Hungary, 1066 AD
The Warrior slept soundly.
And she dreamt about the Golden-Haired Child.
A new morning dawned, the morning tinged with the seasonal chill, the rising sun hidden by dirty grey clouds that hovered above the horizon, although the obscured sun wielded its power and slowly turned the white frost on the leafy trees to tinking droplets.
Unencumbered by garments, the Warrior padded down to the lake, waded in waist deep, and even though she shivered at the chill of the water, she fell forward, allowed herself to be fully submerged, then moments later, she stood, gasping, pained by the frigidity, so cold that it almost burnt; and closing her eyes, she stood motionless, fighting for control of her trembling body. Her mind was stronger than flesh, her steely resolve more powerful than a body’s frailties, and the Warrior pushed through the water and stood on the bank, her limbs still numbed by the experience.
The Warrior knelt down, facing east, facing the obscured sun, her face bowed with unbending faith as she whispered reverently, “Ye Gods of mine, I will seek out the child, but be with me in my quest.”
A spear of sunlight broke through a crevice in the clouds, and the Warrior raised her face to observe it, to acknowledge it; the Warrior gratefully accepting the affirmation she had sought.
She stood, shaking off a final shiver; she being of twelve hands in height, her shoulders powerful, her legs muscled through many a journey. Enlivened by the chilly dip, the scars on her body blazed a bright pink, the scars telling of her history, telling of the journey that had been her adult life.
The Warrior dressed, the garment of toughened goat-hide, the garment beige in colour, although the garment splotched with fading red, the blood belonging to those who had stood in her way. She pulled on the woolly boots which came up to her knees, then she fastened the dagger around her right boot. She slung a sheathed belt over her shoulder, and with a well-practiced shrug, the handle of the sword sat comfortably at her left shoulder blade. Of Prussian steel, the sword reached up to her chest when stood upright, the handle, which was wrapped in boar hide, was as long as her forearm, and the sword was heavy, although the Warrior knew how to wield it and have the weight of the sword working for her.
Ready, willing, she gazed upwards, the spear of sunlight diminished by the clouds, then the Warrior began a new journey, a new quest.
In the latter part of the eleventh century, Hungary was controlled by the Arpad Dynasty, yet many of the out-lying or isolated villages governed themselves. Crevenia sat near the southern border of Romania, and as the population grew, the village expanded its territory. Open fields were aplenty, the fields ideal for cultivating crops and allowing livestock to graze, yet water supply was becoming an issue. The last season rains had been sparse, and the flow from the river which ran into the dam had been reduced to a trickle. Pernius Slovinsky was the leader of the village, and the dwindling water supply was his major concern, yet other issues also disturbed him, for again, he had dreamt of the Golden-Haired Child. The girl had been merely a babe when she was found in the woods, and a kindly woman from the village took the child in and raised her as if the girl was one of her own. The Golden-Haired Child was now of thirteen years, and she was a child of polite and modest nature, although Pernius’s recurring dreams seemed to suggest that the girl would grow to be a figure of great influence. The way of the village was set in stone, and when the girls of the village blossomed into their child-bearing years, they would be offered to a suitable partner, and then they would be responsible for producing and rearing the next generation. The disturbing dreams had Pernius believing that the Golden-Haired Child would not accept her proper station, instead she would seek a much bolder destiny. In the dreams, the Golden-Haired Child appeared as a Golden-Haired Woman, and her ambition seemed to be to teach the villagers a new way, to guide them down a new path. In the dreams, her influence affected not only his village, her influence spread, all nearby villages choosing to follow her and obey the message she offered. If the dream was a prophecy, the Golden-Haired Child could usurp him, and Pernius had no desire to be usurped.
Agitated of mind, Pernius scuttled through the waking village, needing to seek out the Oracle.
The Oracle was awake, as most times he was; and he lifted his head at the sounds.
“Who goes there?” he asked.
“It is I, Pernius.”
“Village Leader, why dost thou disturb me?”
Pernius regarded him; the Oracle hunched of shoulders and wearied by age, and even though his eyes were sightless, he was a man of great wisdom. “I seek your counsel Oracle.”
The Oracle had been sightless for many years, although he could see things that no other could, and he knew why the village leader had called on him. “For you to come, you must be troubled.” the Oracle said.
“The protection of my village is always my concern, and this is why I seek counsel.”
“Aye, this village faces many obstacles.”
Pernius sat and faced him as he said, “No solid rains have come, and if our crops fail again, our livestock face extinction, and if our livestock be no more, then this village …”
A sentence without an end, although the Oracle understood the message.
“Village Leader, the Gods are testing us, yet my belief is that we will endure this current hardship. The great minds of the village need to come together and find another source of water if the village is to survive.”
“If it no rain, there be no water.” Pernius replied.
“Village Leader, there is water in the mountains; your task is to bring the water to our village.”
“It cannot be done!”
“The Gods are testing us,” the Oracle replied. “Man does not know what his limits are, although the Gods are asking us to explore those limits.”
“If the rains do not come, we will all perish.”
“Village Leader, man’s journey is about survival, learning how to adapt. Our ancestors were challenged by the Gods, and they adapted, then they survived. The great minds of the village need to explore their limits, or yes, we may all perish.”
Pernius was disturbed that the sightless one could offer no solution, although he did need the Oracles approval. With a mild conviction, Pernius said, “The Elders gathered last night, and we arrived at a solution.”
“If the Gods are testing us, we need to appease them.”
The Oracle lowered his face, and he asked without enthusiasm, “How so?”
“We need to make a sacrifice to our Gods.”
The sentence was oblique, although the Oracle knew exactly where it was heading. “The old ways are no more Village Leader, our way forward, our survival depends on our people adapting and exploring.”
“The old ways saw our ancestors surviving, and for us to survive, we must do as they did.”
“To survive, we must use our minds; sacrificing one of ours will solve nothing. Every life, any life is precious, and sacrificing a human being is not appeasing the Gods, it is murder.”
“We have no other way, and all the Elders agree.”
The Oracle blew out a disgruntled breath, then he advised, “I shall come to the village after supper and address the Elders, for the water in the mountains is our survival.”
“I say again Oracle, all the Elders have already agreed.”
“They have agreed to sacrifice someone, to murder one of our own?”
“It is not murder, it is appeasement; offering a gift so that the Gods will send down the rains.”
The Oracle knew who the offering would be, so he sought a diversion. “Well Village Leader, if you wish to sacrifice yourself for the good of the village, I will not stand in your way.”
Pernius flinched, surprised by the statement. “The Gods have no need for someone of age, as by the old ways, they seek a child, someone of youth and purity.”
“Who says this? Have you spoken to our Gods?”
“It is the way, the old way.”
“I will not allow it.”
“The Elders have all agreed, all we need is your approval.”
“No child of this village will be murdered; I will come after supper and address the Elders.”
Pernius stared at him, and he realised that unwittingly, the Oracle had just given his approval. “We have a child amongst us who is not of this village.” Pernius said quietly.
The Oracle had dreamt of the Golden-Haired Child even before she had been found in the woods, and in the dreams of recent times, he had been shown that the child would one day become a great leader. She appeared in his dreams not only as a leader, but also as a saviour, and her message would be embraced by a populace that was willing to fly into the future with faith and hope. The Oracle blew out a weary breath, then said, “When we found the child abandoned, we took her in and raised her as one of ours, so the child, Thiebe, is as much a part of this village as you or I.”
“Nay, I rally against your declaration, for the child has no true family, and the villagers will understand the need to appease our Gods.”
The Oracle stood, and with both hands at the base of his back, he stretched, then said, “Go now, I will address the Elders after supper.”
Of unwavering commitment, Pernius said slyly, “All talk is done, and I thank-you for your blessing.”
“Village Leader, you have neither my blessing nor my approval; the old ways are no more.”
“We send a gift to the Gods, and they will send the rains.”
Wise and astute, the Oracle sensed that he would not be addressing the Elders on this night, for he may never see the night. Curious, he asked, “Are you scared of her, Village Leader?”
Pernius considered the question, then replied, “My only fear is for the future of this village.”
“Some say that the child was a gift from the Gods,” the Oracle began, “And you wish to murder her and send her back to them?”
Pernius stiffened then said, “Some also say that the child is a witch, and the Elders agree that sacrificing a heathen will appease our Gods.”
“The child’s parentage is unknown, yet no-one of this village could ever say that the child has dabbled in witchcraft, for she worships and prays to the same Gods that we do.”
“An orphan she be Oracle, and some say she was sired by the Dark One. Am I scared of her, nay; but many in the village fear her. She is now of child-bearing age, and all Elders agree that she must never be allowed to bear children, and through logical conclusion, she is the perfect sacrifice to appease our Gods.”
“I say again Village Leader, you have neither my approval nor blessing!” the Oracle stated forcefully.
“Age wearies you Oracle, and your wise mind is in decline.”
The Oracle turned in the direction of the voice and said, “Dreams of the child come to me, and the dreams show me that one day the child will be a great leader, not just a great leader for this village, but for the whole country.”
Pernius was disturbed that the Oracle also had dreams of the child, so he pulled the knife from his belt and moved behind the old man.
The Oracle felt the presence behind him, and instinctively, he knew that his journey was over. “I sense what your ambition is toward me Pernius, but I must say again, do not harm the child,” he drew in a breath, then reinforced the warning, “The child may well be from the Kingdom of Gods, and if you harm the child, the Gods may unleash a wrathful fury on our fair village.”
Pernius wasn’t scared of the Golden-Haired Child, although he was wary of her. The child seemed to be bathed in a celestial glow, and as future years matured her and strengthened the glow, Pernius feared that his position of eminence may be threatened. Of dishonourable ambitions, Pernius clutched the Oracles shoulder as he advised, “Wise One, take comfort in the fact that I will send men out to search for those who ended your life.”
Of another breath, the Oracle drew in, and he knew that not many more would be inhaled, yet he issued a final warning, “Murder the child Village Leader, sin against the village, sin against the Gods, and a great punishment will await you.”
“I hope that your journey to the Heavens will be quick and safe.” Pernius said coldly, then he dragged the knife across the old man’s throat.
The village was in shock at the murder of the wise, old man, and Pernius gathered the Elders together. “My friends, the Gods are punishing us, so we must appease them.”
“How so, Village Leader?”
“We must go forward with our offering without delay.”
“Sacrifice the orphan girl?” one Elder asked.
“We have no choice.” Pernius nodded solemnly.
“We need the Oracle’s approval and blessing, and as he is no longer, we cannot act.” a frightened Elder stated.
“My friend, the Oracle was of strong faith, and he would have approved, for what we do is for the good of the village.”
The eight Elders were all deep in thought, until a few of them nodded in agreement.
Pleased with the muted affirmations, Pernius said, “Aliytan, fetch the child; Jacob, take two men and prepare the sacrificial alter, and Jerom, alert the village that the sacrifice will be on this night.”
The Warrior continued on, hunger tempting her, but her quest had her pushing on relentlessly.
Her dreams foretold of a child being slain, and she had no wish to cast her eyes upon one who had life stolen from her, but the quest, the task was clear; find her and send her back home.
Pernius and the eight Elders escorted the child out of the village, and then they began the long walk through the woods to their place of worship.
The young girl was curious. “Good sirs, where are you taking me?”
“We are having a ceremony for the Gods tonight, and we are taking you to our place of worship.”
“Why are the other villagers not joining us?” she asked.
“The ceremony will be performed when night falls upon us, and the whole village will join us at that time.”
After they had reached their sacred grounds, the men escorted the girl up the steps and onto the plateau. The uncovered temple was of chiselled stone blocks, all bases spanning forty feet. Each stone block was a foot in length and height, and with thirteen steps, the plateau of the temple sat thirteen feet above ground level. The temple was in pyramid design, the first step consisting of forty blocks, the second step thirty-eight, the third step thirty-six, the thirteenth step sixteen. The temple had been constructed more than two hundred years ago, and its sole purpose was to have the villagers closer to the Heavens, closer to their Gods. The sacrificial altar sat right in the middle of the plateau, and of recent times, the altar was barely used. Occasionally livestock would be slaughtered on the altar, yet the last human sacrifice was more than forty years in the past. The Oracle had been teaching the villagers for many decades that the Gods don’t seek human blood, they are more appeased when people solve their own problems and chart their own future; yet the Oracle was no more, and the village leader was now the most persuasive inhabitant of the village. Rains weren’t coming, crops were failing, livestock dying, and Pernius had convinced the eight Elders that the child of unknown origin was responsible for their ever-worsening plight.
As close to the Heavens as they could ever be, the village leader and the eight Elders gazed upon the child. Of ten hands in stature, the child had hair of gold and eyes of blue, and her face was a mixture of beauty, innocence and youth; yet on this night her face was creased in apprehension. Pernius understood the Oracles objections, for he knew that the Gods may not be appeased by spilling the blood of one so young and innocent, yet for him this was about removing a future threat to his rule.
He gazed at her again, the young girl clearly frightened, yet her fear didn’t diminish his ambitions, her fear galvanized them. Pernius envisaged that if she was allowed to blossom, she would become a woman of great beauty, because her youthful face was already pleasurable to gaze upon. Of steely resolve, yet also of a wicked awakening intention, Pernius said quietly, “Loose her gown.”
“Loose her gown?” a nervous Elder inquired.
“The child came into the world unclothed, so we shall send her back unclothed.” Pernius replied.
The gown was loosed, and nine men gazed upon the naked child.
Thiebe was un-appealed by being gazed upon, and she uttered with trepidation, “Good sirs, why am I naked before you?”
Pernius stepped forward and said, “The Gods have called for you, they want you to return home.”
“The Gods, my Gods have not called for me, for they wish me to lead our people onto a new path.” she replied meekly.
“What say she?” asked a surprised Elder.
“The child speaks the tongue of the Devil!” Jacob declared.
Pernius was pleased that the issue of the girl’s parentage had been unintentionally raised, so he said, “Hush Elders, and for you my child, worry not. For the good of the village, we will offer you to our Gods, and then they will look upon us favourably.”
“Offer me?” she asked nervously, “In what way am I being offered?”
“Be at peace child, what will happen to you is for the good of this village, and you will be remembered forever for your bravery.”
A man gazed upon the girl, and evil intentions stirred in his heart. Another man gazed upon the girl, his thoughts lacking purity or virtue. Pernius was stirred most of all, for the naked girl was a vision of great beauty, and he said with subdued excitement, “My sweet child, in order for the Gods to look upon us favourably, we will send you away with the essence of life inside you, we will fill you with life itself, and then the Gods will look favourably upon you.”
Pernius undid his robe, and Thiebe, the Golden-Haired Child, cowered in dismay as the village leader advanced towards her, and she uttered, “My Gods have unlimited vision, and if you mistreat me, there will be a price to pay.”
Pernius was of no mind to reply, and soon, startled and desperate cries rang out.
More cries echoed through the late afternoon, although the only people who heard the cries were the men responsible for them.
As night began to fall, all of the Elders dressed, then one of them advised, “The villagers are arriving Pernius.”
Pernius nodded, then said, “Tie the child to the altar.”
Men obeyed, although the stricken girl struggled against them. The vile abuses that had been forced upon her meant that her body was in agony, and shocked, horrified, terrified, she screamed, “Let me go, leave me be!”
Villagers assembled and gazed up, the naked girl screaming and struggling as her feet were tied, then her hands, the young girl un-attired and on her back, then greater vision became available for the villagers, as an Elder lit the lanterns at either end of the altar.
Pernius produced the small sword, and he held it in both hands above his head as he cried out, “Villagers, to appease our Gods, to have them look favourably upon us, we offer them one of ours, we send them this sacrifice of flesh and bone so that our village will thrive and prosper!”
The child turned her head and looked down at the expectant villagers, and with a voice chilled by fear, she shouted, “They, they raped me! The Village Leader and the Elders forced themselves upon me, so villagers, you must punish these men, not me!”
“Paid no heed to her villagers, the girl lies!” Pernius yelled, “For the good of this village, tonight we offer her to our Gods!”
“No, you cannot do this!” Thiebe screamed.
Trembling, frightened, she watched as Pernius moved alongside her. A sword raised, an evil man holding the sword, evil men gathering around him, villagers huddling together in silent acceptance, yet the girl, the Golden-Haired Child knew that the villagers silent compliance could unleash the wrath of the Gods. She had been sent down to teach them, to guide them, to open their minds and have them explore the unlimited possibilities that lay before them, yet here they were, preparing themselves to witness an act of barbarity. Of conflicted emotions, the young girl thought briefly of the consequences of identifying herself, yet people needed to learn, they needed to know, so she cried out, “Villagers, people of the new age, my Gods do not sanction murder, they do not bay for blood; instead they want you to learn and explore. Every life is precious, and you must respect the sanctity of life!”
All was silent, and as a breeze of little velocity whispered through the clearing, Pernius declared, “Villagers, hear this heathen! She disrespects our Gods, so we must sacrifice her!”
An agreeable murmur rumbled through the on-lookers, and the restrained girl swung her head to glare at her abusers. She was going home, of that she was now certain; yet not in the triumphant way she had hoped for. Of sullied mind, she declared, “Evil men, I will never forget what you did to me, and if you do kill me, I will pray to my Gods that they return me so that I can have revenge!”
Outraged villagers gasped when they heard her irreverent cry, and as Pernius drove the sword into her heart, they were more gasps.
Of a dawn breaking, the villagers place of worship was deserted, all bar one.
The Warrior climbed up the steps, and with a heavy heart, she gazed upon the body. A child of thirteen or fourteen years lay tied to the altar, the child unclothed, the blood on her chest having been dried by a cool wind.
Even in death, the Golden-Haired Child looked pure and innocent, yet because of her dreams, the Warrior knew how horrific the previous night had been for the child.
The Warrior cut her loose, and even though the child had no life in her, the Warrior carried her carefully, reverently, and she walked many miles until she came to the lake.