Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Goddess Gambit

The Goddess Gambit

Have you ever had a dream, that felt so real, that when you awoke, you felt that the dream world had been reality, and that your reality felt more as a dream? This is the story, my story, from the other reality, that is my dreams:

It was the final night of the last battle. The fires burned throughout our beloved Indara, our home. The hordes of Torin had overtaken the lower level of the city, and by noonday, the middle wall was breached as well. Fires burned throughout our homes, but we still had our lives. We fell back to the inner wall, whose green manicured lawns had not tasted the sour of war for over three-thousand years. There, where the sacred temple stood up against the mighty mountainside, we gathered before those cool marble steps that led to those hallowed bronze doors. The Lord Guard stepped forward, and ascended the stairs. Midway up, the doors began to creak open and we all bowed down, faces turned up in expectation and desperation.

They descended the steps like falling silk in the breeze, the four virgins in white gossamer, decked with bronze ornaments of office, each carrying the scepter of her goddess. Behind them came the incense bearers, holding long lanterns of bronze whose purple smoke rose to the sky. And behind them came the High Priestess, decked in her robes of gold and calendula yellow, her dark curls falling like a mantle around her face which had been painted hues of gold and bronze. She looked out from the doors over the red setting sun sky, the billowing pillars of black smoke rising to the heavens. Then she looked at him. The Lord Guard, his arm bandaged and bloody, his soldiers spent and shaken. He nodded to her. And she closed her eyes and called in her echoing sonorous voice,

“Let the people flee into the mountain caves, and let not all of the children of Indara die to save her.”a pause, “But we will not giver her up!”

And here the vestal virgins four repeated, “We will not give her up.”

“We will appeal to the Goddess to protect us!” She said opening her eyes.

“We will appeal to the Goddess to protect us.”

“We will appeal to her with our bodies!” She called, with arms outstretched to the heavens.

“We will appeal to her with our own bodies!”

“We will appeal… in her sacred flames!” She said turning and bowing towards the shrine.

“We will appeal in her sacred flames. So let it be done!” And they also turned and bowed.

And so I saw the people look with hope upon their last chance of survival, upon the five standing upon the marble stairs. And so the slow trickle began to the mountain cave openings, following the Lord Guard and incense bearers. And as they began trickling away, I returned to my guild and our master, who were readying the ancient scrolls and parchments to be carried away and saved from the on coming plundering. But as I lay my burden upon my back, the Great Recorder, my Master, came to me and drew me aside. And he spoke to me, about the need for one to remain behind, to record the acts of the enemy, and to make a record of the fall of Indara. And I knew he had selected me for this task, so I submitted to the yoke placed before me.

So, as my people went into the mountains, and fled the coming slaughter, I found an enemy tunic and donned the Torian mantel. And I went and hid myself in the shadows of the wall rubble. And there I waited as evening drew near. I waited for the hordes of Torin to come. This is my record of all I saw during the fall and sack of Indara.

* * *

It was near the midnight hour, when from my hiding place I saw movement near the temple doors. And I moved closer and there I could see now, not only the hallowed bronze doors, but beyond them, the great rotunda with its pillars of marble and it large blazing fiery altar in its bronze bowl. And between each column was a statue, two on each side, each of pure ivory. And standing before each statue was one of the four vestal priestesses, dressed in black garments of mourning. The first stepped from her place before the statue, and held forth her scepter, topped with the emblem of grain. And she spoke, loudly before the flame, repeating the chant of before.

“We will not give Indara up.” And then stabbed herself through the stomach with the sharpened, stake-like end of the scepter, and threw herself upon the flames.

I was sickened, horrified at the act, and yet, I could not look away as the next stepped forward and spoke,

“We will appeal to the Goddess to protect us.” And her scepter also flashed in the fire light, and her body also joined her sister’s.

I could not look any longer as I heard the gruesome sacrifice continue.

“We will appeal to her with out bodies.” Wet, sickening stab. Thudding body with crackling flames.

“We will appeal on her sacred flames.” And it was over.

I turned then to look, and beheld beyond the fire, the most holy image of all, that of the Great Goddess, carved from purest gold, eyes ablaze in the fire light, as if invigorated by the blood of her sacrifices. And then I saw the dark shadow between the statue and fire stand up. It was the High Priestess. She stood and spoke hauntingly.

“We will not give Indara up.”

And began walking around the fire.

“We will appeal to the Goddess to protect us. With our bodies we will appeal her.”

And as she reached the other side she looked out, and her eyes met mine, and she spoke,

“We will appeal on her sacred flames. So let it be done!” And pulled the bronze doors back in, their weight swinging back and shut with force. Then the sound of a mighty bolt falling echoed around the temple area. I slid back to my hiding place and awaited the hordes of Torin, noticing the moon fall behind clouds, clothing the night with deepest darkness.

* * *

It was just before sunrise that the horde of Torin breached the last wall and broke like the waves of a dam upon the sacred courtyard and meadow before the temple. They roared like many waters as they poured forth, but stopped just as suddenly. I watched as their war cry died to a haunted silence. All were quite in the tense nervousness of the unexpected emptiness. As the men stood in the eerie silence, a single cry of victory erupted from their ranks, which then cascaded into loud shouts of celebration. They began breaking away in groups, plundering the rich pilgrim shrines and so I was able to slip into the mulling bodies unnoticed, and began making my way to the front where two figures stood out over the rest upon the steps of the temple. As I drew near I hear them speaking.

“An easy victory, drink up Captain, you did well today.” Spoke the older, fat man.

“It was too easy a victory, and may still turn against us. General, perhaps we should not desecrate their shrines so. Perhaps their gods may smite us in their anger.” Said the younger captain.

“Hmph! If theirs gods did not protect them from our army, there is precious little they can do to us. You men! Gather a regiment or two and get those doors open! Come now, Captain of the Hosts, you should enjoy your victory today. Have some celebratory wine!” And the General then proceeded to lap down more of the wine.

As I drew closer to the two men speaking, I saw more than a score of soldiers begin pulling at the doors and ramming them with broken beams. Their work was short and soon the sacred bronze doors fell back under their assault. The morning sun had risen sharp and crisp behind us, and suddenly contrasted much with the dank pool of shade that was the inner sanctum of the temple. I joined the group of apprehensive soldiers at the door, as the Captain and General stepped forth and entered.

The interior of the rotunda was completely dark, save for the shaft of light that came from the doorway and fell across the floor to meet the second shaft of white, eerie light that fell from the oculus upon the black charred sacrificial bowl. The air was cool, and blue smoke hung like water around the empty chamber. A haunting dripping sound echoed within the darkness. In the haziness, the Captain walked forward and examined the contents of the bowl.

“Human. They must have been sacrificed to prevent our victory.” He spoke quietly.

“Hmph! What savagery! You see. This is why we conquered their city. And why we get to enjoy the spoils of war.” The General spoke nearly licking his lips at the sight of the four ivory statues.

“Hmmm.” The Captain said as he began examining the various ivory goddesses. "Wheat sheaves... must have been a grain goddess. And here. Bees and honey combs with this one."

"I don't care what type of goddess they are, they will all make impressive additions to my victory march in Torin." spoke the General as the Captain continued.

"This one has some kind of vineing plant around her arms, with small fruits. And the other has a sundial... purhaps a goddess of time?"

Then our party had reached the other side of dark rotunda. There the dripping sound grew louder. The Captain and General both saw it at the same time.

"Torin preserve us. What is that!?!" spoke the General.

"Wheat. Honey. Time.... and Hops. They worshiped a Great Goddess of Beer." said the Captain as he held a torch up to the gleaming golden idol, its four arms each supporting an amphora, crowned with a wreathe of wilted hops flowers, red ruby eyes blazing with indignation.

"You idiot! Its solid gold! Thats whats more important!!!!" called the General licking his lips with greed. "This will be the center piece of our triumphant return! The crown jewel of our five years of campaigning."

As if hearing them, there was a popping sound and suddenly amber-gold liquid began pouring from the navel of the statue. Everyone fell back, some soldiers bowing, a few running from the chamber. Then like frightened animals, they drew near again and inspected the liquid.

"It smells like..."the Captain began.

"Beer! Hmph! You there. Soldier!" the General said pointing in my direction.

The soldier beside me and I both pointed at ourselves questioningly.

"No, you on the left! Here, drink!" he said, letting a nearby bowl fill and handing it to the one next to me.

He drank, while we all watched him with anticipation, waiting to see if he would suddenly start convulsing or show some other symptom of being poisoned. But nothing happened.

"Its good." he spoke.

"This statue is obvisouly miraculous. It should be taken to our temple complex in Raza." The General called with sudden reverence as he himself also drew a bowl and drank of the golden fluid.

But just as he spoke the words, the flow suddenly stopped. This seemed to surprise all even more then when it had started. The captain threw his bowl down and grabbed the statue shaking it by its shoulders as he yelled, "Whaat happened?!?! Why did you stop!?! You are suppose to be my crown jewel of success!!!!"

"Purhaps the Goddess does not want to go to Raza." spoke the Captain, and the flow started again at his words.

"Hmph! Well then, where does it want to go?" spoke the General venomously.

The flow stopped again as the General began calling out name after name. When he finally said Torin, it started again.

"Torin it is." said the Captain.

They announced the news to the soldiers later, and it was met with cheers of joy. The tired soldiers had not been home for five years. And when they returned they would be the conquering heroes. That night, lots were drawn to see who would remain behind in Indara. Since the vanquished city was now empty, most could not wait to return and claim the rewards of being victors. And so only a small regement were left behind the next moring when we sailed away on the ships with the dark red sails, to the city of Torin.

* * *

Torin begins right at the coast of the bay, and spreads out like blood from there, the red painted houses and towers rising slowly to the highlands of the hills serrounding the city. White flags and flowers drapped the pink sandstone buildings and red tile roofs as the victory celebrations began. I had sneaked aboard the ship of the General and been assigned guard duty at his villa when we reached the city. His villa was located upon a terrace of the upper city wall, and had a high bridge running down from it to the villas of his three Captains.

All day long the feasting, singing, dancing, sacrifices, games, and tournaments continued. The people rejoiced greatly, all the more when the statue of the Goddess was brought forth, dressed in bridal rainment and led to the Temple of their God, where it was left to be ravish by the God of Torin. The General did not even care that the flow had stopped. It was worth it. The ultimate humiliation to the people of Indara, their eternal foes.

When night had come, the strong drinks were brought out as the entertainers began, and the large bonfires were lit in the golden couldrons all across the city. The pinkish hues seemed to fade into tan sand colour all around in the flicker flame lights that cascaded off the gold. And it was during this that all the people grew tired off of the wine and strong drink. So, while some continued making merry, the General retired to his villa, and I went along with his whole household.

It was the last watch of the night. The clouds were gone and a solitary moon hung over Torin like a beacon of ill will, a final last warning with its pale, spectral light. But Torin was too drunk off of its victory to see it. I passed through the house of the General like a wraith, walking quietly as I moved from room to room. Then, I reached the walkway to the General's own room. The walkway was another highbridge, with pillars supporting the roof, the evening air flowing between them lazily. I looked out from there and beheld the whole of Torin before me, and the sea before it.

A mist had gathered upon the waters and moved towards the city. It slithered like a snake over the walls and between the timbers of the door and cracks of the stones. It covered the entire city, and like a lapping wave, moved up towards the wall, where the villa was. I know not why, but I feared to face the mist, and so entered the room of the General. And there, in the stifling darkness, I thought I saw movement by the window. So I moved into a nook behind the door and watched.

The window flew open, the cool night air filling the room, while the curtains billowed out, allowing the haunting moonlight to fall upon the sleeping figure alone on the bed. Then the mist crested the lip of the window and flowed over it like water, covering the floor, while the scent of hops filled the air. And I saw a shadow in the mist rise up, and quaked with fear at what I saw.

It was her. The Goddess. She had come to life. She had only her two arms, and she did not seem quite as tall, but the severity of her gaze was precise. She stood at the foot of the bed and glided through the mist like a skiff on the water, till she was beside the sleeping head. Then she bend down and spoke in her sanorous voice, "Foul and wicked man. Your stench is an offence to humanity. You desicrated my altars. Now you and your entire city shall pay the price of your sacralige!"

And from the folds of her golden robe, she drew a copper blade, which gleamed in the icy cold moon light before burrying itself in his chest. It flashed twice more, while the General only had enough time to twitch once before it was over. Blood soaked into the grey woolen sheets of the bed. Then she rose her head, the mantel of dark curles falling back as her blood splattered face looked up. For a moment I thought she saw me, but then she turned and quickly slid from the room.

I stood in shock, looking at the dead figure on the bed. Then realization struck and I quickly jumped to my feet and followed the figure from afar. It was not hard to find her. I simply followed the path of dead sentries and blood. Soon I saw her walking between the highbride leading to the Captains' villas. I ran to catch up to her. She was moving on to the second villa when I made it to the first, all inside were killed by the copper blade of her vengence.

I took the path around the second villa and crept to the last. There, I waited till she entered and followed behind her in the shadows as she made work of all the sentries again. The stench of blood was horrible and mixed with her smell of hops. Then she went to the last Captains bed. He slept there, with his wife next to him and three small bundles between them, all breathing deeply. His family. Then she drew near and I held my breath in fear of what was to come.

But there was no gleam of the knife. Instead she pulled a bundle from beneath her robe and set it at the foot of the bed, then bent her face beside the Captain's ear and spoke, "Since you alone apposed the sack of my sanctuary, I have decided to spare you and your family. Tonight your city will fall and all the people in it will die. Leave when you awaken and don the Indarian cloaks at the foot of your bed. Leave all of your Torian clothes behind. They will only be a deathmark to you."

Then she left and I followed her, but not before closing the door hard enough for the Captain to awake. As I continued behind her, watching her slay the remaining sentries upon the walls, most of whom were inebriated anyway, I saw the coming sun barely blushing the night sky with the faintest of light blue. Once the sentries were all gone, she made her way to the great doors of Torin, and threw them open. Outside, she gave a whistle. Then the entire fogbank lit with thousands of lights.

The troops of Indara had not perished in the mountain caves but had went through the mountains to the otherside and marched across the plains to Torin. And now, the door was open, the sentries were dead, and there would be blood in Torin before the sunrise.

I withdrew in hiding once more, shed my Torian cloak and retreated to the wall where I began recording all I had seen that night, while the shrieks and cries began. Soon the low wail of the dying filled the air, then all was silent as the red sun burned the skies. In a single night, all of Torin fell to the blade of Indara.

* * *

As the celebrations continued and the people began carrying away their spoils, I went to deliver my completed record to my Master. But as I drew near, climbing over a segment of fallen wall, I saw the Lord-Guard walk towards the courtyard of the Temple of Torin's God. And so I walked to the doorway of the courtyard, and peaked in the chink in the door.

There in the bough covered courtyard of laid stone, the Lord-Guard walked towards the Temple doors, which stood open and ajar, one hanging upon a single hinge. Slain priest littered the ground, and the streaks of blood where bodies had been dragged away to be pilaged criss crossed the courtyard. Then I saw her come out of the darkened Temple.

It was the Goddess, who I now knew as the Priestess. She walked to the Lord-Guard and I heard their words echoing around the enclosed space.

"The plan worked." He spoke.

"Of course my plan worked." She answered in her sanorous voice. "I knew they could not resist such a treasure as the idol. But next time do not fill it up as high. You nearly drowned me in beer, and I had to let some drip out between my fingers as I held the hole in the navel shut, just so I could breathe."

"But it was all worth it. All of Torin has been slain. Our people have won. We will finally know peace. Not a single person from Torin survived to take revenge on our city. Right?" He said.

"Yes. I took care of everything. Well, almost." she said, and once more looked up from between her mantle of dark curles and straight into my eyes peaking through the chink, as if she saw me. "There is just one more loose end to take care of..."

1 comment:

  1. i am still just insanely jealous of your dreams in general... you could be the next mary shelly, you know!!!