The Gods Themselves
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
as long as the Tribe’s memory went, the stone figures had stood in their
circle, out on the grey stone plain.
Nobody could even guess how old they were. The Tribe’s
legends whispered that they dated back to the Dawn Times, when the Great Ones
had walked the world. Some of the tales said they were the gods themselves,
whom the Great Ones had turned to stone because they wanted none to rule over
Those were the days, the stories said, when the world had
been new and green, and the blue seas had lapped at the land, and the sky above
had been a friendly dome of light and air. But it was the latter days now, the
seas long gone, and a swollen red ball burned sullenly in the darkling sky over
a charred and barren land.
The stone figures were gigantic. Surely, no man could have
built them with any tool known to the Tribe. There were those who said that
even the Great Ones could never have created them, whether by hewing them out
of rock or by petrifying the gods. They said the figures were of evil magic,
and the people of the Tribe were forbidden to ever set foot in the circle, lest
the magic live again.
But there are always those to whom the unknown is an
adventure, mysteries call for solutions, and prohibitions are merely
hindrances. And so it was that, every so often in the declining centuries,
human feet trod the rock in the circle, and human eyes gazed up at the stone
eyes in the stone faces.
But none of them found anything to understand, and over the
years they came less and less often, as the Tribe declined. They huddled
together in the caverns, and murmured fearfully of the goblins in the walls.
But they never completely stopped coming.
As long as humans were still human, they never would.
Tribe was well into its final years of decline when Pseth was born, in the
depths of one of the few remaining caverns the people still occupied of the
warrens their ancestors had hewn out of the rock many millennia ago. Pseth was
one of the few children still being born, and so was doubly precious to her
parents, for she was the only bit of themselves they could send into the future.
But she was wild and unruly, far too much so for the Elders of the Tribe.
She would not heed warnings of the goblins who waited in the
abandoned warrens to snatch and devour the unwary. She mocked openly, even at a
young age, the tales of the demons that lay chained by thin magical ropes to
the plain, and which the touch of a human foot might liberate to wreak
vengeance on the people. She questioned, ran about, and was here, there, and
Finally, the Elders decided to take action.
They came to her parents soon after the start of her seventh
year of her life; three of them, bent and wizened with age and a lifetime of
crawling through tunnels too constricted to accommodate their frames. To Pseth,
crouching near the smouldering fire, they looked all alike with their thin
limbs and the sunken eyes under the heavy brows overshadowing their pallid faces.
They all greeted Pseth’s parents formally, and accepted their formal greetings
in return. None of them looked in Pseth’s direction; she wasn’t yet old enough
to be Recognised as a member of the Tribe, and therefore could not be officially
noticed. But it was about her that they had come.
“Your daughter,” the Elder in the middle said, “is not being
brought up to her proper station in the Tribe.”
“She has to understand,” the second Elder said, “that she
will grow to be a woman of the Tribe, to fulfil her position as one; to take
her place among the Priestesses when the time comes, so that the legends are
not lost forever and the gods do not become angry.”
“And,” the third Elder added, “she will, in her turn, bear
children for the Tribe, for the people are growing few and weak, and bring them
up to accept their own proper positions among the people. Instead...”
“Instead,” the first Elder said, “she questions anything and
everything. She behaves as though the laws of the Tribe were not applicable to
her; and she has tried more than once to visit the Upper Realms.”
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