I have decided to start writing an e-fiction series directly to this blog. Each new episode (approximately 5-600 words long) will be published to the site every Monday and Thursday. As a proper introduction, this first post in the series is a double episode one, in the hopes that it will give you all a better feel for the story from the outset.
Time to grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and put your feet up to enjoy the first instalment in Amara’s story!
The morning of the summer solstice dawned bright and sunny. The air was warm, and the fresh scent of a thousand wildflowers drifted in on the gentle breeze. It was hard to imagine that in a few precious hours I might be dead.
I would have liked to say that I wasn’t afraid, after all, I had been training for this day for most of my adolescent life. It wasn’t like I would be facing the ordeal alone either. There were two other members of the tribe whose sixteenth birthday fell in the same year as mine. One was Solen, son of Kansan the tribe’s healer, and the other my best friend Shari.
Shari and I had grown up doing almost everything together. It seemed only logical that we would also face the biggest trial of our young lives side by side.
I cut through the lush vegetable garden as I made my way across the centre of the village to where Shari’s hut was located, on the Eastern edge. Her family were the tribes fish catchers and lived over near the shining waters of the Galden River.
I had always envied Shari her fishing heritage. Being the daughter of the chief, my days were mostly taken up with official meetings. Dry, boring affairs where my only role seemed to be to sit quietly in the back of the chilly Kivva, the below-ground chamber where all official tribal business was conducted, and listen to the men talk about crops, trade agreements and the various successes or failures of the hunt.
On the few occasions that I had complained to my father he had only repeated the same old mantra, which I had been hearing for what seemed like the whole of my life.
“You are the daughter of the village Chieftain, Amara. With your birthright, comes the responsibility to honour the sacred traditions of our people. These traditions have seen the Nakaguan flourish throughout countless generations, from the time when gods and demons freely walked the land, to the settled, peaceful era in which we now thrive.”
His words had, once again, settled like lead weights inside my stomach, but even so, I understood that my father truly believed in what he was saying. Those words likely formed the speech which his own father had repeated to him, and his father likewise before him.
Even so, I couldn’t help but envy my friend. Shari was free. She got to spend all her mornings paddling her small parisal out across the crystal-clear waters of the Galden, casting out her weighted drop nets, and then pulling in the shining silver catch, before returning to the village each afternoon to help prepare them for the tribe.
She often laughed at my open envy of her life, complaining that her hands were always rough from all the endless hours of casting her nets and that she never could seem to completely remove the smell of fish from her clothes and hair. I knew better though.
She may joke and laugh but, if given the choice to swap my life as Chieftains Daughter for her own far more simple existence, she wouldn’t be racing to change places with me anytime soon.
I turned down a narrow walkway between two family lodges and my heart gave its familiar skip as I glimpsed the flash of shining blue in the distance.
Shari wouldn’t be out fishing today. All supplicants were given the entire day free of their tribal responsibilities to spend how they wished and to give them time to prepare for the Amphis ceremony which was always held at sundown.
In the ceremony, each supplicant would have to present their hand to the Amphis, a magically imbued, two-headed serpent which had, as legend told them, been a gift from Ziuni, the patron Goddess of the Nakaguan people.
If the supplicant was found to be worthy, the gift-giving head of the serpent would choose to give them a single stinging bite, and in doing so pass to them some of its magical power in the form of a gift. Gifts from the Amphis could be anything ranging from the ability to draw mineral salts from out of the rocks to a special knack of knowing where the best spots to hunt or fish could be found.
If, however, the Amphis found you unworthy then, in order to maintain some sort of cosmic balance that no one in the tribe really seemed to fully understand, the second head would strike, injecting the unlucky soul with a poison that, in all but a few rare cases, resulted in a swift, painful death.
The possibility of possessing such a relatively small amount of power seems like a silly thing to risk your life over doesn’t it.
Ziuni, it seems, must have thought the same thing, because she then apparently tied the whole ritual up within layers of divine prophecy. This rather effectively made it certain that her followers wouldn’t get any smart ideas into their heads, like maybe passing on the whole gift-giving ceremony entirely in favour of a long, giftless, but far more guaranteed existence.
Long and short, Ziuni decreed that if any child turned sixteen, and did not submit to the Amphis judgement, the entire tribe would be cursed out of existence. If, however, we all played along to the Goddess’s tune, the tribe would live a blessed existence without a worry in the world.
It seemed all that was required in order to keep the peace was a small amount of pot-luck human sacrifice, and apparently that was preferable to the tribe as a whole, over the possibility of suffering the eternal curse of a wrathful Goddess.
For more generations than the tribe could remember, this had been the way of things. Tonight, whether I wanted it to or not, the tradition would be passed down to yet another generation of my family, Or, considering that I was my parent’s only living child, it would be so long as the Amphis found me worthy, and didn’t condemn me to a quick and horrible death.
The thought of running away flitted across my mind for probably the millionth time in the past year, but no matter how much I desperately wanted to cross the waters of the Galden and just keep right on running, a part of me just couldn’t risk the prophecy being true, or the dreadful possibility of my cowardice somehow becoming the downfall of my people.
I saw Shari sitting on the bank of the river next to a waiting pair of parisals, staring out across the water, and hurried across the tall waving grass to join her.
If I had one last day to live then I was going to spend it with my best friend, doing what we both loved best.
*Parisal – A small, often circular, watercraft constructed from a piece of animal hide, stretched tightly across a woven hazel or wicker frame.