Feb 24, 2012
Flash Me Friday
Our people had been nomads, following the herds across the hills and wastelands. We lived in tents of hide that were carried with us, along with what little we possessed. It had been thus for generations, right up until the day we came to the edge of the sea. There we found a new way of life and gave up our wandering ways.
No longer were the tribesmen burnt brown from the sun, no longer did they have the patience to track prey through the desert. Instead their hands and faces became hardened by the sting of the salt air. They became skilled in the ways of nets and canoes. The women learned to dry fish and weave cloth from the beaten reeds of the salt marsh. And so the tribes prospered.
The priests, who were our teachers and also keepers of our records, warned that these changes did not find favour with the gods. The old ways should not be cast so easily aside. But a settled people had no use for gods who seemed always to take, giving nothing in return, and fewer and fewer people heeded the words of the priests. With each generation, the old ways became more distant in memory.
The day that brought the judgment of the gods upon us started much like any other. The men went out in their canoes to cast their nets and the women went to the marshes to gather reeds to beat on the rocks. When the men returned, it was with little to show for their trouble. This was the fifth day the catch was not good. The priests approached Dranin, our chief, for the gods share of the catch but for the first time he refused to give it to them.
“Why should the gods benefit from our hard work while our families starve?” he asked. “These gods of yours are desert gods who know nothing of the ways of the sea and the fisherfolk. Tell them to seek out those who still dwell in the desert. What use are desert gods to fisherfolk?”
Seath, the priest, did not grow angry, but remained calm in the face of Dranin’s words. “The gods are gods over all and must be appeased. They have already grown tired of your miserly ways and chased the fish away from your nets. Spurn them at your own peril.”
But Dranin would not be moved. He had long resented the tradition that expected the best portion of each catch going to the temple for the gods. He had no use for the priests and their gods. Let them catch their own fish.
The people were uneasy. Though many of them not longer paid homage to the temple as their ancestors did, they were still a superstitious lot and the priests were the mouthpieces of the gods. But Dranin was chief and they were used to obeying him.
The next day there was a storm such as the people had never seen before. Black clouds boiled in the sky. High waves pounded the shoreline. Wind and rain lashed at the village. The people shut themselves up in their huts and huddled together in the dark.
The next day the villagers emerged cautiously from their homes. The damage was terrible. Wreckage from several of the canoes littered the shoreline. Nets were ripped and torn, and the communal hut the dried fish was stored in was gone. The salt marsh was churned up, the reeds broken and useless.
Dranin ordered the women and children to scour the shore for what could be salvaged. He and the rest of the men repaired the canoes that were left relatively intact, and then took them out to fish.
Fishing was always good after a storm, but when the canoes returned hours later, the nets were empty. Dranin went to where Seath awaited him on the shore.
“There are no more fish – not for the gods, not for our hungry bellies. I was wrong, and the whole village suffers for it. What can we do to appease the gods?” he asked.
An ordinary man might have gloated at the defeat in the chief’s tone, but Seath was a priest and took no pleasure in the downfall of another. “The gods grow weak on their diet of fish, they need red meat.”
“And where are we to get this meat?” Dranin asked. “There is not one among us who remembers the ways of the hunt, that task belonged to our ancestors.”
Seath looked at him gravely. “Then you must choose from among the people. The sacrifice must be untouched, pure of body and spirit.”
Dranin paled, but bowed his head.
My sister, Jessil was the one Chosen. She was fair and pure, and had just come into her womanhood. A feast, with what little we could gather, was given in her honour. Many gifts were given to her to take with her to the gods.
They dressed her in white and Seath gave her a potion to ease her passing. Then Dranin paddled them both so far out they were just a speck on the horizon. When the canoe returned, only Dranin and Seath were in it.
Within a day the weather cleared and the fish returned. New shoots were seen in the salt marsh, it was only a matter of time before the reeds would be fully grown again. It was declared by the priests that the sacrifice must be made each year. The Chosen one would have a year of plenty – beautiful clothes, the best of the food and drink, and many fine gifts. A great feast would be held in their honour and their name would be remembered for all time.
I can’t wait until it’s my turn.