There had been only one other girl on the dais with her that day, Kelana, and the Amphis had seen fit to take her life. I remember being in total awe of Damphe because Kelana had been first in line to receive the bite of the Amphis. I couldn’t get my mind around how Damphe watched Kelana fall, and then still had the courage to walk up those final three steps to the shrine and hold her hand out to the serpent. I’m sure, had I been in her place I would have run from the clearing then, curse or no curse.
I watched as Solen leaned in to say something to his sad-eyed father. Kansan must be fearing the worst. He’d already had one child survive the ceremony, what were the chances that the Goddess would be so generous with her gifts a second time?
Solen had been born earlier in the month than I, and Shari towards its end. If he was to fall victim to the Amphis’ poison then I would be standing right up there on that dais to watch him fall.
Seeing another person die was not uncommon to my people, almost every year someone was lost to the bite of the Amphis. Like Damphe though, I would have to witness death up close, moments before having to offer my own hand to the serpent and pray that my life would be saved.
I truly hoped that Solen would survive the ordeal, just as his sister had done before him, but I had to admit, that as well as not wanting to see yet another meaningless death at the hands of a faceless Goddess and a curse that may or may not even be true, it was also partially due to wanting to spare myself Damphe’s choice.
The ceremonial drum began to sound from the direction of the clearing, and I felt my father tense beside me. I looked over at him but he didn’t look my way. I understood why he chose not to, after losing my mother even the thought that he might lose me too had been weighing on him, eating into his proud looks and vigour in recent months like some kind of plague. He seemed to have aged several summers right before my eyes. I hoped for his sake, as well as my own that somehow, I’d be spared.
He stood then, back straight and shoulders back, trying to look like the strong leader he had always been, rather than the terrified father he was today, for his people’s sake if not his own. He nodded to his guard and I watched as the painted men set off down the trail behind us, lighting the tallow torches as they went.
“The coming of the solstice moon is upon us once again.” My father’s voice rang out across the crowd, making me jump even though, by this point, I knew the ritual inside and out.
“The Goddess Ziuni has seen fit to bless our tribe and lands once again, join me now as we pay tribute to her benevolence”
My father walked across to the torch marked path, leaving me standing alone by the table, chest tight, fists clenched, and trying desperately to hide my growing fear from the people’s pitying eyes.