She smiled patiently down at me, no doubt waiting for me to process the unbelievably bizarre situation I found myself in.
Mortified, I realized my mouth was literally hanging open in shock. I snapped it shut, the significance of who, or rather what she was finally dawning on my stunned mind.
To supplicate oneself before their deity was something I’d had drummed into me from early childhood.
I panicked, fell to my knees on the soft grass at her feet and buried my head in my trembling hands.
My panic stemmed not only from fear of the divine though.
For so long my traitorous heart had contained only frustrated disbelief and bitterness when it came down to my people’s traditional beliefs. I’d considered their unwavering belief in their absent goddess to be a mark of naivety rather than reverence.
In that moment, I found it near impossible to reconcile the apparently warm, caring woman who stood before me with the cold, heartless deity who’d so casually taken the lives of so many of my people.
Once again i saw the terror and despair on Kelana’s face, in those few agonizing moments. When she realized with terrified horror that the bite of the Amphis would take her life.
I remembered too, the wasting sickness which no amount of ritual, prayers or offerings had been able to prevent from stealing away my mother’s life, so long before her time was due. A lifetime before I was ready to let her go.
As I knelt there, prostrate and trembling in the fragrant grass, I found that I didn’t feel humble, grateful or afraid. No. All I felt was the white hot spark of anger kindling into life within my breast at the incredible injustice of it all.
A fact which I was suddenly painfully certain the goddess already knew.
I kept my head bowed trying desperately to get my roiling emotions under some control. To push down the rash impulses that were boiling to the surface. It was either that or end up becoming the lit torch to my own funeral pyre.
Was this, at last, the moment I’d been fearing? Where my disembodied spirit would be judged and punished for ever having dared to question the divine benefactor of my people?
I felt a gentle hand touch my shoulder and braced myself for what I was sure wasn’t going to be an easy death.
“Please stand Amara. You must understand that I don’t wish you or your people harm, in this place or any other.”
I felt myself stand, even though I was fairly certain I hadn’t actually instructed my body to do so.
“Then why?…” I choked out unable to keep the bitter incredulity from tinging my voice.
“There’s much you don’t know, Chieftains Daughter. Much I have yet to tell you before our time here is done.” She took my shaking hand in her own. “Please follow me. There’s something I must show to you before we can begin.”
I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go with the Goddess but, as before, my limbs moved of their own accord, and I found myself walking hand in hand with her along the clear waters edge towards the drumming falls.
At last, we reached the mossy grey cliff, and I noticed a narrow rock ledge which followed the line of the water for a way before disappearing behind the wall of tumbling water.
Ziuni smiled again, and released my hand before stepping out onto the ledge.
I paused for a moment but then curiosity won out over anger, for the time being at least, and I stepped out onto the slippery path, following in the Goddess’ wake, as we carefully made our way towards the deafening water.
As with the emerald chamber, I didn’t know what I expected to find on the other side of the waterfall. Answers for one. Maybe some sort of explanation for what was happening to me?
The Goddess had spoken of a task. Maybe it was that which awaited us, but I didn’t think so.
Whatever it was, I was certain of one thing. It’s primary focus would be to convince me, by whatever means necessary, that the distant, unfeeling deity, I’d spent my entire life in forced deference to, was somehow still worthy of my love and devotion after all.