or promise them, like you would children, wonderful rewards if they did? The very basis of religion is mysticism which creates false realities; makes people feel guilty where guilt is absent but useful to the religionists; where the mysticism-plagued mind waits for external guidance from external authorities. These authorities that include governments and religious movements are fully aware of this. They consequently assume an external and immoral ‘authority’ over us. Indeed they continue to generate and justify the use of force such as the Inquisition, excommunication and religious wars and terror, and through fraudulent means by making false claims such as miracles, divine sightings and –intervention. Or through plain dishonesty they communicate information and interpret incidents such as burning bushes and ‘smoking guns’ to suit particular agendas. The teachings of St. Paul are riddled with this. Thus those in authority manufacture so-called ‘realities’; create false standards and strengthen your feelings of guilt in order to control and manipulate you. In the political arena, leaders mislead their citizens with misinformation; they create fear through imagined threats to people’s safety and in its extreme form, these master mystics enforce their corrupt goals through force and violence often couched in internationally accepted terms and legislation which they justify as being for ‘the common good’.”

“Unfortunately we were taught as youngsters not to question the Bible or our leaders. This creates a natural barrier to intelligent enquiry which was always countered by the decree that you must have faith and trust in your leaders. Anyhow none of this is important any longer. The world as we knew it and the religions and things people believed in and died for, has ceased to exist it seems, so now it is up to us to develop new philosophies and discard the old.”

“Hau, I’m now very confused,” Zyndile said, looking very perplexed. To her religion had always been a straightforward consideration; you either believed in Jesus Christ or you were an outcast.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to confuse you but if you feel more comfortable you should ask these questions of Father Ridgeway,” Christine said kindly as she stood up to tend to Tom who had started stirring. She knew that the priest would give Zyndile a very different picture but also knew that it was not her place to try to change a person’s beliefs. Religion is a personal thing and people, naïve as they were, must make their own choices.

Tom opened his eyes and looked around him in some confusion. He had slept a deep and unbeknown to him, drugged sleep. Zyndile had administered a potent but tasteless soporific extracted from mushrooms she had found in the forest.

“Thanks for looking after me so well. I can’t remember when I last slept so deeply,” he said, looking at the two women. In Bennie’s camp they had no medicines or comforts such as this bed, he told them. He also told them of the argument he had had with Graham and Bennie but did not go into too much detail. They could only guess why he had left them.

June was walking with her two girls in the forest. Since the air crash, they had been discussing how they planned to survive the challenges of the world they now found themselves in. Both Rachel and Elizabeth had come to accept their situation and as June had told them, they were in fact emotionally and psychologically better equipped than the majority of the survivors to deal with the realities facing them. June had created a strong leadership position for herself as a member of the Tribunal as well as being an advisor regarding the possible effects of the displacement of the earth’s crust. Her friendship with John Duguid had also deepened into a strong partnership, which the girls were starting to accept.

The structure of the survivors in Base camp now resembled an emerging village and although their shelters and amenities were still very basic, the survivors had settled into a pattern of village life in which all members started playing a role. Social structures had developed along friendship lines, while the younger members formed groups based on common interests.

A major challenge was to strengthen essential skills among the survivors in fields they were totally unaccustomed to such as making tools, clothes, hunting for food and cultivating herbs and vegetables. This challenge was overcome in a very constructive manner where the leaders such as Oscar and John set up small technical groups to experiment with processes such as extracting salt from the wetlands while at the same time providing training to production teams. Gary and Karl for example trained a number of the young men to manufacture traps and set them in the veldt. They also learned how to stalk and track small rodents and catch them while the women learned to use their pelts to manufacture clothes after curing the skins with some salts extracted from the water in the river by evaporation; salt was however extremely scarce and the men, without the knowledge of the women, used their urine on hollowed rocks and gourds to evaporate leaving salt as residue; this they washed in clean water and evaporated it a second time to get a reasonably clean salt.

June now needed to ensure that her two daughters would be able to look after themselves and indeed to play more significant roles in the emergent village structures.

“Liz, I have been wondering what you think we should be doing to ensure that Dad’s work is not forgotten, should we survive all this and find ourselves in a new world,” she asked turning to her eldest daughter. They were sitting on the edge of the cliff near the waterfall, looking out over the water wastelands below them.

“Gee Mom, I don’t know. I didn’t know much about Dad’s work. Isn’t it something you should do?” she replied somewhat defensively. As a teenager she still did not accept the finality of their position on the plateau. Someday all this would end she believed.

“Naturally I will help you, Liz, but the world is going to need to be reminded of this disaster and prepare for it should it ever happen again.”

“Mom, be realistic. I am fourteen-years old and you expect little old me to remind the whole world of a disaster. Isn’t that too much to expect?” she replied.

“Who else, Liz? If we don’t do it, who will?” her mother argued.

“I will,” Rachel said with the confidence of a precocious twelve-year old. She was not going to allow her father’s work to be forgotten. If it had not been for his insistence that they leave for South Africa they would have all been dead by now. She had absolutely no idea how she would do it but she realised that someone ought to keep his memory and the work he had done, alive.

“Are you sure, sweetie?” her mother said in some surprise. Rachel had the disconcerting habit of surprising her every day. She was a strong willed person who never brooked any nonsense. At times she could be cocky, but that just endeared her to her friends and family. Elizabeth on the other hand was the soft one. She resented Rachel’s in-your-face approach to life somewhat but had learned to live with it. As sisters they were very close and often confided in each other.

“You’ll have to help ‘cause I don’t know how we’re going to do it but it could be fun to do and it gives us something to do. Liz and I could work on it together, hey Liz?” she asked looking at Elisabeth with a look her sister could never resist.

Laughing, she just nodded.

“I’m so glad girls. We need to think how we could do it.”

The three of them spent the rest of the day working out how they could create a historic record of the happenings since their departure from London, six months ago.

When they had done, June still felt something was missing. Then it dawned on her as she returned to the camp. Mike’s work as well as centuries’ work in a variety of fields would be lost to future generations if they didn’t do something about it. It was not good enough to leave the legacies of significant scientific discoveries to chance or worse to legend to be rediscovered.

Speaking to Oscar and to John Duguid, they agreed that they collectively compile ‘papers’ which could be preserved in some way. None of them were however sure how this would be done or for that matter, what such ‘papers’ should contain. They nonetheless agreed on one issue: none of the content would lead to the further destruction of mankind or of the planet earth. They also agreed that June would be the coordinator and facilitator of the work.

 


[1] Qu’ran: Surah: 4.137

[2] Fredericksen, P. ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity’ London, 2000, p.19.

[3] Hitler, A ‘Mein Kampf’. Translated by Ralph Manheim, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA, 1943,  Vol 1 Chapter 2: “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

[4] The ‘Brown Eye’ salute consists of exposing the naked rear (usually male) from a bent over position to someone. Author.

[5] Modern-day Turkey

[6] He was also a heretic in terms of Judaic teachings as becomes clear in Acts 22.

[7] Source: Armstrong, K. ‘The Bible; The Biography. Atlantic Books, London  2007

[8] The term ‘Christianity’ is used generically. It is accepted that there are different forms of it ranging from the Roman Catholic Church to Protestant denominations, evangelical congregations, contemporary sects and cults. It is virtually impossible to determine what constitutes ‘Christianity’ except a common belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ according to widely divergent rituals, liturgy and principles.

[9] Source: Smith, M. ‘The Secret Gospel’, London, 1974


 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