Chaos broke out as everyone discussed what had just transpired. Tarra’s followers gathered around her as she grabbed her spear and fought her way toward Chilcoat. He jumped down from the rock and embraced her warmly. There were supporters and detractors on all sides trying to talk to them as Lannon’s little army struggled to keep hostilities to a minimum. The prime-elder also descended his hill with his entourage and the opposing forces met at the base of the sacred stone.
“There will be no violence unless you force it!” Chilcoat shouted out above the din. Lannon slowly eased his guard as the council members assessed their challengers and dropped their attitude. The leaders confronted each other. “We’ve come here in good faith and wish no harm, but this issue is resolved... My people will go wherever needed and welcomed. Some will return to the temple with Tarra and me, and any of you who wish to follow the ways of YodHeaVau are welcome. But don’t think it will be an easy escape from your past.”
The prime looked disdainfully at Tarra’s spear and resignedly barked at the crowd of onlookers. “Your people are welcome to join their families, but they must follow the ways of their tribe. We’ll not have your blasphemy preached here!”
“Will you teach them from the scrolls?” Tarra challenged.
“Of course, we’ll teach them of the scrolls as we always have.”
“Then Hea will continue to punish you. The scrolls tell us this.”
The prime-elder scoffed at her assessment. “What do you know of the scrolls? You’re a novice and have only seen the scrolls briefly.”
“Shadoc and I studied them. Have you ever read them?”
“Shadoc? I might have known he would be at the bottom of this. He teaches blasphemy and his people have suffered for it. Look around... You don’t see any of his people here, do you? No, they’re unable to come again this year. They are seldom able to come since the cleansing began.”
“Are they unable, or unwilling? We studied the scrolls for many days and I know what they say. But, I don’t think you do. You’ve chosen what fits your needs and let the rest waste away.”
“We don’t need to read them. We have studied them for many years and know what they say.”
“Do you? What do they say of the Keeper? You tell me I am the Keeper, but you reject what I say.”
Santos finally joined the quarrel “It was Talbot’s fantasy that you may be the Keeper, but now he’s gone and the enlightened council has had an opportunity to consider it, and I doubt that you are her.”
“The scrolls tell of the Keeper being the mother of a new people who will follow the true path and of others that fall from grace thinking they know the wisdom of Hea.”
Santos nervously adjusted his hood to keep Chilcoat from seeing his eyes. “The scrolls say nothing of such things. You make too much of ancient fables. Those stories have outlived their usefulness, that’s why we don’t read them. They’re full of flowery nonsense that doesn’t work in the real world. We let you read them to get you out of our hair while we conducted our business.”
“Your business of drinking spirit tea and smoking herbs? My father told me of the business that the council does at the gathering, and I don’t want any part of it, but I do want the scrolls. You’ve said you have no need for them, and you obviously don’t take care of them. You should let me take them to the Sky-temple of the Shanare where they will be away from the damp sea air. I’ll transcribe them anew, as they instruct us to do, so that all who wish can read them.”
“I’ll not have the uninitiated gaze upon the sacred writings.”
“Make up your mind. They are either worthless old rags or they are sacred. Which is it?”
“I’ll not be spoken to in such a way by a common tramp. You and Shadoc defiled them by fornicating in their presence.”
“How do you know that? Is that more of the business of the high council—spying on young people bonding?”
Santos flushed awkwardly at being discovered. Several of the council members looked at him anxiously. “Take the damn things. You and your heretics go back to the old ways. See if it serves you? We’ll send a courier to your citadel in two years’ time to retrieve them from your dead hands. By then you’ll have starved waiting for your fantasy to come true.”
Lannon made his presence known by stepping in and taking the ceremonial scroll from one of the council members standing nearby. “We’ll welcome your visit, if you come in peace.”
“How will we perform the bonding ritual?” He protested meekly.
Tarra pulled the scroll from Lannon’s grasp. Fortunately, it was a recent copy of the bonding scroll and could withstand the tussle. “The scrolls play no part in the bonding, isn’t that right Master? You said it would desecrate them to make love in their presence, so we’ll relive you of its burden. As for the ritual, it is written here in this scroll that... ‘At the turn of the season all are welcome to bond anew, seeking kinship with their fellows.’ The bonding ceremony is to bring each together for another year, not a lifetime. Those who wish to bond anew are welcome to do so; those who wish to renew their bond are celebrated. These are the old ways.” She carefully unrolled the cloth and drew her fingers along a line of text. “In the name of the most sacred, all are welcome to seek bond with those willing to join him for a season. If the bond fails, Yod will be saddened and you must make amends by seeking bonds anew without fault.”
Chilcoat placed his spear next to Tarra’s with a resounding thump. “I also have read this scroll. Don’t you see? The bond is a public declaration of your willingness to pair with each other, not a contract of obligation. Your only obligation is to Yod to honor without fault the person to whom you bound. You are to renew the bond each year as a sign of commitment and celebration. Yod rejoices in this bonding as a communion of the spirit within you, to reaffirm your commitment to others, a public acceptance of who you are and who is important to you.”
“You twist the words of the sacred scrolls.” Santos argued his point. “The council has long understood these words and built the foundation of our tribes upon them. Your vision would cripple our way of life. Women would be turned out to fend for themselves. No, it wouldn’t work.”
Chilcoat again struck the butt of his spear on the ground. “If anyone is turned out, the clan will judge what’s been done. If the clan supports the act, then perhaps the offenders deserve the act and should change their ways. If the clan doesn’t support the act, then it is up to them to shame the offended into doing right.”
“You live in a fantasy world. Do you think men are so noble that they will do right because others judge them? We know better. We’ve served as high council for years and know that men will only do right if we direct them.”
“If they are so dishonorable, then perhaps the foundation you’ve built is not as strong as you would like to believe.” Tarra challenged the concept. “I think people are able to know right from wrong without your ‘direction’. They have God to tell them right from wrong. They don’t need you to tell them what God thinks of their actions. The lost scrolls tell us these things.”
“What do you know of lost scrolls?” The high-elder bristled at the challenge. “They are only fables spread by the unenlightened old fools of the past.”
“My father was one of those old fools.” Chilcoat interrupted hoping to keep Tarra from saying too much about the scrolls she had seen.
“I mean no offense.” The elder quickly tried to defuse the situation before Chilcoat assaulted him. “I just meant, if there ever were any other scrolls, they’re lost to us now and are only tales no one remembers well.”
Tarra stepped up to confront him. “If you’ve destroyed them I’m going to…”
Chilcoat stepped between them again. “Easy there, dear. No need to get hostile. Right?” Chilcoat put his massive arm around the elder’s shoulder and directed him toward the shaman’s tent. “Why don’t we talk about this in private?”
Lannon followed closely behind gesturing to his friends to keep the other council members at bay.
Tarra immediately headed for the high-elder’s inner sanctum as they entered the tent. “Where are they?”
“Here, the death scroll is here.” The high-elder pointed out a newly transcribed copy of the second scroll sitting on a table near the door.
“No, where are the others?” Tarra stormed past him and pulled the drape aside peering into the private room.
“I don’t know what you expect. I’ve told you, there are no others.” Santos stood with his hand on the single scroll.
Tarra quickly moved to the pile of carpets at the back of the room. She pulled the top layers aside. Her heart sank as she gazed upon the empty hiding space where Talbot had first shown them to her. “Where are they?” She demanded, pulling at the carpets on either side. On the bottom of the little niche created by the stack of carpets there was a small prayer rug she recognized as the one Talbot favored for his evening prayers. She ran her hand softly across its delicate pattern of flowers and birds. “Help me,” she demanded as she tugged at the pile of carpets.
She held her breath as she slowly rolled the carpet up revealing a plain brown pad that kept the rug off the dirt floor. Picking up the rug, she held it to her chest and turned to Santos with a tear in her eye. “What have you done? The people will suffer your ignorance for generations.”
Chilcoat knelt next to her and held her warmly as the high-elder used the opportunity to sneak out the side door before anyone decided to assault him.
She sobbed loudly rocking the prayer rug in her arms like a child.
Lannon stood quietly watching the pitiful display for another moment. “You want me to go after him?”
“No.” She spoke without hesitation as her tears disappeared. “Keep an eye out and be sure he doesn’t come back.” She began tugging at the edge of the brown padding lying on the floor. The hard-packed earth under the pad was smooth and without markings. She grabbed her spear and carefully dragged it across the patch of earth. On the third attempt the edge of a brown cloth peeked out from the scuffmark. Grabbing it firmly, she tugged it into view. The dirt fell away as she pulled a large package free and dusted it off. She un-wrapped it quickly and disgorged three ancient scrolls. Each had a simple cord holding it closed within a fine cloth pouch. “Praise God.” She muttered repeatedly as she caressed each delicate package confirming that they were what they seemed to be. She looked back in the hole from where they come and started digging frantically looking for the final scroll. She knew there were six, and these three along with the two the elders had given her only counted five.
The words of Talbot returned to her. “The Keeper must receive the scroll of heaven, freely given by the one foretold.” At last recognizing that the sixth scroll was to remain lost, she rolled the others tightly in the prayer rug. They repaired the floor quickly and replaced the brown pad before moving some of the carpet pile back into place. No one questioned their departure as they made a grand exit carrying the two scrolls the elders had given them and the prayer rug she carried as if it was a keepsake from Talbot.
As they made their way through the village commons Tarra proudly whispered to Chilcoat, “We’re going to have a baby.”
Chilcoat stopped and grabbed her arm. “We… you, whoa I’m too old for that kind of stuff.”
“I’ll remind you of that... She’ll remind you.” Tarra looked down and patted her belly gently.
“She huh? That’s what you said last time.”
“This time for sure. It’s in the scrolls.”
“You’re going to force me to read these damn things, aren’t you?”
“It makes a good bedtime story. Speaking of which, I need to drop this off with the high-elder.” She pulled a small package from her things.
“What is it? It isn’t going to bite is it?”“It’s the little man. I brought it to trade for the scrolls.”
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