This story takes place in a primitive village during war times and contains references to human sacrifice, rape, torture, and mutilation.
Rain and Fire
The rains had finally come. They were late, but they had come in time to save the crops and ensure a decent harvest.
No one celebrated this small miracle.
It was a good rain. It was steady and solid, but not too heavy. The earth would drink deep and well. Still, no one celebrated. Instead, they prepared for war. They prepared for death. They prepared for the earth to drink deep of more than the rain.
The village was home to three-hundred some-odd souls. It was not ideally located. It was a pass that connected the remote edges of two kingdoms. The people on this side of the pass were not much interested in trading with those who lived on that side of the pass, the people over there being worshippers of the fire god Igni, and like their god sought nothing but war and conquest. Travellers and merchants were few and far between.
On this rainy day, some way down the the pass sat an army of the followers of Igni, having chosen this particular pass to march through as they went forth from their kingdom to pillage and conquer the more fertile lands on the other side in tyhe hopes of catching their enemies off guard with an unexpected and roundabout route. This insignificant, little village stood in their way, and might provide not only supplies but also, in their twisted minds, amusement, as they could torture and mutilate the villagers for sport before burning alive those who still breathed as a sacrifice to their god.
The villagers knew this, but they did not flee. Where would they flee to? The armies of Igni would hunt them down as cowards and dogs and make sure they felt their shame in the ways they suffered and died. They had sent some runners out in the hopes they could reach other villages in time for them to flee, but didn’t have much hope of them getting through. They endured a morning with the not-distant-enough cries of agony of one runner being tortured by the enemy scouts that had captured him. It was a mercy when the screaming had finally died with their source.
The village prepared for death, each hoping to be struck down in battle, no matter how pathetic their resistance, and die before they could face the torments of their captors. Igni had grudging respect for those who stood against him in spite of impossible odds. Mothers steeled their hearts, preparing to slit the throats of their children too young to bear arms rather than let them suffer. Each death might be dedicated to their own god, but their god, Aeth, was a god of air. Aeth could bring storms and fair weather, provide a cooling breeze on a hot day, but what could a humble god of the peasants, patron of farming, provider of bountiful harvests, do against an entire army in the thrall of a god of fire and war, except maybe slow them down a little with mud and rain?
They all knew they would only live so long as the rain kept up, for the armies of Igni would not fight in the rain. Their priests could cast no spells, could not call down the fire of their god, while it rained. The forces of Igni sat in their tents and cursed the weather as the day wore on.
Mother Daur spat in the mud, “Where is that miserable whelp of a priestess,” she shouted. The others about her hid their dismay at this slight. One did not corss the Headmother.
The women had brought more water to the temple for her to bless, so they could annoint their weapons and bodies with holy water. Others prepared holy water bombs out of anything breakable that could throw in the belief that water touched with the spirit of their god could hinder the followers of Igni and maybe even do them harm, though none believed the stories of priests of Igni bursting into flames at the mere touch of water blessed by gods of water and sky.
“Here, Mother,” Sister Falendi hurried up to the Headmother of the village, gaining nothing but a scowl for her efforts.
“Well then- Get with the blessing!”
“Yes, Mother.” Sister Falendi shed her robe, though it was a cold day, for blessings of sky always were most potent when cast by one skyclad, and knelt on her small platform where people could bring her containers of water to bless. It would be faster if she could move about to each container, but the people feared any variance from the right and proper rituals would weaken the power of what little the blessings could do.
Mother Daur grumbled under her breath as she went back to crafting water bombs out of carefuly folded bark and wax. They were down to their last few wax candles, and any glass or delicate earthenware had already been put to use. They all knew that soon they would not need any of these things, so best to use them now.
Mother Daur would not go so far as to say she hated Sister Falendi, but only because that would be sacrilige, and tarnish her name in the eyes of Aeth. Sister Falendi had come to the town as a young novice five years ago, newly ordained, barely old enough to bear, sent by the order when the Brother Tersh finally left this world to join Aeth in the heavens where he could spend the rest of the world’s days helping his god with the weather.
It was a good thing when a priest or priestess moved on and could work directly with their god to benefit the community they had left, but this time things had not turned out that way. Instead, Sister Falendi has shown up full of youthful idealism, utterly improper for a priestess, and a horrible list of new ideas and approaches to the worship of Aeth, supposedly put forth by the mother church in far away Temwir. Mother Daur had her doubts. She did not like it one bit. She would often cut off the Sister, trying to explain her new ideas, “Is the the drivel they teach you in those godless cities? Do they at least still teach you to respect your elders?” This would shut Sister Falendi up for a while, but not for long. Soon she would be preaching her ideas again, to anyone who would listen.
The first thing the dear Sister had suggested, in fact demanded, was an end to sacrificing a young child each spring to ensure a good harvest. Yes, she knew the gods wanted blood sacrifices, but why the children? She argued, claiming the weight of the church behind her, that those who had lived to an old age were a far better choice. They had the wisdom of age to council their god, and everyone knew that the sacrifice had to be a life freely given. Someone with many years to their name could understand the significance of what that condition meant, but could a child, really? Were they willing sacrifices, or just fearfully obedient ones?
The worst part, in the eyes of Mother Daur, was that everyone had believed her. Nevermind that the children sacrificed were always the sickly and the weak who did far more good in their deaths than in dragging down the village with their needs. Children like that were were a burden, nothing else. Those who made to adulthood doubly so. Compassion? This Sister knew nothing about compassion, apparently never having learned that it always had two faces.
Within two years, Sister Falendi had elders who felt they were of no more use to the village freely offering their lives to do that one more thing. Mother Daur had to spit every time she thought about it. And the result? Oh, the result! The rains were late and the crops less bountiful than in previous years. Mother Daur knew full well that old blood was weak and sacrificing it made for weak gods, weak rains, and weak crops, but no one would listen to her. Soon half the village had decided she was just a crotchety old hag who, in her vanity, wanted to die a natural death rather than do this one last service for her village. Anyone still on her side kept their own counsel. But she was still the town Headmother and no one dared speak openly against her.
They worked until night had fallen and it was too dark to work any longer. That night they held a joyless feast, nervously eating the all the best food they had in store, so the enemy could not feast on it while reclining on their corpses. None slept. None could sleep. There was only fear and grim determination.
In the darkness, Sister Falendi stole away into the night. Mother Daur had been the only one to see her leave, but made no attempt to stop her. The ignorant child had been talking quietly all day to those who would listen that there must be some way to turn this army from their path. Mother Daur snorted at the very thought. A soft city girl who knew nothing of hardship, sacrifice, and most of all, evil. The armies of Igni were nothing but evil. They did not talk, they did not reason, they killed. She let the girl walk out to her death hoping it would at least buy the village another hour or two while the soldiers had their fun with her.
The scout had been patrolling the edge of the town, to ensure none would escape before the massacre began. Another runner had been caught earlier, before night had fallen. The scouts had had fun skinning him alive until his last shuddering breath. Too bad he had been to far from the village for them to appreciate his screams. They commended the fresh corpse on how long he had held out before dying, and said Igni would forgive him, before taking the time to relieve themselves upon the lifeless mass of blood, flesh, and mud. He began to regret the fun. It had distracted three of them and he was certain that because of it other runners had gotten by to warn the other villages. This would not make the priests happy. Igni had no interest in ransacking empty villages. Igni wanted blood sacrifices, not grain and roots.
It was now night, pitch black and wet. This made for slow going. The scout held nothing against the dark, but cursed the rain with every breath. It clouded his senses, drowning sounds in its splattering and sights in its haze. He could feel the spells that strengthened his armor being slowly washed away, in spite of a solid cloak to protect him.
He found himself back at the grassy hillock that marked his circuits of the village and gave him a clear view the encampment. He was surprised to see a lone figure standing atop it, looking out over the encampment. Another scout he though at first, but as he moved closer her realized it was not, and crept forward softly. Most certainly one of the villagers, doing a very bad job of scouting the encampment for all the good it would do them, except to understand how hopeless it was.
Including priests, retainers, and slaves, their force was over five thousand strong. The scout remembered overhearing the quartermaster complain loudly about having to feed over five-thousnd mouths. Then the quartermaster had laughed and added that at least the slaves could be fed the same slop as the pack animals. The scout didn’t even know what a thousand was, except that it was a number and a big one. Five of them meant a really big number.
He realized it was clearly a woman. She was skyclad, making her easier to make out. Clearly some pathetic villager come to pray to their puny exuse for a god in the hopes of what, leaving the army with chafing and blisters from wet leathers? Did their god have priests or priestesses? He couldn’t remember.
The scout smiled and quietly drew a dagger out of his belt. It was time to have some fun.
Sister Falendi stood on the open hill looking at the enemy encampment below. The reality of it was plain. An endless parade of tents and sputtering camp fires reaching into the distance. She would have been stupid to think she could have just walked into such a place and talked to anyone of rank. She would be long dead before the a single priest of Igni even got word that she had come by. Not that she had ever thought that, but it had made a good excuse that had given the villagers hope, to allow her to slip away in the dark to under the pretense of a parlay in the name of Aeth, to ignore what she was really thinking.
She could not go forward, she could not return to the village to await her death with the shame of her helplessness, nor could she flee, where she would likely be caught and die a coward. No matter which one she chose, every avenue led to death. Her time training in the order had steeled her to much, after all, her job involved sacrifice, and she was responsible for ensuring that each sacrifice reached and raised her god. Though her first sacrifice in the city as an acolyte had left her wretching as the power of what she was doing seized her. Perhaps it as that failing that had her sent to this remote, backward village where she was always arguing with people about the folly of the old ways.
She knew how to make the oil of Aeth, that numbed the senses and made deaths painless. Her hands were permanently stained blue from its making. She knew how to read the portents. Anyone trained to read them could see that the entrails of the aged were so much more informative than those of a child. A child was either unblemished or corrupt, they had no middle ground, no subtlety, no deeper meanings. But all those years, layered onto the entrails of the aged… arguments in the monastary had sometimes raged for days over the meaning of what was revealed by a sacred blade. Some say that is why the church moved to sacrificing the elderly, and not the sense that a more compassionate form of blood sacrifice was needed. But she knew how many had not been ordained, had left the church, at the thought of taking the innocent life of a child, one too young to understand the power of the act being performed upon them, one who did not know enough to make such a choice.
Yes, she could take a life freely given with a warm smile and a compassionate eye, could read the entrials without prejudice, but nothing had prepared her for circumstance where the death of a coward was the only option.
She looked up at the dark heavens and let its tears mingle with her own, for she knew Aeth was crying for the loss of this village and all the others that would fall before this army. She tried to clear her mind a she stood there motionless. An eternity passed in stillness.
As the blade sank into her belly, her eyes were pulled down to look at it. She did not flinch. It hurt less than she thought it should. No expression crossed her face as the sharp blade slid across, cutting flesh and muscle until the loosened flaps of skin sagged and began to spill their contents down her front. The sacrilege of a priestess sliced open held her for a moment, then she managed to softly whisper, “may this blood consecrate the rains of this valley for all its days.” She felt her knees begin to fail and tried to turn her face back up to the life giving rain, but all she could see was the blinding light of the eyes of her god.
The whole town started at the sound of lightning hitting so close to the village. It heralded the storm growing stronger as sheets of rain fell from the heavens and lightning began to tear through the sky. They could hear the army of Igni in the distance screaming their defiance at the storm.
The next morning saw the sun trying to peek through the clouds that still brought a steady drizzle on the land. Soon, the villagers thought. The rain ceased, the clouds faded, and the sun shone down, but no soldiers came. By noon, there was still no one, and someone was elected to sneak toward the enemy camp and report on whether they were moving this way.
The scout came running back scared, excited, incoherent. When he finally calmed down he reported through hard breaths that the entire enemy encampment had been destroyed. A few more ventured forth, armed, in case this was some sort of a trick, to find a gruesome carnage. Tents were torn asunder, pack animals scattered, clearly having trampled many things in their wake. The bodies of the soldiers looks horribly like they had been boiled alive, dead in positions of agony, while some of those tangled in the remains of the ornate tents of the priests of Igni were charred beyond recognition.
People shouted and danced and called it a miracle, until one thought to ask where Sister Falendi was, for a prayer was needed for this occasion. People, remembering that she had hoped to intervene with the army called her name, thinking she had performed this miracle. Mother Daur walked away from them, grumbling. The girl was a coward, she thought, she could never have marched into the camp, let alone laid waste to it. She went to a place that had a good view of the camp, being the most likely place the girl was hiding.
The villagers heard her shouting from the hillock and had come running to find her standing over the lifeless body of their priestess, which Mother Daur was still trying to arrange into some semblance of decency and respect. Next to the priestess the charred body of a soldier. Clearly this had been where the lightning had struck.
When one of them finally managed to blurt out the question, Mother Daur snorted a reprimand. “You are all fools! Can’t you see the obvious? She was standing here staring at the enemy camp and realizing how hopeless it was when this soldier snuck up, stripped her robe off her, and gutted her. Probably wanted to fuck her as she bled out so he could see the horror in her eyes. Aeth may not be a mighty god of war, but she is a god of storms, and she took affront at seeing one of her priestesses so cruelly desecrated. You let her go out in the hopes of saving your hides. She did! May you all rot in hell for it!”
And with that said, Mother Daur stomped off to the village to let the others bring the corpse back for proper rights and burial, or at least as proper as could be given without anyone proper to officiate.
By the next year, a replacement still had not been sent, for others were having problems with the armies of Igni as well, and Mother Daur was the first to suggest that maybe there had been enough blood shed and they should hold off on spilling more until a new priest or priestess arrived. If Aeth disagreed, then maybe it was time for the village to move on. But the rains came and the harvest was good. By the following year, when an elderly priest whose town had been destroyed by the war volunteered his services, everyone agreed that maybe they could do without sacrifices for another year.
And the rains came on time, and the village was as prosperous as it could be in a remote mountain pass with a war going around them. But no army of Igni ever dared to set foot in that pass again. Eventually, others took note of this and began to settle in the pass. New villages, and even towns, sprung up. The power of Igni faded, for no empire can survive by war alone, and people slowly forgot about the fire god. For over five thousand years, all who lived in that mountain pass had good harvests, by which time people had forgotten that it took blood to bring the rains, and different gods had risen whose blood sacrifices were better hidden from those who chose not to see.
This bounty would not have surprised Mother Daur. She had seen. Before she had called for help, she had seen. She had seen as she rearranged the body to make it look more composed, no simple task when Sister Falendi’s innards were spread about her on the ground, unbelmished and pure as rain. She had seen as she hid the ceremonial the dagger, now washed clean of blood by the rains, that had still been resting in the Sister’s hand, within the folds of her tunic where no other villager would see it.
Officials from the mother church had been suspect of the miracle, but she had held her ground and stood with the village in petitioning the church for Sister Falendi’s sainthood. After all, there had not been the slightest touch of Aeth’s blue upon her lips. What proof did they have? But she knew the soldier of Igni had been struck down before he could have touched the priestess. She would not bring shame on Sister Falendi in the eyes of those who would not understand, who would call it a coward’s death, who would deny her her station. It was a true miracle, not one of shame.
It was not an angry god who had saved them that night, but an awakened one, revelling in the power granted by such a life freely given.