The Story Starts Here

Chapter 1: Mean Girls

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Chapter 6: It's Time You Kept It

Naida fetched her packet over to her flat rock, opened it up and stared at it. The bread wasn’t stale anymore and it wasn’t made of rough ground barley. The cheese wasn’t hard. There was a roasted head of garlic wrapped up with it. “This doesn’t make any sense,” she said out loud to the goats jostled around her hoping to share her bread.  “I thought that there was only the bread and cheese and both were old. It doesn’t make any sense!” But she was young and hungry and rather than worrying about the food she just sat down and ate every crumb, rubbing the buttery cooked garlic onto the bread, taking a bite of cheese before a bite of bread.

It was so good to have a full belly.  She closed her eyes, savouring the rich cheese and garlic, the crunch of a wonderful crust between her teeth. She could smell the meat roast all the way up here and it was surely going to drive her mad but not as badly as if she were hungry.  It'd been started cooking late the night before and would be ready for humans to eat by sundown, when she’d normally be coming down with the flock already.

 Instead, Zeno would come up to the shrine and light all the torches and shoo rabbits, rats, mice and goat-feet out of the sanctuary for long enough to lay out the offerings.

The goat footed would come back the instant humans left the shrine, and maybe bring some brownies with them and everyone knew that the minor children of the Gods really drank the blood out of the bowl, and the wine, but no one would admit it.  Some people even said that you could draw Great Ones that way, though not like a flowing woman.  Either way, Zeno would lay out the offerings, sing a prayer and then Naida and the goats would walk with her back down to the village.

That way Naida wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of taunts and rocks.  Scali had started throwing pebbles instead of clots of dirt at her and the others thought it was funny, but the pebbles were getting bigger. 

No, this time Naida would be with Zeno and the girls and the two littlest boys wouldn’t dare.  She had a job, to be a prop and a support for  the old woman to hold onto and she wouldn’t fall on the cliff hill in the dark and the village wouldn’t lose their priestess. 

Zeno  hadn’t picked an apprentice yet, for some reason. Besides, the priestess would never pick a stranger child, even if raised here.  The village would be nervous of having someone so different as her talking to the Gods for them.

She supposed that the Gods were easily confused and might not realize that she was Afaris’ priestess because she was so weird and tried to not mind.  It was getting harder and harder to be good.  She was angry all the time now and it was like she had a snake’s tail of hate growing under her tunic.  Sometimes she felt so full of rage that she thought her skin might burst and eat the whole village, down to the last scrap of skin and bone.

Maybe she wasn’t human at all.  Maybe a titan would burst through her skin one day. Some days, when she was angriest, she’d stop at the pond and look to see if she were growing horns, her head hurt so much with anger. Or she ran her tongue around her teeth wondering if she were growing fangs because she wanted to bite them, hurt them, as much as they hurt her.

Then she shook herself again, hard.  I’m human. I’m good. I know or Zeno wouldn’t have me do all the work at the shrine. Only humans talk to the Gods. But some days it was hard. 

When the sun touched the mountain tops, Naida could see Zeno and her torch bearer coming up the cliff, back and forth across the steepest parts where people had to keep rebuilding the path where it sloughed off every winter.

Halfway up the torch stopped and Zeno came on up by herself. She carried the skins of wine slung over her back and the skin of blood carefully held in front of her so it wouldn’t be jostled into pudding by the time she walked up to the shrine.

The old woman managed to walk straight and tall, without her stick, for this ceremony, but people were wondering out loud how many more years she could do this. 

     She winked at Naida as she passed her.  The goats were tired enough to mostly be lounging in the grass around the pavement and they were used to brownies so only one or two younger bucks baah’d at them and the goat foots as they came twinkling and chattering out to hide behind rocks all around.  The rats and mice hid in their holes and the bunnies fled out at full speed and were gone into the brush.

Naida was hungry again, her mouth watering at the scents of roast meat on the wind, and she jittered from foot to foot while Zeno sang. People would already be eating and she really, really wanted to get down.  Not that there wouldn’t be anything left.  The village could usually manage to eat an entire bullock in three days but the first night was always abundance rather than scarcity.

When Zeno came out of the shrine she held out Naida’s baby bracelet to her.  “It’s time you kept it,” she said.  “Hide it away in your pouch and don’t let the mean-spirited see it.”

Naida turned the green stones in her hands, slid it onto three of her fingers, stopping at the knuckles.  “Really?”  She felt more than hungry, but heavy and bloated as if she were somehow swollen.

“Really.” Zeno held out her hand.  “Tuck that away.  Give me your arm my girl, and we’ll get down the mountain to celebrate.”


  1. the suspense is killing me

    1. Sorry about that... I accidentally used an HTML code... so here is my comment again! Don't die, TLOU! You see things are about {Spoiler Warning Software V.1 Redacted) and then it hits the fan!