It Is a Temple
Chilcoat walked slowly across the courtyard bantering with his friends. He noticed that the shrine had grown from a single wreath to several pots of flowers and offerings of fruit. He searched the crowd for Tarra and wasn’t surprised to see her once again in her ceremonial robes. She was standing beside the platform near the decorative clutter. This time her hands were green and held the scepter in one and Chilgar with the other.
He wasn’t sure he was ready, but his curiosity got the best of him. “What’s up?”
Tarra looked solemnly at him and held the scepter out for him. “Ah, just in time. Here, take this and tell me what you see.”
“I see you and a whole bunch of people that are very confused. What’s the meaning of all of this?”
“I just wanted to celebrate the first rain, so I put a wreath to mark the day. The others joined in for their own reasons. Now it’s your turn. Will you join us?”
“To celebrate the beginning of another winter of cold and rain?”
Tarra looked scornfully at him. “To celebrate the new beginning. It’s time for the gathering. Are we going to go?”
“Some will make the journey—those who are of age. It’ll be another year of hardship for those who feel they must go.”
“Are you going to lead us?”
“I don’t have much of a reason to go unless you’re leaving me and want me to offer your hand.”
“I’ll think about it... I really need to speak with the elders about these writings.”
“What writings? I only see little fat men doing things that are best left unsaid.”
“Here, look—see, the water has drained here.” She pointed at the obvious black stain pouring down the side of the platform.
“Yeah, so, it has to go somewhere.”
“Look, see the little man is drinking the water that pours off the altar.” She traced her fingers across the plump little figure.
She was right, the little man had his head turned up and his mouth was open acting as a drain spout for the gutter that serviced the platform. He, like the other carvings, was involved in a sexual escapade with an equally chubby female figure. The black stain ran down his neck and across his oversized belly before it flowed down his partner’s head and down the side of the platform.
“So, the drain empties out here. It always drains out here. What’s so special about that? He looks just like all of the others to me.” Chilcoat gestured at the next pair of equally obscene figures in the endless stream of characters cavorting around the platform.
“No, see how pregnant she is? She’s ripe and ready for harvest. For the first rain to come at this time of year is a good sign. It’s as it should be—the first ‘howler’.”
“That’s what we called these guys with their mouths opened like that. They look like they’re howling. See, there’s another one over here, and here.” She ran along the edge of the platform pointing out sets of figures. “There’re more of them along here, and then they just stop over here.” She ran around the side of the platform. “I think they count the rains of winter. And look, over here Hea is holding his hands up to the heavens, that was two days ago when you saw the season turn.”
“Oh, now you’ve defrocked Hea and put Him in this debauchery?”
“Who else could it be? You see. This is Hea and this is Vau, and they mark the passing of time in cycles of birth and death. Here they join, here they celebrate, and here they mourn. And here they mark the coming of the first rain of autumn.” She pointed to the stained figure. “See there’s a pair for each day; it’s a calendar that marks the season change. The women are skinny here, and they are planting seeds, and here they get fatter as the season grows.”
“Skinny? They don’t look very skinny to me.” Chilcoat traced the outline of an obviously pregnant cherub.
“Well, sort-of skinny, that doesn’t matter. Right now, what’s important is that the first rain of the season has come at the right time. It’s a good sign.”
“If you say so, it all seems pretty silly to me. I mean, look at some of these, what are they doing here? And this pair—I don’t think that’s even possible.”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s a ceremony or something. All I know is that I’ve spoken with Papa and he kept laughing at the figures. They made him happy and now Hea has given us this sign. The rain has come at the right time.” She peeked out from under the hood of her robes. “What do you see?”
He searched her face for understanding then spoke in clear tones for all to hear as he raised the scepter to the west where the sun was beginning to poke through the clouds. “I see... I see, as never before, the wisdom of my father—of our fathers. I see that Hea has brought us the first rains. He cleanses the dust of summer and renews the soil. For that, we’re grateful and humbly accept His gift. May Vau find favor in our harvest and bring new life to the temple.” He lowered the scepter and held it out for her.
Her eyes clouded and a tear streaked the green stripe she had fashioned on her cheek. She took the wand and handed it to Chilgar. “Here, help me. Take this and try not to drop it.” They strolled toward home.
“Do you replace me already?”
“He, at least, wants to hold the scepter.”
“He was born to it.”
“So were you. Papa took you as his son, just as you now take him. He’ll grow in the ways of a leader and know the grace of YodHeaVau.”
“And am I to lose you both to Shadoc when he calls?”
She stopped and turned to him. “Shadoc is very special to me. He’s given us the gift of Vau to join our tribes but he’s not my husband. My husband is a great and powerful leader who will see his people through the trials of the new beginning. The scrolls have said this... ’The inheritor’s of heaven shall know the wisdom of the man foretold’.”
“Just when I was about to buy into it, you come up with something like that. Did that come from those old letches?”
“Don’t call them that, they’re just men like any other.”
“Yeah, well, you just be careful with what they say. They’re a bunch of old— scoundrels, just like Tangar.” He hoped he hadn’t already said too much.
“I’ll not have you talk about my father... our father, in that way. He was only as clever as he needed to be.” She resumed her walk toward home.
“I know. I just worry about you. I don’t want you to get hurt by all this scroll nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense. Everything that’s written in the scrolls has happened, so why not believe that the other things they say will also happen?”
“Look, I don’t know what the scrolls say, but I’m sure it’s just a bunch vague clichés that any young girl would love to believe, and I think it’s cruel of those old—‘gentlemen’ to encourage you like this. Have you actually read these scrolls or are they just more of their campfire fables?”
“Shadoc and I studied them together. That’s why we…” She drew up short of blaming their involvement on the scrolls.
“OK, so what did they say about you?”
“They said the Keeper would ’know the word’ and would ’nurture a new beginning as a warrior of truth’, and that her mate would be the ‘noble seer of the select few’. They said they will raise a son to ’herald the second coming and father the people who will walk proudly in the light’.”
“Are you sure they didn’t just slip you some of that magic in your tea to make you believe that everything is in the scrolls?”
“I’ll show you at the gathering, the elders will probably banish me from their circle, but if you want to read them, I’ll show you.”
“It wouldn’t do any good; I’m too dumb to understand all that flowery stuff. I just don’t know what to do with—you. I’d like to believe you, but it just goes against everything I’ve ever been taught. Dad never spoke of such things, and now you say he knew all of this and just never got around to telling anyone.”
“He was only a man. He did what he thought was right for his time. He knew many things that he never spoke of with any but his closest friends; it was the way of their school. He speaks to me now in ways I don’t understand, but I know he’s spoken.”
“See, that’s what worries me. It’s not right for you to hear voices of the dead.” He tried to pull her close.
“I don’t hear voices. I think his thoughts.” She freed herself and sat on the floor near her table. “Papa’s spirit gives me thoughts of stars, and worlds, and warmth that call to me.”
“You think his thoughts—the thoughts are yours... The spirit of Tangar doesn’t have anything to do with it. You think these things and you blame it on his spirit. His spirit has blended with Yod. He wants to move on. I’ve seen this in my dreams. He comes to me in the night and leaves only a feeling of unrest. Unrest in Yod isn’t a good thing.”
“Yes... It makes me sad. This is the way of Yod. He has more important things to do now and new worlds to see.”
“Well, good riddance. I can do without his visits if I am going to sleep with his daughter.”
“Who said I’m going to sleep with you?”
“Well, I just figured…”
“You just figured. Well, you just figured wrong. A man that hasn’t faced his fears can’t sleep soundly and doesn’t make a good bedfellow.”
“What fear would you have me face now? And don’t tell me you finally found a snake.”
“The fear of a loved one lost… I made enough lotion for three days, yet within two days, Caran was gone. Can you explain this to me?”
Chilcoat sat silently for several moments then spoke in a quiet tone. “She wept… I couldn’t deny her. The pain was too much for her, for me… She—she begged me to complete her—life, our life—together. But it didn’t. She lives with me still. At times, I wish she didn’t, but at others, I can’t imagine life without her. Did I do wrong? I would gladly face any penance that would take this guilt from me.”
“There’s no guilt in what you’ve done. You love her still, as you should. No one blames you for that. I made the potion for her. I knew what it would do; must I share in your guilt? I did what I did because I loved her and it was the right thing to do. Just as you did.”
“I don’t blame you. God, I love you. It’s just—I wanted to do more, but I couldn’t. You didn’t give me the right potion.”
“You’re wrong. I gave you the potion given by God. It worked just as it should. She sought comfort from you, and you gave it to her. She fulfilled her role proudly and should be respected.”
“Is it just that easy for you? You can blame everything on God and just go on with your life? Well, I’m sorry. I can’t.” Chilcoat stood silently while Tarra began cleaning the stain from her arms and face.
“Did you act from your heart or your head? Yod already knows, so lying does you no good. If it came from your heart, you have nothing to fear. He’ll comfort you. If it came from your head, then nothing I can say will lessen your burden before Him.”
“How am I to just go on?”
She sat silently looking at him for several moments. “You do your duty as you know you should... Tonight we celebrate with the howler. Hea has blessed this day, so we must give thanks. Tomorrow we need to get ready for the gathering.”
“Gathering, how did we get back to that?”
“I have to talk with the elders about what I‘ve learned and I have to get the scrolls from them.”
“Am I invited or are you going alone?”
“Oh, you have to come. You have to help me get the scrolls.”
“You say what? What do you want with those old things?”
“I told you. I’m the Keeper. I need to get the scrolls and keep their knowledge for our children.”
“And the elders are just going to give them to you?”
“Sure. They don’t know it yet, but they have to.”
“Let me guess, it’s in the scrolls.”
“See, I knew you’d understand. Besides, it’ll give you a chance to lead again. That should be fun.”
He knew that if the clan were to make this journey, he would have to lead it. “The harvest is poor, so the more people I can get to go this year; the better it will be for those who remain behind. It’ll be a hard journey, but since we haven’t gone in the last few years, there’ll be many who’ll want to go, perhaps, too many. Those who’re too young will be the first to volunteer and some who’re too frail will insist that they aren’t. Have you gotten your people ready?”
Tarra removed her robes and began cleaning the stain from her torso. “My people? We’ve talked about it, everyone has. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen their kin and they’re excited about what they’ve discovered.”
“Yeah, about that, I’m not sure we should make it sound too good. I mean, this place is nice for a small group, but the gardens are poor. If we make it sound too good, there’ll be others who will want to come.”
“It’s the temple of the Shanare. All who come will bring gifts and visit only briefly. We’ll grow herbs that we can trade.”
Chilcoat considered her words and recognized that he needed to make big changes to assure the survival of his people. Tangar had brought him to this place for a reason, and now it was clear that his quest was to discover the ways of YodHeaVau, not to build of a new village. “Perhaps you’re right; perhaps we can make it work that way… It means we’ll have to dress the part, and there’ll be ceremonies to stage, but it might be the only way to keep these people alive. I’m beginning to understand why the Shanare abandoned this place. The medical herbs that you grow thrive in the skimpy soil, but the foodstuffs needed by the people struggle poorly. If the other clans will treat this place like the gathering village and bring gifts to trade, it might be possible for our people to survive. If this place is to become a temple, the people who live here will have to be those who believe in its powers.”
Chilcoat stood in the doorway for a moment. “The rain’s stopped; will you do me a favor?”
“That depends, does it involve sex?” She grabbed a dry robe and held it to her chest.
“No. I’ve decided to rejoin the tribes. I want to hold an announcement ceremony. You know, dress it up, and make it a big deal. I’ll dress too.”“By your leave, noble Seer of the Temple Tribe.” She bowed submissively letting her robe fall away.