*An old post.I saw that it somehow got deleted from my blog.*
In the middle of the weekly offering in the Temple, Galene heard her father whisper his chants. His voice had a whimper. She knew he was scared!
Alcaeus, her father, was the most important man in the hamlet of Aionion, the Shamaan –the ultimate alpha male.He was bestowed with the authority to kill, to pardon. Nothing in the hamlet happened without his nod of approval.He was the judge, he was the apothecary! Other men lined up before their chataeu to seek his blessings, ask for his opinions, and beg for his mercy!
The shamaan always ruled over the others.And it was this unchallenged authority that made him ruthless and hard over time.
Galene had always feared her father. Affection, love and other warm emotions never had a place in their relationship. Alcaeus was a tough man. He only knew to dictate.
But his free reign was a thing of the past. It was before the drought and the famine, before the fury of Aithne descended down on their hamlet.
The rains failed again this year. It has been longest period without rain since a century.There has been no harvest festival for the last three years. Their storage had thinned away. Nobody has had a full meal in days. People of Aionion were getting restless and very angry.
In the beginning the men had been tolerant.They held on to their faith in their Shamaan. They obeyed his words.They fasted, they made offerings, they prayed!
But nothing changed.The sun continued to scald the hamlet with his crimson rays. The clouds rushed away from the skies, not bothering to wet the creased land. Their animals dropped dead.Their children stumbled in hunger and heat. Their wells ran dry.
Some of their younger men tried to run away to the capitol.To reach the capitol one had to cross the vast forest on their feet.The unbearable heat and the lack of water made the journey unusually difficult. Forest fires were also getting fierce. The cannibals who were rumored to dwell in the heart of the forest were yet another source of risk. And the wild beasts of the jungle did not have many choices left to feed themselves.
A few of these men returned after a few days, all weared out. The hunters found a few unidentifiable carcasses in the forest.The families kept on hoping that the rest, whose whereabouts were not known, were fortunate enough to make it to the capitol.
The heat and lack of water was turning their people against one another.There were more fights. And on the top of all these, people were falling sick.
Alcaeus had run out of his medicinal herbs. Only thing he could do now was chant and pray and evidently it was not being of much help.
Galene knew that if the epidemic was not kept in check, the whole lot of them were going to perish.
The Shamaan’s duty was to save the hamlet from the fury of the Gods. And that was what Galene’s father had failed to do. Aionion, along with her people, was slowly dying down.
People had lost all their hope.The fear and anxiety was turning into blind fury and hatred against their priest, the one man whom they had trusted to protect them.The man who had failed to please Aithne, their guardian goddess.
Galene was as scared as her father. She knew about the people of Aionion. They would do anything to avert the curse on the hamlet. And she could guess what a failed Shamaan and his family had in store.
Being a woman in the Aionion was bad enough. The famine had made their condition even worse.The women were expected to find water, console the sick kids and remain hungry until every man was fed. They were the last ones to receive medicines when they fell ill.The men vented out their frustrations on them. They, as always, suffered in silence.
Galene was concerned about her mother. Even though the success and glory of a man belonged to him alone, his failure or death was considered to be his woman’s fault. Galene had never forgotten the fate of Agathe, her friend. Agathe’s husband, a soldier, died during the annual harvest hunting three years ago. She was then pronounced guilty of infidelity, was mercilessly accused to have savored on other men’s beauty. Only an adulterous wife would have failed to protect her husband while he carried out his duty, they said.
Galene shuddered as she rememebered how Agathe was dragged into the temple.The women waited outside as they were not allowed inside the temple.After a while her father and the elder circle had come out to declare the verdict.
“Agathe has displeased Aithne. She was not pure, her man’s death proved it. She’s to be sacrificed.Let her blood wash off the impurity she had pelted on us”. None of them cried, nobody gasped. The women in the hamlet knew it was inevitable. They had seen such things injustice all their life.
In Aionion, women always held the lowest status.When a man died a natural death, his wife was subjected to a week of fasting and she was required to mourn him all her life .She was allowed to eat only once a day and was required to shave off her hair. She could never have another man in her life.As a woman had no right to work on field or rear cattle, she was entirely dependent on her man to feed herself and her kids. So when she became a widow, the only way to live was to do slave work for the Priest and the elder circle. Galene grinded her teeth as she thought of the grave injustice.
The chants died down. Alcaeus lowered his eyes and remained silent.The elder circle came forward. They were the most powerful men in the hamlet after the priest. They were the ones to select the next priest after the ruling Shamaan dies or fails to fulfil his duty.Galene knew that they were about to pronounce their decision and what ever it was it was not going to be good for her family.She felt her heart pounding.Her father had accepted defeat; he had nothing left to say.
Women were asked to step inside the temple only when they faced trials.Galene moved closer to her mother and her younger brothers.The resigned look on her Mother’s pale face scared her.
What were they going to do? Sacrifice her whole family to quench Aithene’s displeasure? She looked at her brothers, their faces contorted in fear. They were all below seventeen, not of age yet.She frantically hoped that they would be spared the punishment.
Did she have a chance to survive? May be she did- only if they had not found her secret.
“Alcaeus….” bellowed the oldest elder. Her father looked up tentatively.
“You have failed to calm Aithne’s anger; you broke your promise to the clan.” Her father uttered something unintelligible. The elder raised his hand.”Let me finish.You have proved yourself unworthy of the Dias.Do you have the anything in your defense?”
Her father’s eyes flickered towards them. His glanced lingered on her Mother whose eyes were lowered, her brothers and then rested on her. His eyes met hers and she knew. She felt a knot in her stomach as she realiszed that her secret was no longer hers. What she had always feared was going to come true. Her father was going to tell them her secret. He was going to save himself by putting her in danger.
Galene drew a deep breath as she awaited her destiny. At least her mother and brothers were safe. She would have always sacrificed herself for them.She didn’t mind dying.Her only concern was for Amyntas.
Amyntas, had he heeded her warning and managed to escape? What if they caught him alive? She stared at her father, silently pleading to keep Amyntas out of this. But she she knew her father too well to have any hope.
“The mighty circle-I plead before you not guilty” Her father spoke in his deep voice.
“I was not able to avert the immense misery that had dawned upon us. But I assure you my loyalty I had not wavered, my reverence and faith in the mighty Aithne is as strong as ever.I never compromised my intergrity.I have always performed all the rituals with utmost honesty” He paused.
There was an angry murmur in the the temple.The elder raised his hand and waited for the chaos to die out.
“May I ask you why you failed, Alcaeus? In spite of all your loyalty why did you fail? “, his voice quivered with cynicism “What stopped you from putting an end to our misery?”
“I beg you to hear me out.” Galene flinched at the tone of her father’s plea. “It was not my lack of reverence that displeased Aithne.” Alcaeus continued, pointing towards the sculpture of the goddess.
“It was Galene, my own daughter betrayed me.” He paused for an effect.
“My only sin would be that I had not known. I found it out too late, only hours ago. Now please let me finish her off and let her blood cleanse away the misery that has dawned upon us”
Galene heard her mother inhale sharply, her brothers looked at her with wide eyes.She tried to keep her face passive as she waited to hear more
There were more murmurs in the crowd.All eyes turned in her direction.
“And what would her sin be?” croaked another elder in the circle. The oldest elder was still looking at her with mild interest.
“She, the mighty circle, defied the law of Aionion. She gave herself to an outsider, a man with roots outside our hamlet.She fed him with our food, she sheltered him with our cloths, gave him access to our holy books and she let him teach her the secret of weapons.She let him touch her.”
An eerie silence filled the room. Galene did not dare to move. How did her father learnt about Amyntas? How long have he known, since how long has he been plotting against her? Did he follow her in to the clearing when she had gone to bid Amyntas farewell? Or has he noticed missing weapons yet?
Galene had found a gravely wounded man in the woods one day when she went in search of the herbs with her Mother. She first thought he was dead. Warm blood was pouring out of him. Her mother ran towards the man to check if he was actually dead. They saw that he was still breathing, but they found one more thing. He was not from their hamlet as he did not have their symbol tattooed on his arm.
Her mother’s instinct was to run away and inform Alcaeus.
”Let him decide, Galene. Women are not allowed to touch an outsider”, her mother insisted. But she persuaded her mother to keep quiet. “He will die any way, let us leave him alone. If we inform father, he will only make sure this poor lad suffers more” she told her mother and they agreed to leave him alone.
What her mother did not know was that Galene had returned to the injured man with her father’s medicines.She nourished him back to health. The conditions in Aionion were not as bad then, she could smuggle away some food for from the kitchen without anyone noticing.Being the Priest’s family they had more food than the rest of the tribe.
When he regained his consiousness he told him that his name was Amyntas.He gradually got better and she learnt he was a trader from a near by hamlet and was on his way to the capitol.
Amyntas had got separated from his group and had wandered deeper into the forest.One night, he was attacked by a grizzly bear. Amyntas barely escaped and had run with all strength he was left with until he collapsed. “I lost all my weapons. I still don’t know how I managed to survive.It was a pretty vicious beast.I cannot stay here anymore, you know how much your men hate strangers. If they find me out they would kill me right away. Could you help me get some weapons so that I can go back? There is no way that I make it back without any thing to defend myself with.” He pleaded from time to time.
Of course, Galene did not want him dead. She wanted him to escape.Not that she had fallen hopelessly in love with him.Her act of saving him was a rebellion on her part .Her own way to prove that she still could act on her will. Doing something against her father, the circle, the other men who considered themselves superior, gave her a strange ecstatcy.
But as she spent more time with him, she started to like him.She loved to hear him talk about his hamlet and the capitol.”Women are treated much better in my place” he used to say. He had told her that women were allowed to work and earn their food in his hamlet.They could own land.”But they are better off in the capitol. Emperor has made a new law which lets women learn new skills.They are allowed to use weapons and join the army.They are even included in the circle”
At first, Galene couldn’t not believe any of this. All her life she had seen the women of her hamlet submit themselves to the ruthless reign of their men.But once she was convinced that Amyntas was talking nothing but the truth, she felt elated.For the first time in her life, she saw a ray of hope.She realized that she all her dreams would come true only if she could get away from her barbaric hamlet. She ahd made her decision.She was going to leave for the capitol.
“That’s not easy Galene!!” Amyntas was scared at the idea.”You are not strong enough.Even the strongest warriors find it difficult to face the dangers in the forest.It is not possible”
“It is”, she insisted, “and you will help me.Teach me how to fight”
Amyntas agreed to her plan.She would smuggle weapons from her father’s collection and he would teach her. She always took them back against his request.She was afraid he would leave without her, killing her only hope.
A few months later, her Mother had found out about Amyntas.She was terrified.Her mother constantly tried to coax her out of her mission. But did not dare to tell another soul.She knew that it her was daughter’s life that was at stake once anyone found out. Her mother had no other choice left but covered up for her.
Slowly, the drought worsened.She could no longer afford to take Amyntas any food. Her plans were going awry.
“You can leave, Amyntas. I don’t see myself escaping this hell”, she told Amyntas one day.But he wanted her to go with him.
But Galene knew that the conditions in the hamlet had changed since.People’s displeased against the priest was growing. His family was being closely watched.One wrong move from her could result in the death of her whole family.
But convincing Amyntas was a tough job.He was quite adamant about not leaving without her.Galene was quite touched by this gesture of his. The men in her hamlet never considered women worthy enough to put their life in risk. When she came to know of today’s trial, she knew that something sinister was going to happen to her and her family.She had bid him farewell this dawn.”Go away.I am not sure of coming out alive from that temple. I don’t want them to find out about you.That would kill any chance that we might have”
Amyntas looked smug.He did not want to cause her any more trouble that she already had.With a heavy heart, he gave her a quick kiss on her forehead and wailed away.
She had turned away and run. Did anyone see them? Did her father truly believe that she was the cause for the miseries or was he just using her to ensure his own safety? She hoped Amyntas had managed to get away.
“Where is he?” there were voices from the crowd echoing her thoughts. The elder once again raised his hands.”Where is he?” he repeated.
“I did try to capture him.I wanted to end his life with my own hands,I wanted to please my goddess.But he got away.He had the weapons this traitor had smuggled over from my den.She fed him with our food when our children were starving.She had made him strong.She let him escape” Her father accused in a shrill voice.She smiled in spite of herself, he was desperate.This was his only chance.
No woman of Aionion was entitled to defend herself.She was not surprised when nobody asked her about her side of the story.
“Take the accused to the cellar while we decide”, ordered the elder
Galene was dragged by her arms and was shoved into darkness. Minutes crawled by.She did not know for how long she sat there, her ears straining to catch any sound, an unexplained fury and blind fear rising within her with each breath she took.After what seemed eternity the door swung open and she was dragged back into the temple room.
“This unworthy woman has sinned before Aithne and she has to pay the price.We order that this traiter be whipped to death before our Goddesss. After her death, let her carcass be tied to the temple doors to warn others.Our Shamaan had failed to stop his own daughter from displeasing the Goddess.He is unworthy of the Diaz. He is condemned by the circle from entering the temple ever again. The woman who had given birth to this sinner here, she has to disown her daughter. We order that she witness the whipping of this traitor, and if she sheds one drop of tear, one cry escapes her lips to symapthize with the sinner, then we order that she and all the children she has given birth to be banished from the hamlet!”
Galene looked at her father; losing his power was next to losing his life. He looked shocked.But she felt no sympathy towards him. The pain she saw on her mothers face was beyond comprehension. Was her mother strong enough to watch her die without shedding a tear? She hoped with all her heart that she was.
“There has to be a new priest. The Choosing ceremony will begin today. After 3 nights, the new Shamaan will be chosen. Let the whipping begin”
How long will it take to die? How long will she have to endure the pain? The very thought ignited grave fear within her.
“You will wish you are dead soon” the elder whispered to her, his lips curling in a maniac smile.
And the whipping began. With each stroke of the whip, boundless pain engulfed her.The whip cut deep into her flesh. Blood oozed out from all over her. She wished she was dead.
In the blinding hour of pain she looked up and saw the shining deity of Aithne and felt a surge of hatred. She had never seen the deity this close. Her ruby red lips and saphire blue eyes seemed to be smiling in amusement.
“Does this end your displeasure, Aithne, seeing me die?” She silently screamed.
“Is it going to rain, now that you have quenched your thirst for blood?”
She kept glaring at the smiling Aithne when the realization dawned on her.She felt an immense power erupting from withinn her.Suddenly she knew what she had to do.
She was ready when the whip landed on her the next time. She tugged the whip with her right hand and pulled the executor down. She saw a glint of surprise on his face when she whipped him back hard. She lunged forward and grabbed the sword in Aithne’s hand. She saw faceless figures running towards her from all sides. Holding the whip in her left and sword in her right hand, she moved forward, frantically swinging her arms with all her strength. She has been teaching herself to fight .But she wasn’t sure if she was ready, if she was capable of this feat.
But her arms felt stronger than ever.Was it the energy that Aithne graciously poured out on her that made her invincible? She heard screams, she heard roars, but she fought back.
By the time she made it outside the temple she was drenched in blood. She did not know how many wounds were etched on to her body, how much blood she had lost. She did not know if she would stay alive long enough, if she would ever escape.When she emerged out, she heard gasps and screams from the women and girls who were waiting outside.
“Its time we fought back.Its time we showed our strength” She bellowed.Her voice surprisingly loud considering that she was gravely injured.
“Do you know the reason of Aithne’s fury? It’s our silence…….”
As it to prove her point, it rained the hardest, drenching her and washing blood off her face.