The Great Lord's Child
When people come here, they are not looking for home; they are looking for refuge.
The Lord of the Valley calls them to him, through dreams and visions and a pulsating need to be anywhere but where they currently are. He teases them with tastes of mountain winds and gurgling creeks rushing over rocks. He persuades them with promises of abundance and mercy. “Come to me,” he says, “Come to me and taste freedom.”
What that means to each person who arrives is different, but the price remains the same for all.
For those of us born here, and yes, I do include myself in that, no matter how odd the circumstances, the price is significantly higher.
While the adults who come and agree to the desired sacrifice are welcome to leave at any time, the children born to them are required to stay for life. We have been dedicated to the Lord’s service, and to attempt to leave it is Death. We are the price our parents pay to leave the world behind.
There have been some over the years who did not believe that Death would follow them once they left, but every one of them has always been returned to the Valley’s center, sometimes in pieces, sometimes not. The ones who come back in pieces have the preferable fate. The ones who come back whole in body are nothing more than empty shells, their minds wiped clean by the Lord. Purification, he calls it.
These purified husks are then taken to the edge of the Valley, right up to the base of the mountains that contain it, and tied to a tree for three days. If their body survives the exposure and the scavengers, they are released and allowed to live out their days in a house that appears just for them. If not, they are left to the elements until whatever bones that remain are bleached white as a warning to others.
There have been many who tried to leave only to be brought back. Each generation has their rebels and fearless leaders who decide they want more from life than service to a Lord who will happily hunt them down and kill them for nothing more than a desire for choice.
The instigators almost never make it back in pieces. Many survive the three days of being bound, and go on to live half-lives in service to the Great Lord.
The Great Lord is a demanding task-master. He is not the Lord of the Valley, who requires a single price; he is the Great Lord, who requires absolute surrender.
The Great Lord’s servants are kept separate from the rest of the Lord’s people, especially the children. Their hollow eyes and sunken cheeks are deemed too unnerving for youngsters to witness and gossip about. I’m of the opinion that this tradition is to prompt those who yearn for more to take the risk of flight, having not been exposed to the severity of the consequences first, but I digress.
The day the first house in the Great Lord’s pen disappeared, a murmur swept through the Valley. Had a halfer managed to gain some semblance of self back and was removed? Had they done something to displease the Great Lord? If so, how was that possible?
The Elders organized a procession to offer praise and worship to the Great Lord, including trumpets, flutes, violins, and the Lord’s chosen child-bearers. The procession circled the Valley’s perimeter three times, each time the praise growing louder and the worship more vigorous as the people’s minds became more connected with their Lord and master.
Satisfied that this had appeased the Great Lord, the procession devolved into a feast of the senses once it returned to the Valley’s center. The children were sent home to practice their sacred duties, and the adults remained to celebrate their freedom in whichever way they deemed fit.
The second day, once another house had vanished, the Elders could be heard speaking in whispers and shouts. A child was brought forward and sent to the Lord’s tent, a giant structure that guarded the single pass into the Valley, with instructions to plead for understanding of the infractions committed to ensure this brand of punishment did not get visited upon the Lord’s willing servants.
The child did not return until the third house had vanished.
His once bright eyes were now muted, and the shine in his cheeks had paled. The Elders rushed him to the Valley center to deliver the Lord’s message.
Opening lips that seemed lifelessly blue, the child spoke with a resounding voice too deep for one his age: “The Fallen has returned. It is he who rips my children from me. He rends! He hates! He burns! Take heed, my children, for I must wage war against him that he does not steal into your homes and commit his acts of despair upon you!”
A great murmur rose over the assembly, and the Elders quickly ushered the child into the confines of their circle and secreted themselves away for the remainder of the day. The following morning, the child was seen walking among the halfers, and it was understood the Great Lord had claimed him for his own purposes.
Tensions rose as the days passed and more houses and halfers disappeared. Each day brought a new blight upon our cozy little Valley, robbing us of the contentment and peace we had so dearly bought. Who was this Fallen, who had the power to steal from the Lord’s Valley?
We began to be suspicious of one another. Which of us was harboring this creature, giving him free rein to commit his acts of theft from the Great Lord? Which of us had allowed this monster inside?
Once the halfers had all been taken, the houses on our side of the Valley began to disappear. Another child was sent to the Lord’s tent.
This one also returned changed. His eyes were darkened to black, and his skin was flushed with grey. When he spoke, it sounded as though the river had grown a tongue and wished to commune with us: “Rejoice, my children, for I am returned! The Fallen has fallen once more, to be bound in the depths of the mountains for a hundred years to come!”
A great cheer rose up from the crowd, and the child was hoisted on shoulders and passed around from one to another as we showered him with kisses and praises of worthiness.
Having no halfers to send him to live among, the Elders approached me, the eldest of the Dedicated. My skin was grey and my eyes were dim, but I gladly accepted the child into my century-old home.
I tried to re-teach him his letters and songs, but he could do no more than mumble for a bit before trailing off into silence and emptiness. Once it became fully apparent that there was no help to be given for the boy, I laid him down in my cot and smothered him with a pillow. It was a kinder Death than any of us deserved.
Time passed, and our Lord began calling more people to the Valley. It was time to rebuild, he said. The Fallen had completed the cleansing, and it was time to restock the Valley with worshippers.
Lord help us, I thought. The cycle begins again.